Organizing the visit to Ossele was easier than I expected, once I found the right person. We tracked down the specialized guide, who turned out to be a very talkative guy, and within two hours, I was on the way in a sedan car with food and water. Shortly after leaving Franceville, the road turned into a muddy affair, but the driver proved extremely skillful, steering us over a road that snaked over hills and through almost deserted villages with corrugated iron walls and roofs. The car slipped several times, but he knew his things, and never lost control. It also helped that he was not drunk, unlike several other drivers that had been steering a car in which I was travelling. We reached the tiny village of Ossele in a little over an hour, and put up a tent inside a house. A short walk took us to a small pool with refreshingly cool water, after which we had an early dinner, sat at the fire, and fell asleep before 8pm. The guide had told me to wake up at 4am, and start walking at 4.30. The driver had returned to Franceville, and I prayed that there would be no rain that night; otherwise, the road might well turn out to be too hard for a 2WD the next day - even for him.
When I woke up the next morning, it was foggy outside. The guide had a powerful torch on his head, and the first half hour was easy: we just walked down the muddy road. It was still pitch dark when we turned right, into the jungle, on an overgrown trail. I admired the determined way in which he guided me through the thick tropical forest. He often had to hack away leaves and branches with his machete. He also continued talking and laughing, which surprised me a little bit. I had now also lighted my torch. Hiking through the jungle like this was new for me, and it was a new experience. Birds had already woken; they knew that the day would break. Only once did the guide have to backtrack to find the right way; otherwise, he walked flawlessly through the thick foliage. Slowly, contours started to appear around me, and even though there was no sunlight, I could switch off my torch earlier than I expected. We had to cross several streams, and in the end, had to walk on an increasingly muddy trail. Just when we reached the open space the guide called "beach", he motioned me to come: quite close to us, a lone buffalo was looking at us. But - no elephants. He started to say that we had arrived late; there were fresh imprints of elephants on the shore, from which he concluded that they must have been there less than an hour before. I wondered why we had not left an hour earlier.
And then, magically, a grey hump was visible in the middle of the river. It was moving forward, and there was no doubt: an elephant was crossing the river right where we were sitting. The current was strong, but the animal was much stronger, and pushed his way against it. At one point, he suddenly rose from the water: a mighty view. He found a quiet spot on our side of the river, and the guide and I quickly moved to the riverbank. He was now probably less than 10 metres away, and didn't seem to mind us. The guide went into the water, and posed for pictures with the elephant he knew so well in the background. He would later admit he didn't know how to swim. I could not take my eyes off the elephant, and was regularly checking downstream if more elephants were on their way. But we had to do with Papa Simba, as he is called. He continued to wash himself, drink, and just lie in the water. I realized that the mighty animal was doing exactly that what so many people around the world were doing right then: taking a morning bath. The sun started to shine, making the scene look even more beautiful. But unfortunately, we had to be on our way. The driver had to take his kids from school, and I still wanted to move on to Léconi in the east. So, at one moment, we had to tear ourselves away from the scene, and hiked back through the forest - but with wonderful memories in our mind of this adventurous hike, and the fortunate encounter with the elephant. Thanks, Papa Simba!
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Kessala elephant hike (Gabon). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Kessala elephant hike.
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