Cape Town to Cairo 2012

Day 33 to Day 34 - June 29th–30th

After breakfast we attended a briefing with the Uganda Wildlife Authority who explained the rules to us:

  1. Stay seven meters away from the gorillas at all times.
  2. Do exactly as our trackers tell us to do.

We learned that the silverback leader of the troop of gorillas that we were going to see had just died three days ago. He was 47 years old and died of old age. He is the gorilla in the upper left in the photo below.

In the middle of the top row is the beta gorilla and at age 14, he will be taking over the troop. He does not have any silver hair yet. The ranger explained to us that the silverback that died had killed a number of his offspring. They are hopeful that the new leader will be less inclined to genocide. Half of the remaining approximately 800 gorillas living in nature live in Uganda, largely in the Bwindi National Park.

Each of us hired a porter – a way to directly compensate the community for the space that the park utilizes. Here is my porter. She carried my water, my lunch and various items that I shed during the hike. Porters get to go out approximately once a month and get paid about $15. She was not skilled in the woods. At one point she was standing near an ant hill and red ants got in her shoe and climbed her leg. She was not wearing socks. She finally had to retire into the woods to eradicate the red ants. She lives at home with her father, mother and her three-year old daughter. This appears to be her only job and it’s only once a month.

We were accompanied front and back by guards with AK47’s. The area is fraught with terrorists and bandits. Years ago some tourists were kidnapped and killed by rebels. While we were in Uganda, two terrorists groups from Somalia killed members of a church congregation in Tanzania.

Reaching the gorillas was quite a trek. We climbed approximately 3,000 ft. up steep slopes that were 30%-45% inclines, some areas were even steeper. The walking sticks were a great idea.

On the way to the park we walked through a variety of small farm plots. Each time a member is added to a family their farming plot is subdivided. A nation of subsistence farmers with each woman giving birth to an average of 6.6 children will run out of farm land in perhaps 20 years. This could lead to a reduction in territory available for parks.

Within the park there is a small tribe of pygmies who are supposedly living in harmony with nature.

A large part of the park was forested 20 years ago, but there were a number of huge trees with perhaps 100 feet to the first branch.

We were soon in the middle of the entire troop of gorillas.

A young male taking a quick snooze:

The elder female:

The newly inaugurated leader:

Of course, always eating:

At one point he lunged at the crowd and the guard jumped back out of the way. We were commanded to stay still. The gorilla leader passed right by us just 1’ away, stepping on Helge’s foot. So much for the seven meter rule!

In the spirit of being an Essel-tonian, I am trying to emulate the gorillas eating habits.

The paparazzi in hordes are photographing the gorillas. Remember, they are only harassed like this 1-2 hours per day.

 

We got hundreds of pictures of the gorillas. After one hour, the allotted time to visit the gorillas, the large gorilla walked away as if the curtain had come down.

We began our trek back up over the top of the mountain to return to our lodge. This was the view of the forest we had just hiked.

Both days with the gorillas were wonderful. The Ugandan Head of Tourism happened to be staying at our camp at the same time we were. We did not get the opportunity to talk him but clearly Uganda considers the gorillas an important tourist attraction. I think they will do everything possible to preserve this important natural habitat.

I have been wearing Arborwear pants manufactured in Cleveland while tramping around Africa. They wear like a hog’s nose. The missionaries have been very successful putting clothes on the natives here. Perhaps another good cause would be the preservation of the gorillas by putting them in Arborwear pants for climbing trees.

The following morning we drove back to the airport and the road was appalling. Overloaded trucks were the rule.

While waiting at the airport I asked about the use of concrete posts to fence in the airport. The man explained that termites are so active in the area that within two years the center of wooden fence posts would be eaten.

It took us three flights to get back to Arusha.

As we rode through the Savannah on the way to Nairobi, we saw no wild animals, just herds of cattle and goats. We entered the bustling city of Nairobi Kenya passing through a border of shouting money changers and vendors. Greater Nairobi now has a population of almost 3.2 million people.

Bwindi National Park, Uganda to Nairobi Kenya
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