Lowland Gorilla in Congo

A journey into the depths of the Congo with Rob and James, two of the Black Tomato team who have been with us since the start

They’ve cross country skied across the arctic circle in Svalbard together, pack-rafted down an untouched river in the Congo and in 2020 are set to traverse the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. All in the name of adventure. James and Rob are two of the pillars of Black Tomato; the former a Co-founder and the latter our Head of Operations. They’ve been close friends from the very beginning and in recent years have been the pioneers of our adventure travel trips. They recently returned from their latest (and arguably greatest) trip into the jungles of Gabon and the Congo. We couldn’t wait to share their story with you.

“One night at dinner our guide Karl told us that the only two things that the tribes that lived in the jungle were afraid of were (i) leopards and (ii) a snake that was so venomous it would kill someone in minutes and for which there was no antidote.

The next day we were trekking through the rainforest and reached a clearing where we had to cross about half a mile of dense, chest-high grass. 

Just before we started making our way through it Karl turned to us and said very casually, that the only place he had regularly seen the snake mentioned at dinner was in this particular grassland – so we should follow his footsteps very closely as we made our way across it.

I don’t think I have ever concentrated as hard on doing what I was told and my heart was absolutely racing as we traversed to the other side. When we finally got back into the lower grass, Rob started ripping it out of me and said I was like ‘Karl’s shadow’ as I had been so precise in following in his footsteps!”, James clearly had some exciting and nerve-racking moments. But that’s what you sign up for when going into the Congo and for both James and Rob, these moments only add to the excitement of an unprecedented trip for them both.

Congo rafting adventure
Congo rafting adventure
Congo rafting adventure
Congo rafting adventure
Congo rafting adventure
Congo rafting adventure
Congo rafting adventure
Congo rafting adventure
Congo rafting adventure
Congo rafting adventure
Congo rafting adventure
Congo rafting adventure
Congo rafting adventure
Congo rafting adventure
Congo rafting adventure
Congo rafting adventure
Congo rafting adventure
Congo rafting adventure
Congo rafting adventure
Congo rafting adventure
Congo rafting adventure
Congo rafting adventure
Congo rafting adventure
Congo rafting adventure

Sitting on the equator, very much in the heart of central Africa.

The Republic of the Congo and Gabon are two countries that many dream of visiting yet few have the access to do so. Especially like this. The remoteness of the wildlife is almost unprecedented across Africa and through our teams on the ground in the proximity you can get without disturbing them is an experience you’ll remember forever.

Rob recounts his journey to the Congo

“I travelled to Gabon first and spent a week with The Aspinall Foundation working deep in the jungle on the northern border of the Republic of Congo, on a project to reintroduce lowland Gorillas into the forest.

The area has not had any tourism and this was an opportunity to really get under the skin of cutting edge wildlife research and species/mammal reintroduction. I traveled there with one of the experienced guides and ended up donating two pack-rafts to the scientific team there in order to further endeavour their research. We saw how much they appreciated the support first hand as the chief researcher there was in floods of tears (of joy) as the silent pack-rafts enabled her to get closer than she has ever been to the Gorillas and forest elephants. We are supporting great work there and continue to discuss the potential for adventure tourism to the Park – Bateke.

After Gabon, we met James and continued for an intense week in the Odzala National Park, in the Republic of Congo – staying in a series of 3 permanent camps, called Odzala.

Odzala is known for their research into Lowland Gorillas and as an organisation originally set up for conservation, their credentials in terms of Gorilla research, reintroduction and ecotourism is second to none. The area is accessed via an hour’s flight in a prop plane – flying over dense jungle.

We trekked, rafted and crawled through dense Maram grassland, rainforest and swamp to watch these incredible (and wild) lowland gorillas in their natural habitat.

It was one of the most special moments I’ve had on my travels, to see these incredible ancestors of ours in a habitat as untouched as this one is.

 

The three camps are all different and allow a series of contrasting activities. You have the sense you are right there amongst the work of the researchers and that the time you are spending at each camp is genuinely helping the wider conservation of the area.”

Ready to follow in James and Rob's footsteps?

The Congo is one of the most mysterious and stunning destinations in Africa. Come with us in search of the lowland Gorillas, jungle elephants and wild buffalo that call this enigmatic country home. This itinerary has been put together based on James and Rob’s own personal trip, but of course, we’ll tailor any element you like so that their dream trip becomes your dream trip.

TAKE ME THERE

The purpose of their trip.

The Odzala National Park is home to Projet Protection des Gorilles and in the last 20 – 25 years there has been a 60% decline in numbers. The work here is to save and protect one million acres of habitat. It was with this knowledge that James and Rob set out on their trip.

James, “There’s a lot of great research and conservation projects around the world. For me personally, I felt a huge draw to see a wilderness this wild and animals we are so closely related to. Beyond that, I’d also heard of the world-class research that was going on here, so I felt there was an opportunity for us to help support them in one way or another and connect our clientele to such iconic places and projects as what’s happening in the park.”

Go for the wildlife, stay for the people.

A few years ago Rob went off in search of a lost indigenous tribe in Papa New Guinea. When he came home he told us about what it was like to meet the people living in these different ways. He really embodies how we believe in human connection and across a trip full of incredible moments he didn’t need to pause for thought when we asked which one stood out the most.

“Seeing the wildlife researcher with tears in her eyes as she realised the pack-rafts could paddle to within touching distance of the Gorillas and Elephants she had dedicated her life to researching.”

James’ response was not dissimilar. It really is a testament to the people in Odzala National Park that two people who came for wildlife (and got plenty of it too) have left with memories of the people as their favourite moments.

“The passion of our guide – Karl – for both the national park and the local wildlife was a joy to see, as he relished the challenge we gave him to push us as much as possible each day and show us things that were beyond the experiences that visitors normally did. He spent his weekends off work camping in the park, you could feel how special this land was to him.”

Want to hear some more about James and Rob’s trips?

We haven’t been able to document all of their trips. But if you want to see what other adventures the guys have got up to, read about their time in Svalbard, Norway together. From white snow to green jungles, the travel envy is real.