Our morning gorilla trek to find Jupiter’s group was action-packed and epic. Where Neptuno’s group had been conveniently gathered in a clearing on the ground, Jupiter and his 23-strong group prefer a denser part of the forest and made us work for our sightings. Our tracker, Zeffryn, and AD often had to use machetes and other utensils to cut a path through the thick plants to get us closer to the action. We could hear the gorillas on the other side of the thicket, rustling about or grunting and barking to each other, but it was quite difficult to get a visual. Eventually our hard work paid off, and we found a relatively open spot where the group – including Jupiter – crossed a small path for a couple of seconds, just to head straight back into the thick ravine. Right towards the end of our allocated hour, a single gorilla came out of the thicket and walked on his hind legs towards a fruit tree. We were treated to a show of him picking a large fruit and sitting for over 10 minutes right there, in the tree, chewing away at his breakfast. It was a very different experience from the first trek, and very exciting in terms of following the gorillas into the heart of the forest and having no way of predicting what would happen next.
The afternoon trek was back with Neptuno’s group, but they had also moved into a much denser part of the forest. Grace had spent the whole morning looking for them as they moved away from their previous location in the evening already. This was due to a young male challenging the great Neptuno, who did not appreciate the competition. Keeping track of the gorillas on the move was a tough morning’s work for Grace, and he was excited to take us to the new location.
The initial best sightings were of some members of Neptuno’s group climbing trees – clearly they have no qualms with heights, casually climbing to a treetop that is easily 50m above the ground. Little `’Clumsy`’ was towards the back of the group, trying to climb a small tree. He had us in stitches with his unsuccessful attempts, cutely falling time and time again and then bouncing back to another attempt. Unfortunately, there were just too many plants in the way to get those perfect photos, but it was also nice to observe the gorillas with a little break from photography.
When it was time for us to start turning back, Adi was in earnest discussion with Grace. He’d spotted a mass of safari ants on the hunt and they were making their way towards us. There was no turning back, as these little beasts move around in their millions and can easily cover a surface of a couple of hundred m2. They attack everything in their path, and that was one experience that I was happy to give a skip… So Adi and Grace started making a new path towards the left-hand side of the forest around us to get away from the ants, while trying to not disturb the gorillas or get too close to them. This approach worked really well, and we managed to escape the impending peril. The new path also led us by complete chance to a large female gorilla sitting quietly on her own in a small clearing, giving me the perfect opportunity to take some final parting photos of these special creatures.
Adi often said: “The forest will reveal to you exactly what it wants to, nothing more and nothing less.” I am humbled and fascinated by what the forest chose to reveal to Sofie and me. It was enough to capture our imagination and make us feel like the chosen ones for some very special experiences. But enough remained hidden to leave me wanting for more and start dreaming about the next Odzala adventure. I want to go chimp tracking and trail running and photograph as many butterflies as possible. Odzala is addictive and magical, adventure in its purest form.
Our final dinner was out on the deck with Adi, Cornelius and Helet. She is totally my favourite person, as she let me fly the L420 twin aircraft for a good 40 minutes between Brazzaville and Mboko, kindly and quietly giving instructions as needed. I was in control of the aircraft when we crossed the equator, which is just awesome! It takes a special kind of person to brave the African skies time and time again, where thunderstorms are rife and things don’t always work out as planned. Helet and Cornelius are a fabulous team and their charter passengers couldn’t ask for a more proficient crew. Our last dinner together was like a family gathering – we’d gotten to know each other and it was sad to have to say good-bye. The setting was surreal, with a lovely bonfire, torches lit around the deck and lots of candles, with the forest orchestra performing the Odzala Opus in the background. Chef Santo’s splendid mushroom ravioli alone would be worth the return trip to Ngaga…
Our heartfelt thanks to the managers and staff members of all the camps who went out of their way to ensure an epic, authentic experience and tended to our every request. And to Adi, who can juggle Lango Mangoes and make rope from branches, who climbs trees to see the orchids in bloom and can see armies of ants coming where I would be oblivious… The forest demands respect, but with the right guide, one is always in safe hands. We jokingly said that we’d go to war with our pilots and Adi, and it is the honest truth. Add in a pigmy tracker, and you’re all set for victory…