Encounter With A Silverback
2019 by Andrea Batstone
One of my bucket list items (and I have a
checked off in September. I’ve dreamed of visiting the
Mountain Gorillas in Africa. I contacted my friend that organizes
Safaris in Africa to get the ball rolling. She said
has close to half of the Gorilla total population with the majority
of them living in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. She didn’t
need to convince me and thus our adventure began.
We arrived in Entebbe and enjoyed an easy
day with a
cruise on Lake Victoria. The lake is one of the largest
tropical lakes in the world and home of the largest swamp called the
Mabamba Bay Wetlands. Our goal was to see the elusive Shoeball.
They’re an odd dinosaur-like bird that loves to make their nest
amongst the papyrus. These feathered creatures are a
with a beautiful pearl-grey colour and some have piercing
eyes. They’re related to herons and pelicans and stand
about five feet tall. They are the most fascinating birds
ever seen. A bonus adventure. Tomorrow we fly to Bwindi.
The flight was early but that meant getting
our cousins. We took a short flight on an AeroLink Cessna. We
flew quite low and looking at the world below was riveting.
What a beautiful introduction to this part of the world! We landed at
Kisoro Airport, walked through a couple of local villages and
finally arrived at our home, the Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge. It
looks over the World-renowned Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
National Park. This section of forest is home to the three
Nkuringo Gorilla families of Mountain Gorillas.
Trek one started early. The lodge
gave us a
hearty breakfast and a packed lunch for a break on our walk.
We were driven to the meeting area and briefed on what we would see.
There was a brief orientation and some instructions on how to act
around the Gorillas. The Guides were careful to keep the
small, no more than 10 people and matched us up with a Porter
(someone to help us maneuver once we left the trail). They’re
help was greatly needed because it’s slippery in the jungle and
it’s a job for the people in the area. They’re trained
and paid by the tourists. Tips are a bonus.
We started down the mountain, apparently
trail from Uganda to Democratic Republic of the Congo, and into the
beautiful tropical rainforest. It was damp and smelled
wonderful. I could even “taste” the warm humidity in the
air. Although the weather was threatening, the sun shone while we
walked through a forest of ferns and greenery. We were hot
the air was humid. Two hours into our trek I reminded myself how
happy I was that we booked two treks. What if we didn’t
see them today? I would be satisfied with the trek and the
countryside. There was always Trek
All of a sudden, we got the signal from the
that they had found a family. Just a fifteen minute walk
We were told not to speak while walking because it might scare the
primates away, we whispered and high fived (quietly).
was kicking in.
Suddenly, we were dropping our
packs and making
a path through the jungle. The Rangers were cutting the vines
and foliage, and we’re hiking straight down the side of the
mountain. Just when you thought you’d never get there,
there they were. The Nkuringo Family of Mountain
The adrenaline kicked in when we left the
but now my heart starts beating, feeling like it was in my
I felt exhilarated and somewhat frightened. I was less than 6 feet
from a 300 pound Silverback. He was still munching away.
Something startled him and he does a false charge, the Rangers start
to mimic his grunts. The big guy settles but moves further
the mountainside. We follow, most might call it stalking. The Guide
pointed to the right. In the tree is a juvenile (18 months
older), there in the grasses are two ladies, chilling and napping.
Both lying on their backs, legs entwined. You could hear the
silverback moving down the mountain, we don’t follow him (he’s
moving too fast). We stayed for a good long time taking in the other
amazing beasts. We were close enough to hear their breathing,
to smell their fur and to look them in the eye. High in the trees we
spot a young baby breast feeding, partially camouflaged by the
leaves. Behind us are a group of young ones, screeching and
swinging through the trees. We were surrounded and
being serenaded by a cacophony of sounds. I
content and safe amongst them.
We only spend one hour with these beautiful
Stats show if you keep the exposure to a minimum it keeps them wild,
boy did that hour fly. Soon we were trudging back up the
mountainside slipping and sliding. My legs were shaking and I could
feel the blood pounding through my body. But I couldn’t
wipe the smile off my face. We’d just had an encounter with a
It began to rain after we left the gorillas
didn’t matter. The walk back was challenging partially
because we were about 8000 feet high. The long downhill
at the beginning of our trek, was now the long trek uphill. A
full fledged tropic rain storm broke out and by the time we reached
our meeting place we were soaked to the bone. But we didn’t
care. We’d seen the mountain gorilla. The next trek would be a
After a day's rest, trek two
started early (do
you see a pattern here). We were driven to the starting
briefed and divided into groups. Again, we were assigned our
Porters and introduced to our guide. The rules were laid out.
The big and most important rules seem to be the no talking when
amongst the gorillas and no sudden moves.
This trail took us through another type of
It was very dense but you could see across the gulleys at the canopy
of trees covered with lichens and twisting vines. It smelled
earthy and damped. While walking the trails, waiting for the Gorillas
to be found, we were told about the forest elephants and showed the
gigantic holes they make when trudging through the mucky
“rainforest”. The elephant's voracious
appetite increases the forest stress but their scatt spreads seeds
that keep the foliage growing. They need to constantly eat
munch helping to keep the forest size maintained and from stopping
the bush from encroaching the farms lands. To see a “pygmy”
elephant is rare and hasn't been researched very much. Scientists
believe they’ve adapted to living in the forest. The forest
elephants are smaller in size and have straighter tusks enabling them
to navigate through the dense forest easier. We wondered who
would make the first move if we encountered one. What an amazing
phenomenon this Mother Nature is?
As fast as our Guides hands go up, the
quieted. They’ve found a family. Now it was time to make
paths towards them. The jungle's undergrowth is thick,
thorny and difficult to get through, but the guides chop their
way through and we began climbing up the mountainside. Soon
we’re parallel to the Gorillas. We continue climbing up. We’re
going to hike up past them a little, and come around to
overlook them. We don’t want to spook them if they smell us. I
hear them snapping the branches. We were climbing over
trees and stepping in swamp water and mud. Not to mention avoiding
the elephant foot holes. One more branch is cut down and,
voila, we have a Silverback. We can smell them. They have a pungent,
musky scent. This is the Busingyu Family. They have
SIlverback and fifteen family members. As far as I could
and confirmed by one of the guides, they had two babies (a year and
under), one elder lady, a couple of teens males and the rest.
The guides said they were a very happy family. Check. Another
At this point I have to mention something
group of people we were paired up with on this trek. On
adventures like this it’s important to be considerate of the
animals and the people around you. This group of young people (well,
they were younger than us) from Hong Kong were wonderful.
took their pictures then stepped aside to allow the opportunity for
others to experience the amazing rendezvous with the anthropoid. This
didn’t happen with the first group, so our second experience
was a friendlier, kinder experience. It made an amazing
experience more remarkable. I am still at a loss for words to express
how wonderful this adventure was.
Our walk back was uneventful except for the
the front of our group that experienced a “rogue”
gorilla, roaring and “mock” attacking. The Guides made
some guttural sounds and the big guy walked away.
Dreams have no expiration date and there
are so rare
things you do in your life that most people don’t get to ever
do. For a bunch of seniors we did an amazing job of “keeping
up” and yes, this was a “trip of a lifetime.”
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