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Tracking mysterious mountain gorillas in Uganda

A young mountain gorilla regards the visitors

The opportunity to visit Kenya and Uganda recently on the Gorilla and Game Trek tour was just too big an opportunity for me to pass up.  The thought of trekking through the dense forests of Uganda in search of the Mountain Gorilla was something I had been thinking about doing for some time, but it’s one of those things that I never thought would actually happen.

The day started with our usual early morning camp-site breakfast.  We were collected at 6am from our base in Lake Bunyonyi and driven 2 hours along a rough and somewhat treacherous dirt road toward Bwindi National Park. We were greeted by our friendly gorilla tracker Benjamin and his assistant James carrying his trusty AK47 rifle, which had become quite a common site in Uganda. After our 30 minute pre-departure meeting we grabbed our walking sticks and set off to find these amazing creatures.

The first 30 minutes of the trek was a piece of cake; it wasn’t until we reached the bottom of the mountain that the hard work really started. Benjamin led us up the mountain, cutting his way through the dense forest clearing a new path as he went and all the while in constant radio contact with 3 other trackers already ahead and guiding us toward them.

Mountain gorilla in Uganda

Mountain gorilla in the jungles of Uganda

We finally reached the top of our mountain and took a moment to marvel at the view. It was then I realised just how beautiful Uganda’s countryside was, it was breathtaking!  It’s quite possibly one of the prettiest countries I have seen in my travels.  From our view-point we could also see the mountains in the distance that were located just on the border of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

We were now within metres of the Gorillas and before we knew it we could see 3 of them, including an incredibly large silver back in the trees above our head. He came down the tree with such grace and dignity and the sheer size of his body was something I will never forget. A few metres away we found the rest of the family sitting, sleeping and playing in the trees. We managed to get about 4 metres away from some of the female gorillas and about 7m from another silver-back. I was absolutely speechless by this time! Before we knew it our 1-hour limit was up and we had to say goodbye to these amazing creatures.

They did not seem to care one bit that we had entered their private world, and in some cases seemed quite happy to have 8 sets of camera lenses staring right back at them. Taking photo’s (without flash) is allowed, but as you only have a short time with these creatures, it’s important to put the camera away and simply sit and take it all. It’s a precious moment to savour. But the benefit was certainly not ours alone – tourist visits and local payments help directly with their protection and re-population.

If you ever get the chance to visit Uganda it is an absolute must to do the Gorilla Trek. Just make sure you take lots of water and a good set of hiking boots. The walking sticks you get also come in handy!

Thank you Di Bignell, Cherylyn Antao and On the Go Tours for giving me this amazing experience. I am in love with East Africa! Thank you so much!

- Kylie Atkins

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