Ngaga camp is where the gorilla treks take place – amongst other interesting forest walks and amazing adventures. None of the camps are one-dimensional as there is always another activity to do: mountain biking, trail running, fishing, boating, or searching for the next awesome sundowner spot. Or spotting a rare bird. Or chasing butterflies. So much diversity on all levels. You could do a thesis alone on the various types of mushrooms found in the forests. Being there makes me want to become a researcher, spend months and months in nature and make unique and fascinating observations.
I had a spacious raised room to sleep in at Ngaga with an altogether separate bathroom area. The design of the room allowed for the forest breeze and overhanging trees to keep the space at a very comfortable temperature. The room is completely sealed off with mosquito netting all around, ensuring that curious ‘visitors’ can’t get too close to slumbering guests. The open bathroom, on the other hand, allows for fun forest observations during one’s evening douche. With a bit of luck, the resident squirrels can be spotted, or even some bush babies (a shining torch catches on their reflective eyes, giving away their cute presence).
Our first gorilla trek out was to see Neptuno’s group. Being the alpha male of the party, he has an entourage of 16 individuals, which is higher than the usual 6 - 8. Neptuno is a very impressive fellow, and entertained us with a chest-beating display of who’s the boss of the group. After hiking at a solid pace for about 50 minutes, following closely in the footsteps of Grace, our tracker and Adi, we were very lucky to find his group sitting in a relatively open digging ground, where they look for roots, fruit and insects. The interactions were fascinating: some of the younger gorillas were up in the trees and throwing fruit down towards the boss man. That definitely kept him happy… And then there were the cutest babies and toddlers that amused us with their antics – playing around, mimicking what mom was doing, trying to climb small trees and swing from branches. Sooooo adorable! The allowed hour of observation was over in what felt like minutes, and it was a dream come true to spend time with these animals that are 97% genetically similar to humans. Each one has their own personality, their own expressions and way of communicating. Grace and Adi were fantastic in clearing branches and leaves out the way to make for better photos, and I was over the moon with my footage from that session. Adi rated it as one of his top three gorilla sightings, so I was happy to take that!
Our afternoon forest walk was another adventure, with dark stormy clouds gathering as we made our way into the heart of the marantaceae forest towards the first, original gorilla research camp. I felt grateful to the people that bravely paved the way and started their research in Congo 20 years ago, allowing the non-scientists like myself to benefit from the hours, weeks, days, months and years that they spent with the gorillas, slowly habituating them to human presence and building positive relationships.
The forest is so alive, so diverse, so full of energy and always reviving itself where humans and animals try to make paths through it. As the clouds were becoming darker and the thunder was rumbling, Adi decided to take a shorter route to get us to the edge of the forest. However, the path that he’d walked on 10 days before was already overgrown by marantaceae and other culprits. At times we were wading through a dark tunnel of plants, with Adi leading the way and chopping his way through it. Lighting flashed overhead as it started pouring with heavy, tropical rain that eventually turned to a lighter drizzle. We thought that our sundowner at the edge of the rainforest would rain out and that we’d probably just head back to camp, but we’d completely underestimated the resourceful camp managers. Being from the UK, Thomas and Daniella were die-hard campers and, used to English weather, had a welcoming bonfire waiting for us on the ridge where the forest ends. Another guide that we grew very fond of, Carelien, also joined the party. We sat around the fire in the drizzling rain and watched a majestic lightning show all around us. Daniella’s hair apparently goes all afro when lightning is about to strike close by, so we kept a close eye on our pre-warning system.
It was the most fantastically wonderful G&T I’ve ever had, and it’s so characteristic of the Odzala philosophy – there is always another adventure to be had, something else to experience. The people are all inspirational in their own way, live life to the max and show that an ultimate communion with nature can be attained.