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Safari - day 8-10: Gorillas and back home

sunny 29 °C

Day 8
This was probably the most exciting day of the whole safari and such an incredible experience. We left at 5:45 from the island and met Jasper on the mainland. He drove us and another couple to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, which took us 2 1/2 hours. Bwindi is home to half the worlds population of mountain gorillas; there are only 880 mountain gorillas left worldwide. There must have been almost 30 tourists there to track the gorillas and this is low season. All tourists were divided into groups of maximally 8. Our group consisted of 7 relatively young and fit people. As there were also several older, fatter Americans I was very happy with this group. Each group of tourists would track a different gorilla group. The group we were tracking was a group that consisted of 10 gorillas, one silver back, some males, females and two young gorillas. Each gorilla group has a leader, usually the oldest silverback in the group. A male gorilla becomes a silverback at 15 years. Three years ago this had been a group of 36 gorillas. The previous leader of the group and the father of the current leader of our group, had become old and three younger silverbacks within this group lost their respect for him. He got annoyed with their behaviour and left. The three younger silverbacks could not come to an agreement who would be the new leader, so the group split up into three separate groups. The trackers know the old silverback is still within the forest, alone and waiting to die. There are 12 groups that have been habituated, or are used to human presence in Bwindi. This is approximately 1/3 of the total gorilla groups in the forest.
Each gorilla group is followed by two trackers. They leave at 7 and do not leave the group until they are sure they will not move much further so they can find them the next day. When we started the walk the trackers were already in the forest. We had one guide and two armed men walking with us. We walked to the point where the gorillas were last seen, this took about an hour and a half. By then the trackers had found a fresh trail and were following it. However it seemed they had crossed another group and they needed to find out which trail led to our group. We waited until the trackers had found the right trail and had found the gorillas, this took half an hour. We were radioed their location and went to find the trackers. They were waiting a few minutes away from the gorillas. Here we left our bags with food. Then we moved in closer. New paths were cut by the trackers to be able to reach the gorillas that were hidden. We first saw the silverback. He was sitting down eating some leaves. The trackers cut their way up to a few meters distance. We watched him for a few minutes after which they motioned for me to come closer and kneel down. There was only 3 meters between this massive gorilla and me, and he was so large!! But is was so.amazing to be so close to this large animal, I could have stayed and watched him all day. After some time he moved away. We followed and found some others gorillas of his group. We saw two females, a young male and a young female. The young male was still tiny, much smaller than I had expected from a 1,5 year old gorilla. At one time he sat in a tree, beating on his chest like a proper grownup gorilla. The young female was 3,5 years old. We spent almost an hour with the gorillas before leaving them again and heading back. We were lucky that the group had been so close, sometimes people walk for 4/5 hours before seeing the gorillas. (At the end of the day our score was 5 of the 880 wild mountain gorillas - 0.6% of the world population, amazing, how often can you say that about wildlife? Luckily the numbers are rising.)
On the way back Herbert explained how they habituate the gorilla groups. This is an amazing and ridiculous process which takes 2-3 years. Two trackers are assigned a group of gorillas to habituate. From this point on the visit the group every single day. It starts with the trackers pretending to be gorillas. The silverback obviously does not like strangers approaching his group, so he will try to fight them off. This will take about six months with rangers sometimes returning with broken bones, to establish that they are not scared of the silverback. The next six months the gorillas will try to flee from the rangers, so they have to keep following them. When the gorillas get tired of running, they will hide from the rangers. This is the period when the rangers need to pretend to be gorillas even if they cannot see the gorillas - the gorillas need to be convinced that they are similar. Then when the gorillas get tired of hiding they have pretty much reached their goal, the group of gorillas will accept the presence of humans. This is tested first with local people, before bringing tourists to the group (unethical, but at least this gives the locals a chance to visit the gorillas for free).
It was a long car ride back to the lake and then the boat ride back to our island. We did not arrive very late so we could enjoy a warm! shower in the sunshine. Did I mention how awesome this shower is and how nice it is to have a shower in the sunshine?

Day 9
Finally a day when we could sleep in, no appointment until 10 am. After breakfast we went for a canoe trip with a guide. On the lake main method of transportation are canoes. These are dug out from an ecalyptus tree. We went to the largest island on the lake, there are between 26 and 39 depending on who you ask, for a walk. This island has a primary and secondary school, a church and a health clinic III. We walked past the school which seemed oddly abandoned. Many of the classrooms were empty but the school boards still has sums on them. We were told that in the weekends the benches are moved to a place for prayer and then are moved back for class on Monday. The entire school seemed to fall apart, doors were missing, window shades were broken and there were large cracks in the walls. Inside one of the old classrooms there was a fire burning where someone was cooking a large pot of water, though no one seemed to be around. The church was is pretty much the same state. We only saw the health clinic from a distance, but it seemed newer and they are building a maternity ward. There were plenty of birds around and the guide seemed to know most of them by name, but was not very interested in them.
We spent annother hour or so in the canoe. Me with my binoculars and Mattijs helping the guide out with the rowing. For lunch we visited a local family. There was an old lady who had cooked for us and her husband joined. Both were unable to speak English so we had little conversation. We were treated to a local drink made with sorgum, which they also use for porrige. The food was very nice. Next to beans and sweet potatoes, it included some dodo (spinach) and pumpkin. The couple turned out to be parents of Jasper, but we did not hear this untill the next day.
In the afternoon we enjoyed the sunshine and had a very quick dip in the freezing lake. After this we packed our bags and enjoyed dinner and a beer.

Day 10
Together with six other people that we had met at the lodge we headed to the nearest big city to catch a bus to Kampala. It ofcourse arrived late and was already full, but luckily we had reserved some seats, so we were able to sit down during the trip. The trip took us about 8 hours and we had one stop for lunch on the way, and one more stop to adjust some parts of the bus. We drove from the West to the centre of Uganda, allong the most southern highway. This was a part of the country that we had not seen before, so I spent most of the trip looking out of the window. We got treaded to some zebras that must have been in one of the national parks. It was the first time we saw zebras in Uganda. They were the proper black and white ones, not the ones with the brown stripes that I had seen in Botswana. From Kampala we shared a taxi with one other couple to Entebbe. We were ofcourse in the middle of rush hour so it took us annother 2 hours. We went back to the backpackers, had dinner at a restaurant nearby and had a shower and a short sleep before heading of to the airport to catch our flight at 4am.
The flights were on time, we had a nice stopover in Istanbul and arrived safely in NL the afternoon of the 27th.

Posted by Elisebuiter 01:26 Archived in Uganda Tagged animals safari gorillas lake_bunyoni

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