|Today was Gorilla Day. Everyone was all excited. We ate breakfast and made out way to the border (Uganda/Congo). We cleared the border and were split into 4 groups in 4 wheel drives to head to the park entrance to hike to the gorillas. We drove for 2 hours over the bumpiest worst roads we've encountered thus far. We passed thru villages ravaged by the latest war and others that are full of Rwandan refugees. Their homes are mud huts with straw roofs. There are no Coca-cola signs or any signs of western influence. This is the Africa I came to see. Even the adults wave at us as we go by. The kids think we're from the UN (or so our driver tells us). They yell out Mzungu, Mzungu (white person, white person). The women are dressed in the most colourful clothing and carry everything from baskets of washing to huge bunches of bananas on their heads. Our driver tells us we are the only car they see go by today. The Congo is French speaking so I try to converse with him in what I can remember of my school french. He's married with 5 kids and is christian (protestant). This is a christian area so no 4 wives for the men here. I ask if all his family made it thru the war OK and he replied no but did not elaborate. I sympathised with him and would loved to have found out more but I just didn't have the heart to delve any deeper. The others in my group reckon I'm doing OK with my school french and fire questions at me to ask. This is a beautiful country, so untouched by the west, it is my favourite of my trip so far.
After 2 hours we arrived at the point from where we trekked to the gorillas. We have a quick sandwich as we can't eat in the jungle. We meet Dominique out guide and we also have 2 armed guards, one in front and one at the back and the 7 of us in between. We are told that the family we will see has 1 silverback, 2 females, 2 blackbacks (subadults or teenagers), 2 juveniles and 2 babies. We were all delighted, it seems like a great mix for viewing a gorilla family.
The jungle is dense and we navigate it in single file, not too hot but we are climbing so it's a workout. After about an hour we run into the trackers who went out early this morning to find where the family had moved to and radio back to our guides the best way to find them, they tell us we have about another hour to go. They are correct, suddenly our guide and guards tell us to leave our backpacks (everything but cameras) where we are, we know now we are right there. The guide uses a machete to cut thru the dense jungle growth and suddenly right in front of us munching away is a giant silverback, he is huge, a beautiful animal, a majestic animal, we keep the 7 metre distance and just watch, he doesn't put in or out in us and he moves on. we follow a little behind until we find 2 juveniles playing and eating, they are aged between 4-12 years. We want to find the females with the babies though, the guide leads us in a little different direction and there they are, like cuddly teddy bears, playing with their mother or riding on her back, we can't obey the 7 metre rule as the babies curiously approach us, then turn and scamper back to their mothers. I am kneeling taking photos and Emma an australian girl is right next to met, we hear rustling to our left and before we can move the silverback comes out of the bushes within inches of us, we had been warned he could charge but he just seems to have approached to find out what is going on and protect his family, he is gigantic. The Gorillas constantly break the 7 metre rule. A mother comes out of another corner with her baby on her back, she looks straight at me and approaches, I retreat slowly as directed by one of the guards. I remember to put my camera down a few times to just watch them. I want to remember this forever. I can't wait to watch Gorillas in the Mist again. I can't believe these animals have been poached to almost complete extinction. There are only 600 of these Mountain Gorillas left. I was of the understanding that the numbers were slowly but surely increasing but Justin (our leader) said that for each one born at least another one is poached, he reckons they'll be gone in 20 years.
All too soon our hour is up and we have to leave, it was the quickest hour I've every spent doing anything, We hike back thru the jungle and get back in the jeep for the 2 hour bumpy ride ack, we're all reviewing our photos, some of mine came out blurry but I got some good ones too. On the way back the driver almost hits a chicken, a cow and a man on a bike. The kids are all waving again. Some of them get in trouble for running after the jeep and trying to hop on. They run after the jeep forever. We are all exhausted and just want showers and our beds. The stories at dinner were exchanged between all of the groups. Some of us wondered how legal our crossing into DRC was because we filled out no paperwork for Congo but we have a stamp in our passport so we reckon in the end it must have all been above board. Kelly and I had upgraded to a room at this campsite. At about 2 am we are awoken to an incredible electrical storm, the loudest thunder ever, the brightest lightening and heaviest rain. We thought of the ones in the tent who hadn't upgraded and the locals in their little mud huts. It was almost dry by morning. We all packed up and made our way to Lake Bunyonyi, on of the biggest crater lakes in the world at 6500ft deep.