Going Ape – by Helen May


Jamie and I met in Madagascar where we both loved watching the wild lemurs. Since then we have remained friends and been to Greece, Belize and South Africa. So when Jamie suggested a trip to check out the gorillas in Uganda, of course I was going to go.

Or was I? OK, let’s ignore the political situation in the North of the country (we’d remain in the South). Driving round South Africa sucking on Fizz Pops (great tasting lollipops, a bit like Chupa Chups) a few months earlier, little was I to know that I would have diabetes on our next adventure. Not that diabetes should stop me travelling but Uganda is not like Europe: accommodation was likely to be basic; healthcare was likely to be very basic (where it existed); it was going to be hot and sticky; and we were going to be remote. But there was nothing to stop me going.

Armed with lots of insulin packed in Frio bags (a wonderful invention for keeping insulin cool without a fridge) with lots of needles and lancets and meters and malaria tablets, I set off to Kampala on a cold February morning.

One week into the trip, we found ourselves in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. There was Jamie and I, a tracker, a few army chaps (Bwindi is on the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and Congo) and a guide. They knew where a family of wild gorillas had slept so we set off. Once we reached the gorilla’s beds, the tracker’s skills came to the fore. By spotting stalks the gorillas had knocked over on their travels or shoots they had munched on we followed their route. Gorillas do not keep to footpaths so we didn’t. Gorillas are happy to use all four legs to climb steep slopes so we followed them up the slopes … and down again. We were going at quite some pace – the gorillas had started before us and we had to catch them up.

Meanwhile, my body was getting used to the heat and the humidity; I was trying to carb count cassava and other meals I could not recognize; and we were pushing ourselves through the undergrowth. Not surprisingly, I had over-counted my carbs and needed a snack (which I always carried with me) but this was eaten on the go to make sure the gorillas didn’t get too far ahead.

After a couple of hours we caught up with the gorillas. The hour spent watching them from within two metres made all the trekking worthwhile. They looked amazing. We watched them work together as one team shook fruit from the top of the trees and another collected it from below. We took a step back as the huge grey-back male walked past. And we laughed as the youngsters tried to eat grubs by sticking their hands into a hole, Baloo-style.

Our trip in Uganda continued for another five days but nothing, not even the chimpanzees, lived up to the experience of the gorillas. As for my worries – managing my blood sugar levels was not as easy as it is in familiar surroundings but, as I touched down on in a snowy Heathrow, I knew I’d definitely made the right decision to go.

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