We’ve been told about a track that could lead us towards the Heart of Africa – the geographical centre of the continent. It’s called the Corridor des Elephants - an old forest elephant path. Wet with sweat, we cut, winch, dig, saw and slash. The sweat bees attack us in bloody droves. Big Deon Schurman who’s built like a baobab, slashes at the bush with his machete. He played Club Rugby in France and is as tough as nails. He jumps back as a snake slithers into the undergrowth. A giant silverback lowland gorilla races across the track in front of Ndhlovukazi, the big Landy Defender that’s carrying all the supplies.
The humidity rises and the hard work continues. ‘Can’t do it,’ says Brad Hansen, the expedition naturalist. ‘Can’t carry on like this.’ Ross Holgate nods his head. ‘Brad’s right – it’s impossible.’ A bit despond-ent, we turn the three Landies around and attempt another route. Sunset comes. We camp on a forest track: the fallen trees like poached elephant carcasses, dead behemoths that have fallen to the chainsaw, as the logging tracks push deeper and deeper into the unending forest.
Our wet, muddy clobber hangs over the Landies like a Chinese laundry. Ross sends up a drone. ‘Forest as far as the eye can see,’ he reports. ‘The GPS can’t pick up a signal - tree canopy too thick.’ He hoists it high into a tree to learn that we are 27Kms - as the crow flies - from the GPS coordinates that mark the Heart of Africa.
Looking at the impenetrable forest, my spirits fall. It could take forever. How would we cut a way through the thick undergrowth? Ross comes back into camp. ‘Massive storm coming,’ he says. ‘Looks really nasty – from the east, and you won’t believe I saw chimps hunting. Incredible!’ ‘Shovashova Mike’ Nixon tells us he saw gorilla as he was cycling in. He’s mountain biked alongside the expedition Landies all the way from South Africa and will go as far as he can before the jungle defeats him and we’re all on foot.
Right now our mission seems impossible. The humidity grows. The bugs swarm around our head-torches. We’re getting rain-forested out. It’s incredibly beautiful, but we’re southern Africa savannah boys and not used to this. That’s when Naz - our Congolese expedition member and interpreter - comes up with the idea of hiring Ba’aka Pygmies: ‘They are the true forest people, the only ones who really know this world of swamps, rivers and following forest elephant tracks; they are one with the spirits of the forest. There’s a group that lives in the village of Landoungo,’ he tells us.