Our lodge we stayed at was absolutely amazing and beautiful. We pulled in and had to walk down the hillside to get to the front door. Abraham and David welcomed us and showed us our room, we were in the Presidential Suite! One of the Ugandan traditions I want to bring to the states is that when you check in, they bring you a warm wash cloth to wipe down (Africa is a bit dusty) and a fresh glass of juice (Africa is a bit hot).
Once we finished our juice, we headed off to our room. We also were told that the generator is turned on from 5:30am to 10am and then again from 5:30pm until 10pm. For the rest of the time, there is no lights. We kinda laughed and unloaded our stuff in the room and headed to the bar, which is also the lobby, gift shop, and dining room.
We took in the view from the deck and I stared at the giant acacia tree. I have NEVER seen a tree so big— it was HUGE!!! David let us know it was probably 100 meters tall and at least 150 years old. We had a glass of wine with some popcorn, and ordered our dinner. Once we ate, we were off to bed for our gorilla trek in the morning.
We were up for breakfast bright and early for our big day ahead. We got our packed lunches and off we were to the Park HQ to get our guides, who will take us on the trek. We watched a video about what to expect when hiking. We then got our final “instructions” and put in our different groups. I will tell you- this was the most expensive piece of our trip. Back in March we had to decided that we were coming really quick because we had to get permits through the Ugandan Wildlife athority. They only give a certain number out per day so if you ever plan on coming to hike with the gorillas, you need to move fast.
They want you to pack at least 2 liters of water, and prepare you to hike up to 6 hours. We were in a team of 7 (2 Austrailians, 2 Americans from San Francisco & us 3) with Rita our Park Ranger, looking at the Habinyanja Gorilla Family. We got a little information about the family and hopped in the truck with Wilson for a 45 min drive to get to our starting point. Once we got to our starting point, we were introduced to our two guys with guns, to scare away anything that might need to be scared away. We also picked up our porters, who you hire for 50,000 shillings or approximately $15 US dollars. They carry your pack for you and help you up the hillside if needed. My guy was named Caleb and he was really nice. He took my bag and water and off we went. I kinda felt bad for him because he wanted to help me a lot more than I needed help. But all in all, it was just find and I was more than happy to give him $15, which most people in Uganda earn in one week.
There was a bit of an uphill right away and we all moved up it pretty fast. We had to make our way through the Forest- lots of vines and trees. There wasn’t a path per say but enough space to be able to walk comfortably without slipping. We went for 15 mins and Rita said “ok, we are at the gorillas”. We were all kind of confused because they prepare you to hike up to 6 hours and we went 15 mins and found them!
We met up with two men with machetes, Charles and Ignatius, who were out early tracking the gorillas. They know their movements and can tell where they had slept and what area they were in. We handed our packs and walking sticks for the porters to keep and continued on down the hillside, where the machete guys cleared us a path. It was pretty slick, as you were walking on vines, bamboo, and whatever else there was on the forest floor. We walked another 15 mins or so and the machete guys said “they’re right here”… And there they were!! A mamma and baby, along with another female, chomping on the leaves. We were not to far from them and they couldn’t have cared less. (That’s for you dad!) There was a few growls directly to my right in a thicket, where someone was hanging out but we couldn’t see where this gorilla was. Not going to lie, it kinda scared me a little because I didn’t want a gorilla to come charging at me out of the thickets. I would have shit my pants for sure.
The gorillas finally moved along and so did we. We were trying to follow their movements because we had an hour to spend with them. We stopped again and took some more photos when the one guy said, “passing by” and I sort of looked around to find the gorilla… When he nodded down and there was a gorilla walking right between me and my friend! They say don’t scream and it took everything I had not to, so I did the next best thing; I grabbed onto the lady’s shoulder behind me and squeeze as hard as I could. My eyes looked like the wide eye emoji- the gorilla brushed our legs and moved along out of eye sight. HOLY SHITBALLS! That just happened!!!
We then found the Silverback of the group, along with the baby he is caring for (because the mother died) and another young gorilla. He wasn’t interested in letting us get a good picture of him and we moved on. We walked another 10 mins and found about 7 of them just sitting around and eating. It was pretty amazing and amazing does not do it justice. I couldn’t believe I was actually standing a few feet away from a gorilla in the wild.
Once we were done, we walked back up the hill to our porters and the San Fran couple realized they lost their camera lens. So Rita and the porters left us with one gun guy and took off to find it. How they hell they actually DID find it was pretty much a miracle. The forest floor we were walking on was filled with vines and thickets and God only knows what else. But they found it and off we were to the cars. My Fitbit said approximately 2.25 miles and 37 flights of stairs. Remember, they say this could take 6 hours of climbing… And we found our group in 15 mins!
We went back to the Park HQ to get our gorilla trekking certificates of achievement and were back at the hotel by 11:30. We decided that since we didn’t have power we were going to have some Sunday Funday adult beverages to celebrate our trek. We went back to the rooms at 5:30 to charge our devices and off to dinner we went. Once dinner was done we packed up our belongings because we were leaving at 7am.
The drive home was long- 8 hours to Kampala. In leaving the lodge, there is a 2.5 hour drive on bumpy dirt roads, winding up and down the mountains. We told Wilson we wanted to see zebras and we stopped on the road to a different park, outside the gate, and across the road from 2 zebras. We saw everything we wanted, minus a leopard in the daylight. Wilson is the MAN!! We did make another pit stop at the equator and got back to Kampala around 5:30pm, just in time to hit traffic! Boo. We said our goodbyes to Wilson, that was his last day of hanging out with us. He was such a wonderful driver and made sure we saw everything we wanted to see. I would recommend him to anyone who visits Uganda.