Lake Mburo was a wonderful first stop in our East African tour. Next, we moved deeper into the South West of Uganda. We passed through beautiful changing landscapes. Kabale is known as “little Switzerland” with its big hills and lush green vegetation. In Kabale we picked up a new driver named George. George was the best driver we had throughout our travels. He was very personable, respectful and informative. George took us by Lake Bunyonyi and told us the history of the Crater Lake and local legends. There is an island in the middle of the lake called Punishment Island. It was used for girls who became pregnant outside of wedlock. They would be abandoned there to die. Times quickly changed and once a girl was dropped off a man who couldn’t afford a dowry could go and rescue the girl and make her his wife. Neither tradition is in place anymore.
Kabale District made way into Kisoro District where we ventured off the main road and headed into the Impenetrable Forest. The roads declined drastically. It seemed like we were driving on pure rock face much of the time. Up and down winding roads we traversed. It took us 1 hour to go 10 kilometers! George told us driving on those roads was an, “African massage!” But the drive was worth it because the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. It isn’t called impenetrable without reason. This was the jungle/forest your mind conjures up when you think of Tarzan: dense, vibrant green, tall trees, vines, etc. The only things living in this forest are mountain gorillas. The gorillas were actually our reason for going here. We went to track them!
There is only one small area in the whole world that holds the last remaining mountain gorillas. This small area is the corner of Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo. With this unique fact, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to meet our hairy brothers and sisters.
We began our trek early in the morning walking down steep hills on small footpaths. This only lasted for a small while and then we entered into the impenetrable forest. Again, it is named impenetrable for a reason. Our guides used machetes and hacked away at vines, leaves, trees, etc. as we stumbled over forest growth and ducked beneath tangled branches and large spider webs. (I’m not sure how this factors into the ecologically sustainable factor their brochures assure us is their highest priority.) As we made our way into the forest we could hear the gorillas moving around and grunting at one another. Our excitement spiked and Melissa and I could barely contain the smiles on our faces, though we needed to with all the bugs flying at us and the extreme humidity chocking our throats.
These mountain gorillas are beyond describable. It was truly a unique experience and incomprehensible unless you have seen them yourself. They are HUGE! We were surrounded by them and within reaching distance at most times. Their fur looked so soft and there were moments I was tempted to reach out and feel it. Don’t worry, I refrained and kept my life. The family we trekked held 3 silverbacks, 3 babies and 12 women. What surprised me the most was how much they moved. I thought we’d see them and they’d be relaxing, just laying around for us to take those post-card perfect pictures. This was not the case. They were continually moving deeper (and further down the mountain) around the forest constantly eating any vegetation they put their mighty hands on.
After an hour it was time to leave our new friends and head back. Mountain gorillas are wild animals and they are only allowed a small exposure to humans due to the ease of diseases that could be spread which leads to sick gorillas and extinction could be much closer than desired. An hour doesn’t seem like a long time when you sign up but once you are there an hour is the perfect time. Now, that we’d navigated further down in the impenetrable forest, we had to climb out, a much harder task and quite daunting at times. But we made it and it was worth all the leg pain, the lung heaving and the gallons of sweat we excreted from our bodies.