You sense the gorillas before you see them. Trees sway above and ahead of you. Leaves and small branches fall from the sky to the ground. You may smell something. And then your ranger puts his hand up high, a sign to stop and be quiet.
You look around. Carefully. The jungle is thick and it’s quite hard to see anything. Then - a movement. A glimpse of something. It’s close to you but - is it, can it be - yes, it is. It most definitely is.
Gorillas. A family of gorillas. Right there, all around you, within touching distance.
You don’t reach out and touch them. You stay very still, awaiting instructions from your ranger. He signals to you and whispers, gestures to where you should stand or sit and watch. He reminds you not to talk, make any sudden movements, and definitely not to touch the gorillas.
They are astonishing. A giant Silverback walks right by you then settles down under a tree to eat. Babies come up and play with him. Teenagers look at you curiously. They go about their daily business.
And there is no sense of danger. None at all. The gorillas are enormous. Gentle. Trusting. And unbelievable to watch at such close quarters.
A trek to see the gorillas can be anything from one hour up to eight hours. There are gorilla families in Uganda, Rwanda and the Congo, under special protection. To join a trek you need to buy a special permit (USD 750 per person in high season, USD 650 in low season) and then be in fairly good shape. The hike is strenuous and the altitude takes some getting used to, but you have a team of rangers, porters, trackers and security to help you. It’s a tough day hiking but it is the most extraordinary day hiking.
I saw the gorillas in the Bwindi National Park in Uganda. You can also go to the Volcanoes Park in Rwanda and the Virunga Mountains in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It’s a good idea to book with a Tour Operator and to be well prepared. Put it on your bucket list. It’s a trip that is definitely worth doing.