In search of the silverbacks – the ultimate safari
At a certain point during our big 6 month trip (back in 2010), we ended up relaxing on Zanzibar for a while. The food there was amazing – if you order it four hours in advance, that is – until Ramadan started. And after taking life slow and snorkelling for a day or ten, it was time for some action anyway. We had a full itinerary sketched out for Kenya next, but wouldn’t it be great to go rafting on the Nile in Uganda first? Rumours were that they would start building dams, resulting in all good rapids to disappear. It was a now or never kind of option. Flights were cheap, so off to Entebbe!
Our fellow rafters managed to awake this strong urge to visit the mountain gorillas. But spending 500US$ per person in a single day wasn’t exactly foreseen in our travel budget. We would come back later to visit them… Right. What happened to enjoying the moment? Discussing our options late at night, we both knew chances were slim that we would visit Uganda again any time soon. We hopped on the first local bus to Kampala the next morning, trying to get a hold of a last-minute permit*.
Many boda-boda back rides later – we had slept at the Zoo, swam in deserted crater lakes and kayaked between a thousand islands – time had finally come to meet the infamous silverback. While hiking the pristine mountain jungle for several hours, in search of these incredible, huge creatures – please do accept the stick they offer you, you’ll need it – I realised the juice was definitely worth the squeeze.
A mother gorilla passed by with her baby. Unfortunately I just missed them. And suddenly I noticed them too, sitting around in the forest, minding their own business. You can sit with them for at least an hour. Although shy by nature, they let us into their world as if we were family. Caution, since the Californian weed farmer we met on our raft nearly got attacked while allegedly doing nothing (you have to keep a few meters distance for a reason). The gorillas seemed so peaceful, even though people still hunt them for meat and trophies. Maybe they don’t even have a clue.
Still reminiscing about our little encounter, we’d only got 48 hours left to get to Nairobi and catch our plane to Mumbai. We booked two window seats behind each other on a deluxe bus and admired the Kenyan landscapes from our windows.
* In Uganda, Gorilla tracking is done in either Bwindi Impenetrable National Park or Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. However, most of the permits sold are for Bwindi. Each day about 72 persons are allowed to visit, 8 per gorilla family. You can buy your permits at the UWA – Uganda Wildlife Authority – headquarters in Kampala (like we did), our through a tour agent. To book your gorilla permit from home, contact UWA’s reservation office by email inquiring about availability of the dates you intend to track them. Bear in mind that it’s at least a full day of travel from Kampala or Entebbe. At the time of writing, a permit should cost you about 600US$.You can also track them in Rwanda – Volcanoes National Park.