Like an African Paris – minus the Eiffel Tower, the Parisians, the Arc de Triomphe… in fact, the only similarity is the occasional wild boulevard – Brazzaville offers a sleepy arrival into the Congo Basin. The capital city of the Republic of Congo gives us a warm welcome, with clean streets, calm citizens and the comfort of a well-run Western hotel. This is a stark contrast to the frenetic capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kinshasha, which looms in the distance on the opposite side of the mighty Congo River.
Our first 24 hours are spent acclimatising, catching up, and meeting contacts in preparation for the next 10 days or so. A midday flight takes us northwards to our goal, travelling over green savannah land, dark canopied forest and the odd smallholding.
Met on arrival by the esteemed Karl, we continue by 4x4 along rutted tracks, through marantaceae forest and rain-drenched pistes to the wild and remote Ngaga Camp Located amongst 1,000-year-old primary rainforest, this unique camp affords access to some of the best western lowland gorilla tracking in Africa.
5am rises and tracking through dense rainforest forms the focus of the next 2-3 days as we set off in the capable hands of our local expert tracker. Often ex-hunters, these guys do not have Pygmy heritage like some guides in other areas of Central Africa; these guys track differently and independently, using their years of living and working in the forest to track down the endangered western lowland gorillas...
Our sightings over the three days vary in quality and interest. Day 1 finds the Jupiter family in thick vegetation, moving slowly as they feed off fruiting trees. Adolescents play together swinging from branch to branch, pulling down young saplings along the way.
Day 2 is tougher, a 5-hour trek all-round, but it provides some stunning glimpses into the life and times of the Neptune family. Neptune himself – the dominant silverback – we see climb 50m high into the forest canopy, hauling his huge bulk up wincing trees with his massive forearms powering him to the top, rewarded with the freshest, ripest fruits. Having gorged aplenty, seeing his massive bulk propelling itself downwards – gravity doing the majority of the work – we marvel at the agility of this gentle giant as we subconsciously take a step backwards, making way for his presence.