Our erstwhile globetrotter Lily has been off on her travels again. This time she is visiting Uganda to go on a gorilla trek. We will be following her travels and her trips for the next few weeks as she explores this beautiful country and meets these amazing animals.
Day 3 (continued) Mahogany Springs Lodge
We arrived at Mahogany Springs Lodge around 7pm and we were very warmly welcomed by the staff to this very attractive lodge which is set on the side of a valley in lush scenery and magnificent trees. We were given a delicious cold fruit juice and cold damp flannels to wipe the dust away and revive ourselves before our welcome talk given by David. We were told all about the lodge, the rooms, the food and what to expect on the gorilla trek. The rooms here are very attractive large rooms with a spacious en suite bathroom and a balcony/sitting area overlooking the opposite side of the valley. We also had a most welcome and tasty supper. I was able to send a blog post from my room as Wifi is available with a fast connection which seemed amazing in such a remote location!
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park
Let me give you some background to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. It is very aptly described as a vast, misty, mountainous jungle and one of the most biologically diverse places in the world. The park lies along the Uganda-DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) border in the Kabale and Rukungiri districts which are in south western Uganda, on the edge of the Western Rift Valley. Covering an area of 321 square kilometres, Bwindi is a tiny island of equatorial primeval rainforest, surrounded by a sea of banana and tea plantations. It was first protected by changing its status to a forest reserve in 1932, and it finally reached National Park status in 1991.
The forest has had a number of names in the past including Bwindi and Kayonza. In the local language Bwindi means ‘place of darkness’ and the name refers to the region’s thick vegetation which is also reflected in the park name of Impenetrable Forest. What is most striking is the steepness of the valley sides and even the huge trees in the forest seem completely dwarfed with the valley sides. Although it can be difficult to spot much wildlife through the mass of huge trees festooned with vines and creepers, the forest is home to over 120 species of mammals, 360 species of birds, 310 types of butterflies and 1,000 different plants. It is suggested that if one suffers from noise irritation, then a pair of ear plugs is handy for the gorilla trek as the rainforest can be spectacularly noisy!
Gorilla Trekking Information
We had been divided into two groups for the gorilla trek and Joseph, the manager, gave us a talk about what to do, what to wear and what to expect from the experience.
Myself, Heinz, Ewa and Yolanda were to be part of the group visiting the BITAKURA habituated gorilla group in the high altitude Ruhija area, south east of the park with poor transport links. This was mainly because our permits had been applied for only very recently (just over a week ago) which means that the closer, more accessible gorilla family groups already had their full quota of visitors. This is important to note when arranging visits for clients and the sooner the permits are applied for, the more likely it is that the clients will be able to get permits for gorilla groups within a more accessible area. Usually only 8 permits issued per day for each family group and the Buhoma area has most family groups and most tourist accommodation.
The Dian Fossey project (of Gorillas in the Mist fame) was the original source of gorilla trekking as she was the first human to make close and friendly contact with gorilla groups. The scientists at her establishment continued this as they studied the groups and gradually more and more people wanted to join in. This then led to small groups only with permits being allowed to visit the gorillas who were habituated in their natural setting. Now it is possible that visitors can get to observe the family groups from only a few metres away. It is to be noted that the development of gorilla tourism is proceeding with great caution in order to avert dangers of the gorillas catching human diseases. No one with a communicable disease (e.g. flu/diarrhoea) is allowed to enter the National Park or take the trek to encounter the gorillas.
Although some argue that it is detrimental and risky to the gorillas the sad truth is that without tourism like this the gorillas probably wouldn’t have survived this long. The one thing that can guarantee their survival by making them worth more alive than dead – to both governments and local people alike.
Day 4 – Gorilla Trekking
We all wake up at 4.45am and eat breakfast at 5.15am. We are then given our packed lunch boxes and some stout walking sticks before leaving the lodge with Joseph, the Manager, in a 4 x 4 vehicle around 6am. We then picked up another couple from Buhoma Lodge nearby and set off on the 2hour 15 minute journey (50 kilometres) to the Ruhija sector. These rural roads are pretty rough and we bounce along as we climb ever higher into the mountains. To make up for this the scenery is truly spectacular with heavily wooded deep valley sides and impressive views. Here even banana plantations are 2000 metres above sea level. The Ugandan people really do make the most of every piece of land, cultivating and growing crops wherever possible. There are only a few tourist accommodations in this far flung area with only the Bitakura family group of gorillas to visit. We finally arrived at the entrance headquarters where our passports and permits were checked at around 8.30am. We were greeted by Gad, the ranger in charge, who gave us the safety briefing and suggested we might like to hire a porter for $15 to carry to carry our rucksacks for us. As we were all carrying 2 litres of water each as insisted upon by the lodge and a packed lunch plus camera equipment, I elected to have a porter. Some of the others didn’t but I think they lived to regret this decision – for me, it was one of the best I’d ever made! Also the money is very much needed by the local people who work as porters do I didn’t begrudge a penny of it.
Recommended Gear for Gorilla Trekking
Tough boots with good ankle support are seriously important. Having watched two of the group struggling in trainers, I was very glad I had invested in Brasher boots.
A stout stick (provided by Mahogany Springs) was jolly useful for support going down very steep valley track then used for hauling up the other side which was very slippy and ‘impenetrable’! Gators – these I bought for $25 USD from Mahogany Springs the night before as the manager recommended a pair but Gad said on this particular day they wouldn’t be necessary. I tucked my trousers into my thick hiking socks instead. Safari ants are the critters who get up your trouser legs and create uncomfortable havoc so gators or tucking long trousers into thick socks combined with high ankle support boots are a deterrent but not always a guarantee to avoiding this hazard.Another useful item is a pair of thin impermeable gloves (like light gardening gloves) as protection against stinging nettles/thorns etc. This is because when pulling yourself up the steep hillside amongst thick rainforest vegetation, you have to grab whatever is to ‘hand’ and because this has to be done quickly, its not possible to scrutinise to closely what you are grabbing hold of, hence I found it very useful to have the hand protection. Antihistamine cream in case of bites/stings which can quickly swell up and make for problems. Gorillas are immune to stinging nettle so often choose this sort of foliage as a place to rest. Sun tan cream even though in rain forest conditions if you do get the sun this close to the Equator it is very strong. Some money for souvenirs (post trek) as this is a once in a lifetime trip and most people want to purchase a reminder such as a t-shirt or a carved gorilla. There are stall by the park exit and the money does help the local economy massively.
Posted by Lily