Trekking through the Impenetrable Forest in Uganda has got to be one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever had to endure. For one, I loathe hiking. But more than that, I feared I wasn’t going to complete the strenuous hike through the jungles to see the gorillas. To make a long story short, it took a lot of willpower but I got through it! And can I just say, the feeling when you first spot a gorilla in the near distance is one of awe and pure gratification.
Heads up, we’ve linked a complete beginners’ guide at the end of the post. For now, here are 7 things to know about gorilla trekking in Uganda, in no particular order:
1. Hire a porter
For $15, it is so worth it to hire a porter to carry your daypack. My only regret was thinking we could carry our own stuff to save some money. But the moment we started our ascent, we quickly realized our 2 liters of water, lunches and camera gear were draining us and we haven’t even made it into the jungle yet, just up the hill! So I asked our guide if it was too late to hire a porter, she briefly spoke to our security guards and instead of walkie talkie’ing down the village to send one up, our security guard Wyclef (cool name, right?) volunteered to carry it. He handed his pack to his partner, took our daypack and I passed Gerard our DSLR so I can start shooting video with our point and shoot.
2. Socks over pants and protective gloves.
Okay, so maybe this isn’t on the list of hottest trend looks to copy, but it’s our recommend must-wear if you’re considering trekking in the jungles. The socks make sure your ankles don’t rub up against shrubs and other things, plus it keeps the crawlers from going up your pants. The gloves I wished we knew better to pack because once we started our descent into the jungle with no trails, we were climbing over fallen trees, grabbing branches and placing our hands on random jungle bushes just to get our bearings. It’s easy to cut your hands or worse, brush up against something prickly, like I did, and have your hand swell up instantly. It felt like a bee sting. Luckily it wasn’t poisonous and the pain lasted for 20-minutes before subsiding. So yes, pack gloves preferably the gardening kind of gloves should do.
3. With that, a walking stick.
Walking sticks were provided, and thank goodness for that otherwise I most definitely would have keeled over. Most of the time, it was great to steady us from all the up and down hill treks we did. Other times, it was just good to have something to put your weight on to rest. It beats sitting down and I knew if I sat down, I would have never gotten back up so the sticks were awesome for this type of trek. Plus, look how cool we look — like professional hikers, LOL!
4. Stay close to the trackers
If you can, stay close if not be right behind the gorilla trackers in the front. There may only be eight of you max, but it starts to feel cramped and crowded when you’re all huddled in a corner bush trying your best to get a glimpse of the gorilla the trackers found before it walks off. My tip, stay in the front, preferably behind the trackers if you want the best view and shot of the gorillas. But do try to be polite and let others have their turn at being up front. This way, you won’t miss any chances at espying rare shrubs and trees. The Local Tree Experts had tipped me off with one particular tree that I’d have high chances of finding, and lo and behold, I did.
5. One hour limit — take a ton of photos!
Once the trackers track down the gorilla family, the clock starts. You only get one hour. During this hour, the gorillas are constantly moving so we spent most of our time trekking deeper into the jungle. There was no path to follow, just the trackers in front with their machetes hacking away at the shrubbery and branches that were in our way.
I kept my camera rolling most times, although a struggle considering I had to concentrate not to trip and die. Gerard had his camera and took as much photos as he possibly can. We both knew our time was limited so we didn’t think, just shot.
6. Don’t run. No wait, run!
Actually, it’s better to listen to your guide and not run if a gorilla gets close to you or even charges at you. Then again, if an 800 lb silverback gorilla is in protective mode and coming directly act you, everything you’ve learned, all rational instinct goes out the window and you run. I didn’t run per say but I definitely backed my tracks rather quickly when a gorilla came charging at us. Don’t believe me, see for yourself.
7. Take a selfie
If you are lucky enough to come across a sleeping gorilla and the opportunity presents itself, turnaround and take a selfie! Just make sure to put on a little eye concealer beforehand so you don’t look so drained like I do here.. =P.
Gorillas are a stunning creature. The fact is, there aren’t as many left in the wild as it used to be (close to 700 currently). Yes, it’s expensive to obtain a permit, but it is also a once of a lifetime experience, and I was glad Gerard and I had the pleasure of seeing them while we still can, while they still live and roam freely in the wild.
Plus, we got a cool certificate for surviving the trek!
For a complete beginner’s guide to gorilla trekking in Uganda, check out our Dan and Audrey’s latest post, Gorilla Trekking in Uganda: A Beginner’s Guide.
Is seeing gorillas in the wild on your bucket list?