Whilst the culmination of our Africa trip may of only lasted an hour, it was still by far one of the greatest experiences we have ever encountered. Four a.m. our alarm went off, getting up in the dark and in a daze, we wearily threw ourselves into a van and headed off to the jungle. After a bumpy two hour drive, one hour lecture on encounter etiquette and another hour drive we were ready to set off for our gorilla trek. Due to the endangered status and wild nature of these majestic animals we were only permitted to approach the animals in a small group (8 people), on foot, trek one family and watch with them for one hour only. Fortunately for us our permits were authorized to follow the largest group in the park consisting of up to 23 gorillas, so our spirits were high.
As we set off our guide and two armed (with AK47's) assistants informed us that these are wild creatures and that whilst finding them is 99.999% certain, the trekking time may vary from 10 minute to a 10 hour round trip. Having done no exercise since South America, this worried us a little - particularly since we were in the middle of the Ugandan jungle and this was to be proper trekking, no paths, no steps just a guy with a machete to cut our way through. Approximately 20 minutes into our trek, with sweat already dripping from our brows, we heard the crackle of the radio, we all anxiously awaited the news from our lead trackers, who had left hours earlier to go find our family. Once their conversation was over our guide turned back to us and with the most unreadable expression calmly informed us that the trackers had found the group and we only had another 1.5 hours to go. This was a huge relief to all of us and after a quick breather we set off again.
From then on the hike seemed to go reasonably quick, with everyone excited to see what we came for. In fact we were doing so well that after only 45 minutes we reached our lead trackers and the location of gorilla family. So after another quick briefing, we stripped off our day packs and armed with just cameras we made the last short stroll in total silence yet intense excitement. As we approached in single file you could hear the rustling of the leaves as two of the gorillas snacked away high above us. Thinking this was it, everyone instantly fired off rapid amounts of photos in hope of capturing at least one shot of the black mass high off in the distance. But after a minute or so our guide ushered us along to what we were told was a better vantage point. So we carefully continued on, following the freshly cut track, to a spot where not only did we have full eye to eye view of a gorilla but infact the whole family as they chilled out over breakfast. We were told later that we were very lucky as not only did we get to see over 16 gorillas but catching them while they are resting is also fortunate.
Needless to say upon reaching this point everyone had their fingers on the trigger and other than the constant clicking of numerous shutters firing away, the only other sound that could be heard was the groaning trumpets from the gorillas as they passed their post breakfast wind. We each took turns at different vantage points to get that perfect shot and as the gorillas got more use to our presence our guides cut away and inched us forward, so we could get better views of the 2 silverbacks and 2 babies. Explaining the feeling you get when watching these creatures that are 96% genetically associated with humans is impossible, sorry you will just have to go yourself. But just like the rest of our travels I got plenty of amazing picks for you all to enjoy.
Another great experience we had whilst in Uganda was our village and orphanage tour. Expecting much like the tour we did in Malawi, we prepared ourselves for the onslaught of excited kid wanting to play. The first stop on they tour took us to a house where a local couple in their 70's had been living their whole lives. Upon meeting the old woman, she kindly introduced herself in the local language as Frida, before promptly inspecting the males for appropriate length of beards and female for adequate cup size. This was both uncomfortably awkward yet incredibly funny. So after getting much closer to Frida than we expected, she then showed us how she grinds sorghum for making porridge and weaves banana leaves for sugar bowls. Both her and her husband were marvelously friendly but sadly we had to leave and move on down to the orphanage - 'Little Angles Orphanage' set up by a very driven 25 year old local, who's mission is to 'provide inclusion to local children with special needs'. Arriving at the school we all split up and entered a different class room where we were treated to song by the class and even got to participate in the daily lesson. After about an hour of school work, it was then play time, so we all headed out into the play ground and enjoyed some free time with the kids, playing soccer, throwing balls, singing, dancing and for some getting their hair braided. We had such a great time there none of us wanted to leave.
Sadly Uganda was our last country on our epic tour around the world. However I don't think we could have picked a better place to finish up our trip, as this Pearl of Africa gave us the most friendly, unforgettable and awe expiring conclusion.
- Ryan -