Day 4 of Gorilla Forest Camp
Mountain gorilla trekking to photograph the apes in the high forest mountains in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda on the border of Congo.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

By the time we spend several days in the same camp, a certain routine sets in. Many camps deliver tea or coffee to your room with the wake up call. Some camps deliver the call over the cordless phone, or in person. We have found that the coffee just has too much ‘hair’ and the tea isn’t what we like. We end up bringing our own tea and Splenda. I even bring my own salsa packets! It was pretty chilly to wake up in a cold, black tent in the morning, although they do give you a flannel coated hot water bottle to snuggle up with at night!  I kept my socks on! Packing the carry bag and prepping the camera equipment the night before is the best idea. I always seem to forget something if I don’t. We went down to breakfast, and found a huge set up! I was a buffet of all kinds of breakfast things, plus eggs to order. (In Africa, eggs are eggs. You will eat a lot of them. You won’t want any after you return home for a long time!)

We were going to see the other group of gorillas that was actually in the park. This time, we were walking straight into the forest. We went back down to the park headquarters to meet the new groups of tourists. The biggest group, thank heavens, was not going to be with us. Two English girls who were volunteer teachers came with us. Five in this group was just fine. The girls just had small compact cameras, so they likely wouldn’t stand in front of us! People can become outright hostile when trying to get their shot! We had two guides today, a man and a trainee woman in an army uniform. Of course, we had the gun carrying trackers and our three porters. We hiked down the gravel road just past the park gate to enter a path that went through a tea plantation. The pickers were there with their bags and glared at us. We came to a small river which a power plant was being constructed. It was an overcast day, and the cool shady area of the river was calming. We climbed around the construction aqueducts and mud to enter the extremely dense forest. Not much light got through the dense canopy. Our porters made sure we were literally pulled through the jungle, over stones, under vines, through a stream, and then up the sheer side of the heavy vegetation of the mountain. One slow step at a time could send us straight down into the oblivion below. We grabbed on to everything: vines that were attached to nothing, tree ferns that would rip right out of the ground, and rocks that would slip when you put a foot on them. The trees did stay put! The trackers had chased this group of gorillas down from the top of the mountains. Fortunately, the group was the largest and had been the first to be habituated. No one had seen them in five months and were hard to approach. We finally reached them, and grabbed our cameras and Lense On! Setting up, even in a situation of hanging off the side of a rainforest mountain, was easy. I grabbed by camera with lense attached and Lense On! in the other. Oops, no more hands to hold on! I turned Lense On! upside down and used it as a walking stick! Great show! We left our carry bags with the porters. The guides hacked the way through the jungle to find a black back, or young male, gorilla eating a huge fern. I was about 6 feet from him with my back braced against a tree.

He sat there eating limb after limb of this fern until nothing but stubs were left. We clicked and clicked. It was hard to get an in-focus photo of him as he was constantly moving and kept his hands in his mouth! He then finishes the fern and stands up, well sort of. His front arms are longer than his legs, so he walks on his giant hands. He wants to move to a different spot to eat. The guides tell his to stay dead still. He starts moving right for Steve!!

Nicole gets the shot from the other side! The gorilla moves right past Steve and just below him. A tracker was trying to get him to come back up, when the gorilla growled at him bearing his teeth. Man, let him go! We don’t need a photo that bad! The gorillas went down deeper into the jungle where we could no longer follow them. I hoped we got some decent photos.

As our group started traversing laterally down the mountain, the female guide and I were at the back. She was watching the others, as I was looking back at the loud gorilla noises and raging bushes. Suddenly, out from the dense jungle jumped the gorilla we had been following. He rushed up to the guide and I, standing full length tall, just inches from our faces. Being right behind her, I grabbed the guide’s two shoulders and pulled her back into me. I tightly squeezed my fingers into her arms to the breaking point. The gorilla stood there looking into our  large, frightened eyes. We were like stones, unmoving except for unblinking, watering eyes and rapid heartbeats with scarcely a breath. Just as quickly as he had approached, he turned in a flash and was gone. Shaking and terrified, we practically raced down the mountain. What that gorilla wanted to see is a mystery to me, but he got a real close look!! Back down the mountain the way we came up. This time it was easier and faster. I was motivated!

Check out my video footage of the Uganda mountain gorillas, ‘Wild Gorilla Thriller’!

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