This is what I recently had the privilege of experiencing, on my life changing visit to Uganda.
Uganda, together with Rwanda and the DRC, is home to the once extremely endangered mountain gorilla. There are four national parks between these three countries that travellers can venture into, in order to trek, seek and observe these incredibly beautiful and gentle souls. My recent travels to Africa took me to the depths of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, where twelve habituated gorilla families live today.
There is no sugar coating the fact that finding the gorillas can be tough, even with the 98 % success rate in mind. In my case, which was lucky, it was just over an hour and a half of trekking, where we covered a steep incline before stumbling upon the Mubare family. The heat and humidity, as well as the altitude of over 1800 metres meant that it was an intense climb, however, I have never felt anything to be so worthwhile.
The adrenaline and elation that one experiences when laying eyes on a gorilla for the first time is impossible to describe. One person’s trek of 2 to 3 hours, might very well be another’s of 6 to 7, as the families can cover some serious ground in just a day.
One never knows where they will be and even the full hour that we were in their company, was spent moving at a rapid pace in order to follow them closely, stopping on occasion when they paused to eat or rest.
A group of experienced guides accompany trekkers, who have fascinating amounts of
first-hand knowledge regarding the habituation of the family members and their personalities. There is also the option to hire a porter to assist with carrying bags and equipment.
Being in the presence of the gorillas is humbling, exhilarating and utterly mesmerising all at the same time and you can’t help but feel small…very, very small.
I say this not only with reference to their size and strength, but also when there in the flesh, it slowly starts to sink in as to just how close we are to these creatures, and to how almost provokingly intelligent they are.
They are inquisitive, yet reserved, so very accepting of us and yet they command a respect that is unspoken but felt, and understood. There is a lump in my throat even now as I sit down to recall that phenomenal morning I spent in Bwindi earlier this year.
After an hour had passed, (and really it felt more like fifteen minutes which is why I would highly recommend doing two treks), the descent down into the village began, with views to behold all the way. Back at my lodge, surrounded by misty plantations and verdant hills, I opened a cold banana beer (a local delight), put my feet up and reflected on one of the best days that I had experienced in many years.
This is something that everyone who might have the privilege to, should not hesitate to embark on, a truly remarkable excursion and without a doubt, a life changing encounter.