Tracking the Nkuringo Mountain Gorillas

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Email and RSS subscribers will likely need to click over to klugusamy.com to view the below photos--sorry 'bout that.

We had breakfast at the dark hour of 5:30am and were in the Land Cruiser at 6:00am for the bumpy 1.5 hour drive up to Nkuringo from Kisoro.  At 7:30am we were at the Uganda Wildlife Authority's little "headquarters".  The main gorilla tracking operation in Uganda is in Buhoma, so this little outstation very much reflected that it's an outstation.

No matter, we soon found out we were the lone tourists for the day.  Nice!  (more on this lack of traffic at the bottom*)  Lillie and I each hired a porter (~10 USD) to carry our packs and we set off with our guide, the porters, and two guys with guns.  Funny that we never even wondered why these guys had guns, at the time.  Gun = African walking stick, some say.  In reality, they are to scare off angry elephants or buffalos that might be encountered along the way.

To get to the mountain gorillas at Nkuringo, it's a quite steep initial downhill climb.  Fortunately for Lillie, the Ugandan Porters feel very much so obliged to your safety throughout the trek.  Godfrey carried her backpack but also held her hand on any steep, slippery sections of the non-trail.  From there, it depends on where the gorillas are hanging out.  We've heard that it can get quite strenuous getting to this group, but we were fortunate.  Less than an hour, and we had arrived.

Just before you get to the gorillas, you meet up with the trackers and are required to drop your packs and take only what you need on your body (no food or water allowed).  This is to ensure no gorillas go running away with your lunch box (amongst other things).  Then we proceeded with two park rangers to spend an hour with these mountain gorillas.  There are 19 members of this group--including six month old twins!

Instead of the usual long scroll through inline photos, I'm giving an embedded slideshow a whirl below.  You'll need Flash, but otherwise please leave a comment if you have any troubles viewing.

 

It was still early in the morning and most of the group were just getting up and eating breakfast.  We stayed in pretty much the same position for the hour while the entire group went about their business immediately surrounding us.  Seven meters is the official line on the distance you keep.  In reality, the mountain gorillas are unaware of this rule. 

As mentioned previously, taking photos was pretty tricky.  You're in a dense jungle with low light and there is always a blade of grass or leaf in the way of your shot.  On some of the photos above you'll see what looks like lots of brown dust on the lens--those are actually dense clusters of flies.

An hour passes pretty fast.  Time flies when you're having fun, I guess.  It was hot and horribly humid (for us) on the steep climb back up.  We charged up at a very speedy pace and were back to the station in an hour.  The rangers complimented us for being "very strong".  We would have stopped for more breaks had we known that was the impression we gave.  Less than three hours roundtrip, in the end.  But that's very much a "your miles may vary" situation.

We drove back to Kisoro to eat the packed lunch we didn't get a chance to eat while tracking.  We got the "you're already back?" from everyone at Traveler's Rest Hotel.  Speaking of which, they make a very nice packed lunch for this occasion.  We sat in their garden watching the birds and Rottweilers play before retiring to our room for a nap.

Happy to say it was a tremendous experience, and worth all the money and travel required.  And it was great knowing we would give it another go in Rwanda in two days...


*Some commentary on Nkuringo.  From what we gather, this outstation is being horribly mismanaged.  There are eight permits per day available and six of the permits are allocated to Clouds Mountain Resort--a $900/night lodge nearby.  The existence of this lodge is insane.  I can't imagine anyone paying that kind of money to stay at a lodge that requires a quite bumpy road of more than three hours from Kabale to reach.  Plus, I can't imagine people paying that much money being interested in enduring what is a very strenuous trek to reach to the gorillas.

To these points, it seems nobody is staying at this lodge.  Thus partly explaining why there were only the two of us tracking the group that day.  On the flip side, I'd say this is an excellent opportunity for some travelers to take advantage of.  It was quite a luxury having the gorillas all to ourselves!  On a sad note, I think USAID was involved with funding some of this madness.  I'll do some research on that another day.

3 Comments

Wow. I suppose the subjects are pretty "can't miss" but the quality of photos is still great. Can't wait to see the rest of them. (Oh, and so you know, full-screen option on the slideshow doesn't work on my Chrome browser.)

Looks like you guys had an amazing trip!

Super photos! They look uncomfortably like Klug family members--no lips, open mouths, some stern expressions & others staring into space--didn't notice any overt butt scratching though, but maybe you screened those out.

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