Our accommodations here in Bwindi comprise a tent up on a wooden platform, Girl Scout camp-style, with an electric bulb in the center and two beds with mosquito netting, and behind the back flap, a completely tiled bathroom — flush toilet, shower and sink. Amazing! We are given two locks, to lock the front and back flaps. After all the arrangements and precautions and DEET, we didn’t see/hear any mosquitoes, and we slept well but fast.
We were up early today, because today is the day we track gorillas. We’ve heard so much about the process — the need for a porter, a walking stick, layers of waterproof clothing, good hiking boots, et cetera. We’ve brought what we need, and rent walking sticks and gloves. And a porter, because why not have someone else haul my waterbottle and lunch, plus, the porter is supposed to be good at hauling their clients up and down the muddy slopes as well.
We’ve been told we may find the gorillas in two hours, or five hours, or a half-hour. In other words, we’ve been told to prepare for anything. We’re starting the hike at 1500 meters asl, and we’re going to be climbing mountains. All I really know is that this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I’m not about to take anything for granted. Our guide is a young woman whose name sounds like “Grete,” at least, that’s the way I heard it. She is backed up by two guides with guns, in case we meet an enraged elephant, and both Mary and I hire porters. The other six people in our group are in their 20s, and elect to go without porters.
Anyway, we set off, and Grete sets a rapid but not uncomfortable pace. This rain forest is a lot rainier than the one we were in at Jinja, and I’m thankful both for the walking stick and for my porter. But then it’s over as quickly as it begins. We circle around, cross a small river twice, and are back at a camp a few hundred kilometers from our base camp — and among the gorillas! We were there in 20 minutes!
We take off our rain gear and pick up our cameras. The previous silverback in this family died just two weeks ago from a wound acquired from an encounter with barbed wire. His young son — age 12 or so and not yet with a silver back — has taken over as the senior male, and will remain so unless tested by a wild gorilla. The lead male — we are told to call him the silverback even though he won’t get one for several years – has crossed the path, and so all the females and babies will be feeding. We have been told to stay seven meters away from the gorillas, but no one told the gorillas that. The young ones swing through the trees, the mamas feed on passion fruit and the babies play hide-and-seek with the lodge foundation. At one point the silverback comes right up the trail, and we have to push to the side to get out of his way.
To say it was awesome is an understatement. It was a chance to peek into the family and activities of another species, to share a few moments with them while they unconcernedly ignored us. And to watch their interaction and obvious caring. And for a few precious moments to be part of their world.