November 14, 2010

You’re The Gorilla Of My Dreams

Filed under: Uncategorized — geoff @ 4:44 pm

Good morning and greetings, Dark Continent fans. Well, it’s a special time here at Sunrise Santa Cruz because today marks the 250th time that I have sat down at this computer and wondered, “what the hell am I going to write about this week? That’s right, 250 postings and still no word from the Publishers Clearing House. So I spend my days waitng by the phone with Dusty Springfield, just “wishin’ and hopin’ and thinkin’ and prayin.”

Anyway, this is going to be a good one as it’s guest blog time with the fabulous Judy Bingman. Now you remember Judy, who we guest featured back on March 10 of this year with the post, “It’s More Than I Can Bear,” a fabulous pictorial display that included polar bears, brown bears and a couple of former Chicago Bears.

Judy, who I met at a local art show and has been texting me non-stop ever since, taught for 35 years at Los Gatos High School, yet never once took attendance. She started shooting wildlife back in 1996, as her passion over the years has taken her to Africa, Antarctica, South America and the South Bronx.

To get the shots of the polar bear and her cubs, Judy was cavorting around in the snow and ice in minus 38 degree below temperature, which is a tad chilly for me. The good news is, she says she is finally getting some feeling back in some of her fingers and toes and has vowed to go back and photograph the bears again. I just might join her if I can find my flannel shorts.

So this time Judy really wanted to take the Pepsi Challenge and bring photographs to the table of things you and I would only see in a zoo or at a rave party. So back in September she hopped on a plane in San Francisco and flew to London, then on to Nairobi, Kenya and from there to Kigalli, Rwanda. That’s right, Rwanda, the Club Med of genocide back in the 90′s.

After spending a night the Hotel Rwanda, not to be confused with the Eagles, “Hotel California,” Judy was taken by rickshaw to the Gorilla Mountain Lodge, which she had selected over the Chimpanzee Motel and the Orangutan Motor Inn. It’s located in Volcano National Park, where I do most of my shopping when I’m in Rwanda.

Our intrepid photographer had signed up beforehand for three treks to see the gorillas, at a cost of $500 an hour for the actual shooting time. Since the gorillas move locations in the jungle every night, the rangers go out early in the morning and scout them out before sending out the trekkers. You can sign up for an easy, moderate or hard trek, and you know what I would have gone for. The harder the trek, the higher the location. Judy, being the adventurer that I am not, signed up for the easy but got the moderate and off they went.

The group included eight people and two guides, and the first hour they walked and skipped thru farm land, singing camp songs and the Monkee’s greatest hits. At that point I would have taken the Last Train to Clarksville. The second two hours were all uphill and quite strenous, as the guides cut thru the bamboo forest and dense undergrowth with machetes. At that point, I would have been happy to just cut to the chase.

One of her guides had been the porter for American zoologist Dian Fossey, who studied gorillas for 18 years in Rawanda before she was murdered in 1985. After walking through the forest for two hours, the group came to a clearing and there was a family of 15 gorillas. For Judy, it was a very emotional moment. “Tears started rolling down my cheeks. My hair was sopping wet because of the humidity. I was so amazed and overwhelmed. Here I am right next to these incredible animals with all the mud, sweat and tears. I was just so excited.” I can easily relate, as I remember the first time I hiked in and saw a baby squirrel I cried like a newborn.

There was one big Silverback (photo #2), who was the leader, the boss, the head honcho. When he becomes a teenager, the Silverback’s hair color changes and he becomes the photographic prize that everyone wants to see. Joining him in the bush were a couple of male black backs and some females with their babies. They had already downed their breakfast of bamboo and Wheaties and were just rolling around, playing cards while the mothers nursed their young under the hair dryers.

At this point, Judy and the group were standing in the clearing, just 20 feet away from the awesome specimens of nature. It was an amazing moment. I experienced the same feeling of awe and wonder when Jerry Hoffman and I were judges down at the Boardwalk for the Miss Miller Lite Contest, but I cried for a different reason.

The gorillas got to within 5-10 feet of the group. Judy saw a baby that had been born that morning, and another that was three months old (photo #3.) Our guest blogger, who is 71 years old, was congratulated by the group for her effort after the two hour walk back to the lodge. Judy had led the trek and established the pace, and upon her return was carried back to her five star hut by a group of pgymy warriors, who presented her with a bouquet of flowers and her first blow gun. You should see her nail a mosquito from fifty yards.

After three treks to shoot gorillas, Judy upped the stakes and then flew on to Dar Salam, Tanzania, where she hopped onto a six seater plane and headed to the Selous Game Reserve at the Lake Manze Adventure Camp. She was met at the airport by her personal chef and safari guides, who she immediately asked, “are we going to see any lions in a tree?” The guide answered, “probably not” and they headed off in the jeep on an open air safari ride.

Twenty minutes later, before you could say, “king of the beasts,” they came up pride of lions, and one climbed up into a tree and you see the results (photo # 4.) “I had never seen a lion in a tree. I thought, oh my God, she is so beautiful. It was magical.” I experienced a sense of deja vu when Judy told me this story as it was the same words she uttered the first time she saw me lying in a bush.

Judy was there five nights, and on these jeep safaris saw giraffes, zebras, NFL referees, wildebeasts, gazelles, cape buffalo, buffalo wings, hippos, crocodiles, hyenas, wild dogs and rabid poodles. The birds were picking the bugs off heads of the hippos, something you rarely see here on the west coast. Judy also saw a baboon, which she said was very similar to the one we recently had in the White House for eight years.

She also saw elephants every day and spotted these two juveniles (photo #5) when they were first on land. The matriach of the herd kept on chasing them away because of their bad manners. “I was watching the behavior among the elephants. I had never seen anything like this before. Those two were behaving like 7th graders. It was so interesting as we weren’t just watching an elephant standing there.” Later, the elephants were asked if they remembered Judy but shook their trunks no.

On the final shot, Judy’s goal was to capture the perspective of the smallest to the biggest creature. As she lined up the shot, she thought to herself, “I’ve got an incredibly cool image here. This is something you won’t ever see in a zoo.” With the towering giraffes along with the zebras and gazelles, it’s the kind of photo rarely seen on this site but just another day in the wildlife beat of Judy Bingman.

Judy is available to talk to groups about her adventures with the gorillas, polar bears or the IRS. To get in touch, contact her at or check out her website at

On to some late night humor. “In his new book, George W. Bush says he’s happy to be out of Washington. Well, it’s unanimous. He’s going to be on the Oprah Winfrey Show, and tomorrow he’ll be on the Rachael Ray Show, water boarding the veal cutlets.” –David Letterman “Bush’s memoir is 512 pages. To be fair, 200 of those pages are just games and puzzles.” –Craig Ferguson “Former President George W. Bush was on ‘Oprah.’ When asked about being the leader of the free world, Oprah said, ‘It’s not bad.’” –Conan O’Brien

“Republicans fresh off their victory on Election Day say their first priority will be to dismantle the new health care law. And believe me, there’s nothing people without a job love more than less health care. Republicans were complaining about the cost of Obama’s trip, and that he was staying at the Taj Mahal. It turns out he was actually staying at the Taj Mahal Express, by the airport.” –Jay Leno “Nancy Pelosi is throwing a party to celebrate her time as speaker of the House. If you would like to get her a gift, she’s registered at Bed, Bath and Don’t Blame Me.” –Jay Leno

“Obama’s in India for two days and Republicans are already accusing him of being a Hindu.” –Jay Leno “A special shout-out to the independent geniuses, who switched sides again because President Chocolate Jesus did not make it rain twenties in two years.” –Bill Maher “JetBlue is appointing retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal to its board of directors. That’s who I want looking for my missing luggage — the guy who’s been trying to find bin Laden for 10 years.” –Jimmy Fallon “An exciting night. I’m really glad to be on cable. The truth is, ladies and gentlemen, I have dreamed of being a talk show host on basic cable ever since I was 46.” –Conan O’Brien

So that’s it for the gorillas that I’ve missed, or for Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier fans, the thrilla in gorilla. And birthday wishes go out on Thursday to my old Cabrillo College pal, Vicki Sheppard, who still holds the Olympic record for the most beautiful blue eyes I’ve ever seen.

So enjoy the light in the morning because it gets dark too damn early for me these days. And welcome back Conan O’Brien, whose first week of shows had moments of tremendous humor. We’ll catch you under the boards. Aloha, mahalo and later, Kevin Love fans.


  1. Exquisite photos! The trek was worth it!

    Comment by nba — November 14, 2010 @ 6:48 pm

  2. It does get dark and cold too early… Bravo, Judy’s travels and efforts towards ‘still attention’ have captured the living moments within the non human precious communities.

    Comment by Babs — November 15, 2010 @ 8:12 am

  3. Wow, quite a posting for Sunrise Rwanda. Thank goodness, such magnificent creatures still exist. By the time I’m 71, I hope I can still make the trek up to Space Mountain.

    Comment by Dr. Livingston — November 15, 2010 @ 9:16 am

  4. There was actually a movie called “Hotel Rwanda” from 2004. Might be fun for you guys to watch together.

    Comment by Debbie — November 15, 2010 @ 11:15 am

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