From the plains of Queen Elizabeth we moved south to the damp mountain forests of Bwindi for the final leg of our journey where we would be seeing one of the main attractions of Africa’s wildlife! From Bwindi Lodge we marvelled at the stunning views of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, which looks pre-historic when viewed from our banda balcony; a thick canopy protects the forest’s inhabitants from easy viewing. There are less than 800 mountain gorillas left in the world, 40% of which live in this small pocket of Uganda. We left to drive to the tracking base before sunrise and began a winding climb up a beaten track. As the sun spilt over the mountains and filled the panorama with light it burnt away the mist in the valleys, revealing interlocking foothills and smartly cultivated slopes. The road was in terrible condition, fissured and swamped.
After a ninety-minute journey and thirty minute briefing we set off on foot into the forest itself, which up close looked far less impenetrable. As the tracker slowed and instructed us to leave our bags and walking staffs with the porters there was a palpable change in atmosphere. The eighty-minute walk had been relatively straight-forward and non-eventful, but now we moved between two trees into a dipped clearing of ferns. The tracker started to emit a grunt, an exaggerated clearing of his throat intended to communicate with the gorillas that we meant no harm. It was at this point I thought our luck had finally run out. The ferns provided shelter for the animals and I was struggling to pick out anything between the shadows and the vegetation until one of the shadows casually started moving slowly down the slope. A small adjustment of our position and we had a clear view of the main silverback, known modestly as “The King.” He was huge, but completely oblivious to our presence. Instead he simply lolled around grabbing handfuls of plants and shoving them indelicately into his mouth. We had been watching him for ten minutes when he decided enough was enough, revealing his bulk as he rose to his knuckles and moved on.
You are only allowed to spend an hour with the gorillas to prevent the transmission of disease but we were able in that time to see the silverback, an infant take a parachute jump into the ferns and a juvenile male charge one of the rangers. The same juvenile, deciding we were getting too close, demonstrated his size and strength by standing straight and beating his chest, causing a collective backwards step from our party.
Back in our lodge that evening it was strange looking at the forest knowing what was hidden within. I scanned the view with the lodge telescope but to no avail, the Impenetrable Forest had reclaimed its name.
by Gary Almond