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The small group of trekkers crept slowly through the jungle. In the early morning stillness they moved in silence. The only sound the group made was the swoosh swoosh of the machete that forged a path for them to follow. In these tropical conditions, sweat poured from their bodies and their minds swirled from the heat and humidity. Dianne, one of our consultants, hiked with the group as they crossed rivers and muddy gorges. They pushed on through swarms of mosquitoes, up steep hills and under fallen trees into the belly of the jungle, buoyed by the imminent once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the endangered mountain gorillas.
The guide cut away a clump of vines and entered a clearing, “this is the last known location of the gorilla family. They will be near,” she whispered to the group. They moved through the clearing and back into the thick jungle. Moments later the guide seemed to see something, cut one last branch away and exclaimed in a hushed tone, “there it is, there is a gorilla. A female next to that tree. Look closely!” For many of the wildlife enthusiasts in the group, this was a moment they had been dreaming about for a very long time. As the group adjusted their vision, leaned forward and scanned the nearby bushes two gorillas crashed loudly through the dense foliage behind them, crossing the same path they had made moments before. The group spun around in unison but were too slow to catch a glimpse. Then, somewhere to their left, came a short, low grunt. The beating of Dianne’s heart reached a crescendo as they frantically searched the jungle for the gorillas they seemed to be surrounded by. They were finally here. They were among the gorillas.
Image credit: Raffaele Nicolussi
The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is as enchanting and otherworldly as the name suggests. It is a national park situated in south western Uganda on the edge of the Great Rift Valley and is considered the most diverse forest in Uganda. It encompasses an ancient and vast stretch of lush rainforest and is one of the few large expanses of forest in East Africa where lowland and mountain habitats meet.
Image credit: Joshua Smith
The park contains almost one half of the world’s population of the endangered mountain gorilla, making it an extremely valuable conservation site and a popular tourist attraction. After the first frantic minutes, Dianne and her group settled down to spend a precious hour with a family of 15 of these elusive mountain gorillas. “Some of them just hide and are a bit shy so you don’t see them. But most of them were just sitting around and playing in the area we were. The babies were the best!” Dianne lights up at the thought of the adorable infant gorillas with big eyes and fuzzy afros. “The babies were very sweet and curious. We were standing and they were all sitting when one came up and touched one of the girl’s legs. We just stayed still and let it explore.”
Image credit: Amanda Stenberg
“It was very quiet. We would whisper to each other. You sit and stand and watch and take hundreds of photos. The parents stay further away and then come fetch the inquisitive babies when they get too near and steer them away.”
Dianne had six people in her group and was accompanied by two rangers and one guide. There are never more than eight guests in a group which ensures intimate and safe encounters. “The silverback was magnificent and very regal. He is the father of the family and they all tend to stick around him.” After the hour, they retraced their steps and returned to their camp to reminisce about their thrilling experience.
Whilst in Uganda Dianne was also able to go chimpanzee tracking in Kibale Forest, which is in the western corner of Uganda below the ‘Mountains of the Moon’, the alluring name of the Rwenzori Mountain Range. Kibale is one of the best places in the world to go chimpanzee tracking with about 500 of these primates spread around the park. The chimpanzee tracking tours leave twice a day with an expert guide who will lead you on a trek through the lush rainforest.
“Kibale Forest is quite thick and as we travelled in the rainy season, quite muddy. Most guests will do the chimp trek in the morning when the chimps are more active and you are more likely to find them on the ground, instead of high up in the trees like we experienced. It was still amazing to see – they were very active in the treetops so we had a very good sighting. The two rangers that took us on the trek were very knowledgeable and the lead ranger had a good sense of humour.”
Kibale contains pristine lowland tropical rain forest, montane forest, and mixed tropical deciduous forest. In addition to forest, there are also areas of grassland and of swamp. The forest is rich in wildlife and is most noted for its primate population. Other than chimpanzees, Kibale has populations of red-tailed monkey, diademed monkey, olive baboon, and black and white colobus.
“All in all it was a truly wonderful trip. Uganda’s wildlife is so amazing and unique that it makes it a very special place to visit. On top of that, the forests, mountains and lakes are absolutely stunning. I cannot wait to go back.”
In Bwindi, Dianne recommends Buhoma Lodge, situated just inside the National Park’s boundary gate, Buhoma offers uninterrupted views of the pristine rain forest canopy. Guests can wake up to tea and coffee on their own private veranda with spectacular views of the morning mist rising off the canopy of Bwindi Forest. The cosy central lounge area with its open fire is the perfect place to unwind after a hard day gorilla tracking.
For Kibale, Dianne recommends staying at Ndali Lodge. “Ndali Lodge was one of my favourites on the trip. Staff are very friendly and attentive and the rooms are spacious and you have a bath with a view!” Ndali Lodge is perched on the rim of an extinct volcano and the cottages offer a panoramic view of the spectacular “Mountains of the Moon”. Dianne says, “the Lodge is a good base for the Chimp Trekking if you stay for 2 or 3 nights. They also offer walks in the area.”
If you would like to find out how you too could enjoy an encounter with these endangered primates, please contact us here.
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Matt discovered a passion for writing in the six years he spent travelling abroad. He worked for a turtle sanctuary in Nicaragua, in an ice cream factory in Norway and on a camel safari in India. He was a door-to-door lightbulb-exchanger in Australia, a pub crawl guide in Amsterdam and a journalist in Colombia. Now, he writes and travels with us.
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