One of the rangers in Uganda is a friend of mine on Facebook. I have been following him for seven years and I was always happy to see his posts about gorillas, never expecting but always hoping to see them for myself. So it was a dream come true when I heard that as the Angama Mara guide with the most guest entries in The Greatest Maasai Mara Photographer of the Year competition, I would be going to see the gorillas.
My journey started at Jomo Kenyatta International, then to Entebbe in Uganda, where I spent the night. Flying over Lake Victoria the next day was terrifying but then I saw that the pilot had a Kenyan bracelet like mine, and I felt better. I loved looking out the window at the landscape. It was so different. There were hills and lakes that seemed to go on forever...what a beautiful country.
After landing in Kisoro we drove to Volcanoes Safaris’ Mount Gahinga Lodge where I had a wonderful view of three of the Virunga volcanoes (there are eight in total). The next day one other couple and I started hiking. We were lucky because the gorillas were only about 2500m above. It’s tough, but because it hadn’t rained for four days it wasn’t wet, so the going was easier. Helle, one of our Angama Safaris travel planners, advised me on everything and I had the right gear, especially good boots.
You can only imagine the first time seeing a gorilla. Mine were up a tree and I didn’t know if these gorillas would come down. I was just happy, taking blurry pictures of them high above. Then this gorilla came straight to me. That’s when I realised ‘this is the gorilla’s place now’. At one point, a female gorilla walked just in front of me, nearly touching my knees. I froze. The next thing she stood up and slammed her fists down on the ground. You can’t believe how strong it was, you could feel the vibrations and wouldn't believe the sound!
The hiking is tough, but the paths are good with rocks on both sides. That’s why it’s called Mgahinga – the piles of rocks. The soil is rich from the volcanoes, and they grow lots of things there. Because it’s a volcano area if the farmers want to do any cultivation they must work hard to remove all the rocks and pile them somewhere. So they named the area after those piles of rocks.
The next day we went hiking again, looking for the golden monkeys. That was exciting, you don’t see these monkeys anywhere except in Uganda, the Congo and Rwanda. We had to walk a long way, about five hours. One of the guides asked, ‘Wilson, are you okay?’ and I answered, ‘I’m okay’ but I was thinking ‘ooooh this is tough’. We finally reached the golden monkeys and we found them foraging – they were very beautiful.
The next day, we flew north out of Kisoro over the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, home to Uganda’s second gorilla population. This protected area for the gorillas is on the top of mountains, that’s why it’s tricky hiking. Encroachment around the Bwindi Forest is clear to see from flying over it and it made me sad. People are logging around the forest, so it’s left like an island and that worries me deeply. The government protects the forest but still, these people have been poaching in it for generations and many still depend on it. Poaching is the biggest concern, but I hope the forest will be sustained. More tourists, it will be sustained. No tourists, there will be problems.
I am a guide, born in the Kenyan wild area and spent my whole life here. I learnt so much from my time in the wild areas of Uganda. I loved the gorillas and seeing the unique geography. It was a life experience and a dream come true for me. Thanks to the Angama Family, I hope to work hard to go on the next adventure.
Our heartfelt thanks to the wonderful Volcanoes Safaris family for graciously hosting Wilson. We are proud to call them both friends and partners.
Filed under: East Africa Travel
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