Bwindi Impenetrable Forest – just the name makes you want to go there! It is a rain forest, almost on the equator, in Uganda, and it is just as green, lush, humid and indeed impenetrable as you imagine it to be.
The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park is one of only a handful of places on earth where you can find mountain gorillas, an endangered species, in the wild. They can actually only live in the wild, they don’t survive outside their rain forest and thus can’t be held in any zoos.
When you go gorilla tracking in Bwindi you get one hour with the gorillas once you have met them in the rain forest (if you meet them, but chances are high that you will since trackers are out in the very early morning to find their approximate whereabouts). I was to walk with a small group heading out to meet the Katwe gorilla group.
I had heard a lot about five hour walks, uphill, with mud and ants and thorny bushes and bees and lianas making your walk difficult, and sometimes you would have to crawl on all fours or slide down on your bum. So it was with some apprehension that I set out along with my six fellow trackers, our guide, our porters (mostly for camera equipment) and two armed guards.
The walk started in the most wonderful rain forest, with birds singing and the sun reaching through the dense vegetation. Very romantic! It was muddy and a bit slippery in places, but certainly nothing like the difficult scenarios I had imagined and was prepared for.
Only after 45 minutes or so a toddler gorilla came to meet us.
He and his toddler friends were quite cheeky but they were kept in strict control by the leader of the pack, the Silverback, the dominant male gorilla. At the slightest grunt from him, they would immediately stop what they were up to and instantly become very well behaved little gorillas. But when the toddler in the photo came straight up to us and started touching the camera of one of my fellow travellers, the Silverback said nothing.
This Silverback was a very remarkable person. I should say remarkable gorilla, of course, but having observed his different expressions, his gestures and behaviour I was struck by the similarities to human behaviour.
I was so absorbed by the emotion of seeing these wonderful creatures and by taking photos of them that I lost all notion of time. But the Silverback apparently didn’t. After one hour he stopped eating leaves and just stood up and left with his group. Our guide confirmed that an hour had passed.
We thought of course that this was pure coincidence.
I went back to track the same group the following day. The walk was amazingly enough even shorter. Again I was totally lost in time, being so close to these wonderful creatures.
After a while the Silverback seemed to have had enough of us, stopped eating the yummy leaves and flowers, stood up and walked away, followed by the others.
Our guide confirmed that an hour had passed.