forty days. forty stories.
Kayaking Gabon’s Gamba Complex with Joolee
Jewels, Rick and I spent the morning paddling down a labyrinth of narrow channels through the mangroves, scaring up the occasional manatee and enjoying the photo opportunities amongst the tree islands and grandly arching mangrove roots. We were relaxed and happy as we approached a wider channel, knowing we were within an hour’s paddle of the day’s destination, Sette Cama. Suddenly, Jules, let out a yelp and started paddling her kayak backwards a bit faster than I’d ever seen a sea kayak go forwards. Joules was quite the vision, cursing as she back-paddled upstream, sporting a grungy, drying sports bra on her head. Rick and I started back-paddling, as well, as soon as we saw the mist plumes from a couple of huge, snorting hippo heads that had broken the surface of the water like a pair of bulbous submarines about 100 feet in front of us. We had a huddle at the bank to make a plan to get around this obstacle. We already knew that hippos are near-sighted and short-tempered and are Africa’s most dangerous animal, killing more humans than the next five animals combined. Forget about lions, leopards and rhinos – hippos are the granddaddies of Africa’s dangerous mega-fauna and we needed to get past them. We’d learned that the best way to deal with these ornery critters was to give them plenty of space, try not to cut off their path to deep water – their sanctuary – and keep tapping your gunnels or combing with your paddle to let them know where you are at all times. We’d heard stories of hippos putting holes in 25-foot fiberglass-hulled power boats; suddenly, the cloth hulls of our 16-foot folding kayaks didn’t seem like much protection. Yet, there was our Dirty Girl, unshaken and ready to move forward into the unknown, yet again.
The next couple of weeks entailed paddling past elephants and crocodiles in narrow streams, digging insects out of our feet, portaging boats through the jungle, sauntering past coiled cobras, having baby gorillas suck the salt out of our paddling gloves, dealing with constant heat and humidity and – for Julz – putting up with the raunchy humor of travel companions. This was always taken in stride by our unflappable young heroine, who never failed to open doors for us with her winning smile and outgoing personality. From drinking Pickled Mongolians on the shores of Hovsgol Nuur to Glasnost picnics in Sao Tome’ to Ojo de Pollo in Chile, travel with Jules is always an adventure and a joy. This is one Chingadero that is looking forward to seeing where the next 40 years takes you.