Uganda

This morning I awoke in anticipation of the day to come. I could feel the butterflies in my stomach. I slept a little last night. The unfamiliar sounds of the night were very near; I am separated from the jungle only by the thin canvas of my tent. I open the protective flap to the world outside. A fog lightly shrouds the grounds. As I exit I realize that I am not alone - other trekkers are huddled together, talking quietly, waiting to start the Ultimate Encounter.

Our guide signals the start of the arduous hike through the densely forested hills. We use animal trails that criss-cross the terrain. It is difficult travel over downed vegetation and incredibly steep grades.

Chimpanzee in Bwandi

Chimpanzee watching

Gorilla in Bwandi

Gorilla Trecking

I feel I've been walking forever when our guide motions us to stop. I see nothing but a small jungle clearing surrounded by vines and tall mahogany trees. I hear a deep guttural grunt and my heart jumps into my throat. A huge black bulk emerges from the growth just 10' away - a full-grown silverback gorilla! I stare in amazement as he looks us over then quietly disappears back into the undergrowth. I sink down to the floor of the clearing, as much from the weakness in my legs as from the directions of our guide. Soon we are surrounded by the gorilla troop. They show little interest in our presence as we snap photo after photo. They nibble on bamboo shoots along the edge of the opening only giving us an occasional glance as they keep a watchful eye on their young. Our time is up much too quickly and we slowly retreat from these magnificent creatures.

I have seen many wonders in Uganda: the rolling agricultural lands of Kabale, the extraordinary birds of Queen Elizabeth National Park, the unusual primates of Kibale, the power of Murchinson Falls, striking scenery, and the friendly smiling faces of her people. But the memory I will never forget is "the intense feeling of being in the presence of a great intelligence" when I gazed into the expressive brown eyes of the gentle giants, the mountain gorillas of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.