By Rita Cook / The Ellis County Press
Photos by Guillaume de Vaudrey and Patrick Shah
George Schaller, one of the world’s leading gorilla researchers wrote “No one who looks into a gorilla’s eyes — intelligent, gentle, vulnerable — can remain unchanged…”
Indeed, he was right and for anyone who takes the trip and treks to see these great creatures it will change your life too.
Mountain gorillas can only be found east central Africa’s high-elevation rain forests mainly in Uganda and neighboring Rwanda. These creatures are also on the endangered species list and are one of the most endangered animals in the world. The estimates by scientists indicate there are likely only about 800 living. This is caused by poaching, habitat loss and wars in the area in which they live.
Mountain gorillas live in troops and the Silverback is the term for the big male who runs the show, in other words the alpha. He is as gentle as he is strong and it will bring tears to your eyes when you see the troop interacting.
For the actual guidelines of trekking there is a limit as to how many folks can trek to see the gorillas per day, which is eight. I highly recommend visiting the gorillas with Journeys Discovering Africa – owner, Patrick Shah makes sure that not only all your needs are met, but then some.
You will trek into the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and in addition to the Mountain gorillas living there 120 other species of mammals also call this forest home. You will also find there are 348 different kinds of birds, 220 different kinds of butterflies (who knew there were that many) and 27 species of reptiles and amphibians.
When you arrive near the gorillas you will smell them before you see them and there will be flies everywhere so you can’t miss that either. You will anywhere from 30 minutes to nine hours to see the troop, the trackers usually have a good idea of where they are each day. You will be allowed to stay and observe them for one hour – that’s the limit visitors are allowed.
Begin your trip by flying into Uganda’s capital city Entebbe and spend a few nights getting acclimated, Boma House comes highly recommended before you fly on a small plane to the Mountain gorilla area. There are a number of lodges in the area and Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge is a good option.
Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge is a success in that it is small, but the staff love what they do and have a big heart for welcoming guests. In the evening dinner is served in the small dining room or on the main balcony by candlelight so the moments spent there certainly go beyond the average night at a hotel.
You will only have one day for trekking in to see the Mountain gorillas and in addition you can opt to visit the local village and even interact and see the pygmies in the area.
Since you don’t want to visit Africa and spend just two or three nights, Journeys Discovering Africa will also set up an additional itinerary for you to visit a game park. The Serengeti in Tanzania during the wildebeest migration is a big deal so time your trip accordingly if you can.
The Serengeti Safari Camp is a semi-nomadic camp situation that on successful years is located right in the heart of the migration of the 2 million wildebeest making their way in this area to the Grumeti River as they have done for hundreds of years. Since the wildebeest predators also follow the migration in order to eat you will hear lions and hyenas outside the tent camp in the evening.
It is here you are likely to see a number of lion prides hanging in the trees. Literally there might be anywhere from 10 to 12 lions of all ages staring down at you from their obviously very relaxing perch.
As for the camp itself, it’s luxury in the bush with all the comforts of home like hot and cold water, amazing meals and a stout gin and tonic each night before dinner or as you’re making your way back after the evening’s game drive.
If you prefer the lodge experience go for Lemai Serengeti Camp, which is set among the rocks with sweeping views of the African landscape. The migration is easy to see from Lemai and you can watch as the wildebeest cross the Mara River.
This is the trip of a lifetime and will likely change your life. It opens up a world and allows one to see these most magnificent creatures, from the Mountain gorilla to the time spent in the bush using all your senses to gain an understanding of the delicate balance of humans and the many animals who call Earth home with us.