THE EAST AFRICAN SERIES, DAY 16, 17 & 18
Mgahinga National Park – Bwindi Impenetrable forest – Kigali
Gorilla habituation experience. Uganda has half of all mountain gorillas in the world so it would make sense to travel here to do your gorilla trek. However, it is the only place in the world where you can do the Gorilla Habituation Experience.
THE SILVERBACK SET THE TONE EARLY ON BY LETTING US KNOW NOT TO GET TOO CLOSE
Now it took me forever and a while to find out what this was and only a few people have heard of it – there are only 4 permits issued per day, not to mention the price of them at 1,500USD each!
But with the hefty price and impossible to get permits there is a raw experience to be had.
WHERE IS NKURINGO GORILLA LODGE?
Nkuringo Gorilla Lodge
THE HABITUATION PROCESS
Gorillas aren’t born with a love and trust of humans like many Disney books would have us believe. So in order for anyone to enjoy a gorilla trek like we did yesterday there is a lengthy process. This usually lasts around 18 – 24 months where trackers maintain contact on a daily basis so gorillas slowly become used to the sight and presence of humans in order to make them aware that we do not pose any threat.
This is incredibly courageous and dangerous for many reasons. Quite often at the beginning of this process gorillas will charge on sight of any humans in fear they are in competition for their food or territory. At times even attacking the trackers from 100yards away and sometimes leaving scars.
Gorilla habituation experience
DAILY INFO… DAY 16 & 17
- HOTEL – Nkuringo Gorilla Lodge
- ATTRACTIONS – Gorilla Habituation Experience
- STEPS – 22,700
- MILES – 31.1 miles
DAILY INFO… DAY 18
- HOTEL – Hotel des Mille Collines 6/10
- FOOD – Grilled Chicken
- STEPS – 6,600
- MILES – 105.3 miles
However through persistence and the correct behaviour, trackers can gain the trust from the gorillas who now know our presence poses no threat. But the process is long and slowly the trackers get closer and closer, but often keeping their distance in the beginning.
As the process goes they are still not assured of harm as gorillas for many reasons can attack at any minute but it can be managed through their experience and having a set of massive f**king balls!!
But now humans can become part of this experience but only after the gorillas have in some way been initially introduced to human company otherwise it would just be too risky.
Gorilla habituation experience
NKURINGO GORILLA LODGE
There is only one place in the world where you can enjoy this and that is at the southern Rushaga sector of Bwindi. So we stayed at a lodge just 40 minutes from the park, Nkuringo Gorilla Lodge.
SOMETIMES WE FORGET THAT GORILLAS ARE ACTUALLY WILD ANIMALS WHO ARE NATURALLY AGGRESSIVE CREATURES
The location is great, with views overlooking to Bwindi Forest to the back and views overlooking the Virunga Volcanoes including good old Bisoke from a few days back.
Although an arguably better view, the rooms weren’t the level of Gahinga Lodge. Don’t get me wrong you were still living the dream and being lifted and laid as and when you want and given copious amounts of the finest hot chocolate in the land but those rooms at Gahinga were like something out of Shakespeare!
William our guide gave us our departure time for tomorrow (6am) but that was all made very easy with the help of a wake up call and pot of tea. The first thing I am going to do when I get home is employ a butler!
UGANDA – ABOUT THE COUNTRY :
- LANGUAGE – English is the main language and there are also three major indigenous languages; Bantu, Central Sudanic, and Nilotic. Swahili and Luganda are also widely spoken.
- HELLO – Luganda: Ki kati. The ki is pronounced Chi.
- HOW TO CHEERS – Swahili: Maisha marefu! Afya! Vifijo!
- LOCAL BEER – Eagle Extra
- POPULAR SPORT – Soccer
- STAPLE DIET – matoke (cooked bananas)
GORILLA HABITUATION (Day 17)
After driving 40 minutes we arrived at a small town where we would meet our guide, rangers and porters and then set off for the forest.
This initial walk to find the gorillas can last up to 6 hours and we were very lucky that just 40 minutes in we were already there.
Because these gorillas are still wild they actively seek areas which are hard to access and always try to maintain the higher ground. This was different than our gorilla trek where the animals were happy to chill in an open area of the forest. This ensures both a defensive and offensive advantage as they become aware of an ever-increasing human presence.
We struggled initially to find a proper access point down to the valley. The vegetation is incredibly dense and the slopes very steep, no wonder it’s called the impenetrable forest.
Standing we could see the bushes and foliage move around as the gorillas ate and walked as they pleased. This gave me all sorts of Jurassic Park flashbacks, you couldn’t see the animals but you were surrounded by plenty of movement.
Eventually we took the jump and headed down to explore, it was the only way. We have to remember that these gorillas are still very much wild, whilst the others we have visited have been habituated.
As there is a research purpose of this habituation process it is not enough to simply stand from the comfort of the far side of the forest. We needed to be close in order for the process to be effective.
The first time we found the group they took issue with our presence immediately but the rangers were incredibly calm. We thought the worst was had after we received an aggressive reaction from several gorillas. But like John Cena or Bret Hart the families alpha Silverback came running in and jumped on a bush, taking it out in the process.
Not many of us were sitting here in amazement but rather, what the f**k have we got ourselves into? The look on mum’s face was quite something, considering she was wearing a face mask I knew exactly what was going on in her head.
You are constantly chopping your way through thick vegetation to reach their new location as the gorillas try to always keep ahead of the group. The process repeats continuously until the four hours are up.
The rangers know how is incredible. Once we were between the family but not within sight. The rangers got us to move out of the area, knowing that the 2 groups would then reunite once we gave them room. This then lead the gorillas to the popular fig trees for some proper chow.
I spent a lot of my time in the gushing rain trying to protect my camera and that included a lot of standing still as and when I could. Unfortunately, I didn’t realise I had stood on an ants trail or nest until I got the first bite and oh my god those things can hold on to you!
All the beating and flicking didn’t rid me of this pest and before I knew it I had one on my leg and another in my armpit…I suppose it could have been worse and yes I’ve experienced that too 😬
DES MILLE COLLINES (Day 18)
The following day we headed back to Kigali due to the only flights to from Uganda to Kenya being light aircraft and when those are involved my mum and sister aren’t! We checked into the infamous des Mille Collines, a hotel that saved the lives of over 1200 people during the genocide. It was the work of hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina that paid bribes and risked his life in order to allow these people to seek refuge in the hotel.
Gorilla habituation experience
- MVP – Those rangers who do this everyday
- HIGHLIGHT – The feeling you are now in the company of wild gorillas
Now I know why we did both the Gorilla Trek and the Habituation, both entirely different. It would have been good to have a better day for it but it all added to the rainforest experience, the 3 of us are soaked to the teeth!
Off to country number 157, Kenya!! Click to read.
SAFE TRAVELS, DS x
- Which sounds better for you, Gorilla Trek or Gorilla Habituation?
- Would you mind 6-10 hours in the rainforest with wild Gorillas?
- Is there any other experiences you would recommend to someone who has done this?
Let me know in the comments below . . .