Up a Creek with Alex Tehrani

Dec 11, 2006
Outside Magazine
Gabon, Africa

Mark Boyer taking a breather during a quiet bend in the river. "The beauty of this river was having no idea what lay ahead," says Tehrani.   

Gabon Gallery

Click here for exclusive photo outtakes of Gabon from Alex Tehrani.

For the January, 2007 Outside feature story, "Paradise Pretty Soon," we floated Alex Tehrani down Gabon's Djidji river in search of the perfect photographs of the four-year-old Ivindo National Park. Little did we know he'd come back with just as many stories to tell as the article's writer, Rob Buchanan. Gordy Megroz caught up with Tehrani recently so he could share tales of army ants, elephants, and the most essential piece of equipment he forgot.

Outside: You've shot a ton of different story subjects, from high-school football to covering civil war in Angola. How did Gabon rank? Tehrani: The Gabon trip was king. It was a kick-ass adventure. A lot of stuff I'll never forget and pictures that will be mounted proudly in my portfolio for years to come. It was kind of a dream job.

What was the most memorable experience you had over there?It might have been at the end of the river run, when everyone was completely exhausted and we had been eating the same stuff for ten days in a row. We knew that it ended at these waterfalls called the Djidji falls. We were so excited because we knew it was coming but we didn't know when. From a distance we could hear the falls. That was a nice feeling-wrapping up that whole river adventure and getting taken straight to the house of this guy who had a fridge full of cold beers. We all, every single one of us, just collapsed onto the ground and started cracking up for the next four hours.

But the trip had its less fun moments, too. Tell me about your encounters with the wildlife.Well, I was attacked by army ants, and I actually have some history with them. I've done some trips to Africa and I've been attacked by those guys before. They're painful, super painful. But they're still just ants.

Anything a little more lethal?I'm terrified of snakes. It's my weak point. And the freakiest thing to me was the Gabon viper. This snake happens to be one of the most venomous snakes on the planet, and one day we saw this thing breaking the water on the surface. It was probably two-and-a-half to three feet long. I mean, it was pretty short for a snake but really fat.

We were so fascinated that we kind of kept a little distance, but we followed it and it crossed the river. Then, it just blended right into the foliage. The next thing we know, all these little snakes that were hanging out in the trees freaked out and started falling into our boat. I'll swim with the gators, I'll hang with the elephants, but I don't like snakes. I can't row down a river in Africa with snakes in my boat.

Sounds like the plot of a bad movie. Meet any friendlier animals? There were amazing elephants. I've seen a ton of elephants in my life but these had the most impressive tusks, just massive. The bulls were huge. I could see them just coming down the sides of these rivers and bathing. The other really impressive animals were the gorillas. We saw them quickly but they were big. I think we actually saw a silver back at one point. They were just impressive creatures. I'm not sure how many thousands of pounds, but just solid muscle and they move so quickly.

So, any advice for heading out on these types of trips?A: I was the one idiot on the trip who didn't bring a sleeping bag. It wasn't that cold but it actually did cool off a little bit at night. I used to camp so much as a kid that I kind of learned basically if you don't move in your sleep you can stay really warm. It creates a little insulation layer of heat that is coming from your body. But as soon as you break through that you get cold, so I would use like a t-shirt over me. So yeah, bring a sleeping bag.

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