So, finally you are set for your gorilla tour. But still you can’t help but wonder how the tour will be like. What to do or not to do? Here is what to expect on the Gorilla trekking day and how to prepare for it:
Gorilla trekking is one of the ultimate wildlife experiences in Africa. Given that time spent with the gorillas is limited to one hour, it is important to be well prepared for the trek in advance.
Before your gorilla trek, there is always orientation. This is a briefing session about the trekking etiquette. After orientation, you will be divided into groups of 8 people. Your team will also include Guides, Scouts, security personnel and advance trackers.
Whether tracking either in Bwindi Impenetrable or Volcanoes National park, don’t forget to bring your passport with you. Officials at the park gate offices will need to verify your trekking permit against your identification. Pre-tracking orientation starts at 8.00am in Bwindi and at 7.00 am in Rwanda. Please do forget that Uganda (Bwindi) is GMT+3, while Rwanda (Volcanoes) is GMT+2
Each group consists of a main ranger-guide and two scouts, a ranger and police/military guy, who carry AK-47 guns and walk in front and behind the group. Your group will also have a pair of advance trackers. These are sent out to the forest in the early morning (prior to your arrival in the park). Their work is to find the location of a specific gorilla family or to assess where the gorillas spent the night and the direction they are headed to. Trackers then communicate the gorilla’s movements to the guide so that he can decide on the best approach to meet the gorilla family. Traversing canopies of thick undergrowth is tough, wet, arduous but it is not impossible.
To sum it up, strong, light clothes as well as rain jackets, a torch, sunglasses, a sun hat, gloves to grip vegetation, jungle/walking boots, long-sleeved safari shirt to protect you against sun exposure and insects a must have when going on a trek.
For your trip enjoyment and comfort consider the following as well:
Porters are available and these usually offer their services at a small fee. But the choice to carry your own stuff requires some level of fitness. However, it is sensible to hire a porter to carry your daypack. The moment you start ascending, you will quickly realize that your 2 liters of water, lunchbox and camera gear is tiring; even before you make it into the jungle! Additionally, a day-pack off your back eases shooting your video and taking nice photos with less disturbances.
Even if you don’t need an extra hand carrying your day pack or to help you navigate the sometimes slippery terrain, it’s worth taking on these guys anyway! It’s a simple way of helping local villagers benefit from gorilla tourism. And discourages them from turning to poaching as a source of income. The $15 that you pay to the porter will help the local community appreciate the value of conserving mountain gorillas.
Yes you do! And gardening gloves work best! Gorilla trekking has no specific trails. More often, the activity involves limping over fallen trees, grabbing branches and placing your hands on random bushes just to get stamina. You can easily place your hands or worse, brush up against something spiky and have your hand swell up instantly. Packing gloves preferably the gardening type can be helpful.
What does the Trekking to Find the Gorillas involve?
Finding and getting to the gorillas is not always easy. The search for gorillas can last several hours because the gorillas always move around in the thick undergrowth; shifting deeper into the forests at times. The trekking expedition starts early morning (orientation at 8:00AM, trekking at 8.30am). Duration of the trek depends on the location of where gorillas were the previous day or where they spent the night. Visitors are therefore supposed to move along with packed/picnic lunch and water. They should also be equipped with waterproof clothing and must be averagely healthy. The rangers usually trek to the site where the gorillas were seen the previous day. The gorillas are monitored daily which helps keep track of their movements, and health.
After a fair number of hours (trekking can last from as little as 30 minutes to as many as 10 hours), getting to view gorillas is rewarding. Like other animals tracking gorillas is not really that easy, nor are you guaranteed to see them; however the good news is that you have about 95% chance of seeing them.
The trek to where the gorilla groups live takes you through very dense vegetation. The forest is lush, humid and damp and there are no visible trekking paths. The terrain is full of hills and steep slopes where you will be required to pull yourself up steep jungle grades by grasping onto branches, plant roots, bushes and more. Follow the lead of the guide as to the best path and form to take. If you need a break, let your guide know. The gorillas you’ll be meeting are now familiar to human beings – that’s why you are able to get quite close to them.
Stay close to the trackers!
If you can, stay close if not be right behind the ranger-guides who will be at the front. There may be only eight of you in a group, however the bushes may make you feel crowded when you’re all clustered in a bush trying your best to get a glimpse of the gorillas.
The trackers will do their best to create good photo taking situations, before the gorillas change position or walk away. Please do try to be polite to each other in your group as you enjoy your experience!
Gorillas are Africa’s most difficult subjects to photograph in the wild as they are always moving around and are found in dense forest where limited light penetrates. Flash photography is not permitted; therefore increasing your ISO will help you get good clear close-up shots in the poor light, especially when the gorillas are on the move. Most modern cameras have an LCD screen, which displays among other things, technical information regarding your image.
So getting your camera specifications set right before the trek will make it possible to have the best gorilla shots ever.
If you are lucky enough to come across a sleeping or relaxed gorilla and the opportunity presents itself, turnaround and take a selfie! Remember besides being an expensive adventure, it is also a once of a lifetime experience to enjoy while you can – while they still live and roam freely in the wild.
One hour limit — take a bunch of photos plus a video if you can!
Once the trackers track down the gorilla family, your ranger guide will walk you to a site deemed good enough for taking photos. Now you can enjoy viewing gorillas! You only get one hour. This is to minimize chances of gorilla’s exposure to human diseases as well as allow gorillas plenty of time to eat. Enjoy this magical encounter!
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