A visitor to Uganda gives
a fascinating personal account of a thrilling face-to-face
encounter with a group of mountain gorillas.
As soon as I step out of the
plane, I feel the comfortable warmth around me and I smell
the typical scents in the air. This is Africa!
A representative of Great Lakes
Safaris welcomes me and transfers me safely to my hotel. On
our way he talks enthusiastically about his country; it is
clear that he is very passionate about his job.
The safari starts very early
in the morning as we head towards the impenetrable part of
south western Uganda. While trying to find our way out of
Kampala, I am surprised by the commotion in the city. Matatus
and boda-bodas, used for local transport, pass other vehicles
wherever they can. People are walking down the road and greet
each other friendly. Somehow everybody knows its way through
the ostensible chaos.
Soon we leave the hustle and
bustle of the city life behind us and drive peacefully through
the country. Again I am surprised, this time by the greenness
of the landscape. No country in Africa could be associated
more with tropical forested hills and green valleys. Slowly
the number of cars decreases and I try to catch a glimpse
of the daily life at the countryside. Small villages are relieved
by banana plantations and rice fields. Herds of Ankole cows
are grazing peacefully in the savannah grasslands,
their heads adorned by long curving horns.
We quietly pass the area known as the “Switzerland
of Africa” with terraced farming and mountain scenery.
As we’re approaching Bwindi, the landscape
becomes more mountainous. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is
located on the edge of the Western Rift Valley, covering
330 sq kms of an incredibly dense rain forest, more than
a million years old. Roughly half of the world’s population
of mountain gorillas make their home in these afro-montane
In the evening we reach Buhoma Homestead
via a bumpy, curving road. The camp is located opposite
of the park entrance and is one of the original camps in
Bwindi. I’m led towards one of the self-contained
cottages, where I can enjoy the view over the forest canopy
from my private veranda. After a delicious meal I settle
myself in front of the fireplace that warms the cool evening
and I start to feel anxious for tomorrow. Finally I will
face the giant animals that have attracted me all the way
It is cloudy when I start the hike through
the African jungle. The mist that has been lingering in
the valleys conceals the park with a mysterious atmosphere.
Together with seven other tourists I have gathered at the
headquarters of Uganda Wildlife Authority this morning,
where the rangers briefed us clearly about the gorilla trekking.
Our international group, consisting of Americans, Spaniards,
Italians and Australians are accompanied by rangers, trackers
and some porters.
We have been told that the hike can be tough
with lots of steep and muddy parts. But I am determined
that nothing will stop me from my meeting with the gentle
giants. The trail we follow disappears after some time and
soon we’re just cutting our path through the thick
tangle of the forest. It’s magnificent and breathtaking!
We pass streams and waterfalls, we climb and descend. The
sounds and smells of the forest make me curious to what
is behind the abundant jungle of vines, bamboo and huge
trees. This is how Africa has been for centuries:
mysterious and untouched!
After three hours we still haven’t
found a trace of the gorillas. The density makes our hike
more and more difficult and the steep hills are merciless.
Unexpectedly we seem to have reached the place where the
gorillas spent their night. We must be close now! Still
our hike continues. More and more often I have to stop to
catch my breath and I start realizing that this journey
is not as easy as I expected. But giving up is certainly
not an option that has crossed my mind!
Then, all of a sudden, the guide gives
us a sign. “There they are”, he whispers. We
have come face to face with a group of mountain gorillas.
I forget everything around me and only have eye for those
immense dark shapes, sitting peacefully together. Quietly
we try to get nearer, as the impressive silverback watches
us closely. I observe the amazing animals and wonder at
their human features. They are so strong and yet so vulnerable!
A baby gorilla stares curiously at our group. Other gorillas
are sitting in the dense undergrowth, not disturbed by our
presence. Suddenly one of the adults slowly moves in my
direction. I hold my breath because I know that we should
keep a minimum distance. At two meters she finally stops,
sits down and starts to eat slowly. Her eyes, black and
gentle, make me feel very humble.
The guide brings an end to the magical
moments by makings us clear that it’s time to go.
An hour has past. Without a doubt the fastest hour of my
life, I think, as I reluctantly back away. We start our
way back to the camp, climbing through the fields and woods.
Tired but extremely satisfied we reach the camp. I still
find it hard to believe that I really spent time with the
gorillas. That they allowed me in their world for a while.
Being there with these gentle apes, surrounded by nothing
more than the African jungle, was an incredible privileged
and fortunate feeling. Their kindness, peace and amazing
human features have impressed me deeply. This beautiful
and humbling experience I will cherish for the rest of my
Published in Wordpress,
2 June 2006