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Volcanic Gorillas

In the rainforests of South-West Uganda (Dave)


This is lifted directly from my journal so I hope my ramblings make sense...

We're sitting about 2ft away from a roaring fire in our guest house. Rachel has a blanket over her legs and a towel wrapped around her feet as she's out of dry socks. We just had a hot chocolate with a sachet of cane spirit. We're tired but very happy, having just spent the day in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, tracking the mountain gorillas. We'd been debating for months whether it would be worth the $500 (2,310,000 Ugandan shillings) and made our minds up just yesterday, after talking to our enthusiastic ranger-guide as we were climbing the towering Mt Muhavura Volcano (4127m - more of that later) - part of the National Park and Viruga Volcano chain. which extends across Uganda, Rwanda and Congo. STill not sure it was quite worth the cash but nevertheless an amazing experience, and we won't need to explain to EVERYONE for the next 6 months why we went to Uganda and didnt go gorilla bothering.

We hiked for 4 hours through the steep rainforest and bamboo forests, avoiding huge sloppy pools of buffalo poo, making our way through the undergrowth with our guide chopping a clear path with his machete. ALready tired and acheing from our volcano conquest we hiked up to the saddle between Mt Muhavura and Mt Gahinga for an age, and eventually after crawling through some bushes and across a little stream, we hooked up with 2 rangers who had been tracking them, at a distance, for the whole of the day. This group of gorillas tends to holiday in Rwanda or Congo from time to time, meaning the Nat Parks Authority cannot accept bookings more than 2 weeks in advance, but they have been in Uganda since July 2009 (cant afford the bribes at the congo border?), and luckily for us they had spaces despite the maximum group size of 8 tourists....in fact we were the only people in the group today.

We heard rustling 'somewhere' within the bamboo, and saw a dark hairy blob moving around maybe 10m away, obscured by branches and undergrowth. We made out a little gorilla hand holding a bamboo shoot, and heard lots of munching, before the trees shook as it moved away. We then went round another couple of trees and caught sight of a huge silverback, sitting up watching us, making sure we didn't do anything to threaten his family. The guide beckoned us forward and through the branches we could see a mother and her adorable toddler, the toddler with that slightly vacant, timid, wide eyed look of a human toddler, staring at us.

Then, nothing for about half an hour. The silverback layed down on his front and went to sleep, his pert gorilla buttocks sticking up in the air as he sniffed and yawned. Then a crashing noise from mum and son - what are they doing? - oh, they have layed down and gone to sleep too. We went around and watched a second silverback, an elderly 45 year old, also laying down on his front, yawning, picking his teeth, watching us. We yawned too. I cheekily and lightly tapped my chest 3 times, and with a start it got up into a sitting position and looked at me angrily. I did not repeat this move.

It seemed that all we were going to see was a family of sleeping gorillas. THe guide very kindly decided to extend our time (you only get an hour with them), and we went back around to the dominant male, who got up and started walking off. The guide knew that the others were sure to follow so we waited a few minutes, concealed behind a clump of bamboo. Sure enough, the female emerged right in front of us, with her son clambering on to her back, whimpering away because mum wouldn't give him his milk. They stopped close to us and the dominant silverback came over and joined them, so we had all 3 sitting together like a happy gorilla family, a lovely sight as our extended time ran out and we started back down through the forest.

We got a real taste of rainforest on the way down as the thunder started, the heavens opened, and the rain poured down for the duration of the walk back. Cool.

So here we are in our guesthouse having just eaten a huge guacamole and wedges, listening to The Bends, ready to rest our aching limbs in bed. Oh, Rachel fot ants in her pants, literally, during the trek. Biting ants. I tried not to look amused. Also saw a 2 ft long rain worm.

So on to the previous couple of days. We'd had a frustrating journey getting the 50 or so km from Kabare to Kisoro, involving a 3 hour wait for the minibus fill up with people, punctuated by a quick snack of deep fried grasshopper. We made it to Kisoro after dark. Then yesterday we reached the national park and had an amazing walk up the Mahuvura Volcano, through the rainforest, montane woodland, and up through the 'afro-alpine- zone to the top. We passed gnarly trees in the mist, draped with 'old mans beards' - a kind of stringy green moss, and saw a beautiful bird with a yellow mohican and scarlet wings. We saw strange phallic stalks that looked like 6ft elongated pineapples, got dizzy with the altitude, traversed around a jurassic-looking crag, and eventually puffed and panted our way to the summit, to find a dainty little crater lake, maybe 20m in diameter.

I asked the guide where I should go for a pee and he directed me to the other side of the lake, which is in Rwanda, so I had a piss on Rwanda. Earlier we had also shaken our fists at the view of the Democratic(!) Republic of Congo - we had wanted to visit a volcano across the border that has an actual lava lake, one of only 5 in the world, but were scuppered by civil war worries and thought better of it. Getting blown up with 2 months of our trip left would be a little premature.

We didn't get much of a view from the top of Muhavura as it was cloudy nearly all the time, but we did get glimpses of 4 of the other Viruga volcanoes now and then, draped in atmospheric mist, the outlines of the peaks just emerging through the cloud. 8 Hours after we started, we struggled back to the park gate, tired, aching after the steep muddy slopes, but elated and happy. It's been a great couple of days :o)

Posted by rachndave 08:35 Archived in Uganda

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Haha Rwanda, you've got piss on you

by Tim

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