the King of the Jungle

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I thought the hardest part of trekking to see the endangered Gorillas in their natural habitat  of Uganda was going to be cutting through the thick jungle. But for me to accomplish my dream it was the challenge of getting to the departure point.

I was on a 14 day tour with Africa Travel Co and it was the rainy season of April 2013. It had rained a lot since we arrived – mostly in the afternoons and evenings which generally meant that I would upgrade from camping to a dorm to avoid setting up my tent in the wet weather. But it also meant the roads were wet, slippery and unpredictable.

The morning I had been waiting for finally arrived and off we set, just before sunrise to search for the famous mountain gorillas. After driving for just over an hour we came to a halt. The rain the evening before had brought mudslides down the hill and had covered sections of the road we needed pass. We were stuck and our vehicle couldn’t go any further. But our group was determined. We had not travelled all this way, from all parts of the world to not see the Gorillas. So we continued on foot.

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We walked through the mud. Instead of thick, lush green trees we tromped through boggy, sloshy mud. Local men tried to clear the mudslides the best they could. I wanted to try and avoid getting super dirty if possible, so I paid one young man to piggy back me through. With each step forward we would sink further and further into the mud until we eventually made it to the other side.  I was so happy we had made it. Everyone around me though thought I was ridiculous and just laughed at me. The joke was on me though, because after another half an hour of walking we came to another mudslide where I just had to suck it up. I couldn’t go over it, I couldn’t go around it, I had to go through it.

It was cluggy and smelly and  gross, but after three steps I was having a ball. Local kids were walking, talking and laughing with us, people were popping their heads out and waving through the tops of the trees of the tea plantation and everyone thought we were the craziest, most desperate people in the world. And we were. We had every intention (and determination) of seeing gorillas. And we wanted to see them that day. Finally after getting through the mudslide region we were met by the local rangers and taken up to the starting point. Our chariot was the luxury of being able to sit in the back of a ute. It was a bumpy ride to say the least. We crossed through a rushing, flooded river, passed little villages, and zoomed to the top of a huge hill along a narrow track with sheer drops and no barriers.  We were five hours late, but we had made it.

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And because we were so late the rangers were unsure of if we were going to be able to see the gorillas after all. The local trackers were still trying to find the gorillas to see how far from camp they were. We thought we had lost our chance until it came over the radio a family of gorillas was heading our way which meant we wouldn’t have to trek far through the jungle at all.

We walked into the jungle and climbed down a few steep hills until the guide stopped in front of us and pointed. We looked up and there she was. We saw our first gorilla, lying in the fork of a tree. She was lying there, being lazy and loving life. Then we spotted another. Then we heard a massive crack that sounded like a thunder strike and our guide told us that the gorilla had just snapped a tree in half. We couldn’t believe it.

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Image by Caitlyn Black

Continuing our way through the jungle (albeit with a path being largely cut for us) we closely and quietly followed our machete weilding guide, whom we were in complete awe of. A nearby gorilla turned and looked at us, just sitting there. This was the moment we had been waiting for – the silverback (the male mountain gorilla). The King of the jungle. The most fascinating and incredible creature I have ever seen. He was majestically beautiful.

We had an amazing hour watching the family of gorillas before having to leave them behind. There is something about being in their natural habitat and sitting  less than two metres away from them and yet they seemed not to have a care in the world that we were there. An amazing experience, impossible to describe – you just have to feel it for yourself. Trust me.

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Go See the Gorillas –

When: You can trek for gorillas throughout the year. The best time to go is in the drier months as if will be easier to face the jungle and the gorillas won’t be hiding from the rain. But dry season means high season which means you will pay a bit more.

Wet seasons: March – mid May + mid-October – November.

Dry seasons: mid-May to mid-Oct + December to February.

Where to go: The three main regions in Africa to trek for wild Gorillas are Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Who to go with: Africa Travel Co are a local based company who really know how to do overland Africa right. But there are plenty of tour companies that are just as good including: Intrepid, G Adventures, Peregrine, On the Go (sister company of Africa Travel Co), Gecko’s, Tucan Travel and so many more.

How much: Gorilla trekking permits currently range from $500 – $700 depending on the time of year. You still need to pay this fee even if you don’t see the gorillas! The gorillas are wild and there is a chance you may not see them – be prepared! If you don’t see them the first day, usually you can get a permit for the next day half off.

Tour prices range from how many days you do. You can do the simple 3 or 4 day tour that involves just the trek or you can do longer tours from Nairobi. Check out the websites for tours and prices. Most of the overland tours include accommodation (tents, but most allow you to upgrade for an additional price locally) and food. Make sure you read the dossier’s before leaving home to make sure you know what extra’s you may need to pay for when you get there (additional National Park fees and activities etc).

How to get there: Flights to Uganda generally fly through Nairobi first. South African Airways flies from Australia through Johannesburg and up or Etihad or Emirates fly through the United Arab Emirates and then down.

What to bring: The day you go trekking wear long pants, long sleeves, a hat, long socks and good walking shoes. Bring with you a waterbottle and camera with a fully charged battery and extra memory – you will take hundreds of photos! Your cook from your tour will usually give you supplies to make a packed lunch as well!

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