If you like the outdoors, don't mind sweating and getting a bit dirty, and have an interest in seeing one of the most magnificent animals on the planet, read on. Seeing the gorillas in the wild is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I wouldn't mind doing again.
On the recommendation of a friend's parents (who at a 60+ years young had a great time - although to be fair they are big bicyclers and generally very active/in shape), 3 friends and I traveled to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park to see the famous (and endangered) mountain gorillas. For a number of reasons, this was one of the most amazing and surreal experiences of my life.
We were met at the airport in Entebbe by Mike. "Born and bred" in Uganda, Mike was to be our driver, guide, comedian, and all around good sport for the next 3 days. He put up with our bad jokes, incessant American chatter, diverse musical choices and post-trekking stench like a champ. We booked the whole trip through Travelust African Safaris and were very happy. TAS - you've got a keeper in Mike.
We stayed at the Gorilla Resort in Bwindi (also owned by Travelust apparently) - it was quite nice and Fred, the manager, took care of us well. The food was excellent, beers cold, beds comfortable, showers hot, and view stunning. The rooms (well, they're tents actually) reminded me of something straight from "Out of Africa", although instead of Meryl Streep I was stuck with my buddy Greg...
In what can only be described as breathtaking (both in terms of the scenery and what it did to me physically), our hike on day 1 lasted a little over 2 hours. I don't think I will ever forget first seeing one of these big boys in the wild. A bit shy with massive bellies and deep red eyes, they were magnificent, each unique in his or her own way. I won't say too much more because I don't want to ruin it for you.
The hike on day 2 was, in my humble opinion, a bit more strenuous than the previous day. I recommend doing 2 days of trekking if you can afford it (permits are US$500/day) - the first day we only saw 4 gorillas and the second day we saw many more, including young ones. Day 2 saw more machete hacking, more mud, and more thorny bushes. Maybe this is a good time to mention that gorilla trekking, while an undeniably amazing experience, is best suited for those that are in decent (preferably good) shape. For the less mobile, apparently there is a '991 Program' whereby you can be carried by 4-8 people (depending on how many big macs you've eaten in the past 6 months) in a stretcher to see the gorillas...
On the flip side, if you are a serious or semi-serious hiker, this is your Mecca. One to tell the grandkids about. Next year, instead of going back to Yosemite, go to Bwindi.
For more info about the whole trip and more pictures, feel free to check out my blog: http://talesofatravelingturkey.blogspot.com/2011/11/just-another-trek-with-mountain.html
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