After a long trip from Tokyo (23 hour layover in Bangkok, 3 hours in Nairobi) we finally landed in Entebbe, Uganda. From there we took a 30 minute taxi ride to Kajansi airstrip to grab our charter flight to the Bwindi Impentrable Forest. We had the option to take a 10+ hour car ride from Kampala to Bwindi or fly there in a very small Cesna 172. Given our time contsraints we opted to fly in and out of Bwindi.
We landed on a very cool airstrip that was cut out of a tea field only a few meters from the Congo border. We were picked up by our guide/driver for the next 3 days. Since the Volcanoes lodge didn’t have a car in the area they arranged for us to use a driver/guide from Gorilla Forest Camp (GFC). They wanted to drive in a car in from Kampala but that would have added considerable cost to the trip. You really don’t need a guide… only a driver and even then you sometimes don’t need one. The first day, we could have walked to where we started the gorilla trek. The problem is that is not always the case. Depending on where the gorillas are, you may have to drive a ways to the point were the trek starts. On the second day, we had to drive for about 2 hours because we were trekking with a different group that was based out of a different park office but still in the Bwinidi Impenetrable forest.
- The plane we charted from www.flyuganda.com told us we had a weight limit of 180 kgs. This included passengers and baggage. I was worried because we were a little bit over this but they didn’t care. The pilot didn’t even weight our bags.
- The charter company can pick you up from the airport for $75 or you can get a taxi just outside the airport for $25. You have to negotiate cause they will start at $75. I could have probably gotten lower but I was jet lagged and wanted to get on with it.
- The flight was almost 2 hours in the Cessna 172. These planes bounce around a lot so take air sickenss medication before if you need.
This was the first day of the gorilla trekking and to be honest… we were pretty disappointed. The trekking through the forest was amazing. We started with about an hour of hiking pretty much straight up. The terrain flattened out a bit but then the vegetation got very thick and we had to make our own trail. The gorillas weren’t cooperating today. Most of the time the trackers that are sent about 2 hours ahead of us find where they slept the night before and can find them pretty easily. However, today they were on the move. We hiked for a very long time but eventually the trackers found them so prepared our cameras and started towards them. It was amazing to see them up close but the disappointing thing is they seem kinda pissed that we were there. Once we would see them they would stay still for a couple of minutes and then start running down the mountain again. They would eventually stop and we would chase them. They would stay still for a few minutes and then start running again. The terrain was very steep so it was hard to keep up. This went on for about 50 minutes until we reach the bottom of the valley. In the distance we some elephants which from what the guide said was pretty rare to see. They think that’s why the gorillas seemed spooked. They do not like elephants. Anyway, our 1 hour of gorilla trekking time was really only about 15 minutes of face to face time and 45 minutes of chasing after them. Obviously, we were very disappointed but that is why we booked two days because they are wild animals and you never know what to expect.
The next day of trekking was amazing. Truly, truly, amazing. The group was comprised of about 12 individuals and they all seemed intrigued with us. One was so intrigued that it came running across the path in front of us it hit me on the leg. It wasn’t a hard hit but more of forceful “get out of my way” kind of tap. The guides said this particular gorilla is known for “playing” with the tourists. The individuals we were watching at the beginning were all males. All the females and babies were somewhere else. About 45 minutes in to watching the males the guide said lets go find the other half of the group. My initial thought was no because the 1 hour limit starts from when you see the first one but I didn’t have time to object. We hiked through some swamp for about 15-20 minutes when we came on the other half of the group. One of the females was right out in the open and seemed to be posing for us. There were also two babies playing around. A big silverback also came back and started tearing down a tree. The guides gave us about 45 minutes with the other half of the group which we were all very grateful for. They eventually pulled us away and we started walking back to the park office when we saw the oldest silverback of the group sitting on hillside munching on some vegetation. We stayed for a little while longer watching him and getting a last few photos in.
Overall, an amazing day that totally made up for the disappointment on the first day. We found out after that our guide from GFC told the park ranger that we had a rather disappointing gorilla trekking experience the day before so make sure they have a good time today. We’re not sure if they helped convince the guide to give us extra time but we were grateful either way.
A pretty uneventful day. We drove back to the airstrip near the Congo for the 2 hour flight back to Kampala. We transferred to the Sheraton in Arusha and had a nice long hot shower and got some of the Uganda mud out of our clothes. The showers at the Volcanoes lodge were all served from a bucket so you had to keep them short.