Deep in the Bush

Deeper in the Bush

Chalet in the Forest

Too close to the Silverback?

BWINDI NATIONAL PARK was known as the Impenetrable Forest. I suspected it was in a remote corner of Uganda where nobody lived. The journey getting there felt impenetrable but in reality civilization - or the fringes of it - reached all the way to the park. The trees had been cut down all the way for farms and firewood. There was a distinct line going up the side of a mountain. Half had no trees and the other half was impenetrable.

I never considered sunscreen or a hat as we hiked into the Impenetrable Forest. Who knew that the first few hours were hiking along the outside edge in the sun? It was a long hike to the top of the mountain. Only two groups of six people were allowed in the park on a daily basis. That didn't include guides, soldiers and porters.

After hiking to the top of the mountain, the real trek began. We had to find the gorillas of group M. These were the first to be habituated to human contact when Bwindi became a park in 1991. Finding the gorillas was a challenge. We entered the Impenetrable Forest and quickly realized why it got its name. There was no way to walk without a machete.

We hiked down the bush side of the mountain and came upon group M and the silverback male, only five yards away. We were thrilled, but the gorillas were unfazed. When they had enough, they simply moved on down the mountains. We followed. Following was easier said than done! The ground cover felt like walking on a compost pile made of corn stalks. Nothing was firm; everything was awkward. We stumbled along and positioned feet as carefully as possible. There were unexpected holes and lots of steep places for slipping. I took advantage of many of them.

Contact was limited to one hour. A distance of five meters was maintained for the safety of all concerned. On occasion the gorillas charged. And, unfortunately, gorillas were susceptible to human diseases. Nobody wanted to infect Bwindi's 300 gorillas, half the world's population. Hopefully, the gorillas would be protected for future generations. The local communities surrounding Bwindi realized in tangible ways the benefits of tourism dollars. A gorilla pass cost a whopping $250.00! Part of that was invested directly into the community in the form of schools, clinics, village water pumps, and other land development projects to enhance the lives of the people in the area. And, there were jobs in the form of rangers, porters, hotels, and souvenirs that were a result of the gorillas in their midst.

Copyright 2000 by Phillip Martin All rights reserved. ARTIN