In Entebbe, we boarded such a tiny aircraft that the in-flight meal consisted of the pilot handing a Tupperware full of mints to the passenger sitting behind him while saying: “pass it back”.
We flew into Kihihi which is a city of 20 thousand people where we were picked up from the airstrip by our own personal driver.
Kihihi is located only 10 miles from the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, there is a refugee camp located here for the Congolese who have fled the violence in their country. I asked our driver if there is conflict between the citizens and the refugees. He was genuinely surprised at my question. He answered that they are the same people, they are brothers, how could they not help them when what the refugees want is safety for their families? Were we all that enlightened, what a world this would be.
Although less than 25miles away, the drive to our lodge took almost two hours as this is a volcanic (hilly) area and the roads are made of dirt. We passed a couple of tiny villages on the way, if they can even be called that. People here mostly work the land as there is nothing else around. Our driver explained how no one here goes hungry since fruits practically grow themselves by the side of the road such as pineapples
and of course, bananas.
The poverty is overwhelming nonetheless. Children walk hours down the mountain to fetch water from the stream. EVERY DAY.
That is, when they are not walking to and from school.
Even the tiniest kids make the hours-long trek in order to go to school. We saw them by the side of the road in the darkest hours of the morning wearing their crisp uniforms, carrying their lunch in plastic bags. Our driver, just like all others we encountered, drove like a maniac! We had to wonder how many of these kids get run over and hope it is none. That’s one thing about Uganda, no one seemed willing to talk ill about anything that had to do with the tourist industry since their livelihood depends so heavily on it.
Another widespread occupation here seemed to be brick-making. These men are piling bricks up to form a hollow tower
which they will then cover with mud.
A fire will be set inside the structure to cook the bricks before carting them away in bicycles such as this one.
We were surprised at how strong the women are, carrying heavy loads on their heads as if they were simply fancy hats.
When we arrived at our lodge, a tiny 5ft woman placed Fernando’s 40lb backpack on her head and walked us down to our bomas (cabins). We stayed at Volcanoes Safari Bwindi Lodge
which overlooks Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and is located so close to the mountain that the gorillas sometimes come by to mingle with the guests. This did not happen while we were there but the lodge’s manager, Jocelyn, still made sure that we were accompanied to our bomas every night by a guard just to be safe.
Yep, that’s the big not-so-secret: we came all this way to trek for Mountain Gorillas! This area is home to the 880 Mountain Gorillas left in the world, no specimens of which are kept in captivity, at least not legally. If you’ve ever seen a gorilla at the zoo, that was most likely a Western Lowland Gorilla. Mountain Gorillas are a subspecies of the Eastern Gorilla and are critically endangered meaning they have not a high, but a VERY high risk of becoming extinct soon. Of these less than 900 gorillas left in the world (can’t wrap my head around that), almost half live in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Visiting the gorillas was terribly expensive but completely worth it and we’d do it again in a heartbeat if given the opportunity.