The trip to Buhoma on the edge of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, the most popular launching point for the Ugandan resident gorillas appaered to be a nightmare by public transport, given its out-of-the-way nature. We bargained away with the every local car owner, finally agreeing to 20 USD per person one way for the 5 hour drive. Only for the price to suddenly jump up by 25% the next morning. Comments like “I thought you said 200 USD for all of you, not 200 thousand ugandan shillings” were met with exasperated sighs and reminders of the 3 phone calls to confirm the price. After a prolonged departure procedure requiring checking tire pressure at 3 different garages, and calling in at the guys house, our driver with his get-up of sneakers, calf high socks, pants that wouldnt button up, and pimping leather waistcoat was ready to drive us at 100 miles an hour in his Toyota corona through potholes I thought would break 4×4 axels. Maybe it was the soothing tunes of Eminem, Dr Dre and other great hits from the late 90s, including 7 repeats in a row of Chamillionaire that got us there. We were soon given our first inclination to why the wet season could impact on tourism, with absolutely torrential downpours interdispersed with thunderstorms and at times clear skies pelting us for the next day. My nylon cord I had always carried with me served me well as Hector and I rigged up some clotheslines to dry our saturated gear.
The next morning, we were up bright and early ready for an expensive hour long highlight of the trip. Although a hefty price tag, all of those who I knew that had seen to Gorillas hadn’t regretted it at all. We had opted for one of the closer groups, as that was what some girls we knew from Kampala were doing, and was potentially a safer option to ensure good viewing if the weather wasn’t going to play ball. Bwindi is listed by the New Zealand government as extreme risk due to us being within sight of the Democratic Republic of Congo and its insurgency that has been raging just over the border in the east of the DRC. I had taken a calculated risk in being there, therfore invalidating my insurance, but on talking to everyone that had been there, many who weren’t the intrepid types at all, I was pretty condident that the odds were low of anything happening. Although armed soldiers and tanks rumbling up and down the road was reassuaring in a way, the need for such a presence was a bit disconcerting, and when thunderclaps broke out over our heads, it did cross my mind whether it was in fact artillery fire. But we weren’t to worry.
Our walk to find them was over in half an hour, and we were soon greeted by black hairy creatures peering through the undergrowth at us, as they devoured the foliage. The humanlike actions and poses these awesome animals performed were uncanny. The juveniles picking away at ant colonies or play-fighting and dog-piling each other, mothers feeding their babies leaves and the silverback lounging on this back, one arm over his face blocking the glare from the morning light and the other scratching his nether regions. It was an incredible experience to be so close to them as they went about their daily lives. Most of them were indiffernt about us, aside from one who strolled up from behind us, and wanted to rifle through my bag I have rested on a tree behind me. Such amazing animals, there was no regrets on anyones part on spending the money, and a highlight of the trip so far.
The close proximity of our group allowed us to get back in a good time and squeeze in a day walk, before we reboarded for the tune-pumping journey back to the slightly bigger smoke. With a guide and two armed scouts, we raced up the hill to the border with the DRC which gave some impressive views over the Congo Basin to the west and the Virunga mountains to the south, where the other population of the mountain gorillas live on the junction of the Ugandan, Rwandan and DRC borders. Assured we were safe, and that the congo was the next ridge over, the trusty travel companion that is smart phone google maps was pretty adamant we had actually already crossed the border. One to tell mum about well after the fact. Back in Buhoma we had seemed to have evaded the deluge the park is capable of, only to be caught just as we got back to our accommodation. That night it was back to Bunyonyi for another night, before our border crossing to Rwanda the next day.