9/20/09: Nkuringo, Uganda
This is a gorillapod.
It’s nice, lightweight and will definitely come in handy when Zhou and I don’t have anyone nearby to take photos of us around the world.
This is a gorilla pod.
See the difference a space makes?
Zhou described much of our experience in yesterday’s post, but I feel it bears repeating from my point of view. When we originally planned the trip, she was so adamant about seeing the gorillas that I didn’t voice my opinion too much. After all, there are things I want to do as well (Easter Island, skydiving in New Zealand), so our rule was that if one of us felt really strongly about something, we’d do it. I’ll be honest though, I wasn’t quite sure about this part of the trip.
First of all, permits cost $500 per person, and you only get one hour with the gorillas. That would make this the most expensive single day of our trip. Secondly, they’re just gorillas! I’ve seen them in the zoo, I think. Thirdly, it was very difficult to find a tour that fit our start (Nairobi) and stop (Johannesburg) criteria and still did the gorilla tracking.
I’m glad Zhou was so set on this.
There are only 720 mountain gorillas left in the world, including 345 in the Bwindi National Park that we hiked. We would wind up seeing 14 of them. For you English majors, that’s 14 out of 720. As a percentage of humans, that’s like seeing over 125 million people just chilling in a forest – the big ones watching mindfully while the smaller, younger ones play and poop on the elders’ backs.
Although the brochures said not to get closer than 21 feet from the gorillas to avoid the spread of germs (gorillas are humans’ closest relatives, sharing about 98.4% of genes), our guides found us a nice spot less than ten feet away. One of the silverbacks (older, dominant males) even walked within a foot or two of a member of our group.
The best part about it all though is that this is their environment, and we were just there enjoying it. If a gorilla wanted to go somewhere, we moved to let it pass. I felt kind of like a lowly intern in a big office meeting. Absorb your surroundings, but stay out of the big dogs’ ways. But this time the big dogs were 500 pound gorillas.
The hikes to and from the gorillas were far and away the most difficult of my life. Since the location of the gorillas changes every day, for much of the time we were blazing new trails up and down steep countryside. I’m so impressed with my wife, as she kept pace with our guide, who finished eighth in the 10K at the Ugandan Olympic trials. I could barely keep up myself.
Throughout the hikes, I made it a point to stop and enjoy the incredible scenery that the Ugandan mountainsides have to offer. My opinion probably doesn’t matter here because I’ve only visited about five countries, but Zhou called Uganda the most beautiful country she’s ever seen. I can’t argue with that.
So the next time someone hands you $500 and an otherwise all-expenses paid trip to Uganda, please please please go see the gorillas. You won’t regret it.
Ohio Picture: A couple of guys at the office and I decided it would be fun to shoot these pictures throughout the world. The Os in this picture are the porters who came with us on the hike. Gordon Gee, if you’re reading this, you now have supporters in Nkuringo, Uganda… Go Bucks!
Picture of the Day: Our tracking group (all from the Acacia overland tour that we’re on) standing on top of a mountain overlooking the Impenetrable Forest.