THE TRIBE, THE RAINFOREST AND ME
an interview with anthropologist Camille Oloa Biloa
Love white water rafting? Keen to get in the jungle? Want to join an epic packrafting trip? Look no further as we have just the thing for you. The Secret Compass expedition to packraft Gabon’s Equator screams all things adventure.
As a teammate on this expedition, your adventure will begin in the dense jungles of Gabon’s Ivindo National Park. Navigating the Djidji and Kongou rivers you’ll take on (or sometimes portage around) challenging rapids and will visit the immensely powerful Kongou waterfalls, equatorial Africa’s most impressive. Your aim will be to packraft the rivers where possible and then to deflate the rafts, trekking through the jungles carrying your kit when the rivers get too spicy.
Gabon is the perfect place to learn to packraft in a truly adventurous setting – or to hone your paddling skills further if already adept. Packrafts are changing the face of adventure travel. Versatile and robust, these expedition-strength inflatable boats allow explorers to navigate remote rivers in a dynamic way. If the rapids become too serious – deflate the raft, strap it and the paddle on your back and continue on foot through untracked jungle before river conditions are suitable again. Various types and brands of packrafts are available including Alpacka Rafts, which Secret Compass uses alongside Anfibio kit and the Alligator 2S packraft from Germany’s Packrafting Store. (Teammates bringing their own kit will receive a discount, get in touch for details.)
Well-documented species in Ivindo National Park include forest elephant, bull elephant and primates like gorillas, chimpanzees, colobus and mandril. Buffalo, duikers, bush pigs and giant pangolins might also be spotted. Observing incredible birdlife in the verdant tropical rainforests is highly likely, according to our man on the ground in Gabon. The region is home to notable species including the grey-necked rockfowl as well as many range-restricted species, and over 400 types of bird have been recorded. While animal and bird sightings cannot be guaranteed and should be considered a plus, a previous team spotted gorillas and elephants within a range of just a few metres, as you’ll see below…
It’s anticipated that Africa and jungle expert Paul Taylor will lead this Gabon expedition. Paul’s advice is, “Simply engross yourselves in your surroundings, and develop the right frame of mind for this remote and challenging expedition. It’s not a walk in the park. If keen to join the team, commit to getting totally physically prepared in readiness. When reading about this Gabon expedition, people often think that some parts are exaggerated tourism marketing blurb and that it’s not really that remote or wild, but it truly is. Secret Compass expeditions get you to the world’s wildest places to achieve extraordinary things. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.”
Gabon’s national park network is world-renowned. A team from Outside Magazine visited the Djidji river in 2005 and found a ‘wild pristine place, almost untouched by time’. Very little has changed over the last ten years, making this area ripe for rediscovery by a new generation of ambitious and adventurous team members. The country seeks to model itself on Costa Rica, which has turned its abundant natural resources into a successful eco-tourism product. Over 10% of Gabon enjoys protected National Park status, and around 80% of the country is made up of tropical rainforest, with limitations on logging in place to protect this resource. Due to the serious lack of infrastructure for tourism in Gabon’s wilder reaches, tourism figures remain low – making it a great setting for an epic, amphibious adventure of this nature. You will likely have the rivers and jungles all to yourself for the duration of this remote expedition.
Teammate Lisa said, “I’m unable to describe how incredible the expedition was, from the location to the mental and physical challenges and the unique, world-first element. Every element coalesced into a ‘perfect storm’, the experience as a whole was even greater than the sum of its extraordinary parts.”
Experienced expedition participant Jim summarised the mood of the team, saying, “Secret Compass created an unforgettable expedition in an amazing location. Gabon was simply incredible. What other country would think of going to a modern day Garden of Eden?”
In praise of Secret Compass’s in-country partners, teammate Anthony added, “The local guides were amazing: tough and resourceful, with amazing jungle navigation skills and awesome agility on the river. We certainly enjoyed the rest at the end of each day.”
Ready to raft Gabon? It’s time to get the right jungle kit for the adventure. Watch the Secret Compass Jungle Kit Advice Video below for tips on jungle boots and shirts, dry bags, rucksacks and sleeping systems. Just don’t expect to get any drier than ‘jungle dry’!
Ivindo National Park (est. 2002) extends to 3,000km squared. It is a natural crossroads of unique ecosystems and biodiversity and is at the heart of Gabon’s conservation efforts. The park contains the Institut de Recherche en Ecologie Tropical, with a research station based in the park that will be visited at the beginning of the expedition and stayed at for one night. An eco-tourism organisation that is active in the region – and you will travel with its staff in dug-out canoes at the beginning and end of this expedition – is the Fondation Internationale Gabon Eco-Tourisme, or FIGET. Its goal is to protect the primary forests of the Ipassa-Migouli-Ivindo region. Two FIGET guides will accompany the Secret Compass Gabon expedition team along with other local support staff, and you’ll meet the park rangers at the trip’s end.
Love rafting? Or, totally new to the thought of whitewater rafting or packrafting but dead keen to give it a go in a remote and expeditionary setting? Join a team to raft Papua New Guinea’s Watut river, raft Mozambique’s Lugenda river, to trek-raft Madagascar from Peak to Sea or indeed to raft the Djidji and Kangou rivers of Gabon as outlined above.
To receive expedition updates and adventure inspiration from Secret Compass, just add your email below.
See you on a team soon…