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Uwe, what happened? What are you doing? I shouted.

My ass is on fire! he shouted back.


Akanda National Park: Tracking talapoins en déshabille...


While some of us were squashing ourselves into the first row of our little boat to Akanda NP for @michael-ibk's birds, the others in the group were trying to squeeze themselves into the remaining 2 rows behind us. I suspect Uwe (a tall gentleman from Group 2) decided he did not want to sit for hours with his knees pressed up against his ears, and so the captain invited him to swap his cramped space on the bench for a kingly spot atop a jerry-can.


If you remember Michael’s description of this excursion in Group 1's report, you will recall that the boatmen had vanished for a considerable period of time to buy fuel for the boat ride, but they had returned victorious! This precious fuel was then placed reverently on the last row of the boat – unassailed – i.e. until Uwe decided to assail it. You guessed it :D It was a bumpy ride and somehow the cap came loose, and fuel from the drum spilled out and drenched his backside. I think he tried to tell people that the fuel had spilled all over him, but with the noise of the engine and all of us looking ahead at rosy bee-eaters and pelicans, no one paid attention (Sorry, Uwe!), and so by the time we got to talapoin island, I think he was burning up badly!


As soon as we landed the boat, everyone stepped off, along with Uwe, who promptly stripped  down and jumped into the water! I couldn't believe my eyes!


Uwe, what happened? What are you doing? I shouted.

My ass is on fire! he shouted back.


I looked around to see what I could do and would you believe it – the talapoin-chasers were all gone, every last one of them! Within a minute of disembarking, the area around the jetty was empty except for me on shore, Uwe in the water and a ranger guy watching us with a mixture of wariness and amusement, whatever will these tourists do next?!


Err, how are you feeling now, Uwe?

How do you think? I’m burning!




So leaving the cold water to work its magic, the ranger and I managed to find a bar of soap and get some fresh water organized, and Uwe finally cooled off enough to wash and rinse his clothes and laid them out to dry. You would have thought that he would he would have been done searching for talapoins after this little detour, but nopes, not at all. And so off we went, Uwe in his quick-dry underpants, and me jogging along behind him. Never let it be said that this intrepid Gabon adventurer gave up the chance to track an elusive little monkey on a minuscule little island in the middle of a mangrove forest in Gabon, even if he had to do the trek with no pants on!


Hahaha, I just could not stop laughing after this and it sort of set the tone for the rest of our trip. Think about it – a boat-load of people who were so engrossed with their talapoin-tracking that they had no idea what else was happening right under their noses! And Mr. Intrepid Uwe (he gets the Best Sport award of this trip), who thought nothing of walking with his many cameras into spiny, scratchy bushes, determined to catch his furry quarry, pants what pants? :D 


Uwe has been a real sport and allowed me to use the picture below of him… it certainly set the stage for what was to come after…




My talapoin picture - zippo - nothing at all to see, not even a tail! ( @michael-ibk, I think you got the only usable one in both groups)




Mark's talapoin picture (this is what happens when you don't respond to my pleas for photos, Mark!)




Uwe's talapoin photo - nothing to brag about, he says, but nothing to sneeze at either, given what had preceded this photo session.




Sangeeta, literally bringing up the rear :D

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Michael and Jane have already described our shared Bwiti experience beautifully, so I won’t go over that, except to say that I find this to be a very interesting way to support cross-cultural interactions. Bwiti ceremonies tend to be quite expensive, and the people being initiated sometimes have to wait for many years to raise the funds before they can afford to take part in this ritual. Guillermo has found an interesting formula though. He donates the Bwiti money charged to guests directly to the Bwiti healer, and this money is then used to subsidize the costs of the ceremony, thus allowing more people to get initiated sooner than they could have done otherwise.


The ceremony itself remains unaffected by the presence of the outsiders, and feels not at all staged or inauthentic. I felt that the people taking part were doing things exactly as they would have done had we not been there – even the special food they served us would likely have been the same. There was something very charismatic about the old gap-toothed Bwiti singer, and the main healer in his T-Shirt was not pretending to be anything that he was not. As you say, Michael, Adidas girl was wearing what she found comfortable, and there was no fussing around with “costumes”.




We also learned that some of the initiates were white collar professionals, and one of the ladies was even a banker in Libreville. This means that belief in Bwiti is not limited only to the rural or up-country folks. With most of its landmass still covered in thick rain forest, it feels as though the “forest culture” is still relevant - even in modern-day Gabon. We also heard that the ruling Bongo family has forest antecedents, and as a result, Bwiti has been allowed to flourish here, although it has been banned in many other west African countries where it was a tradition.




Some Bwiti portraits from our group… Michael & Jane have added lovely videos already, so I won’t add more of those. Agree with the others 100% - there was something very “real” about this experience. The family treated us like their guests, and once the initiates had been moved away from the temple premises, they even invited us to dance around the sacred fire, to the twang of the same Bwiti-lyre singer. It did not feel forced and I think we all enjoyed it.


These (and many of the other lovely images in this report) are all thanks to a fellow Safaritalker, DT Matthiesen, who has forgotten what his pseudonym was when he joined!) :D



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Great start, @Sangeeta Wow, gorgeous shots from Dave! Poor Uwe, but what a good sport! Looking forward to more!

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I was missing my nightly update on Gabon when I found you'd started your report. And what a story to start with - hilarious!

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Hahahahaha!  OMG, @Sangeeta the baton has been handed off to you, and you have commenced to run with it admirably!


Love all you guys in Group 1, but what a start for Group 2. 


I fear I’m going to go through withdrawals when the Gabon reports end for good. Thankfully, for now, the saga continues........

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Looking forward to this 

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lovely shots from Dave - he can always create a new persona and join ST again. 


Oh dear, poor Uwe - my sympathies - I had to laugh but your poor hot ass!

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Oh dear!  Gabon might be a bit too intrepid for me but I love reading every word about the adventures of both groups. 

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My Ass is on Fire - This is Gabon!


This should be their new tourism ad slogan :D

Great start to another wild, wacky and adventurous trip report.  Can't wait to hear the rest.

Fantastic portrait photos of the Bwiti, and of course Uwe.




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Thank you all so much for your encouragement. Group 1 has written such a comprehensive and beautiful piece that I really can't add much more in terms of facts, logistics and sightings. So I'm going to be somewhat brief and focus just on those things that stood out to me - in @solpics words - as being wild and wacky. I'll also add some of our experiences that were a little different from Group 1's. But our itinerary was pretty much exactly the same as theirs. Hoping that @optig and @GEORGE PALLADINO from Group 2 can add their voices too. DT Matthiesen has already been so generous with his images that I won't nag him to write, but please do feel free to pitch in anytime, Dave.



An Audience with the King of the Benga




Samuel Jackson with the King of the Benga

(credit: https://www.africanexponent.com/post/10709)


If you thought that Samuel Jackson was the only person to receive an audience with the King of the Benga, think again, O ye of little faith, for this is Gabon, the land where all things are possible (or not :D)!


Our Italian host from Akouango Village (where we stayed for our Bwiti nights) invited us to join him as he went to pay his respects to the King of the Benga, who it turns out, was staying at a house not far from the resort. Several of us  from Group 2 joined him on this outing, (if @michael-ibk got his Gabon woodpecker that afternoon, I am sure he is still happy with his choice  :)) –which turned out to be another one of those fascinating encounters that we were learning could happen spontaneously in Gabon!


The Benga people are scattered up and down the coast of Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon and Gabon. Their King is not the head of a tribe, but really the monarch of the entire ethnic group. He is something of a constitutional monarch (without the constitution), in that he is the titular head of his people, responsible for their religious and cultural welfare, and his edicts are transnational. The King does not have a role in government or administration, but his word carries weight among his people.


The King had a Voice. He did not speak to us directly because he is not supposed to speak in French. He told us a fascinating story about the Great Migration of the Benga (I’ve taken some descriptive liberties with it, but the core facts are as told to us)….




The King with his Voice and some other officials


Once upon a time, many many moons ago, the King and his people lived on the other side of the Great Forest. They lived together in peace and harmony, until one day, ferocious raiders attacked them and chased them into the forest. The King’s people knew the forest and they could have lived there, but the raiders kept coming, pushing them deeper and deeper into unknown territory. And so it was that one day, they emerged out on the other side of the forest. This new land was foreign to them. It was full of water and streams and papyrus as tall as an elephant’s head. They could not see what lay before them and they did not know if there was any dry land for them to live on. Confused and tired, the people were on the verge of defeat. But then a miracle happened. Before them appeared a beautiful animal. It was golden in color, with delicate hooves that could walk on water. This gentle animal knew its way around the endless swamps and rivers. It knew where the ground lay firm beneath a person’s feet. It led them through labyrinthine mazes of reeds and bogs, showed them where they could ford streams and avoid the quicksand. This golden animal became the totem of the Benga people, and a symbol of their great migration. This animal was the sitatunga.




The fabled & shy sitatunga, totem of the Benga people. Notice the sitatunga carving on the King's staff.




The King’s Left Hand & The King’s Right Hand (as Uwe calls this picture of us :D)


Like many of you, I too have enjoyed meeting people in Africa, but sometimes that whole marketing/commercial aspect of the interaction leaves an uncomfortable aftertaste. It's not like that in Gabon at all. Both the Bwiti and this meeting felt real and both were richly rewarding. 




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I didn't recognize Uwe with his pants on!   :D  wait, that didn't sound right.  I really look forward to this report. Always cool to note the differences even with the same basic itinerary. Did the King live there or was he just visiting?  Is that a mobile throne room? Thanks!

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those are enormous tusks behind the "throne" - are they real???


lovely legend of the sitatunga and you know what? I do believe it happened. 

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What a title!  What great photos!  What a country, Gabon!

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We need another installment. I kinda get addicted to these 😀

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Here we go, @gatoratlarge Only for you :)

I am not sure whether this was a mobile throne room for the King of the Benga, or a permanent residence. I should ask. @Kitsafari, I  think the black tusks were wooden, and the white ones look like horns? 

Unlike Group 1, I am not getting a lot of help from my safari buddies with this one B) ( @optig, @GEORGE PALLADINO - do you hear)


Mandrills Mandrills Everywhere – in the Eye of the Hurricane











Our train to Lopé, unlike Group 1’s, was several hours late leaving Libreville, and so we chugged into Lopé train station at some mad hour of the morning…Since only 4 people can track mandrills at a time, Uwe, Steve, Mark and Dave braved the first morning hike, after barely 3-4 hours of rest at the lodge. George, Owen and I slept in 😊


From what we heard about their trek (they left at 9am and got back at 2pm or so), it was a very strenuous hike – up and down hills with very steep inclines, a jungle machete hacking the way over pretty uneven terrain, and hanging on to hillsides with their fingernails and the edge of their toes sometimes. The mandrill were on the move and so were our Fabulous Four.








At one point during the trek, the females and babies stopped to take care of housekeeping chores and were relatively still for some minutes, and this afforded the photographers a chance to try their luck. I have not seen the results from the others yet (I know Mark got some lovely ones too), but Dave came away with some of the nicest wild mandrill pictures I have seen anywhere on the Internet. He almost did not send them to me, complaining about ISOs and speeds, but was finally kind enough to share them nonetheless.


I have seen beautiful and colorful captive mandrill photos taken in zoos, or taken at close quarters in Lekedi NP in Gabon, where the mandrills are fed and habituated. What makes these photographs unique is that they were taken from impossible angles, lugging a heavy camera over extremely inhospitable terrain, no porters, no hides, no tripods, not to mention bad light and thick jungle foliage and extremely uncooperative subjects! Really well done, Dave, these are very special photos indeed. We have to bring you back to Lopé properly next time for the big males.










Here is an old but interesting article I came across on mandrill behavior and mandrill research – I think this is the project that preceded Dr. David Lehmann’s ongoing project in Lopé. Note that it took 2 professional wildlife photographers almost 6 weeks to get a single decent wild mandrill shot, so I must say, our STers have done brilliantly. All of these, plus @michael-ibk’s shots – there are not so many out there at all.




The mandrill trek for the remaining 3 of us was completely different. We set off from atop a hill with chimpanzee howls filling the air, and within 2-3 minutes of entering the forest gallery, we came to a complete halt. A beautiful old ele was peacefully browsing just a few yards in front of us. We could hear branches cracking and leaves rustling in the undergrowth behind her, and knew the rest of the family was nearby. We then had to retrace our steps (steep uphill) back to the car and approach the mandrills from the opposite side. I enjoyed the walk very much. It was hot and humid, and not easy by any means, but the forest was alive with sounds, almost like a cathedral choir.







In fact, this trip to Gabon has made me realize how much the forest habitat is the kingdom of primates. We could hear chimpanzees, mangabeys, and all kinds of other chattering monkey sounds coming from different levels of the forest canopy. And finally, after about 45 minutes of tracking David announced that we had reached the troop. In fact, we had not gotten closer to them, we were surrounded by them.


How 500-700 large and colorful monkeys manage to remain hidden when they are within dozens of feet of you is a mystery. All we could see, peering through leaves and branches, were swiftly moving feet and furry bodies. Every once in a while, one odd mandrill would come into clear view for a brief instant, before disappearing again like a ghost into the foliage. Then we realized that not only were they scampering along the ground everywhere, but there were mandrills in the trees too, branches swaying under their weight and rustling sounds and the beginning of soft vocalizations and sussurations, that finally grew louder and louder until we were surrounded by the sounds of hundreds of mandrills.


For most people who are not dedicated or passionate photographers, I would recommend leaving your camera behind and go enjoy the trek with the wonderful Dr. David Lehmann. With some luck, you too will find yourself in the eye of a mandrill hurricane.














Mandrill 5 - Dave.jpg

Edited by Sangeeta
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Aaargh, having a lot of trouble uploading the photos properly! Please can one of the mods clean up the post please - remove the dangling image at the end? Thanks!

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A hurricane of mandrills! I think you've coined a new collective noun @Sangeeta 

And Dave's photos are extraordinary! Dave I knew you were a good photographer from our Chad trip, but these are wonderful, taken in such difficult conditions.

Some really require captions STers! I'll make a start with 3rd one in the second set "Speak up, dear, I can't hear you"  2nd photo in third set "Oops, pardon me! It must have been that lizard I had for breakfast." And possibly a couple of "But my stylist said the orange tint would really suit me..."

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Awesome stuff from Dave - bravo bravo bravo!:wub:


Really glad we get to see group´s 2 experience, great narrative Sangeeta!

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I think those black "tusks" are in fact horns. Very impressive and (if they are in fact horns), very valuable ones.


Great photos of the mandarins!

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A superb collection of Mandrill photos, really excellent 

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These photos are excellent!  They're among the finest wild mandrill shots I've seen!  Wonder if Dr Lehmann has seen them?  As you said it's possible to see them in more controlled settings, I've seen them at the primate rehab center at Mefou NP outside Youande and even here at Disney's Animal Kingdom but wild mandrills, that's a whole different story!

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so, big deal. Dave had a whole load of fabulous photos of cooperative and expressive mandrills that were just dying to pose for the group. and the trio was surrounded by the entire troop only after 45mins.




as you can hear, I am totally green with envy, dripping with jealousy, and totally weeping collapsed on the floor that everyone in Group 2 had fantastic viewings of the mandrills. 

The photos are just awesome - so atmospheric, capturing such wonderful expressions on the mandrills - and as @Galago mentioned, ripe for captions. The darkness and the warmth of the colours in the photos just add to what conditions are when you are in the jungle, trying to capture the moments of wonder. 


My favourite one has to be the two mandrills close to each other - looking for comfort in each other.  Great narrative @Sangeeta - putting me there, but not enough not to make me less envious.


When's the next trip to Lope, did you say? 


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Unreal - Dave's photography is truly amazing - I am so impressed and like @Kitsafari jealous!  And it was great to hear about your journey to see the mandrills too @Sangeeta - glad that your ele encounter was a peaceful one!  I certainly would like to take another shot at seeing the mandrills (after I get into better shape first!)

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