15th November 2018 it was! A warm day that flagged off my four-day adventure, as destined for Bwindi, a UNESCO World Heritage Park with more than 50% of the world’s surviving population of Mountain Gorillas. Here is how it’s first two days unfolded and why Bwindi is worth a top spot on your bucket list.
After an early morning breakfast, we were transferred to Entebbe International Airport for a two hours’ flight to Kisoro Airstrip aboard the AeroLink, a domestic airline. Staring outside the plane window felt like watching a punchy destination marketing video. It had lots of astonishing contrasts, sky blue freshwater lakes, rolling hills with dramatic summits, V-shaped valleys with meandering rivers, dense tropical rain forests and sky hugging volcanoes of Virunga region. One of the things that these attractions shared in common is that they pristine in the real sense of the word. Enchanting!! You will love every minute of flying over them.
Upon arrival at Kisoro Airstrip around 9:30am, our adventure started off on a great note with a briefing session by a team of passionate safari guides—who had come to pick us. First off was a canoeing experience at Lake Mutanda, a tranquil gem that awakens all the body senses with its rejuvenating freshness. It covers over 20 kilometers and is surrounded by enormous mountain ranges, most of which have well terraced subsistence farms.
During your time at this community owned initiative, you will also mix and mingle with the Batwa. They are a tribe of pygmies that used to harmoniously co-exist with gorillas in Bwindi and Mgahinga National Park (before they were gazatted).
We couldn’t be happier crowning the day with a campfire experience at our home for the next three days, Nkuringo Gorilla Lodge. In a few words, it is an eco-friendly lodge with unobstructed panoramic views of Bwindi’s impenetrable forest.
Day two, the Ultimate gorilla trekking day
After breakfast, at around 7:45 am, we were transferred to the National Park Headquarters for the briefing on the dos and don’ts of gorilla trekking. Unlike in a zoo where you just walk in and find exhibits waiting for you, in gorilla trekking you have to earn your luck. To ensure we registered 90% chances of encountering the Nkuringo family, a team of trackers was sent to the forest prior to the start of our adventure. Their mission was to trail the gorillas, starting with the nest where they spent the previous night. Upon establishing contact, the kept in touch with our team leader to offer further guidance on routes to follow.
One hour down the road, we got off track, scrambling over steep slopes of the highland. Luckily, our porters where with us every step of the way. Using their vast knowledge about the park, they kept giving us insights about where to step. Thanks to them, we didn’t fall as many times as we would have if it was a self-guided tour. Vines and trees became tools to grab onto and heave ourselves upwards too. Luckily, our perseverance finally paid off. Not only did we get to meet gorillas, we found all the 14 members of their family ranging from few month old babies to gigantic silverbacks that have been under the sun for over three decades. At first glance, it seemed like they were grazing casually, hanging about the top of the ridge eating fruit. A more critical look brought something more to my attention. The blackbacks and silverbacks had formed a ring around females and babies of their family to protect them from intruders. Going by the looks on their faces, they were prepared to fight off any enemy even it meant putting their lives on the edge. How inspiring!!
In short, there is something special about the mountain gorilla species. With just a look at them, you get overwhelmed with joy and the emotions that come with being in a National Geographic moment. In this regard, I am happy to recommend it to all nature lovers.
More about the Forest
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is located in South-western Uganda on the edge of the rift valley covering 331 Square Kilometers of both montane and lowland forest. Raised between 1,160m – 2,607m above sea level, it was gazetted as a National Park in 1991 and declared a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site in 1994. Spread over a series of steep ridges and valleys, Bwindi is the Source of five major rivers, which flow into Lake Edward. Its mist-covered hillsides are blanketed by almost 400 species of plants. More famously this “impenetrable forest” also protects rough estimate of half of the world’s mountain gorillas population, including several habituated groups in four different sectors of Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga and Nkuringo which can be tracked all under the Uganda Wildlife Authority management. Here, you can also pursue a gorilla Habituation experience. This biodiverse region also provides shelter to further 120 mammals, including several primate species such as baboons and chimpanzees, as well as forest elephants and antelopes. There are around 350 bird species hosted in the forest, 220 species of butterflies, 27 species of frogs, chameleons, geckos, including 23 Albertine Rift endemics.
Nkuringo sector, which lies closely to the Buhoma sector is about 10 km from Buhoma although this distance is covered by the impenetrable Forest and a walk through the forest about 4 to 5 hours. Villages at Nkuringo also operate a community walk that visits a traditional healer, rural homestead, blacksmith and brewers. Nkuringo and Bushaho (offers the Gorilla Habituation Experience) are the families in this sector.
Visiting the local community and a walk through the Forests whilst seeing the different bird species and a zip walk was a special activity for my third day.
The hike from Nkuringo Lodge to Buhoma, following the Kashasha River Trail is unforgettable. It is a healthy guided walk if you need to exercise daily for a healthy body and mind. During this walk, you will see different animals and plant species. The beauty of the forest and its conducive atmosphere will keep you fired up.
After a full 5 hours of the tough but worth doing walk (time may vary depending on the speed and walking skills of the client) through the magnificent forest, we arrived at the park headquarters in Buhoma, where we met the rest of my team to be transferred to Kihihi Airstrip for an afternoon flight back to Entebbe. This marked the end of my awesome 4 days adventure. I just can’t wait to do this again!