Uganda: Mountain Gorilla Trekking and a Snake

January 9, 2019
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

I awake midway through the night and decide to go to the bathroom. Luckily, the generator has finally stopped. There’s a giant black spider attempting to breach the fold in my mosquito netting. I’m up by 6am and head to the bathroom where I find a snake working its way between the walls of the bathroom and the bedroom. Oh wait, let’s not forget the spider which I think is different than my midnight spider that was waiting for me on my flip flops. Eish! This forest is no joke and not for the faint of heart!

Breakfast is at 7am but I don’t eat much because I know there’s a serious trek ahead. I head over to the Bwindi Impenetrable Park Headquarters where there is music and dancing by a local women’s bicycling group. After the large group briefing, I’m assigned to the Mubare trekking group. Mubare is the name of the family of gorillas which we will attempt to find.

There are porters available for hire but I carry my own small backpack which contains my box lunch and water. We’re a diverse group including one teenager and her parents from the Dominican Republic. We’re literally 10-15 minutes into the hike and the kid is having a meltdown (due to the strenuous climbing). They speak Spanish so there’s a little delay with translating to English. The guide offers for her to go back. Kuddos to the kid for saying no and eventually we start to move forward again. But still she is struggling and whimpering a bit. The guide moves me and the two other faster hikers from Germany into the back and then the slower people into the front. This helps the group stay together better. Up to that point we kept fracturing as a group because the faster people kept pulling away with the guide.

We switchback up the mountain until there is only straight up to a low pass along the ridgeline. It’s not long and we’re headed cross country through the indeed impenetrable forest. Our guide hacks his way through and we eventually reach the gorilla scouts that have been out since 7am to find the Mubare family. The scouts make it possible for us to go straight to the gorillas instead of us searching all day. The porters take our poles and then we trip through the forest. I can hear thumping on a chest and then there he is. I wade into a swamp at which point I’m very grateful for my waterproof boots and gators. I get a few good pictures before the silverback male is on the move.

We backtrack and break trail through the forest again. The male leads us to several females and a baby who is eating high in the shrubs above us. The flies are intense but somehow they are easily ignored. We get very close to the mountain gorillas but be careful not to make eye contact. These groups of mountain gorillas are habituated with people and are content to let us be near them. The gorillas spend their time eating and go about their business seemingly without noticing us.

Before we know it, our one hour with them has passed and we hack our way back to the ridgeline. We say goodbye and thank you to the trackers who will spend the rest of the day with them. We stop briefly to drink water before pushing on.

After parting with the two hard boiled eggs, my lunch consists of orange juice, banana, cashews, ham and cheese sandwich and chocolate bar. I’m the only person aside from the porters, guides and armed guards to sit on the ground. Oh yeah, I’ve got my sit pad! But beware of the biting ants! I kinda inhale my food and then we’re on our way back down the mountain. Down, down we go as the porters practically carry their struggling clients. Ironically, the three strongest hikers don’t have porters to help them or carry their gear. The woman from Australia is amazed at my skill while her husband steps on every root and rock and falls to the ground. People are fading fast as we near the bottom of the climb. The two oldest men drop themselves on a bench as I speed by to catch our group. Upon arrival back at the park headquarters, we are awarded our completion certificates as part of a ceremony. It’s about 3pm so we definitely hiked for about 6 hours. People look absolutely crushed from the exertion. I like to think that it’s my fancy red gators that make me a bit invincible.

I meet up with Nassar and he asks me if I’m still interested in the community walk. Well hell, why not?! Back at the lodge I suck down two OJ’s & sparkling water and trade out my boots for my Leadville walking shoes. I meet a pygmy tribe, see banana processing into juice, beer and gin, learn from the local medicine man and then trek up to the local school. Even though the school kids are on holiday right now they play music, sing and recite poetry for me.

Back at the lodge I wolf down snacks with a G&T before finally heading off for a shower. During dinner I show my snake picture from the morning to my waiter and he seems kinda worried.

I then ask another guy who works in the office and he doesn’t believe that I saw it in my room. Once I finally convince him, he seems quite alarmed and wants to go to my room immediately. He thinks it might be a spitting cobra. Suddenly there’s two more employees and we all go to the room together. They actually seem upset with me for not mentioning it sooner. I show them the exact spot and they examine it like crazy. One guy says they are going to move me to a new room. Here I was thinking that it was just normal to see snakes but they insist that it has never happened before. Given their reaction I’m grateful to move but seriously, I hadn’t given it a second thought. I was just curious what kind of snake it was. So I gather a few possessions and now I’m in room 2 sipping a G&T and writing about my incredible day.