“It was their individuality combined with the shyness of their behavior that remained the most captivating impression of this first encounter with the greatest of the great apes.” Dian Fossey
On the evening prior to my gorilla trek in Uganda’s Bwindi National Park, I checked my camera and realised that the battery was dying. I reached into my camera bag for the spare that I’d purchased before my trip and tried to put it in my camera. But it wouldn’t fit; the battery was too big.
I have no recollection of buying this battery; I just remember grabbing it when I packed and thinking great, I don’t need to get a spare battery. Perhaps it was for an old camera. But, in that moment of sinking realisation, I was devastated. For years, I’d dreamt of returning to Africa specifically to see the mountain gorillas. I wanted to take amazing photographs of these incredible animals and now I was faced with using a tiny digital camera without a zoom lens.
Far from being a memorable moment, this was one of my worst travel nightmares. Of course, things are different now because you just need an adapter and a power supply to charge the batteries for digital cameras.
Also, I know that non-photographers who are reading this will probably be scoffing and thinking at least you were there to experience this magical moment – and I totally agree. But when you are a photographer, you simply can’t imagine not being able to photograph these wonderful experiences.
I think I sat on the camp-bed in a thatched cottage for about ten minutes trying to come up with a solution. But there was nothing I could do. We were in a tiny village on the edge of the impenetrable forest and there were no stores. The nearest battery was probably a good two to three hours’ drive away – and considering our truck got bogged on our way into the village, there was no chance I could get a battery by the early hours of the following morning.
And then, once I accepted that I couldn’t change the circumstances, I began to look on the bright side. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I already knew it would be etched forever in my memory without the need for photographs.
I have previously written about my experience with the gorillas and you can read it at Adore Animals if you’re interested. But it was a wonderful couple of hours – forging our way into the impenetrable forest; hearing the silverback roar; and seeing the whole family group eating, playing and enjoying each other’s company.
My absolute favourite moment was when two youngsters were play-fighting about 10 metres away from where I was crouched. It was like watching children play, as they pulled faces, rolled in the dirt and tried to get the attention of the adults (and us). When they stopped wrestling, the smallest gorilla tilted his head quizzically and looked right in my eyes. I was captivated and it’s a moment that has stayed with me ever since.