Shhhhh, Kassa whispered, stopping us in our tracks. Our guide slipped ahead, concealed beneath overhanging limbs, motioning us slowly and silently forward. We could hear the ripping of vegetation as an elephant tore its lunch from the trees at the edge of a small savanna. Forty meters before us, the big gray hulk was blocking our trail, her juvenile feeding into the forest behind her. The wind was in our favor. She was unaware of our presence and so, not without trepidation, we crept closer to the edge of cover. We made a few pictures, watching her for several minutes before circling in a wide arc to intercept the trail beyond.
We were back on La Boucle’ trail, after boating to the trailhead upriver from the hippo pool. We had seen three elephants traversing the sand peninsula between lagoon and sea on our voyage to the river mouth, and the hippo family was back in their pool. It was promising to be a beautiful day. The harsh sun, diffused by scattered clouds, created a soft light in the forest ideal for photographing and observing wildlife. An hour into the trail, a pair of duikers scattered before us, one crossing a stream, the other prancing off to our right. They were tiny, one-third to one-half meter high, one of the smaller antelope species living in the forests of Gabon.
Reaching the stream, a rustling in the trees betrayed the presence of monkeys. A sudden Ploosh! exploded nearby as a Red-capped mangabey evidently leapt or fell into a pool of water while making escape, loping off through the understory to join others.
Parts of the trail were filling with water as the dry season passed, and we had a few challenges keeping feet dry. The viscous soup of leaf debris and humus soil made crossing the soggy, sluggish streams problematic as we searched for exposed roots and downed limbs to keep boots above the quagmire. The light below the canopy softened further as a light rain passed through. We could hear tapping in the leaves overhead, feeling the mist as drops trickled through the canopy.
No matter how beautiful this enchanted forest, the swelter compounded by exertion can be overbearing, and we were relieved to hear with increasing volume the sea bordering the jungle. Cooling sea breezes drew us out of the forest onto the narrow strip of transition grasslands sloping from forest to sea, where we relaxed with a late lunch. A pair of forest buffalo shimmered in the vaporous light along the distant coast, perhaps two kilometers north. After a short repose beneath a stand of palms, we began our trek back, a four kilometer march following the coast of the Atlantic to river mouth.
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