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Thursday, 17 November 2011

RoC, part 4

Day 13: a relaxing day in Ouesso. The Bradt guide is quite disparaging about the town, but we quite like the feel. It is multi cultural with folks from different areas, countries, religions etc. It seems very safe, we wander around after dark and have not been approached or seen anything untoward. It is on the Sangha river, which at this point is very wide and fast flowing.

We had an early brunch (though we seem to be only eating 2 meals a day at this time anyway). We caught up on our emails and with a slow connection this takes time,

Ray tried to get the stairs on the accommodation unit repaired, but they do not have the tools here.

We meet with Rolland from WCS to discuss our trip to Ndoki-Nouabale National Park (NNNP). But he only speaks French and we only speak English, so we decided to sort out the details in Bomassa where Thomas is based (We have been in regular email contact with him and he speaks English). There will be fellow travellers in the vehicle, so we cannot arrange a departure time until their arrangements have been sorted.

We packed our bags for the park, not knowing how many days or the actual activities!

The highlight of the day was our meal with Facoli & Ali at the Lebanese café. Koffta, Kibbi, a great salad (our 1st in a long time) and chips. Wonderful. Maybe we ate a little (or a lot) too much,
 

Day 14: today we set off on our journey to NNNP. Our travelling companions are the German Ambassador (& Sabina, his partner) and his head of aid (Simon) (&Zhou, his partners). They had driven the night before from Brazzaville and we needed to wait for them to be ready in the morning. Whilst waiting we had breakfast and did some internet stuff.

An interesting aside; on the drive from the south we were waved down by a large truck. In the dark & rain, with charades they explained that a soldier had lost his backpack from the truck. Could we please keep an eye out and when we found it drop it off at the Ouesso military base. We did find the pack and kept it at the hotel. Whilst Avril was on the internet Ray spotted a soldier in the street. So, more charades and Ray fetched the backpack from the hotel. The soldier was a bit suspicious but we managed to find a translator and they began to believe. Then, the brother of the owner of the back pack came along and claimed it. So there was joy all around – and many thanks for us.

Having stowed our car at the WCS HQ, we set off at 11:00 down to the port by taxi. There we had to register with the police and immigration. Immigration hit us up for a few bob, the police wanted a bit more so we asked Roland to investigate. No money paid.

We then caught a pirogue across the river with the school kids returning home after class. Ray regaled them with photos and finger puppet movements.

Then we had a ~ 3 hour drive to Bomassa, the park HQ. It is in a great setting on the Sangha river. Our sleeping bungalow is set on the river with only fly wire around us – very neat.

We caught up with Thomas who had been arranging everything and had a few beers. We also caught up with Tomo who we had been in email contact about logging tracks, and had a few more beers. As Simon the German head of aid said, sort of like a computer date.

From the Ambassador we found out a little about our forward program – hopefully we get full details tomorrow!



Day 15: it rained very hard overnight and leading up to day break and hence our departure was delayed. During the night Avril watches 2 elephants outside our rondavel, Ray sleeps through this.

We got the details of the trip, costs etc. And have asked Peter to pay by bank transfer.

We drove (in the WCS vehicle)  ~ 1.5 hrs, stopping a few times to remove trees from the road. Then we walked ~ 3.5 hrs to Mondika camp. This involved wading for ~ 45 min through water waist high. The area is pristine rain forest. It has never been logged and people have never lived in it. In addition the level of human habitation at the park boundaries is quite low, thus preserving the pristine nature of the forest,

After lunch the Ambassadors group went to visit a group of gorillas (scientific name for the western lowland gorilla is “gorilla,gorilla, gorilla” interesting hey!). We bathed.

Then had a nice dinner and conversation over a few beers.

Day 16: again it rained hard all night, but as per instructions we were up early to be ready for our visit to the gorillas. There are two habituated (means that human activity does not impact the group) groups at Mondika. We visit Buka Mokongo’s (silver backs name meaning back breaker)

We wait until the rain is finished the allow 3 hours for the gorillas to come down from the trees. Avril goes back to sleep.

At ~ 11:15 we (2 x trackers & guide) set off and within 30 minutes we locate the trackers who are with the gorillas. The trackers quickly locate the silverback, he is feeding and on the move. We need to move through dense undergrowth to stay with him. The trackers hack away at the undergrowth to make a path. Our presence and cutting the path do not seem to impact the gorillas, they ignore us completely. Unlike the mountain gorillas who tend to stay together, the western lowland gorillas spread up to 300 m apart when feeding during the day.

After a time we leave Buka Mokongo and locate other members of his group. This is not easy, the trackers take some time to locate other gorillas and then cut a path. We spend time with a blackback male and one of the females. We also see some of the other gorillas in the trees. The protocol allows humans to only approach within 7 m, but at times due to the undergrowth we are closer and at one point a gorilla passes within ~ 1.5 m of Ray.

In all we are in the area of the gorillas for ~ 2.5 hours. Our visit was every thing we had heard about plus more. To be close to the gorillas was totally amazing and we felt lucky to have been able to make this trip.

Bleck, our guide, times our arrivial back in camp perfectly. We just have time for a bucket bath and then the rain comes down – very hard.

The trackers are from the Baaka pygmy clan in Central African Republic. Apparently when researchers 1st came into the area they thought it was part of CAR, so they employed trackers from there. Only with detailed mapping was it discovered that the area was in RoC, but they continue to employ Baaka trackers to today.

Another pleasant dinner chatting to Mike Stucker the American in charge of the camp. He is a great host, even giving us a CD of his photos etc at the end of our visit. He is very knowledgeable on gorillas, the forest etc.

Day 17: today we reverse the walk out of Mondika. Due to the rain over the past 2 days, the water is higher. Then a 1 hour drive to the Ndoki river, followed by 1.5 hr pirogue upstream on the Ndoki and then the Mbeli River (stream) and 15 minutes walk to Mbeli camp.

After a quick lunch we have a 1 hour walk (through mud etc) to the Mbeli bai. There is a well appointed viewing platform high at the edge of the bai. We spend a couple of hours observing the animals at the bai; elephants, sitatunga (finally Ray gets his photo!), buffalo, birds  etc. As per our experience at Odzala, forest game viewing is not like the savannah, here each sighting is special. Most of the animals are individually named.

We go back through the mud to the camp and have a bucket bath.  Then we have dinner with the 2 researchers/managers here; Kelly from the UK and Marie from Belgium.

Day 18: our plan is to spend a full day at the bai, so after breakfast we walk to the viewing platform. It is a slow start to the day, so Ray takes the opportunity to grab a few extra zzzz.

Over the day we see elephants, sitingua, colobus monkeys, buffalo, gorillas (including a silverback who apparently had not been at the bai for 4 years) , a bright green snake (slid across the deck in front of us)…

We then went back to the camp, had a bucket shower and again a pleasant dinner with the researchers. Ray to bed early, but Avril stayed up to chat.

Day 19: After a latish start to the day (08:00), we travelled back to Bomassa, NNNP HQ.  Back down stream on the rivers to the landing point. A very large tree had fallen over the road (and the tree was so large the chain saw broke) to the landing point. So we had to wait for the Landcruisers, and as events turned out we had to walk ~ 2 km along the track (still rain forest) to get to the vehicles and drive back to the camp. We arrived in Bomassa at ~ 13:30.

A lazy afternoon. Avril decided to wash her hair in warm water. However, in the middle of this an elephant came into camp and decided to wreck the plumbing. We were all watching the carnage and Avril appeared from the shower, with towel wrapt like a toga and hair full of shampoo to complain about the sudden lack of water. The brought her a bucket to compete the task.

All in all, we enjoyed the NNNP experience. However, 6 days travelling for 2.5 hours gorilla viewing and 1.25 days at the bai is a large commitment both financially and time wise (though we have plenty of the latter).

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