I woke early with feelings of trepidation, anxiety (Would I be able to do the climb?), nerves and much excitement. I was going in search of mountain gorillas, in Uganda, following in the footsteps of the great Sir David Attenborough.
It was a mild morning, although the sky looked rather cloudy. With waterproofs packed, carrying lots of water and a picnic lunch, our group of eight headed down to the park station. We began with a briefing and an introduction to the guides and porters who would be assisting our search.
It is absolutely worth the $15 for a porter (more on that at the end). And so we set of at a fairly brisk pace through very pretty woodland, over streams and past waterfalls, taking in the sights and sounds of our wonderful surroundings.
After about an hour, we stopped for a water break and our ranger advised that we would now start our ascent up the mountain in search of the gorillas that were up ahead. Little did we know that they – the gorillas – would continue to climb the mountain with a group of humans desperately clambering after them.
So the climb started – and boy what a climb – a near vertical ascent, scrambling on hands and knees through virgin rainforest. And, in my case, being unceremoniously dragged up to the summit. Finally, after a further 90 minutes, we stopped and our porters moved aside for us to continue for the last five minutes to a small clearing…
…And there they were: a family of 14 gorillas, including the silverback, two babies and a selection of inbetweeners. To say this was emotional is an understatement. I did shed a few tears, not only because I was so overcome by the sight of our nearest relatives, but also because I had actually made it.
We then spent a very happy 50 minutes in the presence of these spectacular creatures. I cannot put into words what an overwhelming and extraordinary experience this was. The two babies played with anything in their reach, whether it was their mother’s foot or some nearby twigs. Others just sat and ate copious amounts of foliage. And some just slept – but it has to be said there was a considerable amount of flatulence from these guys, which was quite amusing.
During the time with the gorillas, there were lots of oohs and aahhs and looks of wonder on my fellow travellers’ faces. I think we were all exceptionally moved by our experience.
After almost one hour (which is the allocated time you are allowed to spend with them), we were advised we should don our raincoats and pack away our photography equipment as the ominous sounds of thunder reverberated around the treetops. Before we had time to finish zipping up our raincoats, we were soaked – right through every layer. The most incredible storm commenced in earnest.
We slithered and slipped in a most ungainly manner, back down the mountainside in the most torrential rain I have ever witnessed. The small streams we had encountered on the way up had now become small rivers, which we waded through, already too wet to worry about trying to avoid walking in them.
Finally, we arrived back at the ranger station, bedraggled and saturated, but wearing silly grins following our encounter. After receiving our certificates, we made our way back across the road to Buhoma Lodge. Here, we were greeted by the joys of a hot bath and a complimentary massage to ease aching bones and muscles.
We gathered in the bar with celebratory drinks and compared photos and videos, all as excited as children reliving our experience. This is certainly the most difficult, yet most moving experience I have ever had and it will stay with me forever. Do it – you will be so pleased you did.
For just $15, porters will carry your backpack and clothing, and help you over the tricky terrain. This not only helps the community and offers valuable jobs, but the porters themselves are worth their weight in gold. I was pushed and pulled up the mountainside, struggling all the way, but my porter was there every step of the way, with a helping hand and words of encouragement when I thought I couldn’t continue. These guys are more than worth the money.