Meeting My Kin in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda | by Piritta Paija

Our small group was traipsing amidst the knee-high, thick vegetation somewhere deep inside the remote Ruhija sector of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park in Uganda. The sun was scorching, and we were getting a bit tired, yet our spirits were up in the skies. We were going to meet the elusive mountain gorillas.

It had not been an easy hike so far. We had encountered lots of obstacles during the last few hours.

Steep downhills where there was no path visible anymore and where we needed to be extremely careful with our steps. Because one misstep would’ve sent us rolling dangerously down the hill.

There was also mud, in which you could be left stuck in, if not walking fast enough. Thorny bushes and lots of insects who were buzzing annoyingly around us most of the time.

But whatever effort would be needed today, I’d do it. Today, one of my dreams was about to become a reality. I had always wanted to see the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat.

I knew that this hike to the gorillas could take any amount of time from under an hour to several, depending on where the Kyaguriro gorilla group would be hanging out today. The trackers had left long before our four-person group, and they were informing our two guiding rangers via a walkie-talkie.

Despite all the minor nuisances here in the rainforest, the surroundings were magnificent. Sometimes beyond the next corner of the path, I could see astounding sceneries, rolling hills topped with that gentle evaporated air which hangs on top the treeline, and I couldn’t have been happier to be right there, right then.

Finally, the message we’d been waiting for came through our guide’s walkie-talkie. The gorillas were near to our position, and it was time to prepare for the close encounter.

Our guides once more repeated us the rules we needed to obey when in the presence of the gorillas and the excitement in the air was tangible.

After preparing our cameras, we proceeded slowly upwards the hill. All of a sudden our guide stopped us on our tracks.

And from behind a thick wall of branches in front of us came a mountain gorilla who was walking straight towards us!

Awestruck we just stood there and stared in admiration when the gorilla just calmly walked by us, from a mere few meters away. I remember holding my breath for a second, but then the slight fear melted away, and I let myself just live this once-in-a-lifetime moment.

After the gorilla had gone, we walked through the last bush and from behind emerged the other members of this gorillas group who were sitting sparsely scattered in the middle of the vegetation, eating their day away.

We positioned ourselves to a safe distance away from the gorillas, and I started to take pictures. The gorillas didn’t seem to even notice that we were there, but of course, they had probably known we were coming for a long time already.

Occasionally, some of the gorillas cast a slightly attracted attention towards us but then continued eating the branches again.

So, there I was, in the close presence of the magnificent mountain gorillas and I felt incredibly honored, respectful, and humbled. Now when I was seeing them eye to eye, I fully understood why we humans and the gorillas are so much alike. I felt the kinship.

I could’ve just spent the whole hour we were allowed to be with the gorillas by just taking a photo after photo. But instead, from time to time, I put my camera aside and just watched the gorillas.

I wanted to be fully present in the moment, and I felt so grateful to be alive.

Trying to describe the exact moment by mere words doesn’t make it justice. You would have to go there by yourself and share the feeling, the one-off moment with your fellow travelers, your guides, and the gorillas.

And I promise you, that you will remember that moment for the rest of your life.

You will cherish it as one of your most precious experiences, and it will inspire you tremendously to take action for wildlife conservation.

You would want your own children and their children to have the same opportunity to experience that magic, wouldn’t you?

If you answer, “yes,” then you know that all the elusive, endangered creatures must be protected and continuous efforts must be made, that we’ll have something to leave behind for the generations to come.

And if you ever have the chance to go to Uganda, Rwanda, or the DRC where the mountain gorillas live – don’t have a second thought; just go. It’ll be worth all the trouble, money, and time – tenfold.

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