We left our packs and walking sticks behind as the guide cut a path through the lush green forest with his razor sharp machete to reach the gorillas.
We crossed a flowing river and slipped down a vine-covered hill before coming into a small clearing. Here sat a lone ‘silverback’ male (named after the stripe of grey hair on his back) quietly pondering life.
These are the alpha males and lead the groups of up to 30 gorillas, making decisions e.g. when to eat, sleep, relocate, and ensuring safety for the whole family.
He was happily munching on some juicy leaves as our group (limited to eight) stared in awe, manically snapping away. We were just a few metres. It was incredible to see this 160kg wild animal in his natural habitat.
We then heard some rustling over our shoulders and looked through the undergrowth to see two babies playing with their mother looking on. I could not believe we were close enough to witness this intimate behaviour.
Soon the family moved on and we followed them through the forest, up and down hills gripping onto vines to pull ourselves up and along the muddy paths. Occasionally we would get a glimpse as they crossed in front of us. At one point I must have got too close as one male bumped into me with his leg as he crawled past! Luckily he didn’t do more damage as they can charge when they feel threatened.
Suddenly, we heard horrific shrieking coming from a few metres away: it sounded if one of the gorillas was in distress. We asked the guide what was happening and he explained that one of the younger males was trying to mate with a female and the silverback was stopping it from happening! [The soundtrack to the video below is what we heard.]
After watching a silverback bend over and drink from a river, his massive bum in the air, our hour was up and we had to leave the beasts in peace and return to the human world.
It was one of the best experiences of the trip and very unique as they can only be seen in Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, the governments’ of these nations have cleverly capitalised on the popularity and charge between US$450-1,500 for the privilege of spending just 60 minutes with these beasts. By far the most expensive thing we have done on the trip!
After the intense experience, we had a few days of relaxation on nearby Lake Bunyonyi. a body of water up to 900m deep, dotted with islands. The journey there was a little squashed as we shared a normal sized car with seven other people (including four in the front):
We stayed in a safari tent on stilts with a nice view of the water and steep terraced hills behind. The lakes in Rwanda had been stunning but I think this one was even more beautiful. We spent a few days walking around the shoreline, swimming in the beautiful lake and eating beef brochettes.
A brilliant end to our short stint in Uganda and the Africa portion of our trip.
Next stop: Italy