The last two days of Gorilla trekking have been an amazing journey of ups and downs.
Day 1 started with such excitement and anticipation. We all met for breakfast at 6:45, left the Lodge at 7:30 and arrived at the Bwindi Wilderness Orientation Center shortly thereafter. Ourselves and others were entertained by women performing local dancing. After that we were shown a short orientation video and then each small group was assigned a Gorilla family with a Ranger and two armed guards. The trackers for each family had left early in the morning to track that family and radio back to the Ranger when they find the family. We all got back in our vehicles for a twenty minute drive, over some horrible dirt roads, to the start of a trail and where met by a large group of porters and my “African Helicopter.” I was then strapped in the helicopter, lifted up and off we went. About twelve porters were assigned to my helicopter and they constantly rotated with six lifting and walking at one time. We traveled up some large hills and into a valley of tea leaves. The porters carried me through the leaves and up and down some more hills until we finally met the rest of the group and the trackers. I would have never made it this far under my correct condition.
I was then lifted out of the helicopter and two porters came with me. One carried my camera and gear and they other helped me along. The group followed the trackers who were using large machetes to cut a path for us in the dense jungle. The ground was soaked and covered with vines and roots. I fell twice and my clothing became covered with mud and dirt. Finally we had come upon the family. Twines, branches and leaves were constantly blocking our view and it was almost impossible to move closer. I started to take pictures, but was disappointed by my results and was constantly adjusting my settings to try and come up with the right combination. We walked for two hours, through the densest jungle I had ever been in. I took some pictures and only hoped that I was able to get one that I was happy with. Besides being the hardest photography I had ever tried, due to the conditions and place, I was unhappy with my results.
When we returned back to the Lodge, the first thing I did was take a long cold shower and strip off my muddy clothing to be washed by the Lodge. They also took all of our hiking boots and cleaned them for us. It was then time to download and look at what I had. Reality struck. My standards are high, but I was only able to have captured two images that I was happy with. After all that work, and walking through a jungle that was difficult to describe, I only got two images that I was happy with. I focused on the experience I had and how many memories this experience gave me.
I was so tired last night, that when I woke up, thoughts ran through my mind that I should not go on this trek and just rest my exhausted body. That’s not me. Photography always presents challenges to you and comes up with surprises when you least expect it.
We arrived at the orientation center at 7:30, sat through the dancing and then assigned a different Gorilla family. The porters came with my helicopter, I took my seat and off we went. No driving today. We were led down a trail behind the Orientation Center and hiked down to a river and then I was carried over a small old looking wood bridge. On the other side, we were met by the trackers and I was able to get out of the helicopter. The terrain was dense at times, but not nearly as bad as yesterday. Eventually the trackers stopped us and we were able to see a Silverback sitting eating a bamboo stick. The scene started to get better and the family were foraging around us. I was given my camera and decided to be laid back and loose and try a different way of setting my camera and it worked. I started to capture some great shots and this was only the beginning.
We followed the family as they foraged. They even got out of the jungle into a field of tea leaves. This was why I wanted to see the Gorillas. The day was getting better and better. I was able to observe the Silverback being very protective of the family. There were two females or mothers and four young members. By the time our hour was up, I had taken about 2500 pictures and knew that there were some great ones. Imagine if I had given into myself and not gone on this trek? The Ranger told us that about one in ten treks are this good. A big smile spread over my face as I was being carried up to the parking lot. I had seen and accomplished what I wanted to and the gods gave me a present by rewarding my persistence.
Tomorrow is a travel day to our last Camp. This Camp is devoted to chimpanzees and I love taking pictures of them. Not nearly as hard as gorillas.