Gorilla Tracking Part 2
We met our tracking group, including our guide named Rita. She was pretty great – we liked her a lot. Also accompanying us, at the front and back of our group, were two other trackers, equipped with machetes and guns. They assured us they would not shoot any gorillas, although it was a necessarily precaution to shoot at the air in case we came upon any gorillas that are not habituated or any elephants on our hike. Our group was filled with quite normal people. We breathed a small sigh of relief that it was not just us with a bunch of Olympic athletes. Although going gorilla tracking during the London Summer Olympics probably minimized the chances of being surrounded by Olympic athletes. All that to say everyone seemed to be in normal shape to be able to manage the hike while still needing to stop occasionally for water and to catch their breath. Good company to be in. We had 4 Spaniards and 2 Germans in our group. We were the lone Americas. Which was fun. Oh, and I think we had some sort of researcher with us as well. We started out with introductions of both ourselves and our gorillas. We would be tracking the H group (the Habinyanja Family). Rita told us the name of the silverback, and also told us the names of a few other gorillas in the family, including another male who is quite the player with the ladies in the family. My favorite introduction though was that of Patty/Paddy. After the tracking ended and Rita was handing out our certificates of accomplishment, she said, “Who is Fransisco?” and Patty/Paddy raised his hand, and with accusing eyes, she said, “WHAT? You told me you were called Patty/Paddy!” And he and his friends just laughed and said that Patty/Paddy was easier.
At this point we got in the vans and headed out from the ranger station out to our starting point. I’d guess we drove for around an hour up the mountainside. It was a mostly terrifying drive. The roads were Africa roads. They were dirt and giant loose rocks. At times the van struggled to keep traction with the road. I’m fairly certain that at some points Jesus was pushing our van up in the steep incline, because otherwise we never would have made it. And it wasn’t just the getting up the road, but staying on the road and not falling off the side of a mountain had me a little concerned. But Obed is an amazing driver and we arrived in one piece at our base camp starting point.
Rachel and I were really glad that we had decided to share a backpack. That way we could each carry it for part of the journey. We also had walking sticks, courtesy of our lodge. Because when you are hiking in the impenetrable forest, three legs are better than two. It was a weird feeling to officially begin the trek and walk away from base camp. Partially it was a strange feeling because you knew that something so completely epic was ahead of you, but you couldn’t fully understand what you would be experiencing. It was also strange to leave and have no idea if you’d be back in two hours or ten hours. And all the drivers and safari guides were just waiting all day at the base camp. But Africans are awesome at shooting the breeze, so I’m sure none of them minded. But I think it was also weird feeling because our epic journey began by walking past some village homes and up and down some medium sized hills through a tea field. We felt like this was the “weed out the weaklings” part of our hike.
Once we made it out of the tea plantation, we began our “real” hike by climbing up the most giant hill I have ever been on in my life. We walked up it single file, and I’m pretty sure we should have been singing “Climb Every Mountain” from The Sound of Music. Except we were all so winded that we never could have sang and climbed simultaneously. We all had to stop partway up. It is the kind of hill that you think you might die on. My legs are feeling tired just typing about it. It is also the kind of hill that you get to the top and you have no idea how you just climbed up it. You look down and realize it is so steep you can’t actually see the bottom because the angle of the incline changed partway up. It was so steep that when we went down at the end, I had to side-step the whole way so that I didn’t just slide right down. And because if I didn’t side step, the steepness caused my feet to slide forward in my shoes and my toes to painfully jam into the front of my shoes with each step. So in summary, I’m not sure if going up or down this hill sucked more.
Once we reached the top of the giant hill that rivals the steepness of (the steepest thing you can think of) (I couldn’t think of anything really steep, so I’m hoping that you will have an awesome comparison to put in that sentence), we entered the impenetrable part of Bwindi Impenetrable National Forest. We had a narrow trail to follow down the other side of the hill/mountain. I frequently tripped on vines, and my hair caught in many a thorny branch. We saw monkeys and a giant slug. We silently followed Rita, our fearless leader, through this dense rain forest, excitedly anticipating our first glimpse of gorillas.
to be continued…