At 9am we meet up at Park Headquarters for our briefing and to be assigned our gorilla family that we will be tracking today. We meet our guide, porters and trackers who will be accompanying us today. Onwards up the mountain! We start our trek up the steep forested trail helped by our porters, always at your elbow to offer a helping hand to get you up the mountain no matter what. We stop often to rest, this going to be a long climb. After we crest the mountain the trackers send word that the gorillas are on the edge of the farmers’ fields not far from where we are now. This is exciting news but it does mean a decent down the edges of the fields. Now we really appreciate our porters helping us and stopping us from slipping down the mountain.
Our first encounter: a big silverback is looking out of the think bush over the fields and watching our slow progress, the sun is shining on him out in the open here and the photo opportunities are legendary, the light perfect and the dense green undergrowth the perfect backdrop. Our guide passes on the message that we must all be still and quiet while the male walks past us on his way to re-join his family. Following him at a safe distance, he leads us to his family who are sunning themselves in the dense bush. Our tracker has to use his machete to clear a path so that we can get through. The earth is soft and steep and it is difficult to find balance without ending up in a prickly bush. Our perseverance is rewarded with finding the females and babies sleeping and playing in the sunny undergrowth. A curious baby is watching us from the safe embrace of his mother’s arms, venturing only slightly forward to have a closer look but never out of his mum’s reach.
There is a young male or “black back” as they are called sitting away from the group, I’m trying to get a good angle to photograph him from behind a bush, the guide starts shouting at me to be still, I haven’t as yet figured out what the commotion is about when the young male runs towards me and slaps my leg! Now that as a close encounter!
Much too quickly our hour has passed and we are called to start our slow progress back down the mountain. While we are walking away through the forest, the gorilla family passes us on their way to their next stop, moving quickly and carrying their babies they disappear over the ridge.
We stopped for lunch at a Batwa hut, usually used on the Batwa Experience hike to show how this indigenous forest tribe used to live. The Batwa - small-statured people who were the original dwellers of this ancient forest - are hunter gatherers who lived here for at least 60,000 years, probably more. Controversially they were moved out of the area when the National Park was established in 1992 and relocated to an un-forested area to live in unfamiliar surroundings.
Very well timed, just after lunch, the rain starts and we slip and slide our way down the mountain, soaking and covered in mud we reach the end of our trek and head back to Buhoma Lodge for a clean-up and time by the fire to warm up and exchange stories.