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Memorable Magical Moments with Mountain Gorillas

© by Beth Poad
We actually hear them before we see them - sounds of chewing and grunting from the undergrowth and thick creepers that are higher on the slope of the mountain forest as we round a corner.

These are mountain gorillas led by an enormous Silverback , and we are deep in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, home to more than half of the remaining mountain gorillas in the world. We left our base lodge, Silverback Lodge in Buhoma District much earlier that day with the hope of catching a glimpse of these peaceful, rare and highly endangered creatures.

Silverback Lodge boasts impressive views of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park which is a UNESCO site and home to approximately 350 mountain gorillas. From our early morning viewpoint , the mountain forest appears a very formidable place that we will enter for what could be as long as an 8-hour hike.

  Our tour company, Riverside Safaris has done all of the organizing up to this point. Our accommodations are highly recommended both for the quality of the hotel and for the spectacular view that appears just below the clouds above the forest.

Owner and tour guide Bonnie Kwiringira collects us in Kampala for the 8-hour guided drive to Western Uganda. He arranged the permits from the Uganda Wildlife Authority for $600 each and brings us to the start of the trail. Bonnie grew up in the area and therefore knows our surroundings well. He is a wealth of information and points out local flora and fauna as well as regaling us with humorous stories about the animals.

Enroute from Kampala, we stop in Queen Elizabeth National Park and are fortunate to see some of the "Big Five" while there. Queen Elizabeth Park is home to "tree climbing" lions, elephants, buffalo, leopards, chimpanzees, hippos and so much more. We also stop for photos and shopping at the Equator and make a couple of stops in small villages to see the traditional way of living.

We drive past miles of banana plantations, rice fields, pineapple and tea groves covering the hillsides. The incredible scenery is validation for Uganda's nickname, "The Pearl Of Africa."

Bonnie also knows the Bwindi park rangers and arranges porters to assist us throughout the trek. Hiring porters helps the local economy as they are very reasonably priced and helpful! The terrain is wet, slippery, muddy, straight up and down, hilly, and constantly changing. My porter's name is Godfrey but I soon nickname him God-send as he helps us navigate slick trails, steep slopes and rocky river beds. Our walking sticks are essential items!

Our hike is pleasantly challenging but not dangerous. While not for the faint-of-heart it can be done by most able-bodied adults. We stay together as a group and hike for a couple of hours. The staff is very knowledgeable and clearly love their jobs as well as the wildlife that they protect. Safety for everyone is of paramount importance to the staff, and they do their job well. Not for one second did we ever feel unsafe.

Finally, in a dense section of the forest , we stop. Our UWA Rangers advise us that we are near the gorilla family. We shuffle forward peering through the dark foliage to be rewarded with the incredible view of a gorilla mother and her baby. We have discovered the Rusheguru Family led by Kabukojo. We are informed that the flattened vegetation indicates that this was the gorillas' sleeping nests from the previous night.

A Leisurely Day, photo by Wikimedia Commons   Baby and Mother, photo by Wikimedia Commons   Great Ape, photo by Wikimedia Commons    Mountain gorillas, photo by Wikimedia Commons    Sharing a secret, photo by Wikimedia Commons   Mountain gorilla, photo by Wikimedia Commons   Silverback mountain gorilla, photo by Wikimedia Commons    Mountain gorilla, photo by Beth Poad    Mountain gorilla, photo by Beth Poad

Nearby, two other gorillas groom each other and just a few metres away stands the Silverback with his silver grey fur, all in his glory. Most of the others are resting, having eaten well, and several are still up in a tree. The mother at the bottom with her 10-month old, was quite protective of her offspring, alternating between the hidden deep shade and open grass below the trees. A special show is provided, courtesy of the adolescent male, who cavorts above and practices his aerial moves until he falls from one branch to another and lands on the soft carpeted forest floor. We are able to spend an hour observing these beautiful creatures.

Words are inadequate to describe how you feel when standing a few meters away from one of the most magnificent, intelligent animals on the planet. You are in their home. They are so close that one brushes by my leg. They do not fear us at all, and go about their daily lives. And when they look at you with their soft brown eyes, your heart melts.

Mountain gorillas are the largest and most powerful of the apes. Gorillas share 98% of the same genetic components as humans. They have a large chest, huge muscular arms and broad feet. They live in a group of 10-14 individuals led by a male, the Silverback. The Silverback is extremely protective of the gorilla family that he is with and will even sacrifice his life to keep them safe. There are less than 900 gorillas alive today which makes it even more incredible to be able to see these amazing creatures.
Map, photo by Wikimedia Commons   Park, photo by Wikimedia Commons

Riverside Safaris will customize a tour of Uganda for you. For the budget conscious, they have access to small guesthouses in addition to large lodges. In addition to wildlife safaris, they can also arrange day trips to local orphanages and villages to allow for a complete cultural experience.

Gorilla trekking in Uganda is one of the most unique and memorable things I’ve done while traveling around the world. I highly recommend it!

Guides, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda   Guides, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda

Beth Poad is a graduate of McMaster University and a retired English Teacher. She has written curriculum documents for public and private schools and travelled as a tourist to destinations all around the world and as a volunteer to China, Africa and India. When not travelling, she reads, writes and plans her next travel experience.

The local currency is the Ugandan shilling which traded at approximately 3500 Ugandan Shillings to the American dollar in 2015. It is best to bring US money and to ensure that bills are new, crisp and printed after 2007.
Uganda has two good English daily newspapers: The New Visions( www.newvision.co.ug) and The Monitor ( www.monitor.co.ug) available locally.
Calling from Canada/US to Uganda : To call a hotel in Uganda from Canada/US dial 011 or 01 ( US/Canada country code),+256 ( Uganda's country code), then the 9 digit number.
Your Canadian /US mobile phone works in Uganda if is GSM enabled or quad band and on a calling plan that includes international calls. If you have an unlocked phone you can pick up a Ugandan SIM card for much less and put it into your own mobile phone. Visit any mobile phone shop ( MTN and Orange are both very good) in Uganda to determine if this is possible with your phone. Calling Over the Internet: If you have an I-pad, Laptop or Smart-phone you can call using the internet to another wireless device for free. The major providers are Skype and FaceTime (Apple) .

If you go
River Side Safaris: www.westriversidesafaris.net
Trip Advisor: www.tripadvisor.com/Uganda
Visit Uganda: www.visituganda.com
Uganda Travel Planner: www.traveluganda.co.ug
About Uganda: www.aboutuganda.com
Silverback Lodge: www.silverbacklodge.com
ATR: http://www.africatravelresource.com/africa/uganda/
Ugandan Wildlife Authority: http://www.ugandawildlife.org/
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park: http://www.bwindiforestnationalpark.com/
Bwindi Forest National Park: http://www.bwindiforestnationalpark.com/Mountain Gorilla
Mountain Gorilla: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountain_Gorilla
Wikipedia: http://wikipedia.org/wiki/Uganda
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Uganda
Wikivoyage: https://en.wikivoyage.org/wiki/Uganda
About.com: http://search.about.com/?q=uganda
Fiction: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Novels_set_in_Uganda
Films featuring: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Films_set_in_Uganda
Music: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_of_Uganda
Places of worship: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Places_of_worship_in_Uganda
Sport: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_of_Uganda#Sport
Trip Advisor: http://www.tripadvisor.ca/Tourism-g293840-Uganda-Vacations.html

Travel Aid
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Currency conversion: http://www.xe.com/ucc/
Distance calculator: http://www.indo.com/distance/
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Maps (Google interactive map): http://maps.google.com/
Maps (Mapquest) U.S. & Canada: http://www.mapquest.com/maps/main.adp
Maps (Mapquest) World: http://www.mapquest.com/maps/main.adp?country=GB
Media Guide (local newspapers with current listings): http://www.abyznews...
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/
Time zone converter: http://www.timezoneconverter.com/
Photo Credits
Beth Poad
Wikimedia Commons

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