November 7, 2014 – Habinyanja Gorilla Trek
We’re up at 6 AM. We packed our gear and went to breakfast. Mark chose his hiking stick and I decided to use my monopod to hike with. Rogers takes us to the ranger station and we had to go through the same formalities of listening to the ranger talk preceding our trek. Since we were heading out directly after the trek (and possibly because we had been on the intermediate hike yesterday) Rogers had arranged for us to go on the shorter, easier trek along with seven older people from the UK. We were introduced to the guide named Damien, and we hired porters again. We were happy to do this as it provides an honorable job. We were told that some of the porters’ parents used to be poachers. This change-over from being poachers to being porters and guides has made a difference in preservation of the gorillas and helped the disenfranchisement of the people trying to make a living. My porter was named Jonathon and Mark’s porter was named Pasque. We were told to call him Easter as that is what his name meant in his language. We were driven to the starting point, passing little children running to the road waving, smiling, and hollering, “hi, hi, hi, Mzumba!” They were cute and sweet and looking for handouts. I saw one little girl with a bundle of sticks on her head. I think she was hoping for a photo op to get paid. I would have loved to get her photo, but we were on our way to another adventure. We arrived at a little village amongst tea fields. We got organized and headed out and up a trail. It was sunny and warm. The weeds and grass were at times taller than me! We descended into a forest and the trail was a little slippery. My porter, Jonathon, carried my pack, and made sure to take my hand at all the right times to keep me on my feet. It was an easier hike than yesterday, but at times I was still out of breath. The trail varied from climbing to descending and we forged ahead climbing over logs and through the vegetation. It was very beautiful. After about two miles, Damien told us that it is time to get our cameras ready. The gorillas were just ahead in the meadow. We got our cameras out of our packs, took one last drink of water and bid farewell to our porters. They stayed behind with our backpacks, as had been the case, yesterday. We continued down into a meadow and we saw the silverback, Makara and his family of about 15-16 members, of all ages. There were babies playing and hanging onto their moms. It was so sweet to see the nurturing amongst them. Makara has a huge belly! For the most part, he just oversaw and watched his family, but eventually, he joined in on a chain grooming session where they picked off and ate ticks. One of the youngsters climbed on top of Makara. There were also a couple of youngsters that tumbled and wrestled; one little guy even beats his chest for us. It is wonderful! They are so comical and sweet. Since we were in an open area, it was easy to move around to get a good viewing spot, but we were definitely kept at the appropriate distance. I ran out of space on my camera chip, and hadn’t thought to bring a spare, so eventually I had to just stand and watch, which was really nice too. Finally, our hour was up, and it had been wonderful. We met back up with our porters and headed back. At the half-way point, some porters collected leaves for the Brits to sit on. Our porters laid out their ponchos for us to sit on so that we could have our picnic lunch. We made it back to the village starting place, paid and thanked our porters, and thanked Damien for the wonderful day. Rogers took us back to ranger station. We skipped the certificate ceremony but purchased a couple of laminated gorilla family photos of the families that we visited for souvenirs. Click on the following link for the interesting history of the Habinyanja Gorilla Family.
We had a long drive ahead of us today, so we went back to Sanctuary, where they let us take a shower in a different tent, as we had already packed and checked out in the morning. By now it was pouring rain, so once again, we had had amazing luck, during our trek. We said our goodbyes and made a dash to the vehicle.
Rogers drove quickly but safely. The rain had finally stopped. We pass children waving from hut doorways, while long-horned Ankole cattle were walked down the road. These cattle have very long horns. Rogers says that they are the cattle he grew up with. The hillsides are covered with tea plantations. Rogers says that there are tea plantation cooperatives, where they grow tea on their own land and sell it as a group. We saw many other animals along the way, but didn’t stop to take photos, as we had a long way to go. These are some of the animals we saw: olive baboons, black faced vervets, red tailed monkeys, water buck, a hamerkop bird and its huge nest, colobus monkeys, elephants, and cape buffalo. While we were driving past Queen Elizabeth National Park, I asked Rogers about the tree climbing lions. He said that tourists come specifically to this park to see the lions, but sometimes there are none to be found. We joked about keeping our eyes wide open, just in case. Lo and behold, I saw a tree in the distance, and asked Rogers if what I am seeing are lions in the tree. He looked and said, “Yes!” He pulled over and popped the roof up, and we took a bunch of photos of three lions lounging on a couple of big branches. What good luck…it follows us everywhere! Then we were back on the highway. We stopped at the Equator marker and Rogers stopped so that we could take photos straddling both sides of the northern and southern hemispheres.
We passed through the bustling towns of Kisiisi and Rwimi. We saw a man on a motorcycle transporting a twin mattress folded in half! I’ve never seen so many bananas being carried by bicycle or motorcycle. People grow bananas and take them to market, or they have a big truck pick them up once a week. We saw homemade bicycles and scooters transporting goods. Women were washing clothes at the rivers along the way with their babies in slings on their backs. We saw a lot of pride in how the women were dressed. Their clothes were clean, colorful, and way they walked was one with confidence. The way women and children balanced large loads of 8-10 foot long branches on their heads was amazing. It was common to see motorcycles carrying lumber perpendicularly. It seemed that a car could clip them and knock them over. The drivers used both sides of the road because of bumps and ruts and only moved to their own side, when absolutely necessary. Rogers was driving fast now. No doubt, he was trying to get us there before it was really late. It was amazing to me that cars have the right of way here and people are just used to jumping out of the way. Even animals seemed to have a better sense of self-preservation here than in the US as they jumped away from the road as we flew past. Little children, goats, cattle, etc., were moving out of the way, as we careened down the dirt roads. When necessary, Rogers honked the horn to get a motorcycle or bicycle out of the way. I was so relieved that we didn’t accidentally sideswipe a car or hit someone or an animal on the road. Pretty soon it was dark out, but there were still a lot of people walking down the road. As we passed through little villages, it was easy to see who had electricity and who didn’t. Everyone was out in their yards socializing. Kids were playing and having fun. I imagine that if it’s nice outside and they don’t have electricity that they stay out until it’s time to sleep. There were potholes to dodge and flooded areas to navigate. Rogers took a short cut with a bad one-lane road that had lots of people walking on it. There were many little villages that were very busy. There were fruit and vegetable stands, and little stores with who-knows-what inside their doors. Rogers managed to maneuver through a swamped one-lane road with a couple of cars coming towards us. It was a delicate process, but somehow, we got by, unscathed. Rogers had never been to Kibale Forest Camp and he had to pay close attention to signs to find the cut-off. Somehow, it all worked out. We had left Bwindi at 2:45 PM and made it to Kibale Forest Camp by 8:15 PM. We were greeted by staff with a fruit juice and a quick summary of the camp. We were led to our tent called Baboon. In this tent, we had canvas walls, stone floor, twin beds, a flush toilet, shower, and a water carafe next to the sink. Electricity was from 6-10 PM. We let the management know that we had hoped for a double bed. After we got settled, we went to the bar/restaurant for dinner. It was upstairs and was quite good. Eggplant and tomato on toast, steak and veges, and dessert. We made it back to bed and settled in for the night. They had made the bed into a queen size for us, and once again, a hot water bottle to keep us warm! ~Mary & Mark
Click on Photo for easier viewing