Gorillas in Gabon, a crocodile in the car and getting back to Congo
I sense that real life is hidden right in front of us
I met Ghislain in Libreville, Gabon. It was my friend Floriane who gave me his number and told me that if I wanted to see gorillas then he was the right guy to contact.
Tourism Coordinator at PROGRAM
Tel: + 241 07 45 94 69/02 08 78 83
It was never my intention, to set time aside, to go and chase gorillas in the wild. With the recent setbacks within the Saga I personally found that time was limited and a valuable commodity. But back in October 2015 I was seated at a table in Libreville along with a group of expats. The night was still young and somebody at the table mentioned, as a topic for conversation, that Gabon was one of the very last places in the world, where you can experience wild gorillas, which have not been habituated to humans. That somehow stuck in my mind while I traveled to São Tomé & Príncipe, to Cameroun, back to Gabon, into Equatorial Guinea and finally reached Gabon again. Now I wanted to see gorillas!
The national park Ghislain suggested is in the south west of Gabon near the border of Congo. So it was even in the right direction. Ghislain was so much more than a tourist coordinator for PROGRAM. But that is what he introduced himself as. He told me that PROGRAM is an initiative for conservation of the wildlife and ecotourism. "Great! Are we going to see gorillas?"
Construction of the road had to stop until after the rain season. It meanwhile makes for a slippery experience.
We headed down south with what Ghislain called a bush taxi. For me it looked like any of the millions of minibuses I had been in so far. But calling it a bush taxi certainly added to the adventure which had already begun. Ghislain is such a great guy. He cares about YOU! And he will go far out of his way to make sure that you finish your day with a smile.
Sebastian the German biologist.
At his office in Tchibanga I met Sebastian who is a German biologist working in Cameroun. A bit confusing for my small head to meet a new "Sebastian" so soon after the last :) Sebastian wanted to see gorillas. I wanted to see gorillas. What where we waiting for? Let's go! "Where are those gorillas?"
Ghislain informed about the accommodation, the local food which would be served 3 times a day, the guides and anything practical. Then he told me to be ready to leave at 3:00pm. We were going to Doussala at the Moukalaba-Doudau national park.
But then while I was packing I received a phone call from Ghislain who explained that we had to leave earlier because the bridge had broken and we would have to go a different way. So we left Ghislain around 2:00pm in a 4WD and headed to the jungle with the driver, Sebastian and me in the front - and an army of people sitting in the back. After about an hour we reached a bridge which had collapsed underneath a truck which was still there blocking the broken bridge. A truly hopeless situation for most. And what where we even doing here? Didn't we leave earlier because we were going a different way?
The guys in the back jumped out and started organizing. They were all dressed quite fashionable in Gucci, Luis Vitton, Dolce Gabana and other stuff I cannot spell. Smart belts, cool shoes, great hair...and then a few of them kicked off the shoes and put on beach slippers or simply continued barefooted. The machetes came out and a few of them started cutting their way through the jungle. These guys were playing games on their tablets and smartphones a few minutes ago. Now they, very professionally, carved a new road into the jungle and down to the river 30 meters downstream.
It will be a long while before I forget the sight of a fashionably well dressed young man, standing barefooted in the jungle, with a machete in his hand, as if this was the most normal thing ever. Then the chainsaw came out and over the next few hours a passage was created around the broken bridge and back up on the road on the other side. And it really looked like these guys had done this before!
So that's what Ghislain meant by "going a different way".
It was dark when we reached the cottage where we were staying. A newly built house with toilets, showers, large living quarters and spacious rooms for the visitors. At the cottage we met 2 adventurous Austrians: Rainer and Sandra (https://afrikabisunten.wordpress.com). They were going all the way around Africa in their own Land Rover and had stopped in Doussala to see if they could spot gorillas. We were told by a guide that breakfast was at 06:00am and that we would leave at 07:00am to go trekking.
Rainer and Sandra.
That left us with some time to get to get to know Rainer and Sandra a little and exchange stories. They are a great couple. And WOMEN OF THE WORLD, get this: It was Sandra's idea to leave work for a year to travel around Africa!!
The next morning Sebastian and I got up early, had breakfast and headed out into the jungle with our two guides: Pie Evrad Nziengui in front and Jean Louis Maganga behind us. Before we entered the jungle Pie signaled to Sebastian and I that it was now time to be quiet. So we switched to "ninja mode".
It was all secondary forest which means that it has been cut and has regrown. I don't think I would notice the difference if I hadn't been told. But apparently secondary forest is much more dense. There were plenty of tracks to follow which I first assumed had been created by humans...but it turned out to be from elephants. On the ground you could often see the large footprints of forest elephants. And we would often spot various types of poo. I spent a lot of time looking at my feet trying not to step on anything which would make a noise.
There are plenty of insects of various kinds inside the jungle and some quite colorful ones too. But mostly it was just the serene temple of untouched green nature which caught my eye. I wondered if we would run into Mowgli or Tarzan at some point. Then Pie stopped and went completely silent! He was listening! Then we continued walking again. This went in for a while.
Sometimes you would hear loud noises from perhaps...gorillas?!? But then Pie would flap his arms and whisper: "Bird". We saw some gorilla poo which was 2 days old and later on a gorilla nest. Yes, that is right. Gorillas are very much like birds. Gorillas have a beak, lay eggs and fly south in the winter. No!! ;) But it is true that they make a nest every night and sleep in it. And it is true that they sometimes create the nest in a tree. And it is true that gorillas never use the same nest twice.
A gorilla nest. 2 days old.
We saw monkeys that morning. And they were shy and kept their distance. Sebastian could tell me that it was a quite rare sight. Since villagers hunt monkeys, the monkeys have long ago learned to stay clear of humans. But according to Sebastian these monkeys were talking (making noises) while they moved which was uncommon for monkeys. He said that they often move silently due to the hunters. He was very fascinated by them. I must admit that all I saw were monkeys jumping in the tree tops. But Sebastian's enthusiasm was enough to make me notice how special it was.
Our lonely cottage.
Around 11:00am we returned, rested had lunch and headed out again around 3:00pm. We continued sneaking like ninjas and in the evening we got to see forest elephants!! Now that is rare even to me!! And I don't think the elephants knew that we were there cause they would have left. Although they do have quite large ears and a large nose so they did have the upper hand on us. Kidding aside...standing in the jungle and looking at wild forest elephants in their natural habitat is extraordinary. And there is no fence or any protection. You're hiding behind a tree or a bush. Good luck with that if the elephant becomes upset with you! But the thing is...nature doesn't become upset with you. Not unless you use the flash on your camera or misbehave badly. Because nature is mostly in balance while we are certainly not. A snake for instance will not bite you or attack you unless you step on it. You've seen too many movies...
A forest elephant!
The days went on like this. Everyday consisted of a morning and an afternoon walk and sneaking around like ninjas. These guides would hack away with their machetes were needed but mostly we were silent. The guides must have some kind of sixth sense!! It was astonishing how they would be able to detect a deer, a flying squirrel or a sleeping monkey. Seriously!! How the heck do you detect a well hidden sleeping monkey between the branches in a jungle full of trees?!? I gathered that they combine their sense of smell, sight and hearing...and that they know the jungle so well that it's as easy to them as it is for the rest of us to find concrete in the city.
On the fourth and last day we came back from the jungle around 11:00am and had seen no gorillas. But it really didn't matter. That morning as we woke up we got to see a forest elephant leave the savanna in front of the cottage and head back to the jungle. That was even before I had time to put my pants on. And that was how remote from people the cottage was.
Shooting monkeys the peaceful way.
While we waited for the 4WD to return for us we had some time to do what we wanted. I strolled off on a small walk on the savanna near the jungle. It's a lot different when there are no guides! I was VERY alert to every sound and VERY alert to any potential snakes. Then around 400 meters away from the cottage I heard heavy breathing coming from the jungle. It was nearby me! No way that could be a bird!! What was it? An elephant? Then I heard movement in the nearby trees! Then I saw the trees and branches moving! I was dead quiet and very exited!! This went in for around 20 minutes and then I heard it move further into the jungle until it disappeared. What was that? Gorillas?!? Who can say...
The 4WD returned for us and we climbed in. We headed back and took the little detour into the jungle around the broken bridge and the stranded truck. Then we reached Tchibanga again and rejoiced with Ghislain.
I slept at Ghislains place that night and early the next morning I said farewell and made my way back to Ndende near the Congolese border. It wasn't my plan to continue any further that day, but I had an opportunity to cross over the border. And then I had an opportunity to get into a shared taxi which got us to Dolisie from where I could catch a train to Brazzaville. It was a bit of a crazy trip from the border to Dolisie. The immigration officer who let me into Congo was going along with the taxi to Dolisie. That's an 8 hour drive. I think he was a little "happy" in the alcoholic sense. We stopped several times on the road and on one occasion to buy some bushmeat which included a not so small crocodile which was still alive! That crocodile was transported, with a rubber band around it's month, between the feet of the immigration officer and his assistant who were both sharing the front seat. And with direct access to my feet as I was sitting behind them.
I met Arnaud on the way to Brazzaville and we became travel companions. Good guy! And I have no idea why they gave me THAT room for the night?!? But I was to tired to complain.
In Dolisie there was no way I could shake them off without first going out for some meat and a beer at 02:00am in the morning. And then we ended up at the officers house where "I absolutely had to try this marvelous White Horse whiskey". So I went to bed at 03:00am in a "motel kind of place" and got up at 05:00am to organize the train ticket. The train, "the Gazelle", was more modern than most European trains I've seen. But it was around 5 hours late. And inside it was very cold due to the air conditioning which was set at ice age...much like in many busses in South America.
Nice modern train with a very well functioning air condition.
I finally made it back to Brazzaville...tired...hungry...and worn down. But rich in new experiences and content with the knowledge, that from Brazzaville the Saga is now back on track. The next country I visit will be a new one. DRC here I come...
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - happy that the Saga is back on track ;)
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga