(Photo: Pablo Moreira. UNESCO)
Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since Goma, the stoic Galloper had been complaining of the «miserable life» it had been given. A rough life, no overhauls att all, no changing of filter, no rescrewing, well, without any kind service. Gauges didn't work; the suspension had long forgotten its function and the motor revealed an arrythmia as if its « sinus knot» couldn't stimulate the «heart». «It consumes some oil but it'ii manage», said the rent-a-car lad at the door of Hotel Lhusi while he poured the third litre of oil into the unfortunate Galloper. We guessed it would be a very bumpy ride until the bowels of the Virunga Mountains, where Emmanuel de Merode, the director of WildlifeDirect, was waiting for us, to guide us to the that superb gorilla world in Virunga National Park.
The day before, we flew in a old Antonov from Kinshasa to Goma. At first, we had intended to cross Congolese territory by jeep, but my dear friend and work pal from Invicta - the familiar name of Porto - Rui Newmann, the PNN (Portuguese News Network) correspondent in Africa, used to risky settings, was very frank: «Never cross Uganda by land because of the nasty movement that calls itself - Lord's Resistance Army», winch isn't fond of white people. Don't even think about it».
To attain the objective, there was "only" about 300 km ahead of us through the world's second largest tropical forest, excelled only by the Amazon region. However, I do not know why, I was worried and you...smiled.
Backpacks, the satellite phone, two packs of stale biscuits, three bottles of water, a blind trust on the GPS and some one dollar notes because there's always someone you need to bribe. Following the good tradition ordained by Mobutu « article 7 is valid for every Congolese, meaning...be resourceful!», this was our main equipment. After the legal and not so legal procedures, we penetrated the ex-Belgian Congo, and ex-Zaire forest. By late afternoon, we wanted to reach the first Virunga station, at the National Park, the first to be created back in 1925 and proclaimed World Heritage in 1979, and where gorillas are still being decimated at such an incredible rate thereby putting the species in danger of extinction.
Our eyes welled up with tears as they met a magnificence whose dazzling beauty overwhelmed us. Completely subdued by the spell of the tropical forest, we did not realize that the Galloper was beginning to die. We were roughly 85 km from our destination ehen I felt the motor seize up a bit and, right or wrong, I decided to stop and verify the oil level: completely dry. Nothing that I had not anticipated, but you were smiling and saying, everything would be all right. If the gauges had been working they would have complained a long time ago. With great strain, I moved forward only some metres to a small open area beside a track from where, in a valley 300 metres away, we could catch a glimpse of a waterfall whose waters sprang into a huge lake. There was nothing we could do. As if bewitched by luxuriant vegetation, we held hands and stolled like lovers in Central Park. The birds and the violent shudder of the leaves on the trees caused by the shaking of the more curious chimpanzees did not frighten you uneasy, and I felt your hand squeezing mine more tightly.
We unsuccesfully tried to contact Emmanuel de Merode through the sattelite phone; the connection was terrible and there was no signal. I searched through the Galloper hoping to find a can of oil, even if it was only that bulk truck oil that the rent-a-car lad poured down the "throat" of the first generation Mitsubishi motor. Zero!
It was very hot and we longed to dive into the waters of the lake but prudence is always a good advisor; it is suicidal to get into rivers and lakes of this country. Hippopotamus, for instance, are the animals that kill more people.
We tried again to contact Emmanuel de Merode. «Are you late? Ary you lost?» After we had explained the incident and given him our coordinates, he burst into laughter: « No problem, we will pick you up and we shall tow the jeep away, if needed. Be careful, do not get too near the lakes and stay calm. We will be there in no time».
The night was warm and on the ground threads of water flowed here and there gathering to form a minute and peculiar complex web that feeds brooks, rivers and lakes in a millenary ritual. We picked a dry spot and began preparing our supper. On huge green leaves we put the cookies and, as expected, I took care opening the water bottle with the same rite as if were the most exquisite Petrus wine. We shared the cookies with kisses and the atmosphere seemed soaked in overwhelming peace. Once in a while we heard howling screams and gorilla grunts, now sharp then gentle. Quiet, we stared at each other's eyes, and you would say: « it's remote», and you would kiss me. The perfume of the flowers, the leaves, the stems and bamboos soothed us. It was our love's perfume. Countless number of times we listened to Lou Reed's «Perfect Day», the only tune I had on my cellular; you came to dwell in my body. We were immersed within each other as we enjoyed the time we had together. We satiated our longing desire and, above our wet bodies, a firely candelabrum brigtened our passion, while «Perfect Day» echoed within the forest: «Oh it's such a perfect day / I'm glade I spent it with you / O such a perfect day / You just keep me hanging on...You just keep me hanging on...»
Before daybreak, we where suddenly awakened by the roar of a powerful motor. Bewildered, we hid ourselves in the almost impenetrable forest and kept quiet in fear it might be a rebel group. A huge Deutz truck stopped near the Galloper and rejoicing, we saw Emmanuel de Merode, who stepped out and offered thousands of excuses. «We only managed to get hold of this truck during the nigth. Pleas forgive me thousands of times for leaving you here alone for such a long time in the hands of the forest threats. My God, are you frightened? Oh, my poor lady, ehat a shame...» While Nogbobo, the engineer, a Mubti tribe pygmy, dumped some more litres of oil into the infortunate Galloper, and Emmanuel de Merode once more offered thousands of excuses, we looked into each other's eyes, smiled and our lips silently spoke: «Perfect Day».