Gorilla Trek and Tracking

Mountain Gorilla - Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Mountain Gorilla – Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

All the below was arranged by Escape tours & Safari, Entebbe Uganda

I took the 7.30 am flight from Entebbe international airport in a Aerolink Cessna Caravan Astol (A Short Take Off & Landing craft) 11 seater to Kihihi Savana airstrip, approximately 47 kilometres from Bwindi Impenetrable forest national park. The flight took 1hr 5mins to Kisoro air strip to collect a passenger then another 15 minutes to Kihihi. I was met by Ivan, a smart smiling guy, who welcomed me like a long lost friend; his surname was Mashemerer which means happy. Happy Ivan took my bag and put it in his car and asked me where I would like to sit, front or back, I would like to drive I replied and he tossed me the keys and got in the passenger front seat. The Toyota was an automatic and in good condition and as I started her up and pulled away I asked, how long and how far? about 2 hours and 47 kilometres.

There were no main roads from this bush airstrip, just local roads formed from pressed earth with a top coat of stones compressed by a heavy roller known as Murram roads. For two hours I drove along these roads trying my best to avoid the ruts, pot holes and rocks, whilst respecting Ivan’s car which was a family salon and not a 4 x 4.

Happy Ivan and The Ntungamo Parents School children

Happy Ivan and The Ntungamo Parents School children

These Murram roads suffer badly in the rainy season leaving them deeply rutted with large holes making each short journey a marathon. They are repaired every four years, if lucky, but thankfully there is not a lot of traffic as most of the locals use motor bikes and buses as locals cannot afford cars. The drivers negotiate the problems as if they were not there. We passed through many small villages or towns that lined the roads, Kihihi town and Kanyantoro where a large tea factory is located and Butogota, happy Ivan’s home town, where he lives in the family mud and wood house whilst saving and building a new brick house for his wife and three young boys. We paid a quick visit to the house building site then on to the school, where his wife runs a small shop or canteen, selling drinks and biscuits to the children. The school Ntungamo Parents School is run by the locals with no outside help and I was lucky enough to meet the children as they queued for snacks at the canteen shop and had fun taking photo’s and showing them back, digital is fantastic!

After two hours I arrived at “Mahogany Springs” at  Buhoma next to Bwindi Impenetrable forest national park, a lodge completed in 2011 by an Englishman,

who visited Bwindi to see the Gorillas and loved the area and saw the opportunity for a luxury lodge.

This wonderful lodge is nestled in an un spoilt valley with its large balcony overlooking the tropical rain forest covered hills, home to the very special inhabitants I had come to see, dominated by a very large Mahogany tree.

The lodge constructed over a period of about 4 years, is formed from locally burnt bricks and lake sand clad and dressed with timber and banana leaves. It comprises of a main reception building with bar, dining room and lounge area, and a number of Bandas, bedrooms in traditional style, all of which have en suite bathrooms. The rooms were complete with slippers and large fluffy white towels, hot water and spacious bathrooms with showers furnished to a great standard were spaciously positioned in the gardens each with its own balcony. The gardens boasted shrubs and flowers, manicured to perfection, enough to win a prize at the Chelsea flower show and colourful exotic birds both large and small could be seen and heard, whilst locals all around, went about their daily routine of trying to eek out a living just to feed their families, I felt ashamed.

After a superb 3 course evening meal, good night sleep and breakfast prepared by the resident Nepalese chef it was time to trek and track.

Mountain Gorilla - Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Mountain Gorilla – Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

The starting point is a five minute drive to the National park entrance where all trekkers meet from their various lodges and guest houses and are given a briefing by a park ranger on the do’s and don’ts of Gorilla trekking. We were then split into two groups and at 9am started our trek go find the “Rushegura family”, a family of fifteen living high in the forested hills above with the other group trekking another family and they started with another 10 minutes drive down the road.

There are about 12 families, eight which have been habitulised living in this national park area which covers an area of 32,000 ha, and four wild unhabitulised families which are considered dangerous.

Our trackers set off an hour ahead of us to locate the family and were high on the hill when we set off. After an hour of fairly easy uphill forest paths gaining height all the time, the heat made the going tough. Now at around 1700m above sea level we received a call from the trackers who had located the Rushegura family and our ranger guide turned right and led us up steeper ground, with no real paths clearing the way with his machete. We followed on for another one hour twenty minutes up a steep, slippery jungle entangled man made paths to join our trackers who were waiting for us. Hot and sweaty we downed our back packs and sticks, took out our cameras and walked the two metres to where the family we playing and eating. We did not know they were there.

Mountain Gorilla - Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Mountain Gorilla – Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

We spent the maximum time allowed which is 1 hour with the Gorillas following them as they moved from area to area, eating, lying down and watching the babies and juveniles play around. There were nine in total, two male black backs, two females and five young ones. The elderly silverback attached to this family was not with them, apparently due to age he could not keep up and was resting further down the other side of the mountain. As ranger trackers cleared the foliage away so we could get better views, a Swedish lady and I were walking across a clearing towards a ranger when out of nowhere walked a large black back male heading straight at us, we stood still as it passed by looking at me and brushing my trousers as it passed, neither of us took a photo, we just watched as it walked by, fantastic.

The hour passed so fast, we sat for 30 minutes having lunch, then trekked back down the mountain for about 1 hour 30 mins, finishing back at the park H Q.

A fantastic day out.

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Located in south-western Uganda, at the junction of the plain and mountain forests, Bwindi Park covers 32,000 ha and is known for its exceptional biodiversity, with more than 160 species of trees and over 100 species of ferns. Many types of birds and butterflies can also be found there, as well as many endangered species, including the mountain gorilla.

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