Over the course of four days we rode across most of Kenya and Uganda in an overland truck (it’s a truck, not a f***ing bus), crossing the equator a couple of times, and camping along the way. We advanced from standard users to advanced users of squat toilets. I got safari ants up my pants all the way to my crotch, so that when they started biting, I had to actually drop trou in the middle of the trail and in front of our African guide and half of my truck crew, while Dan and I both worked to peel them off. (Travel tip: ALWAYS tuck your pants into your socks in the bush, plus, it’s a super cool look.) And all we got were these awesome pictures.
We tracked wild gorillas through the Ugandan mountains. There are only 600 mountain gorillas remaining in the wild, roughly split between Uganda and Rwanda. Of the roughly 300 gorillas in Uganda, approximately 100 are habituated to humans — that is, to fund conservation efforts, they tolerate humans taking pictures of them for about an hour each day. The trick, of course, is that the trackers just track gorillas, using GPS to find the approximate location of the habituated groups, but if the groups cross paths, they cannot be sure whether they are tracking the habituated groups or wild families. Our trackers found truly wild mountain gorillas, and then brought us along to track them, through the “deep bush” (i.e. you need a porter in front of you cutting away the forest, helping you find your footing, and grunting in order to stop the wild silverback from charging you) for three hours. Our total hike time was about 7 hours — so it took us about two hours each way to get to where we left the trail. But we did get to see truly wild mountain gorillas — the silverback protected the females and their babies (often giving our trackers and porters a bit of a scare and causing us to nearly need a change of underwear), and the females carried their babies on their backs, running away from us large, machete-wielding, picture-taking, fellow primates. After three hours in the bush, and getting a few, half-decent shots, we were — as several of our truckmates might say — completely knackered. So we went back to our bags for some much needed lunch and water (we had left all our provisions behind when we thought we were just five minutes away from an habituated group.) While sitting on the side of the trail, stuffing our faces, one of the guys in our group stood up, looks back on the trail and says, “There are three gorillas right there. I shit you not.” A mom and a three-year-old and a baby from the habituated group made a brief appearance right on our trail, due, likely, to the famous curiosity of said three-year-old, and the fact that the habituated group hadn’t had their daily visit.
More pictures from our gorilla tracking adventure:
In preparation for our gorilla trek, we spent a morning tracking chimpanzees through Kalinzu Forest Reserve. We found a wild group way up in the canopy that did not care one way or the other about us looking up at them from below. They cared so little, in fact, that one of the males took the opportunity to copulate with a female having her estrus for the third time. (You can tell a female is in heat by her swollen rear end. They go into heat frequently — often twice a month — until they get pregnant.) The reason that the non-dominant male was able to copulate with the female was that the females often don’t get pregnant until their fourth or so estrus, which is when the dominant male begins to be protective of their copulation.
A few more pictures from our African overland adventure so far: