The evening breeze smells like the open sea air. The vehicle literally lifts and, during turbulences, its hull swings us left and right. The windows look like large portholes, in the greyish blue of the asphalt. We left Cotonou at dawn. The off-road car, chosen on purpose to face the Atacora’s versatile land, remains our most trustworthy companion. In its oblong fuselage, we fly straight towards the reserve. The surrounding mountains have sheep-like mathematical curves. In the hollow of one of them, flows, light as a wedding veil, the waterfall of Tanougou. It is like a fine rain, a perpetual rain, a pale rain. We make a halt. Up there, a few naked children are sneaking like eels through the murky water, below the rock. The spring not far away sings to us like a sweet melody, weak and bewitching. From its cuddly droplets, the waterfall seems to invite us to take a bath. I close my eyes and let myself be overwhelmed by the serene beauty of the place: the shea trees with gnarled nipples, the stones a thousand times grazed by this millennial water, even the grasses rolling out into a green carpet for the exuberant nature of this enchanted waterfall.
The refreshing memory of its lace halo leads us to the reserve where we spend the night in traditional huts. At dawn, we finally set off to discover the Pendjari. The day is hesitant, the trees, the flowers, the tracks are still closed.
The sky also stretches with sleep and then agrees to open its grey eyes. The sun finally rises upon our arrival in the heart of the reserve. Here, the jungle seems to have no limit but the fleeing horizon. In the thickets, the gazelles walk their supermodel silhouettes. Mischievous monkeys spy on us from the branches of the birch trees. The birds are thousands of stars in the cerulean sky…
In the mist of this primitive day, we finally see, in the distance, a lonely elephant. He stops for a moment, looks at us with his pachydermic gaze, then resumes his breakfast. We continue to the Sacred Pond, and climb up to the watchtower. Around the water, all the species of the reserve follow one another. There are a few jackals and hyenas, buffaloes and of course hippos basking in the clay of the pond in the open air. Above all, there is the cheetah, this oversized cat with brown spots, a true emblem of the park: with its supple and slender silhouette, the Ulsain Bolt of the savannah seems to reign over the pond, and over all the species present. On almost all of them in fact.
We leave in search of the king of these lands. We distinguish, in places, a couple of damaliscus posted as sentinels, to watch. – The lion can’t be far away, warns the guide. We spot him at the bend in a path, half-lying with the royal natural grace. In the rusty-grey of his eyes, the serenity of the highnesses is revealed. At times, with a light flick with his paw, he disperses a couple of flies. The blond mane, with a perfect brushing, surrounds his head like a monarch’s crown. While the feline gives himself up to a little nap, I taste the purity of this sublime nature. I feel like rolling on the ground, sticking to the baobabs’ frail figures, becoming one with this so complete whole. Here, life pulsates. Here, nature is at its most beautiful, its wildest. I seem to have found peace within me, and around me. Eden should not differ from this reserve. I leave, fulfilled, with all the memories of this unforgettable day within myself, as if engraved in stone on the trunk of the tree of my heart.
By Carmen TOUDONOU