Saturday, 9 May 2009

Saturday morning

Bec’s and I went out with Felix to see the Kitonda group. A Travelling family of Gorillas who Felix had known in the Congo in 1992. A number of them had missing digits and one a hand due to snare injuries from the band lands of Congo.
As we arrived Felix had been radioed that the group had climbed over the forest wall and were in the fields! This was a sequence we really wanted. We grabbed our kit and ran. Normally we are looking at a 2 hr walk in; here it was 2 minutes before we set up!
They adored the Eucalyptus trees and were demolishing them, much to the dismay of the wary locals.
The little ones were scampering up the trunks and chewing the bark, whilst the three silverbacks in the group were just pushing the trees down and having a right old feast!
We got some nice behaviour and it was great to see them in the open. All too soon are hour was up but a good mornings filming.

in action

Day off

Friday evening we got home and there was a troop of dancers on the front lawn who were at the hotel to entertain guests but there were no guests so Ryan the manager arranged 2 chairs one for Lauren and one for Finn in the hotel grounds and they had their own show which made Lauren cry but Finn reassured us all it was crying in a good way. By the time we got back from filming the dancers had made their way over to our cottage and were going for it in our garden. They were fantastic, mostly kids with incredible rhythm and drumming madness. We got fired up drank beer ate lots of meat in the hotel Friday night buffet went to bed far too late and felt awful for the start of our day off on Saturday…
We headed for Lake Burera on the Uganda border about a 40 minute drive, and found a small beach with ladies washing clothes, a bunch of students swimming who took a shine to Rosie and Lauren, and a couple of fishing boats. We negotiated a deal on a boat via 15 or so people and set out across the stunning lake for a paddle. Amazingly they even had life jackets so Finn looked the part. We had a really fun time and took loads of piccies and when we got back to the shore there were some really young boys fishing who posed with Finn and were fascinated by his blond hair. He gets lots of attention wherever we go, people can’t believe his white locks and we feel quite protective at times but he takes it incredibly well.

We thought for a few minutes about a lunch in the village but then a far better plan emerged. Another 20 minutes climbing a red dust track by car we got to Verunga lodge a stunning low key high class lodge. The views were outstanding and we ordered lunch overlooking the lakes below. The day was magic and we all got home chilled and tired and ready for an early night.

the lakes
from the lodge

Bec's and finn
waiting for lunch


Little things

As well as the big impressive Silverbacks beating their chests, it’s the little things that have been special. We sat for an hour in the bamboo with a Mum and her infant. At first she keep an eye on us then wonderfully ignored us. She was playing away with her little one, lifting him above her head, then cuddling him and letting him suckle. It felt like a very privaleged intimate thing to witness.
Then we were lucky enough to watch little Thursday climb to the top of a tree and try and build a day bed (a good few years before he will properly do this). He took great pride bending his branches over, most of which sprang back up as soon as he turned his back. He managed about three, then very proudly lay back on his creation for a good 20 seconds before jumping up to go and play something else.

7 metres

The rules for your safety and that of the Gorillas are that you should remain seven metres apart. All the rangers and scientists try their best to keep this status quo, but…. There are occasions when this isn’t possible.
It was our second week with Pablo’s group and we had been granted a couple of 4 hr days, which was brilliant. Myself, Rosie and Felix where in thick Bamboo, with a couple of individuals, when suddenly a silverback took a bit of a dislike to the boom microphone and came charging towards us. We were backed up against a wall of bamboo and had nowhere to go so Felix told us to ‘drop and don’t look at him’, this we did, with great speed and conviction. He stopped short when he realised the quivering, sweating heaps of submissive flesh on the floor probably weren’t a threat and sat down right next to us, just to be sure and so as to be able to keep an eye on the scary furry microphone creature. The other members of the gang suddenly found us quite interesting and a blackback then a mum with infant came up and pressed their noses to the lens. All the while we were dutifully looking anywhere but at them. It was a pretty extraordinary experience.
As soon as the Silverback got bored and when off to push a tree down we retreated to our 7 metres and laughed a little bit hysterically!

p.s there aren't any photos of this cos we were being submissive.....and shaking too much!

Finn's Gallery

When Finn isn’t being fireman Sam, filming Gorillas in the garden or collecting frogs then him and Lauren are really into their painting.

Lake and Volcano

behind the


Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Pablo's group

Amazing couple of days. We’ve switched groups to Pablo’s, which is the biggest group in the world at 45 individuals (previously 65!).
Led by the very charismatic and huge Cantsbee.
Beautiful walks up through the farmland. Immaculately tended fields and smiley people. Then a short walk into the forest. Then we crested a ridge and there in the valley below were 45 gorillas! Playing, fighting, sleeping, and eating. It has been an incredible spectacle.
The last couple of days filming have been in this group surrounded by these beautiful creatures. They are eating the young bamboo shoots, which makes them a little excited, resulting in some close shaves and very up close and personal moments with silverbacks. Sweaty palms and everything. When your only defence is looking at the ground you do feel bloody helpless and small.
We have again found the time limitations a huge frustration, but on a personal level, WOW.

day 2

Today we had Veronica to show us the way. A bubbly Italian.
The sun shone and we headed up.
We nearly got to the summit and were at about 3500 metres. Really felt it.
Got slightly better views of this group particularly when four of them came and sat next to us to investigate the ‘out of breath pale creatures’.
I felt very privileged to have an adult female mountain gorilla sit a
few metres away and look me in the eye.
Again the views from here out across the plains are mind blowing and with the waves of mist rolling in and suddenly cloaking you in damp whiteness it’s quite a unique place.
Less arse over tit as we descended this time and we managed to procure a fine sack of spuds as we entered the farm land. The soil here is second to none, with up to 20ft of beautiful dark top soil. Everybody’s shambas are immaculate and the crops bigger, greener and healthier than anything at home.
Rosie had resigned herself to the loss of her knickers off the line in Bwindi (presumed monkey’s), but now again the brief thief has struck again with a whole bag of her undies vanishing!
It’s a worrying development and we're keeping a close eye on the situation.
Becs will be out on the mountain soon and is itching to get up there, whilst at home Finn is ruling the roost and having a wonderful time.

first day up the volcano

First day out today in the volcanoes.
It rained……a lot
Squelched our way through mud up a steep track for an hour and a half.
There are three types of nettle on the volcanoes. I found all three and a possible fourth.
For reasons beyond my management level we only have one hour with the gorillas here. So Felix who was our expert today did his best but it just felt pressured. Got a couple of shots of soggy gorillas but not a lot. The silverback was not too pleased to see us and did a couple of impressive charges!! Fangs and all.
It was wonderful to see these gorillas they are very different form the Bwindi variety, there a lot hairier.
Also when the mist/rain/fog clears the views out over the farm land below are staggering. Sooooo a bit disappointing, we really want to make something special, but not sure we will be able to do
it with this limited access.
Anyway we slid down the mountain doing the most outrageous falls in the mud, much to our amusement and nobody else’s!
Myself and Rosie got back very soggy to an extremely welcome
lunch of pizza. Brilliant!
looking at 14 gorillas!
views down through the mist

Sunday, 3 May 2009

our new house

our new pad

We are now ensconced in a beautiful cottage at Gorillas nest, thirteen miles outside Ruengerhi. Four volcanoes flank us and blue hills fold away into the distance. I can see six crested cranes inspecting the grass in front of me.
The last few days have been a struggle in town as we’ve searched for accommodation, although it has been lovely meeting the various people we are to be working with, they all seem really helpful and bubbly.
We all got a bit low, being in town after the forest, but everything has worked out wonderfully as Ryan the manager here as sorted us out royally. And we are now proud residents in ‘Jungle jack Hanna’s Rwandan retreat’
Tomorrow Rosie and I head out to find our first Rwanda Volcano gorillas. Very exciting.
Becs and Nigel are still under quarantine.
Finn as per usual has made himself at home straight away.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Arrival in Rwanda

We were all really sad to leave Martha, the gorillas and the beautiful forest. We trundled off in two wagons and headed south to Rwanda.
Extraordinary landscapes unfolded as every inch of the impossibly steep slopes was farmed and tended. And all this beneath the shadows of the ever larger volcanoes.
We thought it looked like Gods gran had sewn a giant patchwork quilt and thrown it over an orgy of well endowed ladies!
we bumped our way on dusty tracks to the border and after an hour of bureaucracy we climbed onto the well maintained tarmac roads of Rwanda.
Suddenly there were people everywhere, which was quite shocking. and i couldn't help but have flashes to what this road to Uganda must have looked like in 1994. There are memorials to the genocide everywhere.
Ruengerhi seems like a gold town, with the precious metal being the gorillas, with silverbacks adorning the sides of every ngo landcruiser we pass. and above the few dusty craft shops.
We are staying in a hotel on the edge of town. After 3 weeks in the forest this is really quite hard. the luxury of a shower is nice, but the noise, bustle and fumes aren't.
We will spend the next couple of days meeting the 'players' in the Rwanda gorilla circles and looking for a house to rent.
Finn as per usual is taking it all in his stride and is as happy as a sand boy cos there's diggers outside!

Piccies from Rwanda

Finn makes friends as we search for a house in Ruengerhi

hanging out down town

on days off, my assistant takes over

more Uganda piccies

Bec's and
Rosie sweat
it out

Me and Nigel
wait for little
pinoco to reveal

fuzi having his lunch

Byiza keeps
an eye on us

some piccies from Uganda

waiting in the

torrential rain

as we search

for the group

Jonny and

Rosie the

forest fairies

Fuzi kindly

eats right

infront of us




supper in

our Bwindi


Thursday, 23 April 2009

Bec's and Finn arrive

Finn and I drove up to the BBC to collect Nigel and head for Heathrow. After a week of admin and packing it was so exciting to finally be on the road. Finn travelled like a dream, he loved the overnight to Nairobi, hogging three seats as he sprawled in his sleeping bag leaving me to awkwardly slump next to him to make sure he didn’t slip onto the floor… The changeover in Nairobi was great, just two hours then a short flight to Entebbe in Uganda. We were met by Kicungo our driver who's a great guy, and after loading up we set off for the second leg of our travels. A long seven hours crossing the country passing through stunning lush scenery and busy small villages and towns. Again Finn was just a real travel dude, he slept lots and giggled all the time whilst awake. At lunch he shared a chicken curry with me which he loved and when we finally reached our hotel we were all really weary. A few power cuts caught us unawares, Finn was a little frightened by the first one as he was on the loo at the time and I couldn’t find the torch but by the third one he thought it was great fun.
16th april
Finns birthday. We woke early, did some shopping, local bakers fruit shop and small stores, then the brewery where a fight was breaking out… and set off for the forest. 2 hours through more lush country and we were at the research station based at 2500 meters and in dense forest. We found toby who had the day off and all opened pressies. Finn was totally excited about everything, and now has a well stocked travel toy box. Lorren had brought balloons and a birthday banner and rosie had made jelly so he felt really special.
We had a day of sorting kit and then I had my first day out with the Gorillas. It is a stunning walk to the trackers camp in the forest and then 2 and ½ hours tracking the Gorillas. The guys take us to where they nested the night before and then track their trail through really dense vegetation and steep gradient until we find the group. It was really humbling to be right amongst a group of wild Gorillas, and Rukina the silverback is just amazing, really huge and so gentle. The undergrowth is so dense you cant see where most of them are at any one time which is quite unnerving. We had 4 hours moving around and filming before trekking back.
I was seriously washed out by the time we got back and pucked quite a bit that night from exhaustion and a bit of altitude but felt great the next day! The next few days have been just magical spending time in the group and getting fitter very fast!
Finn has been really happy with lauren in the day, they’ve been making bread and cakes in a camp oven, been on walks to the village and played loads.

The inpenetrable forest

Apologies for the three week absence. Internet connection in the ‘impenetrable forest is limited’.
It has been an extraordinary time.
Our days have started at 6, when we wake in the chill air and shovel down some porridge and tea. Then its gaiters on and kit prep. Day 1 we had two porters and more filters and polorizers and sun cream than you could shake a stick at. Day 2, 4 porters and half the kit!
The walk in was ……hard. First we descended about 300 metres and arrived at the guide’s camp. Here we met kaleb, Dennis, Ambrose and Gad. Then we walked for two and a half hours. Up hills that went on for 45 minutes, up ridiculously steep slopes and then descending gradients that required hanging off vines. We were also at an altitude of 2500 metres.
I was HANGING. But oh so excited.
But then we got to the gorillas. The first I met was Rukina, the silverback. He was MAHOUSIF. Really quite an impressive being. He then ambled off and we followed and there we saw the rest of his gang of 12.
Our main characters are of course Rukina, then there’s Happy and Thursday the two toddlers. Tindermanyere the mum with pinoco the tiny too cute infant! Matu the old lady of the group. Biazu the black back male who loves to sing and fart and one to be wary of. And Marembo the good looking teenager.
They are gorgeous creatures who are wonderfully laid back. Filming is a horror, when you’re off the track your dragging camera and tripod through 6 ft vines down crazy slopes, then you’ll spot something and desperately try and set up quickly to film through whatever leaves and branches are in the way.
But we have seen some incredible stuff. Lots of playing, grooming, feeding, tree climbing, sleeping and even Rukina mating with a female called Siato!
Are expert and guide has been Martha Robbins a Gorilla scientist par excellence. She has been amazing and great fun. More importantly she makes excellent coffee and pancakes.
We have been living just within the boundaries of Bwindi ‘The impenetrable forest’ on the outskirts of a lovely village called ruhija, which is perched along the spine of one of the exquisite hills that roll away to the distant volcanoes that sit astride Rwanda, Uganda and Congo.
Finn, Becs, Loren and Nigel turned up after a week on Finns birthday. It was wonderful to see them and we had a lovely birthday tea.
Finn has taken to here like a fish to water, him and Loren go into the village every day and get gawped at and watch the monkey's that nick Rosie's pants of the line! There are making fresh bread and cakes and keeping morale high.
We are living in two cottages, one with an open fire which we congregate around in the evening to drink beer and eat beans cooked by Valentine and Alex.
Well tomorrow we head off to Rwanda for the second stage of our trip. Hopefully the internet will be slightly easier there.

Monday, 6 April 2009

arrival in uganda

just arrived. i had forgotten how green it is here. it reminds me of the amazon its  a real lush damp earthy smell.
marabou storks and egrets patrol the lawns and vervet monkeys head off to cause touble along the fence tops.
this morning we need to pick up supplies and a generator before heading west.
its all getting massively exciting the thought of spending 6 months with one of the worlds rarest and most incredible creatures is just amazing.
we will be filming on HD and it will we three, one hour programmes for the BBC.
i cant wait to start climbing into the mountains, and the thought of that first glimpse of a mountain gorilla is still too big a thing to comprehend! 

Sunday, 5 April 2009


5th April 2009 Toby sets off for Uganda

Toby flew to Uganda this morning, hell have a week with the rest of the team to set things up, meet the gorillas and make sure hes happy with the security on the ground before Finn and I fly out with Lorren and Nigel on the 14th.
Im working my way through trays of admin before we leave and going for as many runs as i can in a last minute effort to up my fitness, all the time daydreaming of trecking high in the Viringus and that first siting of the mountain Gorillas, makes me tingle.