A very early start this day, well before dawn. We had to drive about an hour and a half to the Ruhija sector of the Park. The drive itself was enlightening – we saw families, children and groups of teenagers walking (in the darkness) – on their way to work and school. No school buses here and no public transportation; in fact, most families have no other means of transportation than their feet!
Ruhija is 2,350 metres above sea level (about 7,500 feet). To put that in perspective – the peak of Sunshine Village outside of Banff sits at 2,730m while the peak of Whistler sits at a mere 2,182m!
I was definitely feeling the altitude but this group wasn’t. Their energy & enthusiasm was contagious and couldn’t help but make you smile…
Our family for the day was the Oruzogo Group, one of the largest habituated families in Bwindi. They were first visited by tourists in June of 2011.
The Ruhija sector not only sits at a higher altitude than Buhoma, but its also more rugged and a much more difficult trek. Knowing that this would be the case I splurged and hired not one, but two, porters. With one pulling me from the front and the other pushing from behind they made sure that I made it. I couldn’t have done it without them.
We headed out on foot from the visitor centre, directly behind the stage from the morning’s performance. Unlike the day before, our group hadn’t been located yet when we started out. So off we went – up hills, down hills, through the very thick and humid jungle. It was a much more difficult hike than we’d had the day before. Eventually, hot and sweaty, we emerged out of the dense rainforest on to the road! I’ll admit it – a few choice words that I won’t share with you came out of my mouth. We walked up the road a bit, then back down the road and back into the forest. Eventually, again, we emerged on to the road. They still hadn’t located the group, but they could hear their calls and knew that they were close. So we sat on the side of the road for almost an hour – snacking on our packed lunches, relaxing and generally being silly.
Finally the word came in that the group had been found!
They weren’t far from where we were waiting, so down we went, into the ravine at the side of the road.
Before long, we were staring into their very intelligent eyes…
There can be a few silverbacks in a group, but only one is the dominant silverback. Typically the largest, the dominant silverback is the only one allowed to breed and is responsible for protecting the family. I believe this is Bwengye, one of the 2 subordinate silverbacks in the group. One day he may challenge Kaganga for dominance or leave the group to start his own family.
Although the gorillas are habituated and used to humans, we have to stay at least 7 metres away from the gorillas. They share 98% of our DNA and don’t have the antibodies to fight human disease. They don’t know about that rule, so sometimes you have a close encounter with them. As we were walking down a “path” towards them, my porter (rather urgently) told me to step off the path and sit down. The ladies were on their way towards us…
Now, sitting down, I was pretty much at their eye level. They looked me directly in the eyes as they passed by, as if to say “thanks, have a nice day”. What an incredible experience that was!
As you can see, the silverback (adult male) gorilla is huge, almost twice the size of an adult female. Their diet consists of mainly leaves and berries. It’s estimated that they eat about 34 kg a day (compared to about 20 for an adult female). Needless to say, that’s a lot of salad! Much of their day is spent eating and sleeping.
They are so human-like that you find yourself wondering what they’re thinking.
As an adult male matures (sometime after age 12) his domed forehead becomes more prominent and the fur on his back begins to turn silver.
This was a very difficult group to photograph. The vegetation was so thick and they moved around a lot. Add to that the fact that you’re trying to keep your balance on a very steep slope. All part of the adventure!
The trek out was much easier (everything is relative) than the trek in, we headed down the mountain toward the road where our guide/driver Ham was waiting for us.
On the way back to Buhoma we stopped to take a few photos of the amazing scenery…
Remember Ride4AWoman, the group that did our welcome dance the day before? In addition to giving the ladies a safe place to call home, they also teach them to sew and weave. What they make is sold in the store and helps to fund the operations. They also act as the local ATM, giving cashback to tourists in need of the local currency. One of our group needed some cash and we wanted to support them, so we stopped in to take a look around and buy a few things.
Another fabulous day and only one more trek remaining. We headed back to the lodge, tired but happy, to relax and talk about the day’s adventures.
I can’t say enough about the staff at the Buhoma Lodge – they were fantastic. Every day when we returned they would take our dirty hiking boots and gaitors and give them a very thorough cleaning. They looked like new when they brought them back! We wanted for nothing and they truly did everything possible (always with a smile) to make our stay perfect.