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Trekking Mountain Gorillas in Africa - 2013
by June's Views on March 23rd, 2017

In August of 2013 I traveled with my friend Carolyn to trek mountain gorillas in Africa.  I hope my choice of words will do justice to this fantastic experience.  We began our trip in Uganda.  We were driven to Kibale National Park by our wonderful driver/guide Emmy, with Churchhill Safaris, where we hiked through heavy brush, trees and ground cover to see chimpanzees in the wild - the physically hardest activity I’d ever attempted. 
After about an hour spent climbing up the difficult mountain we did locate some chimps - mostly high above us in the trees but two came down and we were able to observe them and take pictures.  The chimps didn’t seem pleased to have us around, and I was happy to leave the forest to them. Take note of his one-finger-salute: the result of a broken finger not healing properly - but the pose seemed to express his true feelings about us.   I was beyond exhausted.  

I began to have serious doubts if I could actually make the gorilla trek, as everyone said that would be harder than trekking the chimps.  
After a few more days of great sightseeing - especially in the Queen Elizabeth National Park - we arrived at the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda.  The first morning of our trek Carolyn and I woke up at 5 AM, excited to know we could see gorillas in the wild today. 
Before we began our trek we were given an orientation - what to expect, how to act around the gorillas, etc. 

We each had our own porter, who carried our water, camera, snacks and any other necessity we felt we had to have. 

My porter’s name was Jeremiah.  In addition to carrying my stuff, he pulled me out of deep ditches and steadied me as we walked through the mud.  I could not have made the trek without him!   
This morning trekkers have gone before us to locate the group, so we can go more directly to them.  We walked in the jungle for about 45 minutes when we saw our first two gorillas, up in the trees.  They’re still eating their breakfast.  As we watched, they slowly began to climb down. We took many pictures and had a wonderful time.  We watched a family group of 17:  Young ones, the females, and the head of the family - the silverback.  This was a fabulous experience!  Muddy and exhausted, we returned to camp. 
The second day was less stressful to me.   The day didn't seem as difficult.  I think having a better idea of what to expect helped.  Our picture opportunities are not as good – the natural light was not as available.  Still, we had the chance to see a family acting as gorillas do.

This is my favorite picture of the entire gorilla-trekking experience:  Dad, mom, and their twins, just enjoying each other.

This night I used and really appreciated the pain patches I brought! 
We flew to Rwanda for our third and last gorilla experience.  Up early again, we are driven to a car park where we met our porters and fellow trekkers, all of us with about the same physical ability.   We began our walk through fields of potatoes and rice.  People are working in the fields…one woman had her young baby lying on the ground on a blanket under an umbrella.  We walk uphill for 30 minutes or so and we arrived at the edge of the forest.  Then we must wait 10 or 15 minutes because there was an elephant nearby in the forest and we needed to give him room.  When we got the "all clear" we  crossed a volcanic rock fence and entered the forest.  It’s mostly up hill through dense vegetation but at least there is a path.  Still, I would not have made it without my porter, Tito.  He pulled me up the mountain!  After another 30 minutes we left the porters and our walking sticks.  We proceeded through dense brush to our first sighting – a huge silverback.  Then we located the entire group of adult females, adolescents, babies; one mother was nursing – a great photo opportunity, but there was a lot of bamboo in the way and the sky was overcast:  When the gorilla moves, the bamboo is in the way, and the gorilla is blurred.  Bummer.  We were so close to them!  Some came within 3 or 4 feet!  Again, our time was up too soon.  I used more pain patches tonight but the discomfort was oh-so-worth it! 

Back at camp I again purchase my walking stick.  I have two of them proudly displayed in our living room, reminding me that I really did trek gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda!  And of course, I have wonderful pictures and my journal.  

This was an amazing experience!

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