Friday, July 21, 2006

Forests and Gorillas, Uganda . . . "She is too fat!"

After paddling around Lake Bunyoni for a few days in canoes we decided that it was time for us to leave. Not a moment too soon, I thought, after that morning’s experience with our canoe hire. I had a few problems getting the most African part of my anatomy into the canoe, much to the amusement of the man hiring it to us.

Ohh Philip, what are you feeding her? She is too fat!” (Laughter) “She is too fat!” (Even more laughter)

Phil, wisely, remained silent while the man chuckled to himself and I attempted maintain both my dignity and a stony silence as I angled myself into the canoe.

That was the last we saw of Lake Bunyoni.

Our next stop was Kisoro. After days on water we decided to go for a walk up to the peak of one of the nearby volcanoes (inactive) in Mgahinga Forest. We were lucky enough to stumble across another Australian couple (Bruce and Kate) who planned to do the same thing so the four of us set off early one morning to conquer Gahinga peak. In addition to a guide we were assigned two escorts armed with AK47s. They weren't tagging along to protect us from guerrillas (as I suspected) but to protect us from wild animals.

The fact that people kill people does not surprise me, but I am not quite used to the risk, common in some parts of Africa, that animals can do you serious harm. I still find headlines such as yesterday's - Goat Killer Pythons Shot Dead Near Nursery Class – somewhat disturbing. So, I wasn’t happy to hear that, a few days before our walk at Mgahinga, a herd of buffaloes left the forest and went on a bit of a rampage in a nearby town killing one person and injuring a few others.

The guide was amused at my concern and reassured me that there was absolutely nothing to worry about. So I didn’t worry.

I didn’t worry when we heard some noises in the bushes and the guide whispered “buffaloes” as the escorts pulled their rifles from their shoulders. I didn’t worry when the buffaloes retreated into the forest and then were heard again minutes later ahead of us. I didn’t worry when the guide explained, “they have come to get us”. And I didn’t worry when one escort fired a warning shot to scare the buffaloes away.

Our guide was completely unconcerned and quite amused by the whole experience. Phil was very upset . . . that the buffaloes had not come close enough for him to get a photo. As for me, it was just another worry free day in Africa . . .

Leaving the buffaloes far behind we continued up to Gahinga peak, which included a great walk through a thick bamboo forest. The border between Uganda and Rwanda runs over Gahinga peak so once we got to the top we were able to step over into Rwanda.

We were not finished with forests after Mgahinga. Our next stop was "Bwindi Impenetrable Forest", also in southern Uganda. We spent a few days walking through Bwindi before we were booked in to "track" the gorillas. As with Mgahinga, during all walks in Bwindi we were accompanied by a guide and a couple of armed escorts.

Returning from a walk to the river our guide and escorts were just as surprised as we were when about thirty women came screaming towards us. They had come from the market on the path that lies within the National Park and had dropped the heavy sacks and baskets they were carrying on their heads in order to flee from some gorillas blocking the path. Apparently, the silverback had 'rushed' one of them. We continued along the path - we were following the guide and the women were following us.

It costs a small fortune to see the gorillas and we considered it a 'once in a lifetime' thing, so we were very excited about the prospect a bonus viewing. A few minutes later we found them relaxing on the path, a silverback, a few females and some baby gorillas. We were lucky enough to see them for about 15 minutes before they disappeared into the forest.

The following day was our scheduled gorilla tracking. It requires an early start and it is possible that you and the others in the group (limited to 8 so as not to disturb the gorillas too much) could track them for hours before they are found. In fact, some fellow travellers a few days earlier had the unheard of experience of tracking the gorillas all day but never seeing one. We were much luckier. About an hour after we began to bash our way through the jungle we found the gorilla group we were tracking.

After locating the gorillas, Park Rules permitted our group to stay with them for an hour. It was a really amazing experience. When we first saw the silverback he pounded his chest with his fists to let us know who was boss and then relaxed as we settled ourselves near his little harem. A couple of the younger "babies" imitated the cheast beating exercise, but it just didn't have the same effect. The young gorillas were swinging from branches, playing and fighting with each other while the women sat back with pensive looks watching us watching them. The behaviour and expressions of the gorillas are so like human beings it is remarkable. There were a few who resembled people I know- but I’m not going to name names. Our hour was up quickly and although we would have liked to have spent the day with our new hairy friends, we had to leave.

We left the gorillas, the forests and Uganda - crossing the border back into Kenya. Since we returned to Kenya on 18 July we have not been able to use our Ugandan mobile number. Apologies to anyone who has tried to contact us on that number.

We are now back in Nairobi but we are off to Ethiopia in the next day or two. I will post our Ethiopian contact number as soon as we have it, provided we have internet access. I am not sure how soon we will have access to the internet in Ethiopia as we may take a detour or two on the way to Addis Ababa. So, the next entry might not be for a few weeks.

In the meantime, Phil has posted his photos from Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania and Lamu in Kenya and hopes to post photos from the rest of Kenya and Uganda in about a week. Click here to see the latest.


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