| Stories of the Gorilla Country|
|by Paul du Chaillu|
|Stories of the thrilling adventures and hair-raising escapes of Paul du Chaillu during his years of venturing into the interior of equatorial Africa, encountering animals and sights no white man had seen before. The accounts of his interactions with gorillas, snakes, and ants are especially engaging. Ages 11-14 |
RETURN TO THE COAST
MANGROVE SWAMP. TUMBLING AND FALLING.
RETURNING TO THE COAST.—CAVERNS AND WATERFALLS IN THE HIGHLANDS.—CROSS A RIVER ON MANGROVE
ROOTS.—STIRRING UP A BIG SNAKE.—A MUTUAL SCARE.
 I LEFT the good villagers of Yoongoolapay, and pursued my way to the seashore. On the route we came to a high ridge, or
plateau. This was the highest land I had seen between the Monda and the Muni, and it is probable that, if it had not
been for the trees, I should have seen the ocean very well. Along this ridge were strewn some of the most extraordinary
boulders I ever saw. These immense blocks of granite covered the ground in every direction. Several of them were between
twenty and thirty feet high, and about fifty feet long.
Near the largest of these granite masses a huge rock
 rose some forty or fifty feet out of the ground. I saw an opening in the solid rock leading to a fine large cavern. It
had, no doubt, been made by the bands of man; it was not of natural formation, for the entrance had evidently been cut
out of the solid rock by human beings; and now it was much used by the natives as a house to stop in overnight when they
were traveling to and fro. Its vast opening admits such a flood of sunlight and air that it is not likely to be used as
a lair for wild beasts. We saw the remains of several fires inside, but I am bound to say we also saw the tracks of
leopards and other dangerous beasts on the outside, for which reason I did not care to sleep there.
While exploring the cavern I thought several times I heard a trickling, which was almost like the noise of rain, and
which I had not noticed before, probably on account of the great shouting of my men. But when we got out I was surprised
to find not a cloud in the sky. Turning for an explanation to Alapay, he led me along a path, and as we went forward the
trickling noise gradually grew into the sound of rushing waters. Presently we came to the edge of a steep declivity, and
here I saw before and around me a most charming landscape, the
center of which was a most beautiful waterfall. A little
stream, which meandered along the slope of the plateau, and which had hitherto escaped our view, had here worn its way
through a vast granite block which barred its course. Rushing through the narrow and almost circular hole in this block,
it fell in one silvery leap perpendicularly forty or fifty feet. The lower level of the stream ran along between high,
steep banks covered with treed, the right bank being quits abrupt. It was a
min-  iature Niagara. Clear, sparkling, and pure as it could be, the water rushed down to its pebbly bed—a sight so harming
that I sat down for some time and feasted my eyes upon it.
I then determined to have a view from below. After some difficult climbing we got to the bottom, and there beheld, under
the fall, a large hole in the perpendicular face of the rock, which evidently formed the mouth of a cavern. The opening
of the cavern was partly hidden by the waterfall, and was out through solid rock. Between the opening and the waterfall
there were a few feet of clear space, so that by going sideways one could make good his entrance into the cavern without
receiving a shower-bath.
I determined to enter this cavern; but, before venturing, I went first and tried to get a peep at the inside. It was so
dark that I could see nothing, so it was not very inviting. We lit torches; I took my revolver and gun, and accompanied
by two men, who also were armed with guns, we entered. How dark it was! Once inside, we excited the astonishment of a
vast number of huge vampire bats. There were thousands and thousands of them. They came and fluttered around our lights,
threatening each moment to leave us in darkness, and the motion of their wings filled the cavern with a dull thunderous
or booming roar. It really looked an awful place, and the dim light of our torches gave to every shadow a fantastic
The cavern was rather rough inside. When we had advanced about one hundred yards we came to a stream, or puddle of
water, extending entirely across the floor, and barring our way. My men, who had gone thus far
 under protest, now desired to return, and urged me not to go into the water. It might be very deep; it might be full of
horrible water snakes; all sorts of wild beasts might be beyond, and land snakes also. At the word snake I hesitated,
for I confess to a great dread of serpents in the dark or in a confined place, where a snake is likely to get the
advantage of a man. A cold shudder ran through me at the thought that, once in the water, many snakes might come and
swim round me, and perhaps twist themselves round me as they do around the branches of trees; so I paused and reflected.
While peering into the darkness beyond I thought I saw two eyes, like bright sparks or coals of fire, gleaming savagely
at us. Could it be a leopard, or what? Without thinking of the consequences, I leveled my gun at the shining objects,
and fired. The report for a moment deafened us. Then came a redoubled rush of the great hideous bats. It seemed to me
that millions of these animals suddenly launched out upon us from all parts of the surrounding gloom. Some of these got
caught in my clothes. Our torches were extinguished in an instant, and, panic-stricken, we all made for the cavern's
mouth. I had visions of enraged snakes springing after and trying to catch me. We were all glad to reach daylight once
more, and nothing could have induced us to try the darkness again. I confess that, though I think it takes a good deal
to frighten me, I did not at all relish remaining there in entire darkness.
The scene outside was as charming as that within was hideous. I stood a long time looking at one of the most beautiful
landscapes I ever beheld in Africa. It was certainly not grand, but extremely pretty. Before me,
 the little stream, whose fall over the cliff filled the forest with a gentle murmur, resembling very much, as I have
said, when far enough off, the pattering of a shower of rain, ran along between steep banks, the trees of which seemed
to meet above it. Away down the valley we could see its course, traced like a silver line over the plain, till it was
lost to our sight in a denser part of the forest.
I have often thought of these caverns since I saw them, and I have regretted that I did not pay more attention to them.
If I had made my camp in the vicinity, and explored them, and dug in them for days, I think that I should have been
amply rewarded for the trouble. At that time I did not feel greatly interested in the subject. I had not read the works
of M. Boucher de Perthes and others, or heard that the bones of animals now extinct had been discovered in caverns in
several parts of Europe, and that implements made of flint, such as axes, sharp-pointed arrows, etc., etc., had been
found in such places. If I had excavated I might perhaps have found the remains of charcoal fires, or other things, to
prove that these caverns had been made by men who lived in Africa long before the negro. I feel certain these caverns
must have been human habitations. I do not see how they could have been made except by the hand of man.
On my last journey I thought once or twice of going to them from the Fernand-Vaz, to explore and dig in them. I thought
I might be rewarded for my labor by discovering the bones of unknown beasts, or of some
mains of primitive men.
These caverns are fortunately not far away from the
 sea—I should think not more than ten or fifteen miles—and are situated between the Muni and the Monda
Rivers. Any one desiring to explore them would easily find the way to them. The cavern under the waterfall would be
extremely interesting to explore.
The valley itself was a pleasant wooded plain, which, it seemed, the hand of man had not yet disturbed, and whence the
song of birds, the chatter of monkeys, and the hum of insects came up to us, now and then, in a confusion of sounds very
pleasant to the ear.
But I could not loiter long over this scene, being anxious to reach the sea-shore. After we set off again we found
ourselves continually crossing or following elephant tracks, so we walked very cautiously, expecting every moment to
find ourselves face to face with a herd.
By-and-by the country became quite flat, the elephant tracks ceased, and presently, as we neared a stream, we came to a
mangrove swamp. It was almost like seeing an old friend, or, I may say, an old enemy, for the remembrances of
mosquitoes, tedious navigation, and malaria, which the mangrove-tree brought to my mind, were by no means pleasant. It
is not very pleasant to be laid up with African fever, I assure you.
From a mangrove-tree to a mangrove swamp and forest is but a step. They never stand alone. Presently we stood once more
on the banks of the little stream, whose clear, pellucid water had so charmed me a little farther up the country. Now it
was only a swamp—a mangrove swamp. Its bed, no longer narrow, was spread over a flat of a mile, and the now muddy
water meandered slowly through an immense growth of mangroves, whose roots extended entirely across, and met in the
 they rose out of the mire and water like the folds of some vast serpent.
It was high tide. There was not a canoe to be had. To sleep on this side, among the mangroves, was to be eaten up by the
mosquitoes, which bite much harder than those of America, for they can pierce through your trowsers and drawers. This
was not a very pleasant anticipation, but there seemed to be no alternative, and I had already made up my mind that I
should not be able to go to sleep. But my men were not troubled at all with unpleasant anticipations. We were to cross
over, quite easily too, they said, on the roots which projected above the water, and which lay from two to three feet
apart, at irregular distances.
It seemed a desperate venture, but they set out jumping like monkeys from place to place, and I followed, expecting
every moment to fall in between the roots in the mud, there to be attacked perhaps by some noxious reptile whose rest my
fall would disturb. I had to take off my shoes, whose thick soles made me more likely to slip. I gave all may baggage,
and guns, and pistols to the men, and then commenced a journey, the like of which I hope never to take again. We were an
hour in getting across—an hour of continual jumps and hops, and holding on. In the midst of it all, a man behind
me flopped into the mud, calling out "Omemba!" in a frightful voice.
Now omemba means snake. The poor follow had put his hands on an enormous black snake, and, feeling its
cold, slimy scales, he let go his hold and fell. All hands immediately began to run faster than before, both on the
right and the left. There was a general panic, and every
 one began to shout and make all kinds of noises to frighten the serpent. The poor animal also got badly scared, and
began to crawl away among the branches as fast as he could. Unfortunately, his fright led him directly toward me, and a
general panic ensued. Every body ran as fast as he could to get out of danger. Another man fell into the mud below, and
added his cries to the general tumult. Two or three times I was on the point of getting a mud bath myself, but I luckily
escaped. My feet were badly cut and bruised, but at last we were safe across, and I breathed freely once more, as soon
after I saw the deep blue sea.
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