Sunday, March 9, 2008
So we decided to take our first day off on Saturday after having an intense week of hard work. We left at 7 am from our house with a driver and took a road full of potholes 45 min (14 kilometers) to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park . We got there and there we 13 other Muzungo who also came to go Gorilla Tracking. The muzungos were broken into to 2 groups mine had 7 people. 2 other Americans, 2 people who were white but originally from Zimbabwe now living in London. And another British guy. We bought permits got a briefing and had the option to take a walking stick (I took one) and set off. One of the stipulations in buying the permit was that you must have proper rain attire to participate in the hike. I had a nylon jacket on which looked like it could protect you from rain so they let me go.
First the terrain hills with grass and trees and bushes. It started to drizzle a little. Then we reached a point where the bamboo forest started. It was like walking through a cave of bamboo shoots and very scenic. The way you track the gorillas is early in the morning the some guides set out and actually follow clues to find where the gorillas are. They have walkie talkies and tell the guides leading us where to hike in the park where to go to find the gorillas. After the bamboo forest we came to a clearing and the trail continued with grass and some trees and bushes. At this point it started raining harder then drizzling and everyone started to put their hoods on. I just had a hat. Not a rain hat but a regular hat. Also my jacket didn't zip up.
At this point we'd been hiking about an hour. The guide got a call on the walkie talkie from the other trackers telling him they found the gorillas and told us where to go. We had to go off the main trail through the brush. It was still kind of a smaller trail. You didn't have to use a machete but you did have to squeeze through pretty tight spaces. We went through tall grass then back into a bamboo forest. It was alternating from drizzling to raining really hard. Like tropical rainforest hard. Which is what we were in. I was getting pretty drenched. Plus there were some puddles and some mud and my boots were getting soggy.
So we trekked through the jungle through small trails with branches and vines hanging down for about 2 hours in the tropical rain and finally we met up with the other guides and we were very close to the gorillas. We left our walking sticks and the guides slowly led us to the gorillas. There instructions to use were do not use your flash on your camera, ,move slowly, if you have to sneeze or cough cover your mouth so you don't transmit disease to them, and if a gorilla charges you stand still don't run and don't make eye contact.
So we slowly crept up to a spot where we saw our first gorilla. It was a large male. It was like 15 feet away right in front of us. Sara took out her camera and her first shot the flash went of. The gorilla roared and charged us. Some people ran. I just stood watching kind of like it was in a cage and there was no possible way it could hurt me. After that I realized I was stupid and should have run. Any way right when it was like 5 feet away it turned and ran up the hill a bit and was like 15 feet away again. Later we joked how she was the stupid American. It was sitting huddled with its arms crossed too keep warm because it was raining and cold. We watched him for half and hour and took a lot of pictures and videos. There was also a female with an infant nursing it further away behind the trees and a 3 year old came out and walked around the male. Then we walked up the hill a little further and found 3 more gorillas females eating and playing.
We watched the gorillas for a total of an hour and it was time to head back. While I was hiking and drenched I was still creating heat I was a little cold but warm enough. But after sitting still soaking wet while it continued to rain I was freezing and starting to shiver. I was becoming hypothermic. I was really glad to start hiking back again. Basically it was raining so hard. The guide said it was raining so hard you would curse the day you were born. I was 100 percent soaking wet. You know on the way up I was trying to avoid stepping in puddles but now there was no point. 1. I was already wet 2. The trail was basically a stream. With each step your foot would sink into the mud up to the ankle with a huge slosh every step. Yes I was unprepared for the weather.
As I was walking back through the forest cold and wet I was thinking to myself. I thought Africa was supposed to be hot and dry. And here I find myself everyday cold and wet (like decompensated CHF). And hypothermic like every day. So I was quite uncomfortable on the way back down and praying to just be back. When we reached the part where we joined back up with the main trail it stopped raining and things started to dry off a little. When we got back to the bottom the sun actually came out and I was so happy. My passport and wallet which were in my pocket were totally drenched. Somehow magically my camera which was in the inside pocket of my jacket still worked. And I have amazing pictures and videos of the gorillas. My boots and pants were totally muddy and it will take my boots like a week to dry. Now I am wearing sandals on the wards.
Here is a link to the videos of the gorillas:
Here is a link to pictures from that day: