Of all of life’s adventures, seeing mountain gorillas in the wild is one of the best.
But it’s often sold out in high season despite the high cost, averaging $500 / day.
Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are the only countries where it is possible to visit mountain gorillas.
However, there are “Western Lowland Gorilla tours” in Congo. Uganda has “habituated” some mountain gorillas to tourism. In Congo, wild gorillas may not be nearly as enthusiastic to see you and your camera.
Congo Travel and Tours offers a 6-day wild gorilla trip for $2200 – $3000. Too expensive for this unemployed drifter.
Instead I signed on for their 1-day Lésio Louna Gorilla reserve tour for about $500.
A Québécois hotel manager, Michel Auclair, in Brazzaville, Hotel Africa, was my guide for a 13-hour-day out to Lésio Louna.
It took over 3 hours to drive the 100km+ to the Reserve. Some of the highway, built by the Chinese, is excellent. Some near impassable.
Toyota 4-wheel drives are astoundingly good vehicles.
I enjoyed the car touring.
Here’s viewpoint, the first good look.
First stop was the gorilla orphanage. A 4yr-old and 3yr-old are kept separate from the rest. They are still being bottle fed.
The elder is dominant. He had his bottle then goofed on the dock for the entertainment of tourists.
The younger gorilla was careful to stay clear of the dock, fearing abuse from his only companion.
This dynamic plays out every meal. Eventually the younger got his meal supplement.
A highlight of the day was lunch at Blue Lake. Very few tourists make it here.
Though I hate swimming, I loved swimming in this crystal clear water, warm all year.
Hippos sometimes make it to the lake exit, but we saw nothing but fish in the lake itself.
In Africa anything edible is quickly killed. We saw very little evidence of wildlife.
Deer are grazing these ideal valleys, however. Birds and giant insects were the main attraction for us.
My camera did not have enough zoom at the Orphanage.
Happily, we visited Sid by boat.
Sid lives alone on an island (gorillas don’t swim), though he’s still disinterested and/or disgusted with the tourists that visit. On a bad day he throws things at them. Today he simply ignored us.
Sid, now about age-30, suffered something like Polio when he was young. This left him stunted, less muscled than a normal male gorilla, a target for the others. He’s kept alone for his own safety.
The other 30+ gorillas at Lésio Louna, former orphans, live in the wild, in 3 family groups. It’s possible to take a boat tour to see them, but you have to be lucky to catch a glimpse.
This truly is paradise, yet very few tourists get here each year.
Late in the day we departed the reserve. A bad idea — you don’t want to drive in Africa in the dark. The dangers at night are too numerous to list.
Michel stopped for manioc (cassava), however, purchasing 10 large bundles for his hotel restaurant and staff.
Loudly competing vendors literally threw the bundles into the back of his vehicle.
I was surprised to learn manioc came from South America. Like so many of the staples of the world.
Michel and I were both happy with the day. He planned to return sometime and overnight at the Orphanage with his girlfriend.
Unfortunately we arrived back to Brazza to a Saturday night traffic jam. It took 90 minutes to inch our way perhaps 2km through the poor side of town. It’s a bleak district. No water. No toilets. No power.
Drivers were irritated. It got pretty ugly at times.
During the long day I learned much about the many, many problems of this nation from an expat trying to make some progress. He has no confidence at all in Congo. And will soon leave.
What’s keeping him here?
His African girlfriend. His good reputation as a builder, manager and deal maker. And some big projects in the works. There IS opportunity for a businessman in Africa.
related – Lésio Louna Gorilla Project home page
see all my photos from this day trip