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Viewing mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda from Sept 21-26, 1996.

by Kelly Flynn,


Since I am interested in photography, I have specifically written this for other photographers who are wondering what to expect if they take on a similar adventure.I originally booked permits and accomodations, car and driver through Natural Habitat Adventures at 1-800-543-8917

Photographic equipment recommended

A *quiet* body. Quiet film advance and rewind. If its not, be prepared to muffle it as soon as you need to rewind. A 70-300/2.8 lense choice. I took a 70-200/2.8, which was ideal. There was no opportunity to use a 28-70 range, under 'normal' conditions. Bring a monopod to rest it on, although I did not, I wish i had. It was challenging to handhold steady since the lighting was often VERY low. If you have a 200/1.8 or similar, this would also be a great lense. If you need to go wider than 70mm, you can usually just step back a bit. The gorillas were never closer than 5m (if they were, we were pulled back,) and usually about 5-10m range was common. I was mainly trying to frame an individual portrait or maybe two individuals interacting. You rarely saw an individual's entire body, usually just the head and shoulders sticking through the undergrowth.

The policy is to carry everything on your body. Nothing is ever allowed to be put down in case a gorilla is curious and picks it up, which would be a health hazard for the animal (possible transmission of human germs.) All items must remain on your body or be handed to another person to carry. One of our trackers was kind enough to hold another individual's gear, but I would not rely on them, they have their own work to do in monitoring the group's behavior. Therefore a vest with pockets for film, etc., is essential. I packed mine up in my backpack, and only put it on for the actual encounter with the gorillas. Too hot to wear it otherwise.

I carried either two camera bodies with two different lenses or one camera body and one camcorder on straps around my neck which worked well. It wouldn't have been a bad idea to carry two camera bodies BOTH with 70-200/2.8 lenses, since you can use different film, or just keep firing away when the 'right moment' happens. I would probably only carry a monopod if i had someone I could pass it off to, when needed. The gorillas can either sit and pose, or constantly move, and in the dense vegetation, on a sloping hillside, you need to be free to move as well. If you are 'fast with a monopod' (changing height, etc.,) then you would do well to bring it along, it certainly would help with the slower shutter speeds you'll be encountering. A tripod is not recommended. The animals move too quickly, and the ground will probably be hilly and uneven. Not to mention, you trip up the other 5 humans who are trying to photograph the same, one animal in view, within a 12" window through the dense vegetation...

Weather and Light:

We were lucky and had no rain, but be prepared with rain covers for you and the camera gear in case it happens. Its recommended not to bring ponchos since it will snag on all the dense forest growth as you hike, and instead bring pants/jacket type of waterproof hiking gear.

It was cool (55-60) at night and warmed up quickly to mid-high 70s while hiking at 930am and mid-high 80s by noon. The forest is hot and humid! My biggest mistake was not 'pre- warming' my gear up. My camera gear was packed in the backpack the night before, such that when the bag was opened up, it was still *quite* cold! This lead to immediate fogging of the lenses as soon as I pulled them out to the hot, humid air. The best solution to the problem I can think of, is next time to take some rubber gloves, and fill them with warm water from the camp, and put them in waterproof bags around my lenses/camera bodies. Or somehow warm up the lenses and the bag before heading out for the day's hikes (I welcome suggestions!) It would be difficult to remove the lenses 'before' you encounter the gorillas to warm up since you don't know when you'll meet them, nor is there an opportunity to stop since you don't know if they are far or close, so you hike continuously, to improve the odds of seeing them before the day is over.

Don't forget to pack extra camera batteries in your vest/on your body!

The lighting is a crap shoot. It was *very* dark most of the time, so bring a wide variety of film to prepare for many conditions. Due to the dense canopy, if the sun is out, you may have some patches of sunlight that come through holes in the canopy, and if you're lucky, a gorilla will move into this area, or a bit of light will shine into their eyes. While we were there, during the first day, it was noon, the sun was out (occasionally behind clouds,) so we had some great light opportunities. The second day, it was much earlier in the day, and overall much darker. So take the fact that you might encounter the animals early in the day, under lower light conditions, into consideration.

Film:

Take a LOT of film. When you run into a 'good situation', fire away everything you have, as quickly as possible, since they usually do not stay in good lighting, or in clear view for long. I used 5 rolls one day and two rolls (barely) the next. I took both slide and print film. I had Kodak E100S (to push to 200,- I wish I had also taken some Kodachome 200,) just in case the gorillas decided to pose in good light. I didn't use it, no such luck, although I might have used it if i had a faster lense than the 2.8 and/or monopod.

I mainly used Provia 400, which was not fast enough witha 70-200/2.8 . Many photos came out slightly blurred, either from movement on my end or theirs. The sharpest photos were from the Fuji Press 800 print film, *when* I had a good opportunity. I think Provia is enough, you just have to have some luck with positioning of the animal and you. A monopod wouldn't have hurt *if* I could have gotten it into position in time. I did have some sharp photos from the Provia 400, but the were the minority. It depended on how much light fell on the subject at that minute.

Final answer? Take a little of everything, and as least two bodies to put it in. You've only got one hour a day, for two days, usually, and its a luck situation. Definitely take the slower speed (a 100/200) films in case you get lucky. Take the highest you can live with so when you don't, you will have something to remember them by. :)

Hiking clothing/gear:

As mentioned, its not recommended to bring ponchos for rain gear, since they easily snag on all the dense underbrush. Its recommended to wear jacket/pants to reduce hang up problem. Also absolutely necessary is a good, waterproof (preferred) pair of ankle-supporting hiking boots. The terrain is wet, slippery, muddy, straight up and down, hilly, and constantly changing. I also strongly recommend knee length gaitors, I wore them, and loved the extra protection. Also keeps your boot laces from snagging on every twig. I also took a pair of Leki hiking poles and loved them. At the office, before your hike, they have some hiking poles made out of branches, available to borrow, if you like. At least take one of these, since there are many times you'll use it to help with balance. I loved my Lekis and they helped pull me up hills, or keep from sliding down the other side, everyone else needed assistance from the porters, but i would just plant my poles in, and do fine. Of course a long sleeved shirt and long (thickish/rip resistant,) pants are needed. I sprayed both of mine with a pyrethrum based insecticide that is made for permenant application on clothing. Although the threat from mosquitos was minimal, it had benefit in repelling the number of ants which would drop down out of trees, climb up your boots, and cross over branches to climb over you. I wish I was exaggerating, but we stopped three times to bat large numbers out of hiker's hair and legs, which would get under the clothing and bite terribly (I saw the welts they left, not a pretty sight.) Tucking the pants inside of socks AND wearing gaitors is the BEST protection, since most climbed up boots when you stepped on an ant trail, or had to walk alongside one. Finally, gloves (thick garden type) were recommended for extra protection against thorns and such if you grabbed vegetation to help pull yourself along, or stinging nettles. We did not encounter any stinging nettles, but some groups do, especially outside of Bwindi (in Zaire or Rwanda.) I took my gloves off, and only used the Leki poles so I did not touch any vegetation (which was yet another way to pick up the ants.)

What to carry all this stuff in? I had a backpack/photo gear bag which inly carried the camera bodies, lenses, film, photo vest, and other photo gadgets, including a camcorder. I had a second backpack which carried lunch, water ( 2 -2.5 liters, used up each day,) rain gear, gloves, small emergency kit, etc. Porters (local young men, and even a few young girls,) are available for hire. Its recommended to pay them about 2-3 US$ for the day (although we tipped quite heavy.) I hired two porters, next time I'd probably hire a third, so many were there, waiting for a job, and its so inexpensive, I say hire as many as you can. Make the bags somewhat light so you can spread the weight out. The boys were all wonderful, smiling companions on our hike, they helped us when the terrain became rough, and if someone had sprained an ankle (happened to someone on the group before us,) they would have helped carry the person back. Again, take a photo vest to carry everything in that you'll need to photograph the gorillas when the time comes, and have it prepacked, ready to breakout and go. Don't forget to pack extra camera batteries on your body/vest.

The rules/The hike:

We stayed at a permanent luxury tented camp owned by the local company Mantana, who was booked by Natural Habitats for this trip. It was a few minutes drive outside of Bwindi, next to a local village. Great food, great employees. Several other camps are around or just inside Bwindi borders.

We left camp by 745am for a short drive down the road to the Bwindi office. We were to pick up our permits by 815am and check in. The permits listed what group we would see on what day, our names and passport numbers. There are currently 10 permits a day available to see two habituated gorilla groups. The M (Mubare) group of 12 members and the K group (Katendegyere) which has currently three members. 6 people may see the M group, and 4 people may see the K group. Due to some recent tragedies, the K group will no longer be visited after August 97. Only 6 permits a day will be sold for the M group at that time. The locals and companies were unsure when a new group will begin habituation for future permit sales, but 'should' begin soon. It usually takes 1.5-3 years for a group to be habituated enough for visitors to view safely. The permits are booked solid during June, July and August. Other times of year, there is at least a chance to get in on a standby basis, or if someone cancels.

Permits are sold to companies a year in advance, and if you are interested in going, try to plan at least 6-12 months in advance to get permits. Currently (I was told) they are limited to 2 days per person.

At the office at Bwindi, there are a few t shirts for sale, and a bulletin board full of articles, visitor number totals for different years, and photos. You'll meet your guide here, arrange for porters, and begin your hike, whichever direction it will lead. We had one guide, and two trackers, who did the actual tracking of where the gorillas had passed, etc. We hiked to the border of the park, and our guide would stop us and explain the guidelines in dealing with the animals that we were expected to follow. They are as follows (best I remember.)

Do not approach the gorillas closer than 5 meters. If they approach you closer than 5m, you will immediately back off, slowly. If a silverback charges, stay in the group, don't run, stand your ground. The group is to stay together within 10m of each other. You are not to spread out, and the guides will tell you if you get too far away. This way the gorillas always have a way to move away from you, and you also have the safety of the other people nearby. If a 'youngster' charges (which happened with us, a 4 year old,) the guides will 'chase him back', usually by waving some leaves at him, or some branches. Again, let the guides step in, and guide you as to what to do, otherwise don't move. They are watching what happens closely, and know how best to handle things. If a silverback or adult charges before the hour is up, then the humans have obviously disturbed them, and the guides will take you away. That is why its important to stay quiet, move slowly, don't talk (or if you must, whisper very quietly.) The guides will reassure the gorillas and silverback with belch-grunts, and similar vocalizations. You are not allowed to drink or eat in front of the gorillas, nor put anything down (even a hiking pole,) while you are with them. This prevents them from approaching you out of curiousity, and touching anything you touched. The guides do not want the gorillas to touch you, nor anything you've been holding since this can lead to a transmission of germs, and threaten the gorilla's health. If you must sneeze or cough, you cover your face *and* turn away, for the same reasons. We were all carefully asked whether we had any colds, or were sick in any way. You are not allowed to come in contact with the animals if you are in any way sick. If you admit to being sick before you start the trek, you will have your permit fee refunded. If the guides feel you are sick during the hike, they will send you back, without contacting the gorillas, and without a refund. If you needed to go to the latrine at any time, a shovel was provided, and a hole needed to be dug at least 12" deep, such that material was well covered, and would not accidentally be uncovered by any primates later. Finally, we only took what we could carry and keep on our bodies, with us to view the gorillas. All extra bags and treking poles would be left behind with the porters. We were not allowed to leave and return to get stuff from our bags. The gorillas are viewed for only 1 hour, no more.

These rules were carefully explained, and I was *extremely* impressed with the guide's behavior when we were with the gorillas. They did not hesitate to pull individuals back who were too close to the gorillas, even if they were taking photographs. 5m was the rule that was closely followed, and *I* thought that was fantastic. The guides obviously realized what a special job they had: to protect these animals so everyone has the opportunity in the future to view them as well. I did not expect the 'rules' to be enforced so accurately and consistently and was pleasantly surprised. I personally had no problems following the guidelines, since they are created for the animal's safety, and the photo ops were great at 5 meters. It was such a priveledge to be in the gorilla's presence, and to have that opportunity to see them, that what few rules they did have, were easily followed.

The Experience:

There are no words for how you feel when you are standing a few meters away from one of the most magnificent, intelligent animals on the planet. No plexiglass, no cage bars. And then they look into your eyes. Let's just say its hard to focus as the tears stream down your face. :)

I was lucky enough to visit the M group both days, which has a wide variety of ages to watch, including the one silverback. On the first day, we spent about 30 minutes hiking established trail, then went off into 'semi-established trail' for another 30 minutes, letting the trackers find the location they last saw the group at the day before. We hiked another hour through much more dense vegetation, up and down hillsides, and found the spot they had been seen at the day before. Anther 30 minutes and we found the nests they had slept in at night. It was slightly more than an hour of slower tracking (which involved a lot of turning around, and backtracking, up and down the same hillside as we followed their exact, meandering path,) until we found them. We'd started our hike at 830am, and found them at almost noon. When the tracker's sid they had found them, our porters came up, and we had a few sips of water, put on our camera gear and vests, and went with the guide to the gorillas. The porters stayed behind with our gear, and did not come with us to the gorillas.

The first day when we approached they, we found them around two large fig trees. Most were resting, having eaten well, and several were still up the tree. A mother was at the bottom witha 10month old, alternating between hidden deep shade and open grass below the trees. This was photographically a great situation. We timed it right (a lunchtime rest,) and there was some open area getting some sun or sun/clouds which some animals would move in and out of.

The silverback was in the tree, with some middle aged kids, and would throw down large bunches of figs, or drop pieces they were eating. He eventually came down (which was a sight to behold, him sliding down this large trunk!) and disappeared into an area too covered by vegetation for us to see. The then lay down to sleep with only his feet in the air. A young male charged us almost playfully several times, beating his chest and having a good time. Another slightly older female came near and sat down with her large belly, yawning, and relaxed. The mom was quite protective of her 10mo old, so they stayed off, and the 10 mo old came out once or twice to look at us and pose shyly, behind some branches. You could easily see and photograph more than one animal at once, there was still a lot of jockeying for positions between the 6 humans, since many times, there was only one small view through the canopy to get the best angle, or really see them.

The second day, we hiked only an hour, and came across group M even closer to the main hiking trail than the day before. Sometime they would even come onto the main hiking trail to feed, our guides told us. We didn't see nests, and we started hiking about 820am, and found them just after 930am. They were more active than the day before, I wish we had not found them so early in the day. The light was low, much cloudier, lower in the sky, and the animals more active. We had to stop and just hike after them several times, as they moved. About 5 minutes into viewing them (where the silverback had just moved into an open position,) one person's camera began to rewind. It was *very* loud, and the silverback looked at her, looked away (*still rewinding,*) looked at her, then got up, and took the troupe into the trees, we never saw them on the ground again. Completely different from the resting state we saw the day before. And a disappointing day, somewhat, considering that it was the end of my gorillas viewing for my trip. We watched them in the trees; it wasn't as intimate as the previous day, but still enjoyable, still a privledge.

The road:

I'd probably be shot if I didn't mention that you should be prepared for a long, challenging-ly bumpy road for 10 hours out of the airport city of Entebbe. If you like, you can plan a stop at the 'lovely' 'Lakeview Hotel' (which actually has some fantastic Maribou storks, Yellowbilled storks, and other birds you can get quite close to photograph,) which is midway on the road. Crowned cranes are easily viewed from the road. Uganda is beautiful, and worthwhile a stay beyond just viewing the gorillas. A birder's paradise in many parks! But the road...the road goes on and on. And so do the mountains. And so do the banana plantations, rice fields, pineapple and tea groves covering the hillsides, for hours and hours, and depressingly up to the absolute border of the 128 square mile Park. It was a forest reserve (open to hunting and planting,) until it was turned into the National Park in 1991. Its truely amazing that the park even exists in my opinion.

I hope the above gives you some ideas if you are interested in photographing the mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Any further questions you may ask in email.

"Can it be possible that the mountain gorilla is doomed to extinction in the same century in which the species was discovered?"
-- Dian Fossey, Gorillas in the Mist

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Cagan Sekercioglu , May 22, 1997; 01:08 A.M.

It is very sad that the K group is in trouble. Did the poachers get the silverback? Incidentally, this was the group I got to see. I was doing research in the Kibale forest for two months and I travelled afterwards and went to Lake Albert (mostly for the Shoebill), QE and Bwindi. I hitchiked from Kabale, and as luck would have it, one of the people from Abercrombie and Kent sold me his second day ticket for the original price. Very nice people. When I was there (mid-August) all of the 5 people waiting for stand-by got to go within 4-5 days but I guess it is more difficult now, especially w/ Zaire and Rwanda being harder to get to. I used a Slik 960G QL tripod (very light, since I carried about 90 pounds on my back including 12 mistnets). It was not very convenient and I wish I had a monopod but it did the job and I had good pictures w/Provia 400. I wish I had another day. Watch out for the army ants. It was a good 6-hour (return) hike and a great day. Please read and learn about the mountain gorillas (Fossey's Gorillas in the Mist is the perfect starter). Not only you'll enjoy it, but also if you are just seeing these animals as curiosities, without knowing anything about them, you are basically intruding into this magnificient animal's environment and making it into a kind of zoo. Remember, there are only about 500 of them left in the wild (more like half of this after the fights in Rwanda and Zaire), half of them in Bwindi. Although your money helps its conservation, it does not give you the right to harass it by any means. If you are lucky to go there, you'll have a very memorable experience.

Scott Storkel , August 02, 1997; 01:20 A.M.

I took a similar trip to see the mountain gorillas in Zaire's Parc National des Virunga in 1995.

Based on my experience, Kelly's comments are right on the money! A 70-200/2.8 is the perfect lens for this situation. Even though it sounds like Zaire lets in fewer people (one visit each day to the 2 acclimated groups; 0-12 people per group) it sounds like they might be a bit more acclimated to human contact. I actually got some of my best photos with a 28-70/2.8!

In addition to Kelly's recommendations, I might suggest taking an ND grad. The one situation I ran into which I wasn't prepared for was backlit subjects. Occasionally, the gorillas would climb up into trees, where the sky provided a light source that was much brighter than anything surrounding it. If you meter the gorillas, the sky is overblown. If you meter the sky, the gorillas come out pitch black. I don't know that there's any perfect way to handle this situation (other than waiting for the gorilla to move somewhere else), but some sort of ND filter to help adjust the contrast is probably the only bet.

As far as film goes, I used ISO 400 with my 28-70/2.8 and ISO 1000 with a 100-300/4.5-5.6. Even with the 1000 speed film, the 100-300 was marginal at best. Luckily, I was able to rest the camera on a tree for added stability. I question the usefulness of a monopod, however. In Zaire, the ground was so wet that the bottom 12 inches of the 'pod would have disappeared into muck before you got any support. You'd need to find a rock/branch to rest the 'pod on or equip it with some sort of snow/sand foot.

Another note: flash photography wasn't allowed in Zaire at least. Leave the flash in camp or your camera bag. If you've got a camera with auto-flash or a point-and-shoot you MUST know how to turn the flash off. Even if you know, you might want to consider taping the flash down or covering it with paper. That way, even if something goes wrong, you won't disturb the animals. Our group learned this lesson the hard way. Luckily, the gorillas were only mildly agitated and only for a couple of minutes.

BTW, two thumbs up, WAY up, for Uganda! The people there are more friendly than anyplace else I visited in east Africa! As Kelly says, the scenery is spectacular. The national parks don't have as many of the large game species as other countries in the area, but there's still a lot to recommend it!

Sadly, turmoil in Zaire probably means that it will be difficult or impossible to reach Parc National des Virunga anytime soon. Your best bets are probably Uganda and Rwanda. Some members of our group travelled through Rwanda while the rest took an alternate route through Uganda. They didn't report any problems, other than having their bags searched about a half-dozen times. Obviously, you'll want to check the conditions carefully before attempting it yourself!

Reza Gorji , November 09, 1998; 04:50 P.M.

Very nicely done piece. You can feel the tension as you read the account. Good Advice.

Herman Hiel , November 14, 1998; 05:29 A.M.

I went to Uganda four years ago; your story reminds me of what we experienced. We went to Bwindi and Mhahinga and saw the gorillas in each camp, after a hike of about one hour ( luckily!). I used Kodak 1000ISo and if I were to do it again, I would also take 1600ISO as the light is bad and we were told not to take a monopod. I used a Tamron 200-400 f5.6 and this not not really satisfactory. To-day I would go and buy either the 300f4 or 100-400 IS from Canon. In Mahinga we staid in the bandas from the village; although no comfort, the money goes at least directly to the village. Our diner consisted of pasta, cabage, rice and beans; luckily they had ketchup ! We also staid at the Lakesideview hotel : a nice retreat after two weeks on the go in Uganda. But beware : we were the only guests at the swimmingpool; before we jumped in, our driver appeared; while we discussed our plaans at the poolside-bar, our driver spotted a cobra IN the swimmingpool. If he hadn't seen it, we would have been dead - at least the first in the water. So sometimes you do get some adventure in Africa ... I hope that one day the region will be quiet again, so the mountaingorillas will stand a better chance of surviving.

Jim Webb , February 04, 2002; 12:10 A.M.

Also, Nick Nichols at michaelnicknichols.com has good advice for taking pictures of apes (including mountain gorillas).

Felipe Alvarez , March 14, 2004; 01:58 A.M.

where are all the gorilla pictures?????????

Seth Curley , April 20, 2004; 11:01 A.M.

Thank you for a very helpful review. Living in Kabale (Uganda) I wanted to add my two cents, but just finally saw the gorillas, in Bwindi, for the first time.

First, logistics:

I can’t recommend Philip Briggs “Bradt guide to Uganda” enough. Any trip to Uganda will be greatly enhanced by it. Much, much better than the competition. In fact, I’ll come out and say that it’s the best guide book I’ve ever had of anywhere.

Since it was specifically recommended, I’ll add that The Lakeview Hotel in Mbarara is now over. It’s really declined in the last couple of years and is not worth a stop. Your best bet in Mbarara is the Agip Motel, owned by the Minister of Health.

Secondly, I really have to take issue with the description of the ride out to Bwindi as interminable, much less “depressing.” I drive the main Mbarara road frequently, and have knocked around Western Uganda quite a bit, and I always find the road trips completely exhilarating. You never know what you’re going to find out there, and certainly the human activity you’ll see is a lot more photographically challenging than a few groggy apes loafing around their living room. I don’t want to make too big an issue of it, but any hint of the familiar portrayal of Africa as a place of charismatic animals and untamed (at the very least uninteresting) people raises my hackles. What’s depressing about poor farmers making a living?

Finally, photographing the gorillas: I would advise peppering the guide with a lot of questions about gorilla behavior, and especially their response to visitors, on the trek up. You don’t want to do anything to drive the gorillas away, as Kelly suggests.

I used a 100/2.0 on my Digital Rebel, which makes it equivalent to 140mm. This was just about right, but if I had to chose one focal length, I would say 200. As has been said, a 70-200 would be perfect. Anything longer would be superfluous. I also carried a 50mm on a film body, and found it useful for only a handful of shots (but these were some of the best, because they weren’t blocked by leaves). I didn’t bring my big 100-400IS, and didn’t really regret it: the problem is if you need the length, the gorillas are almost certainly obscured by leaves.

With the gorillas moving in and out of shadows, and up into backlight trees, lighting is very, very tricky, and I was very glad to have the instant feedback of the digital to help me meter. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend a GND to anyone but the most experienced, who know how to manipulate it quickly and smoothly. Not at all like using a GND on a tripod for a landscape shot.

The current rule is 7 meters, but frequently the gorillas come much closer. The guides in Uganda are pretty good about moving you back, but it’s quite likely that your best opportunities to shoot will be at a distance of 3 meters or so! And it might be possible to get closer; one Kiwi I met who had trekked in the DRC cooed about how a gorilla had even touched her, which seems like a really bad idea for everyone involved.

Really, I can’t recommend a trip to Uganda enough. This is really a wonderful place to visit, or for that matter, live.

Fred Vnoucek , November 23, 2005; 07:40 P.M.

There is one thing to ad on: there are no tripods or what-ever-pods allowed to take to the gorillas. Even the backpacks have to stay back at a camp as soon as the Gorillas are reached. Only what you can put into your jacket or is around your neck is permitted to go with you. More than that: even if you would carry the monopod all the way, it wouldn't help in most cases because of the difficult situation of the ground. But it is no point of disussion because it is not permitrted anyway. Rgds Fred

Richard Atkinson , January 18, 2006; 05:19 A.M.

Having just returned from seeing the gorillas in Bwindi, I just want to share my enthusiasm about these fantastic beasts! I joined a three week overland truck tour to Uganda, Kenya (Masai Mara)and Tanzania (Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater). Woow!! Photo opportunities where everywhere you just didnt know where to point the camera! However, I must say that the gorillas where the highlight of the trip. My experience was very similar to others on this site with one or two exceptions.

We walked 1600m up to see the M group, which comprised of 8 family members. Once we were near we started to see the flattened vegetation where they had made their night nests, as well as nearly treading in their faeces. Hearts started to pound!! When we were about 80 -100 metres away from the group, we left our lunch and ruck sacks with the porters (who earnt every penny of their tip for carrying my camera kit!!) and moved towards the rustling bushes.

It took a good 10 mins before we had a good sighting of the silverback and some of the juveniles. Taking pictures was tricky as the foliage was thick but I eventually got few breaks of the siverback in a clearing (after he ate the obstruction which was blocking a good view!!). The guides also did a little cutting back with their machetes to help the view. The final 20 mins was brilliant for photo opportunities as the siverback and 3 of the juveniles came out into the open!!

My kit included a D70 with a 24-120mm Nikon VR lens. I used a monopod which was overall very useful steadying my camera (and me at times!). I also took a 70-200mm f2.8 lens in case it was a little dark, but too my joy there was plenty of light and the former lens was great!

We were only allowed to stay for one hour but in that time I 'reeled off' over 150 pics!

If you are going to see the gorillas in Bwindi then be prepared for a long trip to Bwindi and I suggest if you are taking pictures, as you wind through the villages and beautiful countryside, you take a dust bag to protect your cameras kit from the constant DUST which will follow you on your trip.

Cheers Richard

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Scott Elliot , March 16, 2007; 08:13 P.M.

My wife, daughter and I visited the gorillas at Bwindi in August 2006. My daughter was working in Kampala for a year and managed to get our gorilla permits through the Uganda Wildlife Authority office in Kampala many months in advance. There are now three habituated gorilla families and 8 tourists are allowed to visit each group for a 1 hour visit each day. Since there are only 24 permits a day, getting a pass is at a premium.

We intended to rent a car in Kampala, but my daughter managed to find a tax driver who would drive is around for 3 weeks for less cost per day than the daily rental cost of a car. His Toyota Corolla was adequate, but there were a few places in Murchison Falls and Queen Elizabeth National Parks where a 4x4 would have been better. If it had rained more some of the road we used would not have been possible with 2 wheel drive.

At Bwindi we stayed a Buhoma Community Rest Camp. This has very basic accommodation in circular rondavos, pit toilets and communal showers, but were clean and the people were pleasant. It is cheap and the money goes to the local community so we felt good about staying and eating there. It is also adjacent to the meeting place for gorilla trekking so we just walked over in the morning.

Most of the other trekkers had 4x4 transportation supplied by their tour companies so we did not want risk the 4x2 car and got a ride with the guides in their Land Rover pick-up. That meant my wife and daughter got to ride in the cab with the driver and I got to ride in the box with the guides, porters, rangers, every body's packs and the rangers' AK-47 assault rifles. Everybody was very pleasant.

As mentioned you can hire a porter for a very reasonable price. The terrain is steep with some stream crossings and it can be hot and humid in the jungle. We had a 3.5 hour hike to reach our gorilla family (H Group). Our porter helped my wife with the many steep climbs and descents and stream crossing as well as carrying my pack with the water, lunch, rain jackets and camera equipment.

I took a Canon 20D and 17-55 f/2.8 and 70-200 f/2.8 lenses. I carried the 20D and 17-55 in a small shoulder bag to take photos on the hike in and out. This worked very well. The 70-200 was in a Toploader camera bag in the pack carried by the porter. When the gorillas were sighted the group stopped for final instructions and for people to prepare their cameras. I put the 17-200/2.8 on the camera and put the 17-55 in the toploader just in case I wanted to change lenses while shooting.

The 70-200 f/2.8 on a 20D (1.6x crop factor) was just great for this purpose. At first I did not need to shoot wide open, but the gorillas moved into some denser jungle while we were there and I had to open the aperture. It would have been better if I had the image stabilized version of this lens.

Regarding the roads, we came from the north and left towards the south on different road using a 2 wheel drive. The roads were in good condition and we had no problems. Both roads were extremely scenic, so be sure you stop and take some pictures.


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