trekking through the gorilla jungle

Trekking through the gorilla jungle.

The jungle is a seemingly everlasting thicket of tangled emerald green with no street signs, walking trails, or Google Maps voice directions. To find the gorillas, you must get up early and, with the protection of park rangers, religiously follow the footsteps of a local tracker who uses a machete to clear a path through the jungle.

Every tiny detail is investigated as the trackers determine the gorillas’ direction. You will get muddy and sweaty. Beneath the forest canopy, the air is humid, misty, and the terrain very uneven. It’s a good idea to bring a bottle of freshwater to hydrate as you go.

The vegetation on the lower slopes will be dense, often a mix of bamboo, ferns, and galium vines. As you climb, the undergrowth should thin out a bit.

Mountain gorillas live way up in the cloud forests, ranging from 2200 meters to 4300 meters altitude. You may feel a little short of breath. Remember to let your guide know if you feel a bit lightheaded.

The hike up or down the mountain slopes to get to the mountain gorillas is an exciting experience in itself because it brings you to one of the most beautiful places on earth. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is one of the few remaining magnificent verdant swaths across the steep ridges of the Albertine Rift Valley.

It’s not possible to predict how far the gorillas have moved from the previous day or what direction they’ve taken, so patience is definitely a good state of mind while following trackers at this time. But sooner or later, they will find the group they are seeking.

Mountain gorillas move around depending on the season, spending time in the subalpine regions to feed on fresh vegetation and fruits during certain times of the year.  A trek could take from 30 minutes to 4 hours to find them.

The first sight of gorillas is unforgettable! Inside the intense green of the dense vegetation, you’ll see dark shapes as you got closer. It takes a few seconds to realize that these shapes are wild gorillas right there in front of you. Amazingly, they are perfectly calm. The gorillas may glance at you at first but will quickly resume their normal activities.

The preeminent German-born American biologist and conservationist Gorge Schaller, in his 1964 epic book, The Year of The Gorilla, wrote;

“A musty, somewhat sweet odor of gorillas hung in the air. Somewhere ahead and out of sight, a gorilla roared and reared again, uuua-uuua! An explosive, half-screaming sound that shattered the stillness of the forest again… Then another roar, but father away. I continued over the ridge, down, and up again. Finally, I saw them, on the opposite slope about two hundred feet away, some sitting on the ground, others in trees.”

“An adult male, easily recognizable by his huge size and grey back, sat among the herbs and wines. Beside him sat a juvenile, perhaps four years old. Three females, fat and placid, with sagging breasts and long nipples, squatted near the male … We sat watching each other. The large male, more than others, held my attention … I felt a desire to communicate with him, to let him know by some small gesture that I intended no harm, that I wished only to near him.”

Gorge Schaller

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