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08/01/2011
In the footsteps of Savorgnan

My memory of our most recent journey begins with the intricate sea of green rolling below us as a large helicopter carried us from the coast overlooking the Gulf of Guinea towards central Gabon.

 

Africa has always had a place in my heart, but I am more used to moving through the savanna, where the horizons are endless and the night sky is awash with stars. Equatorial Africa is different, there are no horizons, and the sky is always hidden by the fog and the treetops.

 

It is not the first time that I have been to this “cathedral” of nature, and if I'm totally honest, I'm starting to like it!!!

Of course, you can't see the animals as well as you do in the savanna, but walking in the shadows of the forest, where you can bump into an elephant, a bushpig or a gorilla from one moment to the next, you get to experience a sense of real adventure!

 

In the forests of Gabon I was on the trail of a great adventurer, Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza, who explored these lands on behalf of the French government 140 years ago.

Imagine the brave, adventurous spirit needed back then to venture into that dense, dark sea of green where no-one had ever set foot before… a “terra incognita”, as the maps of the time declared. Savorgnan, a brave explorer with a thirst for knowledge, advanced through this vast region with a handful of natives, facing dangers of all sorts, including unknown diseases, and discovered the basin of an enormous river: the Congo.

His explorations enabled the French to create the colonies of French Equatorial Africa. But many Italians do not realise that this man was born in Italy.

 

Following in the footsteps of my illustrious fellow countryman, I met many wonderful, and sometimes lethal, creatures. One morning I very nearly stepped on a large rhinoceros viper (Bitis nasicornis), perfectly camouflaged among the leaves on the ground.

FFFFFFFFFSSSSSSSS.

As soon as I heard that sound I leapt backwards. It was just a few centimetres from my foot, and I hadn't seen it. Fortunately, these animals are not aggressive, and they do not bite easily; when they feel in danger, the first thing they do is hiss. It was large, and it was crouched in the classic "S"-shaped position, ready to strike.

The rhinoceros viper is a splendid snake. Its skin is covered in geometric patterns of grey, dark and light blue, yellow, orange and velvet-black, with a large brown arrow-shaped marking above its head. The spikes on its nose are long and yellow, and look just like little horns! I played with the dangerous reptile for a few minutes before we both went our separate ways.

 

In the forests and on the coast of Gabon I had a thousand such adventures, which you can watch in a few months on La7 TV if you like. Now I'm packing my bags for my next trip… This time I'm off to one of the wildest and most remote parts of the United States.

 

Vincenzo Venuto