Into magic and down the mountain, I trek. New crops, a checkerboard of sweet potatoes, beans and Irish potatoes, are emerging from the terraced land’s iron-rich, red soil.
Volcanoes tower above through the clouds. Giant Eucalyptus and flowering trees stretch up through the forest.
We are in the southwest corner of Uganda, a few kilometres from the border with Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Arthur, who carries my backpack, was born here. His strength and commitment to conservation is impressive as we track down, down, down, into the impenetrable forest with thick barbed vines grabbing us, and giant anthills to avoid. Listen to the birds, smell the rotting forest.
Impenetrable: solid, thick, and unyielding.
“Stop now.” The head guide whispers after a challenging 2½ hour descent. “Come forward one by one. Be very quiet.”
And there he is. Lying back on a thick hammock on vines about five feet below me is a young male gorilla…young but very large and healthy. He pays no attention to me as he happily grabs delicious leaves and green shoots around him with his large hairy hands and stuffs them into his mouth.
I I have just one hour to be with this family of twenty gorillas. The little ones play, swinging on the branch of a tree until it bends to the ground, disturbing the great silverback below, protector of the family, who growls, telling them to be more careful. The older gorilla children, like human teenagers I’ve known, spend their time relaxing and feeding, pulling giants leaves off giant trees to eat. Two big males follow the silverback, learning their role in the family. Then the big silverback tires, tolls over on his stomach, props his head in his hands and rests.
Mountain gorillas, our human ancestors, were almost extinct a dozen or so years ago. I am in awe of the conservation and education initiative in combination with an effort to improve sustainability of small communities near the National Park that have led to increased populations of mountain gorillas.
Good-bye friends. ‘Till we meet again.