Mature Life Features

Cecil Scaglione, Editor

Gorillas We Almost Missed

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Story & Photo

 By Fyllis Hockman

Mature Life Features



BWINDI NATIONAL PARK, Uganda —- The eight of us huddled together, staying close and quiet as we were warned. A soft cough escaped from one of our party and the guide shot us a glare. We were told that, if we were scraped by a stinging nettle, don’t even think about screaming.
And be sure to stay at least 25 feet away.
That rule was to protect both us and the gorillas. Because they share 98.4 percent of our DNA, gorillas are susceptible to human-borne illnesses. We’re carriers and they have to be protected from us. They’re wild animals, so we have to be protected from them.
You have to really want to see them because it involves at trek of up to seven hours, depending upon where they are.
There are about 880 mountain gorillas in the world. Almost half are in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in southwestern Uganda,
The hike is intimidating. You need sturdy hiking boots, gloves for the nettles, and plenty of water. A walking stick is mandatory.
We were feeling pretty good about ourselves as we maneuvered through the steep climbs and slippery descents traversing narrow ravines.
Until we entered the forest.
There was no semblance of a trail. The guides chopped one with machetes. The rocks, roots and brambles beneath our feet were not visible because of the thick underbrush.
With walking stick in one hand and the porter’s hand in the other, I kept moving, though at times the porter was either dragging me up or saving me from sliding down steep slopes.
I felt my arm might be pulled off by the porter or my legs by the clutching vines.
By the time we got to the designated area, the gorillas had left.
But down another steep embankment about 15 minutes later, we came into view of a couple of gorillas chowing down in the bush. They were fun to see but were mostly hidden in the trees and bushes and several of us felt it hadn’t justified the arduous journey.
Suddenly, the mammoth silverback — the alpha male of the group — turned from chowing to charging. It came very close before the tracker waving his AK-47 quickly sent him into retreat. Both tracker and silverback remained immune to our pleas to try that again after we got our cameras ready.
It was 4:30 p.m when we got back to our bus, which we had left at 9:30 a.m.
While our half of the ElderTreks group was hacking our way through the jungle, the other eight members were mingling with a group of the great apes on a road right near our lodge.
After hearing of our experience, they said they felt a little guilty but were happy to explain they saw their first gorilla within 20 minutes of leaving the lodge. Fifteen minutes later, they reached a banana plantation that a group of 19 gorillas was gleefully dismantling.
Good for the gorillas, bad for the farmer, though the trekkers did take a collection to compensate him. At one point, they said they were totally surrounded by gorillas. So much for the 25-foot rule.
While gorilla-trekking is touted as a highlight of the trip, it was only part of a 16-day adventure that included safari-game drives on both land and water in multiple wildlife reserves, chimpanzee tracking, scenic terrain, cultural outings that included a meeting with members of a Pygmy tribe and a demonstration by a traditional medicine man who used indigenous herbs to cure almost any ailment, and a lunch of native Ugandan delicacies prepared by a farmer and his wife. For more information about the list of ElderTreks destinations for travelers 50 and over, call (800) 741-7956 or visit online.

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Written by Cecil Scaglione

August 19, 2015 at 7:02 am

Posted in Travel

Tagged with , , , , ,

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