Our weekend in Sette Cama was off to a good start. We weren’t yet to the village when we saw a calamity of splashing a few hundred meters from our boat. At first sight a great gray hulk reared through a spray of water and I thought, perhaps a shark was attacking another large fish, but as we got closer, we recognized the large open mouths of two male hippos sparring in the lagoon. The water appeared to be shallow, maybe a meter in depth, for they were able to rise more than 1.5 meters into the air as they collided in a forceful display of aggression. Maybe we arrived late, or the battle mismatched, for it was over in short order, one hippo retreating in submission and the larger hippo following with an intimidating open mouth.
We met Sylvan, groundskeeper of Shell Hut where we planned to stay, in Sette Cama, then continued on to ANPN (Loango Park Guard) station on the far side of Sette Cama village. No one was on duty, and it appeared one of the guard cabins had recently been damaged by an elephant. The door had been torn loose, a window destroyed, and we learned from Sylvan that provisions of rice and flour had been raided by the elephant. Being approximately two kilometers from Shell Hut, we were a little concerned that this was the same elephant that, one month past, had broken into the cabin where we would be staying on this weekend.
We arrived and quickly unloaded our provisions. Seeing no imminent danger of wild beasts, we gathered a few drinks and snacks, setting out a picnic on the seashore to watch the sunset. It was high tide, and as luck would have it a rogue wave surged over the crested sand embankment without warning, sweeping our beach mat, snacks, camera case (luckily a closed pelican case) and drinks into the coastal vegetation, with us sloshing after to retrieve what we could. Soaked from the dousing, we decided to finish happy hour sitting on a fallen tree, a safe distance from the restless waves.
It was a fitful night’s sleep for Lisa. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so dramatic imagining how an elephant could bust into the hut to ransack our weekend. Regardless, I slept well and we awoke without further physical trauma. We packed breakfast into the boat, motoring up the lagoon to have a look for wildlife. Not far from the hut, we spotted the back-ends of two elephants leaving the lagoon for the security of forest. We continued up the lagoon, then into the Muna Muele River to look for hippos. None at the first pool, so we continued upriver and found several hippos in a second pool. A third pool near the end of the navigable river had several more hippos, all of them very shy and disappearing at our approach. Other than a soaring flock of pelicans, an eagle or two, egrets, and a green-backed heron, the river was quiet, so we returned to the lagoon for an hour of fishing. Trolling past the skeleton-trees, I hooked into some fish that stripped line from my reel in that screaming zing-zing-zing-zing of a fish that has no intention of stopping. I watched helpless as the line spun from my reel, slowly turning up the drag to try and slow the fish. This had no effect on its departure. There was no sporting battle, no struggle and retrieve, no tiring of this fish, just a final snap of my line as it made off with my lure. Reeling in what was left of my line, I re-tied another lure and spent another hour trolling without success as we made our way back to Shell Hut. It was not looking promising for the fish grill I had planned for dinner. A quick lunch was followed by some reading and napping in the hammock. We took another walk on the beach to cool our feet, on the way keeping an eye out for our package of olives that had washed away in yesterday evening’s tsunami. No luck there.
Later in the afternoon we motored down to Rouge Alley, trying again to catch our dinner. The weather is cooler now that the dry season is settling in, and it was a pleasant outing. We listened to the Great-blue turacos calling through the treetops on the islands of Rouge Alley, Lisa taking pictures, me doing my best to find a fish. Finally around 5pm I managed to catch a carpe rouge, which Lisa brought on board with expert handling of the landing net, and we were on our way back to prepare dinner. Rounding up a few tools to filet my fish, I returned to the jetty, arrested on my way by the sounds of crunching jungle near the path. I stopped long enough to notice the movement of vegetation, which is good indication of an elephant feeding beneath. Quickly making my way to the end of the jetty, I soon saw the flashing ivory of a feeding elephant about thirty meters into the jungle. It was making its way to the lagoon and soon I had the company of an elephant at twenty meters while cleaning my fish, trying to devise a plan what I would do if it decided to wade closer. The elephant was soon joined by another, much larger, and now I started to get nervous. With two elephants in the water, I felt less safe, and if that wasn’t enough concern, two more elephants followed the big elephant into the lagoon, where I was now gravely outnumbered. The four elephants didn’t appear to be bothered by my presence, at least the breeze was in my favor, so when they weren’t looking, I sprinted up to the cabin to get my camera and warn Lisa to be on the lookout. The two of us returned to watch the elephants splashing in the water before they ambled away down the edge of the lagoon. It was a great anniversary dinner of grilled fish with potatoes and peppers, with Kate Benc’s gift of cookies, fudge and tea for dessert, followed by chocolate and whiskey. The crickets and frogs provided company as we sat on the patio dodging bats, listening to the rhythm of the sea.
Sunday morning we were awakened early, the birds especially lively in the morning before sunrise. I made a few recordings of their melodies. We packed our breakfast, motoring up the lagoon to the Muna Muele River to look for wildlife once again. This time we came upon a band of Moustached monkeys, with a few Putty-nosed monkeys mixed in, leaping through the mangroves along the river edge. They followed us until they got bored with our slow progress. A few more hippos at pool number two, quiet water at number three, then a slow return to Shell Hut for lunch and some relaxation. A quick swim in the sea proved refreshing before we packed our gear to begin our journey home. We stopped again for a round of fishing in Rouge Alley, then the hour of open-water boating back to N’Dogo jetty in Gamba.