Gorilla Tracking: part 1

Some people are blogging about what they are thankful for this week.  I am blogging about gorillas.  And I guess I am thankful for gorillas.  I’m for sure thankful for Africa.  

Turns out I didn’t want to leave out any gorilla tracking details, so instead of giving you a 10 page post to work your way through, I’m dividing it up into a few posts.  Don’t worry – they are all written and scheduled to go up, so you will be able to read our story quickly over the next few days.

Gorilla Tracking Part 1

A couple of years ago I had never even heard of gorilla tracking.  Or gorilla trekking.  No one knows which terminology is right – not even the internet.  So I can only conclude that they are both accurate. 

Then I met this girl JaNahn.   She told me it was her dream to go gorilla tracking one day.  She told me how there are not a lot of mountain gorillas left in the world, and you can buy a permit in countries like Rwanda to go up into the mountains and try and track the gorillas to see them in their natural habitat.  At the time I think I thought something like, “Huh.  That sounds really amazing.  And it also sounds like something that I would never do.  Mostly because I will never be in Africa.”

Bwindi Impenetrable National Forest

But then one day I decided to go to Africa.  And I decided to try and talk my sister into meeting me in Africa to go on a safari.  Once I learned that gorilla tracking was something that Rafiki Adventures offered with its safari packages, we knew we had to do it – and Rachel was convinced that coming to Uganda was a good idea.

smiling for a photo with Joseph of Rafiki Adventures before gorilla tracking

I didn’t really know what to expect.  I googled it and found some YouTube videos that gave me  a glimpse into what gorilla tracking would be like, but I still couldn’t envision this experience at all.  And then in the moment, I don’t think I fully grasped the magnitude of what we were having the opportunity to do. 

We got up early in the morning and suited up for gorilla tracking.  This included wearing long pants with socks that were tall enough to tuck our pants into them to protect us from ants; braiding Rachel’s hair; wrapping my head with one of my African headbands; and wearing actual safari colored shirts.  I wore a khaki shirt that was light weight and breathable.  At first I regretted that, as it was quite cold in the morning, but once we started hiking I was grateful for its light weight.  Our lodge served us a delicious breakfast, which included pineapple juice, fresh fruit, eggs, and bacon.

You know it is going to be a good day when you start with bacon.  You know it is going to be an even better day when you have gorillas on your itinerary. 

note the super stylish pants tucked into socks… classy!

The only thing I felt we were missing was gloves.  We didn’t know that we needed them, but my hands were a smidge ripped up at the end of the adventure because there were lots of thorny vines and trees that we ran into or grabbed for support along the way. 

Joseph and Obed drove us down to the rangers’ station at Bwindi National Park.  On the way he asked if we had our passports.  I did not – which was slightly frustrating because I had specifically asked if we needed to bring anything with us that day.  You have to buy a permit a long time before you plan to hike, so it makes sense that you need to confirm your identity.  But Joseph said it would be fine.  I felt nervous and stressed that I wouldn’t be allowed on the mountain, but this is Africa, and Joseph sweet talked my way past the no passport issue.  We settled in and watched a low-budget video about the experience and the rules.  I felt like I was back in Minnesota heading into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, or on family vacation at any one of the many national parks we visited around the United States while growing up.  As the movie played, more people arrived.  There were a couple dozen mzungus ready to head out and find the gorillas.  We would soon split up into many groups, to track several different gorilla families.   First though we went outside to see how far 7 meters was.  Turns out it isn’t very far.  Seven meters is how far we were supposed to stay away from the gorillas. I am pretty sure we talked about how it was a good thing mom wouldn’t be hearing any of this until we were safely home… 

We used nice bathrooms before we left (ok, typing that from the luxury of cuddling under a warm blanket in my American home seems pretty comical.  But by African standards it was super nice.  There was a real toilet.  And a real sink.  And I think maybe even a towel??)  Our hike could last anywhere from one hour to ten hours.  We did learn that if we needed to relieve ourselves mid-hike, we could let our guide know and they would dig us a small hole.  At this point I said a small prayer that being a teacher forces you to train your bladder to wait. 

And because awkward transitions are fun… to be continued…

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