Monday, March 22, 2010

Bwindi impenetrable Forest, the Mountain Gorillas and Lake Bunyoni

After a well deserved and well needed night of sleep in Kasese, we re-packed our now lighter back packs and set out for 160 km trip to the southwest of Uganda, and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. We decided to take the "long way" which took us through the heart of Queen Elizabeth National Park. After the usual Ugandan delays of waiting for a taxi etc... we finally arrived at an intersection with the main road and the Ishasha road which is a 100 km dirt road through the middle of no-where. As we arrived, a car packed to the hilt, topped by mattresses,bags and chickens was getting ready to leave. However, when the driver saw two Mzungus reaching his intersection, his face lit up with dollar signs and he approached us. We haggled for a price, knowing that on this remote road, on a Sunday, this may be our only chance to cross to the other side of the park. Then not knowing where he was going to fit us and our big bags into an already overstuffed shit-box, he told us to get in. There were already 8 people and a baby in the car, we made it 10!Two people were in the driver seat, 2 in the passenger seat (and a baby) and 4 people sat across the back seat, with 2 grown adults on the passengers laps. All this in a small Toyota sedan! This may have been the worst ride of our lives: 3.5 hours of dirt road in the midst of a stench of humanity that is uniquely African. We eventually arrived in Buhoma, our destination after a day of traveling and spent 2 days recovering, doing laundry, popping foot blisters and resting up for the next leg of the trip, which was to be a walk through Bwindi Impenetrable Forest NP. The park was established on the border of DR Congo to protect the mountain Gorillas, a group of about 700 animals left in the world that live in this park and another one..

On a clear morning, we met our guide/owner of the walking safari Asgario and, after the usual fee/guard/tip/checkpoint fee/NP fee/Walking fee/breathing fee... we set off to cross Bwindi NP from the north to the west walking 10 km in a beautiful primary rain forest. We saw blue, Colobus and vervet monkeys and some rainforest fauna.
We emerged on the other side and climbed a substantial hill through the farmland that starts within feet of the park borders and crested to the village of Nkoringo, where we spent the night. The hilltop camp where we stayed had stunning views of Bwindi to the north, and the Verunga volcanoes on the border with Rwanda to the south. We went to sleep in great anticipation of the next morning, when were to track the Nshongi gorillas, one of 4 gorilla groups in the Bwindi park.

We awoke early in the morning, broke camp, and headed to Nshongi. The mountain gorillas, made famous by the movie "Gorillas In The Mist", number about 700 in all, and are divided among several groups in Rwanda, Uganda, and DRC. About 5 of these families are habituated in Bwindi, and can be tracked by and interact with people. The gorillas exist only in these 3 parks, and so intensive efforts have been undertaken to secure their home environment, including the relocation of the Batwa pygmie peoples from the forest. The gorillas are tracked by sending scouts ahead to follow the path of leafy destruction they leave after their previous night’s nest. They rarely move more than a km or so a day. After a short briefing we walked to the forest's edge, and after 45 minutes, and barely into the primary forest, we came upon the gorillas. Our first sighting was a big silverback, the dominant male of the group, pickily eating marion fruit and farting. Slowly we encountered gorilla after gorilla, most lazily sitting, totally surrounding themselves with yummy vegetation, gorging themselves. Ohers were in trees. All were eating.

The group had 2 silverbacks, some new babies and all in all about 35 members. We spent an hour with the critters, which is all one is allowed. Sometimes, the views of the animals were amazing, being only 3-4 meters from the great apes. Mostly, though, it was through thick brush, or up in trees, or on the move. As someone said, you get to see lots of gorilla butts up in trees. The hour went by fast and it was time to leave and say goodbye.
The experience was interesting, and when you look into their faces and eyes, they do look like hairier version of us, however, in the long run, both Rusha and I thought that it was a bit over-rated at $500 per person for 1 hour. While you get to watch them closely and intimately, there is no real interaction with them and they could care less that you are there—you could almost be just another tree.

Our next destination was Lake Bunyonyi, landlocked amidst the fertile and steep hills of southwestern Uganda and bordering Rwanda. This is Uganda's deepest lake, and rumored to be the only Bilharzia-free water (we hope so). We arrived and stayed at a beautiful lakeshore camp that caters to overlanders - trucks of youngsters, heading across the African continent in an open air truck, stopping along to see the sights, usually from Cairo all the way to Cape town in South Africa.The camp was beautiful and manicured, with nice food and docks, and dugout, left-turn-only canoes. It even had an 8 meter high platform to jump into the lake from! We sunned ourselves, ate crayfish from the lake and hung out in the local market, to which farmers bring their wares in canoes from across the lake. We rested, swam, ate, and drank after the many kilometers of walking the week before.

To get back, we took a very long bus ride back to Kampala, during which the incidents included a bit of mob justice on a man who crossed the road on his bike in front of our careening bus, and almost caused an accident. Men from the bus jumped out, caught the poor guy, and whipped him with branches and punched him a few times. This is justice in the bush and I bet that guy will never anything like that again. After running a girls foot over on the way into Kampala (really the bus ran over her foot!) we arrived safely in Kampala where we spent a couple of days frantically packing, saying our goodbyes, and enjoying some decent food and coffee after 2 weeks of bush coffee and chicken and chips.

Our time in Uganda has been amazing, and a growing experience. We have met unique and wonderful people and friends, seen amazing things, and heard and experienced amazing stories. Uganda, you will be missed!

We are off to Nairobi, to climb Mt Kenya. After that we are on to Cairo, and then overland, via Jordan to Israel. We will keep every one up to date as often as we can, thanks for coming along with us on this journey.

Mwebale Nyo (Thank you very much)

1 comment:

  1. Check out - humans can easily wipe out this entire endangered species, that's why only one hour. Well worth it if you appreciate what you're looking at. Let's hope we can keep them alive as well as their habitat intact so adventurers like you will have something to look at! My experience was pure magic! 3 gorilla juveniles playing and jumping just a few feet from us! I say let's all work to keep the adventure alive! cheers! Judy