I imagine Bwindi might be the only national park in the world with the adjective of “impenetrable” included in the title. After hiking only a short distance through it, I soon understood why it carries this word … it’s almost like a disclaimer: “Sure it’s a national park, and you’re welcome to visit it, but just so you know, it’s impenetrable.”
I came to the park for the reason that most people do – in hopes of glimpsing wild mountain gorillas. This corner of the world, where southwestern Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo meet, is the only place left on the planet where the dangerously small population of these astounding animals remains. Bwindi is home to roughly half of the total population. Many extremely dedicated people, including park rangers and organizations such as Gorilla Doctors, work to protect this critically endangered species, even in an area which is politically unstable and sometimes very dangerous for humans (the danger is currently confined to the DRC).
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
I had the pretty unprecedented experience of being the only person on my trek into Bwindi. My guide was pleased with my ability to keep up with him at a good pace, and we found the gorillas sooner by at least a couple hours than it would have taken with the typical group of 8 trekkers. In case you’re wondering how impenetrable the Bwindi Impenetrable Park really is … I refer you to my guide with his curved machete, walking in front of me like Captain Hook, literally swinging his arm back and forth across vines and branches to carve out a path through the flora for us to squeeze through. With more than 160 species of trees and over 100 fern species, not to mention the weeds, flowers, bushes, it was the iconic jungle trek I’d only seen in movies and imagined from the books of notes early explorers wrote.
The trails were muddy and slippery, and sometimes so overgrown we weren’t even stepping on the ground, rather, on layers and layers of tree roots and fern branches. It’s hard for me to know if the photo below can sufficiently impress you with how difficult it is to make your way through such a thick tangle of flora. Probably not!
The guide kept in contact with the actual trackers who had gone out early in the morning to find where the gorillas were and direct us via walkie-talkies. So at some point, at the tracker’s direction, we had to leave the trail and head overland. The gorillas were down in a ravine, so we headed straight down an extremely steep slope, my guide hacking the way through with the machete as we slid more than walked. This was seriously an adventure in and of itself. It made me feel pretty feeble as a human to watch the gorillas maneuver their ponderous weight through this forest with languid ease. One gorilla pushed over a tree, nearly on top of my head, such is their strength. Equally impressive, though, is the forest’s ability to hide these 300- to 400-pound animals so thoroughly in its dense canopy.
One thing you can expect is hordes of little bugs. The gorillas’ hair is often coated with them, but they don’t seem to notice. After awhile I got used to them; they don’t seem to bite, at least.
Bwindi was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1994 on the basis that “the property represents a conservation frontline as an isolated forest of outstanding biological richness surrounded by an agricultural landscape supporting one of the highest rural population densities in tropical Africa. Community benefits arising from the mountain gorilla and other ecotourism may be the only hope for the future conservation of this unique site.” Indeed it surprised me that the forest and the crop fields merge together so quickly and seamlessly. Occasionally the gorillas even make it down into these crop fields. My guide told me one time a group of trekkers had to go no further than the park registration office, for the gorillas were just hanging around down there.
Gorilla tracking permits typically cost $500 and allow visitors, once the gorillas are located, a strictly-enforced one hour in their presence. There are accommodations available at the Buhoma entrance gate, though it’s possible to make a day trip from a number of towns further away (I came all the way from Lake Bunyoni). That one hour will fly by so quickly, but it will be one of the longest lasting memories you’ll ever make.
This article was submitted by Shara Johnson of SKJtravel.net