Day 166 Uganda : Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

After very little sleep last night, we got up before the alarm went off at 6am.  YAWN.  As daylight penetrated through the canopy of trees, we made a packed lunch, gathered together some snacks and drinks and prepared for a day's hike out to the gorillas.  I was beside myself with excitement and couldn't really concentrate on any tasks at hand other than checking and re-checking that the camera was ready, had a full battery, the spare battery was in the backpack and the compact camera was on hand to take over should a catastrophe strike the SLR camera.  Trevor readied the video camera and promptly at 7am we walked to the registration hut just 50m away.  We had talked this over last night with Stuart - the arrangements for the permits, although they had been confirmed by Joseph, where just by sms and I wanted to make sure that we got the permits issued before they were given away to others in place of us. 

The clerk arrived at the office and to our absolute dismay, the permits were had not been booked by Joseph as promised.  We were told to return at 7:45am after all issued permit holders had arrived and been registered.  I felt sick and for the next 45 minutes cursed everyone, bad luck, Africa and promises made and not kept.  At 7:45am we went back to the office - sorry, not everyone had arrived yet and we still couldn't have the permits issued in our names.  BUGGER!!!!  But we were directed down to the welcome centre to at least go through the introduction and safety briefings.  Half an hour later the clerk arrived.  He wasn't smiling and my heart sank even further.  But it was good news!  The permits had arrived and were being issued in our names as we spoke. HOORAY!!!!!!  It was going to happen.  We handed over our money (a huge wad of US$) and passports and went back to the safety briefing.  We were off to see the Rushegura Family of habituated mountain gorillas.  We looked at the colour photos and nose prints of the silverback, his brood of 18 adult females and 3 babies ranging from 2-18 months and prepared to leave.  We were offered the services of a porter to carry our backpacks and help us with the climb up the mountains for US$15 for the day and our luck kicked in again.  Fred "the Birdman" was to help us.  Turns out he is reknown throughout Bwindi for his incredible knowledge of the birds (that he can identify by sound & sight), fauna and flora.  So after a bit of discussion, Trevor and Stuart booked him for a birdwatching walk either that afternoon (if we got back in time) or the following day.  And we set off ready for 2-5 hour hike to reach the gorillas.

10 minutes later we stopped - our guide Gee-Gee waving his hand to indicate silence.  We turned left and stepped quietly onto a track.  After 5 minutes another turn left around a tree and in the clearing an adult female mountain gorilla was up a tree feeding.  We all quietly and carefully handed walking sticks and jackets to the porters and with cameras in hand and hearts beating wildly, we took our first photos and followed Gee-Gee around another tree into a clearing to greet the rest of the family relaxing in the sun, babies playing and the massive silverback lolling around with one of the babies using him as a jungle gym.

We were entranced for 1 hour - our allotted time - when the silverback suddenly got up, grunted and the family melted into the surrounding forest.  Our encounter was over and we were left reflecting on it as we returned to the porters, picked up our backpacks and walked slowly back to the campsite.