We left Fort Portal and headed to Queen Elizabeth Park. We went from lush tea plantations to hot and dry savannah. The temperature rose to about 37C.
We crossed the equator and were awfully close to the Congolese border….like 38 km close.
We started with an evening wildlife drive, where we saw Ugandan kobs (a small antelope), waterbucks (a larger antelope), loads of birds and a lioness stalking dinner. Great way to start our safari.
The next day, we were up early for a morning wildlife drive, and man, was the savannah alive with activity. Multiply every animal we saw the day before by 20. Plus, we saw elephants and a mating pair of lions, who had a couple of sessions in the dawn light. Honestly, I’m sensing a theme here ….
In the afternoon, we did a water safari on the Kazinga channel that connects lakes Edward and George. It was amazing to see animals chilling on the water. Three bull elephants playing in the water, buffalo, hippos, crocodiles, baboons and a thousand birds all chilling by the water.
Yesterday, we headed into Rwanda. A relatively smooth border crossing. The scenery grew more lush, more hilly and way greener. We are in the Virunga mountain chain, which are actually extinct volcanoes. The soil is dark, dark black and the vegetation is dense. Absolutely breathtaking.
This morning, we were off the see the what? THE GORILLAS! We were greeted by traditional dancers and coffee as our guides sorted us into groups of eight. We were assigned to a gorilla family and headed off to the starting point of our trek. We headed up the valley to Bisoki mountain to see the Kuryama gorilla family. The family group consists of eight gorillas: two silverbacks (highly unusual, and brothers); one mother, one 7 month old baby and four juveniles.
We climbed the mountain for close to two hours, up trails, across farmers fields, through mud and up and over volcanic rock walls. And we haven’t reached the gorillas yet. And then there they were. We came across the beta silverback first, resting in the sun. Amazing. After 10 minutes, we saw the alpha silverback munching on nettles. And yes, they do sting. A lot.
Around a tree and up a hill, we saw the mama and baby. She didn’t like where we were standing, so cut right in front of me, as in, brushed past me. Holy crap. A gorilla touched me!!! My heart stopped for a second.
We roamed around the group for an hour. At one point one of the juvenile males started playing with a guy in our group. By playing, I mean, ran at him and knocked him over. Like he was one of the family. Unbelievable. Awesome.
Our visit was limited to an hour so as not to totally disturb the fact that these gorillas are indeed wild. That hour was the fastest 60 minutes of my life. I will be back, that I know. Both to Rwanda and to the gorillas. Truly beyond words.