Uganda Road Story
Did I mention that we went to see the mountain Gorillas? Well we did, and on our bikes.
Before we left for Uganda we checked for a reservation to trek to see the Gorillas at Bwindi Park. The limited slots had been filled for months but we were told that we could take our chances and just show up.
As we drew closer, we met Steven, an English game guide in Fort Portal. He passed us earlier in the day in his Landrover and spent the day setting up a camp in the wilderness for his clients and we saw him again at an old colonial hotel in Fort Portal. So we had dinner. He told us we could definitely find a place to stay in Bwindi and if there was a problem just mention his name. However, seeing the Gorillas was a hit or miss proposition.
We were willing to take our chances. As we rode closer to the Park the road got progressively rougher. A group of Norwegian gorilla seekers in a tour van passed us and, just in case the other rare bipeds weren’t contacted, took videos of us. They stopped to ask if we saw the tree lion, “you would have ridden right under him.” “No, we missed him, obviously he wasn’t hungry.” Peter replied. We saw a lion later in the day in a tree farther away from the road; it looks just like any lion but is a rare tree climbing subspecies unique to Southern Uganda.
We arrived late and sure enough, there was a tent accommodation for us. The only accommodations here are tent camps for tourists who come to see the Mountain Gorillas. The group we enjoyed dinner with had seen the Gorillas and a variety of rare birds. They eagerly described their long trek. Two different groups go out each day. The groups consist of a guide and two armed guards and six tourists. Each group tracks a different Gorilla family. You must wear a long sleeve shirt, long pants and can only take cameras without a flash.
We had no luck getting on the tour the first day. We decided to stay one more night and try tomorrow. We were staying at the same camp as the Norwegians. The tourist from the night before had the Norwegians so excited they were up before dawn ready to track the Gorillas.
We busied ourselves with doing laundry, hanging it out to dry and reading. About 3PM, Nixon, the Ugandan manager of the tent camp came to us and said, “Follow me and be very quiet”. We creped behind the camp where there was a small river. On the other side of the river were four Gorillas. Nixon whispered and pointed, “Mother, daughter, son and Papa.” The mother and daughter were almost the same size and the son was smaller but Papa was huge and his black eyes kept returning to our spot. We each felt like we had had direct eye contact with him.
The rest of his family completely ignored us. We sat very still, no sudden movements. The workers at the camp silently and slowly joined us and were just as fascinated. The attraction for the Gorillas was banana trees.
Papa, deciding we were ok, plopped down under a tree and leaned against it. So huge and manlike, then he raised his arm, with head turned toward us, stretched his huge furry arm up into the banana tree and his big fingers grasped the banana bunch where it was attached to the tree. He twisted his wrist to snap the thick connection like it was a small matchstick. He slowly brought the entire bundle of bananas down in one hand. The boy came running over to him. He just took his time, separating the bananas and handing them out to the others and then leaned back to eat his bananas. He did not peal them just popped them into his mouth as if they were candy.
We had to leave when the guards had to return to camp. Nixon swore us to secrecy.
The Norwegians returned at dusk, exhausted from bivouacking for 10 hours. They never saw any Gorillas. We were silent. Finally, Nixon couldn’t stand it and took the group out back to see the Gorillas. They got their videos and pictures and forgot all about their day of torture.