Gorillas I Had Missed

14 04 2008

Gorilla 4

For some strange reason, whenever I mention that I appeared as an extra in the movie “Gorillas in the Mist”, people ask which gorilla I was. Professional help has assured me that this is in no way related to my posture or my hairy shoulders, but rather an attempt at humour. At which point they generally hand me their bill and a banana and ask that I not drag my knuckles as I leave their office.


The fact remains that the opening scene of the movie on the life of primate researcher Dian Fossey was filmed not too far from where I lived. In this scene, Fossey attends a lecture by paleontologist Louis Leakey and approaches him afterwards seeking his support to conduct field research in Africa. The movie was critically acclaimed and received a number of Oscar nominations, not least because of the sterling performance of my head bobbing in the background when Fossey and Leakey have their conversation.


When I was young, I had been given Fossey’s book and others by chimpanzee researcher Jane Goodall and dreamed of one day heading to the jungles and mountains of central Africa to see it all first-hand. At that time, it really was nothing more than a dream as I had assumed it was too expensive, too difficult and simply not possible. When, many years later, I finally did look into such a trip, I discovered it was not only not particularly difficult, but in fact eminently possible, and shortly afterwards I began to make plans for the following year.


The few remaining mountain gorillas in the world are located in one of the most unsettled regions of Africa, spread throughout a chain of mist-shrouded, jungle-covered, volcanic mountains that form the border between Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  In my research I learned that it was possible to have a short trip that included 5-star hotels and luxury tented bush camps complete with butlers who did your laundry everyday, sommeliers who served fine wine, and chefs who prepared gourmet food. Transport was by light aircraft and private four-wheel drive vehicles and accompanied by expert guides. Alternatively, you could opt for a longer overland trip in a truck with a group of like-minded international travellers of all ages. Accommodation was in small two-person tents and everyone lent a hand with food preparation, dishwashing, camp duties and grocery shopping in local markets. I opted for the latter and started making plans.


The trip I selected started in Bujumbura, Burundi and spent three weeks travelling throughout the tiny country then known as the Switzerland of Africa. It continued across the border into the then-Zaire and trekked for Eastern lowland gorillas, before returning to Burundi. It was as much a cultural experience as a wildlife expedition and I began reading more and more about the places I would be visiting and their history and peoples in order to benefit the most from my trip.


Several months before I was due to depart, the aircraft carrying the presidents of Burundi and neighbouring Rwanda was shot down as it came in to land in Kigali when returning from a peace summit in Arusha, Tanzania. Both men died and the subsequent violence and unrest that swept the two countries also claimed the lives of perhaps a million people. Having developed an affinity for the people of Africa’s Great Lakes through my new interest in that part of the world, these events were particularly shocking and saddening for me.


The awful events not only put my own trivial cares and concerns into perspective, but obviously also put my travel plans on hold. My life-long ambition of seeing the gorillas once more seemed to recede into nothing more than a dream. My interest and desire to visit the area was stronger than ever, but I knew I would have to be patient and await my opportunity.


A couple of years later that second chance came and I headed to Uganda.


To be continued.



Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008




One response

16 04 2008
Chris Wendler

Dear Simon,

Great story and couldn´t wait for your to be continued article.

Chris Wendler
VP Boutique Hotels & Resorts

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