Day 8: Bwindi National Park & Gorillas.

Today we had to get up at 4:40, as the truck would be leaving at 5:30. Before that, we had to go through all our morning routines, pack, get passports, and fix a lunch to go.

Dilek was still a bit worried after last nights tiffs, and Vedran wanted to avoid Carl & Mel. When we went to enter a jeep with our regular team, we saw that all of them had gathered up and there was no room left. We went to another jeep that was almost full and none of the Aussies were in it, so we chose the lesser of two evils.

We started driving at 5:30, still dark. Once we had gotten out of the camp and driven a while, two men jumped up behind our vehicle holding on with just their hands while our driver was going 70km/h. This put things a bit in perspective for us. We worry about tiny tiffs, while in a country where people jump on the backs of moving vehicles in the middle of the night just to get a lift.

The drive was over 3 hours through very curvy roads so Dilek started getting really sick. By the time we got close to the park, the roads became just muddy potholes, and Dilek asked to stop the car. She didn't get sick but it was close. Although the landscape was very lovely: volcanic mountains amongst the clouds.

We got to the gorilla briefing area and were given a quick intro about the park and the rules. Then we met our guide who, once again emphasized that trousers should be stuck into socks, that we would be needing gloves for all the thorny bushes, and that a walking stick would be necessary. And boy was it. This was not a pre-marked hiking trail or some standard tourist forest walk. This was the real rainforest, where we had to walk through impenetrable vegetation, cut our way with machetes, and have an armed guard just in case a wild animal (elephant) would charge. Also, there was no flat landscape: for hours we walked up and down extremely steep hills and literally walked in water streams as there was no way we could walk by the side of the stream. We were more than happy that we decided to bring our thick winter boots that are made for the Swedish winter skiing climate. Boy was they needed, we were knee deep in mud and all tangled up thorns and bushes. And Dilek was soooo happy that she had "impregnate" (protected with spray) the boots, not just once but twice. At times there was no other option than to walk directly in the water.

As mentioned, the landscape was extremely steep, going up and down. It was at times very dangerous, in fact, one of the girls in the group (Sara) fell and broke her ankle. We were walking ahead and suddenly heard screaming from behind. The guides rushed up, and we waited a bit further down the hill. When the screaming didn't stop, we ran up and saw our guide holding Sara's ankle. Dilek rushed up and noticed rather quickly that the guards did not quite know what to do. Luckily, we had brought our first aid kit, and in it was a band-aid to wrap around Sara's ankle. She screamed while Dilek was doing it, but Dilek explained that it had to be done. Then Dilek and Vedran immediately arranged a bit more comfortable seating for Sara, put her leg up on several bags to keep elevated, and gave her painkillers (which is all we had).

We asked the guards if they had called for help and all they had done was to report it. Dilek told them that they needed to call for a stretcher immediately. No way Sara could walk. Then Dilek and Vedran sat with Sara for one hour, comforting her while she was crying, waiting for the stretcher. She was hyperventilating, which caused her hands to cramp and she got scared. Dilek explained to her that it wasn't dangerous and kept hugging her.

By the time the stretcher (weaved basket) arrived, Sara's pain was a bit more manageable, maybe the painkillers had taken effect, so she decided that she wanted to see the gorillas anyway, being carried in a weaved basket by 15 men (aka. helicopter ambulance), taking turns carrying, in the same impenetrable landscape going up and down steep hills. The guides had told us the gorillas were close, and also that it would be a close hike to a lodge from the gorilla spot, where a car would be waiting for Sara.

So we resumed the very challenging hike. Amazingly the men carrying the stretcher moved in lightning speed. We could not keep up with them despite the weight they were carrying.

We arrived at the gorilla site and immediately saw the large Silverback. He was an astounding creature. Tearing down trees with one hand, and a massive body. Everyone was amazed and took lots of pictures, and actually, we got to come really close (maybe 5-7 meters). We also saw one of the females, but she was hard to capture because she was eating a lot and thus ended up sitting behind the massive branches. Sara got to see this, we took pictures for her, and then she was carried off.

When the silverback started moving, we followed him and found another female who was nursing a baby. Not a tiny, but a large kid, about 6 years old. After the kid was done nursing he turned his attention to us and charged our guides in a playful manner. The guards told us that it was actually not allowed to touch the gorillas, and they could lose their jobs for letting tourists get close, but how do you explain this to a gorilla kid?

We spent a good 30 min playing with the kid. He jumped on all of us, gently biting and scratching. Some of us fell because this little creature was actually quite strong. He then attacked his father, the big silverback who was sleeping, jumping on his back and hitting. His dad finally grabbed him and gave him a hug.

As we were getting ready to leave the kid started chasing us. He climbed up a tree, hitting his chest to say he was stronger than all of us. Then he stole one of our walking sticks and ran away with it because he knew we would want it back and would probably come after it. We didn't of course... He could keep it. We started hiking back, feeling super excited and happy. We all felt that this was a superb experience.

We reached the lodge where Sara was waiting for us and got our certificates. There was still a problem before we could return, which was that the helicopter team wanted 300 dollars which Sara didn't have. She called her insurance, filled out a form over the phone while holding her leg and crying. The helicopter team finally allowed us to return to the camp where she could retrieve her credit card.

Finally, we were on our way home. But just as we thought nothing else could happen, we got a call that the other group's truck had broken down. We had to pick them up, and as if it wasn't crowded before, it was now unbelievably tight. The 3-hour ride felt excruciating, but we got home.

The best part was that as we came to the camp a few people gave us very positive feedback because we had taken such good care of Sara. Plus all the teams had had a wonderful time with the gorillas. It seemed that the slight negative atmosphere from this morning had passed. The team was in very high spirits, talking non stop the entire dinner. Sara got to go to the hospital and get a cast. We were all very tired and fell asleep (including Vedran) with a happy and positive feeling.