Day 9: we had a nice evening chatting to Ian & Nick. Then a lazy start to the day, we arranged to have some laundry done etc. We asked Jeremy (up here doing assessments on the eco scouts) to come along to the next camp and he said yes, so we finally got underway at ~ 09:00.
The drive into the park was interesting. Despite being almost on the equator, there are large sections of open savannah with other areas covered in rain forest. We got to the camp, set up the camper and chilled for a few hours chatting to Jeremy (for all the Generation Kill folks, he was in that unit a few years ago, long after the film and the Iraq invasion).
At 13:00 we set off to get a pirogue. We travelled up stream for a while, then trudged through very deep mud to get to a bai. Unfortunately we did not have a really good days viewing, though we can now officially claim to have seen a sitatunga in the wild. When we arrived at the bai there was a large troop of Colobus monkeys in the trees. Then the trudge back through the mud, pirogue then landcruiser back to the camp.
The guides were clearly not happy we had not seen an elephant and took extra time to go upstream to see if we could find one – but no luck. Then a short time after they had dropped us off they came back excited, there was an elephant near the camp. So we jumped onto the back of the landcruiser and drove ~ 1.5 km to see the elephant in the distance. Too dark for photos, but a nice gesture.
The forest along the river is truly spectacular and makes up for any lack of wildlife. The variety of vegetation and the different vistas were great.
In the eveing we joined Baz, Andrew and a couple of architects for dinner. Baz & Andrew are from Wilderness Safari’s. Ray had been in contact with Andrew and he was the person who introduced him to Leon & Christelle (the park managers). Wilderness are in the process of establishing 2 new camps here.
30 Km N 000 36’ 19.0’’ E 0140 53’ 92.9’’
Day 10: we were up at sparrows (before day break) to get a pirogue. It should be noted that these pirogues are the real thing, not like the plastic ones in Botswana. We glided down stream, without using the engine to try and not scare animals. We were rewarded with some great views of forest elephants (smaller than the savannah type). At one point we passed with in ~ 3 m of an elephant grazing at the side of the river. We also saw a number of herds of buffalo.
Again, the river itself was fantastic. We stopped at a bai and trudged through streams and mud, complete with hydrogen sulphide smell to a landcruiser, the ~ 1 hours drive back to the camp.
Then after washing in the river, we got stuck into the chores.
We have run out of Colman fuel for the stoves, so tried to commission on ULP. Jeremy had kindly purchased a couple of bottles in the town (yep, they sell fuel in old glass bottles here – not from a pump). The stove ran out of control last night, so Ray cleaned it all up, oiled and checked the connections and tried again – same result. Lots of spluttering, but no flame. Mmm, then it hit home, maybe it was the fuel. We had a little bit of “good” fuel left (ex RSA) and put that in the stove. It ran very well.
Game viewing here is different to the parks in eastern & southern Africa. The approach here is to sit at a bai for extended periods. It is not possible to drive around and the river side vegetation so dense that spotting whilst moving is not a good strategy.
In the afternoon we went for another pirogue trip on the river, sort of a sun set cruise, without the drinks. We were happy just to glide along, but did see a couple more elephant at the rivers edge.
We have been lucky enough to have 2 gorgeous days weather wise whilst in the park. Really no rain, clear skies and not too hot. An added bonus is that hopefully it has dried out the road out.
Originally we had planned to go to a bai out side the park and spend another night near Odzala NP. However, Andrew and the crew were heading back to the main road. Discretion – we decided to exit the area in convey. The comfort of having another vehicle along more than making up for the lack of another bai. They had planned to leave at 06:00, so we got up at 05:00 to make sure we were ready. We got underway (Avril driving as ray still has vertigo) ~ 07:00 and went back to Mbomo to collect some laundry etc.
We knew we would have trouble where we got bogged on the way in. The plan was for Baz to drive our vehicle in the difficult spot, as he has local knowledge etc. He headed straight into the spot with the highest centre rise and got stuck. He then burnt the clutch rather badly. So we have learnt yet again that we know our vehicle, others may have better knowledge and driving experience but that does not compensate for vehicle knowledge (we reckon we may be up to 4 T fully loaded, the tray sits a long way out from the rear wheels and we have a very wide turning circle). Fortunately Wilderness has a unimog at Mbomo, and Chris came down and towed us through the bog.
We then drove on in convey to Etoumbi, where we had lunch and filled up with fuel. Then back to the main road at Makoua. We waited there to say good bye to Andrew and the Wilderness folks, but some how managed to avoid them (and the place is not that big). A big thanks to Andrew & all the crew. They are a great mob, very hospitable. Hopefully all goes well for them in their new endeavours.
At ~ 15:15 we headed off to Ouesso. 250 km. We thought we should do it in time to check into a hotel early and get some dinner The 1st 50 km to the Mambili river was good. The next 200 km took 6 hours! We passed a number of conveys of Chinese drivers in their big tip trucks, from long bitter experience we knew this spelt trouble. Where the construction traffic has been the road is a mess. At some points we literally had to bulldoze our diffs along the road, the centre hump was so high. To make matters worse, the sun sets quickly and promptly at ~ 18:30. So we were driving in the dark, on a bad road in the rain (did we mention the rain?). We had a plan opposite the Chinese drivers – we pick a solid piece of road, stop and make them go to the edge and get around us, thus minimising our chances of getting bogged. At one point we stopped to get some thing out of the fridge and (due to tiredness) forgot to but the steps back up, so now we have a repair job to do on the steps.
Before leaving Australia we had promised ourselves that we would start to look for a camp at 16:00 and be set up by 17:00. Every time we break this rule we have trouble.
We arrived in Ouesso at ~ 10:30 very tired. After a debate at the only good (and this is a very comparative term) we managed to get a “simple” room for the night. The entrance gate to the secure compound was very tight and unfortunately we scraped the passengers side door on the way in. We could not wind up the window and the staff were very helpful in getting some plastic to keep out the rain.
Not the luxury we had driven so long for. We sat down for a drink – Ray beer and Avril soft drink.
The vehicle is totally covered with red mud and the engine now dirty.
Ray is quite proud of his strategy of keeping out the biting things – long pants & socks. But that means they now attack his arms and face. He has a swollen hand from a reaction to the bites. Things even manage to bite on the back of thighs where nothing should be able to get. Avril is persevering with her strategy of heat minimisation i.e. shorts and sandals. That means she is always getting bitten (a new experience for her) and is very, very itchy. We now have a solid collection of various ointments to stop itch (even Tiger Balm) and Avril has started a course of anti histamines. She has swollen ankles.
432 Km N 010 36’ 54.2’’ E 0160 03’ 19.7’’
Day 12: The “simple” room was OK for a sleep, but we have requested the suite today. We move in early, but there is no water. Maybe water & power at 15:00
Ray gets up early and goes for a walk through town to get an idea of the layout. Avril has a bit of a lie in. After breakfast (omelette & fresh baguette) we get about our chores.
After Opposite Lock at Mile End (you will recall they got the 1st raspberry – and we hope you Adelaide folks have done the right thing there) the next Rasberry goes to MTN. Their promised Africa wide service seems to only work in southern Africa. We purchased a RoC MTN card on 31/10 with a promise it would be activated at close of business that day – it was finally activated a few days later. Then (just after we had topped up the credit) they decided to delist our number. Great.
So, today Ray got an airtel card, activated on the spot and seems to work.
Next to a wash area to get our vehicle washed – a 2.5 hour job! Then fill with fuel (when you see it – buy!) and to a local repair shop to get the window done (Ray had already tried to pull out the dint by pulling on the external mirror with a small degree of success). The chaps here work a little magic and decide not to do any panel work, but the window now closes.
Avril investigates where the internet is, does some itchy stuff shopping (lots of sympathy from the folks here for her speckled legs), get some fruit & water. A lot of the “locals” here are from Cameroon & they speak English, which is a great relief.
We relax in the balcony of our suite – still no water. At 13:00 we hear the Muslim call to prayer – memories of Cairo.
We also spend time arranging the trip to Ndoki-Nouabale (an extension of Dzanga –Sangha NP in CAR and Lobeke NP in Cameroon) – described as an untouched, last Eden.
Dinner was at a local café, turned out to be run by Lebanese. We have arranged to have kibbi tomorrow!