GORILLAS IN THE MIST
On the steep trek back among a twittering chorus black and white pied wagtail, I remark to the Freddy how the Nkuringo family can seem human at times, and even mirror my own immediate family, which at seventeen individuals is about the same size as Nkuringo’s eighteen, the kemsey brood including a similar mix of silver backs, black backs, teenagers, juveniles and mothers with young children, Homo sapiens, does after all, share 98% of our DNA with gorilla beringei beringei. The Freddy’s agree, and take it one step further, claiming to my smiling skepticism that the Nkuringo gorillas even shake hands. “Its true”, they insist. “We have both seen it!”
In the afternoon, with the forest properly quenched from another of Nkuringo’s tempestuous storms, a walk through the village with Gary Segal, clouds amiable South African manager-and mean hand in the kitchen-further detail the projects mission of the island life, or complete self- sufficiency. Entirely surrounded by human habitation and intensive agriculture. Bwindi’s gorillas have already adapted this island life. The key is to help human communities also becomes self sufficient so they are able to feed themselves without destroying the forest through the rising of the local staples such as sorghum, millet, matooke and potatoes. The hope is that new projects such as animal raising and craft production, which spring from clouds conservation initiative, will make island life a sustainable reality. The school here has a very high drop out rate, “explains Gary. Primary 1 has 264 students, but by the time we reach P7 there are only 27. Education is the key and we want to turn this around.”
As we hike up to hat surely one of the world’s highest soccer pitches at 2,300 meters (7000 feet), the view of the surrounding countryside open up dramatically, with the carpeted hills of Bwindi to the north, the seven volcanoes of the Virunga Massif forming a brooding but spectacular chin to the south and the great rift valley seemingly expanding into infinity in the west. On a clear day, Uganda’s famous Rwenzoris, “the mountains of the moon” can be spotted to the Northwest. It is the type of breath taking panorama that can inspire the romance of classic Africa- all big and rugged, untamed landscape. But Gary, lodge veteran with clouds’ parent company wild places Africa, is all business, rapid firing planned tourist projects which compliment gorilla visits that will further benefit the community: mountain biking, birding, primate viewing (there are chimpanzees and several species of monkeys nearby), clouds spa, cultural walks. A quick study who prefers rural settings to the city, he is well-served in local community history and culture, and an overflowing fountain of ideas. He can talk your ear off bout the Philosophy behind community-based conservation and the need for progressive and respectful development. And that is exactly what clouds and the NCDF need to secure a future for Bwindi’s gorillas and their less hairy neighbors.
Later as we hurdle past a new symphony of Bottle-ol in a cloud van that has seen more than its share of Bwindi’s rock and rut byways, I wonder aloud if one luxury lodge can really produce the ripple effect it claims and benefit so many people. Twenty minutes down the mountain’ Gary pulls over in the busting ramshackle market town of Rubuguri. This is a community on the margins-the late faint ripple from Bwindi and its tourism industry.
Clouds have not opened without controversy: gorilla trekking permits are limited and its partner, the NCDF has negotiated with the Uganda wildlife Authority for a permanent set number to go to the clouds’ clients-permit from which other areas lodge or businesses could benefit. Clouds continues to support new avenues of income generation for those nascent businesses, however, and while a bright green three horned rhinoceros chameleon escapes in the shady tree above the chatter below, we sit down with enterprising young local Fidelis Kanyamunya, who doesn’t mince words. At first, I totally opposed these permits,” he begins but now I see the benefit even to our community with more tourists coming to the area.” The steep rugged valleys and emerald patchwork waterfalls, mysterious caves and tidy clusters of simple dwellings where traditional culture still holds strong. Fidelis sees the gorillas as only one of the area’s many charms, walking safaris, mountain biking birding, and cultural tours are all on the agenda for his simple hut/campground complex. On the books is a plan for a cultural center and a local vegetable growing project has already broken ground.
As we get up for a short sample hike in one of Bwindi’s gorgeous lush and serene river valleys, Gary supports fidelis’ entrepreneurial drive. ‘My father always said to me you rare an Afri-CAN, not an Afri-can’t. We CAN do any thing here with”. With local communities already reaping the rewards of clouds novel luxury tourism model, and the Nkuringo gorilla family building their nightly sleeping nests safety in their verdant misty forest home, one can conjure up a not- too – distant future where all apes, the hairy and stout forest variety, will live in symbiotic harmony, building a relationship that result in all staring up into he murky grey, recognizing that their tiny kingdom, perched in the mist in a tiny fragile corner of Africa’s vast wild heartlands, is indeed at peace. Please note that gorilla safaris are organised a Year in advance and therefore it is advisable to book your trip at least 3 months in advance.