Tourist in the mist!
Dian Fossey I’m not, but I do admire her curiosity and positivity. You’ve probably already read my story about helping at the Rock Foundation School in Masindi, Uganda in 2007, but I promised a story about the gorillas in Bwindi Forest National Park, also called the Impenetrable Park. What a privilege it was because there are less than 1,000 of these creatures left in the world; we were lucky enough to get the necessary permits. There was no guarantee of making contact with a gorilla family, but I felt grateful just to have the opportunity.
We off with armed guards and porters. Seeing guys with guns was definitely unnerving, but they were there to protect us and the gorillas from poachers. More concerned about a gorilla attacking me, it took a minute to adjust my mindset about our adventure. We thought the “porters” were basically tour guides, but as we started to walk/climb through the forest their machete skills became obvious as they carved open a path. The daily rains create a truly multi-level rainforest that regrows under and behind you almost as quickly as you seek your way through it. The "porters" helped us less than coordinated people with our step. The forest ground had so many layers of organic material, it felt like a mix of crunchy cotton balls and barbed wire. I knew this was going to be literally a "Tanis trips" adventure and I'd have to take my porter up on his promise to catch me when I fell.
After many hours, stops, and radio discussions between the various guides in the park, we were able to find a gorilla family with the silverback father, mothers with babies, and juveniles hanging out in the trees. We had been instructed to drop to the ground and play possum if the silverback came out of the tree from where he watched over his family, and us. I can tell you, being from Colorado, that imagining that humongous creature coming after you dwarfed my fear of running into a bear along a trail. Do I drop to the ground, before or after I s*** my pants, have a heart attack, and die?! Luckily, it didn’t come to that as he kept his back to us most of the time while turning his head to stare us down with one eye.
Our hour in their world was soulful and magical. How could we not be related to these creatures with the same expressions and vocalizations as ours: protective serenity of a mother with a child in her arms, possessive glances of the papa, playful laughter of the teenagers? We were told to be quiet and observe, not easy, especially for me! Also, don’t touch them if they approached us, so when one juvenile dropped out of a tree, came up to a woman and started poking at her leg, as if to say “come play”, we all stood there with our hands over our mouths or our cameras clicking. I think my favorite connection with them was their laughter. As we walked around their home, the adolescent gorillas hanging out in the trees broke off branches and dropped them - not indiscriminately, but as you walked under their tree, holding their
laughter until you looked up to see the pink of their gums and the glimmer in their eyes. My response - show the pink of my gums as I laughed, the glimmer in my eyes as I pointed my finger at this fellow mammal as if to say, "nice try". This emotional, soulful connection with another living creature is absolutely one of my favorite parts of traveling.
As promised, on the way down the steep and slippery trail, I watched a woman slip and start to fall. As her feet flew into the air and her body went horizontal, her 120 pound porter dropped his machete and caught her two inches above the ground, righting her body until she was back on her feet. Are you kidding me?!
There are many organizations trying to save mountain gorillas from extinction. If you feel you want more information, try one of these African Wildlife Foundation or Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. If you want to have your own gorilla experience, try Bwindi. If you enjoyed the story, toss me a comment below or subscribe to Tanistrips.com for more stories. Thanks!