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Guest Blog Series: Gorilla Trekking at Bwindi Lodge, by Jonathan Silverman

Jonathan Silverman and a Volcanoes Safaris guide giving a thumbs-up before starting their gorilla trekking adventure at Bwindi Lodge, Uganda.

Written by Jonathan Silverman – San Francisco, CA USA – 1st Grade School Teacher

Jonathan Silverman embarking on his Volcanoes Safaris' gorilla trekking adventure, standing in front of a small plane ready to depart to Uganda.

As I packed my two carry-on bags to go to Uganda, Africa with my gorilla trekking essentials like my rite in the rain journal, gators for my legs, boots for my feet, and gloves for my hands. My purpose was to stay with Volcanoes Safaris at the Bwindi Luxury Lodge for my entire stay. I left USA not knowing really where I was going. After flying over 21 hours I arrived in Entebbe, Uganda where I stayed overnight. The next morning, I was picked up to head back to Entebbe to board a small plane to head towards the Kihihi airstrip. I arrived and Joseph appeared in a Volcanoes Safaris land rover. Immediately, I felt a connection to his energy, the land, the people of Uganda, and the culture of Africa.

I had no idea where I was but the adventure began. We drove through the land of Uganda. I learned about the land, heritage of the local people of Buhoma, and their way of life. I was amazed of the indigenous Batwa people who once lived in the forest, but were forced out and how they are an integral part of the community today.

My accommodations were at the remarkable Bwindi Luxury Lodge. I stayed in the Tuwesime suite.

The staff and experience will take your breath away. Tonny the General Manager and Silver my butler were outstanding. I was finally here - where I needed to be. My plan was to trek two days this summer to see two different Gorilla Groups in their home ranges. My excursions were absolutely delightful. After doing some research I learned Praveen Moman had a glorious vision which was all about the positive impact of social change and natural conservation. In order to deepen the connection of the conservation chain it is very important to ensure that tourism, community, conservation to support wildlife must remain in balance to ensure the well-being of people, the land, and animals. This vision is a long-term sustainable project that influences positive change.

Originally it began with Dian Fossey who once lived with these Mountain Gorillas for over two decades. For over 55 years there has been support to help conserve wild gorilla populations. Today there is now a facility in Rwanda called, “Ellen DeGeneres Campus- Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund” to accelerate science and conservation work. The facility which exists is to support the next generation of conservationists by inspiring them for the future. To invest in conservation is truly a remarkable action especially for the next generation of Africans. The people need to be educated and inspired to support conservation in the future. Volcanoes Safaris take their role very seriously beyond the eco-tourism luxury lodge experiences. They are very aware of these sensitive habitats and realize the importance that they must remain controlled environments for tourism. They work closely with teams of experts who manage and monitor the land that surrounds the animal’s habitats.

This includes the rigorous training program of tracking gorilla groups in the regions. They ensure that challenges are addressed. They meet more successes through the development of programs within their lodges for making visitors feel welcomed but not invasive to the land or animals that live there. They ensure that the local communities live with benefits to safeguard the future of these precious great apes. I noticed in Uganda they closely work with the Uganda Wildlife Authority, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Conservation Area Managers throughout the regions, Veterinary care like the gorilla doctors, Batwa indigenous people - even built them a permanent village, supporting the local people like the Bwindi Bar for a three month hospitality program, Kyambura gorge wildlife buffer zone, giving back to local communities supporting the art and dance groups which results in supporting the conservation in the future. I had a first hand experience with the mountain gorillas during my visit in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. When I arrived at Bwindi Lodge, I put down my belongings and walked immediately to the Munyanga River. In the distance I hear branches moving and grunts. I look over and I see my first Mountain Gorilla staring at me.

I was in a magical place full of beautiful untouched land preserved to allow them to survive peacefully. This area has been preserved to allow these endangered species to thrive. I celebrated with a gentle smile and it was received by the Gorilla who nodded back at me as a signal of acceptance. I felt blessed in this moment wondering what will happen next. I have read some books about these Mountain Gorillas that live in this region. I am aware that these wonderful creatures live between fifty-sixty years. They are large barrel-chested apes. They appear very healthy looking with their bare black face and chest. They have dark black hands and fingers with small ears with their nostrils raised. Their habitat is confined to volcanic slopes in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda Mountain and sub alpine environments. They prefer to live in dense vegetation at ground level for all of the herbaceous growth. They feed mainly on leaves, shoots, stems, gallium vines, and wild celery.

So, when I saw this Gorilla, I wondered who else was out there. What would happen next? According to their behaviors they form small non-territorial groups dominated by a single Silverback male. I think the Gorilla I saw was not the Silverback. There are more out there. I was not scared or worried. The beauty of greenness made me feel alive. The sounds of the thriving forest penetrated from the mountain breeze which gave me comfort as well as the river stream flowing made me feel so connected to their world. Sure, I heard roaring, chest beating, plant bashing in the background, grunting, burping, growling, whines, hoots, and deep breathes, but I was simply at peace with them. I learned that they actually greet us, and we are not human intruders. According to the current information I believe there are over 1000 that remain alive in the wild. I am excited to see more on my actual guide and ranger led excursions. I have got two permits for two days during my stay. I am ready to explore the home range.

Day One of Gorilla Trekking: Encountering the Katwe Group Near Buhoma by the North Munyanga River, Adjacent to Bwindi Lodge

The morning is cool and Joseph returns. He drives me over to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, literally a couple blocks away from the Bwindi Lodge. As we arrive, the visitors gather in a central space to enjoy morning entertainment. My new friend Evelyn who runs a nonprofit called, “Ride 4 a Women” provided a dance performance with her team for many of us to watch, however I was invited and glad to participate. Luckily the day before I met the indigenous Batwa People so I performed my new moves they taught me and learned more during their performance dance. The colorful outfits made you smile with live drumming, singing, and jumping was transformative to get anyone excited for this excursion. The guides and rangers came in to break us into small groups. They reminded us of the rules for interaction in these habitats. Be sure to wear a mask at all times. Do not bring a backpack or eat/drink during the 1 hour allocated view time. Be sure to maintain distance from the Gorillas so we are not threatening their environment. Avoid sudden movements and speak quietly. Obviously, we want to limit any stress or fear for them. Everything we went over made sense to me. As we finish up, I use the restroom and walking over there I encounter magnificent artwork being created to honor these Gorillas.

The day is warming up and we head into the Katwe Group near Buhoma alongside the North Munyanga River adjacent to the Bwindi Lodge. So funny that there is no guarantee that you will actually see Gorillas during your excursion. Well, within ten minutes we discovered the Katwe Group. These Gorillas were so beautiful to see in their world. I was amazed seeing them so close being able to watch their interactions with each other, the forest, and my small group of eight people. We saw the Silverback, Mom, and the babies just doing their natural way of life. We were actually appreciated by the family.

They were comfortable and so were we. I recall some incredible nods of acceptance and appreciation for our visit. They were playing amongst each other, eating, and even lying on their back of the forest floor with their feet and arms dangling in the air. Their stares faded away and they just went along peacefully in their existence on the forest floor.

Day Two of Gorilla Trekking with the Kyaguliro Group Alongside the Eastern Ruhija, Elevated at 2000 Meters High

The next day I awoke at 5am because we were planning to go visit the other side of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. A beautiful ride watching the sunrise over the Uganda Land. The pinkish orange magenta contrast with the vivid green landscape.

It took us about two and a half hours to get to the Ranger station located in the Ruhija region. Again, the morning welcome was an exceptional dance performance by another local woman’s group. I was intrigued with this performance and participated again. The Guides and rangers put us in small groups. This part of the forest was much different. We were much more elevated, hiked miles up and down through steep terrains of unknown forest paths. The trails we took were ungroomed full of dense vegetation. It was tough, especially at the altitude to keep momentum moving towards the Gorillas. Luckily, I have been training and have the strength, stamina, and ability to continue forward.

In this excursion I learned about the forest elephants that live here. They go up and down this steep terrain. They actually created landslides as they sit on their back legs to slide down to the forest floor to get water. Luckily, we did not actually cross paths with any as I hear their behavior can be unpredictable. When we arrived hours later to find the Gorillas, I noticed they were climbing the trees. I saw a Silverback mountain gorilla who weighed about 200Kgs climbing a tree with ease. Truly remarkable! I noticed below there was a baby learning how to climb very cautiously as he navigated his footing each step he took. He was curious, clumsy, and adorable. Below the baby was Mom looking to ensure her baby becomes stronger and smarter.

These Gorillas were different to me in the connections they made to each other than the day prior. This group was very active in the trees. They climbed up and down. They climbed across the branches and were right above us at times. In awe of this truly remarkable experience, I sat there gazing at them. They sometimes would stare at me and I would just see my reflection in their eyes.

In reflection, I learned to appreciate the beauty of Africa. I see extreme value in conservation efforts to protect, preserve, and promote the survival of the Gorillas. It is important to enhance for positive community impact into the future of the sublime. These experiences have allowed me to have in my heart the rich cultural traditions of the African people, their heritage, and the importance of wildlife. I learned about the value of land, plants, and trees as the habitats that allow wildlife’s ecosystem to thrive. All the photos and videos I heavily documented empower my memories, thoughts, and reflections. I have enjoyed my time visiting and plan to return. Next time, I may have to visit the over 1500 chimps at Kibale Lodge set to open in 2024. Thank You Volcanoes Safaris for all that you do!



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To protect gorillas from disease, no children under 15 years are allowed to go gorilla tracking. For guests booking a stay at Virunga Lodge, please note that the minimum age limit for children at Virunga Lodge is 12 years.

Safari Activities

Chimpanzee Tracking

Tracking chimpanzees in their natural habitat, as they swing from the branches in the canopy high above the forest floor is nothing short of exhilarating. The chimps effortlessly cross and scamper through the trees above the gorge, and visitors on the other hand must cross the river using natural bridges in order to keep up with the chimps. So although the walk usually lasts only 2–3 hours, descending the steep gorge and crossing the log bridges over the river requires some agility and fitness.

Chimpanzee tracking is also available in nearby Kalinzu, a forest reserve 30 minutes drive from Kyambura Gorge Lodge where there is a community of about 40 habituated chimpanzees.