Beth and I will never forget today's gorilla trek. Yesterday's trek was great, but it was incredibly easy compared to today's trek. We started at a different place in the Bwindi National Forest. In the area we went to today there is only one gorilla group and there was one other couple on the trek with us. Yesterday we headed out around 8:45 am, immediately started climbing a mountain and arrived at the place the gorillas were feeding in a little over a half hour. We were back at the center by 11:00 am. Today we headed out on the trek around 8:30 am descended the mountain we were on and didn't get back to the center until around 3:00 pm. And boy were we tired. We spent most of the time on the slope of the mountain on which the gorillas were feeding and the slope that ranged from 45 to 70 degrees. They call it the impenetrable forest and now we understand why. I have never been in such a dense forest--vines, branches, and trees and the guides used machetes to help clear the way. But since it is the rainy season and everything is wet, the footing is treacherous. We were always standing at a steep angle either on slick mud or on branches and vines that were slippery with rain.
It took us about two hours to reach the location of the gorillas. Probably 1 1/2 hours were on a steep descent on very slippery clay and rocks. (We were on a trail on our descent and the clay and rocks is similar to Rocky Woods if you have ever hiked there.) After ascending for about 1/2 hour we arrived at the gorilla group. They were all lazily munching on leaves and vines. The family consisted of 10 gorillas: two silverbacks and two babies. Below are two pictures of the silverback who is the group leader.
After about 1/2 hour of watching them and following then as they move, we found ourselves in the middle of the group. They were feeding on all sides of us probably in an area 40 yds X 40 yds. At one point the six year old gorilla came hurdling down from above us and brushed up against Beth and me as he went by. About 15 minutes later, Beth and I were standing next to the tracker at the side of the silverback in the pictures above. We were about 12 to 15 feet to his side. When the tracker slowly reached out with his machete to pull back a few vines, he made the silverback angry and he charged him. It was amazing how fast he was. It wasn't a real attack, only a display of power to have him back off. You are supposed to just step back and avert your eyes. However, because we were standing at a 50 degree on the side of the mountain, Jonathan lost his footing and he tumbled down the slope 20 to 30 yards. Beth was right next to him, and she fell back against me. The silverback immediately went back to munching on leaves. Our other guard, Daniel, had a good laugh at Jonathan who we could see after he stood up. We continued to follow him and the others for another 15 minutes or so.
We were toward the bottom of the mountain and began to trek up shortly after leaving the gorilla family when it started to rain. Actually, there were thunderstorms, and it rained for 1 1/2 hours. We had a long way to go up the side of the mountain in the pouring rain. We had to work our way up slowly because it was so slippery. We were thinking when we finally reached the top, we would be close to the place we had started. Silly us! We had a long hike back but at least most of it wasn't up steep slopes. Thoroughly soaked but totally psyched about our adventure, we arrived back at the center ready for our hour long ride back to the lodge. It was the most challenging hike either of us had ever been on, but well worth it. Below is a picture of one of the babies.
The Rev. Dr. Phil Bauman has been the Senior Pastor of UCC Medfield since 1996. He served as the pastor of the First Congregational Church (UCC) in Clinton, MA from 1981-1988, then attended Boston University where he received a Ph.D. in Pastoral Psychology in 1995.
My old blog "Poetics of Faith"
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