Magahinga National Park (Bwindi Impenetrable National Park)
This park forms together with the Brac National des Volants (Rwanda) en Brac National de Viering (Congo) a park of 434 km2 called Viering Conservator Areas.
This park is dominated by volcanoes with at its slopes tropical rainforest. In the Ugandan part live about 340 mountain gorillas (30 groups), of which 5 groups are used to see people. In this area the gorilla population extends slowly. There are only about 720 mountain gorillas living in the wild (National Geographic September 2007).
Before arriving at Kisoro, our operating base, we stayed 2 nights south of the park in Lake
Bunyoni. This lake lies at an altitude of almost 2000m and is about 25 km long. It cradles through a mountainous landscape which looks like a patchwork quilt of all kind of tiny fields, where the local people grow maize, beans, bananas, potatoes and much more. Buyoni means 'place of the many tiny birds', and indeed you saw really many birds, but also bigger ones, like the crested crown crane. We saw also some otters at this lake. As this lake was located much higher as the other places we visited, it was here also much cooler.
In Kisoro we stayed at the Travellers Rest Lodge, which called Dian Fossey in the sixties and seventies her 2nd home. She became close friends with the former owner. She came always to Kisoro to get her stock, she mostly stayed here for a couple of days before returning to her operating base for her gorilla research in Ruanda or Congo. We arrived already early in Kisoro. Richard, our driver, had called to a friend of him, who knew where to find chameleons and snakes. So already at 10.30 we went for a snake excursion. We went in a tree trunk canoe to an island in a crater lake, just behind Kisoro. Uganda has many old volcanoes and even more crater lakes. Here we probably could find pythons and the green and black mamba, but he could not give us guaranties. But it was worthwhile to try, together with a friend of him and some kids that lived at that island we went on our snake search. We walked along the whole island, along the reed and the tiny fields of farmland, but unfortunately no snakes. -74.jpgOnce we were close, one of the kids saw a big python, the friend of the guide as well, he advised us to come from aside to take pictures, but than the python slipped through the roots of a big dead tree. There must have been more snakes, as we found 5 recent snake peelings. But due to the large amount of tree roots (the tree stood at a steep slope and had at one side all his roots open) and probably the noise we made, they stayed out of sight.
After this we went to another place in search for the chameleon, these we would find for sure. We went to a tiny village at the countryside as they called it. But for us all villages are at the countryside. The most hills and mountains exist of hundreds of tiny fields with all kind of crops. Sometimes just a few houses and sometimes a real small village. -87.jpgAnd indeed, here we found our first chameleon, soon a whole bunch of kinds arrived, very curious about what we were doing. As soon as they saw we were interested in chameleons, a little girl showed us a 2nd chameleon, followed by a boy with a chameleon at a branch. Two other girls came also with chameleons at branches. They had a lot of fun that we were taking pictures of a chameleon, what was so special about a chameleon? I told them we had at home also a chameleon, named Coco and that he was twice as big as these ones. That he walks free through our living room, but mostly preferred to stay at his favourite plant. They were really amazed, a chameleon as a pet? They were very curious what a chameleon ate, they didn't know they ate insects, they thought leaves as you could find them always in trees and bushes.
The next day was the gorilla tracking, here we came for! We had read much about the mountain gorillas. How the trackings here are arranged, we had bought very expensive permits. We were only allowed to stay for one hour with the gorilla group and you could approach them up to about 8m distance. They mostly remained at densely overgrown mountain slopes, so mostly it would be a little dark, not much sight, so how well you're going to see them? We had of course high expectations, you know you're going to see them, but where, how and how many?
As we travelled in the low season, we had the luck to be the only 2 tourists with a permit for that day. You could have been with 6 other people in a group. As we arrived at the ' ranger' station, a small group of trackers were sent away with a walkie-talkie to locate where the group was now. They always start at the place where they are spotted for the last time. This group of gorillas travels about 1 km per day. Meanwhile we were briefed extensive about the rules we had to obey,-40.jpg that we sometimes had to hike for 4-5 hours at hardly accessible mountain slopes before we met the gorillas. We had this information already in advance so we could bring enough water and food with us. But we had not received information about the gorilla group we were going to visit. We were curious about this group. The dominant silverback was named Safari and he had 5 females, there were some young males, blackbacks in the group, some teenagers and 3 young ones. The group existed of 19 gorillas, which is for a gorilla group quite big. Than we went for our hike, first a few km by car. We were just at the road as we got a message that the trackers had found the group. We went straight away in that direction. The first part went slowly downwards along several tiny fields with crops. -42.jpgBut when the fields stopped we went criss-cross by bushes and trees downwards at a steep sloop. We had prepared ourselves for a tough and long hike, but after 25 minutes, our guide said, we're close to the group. We were very surprised, that fast! So we took our cameras and left our backpacks behind and after a few minutes we saw our first glimpse of a mountain gorilla and the 2 trackers who had found the group. It was at once the big silverback, very impressive, at about 6m distance. He was really big, his arms were at least 3 times bigger than ours and he had huge hands. -48.jpgBut he sat at a quite dark place, half into some bushes tastefully eating leaves. A few minutes later another gorilla appeared, the 2nd male of the group, but he soon left higher up into the bushes. After about 10 minutes the silverback decided to look for another place to eat, we followed him for about some 20m, than we saw several gorillas. One of his females just got a baby (4 days old said a tracker), she sat at a nice place in the sun against a tree, her baby at her belly. She was also eating and all the leaf litter felt at her baby, at the end you hardly could see her baby anymore. Meanwhile the silverback sat just 2-3m below us. Our guide told us we could stay. Really great to see a silverback from so close, very relaxed he was picking leaves and chewing them away. -62.jpgThere was just a small branch between him and where we stood, one of trackers, cut the branch away so we could take better pictures. At that time the silverback made a feigned attack towards the tracker and growled. The tracker looked straightaway to the ground, bend a little and walked slowly backwards. He whispered to us, he does that often towards me, apparently he does not like me. We and our guide were completely ignored. After a while the silverback went to his female with the baby and sat down next to her. Another female who sat close next to her made room for him and went away. 3 Young gorillas of 3, 4 and 5 year were also around, but at a steep, densely overgrown slope it's difficult to see them very well.
Then we received a sign, it's almost time to go, but for us it felt we were there just 10 minutes.-64.jpg We said we would love to take some pictures of the young gorillas, so we changed from location. A few meters further away was a good place to see them all 3. The oldest one wanted to impress us and started to drum at his chest and tried to make himself bigger. Then he bowed backwards and was lying quite relaxed on top of the bushes behind him, continuing drumming at his chest. But his weight was too much for the bush and he slipped off backwards with a very astonished expression at his face, like what is going on? The 2 others had really great fun that he felt at the ground. Unfortunately the guide told us, your last picture, time is up, we have to go. -68.jpgWe would have loved to stay much longer, but the gorilla group was only allowed to be disturbed for maximum one hour per day. If you would have been here with 8 people, you hardly could have taken pictures, you only have one or two places at a steep sloop where you could see them quite well, half a meter further away you hardly could see them through the bushes. So you would have to trade places all the time.
The steep slope up took a little longer, but after half an hour we saw the first field.
This was such a great experience!
When we returned at our hotel they told us, we have never seen guests returning that early, we were already back at lunchtime. We had not used our lunch packages.
It was nice that we did not have to walk for hours, so we had a relaxing afternoon and we made a small hike in the area. Also here you find several blue headed rock agamas and everywhere you see crested crown cranes.