We track mountain gorillas today. The call came in from the Uganda Wildlife Authority while we were at dinner on the patio watching the lights in Buhoma village go out one by one. The forest camp switches off the generator for the night and we finish making our plans for the coming day by lantern light. Trackers go out before dawn to locate the gorilla family and report back. Our group of trekkers waits under a thatched canopy while our guide give us the orientation. “Stand this far away… don’t talk loudly… and definitely do not stare – especially at the silver back.” We shoulder packs and head off into the lush green of the Impenetrable Forest National Park.We cross a bridge over a stream in the steep-sided ravine, wind our way up and over the facing ridge into higher country. Mahogany trees become more plentiful here – their roots extend into the pathway tall angled boards of resonant wood. Gorillas pound them with their hands like thumping drums to send messages across the valley. The ranger puts us on notice as we traipse through a low muddy area churned up by the feet of elephants. There’s not much you can do if you run into them on the path, hemmed in on all sides by overgrowth. The German couple moves on silent and wide-eyed at the thought.We stop to eat lunch on a fallen log in a small clearing and receive a radio call – the family is near. We move through the brush in the next stream valley only to realize suddenly we are among them. A rustle in the understory, black shapes in a green on green hillside. A juvenile climbs a tree and hangs from the branches. Barrel-chested with long, long arms and legs tucked up almost like a baby.
They pull leaves down from the tall bushes to satisfy a mostly vegetarian diet. A domestic calmness permeates the experience, belies the mythology of a fierce man-eating creature. Mother shoulders a young one. Two kids tousle in the tall grass.
We spend more than an hour visiting, then the silverback moves in a way that tells everyone it’s time to move on. A few low grunts punctuate the message. The family fades into the forest and we work our way back across the ridges to the edge of the park in the late afternoon. The valleys are already collecting shadows as we hike up the red clay road to our camp with heads full and bellies not.The place we’ll make for future visitors will nestle into one side of the ravine. The departure point for the trek will be carved into the hill, a small terraced amphitheater with the intense green wall of the forest as its backdrop. It will be a gateway to the impenetrable.