Part of the reason we joined the tour that we did was because we were gung ho about seeing the Mountain Gorillas. I had never met anyone personally who has done the trek, but I've heard about it through clients and we read about it and were intrigued. We even re-watched the movie “Gorillas in the Mist” (with a few parts that we had to fast forward through) in December to help prepare us. (Sidenote: Despite a few graphic and intense scenes, the movie is worth watching and holy cow was Diane Fossey a pioneer!)
We left our campsite early in the morning (which was status quo for the whole trip, by the way, and any time we were able to sleep past 5:30 in the morning we were ecstatic) in a combi van driven by a local. There were six of us in our group, including me and Hunya, and since the maximum allowed to see a gorilla family is eight, we had two stranger dangers placed with us by the National Park. We were assigned a tour leader, and a security guy equipped with an automatic weapon. (By this point I was so used to seeing men and women strolling around with automatic weapons, I was not that wide-eyed.) We drove to a small village near the border of the Bwindi Forest and we began our hike. Within the first ten minutes, we were winded. It was a high elevation and a steep incline and we had been sitting in the truck for days, so we were ill prepared for the seriousness of the hike. Little did we know that the beginning of the hike was easy compared to the rest of the hike once we were inside the National Park. There are not really trails and many times we were climbing over trees and branches and praying that our feet would not slip through to some unknown depth. My walking stick, which I had initially considered cumbersome, became my gauge for every step and also my balance for when I had to hop and jump and plunge and pray that I didn't miss a step and plummet down the steep mountainside deep into the rain forest. I am telling you, this hike was serious. Erika, an older woman from Germany in our group, was the unlucky one who actually fell. A tangle of interwoven branches caught her like a net, saving her from hurting herself too badly. (It was so shocking when it happened that it took thirty minutes for our concern to wear off into laughter, because she totally fell backwards like out of a movie, and of course it was funny!)
Anyway, after a couple of hours, we finally came upon the gorillas. (Trackers leave early in the morning to find the family for you to see then they radio the guides.) We were lucky enough to see two Silverbacks and one baby!! No joke, the baby did a little mini chest pounding with his tiny fists, which was the cutest thing ever. The gorillas have wee beady eyes set in their oddly shaped noggins and their necks and shoulders and biceps are massive. Beyond massive. The power exuded just when walking is incredible. They can destroy everything in their path while making it look like they are just pulling up tiny weeds. I couldn't stop staring, even though their actions were mundane and simple, and I couldn't stop taking photos. We were all enthralled.
We had to follow them a bit, and it was interesting watching the trackers at work, determining which way to go without getting too close. The law is that an hour interaction is all that is allowed, so when our time was up, we left them to go eat lunch and then head back down. While we were eating lunch, I kept looking up in the tree above us because I thought I heard something. Van and I were a little separate from the rest of our group, but we couldn't see anything above us. Then! We finally saw movement in the super tall tree above the one we were looking in and it was a Silverback shaking around!! He was so high up and disguised in leaves, but then he shimmied down and we watched the whole thing. Of course I uttered the ubiquitous, “I told you so!” but it was lost in our wonder at seeing another big guy right above us. So amazing.
Our hike down was almost as tedious, for it still had inclines and booby traps and despite the man with the machete ahead of us, it was not a trail. Then we had to drive for over two hours to get back to the camp in a van with no AC that kept sucking in red clay and blowing it all over our faces. It felt like we were in a cartoon when the cloud of red dust puffed out all over our faces. When we got back to our camp we discovered that the other group had returned three hours before us. It turns out that some people have easier hikes than others, and that different families are more accessible. Despite our exhaustion, we were so stoked to have had such an adventure. It was untoppable.