Gorillas in the Mist

My lifelong dream has been to go see the Gorillas in Uganda, so we did last year and it still ranks as one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. Here is the blog post that I made last year after spending a couple days with some of our closest cousins.

After 5 days, 26 hours of flying, 6 hours of driving across bumpy dirt roads, and 4 hours of hiking through the Impenetrable Forest we got to see one of the things that was on my bucket list, mountain gorillas.

When we arrived, at the Bwindi Lodge yesterday after driving all day we got our first chance to rest a little bit. Our room is very quaint, kind of gourmet camping out, we have a little bungalow complete with a chemical toilet and a shower bag that the staff fills with hot water at your request. All drinks, food, and massages are included. So of course the first thing we did was head for the massage table after getting a cocktail, of course. When we got to dinner there was a African musician playing and a group from multiple places (California, Paris, Florida) that we enjoyed the evening with.

This morning we got up and were ready at 8am for some gorilla trekking. We were headed for the “H” group. As we set off in the forest our group consisted of a bunch of Auzzies, including an 84 year old grandpa and a mother who was wearing a long skirt.

My first impression was, OMG how in the world did these guys think they were going to make a trek like this. We all picked up a porter to carry our bags and headed out. After about 2 hours of trekking I was pretty impressed that grandpa and Heidi (my nickname for the Auzzie in the dress) were still with us. We had to stop and wait for them quite often but you had to respect an 84 year old gizzer hiking through the impenetrable forest. After about 3 hours I was wondering if we were going to see any gorillas and whether we would be taking grandpa out alive or dead.

I was way ahead of the group when we caught up with the tracker. Our guide told me to stick with the tracker while he went back to find the rest of the group, which was fine with me because it meant it was getting close to gorilla time.

The only problem was keeping up with the tracker who was moving at like he had to catch a plane. This guy was trucking, at this point I am soaking wet with sweat, no water (the porter has our water), the only good thing is that I have my camera with me. This guy is running me through all kinds of impenetrable things and I’m wondering “When am I going to see a gorilla?” Right about that time the tracker has said nothing but I look down the hill and there sits a 400lb silverback gorilla.

Now for a little gorilla education. Each family of gorillas travel together for life, occasionally females will switch groups and when a male grows old enough he will leave the group because the king silverback is the king daddy of a harem of females that he, procreates with. This family consisted of one big silverback, one smaller silverback, a couple of younger blackback males and several females who had youngsters from a couple of years to a couple of months. I think there were 18 gorillas total.

You are not supposed to be closer then 20 feet and you are supposed to get one hour with the gorillas. Gorillas are 95% vegetarian and eat like 20 kilos of leaves and green stuff everyday, that’s over 40 lbs. The lead silverback is the head of the group and everybody follows his lead, when he moves, everybody moves, when he gets upset, everybody gets upset.

What a sight! There sits a huge gorilla about 20 feet from me and my tracker friend just munching on some leaves. Around him are mostly females with babies riding on their backs.
We were there about 15 minutes before the rest of the group caught up. The gorillas would relax and eat for a few minutes and then move a few hundred feet and sit and eat some more.

You can’t imagine the feeling of being 20 feet from animals like these who could rip you to shreds in a cold second if they chose but they sat there and basically ignored us. That is until, yours truly tested the space limitation and got too close and the big silverback decided that it was time to scare the human.

He made a couple of grunts then got up showed his big pearly whites and charged me. Now standard gorilla procedure states that when charged by a gorilla, do not run, you are supposed to get into a submissive position and hope and pray. This guy stopped about 5 feet from me, I can’t tell you for sure because when I saw him stand up and show me those teeth and start my way, I was very submissive, my ass was down on the ground hugging some dirt.

What an experience! What was even more amazing was that Old Tom (or OT as they called him) made it for over four hours of trekking through a dense, impenetrable forest at the ripe old age of 84, and then another two hours to get out of the forest, I just hope I can be half the man that OT is if I make it to 84.

As we started out I started wondering because the trackers, the guide, the porters and the military escort seemed to be totally lost and confused about which was out of this forest. We finally made it out but there was a lot of foreign jabber and pointing in different directions before we made it.

When we got back to the vehicles there was a school that had organized some traditional
African songs and dance for the visitors, which really meant we were going to get a little show and expected to pay a tip for this unexpected entertainment, but I didn’t mind because I love kids and I am a sucker for cute kids dancing and singing.

It really is interesting observing the African people. Every once in a while you will catch someone’s eyes and see their soul. The adults have the look of hardship, pain and disappointment while the kids still have a look of excitement, joy and wonder. I guess we all harden as we get older, and our journey in life determines whether the hardness is like stone or like jello. I hope I never lose that wonderlust and sense of adventure because it is what drives me to clear the bucket list early.

Losing Dustin taught me that we have no idea what God’s plan is for each of us, but that we had better live everyday to the fullest because it may be your last. Today was one of those days. I got to see one of the most majestic of God’s creatures up close and almost too personal.

Then it was back to the lodge, another great massage, drinks and a wonderful dinner. We were the only ones at the lodge so Lou and got to eat dinner by the fire with a little vino and an early night. We know tomorrow is going to be a long drive back.