My husband, Mike, and I took an International Expeditions safari to Uganda, primarily to see mountain gorillas in the wild. The two-week safari was a great adventure. We drove hundreds of miles through Uganda, mainly on narrow asphalt or dirt roads. We got to travel in the fabled Mountains of the Moon. We saw a wonderful and wide variety of animals from both safari vehicle and boat. Along with elephants, leopards, giraffes, zebras, hippos and crocs, we saw unusual animals like the rare shoebill stork, tree climbing lions and chimpanzees.
But, mountain gorillas were our main goal for the trip. Mountain gorillas are critically endangered. Their numbers have been ravaged by loss of habitat, poaching and civil war. As a result of dedicated efforts to protect these magnificent creatures, the population has begun to increase. Still, the number of these gentle giants living in the wild stands at only 880. They can be found only in the jungle-covered mountains of Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Uganda.
Our gorilla trek was scheduled for one day in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. Access to the gorillas is limited through a permit as part of a ranger-led trek.
But a trek was not in the cards for me. In the middle of the night, I became violently ill. I’ll spare you the details, but clearly I was not up to an all day trek through the highland jungle. I was devastated. We had traveled over 7,000 miles to see mountain gorillas, but I was too sick to walk those last miles of the journey.
As dawn broke, Mike set out on his trek, leaving me in the care of our room steward at Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp. I encouraged him to go so at least one of us could make this trek of a lifetime. On the trek, Mike was accompanied by a ranger with a machete to hack through the dense jungle, another with a machine gun “in case of wild elephants”, and porters to help push some of his group up the steep slope. The group climbed upward through heavy jungle and into the mist. After an initial heart-pounding mock-charge by the huge silverback, Mike’s group got to observe a large family of gorillas. They watched mothers groom their babies, toddlers scamper through trees, and the adults calmly munch on bamboo stalks. He took some great pictures.
By the time Mike returned to camp, my medical condition had deteriorated to the point that I needed a hospital. Luckily for me, the Bwindi area has a small hospital that was built through international donations, originally to serve the local Batwa pygmy population.
A very competent young doctor determined that I had contracted a life-threatening intestinal infection and treated me with IV antibiotics. Several hours later, he discharged me from the open-air hospital and sent me back to the Camp, with a supply of antibiotics in hand.
The next morning, our group assembled early to begin the day’s drive to our next destination. Although still pretty shaky, I had recovered enough to travel and to bemoan the fact that I’d missed our one-day window to see gorillas.
As we gathered at the Land Rovers, one of our guides, Edward, gestured to me. “Sherry, come here. Come here,” he whispered with a look of excitement. I shuffled a few car lengths forward to the spot where he was standing,
And there they were, just off the road. GORILLAS! A mother with a baby on her back, a black-back male, a host of youngsters and females. Last of all, the silverback. The huge male paused to look at me as I stood there with tears running down my face. Then, he turned and vanished into the jungle.
The gorillas had come to me!