Uganda, besides being the Pearl of Africa is one of only three countries in the world that still have mountain gorillas. There are so many people around the world who dream about an opportunity to come and visit them.
For a while, obtaining the permits to see the Gorillas seemed like a hard and expensive undertaking. But things have changed a bit now, besides the fact that Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) has made provisions for cheaper prices in low seasons. Their offices in Kampala are such a great start for a memorable trip. The staff at the ticketing office are professional and welcoming, they also have good advice on accommodation and transport modes.
Opting to take a flight
We would have loved to travel by road, but were reliably informed that not only is it a long drive, some parts of the road are seriously bad and that might result in reaching our destination very exhausted. Now this is a destination where you need all your strength to be able to hike and cross the hilly impenetrable forest climbing up and sloping down. All this led to good news. We found out that there is a great airline by the name of AeroLink with daily flights to Kihihi town which is about 50 Km drive from most lodges.
It was a small aircraft set off from Entebbe Airport, and one hour later, we were already landing at a neat little air strip and a local taxi was already waiting for us. Although the scenery around was breath-taking, the state of the road in some parts was so bad that one almost forgot how beautiful the surroundings were.
We passed many rice fields and the driver drew our attention to little high shelters in the middle of the fields. Early in the morning and before sunset, farmers had to sit in these shelters making noise and clapping to scare away little birds that would otherwise feed on the grains.
Awed by the comfort of the lodge
Two hours later, we reached the sign we were waiting for, “Bwindi Impenetrable National Park”. This amazing forest is actually a world heritage site and it seems the residents of the area have now taken this very seriously and struggle to be part of it all. Only if the roads were better, some said.
We arrived at Buhoma Lodge and a great reception of fresh juice and smiles awaited us. For the next couple of days the lodge Manager Ken Mambo and his team made us feel at home. The lodge is currently owned by Paul and Jane Goldring (Wild Frontiers Uganda) who are quite active in the tourism industry, and they have done a great job with the rooms that are very beautiful and eco-friendly, inclusive of a spectacular panoramic view from the terrace. The best experience of the lodge was their food. This was indeed a revelation.
Mambo briefed us about the tracking requirements- long sleeves, trousers, good hiking shoes and lots of insect repellent. And the next morning, at the UWA centre, we were given more instructions about how to behave in the jungle. Oh yes, you think it is a jungle out there, but there are rules. However, no one told us what level of fitness you should have to be able to make the journey, and I can assure you that you indeed need to be very fit.
That morning, there were three groups tracking in different parts of the forest. Ours was the H group. We still had a one and half hour car ride to reach the edge of the forest. The road was really bumpy and our backs started hurting even before the hike. Finally, we arrived and passed through a village then disappeared in to the thick forest.
From there, one of the most challenging yet exciting trips of my life started. Thank God, some trackers were already a few hours ahead of us trying to locate the gorillas. After some hours of sweating, we finally reached the spot where all 18 members of the gorilla family were having their afternoon rest. The silver back was watching us from the corner of his eye while resting, the younger ones were acting for us swinging on the trees, and the cheekiest one by the name of Kavuyu (trouble maker) was waiting for a chance to grab my camera. Regulations allowed us only an hour near them, so it was time to go back to the real world, but this was the best hour I have had in a long time.
Walking back, we passed by tea plantations that were very close to the forest boundary. For a moment, I got worried and hoped that these fields would not come further down and invade the space of my new friends, the gorillas.