It is interesting to see how the local villagers have adapted to modern life, yet they have still held onto their traditional way of life. The kids in all countries around the world are almost always smiling, wondering what you are doing, why you look different and where you are from. Most importantly, they almost always want to know what you are going to give them!
Modern houses and clothes in Uganda often gives way to adults without shoes, no form of modern transport and a staple diet of vegetables, goats meat and yams.
To say hello to the locals and to play with the kids is free, but the experience to the locals is priceless. Mostly, the friendly villagers welcome visitors and feel honoured that you took the time to visit.
I was captivated as the mammoth silverback rolled over in the dense forest, killing a dozen plant species as he did so, before scooping up a member of his group and disappearing behind a tree. If they only knew the plight of their future and what was being done to both protect them on one hand and to decimate their numbers on the other.
To see and experience these magnificent creatures, a threatened species, was humbling, exhilarating, and exciting at the same time. I am so glad I shared this opportunity, and experience, with Anne.
When you are fortunate enough to spend some quality time with the gorillas of Uganda it is easy to forget to put the camera down and take in the experience for what it is. So many of my fellow travelers thought that their time with the gorillas had disappeared too quickly.
I found it a humbling experience to travel half way across the world, and a 5 day drive from Nairobi, to the “cradle of humanity,” where the human race is said to have all started, to visit our “ancestors.” While other travelers were clicking here and snapping there, attempting to get that perfect angle for the perfect photo, I simply rattled off a dozen quick photographs before I put my camera aside to just sit and watch these magnificent creatures.
It was amazing to watch the young playing by climbing over each other, or taking another tentative step toward a human before the grunt of the silverback had them scurrying back to the safety of the undergrowth. I was stunned when the 19 gorillas surrounded our group while they all ate leaves or foraged for fresh pickings, oblivious to us watching their every move. (And the silverback was watching ours!)
For conservation reasons, visitors to the gorillas are tightly controlled. The following rules are strictly enforced:
• No person under the age of 15 is permitted on the trek.
• You must walk in single file and stay together.
• You are not permitted to walk within 21 feet of the gorillas. (However, the babies will come to you!)
• Flash photography is not permitted.
• No eating or smoking within 200 meters of the gorillas.
• If you have a cold/flu you are not permitted on the trek.
• No spitting on the vegetation within the park.
The maximum number of people allowed in any one group was 8 when we were ther. This was fantastic as it left you plenty of room to view the gorillas without feeling like you were in the middle of a crowd at the zoo. (I believe that the maximum number of people that are allowed in each group is now restricted to 6.)
We were lucky enough to stumble across the "Nkuringo" group of Gorilla that consisted of 21 Gorillas in total. (19 gorillas and 2 silverbacks.)
You are reminded that the trekking can take from 1 to 8 hours and that you may have to climb to altitudes in excess of 5,500 feet. The terrain is very rough and at most times of the year it is very muddy. I remember sitting there thinking, “and I paid US$550 for this!!!!”
This feeling soon left me as our porters, (for US$10 a porter will carry your pack and assist you every step of the way,) guided us down the hillside, through the village, over thick vegitation, across several streams, creeks and rivers, through the lush vegitation, over hills and into the Impenetrable National forest. After approx 2 hours we paused for a refreshment break and without us “tourists” even realizing it, the gorillas were only 50 meters away! The next 90 minutes was the most amazing experience that I have had in my entire life!
The drive to see the Gorillas is quite long.
Getting out of bed at 4am for an early breakfast, you then begin a 3.5hr drive on murram roads, (another name for MUD,) to the UWA National Park Headquarters. The trade off is that you will be passing through some of the most picturesque countryside that you have ever seen. Rising out of the Kisoro valley, views of the Virunga Mountains are breathtaking as you proceed to the park for a briefing by the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park’s guides on how to behave in the forest and in the presence of mountain gorillas.
The drive can be quite hair raising as the vehicle tends to slip and slide close to the edge of the road! I kept looking at the driver to see if he was nervous but he seemed to be taking it all in his stride. I guess that is why they invented travel insurance!
When you are planning to trek to the Gorillas you will need to remember to take the following:
Wear long, light weight pants. (There are sharp bushes and nettles!
Wear a hat
Wear hiking boots, NOT runners/joggers/trainers. The terrain is muddy and slippery!
Carry a back pack.
Pack at least 4 litres of water
Pack lunch and fruit
Pack wet weather gear
Most of all, pay the US$10 for a local porter to carry it all for you, even if you are fit! It is their only form of income and they need the money!
Oh, and by the way, when you are shopping for supplies you will be the main attraction in town! (I told you there was nothing in Kisoro!)
It is advisable to obtain your gorilla trek permit at least three months in advance. The current cost of the permit, in March 2007, was US$550.
These permits can be collected from:
1. The UWA-MGNP office in Kisoro, after booking in advance and paying a deposit. You will have no trouble finding the office as there is not much in Kisoro.
2. The Uganda Tourist Board
They say that the Government of Uganda ran a raffle. First prize was 2 days in Kisoro, second prize was a week in Kisoro! There is simply nothing there!
The town of Kisoro is located in the South Western corner of Uganda and sits squarely in the shadow of the Virunga chain of volcanoes, location of the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Formerly known as the Impenetrable Forest, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is one of Uganda's most recently created national parks and as such, the park has become the main place in East Africa to see the mountain gorillas and spectacular volcanos that are in the area.