The Adventure of a Lifetime on the Tracks of the Mountain Gorillas in Gabon
When I set off for Gabon on the trail of the lowland mountain Gorillas I imagined that an adventure into the heart of West Africa was no doubt reserved for a handful of intrepid nature enthusiasts. However, little did I imagine it would offer such a stunning and unforgettable experience.
Although there are three spectacular national parks in Gabon the Loango National Park, the Invindo National Park and the Lopé National Park, my three companions of adventure and I chose the latter for a specific reason; this is where we hoped to encounter the rare Lowland Gorillas.
Situated on the West coast of Africa, Gabon is no doubt one of the least explored parts of Africa; this is why I had chosen to head in this direction to find the hidden treasures and untainted areas that are becoming more and more difficult niche out. More than seventy percent of the country is covered by tropical rainforest and is a treasure trove for all those travelers in quest for rare wildlife and eco-friendly tourism, although access to the wildlife reserves is not an easy feat.
If you ever wondered what a true jungle looks like, that deep wilderness so thick with vegetation that light barely filters through the intersecting canopies, then you still have to experience the national parks in Gabon.
I would just like to warn those who, as I are fanatics of those secluded and off the beaten track sites that there is in fact a good reason why they remain so! Jungle trekking in these preserved environments is not for all and must not, I repeat not be attempted alone. Even with our guide, Aimé leading the way we found the going challenging as our boots squelched in the thick mud and the creepers got caught into our hair as we tackled the hidden trails that led deeper and deeper into the jungle of the Lopé National Park. Only when we stopped to listen to indistinct jungle sounds that Aimé recognized, did I realized how heavily I was breathing, so much so I couldn’t even hear any of these sounds.
On our third day in the park, after three hours of trekking uphill with frequent stops for animal spotting and listening, we finally came to the top of a hill that offered a clear view of the rolling hills below. The savannah stretch for miles on end and was followed by dense rain forest land. As Aimé pointed towards the vast expanse below we were rewarded by a marvelous sight. A group of elephants were slowly making their way towards the jungle, a whole herd of them plus a calf! It was the most exhilarating spectacle I had ever witnessed. Even at a distance the mere glimpse of these powerful animals sent a thrill down my spine. Just as we had spotted them they disappeared again into the thick jungle and we could still hear them crashing through the under bush.
Once this display was over, I was left wondering whether we would ever get a chance to spot the rare mountain gorillas we had come expressly to look for. This endangered species is one of the biggest and most furtive of all the primates and I knew that we would have to be lucky to even catch a glimpse of them.
We spent a total of six nights in the Lopé National Park in the company of our friendly guide Aimé and the multitude of birds, reptiles including vipers and other amphibian species. We spotted buffaloes and mandrill monkeys as well as more jungle elephants. Every hidden nook of the jungle was clad with an incredible number of plants and species of flowers, but not once did we spot a mountain gorilla.
On the last day we were gratified by the experience of a life time. As we came through a clearing to a deep pond to take a rest from the intense afternoon humid heat we spotted a large group of baby crocodiles floating lazily in the water or lying in the mud and around the pond. Although Aimé tried to sooth our qualms of any bigger crocodiles in the area, we still found it difficult to rest in the company of these small but voracious animals.
We spent the last night far from the main park’s camp grounds as we had moved too slowly across the dense jungle and hadn’t reached the shelter of the camping site. We were all getting tired as the accumulation of the week’s trekking made its toil and also rather dejected because we hadn’t spotted what we had come to see in the first place.
It was on the very last day during the first few hours before dawn that my efforts were rewarded with the most unbelievable sight of my lifetime. Aimé had woken us as gently as he could, but my heart was still thumping in my chest as he lead us out from the tent along the path to a clearing not far from our camping site. At less than a meters sixty from where we crouched, in large bowl shaped nests lay a group of mountain gorillas sleeping soundly.
As we were about to move nearer, Aimé shook his head vigorously and brought his fingers to his lips. From our position it was difficult to discern the group, but we could make out five individual nests, three with mothers and their babies and another two with one male silverback in each individual nest.
We stayed there for more than three hours observing these incredible animals, regardless the cramps that caused terrible aching in our legs, and from where we were I could see that the males were easily six feet tall with thick black hair covering their entire bodies. Their nests were made from branches and other plants and were artfully built to render the nest as cozy as possible. I knew from having read extensively about mountain gorillas that they relish their sleeping time and if undisturbed could sleep soundly until the first hours of dawn.
What I regret the most about this unforgettable experience was that I could not take one photograph of the magical scene that lay before me lost in this Gabonese jungle, for I had left my camera back at the tent and Aimé would not allow us to risk retracing our steps for fear of waking the sleeping primates.
As the first females of the group started stirring in the early morning light, Aimé cautiously motioned to us to return towards the tents, for although mountain gorillas are not aggressive by nature, the fact that there were young ones in the group would certainly cause a danger to us and the animals and he did not want to risk unpleasant surprises.
As we made our descent towards the outskirts of the park on our last morning in the lost African jungle my heart was full of sadness and joy blending together as I recalled this amazing experience, which funnily enough I was brimming to tell about but yet wished to treasure as one of my personal intimate moments face to face with nature.
Alina is a travel author who has written many articles that keeps on guiding the travelers throughout the world. Angelina herself is an avid traveler who has traveled more than 22 countries. She also write about Yachtcharter Griechenland and Yacht Charter Greece.