• Marie Sulda

Gorillas in Uganda.

One of the most surreal experiences in my lifetime

By Karina Irvine

I had arrived into Lake Bunyoni in Uganda, this was our base for 3 days as our group took it in turns for the Gorilla Trekking. There are only approximately 800-900 Mountain Gorillas left in the wild, and whilst the numbers are increasing it will take at least 10 years for the population to double. There are only 5 families in which you are allowed to trek and spend time observing that are reasonably used to humans and for maximum 1 hour due to human diseases that they could potential attract.

There are restrictions of 10 people maximum per Gorilla family and depending on where they are, it can take up to 8 hours in impenetrable jungle to reach them. The trackers do have some idea where they are from the day before but the only place on Earth where they inhabit are at the crossroads of Uganda, Rwanda and the Congo. If they cross over into the Congo it is a no-go zone and you will miss out.

All this way and I could potentially miss out.

Waking up at 3am that morning only to the sound of crickets and the occasional noise from a bird. I remember taking out my raincoat (first time it was put to use) and as I put it on a Huntsman flipped out onto the table. Not sure what to do, by the time I reacted it had disappeared through a crack underneath never to be seen again. I am guessing you may have seen an Australian sized Huntsman, but African sized Huntsmans are bigger and scarier again, a nice surprise to wake up to!

We set off to the Bwindi Impenetrable NP and within minutes there was an announcement over the radio that Nelson Mandela had passed away overnight. When we arrived to meet our trackers and guides, they had not heard the news yet. You could see the shock and sadness in their eyes and a memory that has lasted with me, making this one of the most unique travelling experiences I have had to date.

I can see why it is described as Gorillas in the Mist. At dawn a heavy blanket of fog lays over the mountainous area. It is quiet and eerie, but it is also exciting to know that you are heading in there to see such an incredible animal. Once we arrived at the Gorilla family (knowing I would only have an hour) I took as much photos and film for the first 15 minutes as I could. I then decided to just sit in the moment and observe.

Our family consisted of 22 Mountain Gorillas. 2 Silverbacks, 6 Children and 1 Infant. Watching the little ones was so entertaining, the little infant beating his chest and jumping on his brother and sisters, then getting beat up and running to Mum. Hilarious (but you can’t smile and show your teeth). I was wishing one would come over and then the grumpy Silverback stood on his fists and barked at me. I froze and the guide said to me "just move out the way he wants to get past". Having a 800 kg Silverback brush up against you is both exhilarating and absolutely petrifying at the same time!

I hiked in with shoes and out with bare feet. Somehow, I managed to step in the biggest Gorilla poo you have ever seen and I just could not deal with the copious number of flies I had attracted, so I ditched the sneakers and gave them to my guide for his daughter.

I cannot even put into words the feeling of seeing these magnificent creatures. Even though the trek was 5 hours I don’t remember much, there was adrenaline and excitement on the way there and processing what I had seen on the walk back. I got back to the vehicle and after it all sunk in, I sat on the ground and cried. One of my dreams had been fulfilled and it was so overwhelming.

As we were travelling back to camp, villages and towns were a buzz with singing and drums as news had spread from Nelson Mandela passing. The people of Africa celebrated his life for days and it was truly a once in a lifetime experience to be a part of.

Forget Gorillas in the Mist. You must watch Virunga!!

To ask for advice about your future African dreams, contact Karina Irvine.

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