6 months. 17 countries. And Uganda is at the top of my list. Why? It has it all man! Captivating culture. Amazing people. Fantastic food (Some of the best Indian food too which gives it some extra points). Superb wildlife. And of course, the great apes! But getting to them ain’t that easy.
We entered Uganda on road from Rwanda over the Cyanika border. It was a particularly tense period at the border because Rwanda had closed the border to its citizens over some allegations that the Ugandan government had been detaining Rwandans unlawfully. But we got through. Mountain Gorillas can be seen in their habitat only in three countries in the world: Rwanda, Congo and Uganda. We chose Uganda because the permits are cheaper than in Rwanda and obviously safer than Congo. We headed to the home of Ugandan gorillas, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, from the border.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Quite an imposing name eh? It truly lived up to its name. Mountain gorillas live in the wild so they don’t come to you. You have to go to them. This means penetrating the impenetrable. We were tracking the Mukiza gorilla family. Yes, they have names. And what’s tracking? These are wild animals in their habitat so we don’t know where they are. Hence you have to track and find them. We had a tracker who led us into the forest. I have to say, this is not a safari. The mountains are tremendously steep and slippery without any defined trails. And you never know when you’ll find the gorillas. Could be 5 minutes or 5 hours. So, there’s a lot of hiking, sweating, falling down and bushwhacking. After hours of this strenuous trek and false hopes of finding the gorillas, we eventually found them! The imposing male silverback just chilling, his harem of females lying around and their children playing with each other. I almost never say this, but it truly was a moving experience. Or maybe I was just high from exhaustion. But really, there was something sobering about observing their bonds, relationships, expressions and personalities which were all so human-like. Or maybe we are all gorilla-like? Either way it was uncanny. And we were just 5 meters away from them. This truly was the highlight of our trip.
Our adventure didn’t end here. Next day, we headed to Kibale forest for more tracking. This time, its chimps! Tracking chimps was a different yet equally rewarding experience. Unlike Bwindi, Kibale is not mountainous. So trekking into the forest was easier. The harder part was that unlike the gorillas who didn’t move much, the chimps were always on the move. So you’re constantly tracking them for hours. And unlike the gorillas who were a small family living together, the chimps travel in big packs. And I mean BIG. As a result, the forest was constantly filled with a cacophony of loud screams and thudding on trees. And while we were tracking them, it seemed like there was a turf war going on between two different packs of chimps. Fights, screams, wars. It had it all! It really did feel like a Planet of the Apes movie playing all around us. Having a back to back experience of tracking gorillas and chimps such as this made it an experience that towered all our other experiences in the trip. And I got some sweet shots and videos to build my fake Nat Geo resume. (Videos are here)