By Laura Mulenga Walusimbi
I have read many stories about trips to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. I have heard how thrilling the experience of coming up close and personal with a gorilla is — how majestic the creatures appear.
I have always wondered how I would feel if I eventually met a gorilla. Would I be as excited as all those people I had read or heard about? I got a chance to find out this year when I went on a work-related trip to Bwindi.
My journey began at 5:00am in Mbarara. The trip to Kabale was done in record time under the cover of darkness. We stopped for a quick leg stretch and confirmation about the route, then it was back into the car.
A couple of miles on the new Kabale-Kisoro road, we turned onto a dirt road. There was a signpost at the turn off indicating that Buhoma was 76km away.
Ordinarily, that would have thrown me, but it was a beautiful, misty, cold morning. I was fully awake and excited about getting to Uganda Wildlife Authority’s (UWA) headquarters at the Buhoma gate. I refused to allow the distance and the fact that we were on a bumpy road to sour my mood.
I was up for the challenge and eager to see what lay ahead. My positive attitude paid off. We came across the most beautiful sight ever! It was like the clouds had drifted down to earth.
The usually green undulating hills and the cavernous valleys had disappeared under a thick mass of white floating mist.
From where I stood, it looked like a solid mass. It looked so inviting that I wondered if, like in the movies, I would bounce off the whiteness into the sky if I jumped onto it. My colleagues and I scrambled out of the car and posed for pictures with the mist in the background.
As we giggled and pranced about, a little boy appeared as if out of nowhere. Seemingly unfazed about the mist, he watched us make a spectacle of ourselves.
After his initial bemusement at our antics, he appeared to wander off into a faraway land, judging by the expression on his face.
Eventually, the mist dissipated before our very eyes. As it evaporated, the hillsides became visible. Having had our fill of the scenery, we hopped back into our vehicle and proceeded to Buhoma.
After the novelty of the trip and the breathtaking view outside the car had worn off, I noticed the state of the road, really noticed it for the first time. We were in a sound 4x4 vehicle, but it did not cushion us from the rough road. Worse still, it took us longer than it should have to get to the Buhoma gate — close to four hours.
By the time we got there, my body was bruised from bumping up and down, left and right in my seat. I could not imagine going back the same way.
I thought of all the tourists that have been down that road to see the gorillas. What a rude awakening! How horrifying for the UWA staff members and any other travellers for that matter, who have to travel back and forth regularly from Buhoma via Kabale for whatever reason.
The road is enough to intimidate the average person from considering a second or third trip. Tourists pay top dollar to see the gorillas. Would it be too much to ask that the journey there be a pleasurable one?
I never got to see the gorillas. That was not part of my mission that day. However, I heard a fantastic tale of how a silverback once visited the UWA headquarters. One of the buildings facing the car park has a huge lifelike painting of a silverback.
Apparently, a real silverback from one of the groups in Bwindi spotted the painting and charged at it thinking it was a rival that had come to overthrow him!
It took a whole week of camping around the UWA headquarters and charging repeatedly at the wall before the silverback realised there was no threat.
The story was told with such great passion that I could actually envisage the gorilla rushing back and forth between the surrounding dense forest and the buildings.
Even though I was assured that no such incident had recurred, I could not help looking around and hoping that a gorilla would wander into the compound while I was there. I am now considering a visit to gorilla land by 2020.
By then, at least, one of my sons will be old enough to trek. And hopefully by then, it will be a smooth ride all the way from Kampala to Bwindi!