Mzungu in the Mist
Trip Start Nov 02, 2003
50Trip End Mar 01, 2005
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We took the truck to the border, and walked the dusty and barbed wire path through no mans land to what the sign had told us was Zaire. But this is no longer the case, we were now entering the Democratic Republic of Congo. After our passports were stamped, we left the crumbly customs office with gunshot wounds and headed for the park permit office.
We were soon surrounded by familiar waving and smiling children, this time demanding "where's my pen". We were however un-equipped with the appropriate stationery so tried to listen intently to the long uncomprehensable lecture from the park warden instead. Finally we were bundled into trucks, which seemed to be the only automated transport in the country, on what was barely a road and headed for the hills.
Along the way we passed by happy smiling villages, mountains, perfect volcanoes and lush jungles shrouded in a thick mist. At last we all felt we were really somewhere very different with no signs of modern life and mother nature taking control of this far away world.
A... As we pulled into the park headquaters we met our guides and were given a final briefing on what to do when (and if!) we met the gorillas Actually we had one guide, and 3 armed guards; the guns they carry are to shoot the poachers - the gorillas are too precious. Before we knew it we were off into the jungle, and it was clear from the pace we set that we had a long way to go, so there was no time to hang about if we wanted to meet the gorillas.
Most of the walk was through low jungle, sometimes on relatively easy paths, sometimes just ploughing straight through thick vegetation, with the guide in front cutting obstructions from our path with a machete. The guides' knowledge of the terrain and sense of direction was extraordinary; no maps, compasses or even stops to get bearings; we just ploughed on into the jungle. After 2 and a half hours walking or so we took a break for a while, still completely unaware how much further we'd have to go. As we walked on again though, there were signs of recent gorilla activity and the tension grew. We passed through damaged bamboo groves, saw tracks in the mud, and dodged round piles of fresh looking dung. After 3 and a quarter hours of walking we were told to get our cameras ready, and a hush descended as we strained our ears to maybe catch the sound of a gorilla.
Suddenly there was a rustling in the bushes to our left, about 30 feet from where we were standing, and before we knew it we were face to face with a mountain gorilla. It was only a juvenile, by no means fully grown, but it still sent us cowering back as it ran towards us, beating its chest then rushing past us and away along the path.
We followed the same way, and caught sight of more gorillas a mother hurried past with a tiny baby on her back, then huddled under a tree clutching it to her breast, and another juvenile sat peeling and chomping on a tasty lunch of bambooo shoots.
Then the rain clouds that had been overhead for some time decided to dump down on us. We spent the next 20 minutes huddled under a tree, attempting to keep our cameras dry, and trying hard to convince ourselves that we were excited to be looking at a gorilla that seemed every bit as wet and miserable as we ourselves had started to feel. We'd treked for over 3 hours, spent hundreds of dollars, and travelled hundreds of miles to be here, and all we were going to see was that gorillas hate the rain just as much as we do!
That train of thought didn't last long. As the rain slackened off we shuffled round to get a better view of the mother with her baby. As we did so we heard noises behind us and turned to see another juvenile shredding branches. Upon seeing us he decided to give us a little charge, banging his chest with his little hairy hands as he scuttled towards us. I went to edge back, but realised I was heading straight for the mother with her baby, so had to quickly step aside.
By now we could see signs of more movement as the gorilllas came to life again after the rain. We caught sight of the silverback across to the left through some bushes, and as we did so he decided to come and show us who was boss. So, there we found oursleves trying to back away into a bush that wouldn't budge another inch, as 250kg of Silverback adult male mountain gorilla sauntered towards us, stood on all fours about 15 feet away, flexed his muscles and bared his teeth in what must be the scariest yawn I have ever seen.
Having made sure we'd had a good gawp, and were suitbaly cowed, he then went for the party trick. He slowly stodd on his back legs, rigoroulsy beating his chest, then snatched a tree 6 inches thick, shattering it in two and making off with it in a display of strength and speed that left us both gaspng in admiration and trembling in fear.
We slowly followed the way the silverback had gone, and came round the corner to get a glimpse of him, and perhaps another half a dozen gorillas eating and playing in the grass. The young ones had worked out a great game of climbing up the shoots until their weight was enough to break them, generally landing on top of a larger, but strangely un-bothered relative. As our cameras clicked away the guards told us is was time to go, but we kept trying to get that extra shot, and just as we were leaving, the baby we'd seen earlier decided to oblige by showing us his climbing skills.
We were buzzing and all had silly grins stuck to our faces as we set off back through the jungle to the park office. It was still a long way back, but with a spring in our step it seemed to fly by, and before we knew it we were back at the border post and heading for our campsite in Uganda. We decided to be extravagant and pay for the dollar upgrade to have a bed to sleep in for the night. Ahh, bliss!