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Sunday, 15 January 2012

Central African Republic – Part 2

Day 2 – 10/1/12

A 06:30 start as we had been told it was a 10 hour drive to Sangha Lodge. The road was awful to start with, and generally through the day. In some places it was almost as bad as Angola. At one point there was a road crew and the road improved for a while but deteriorated the further from the road crew you drove. We stopped at Berberati to buy some fresh bread and Ray bought an omelette from a wayside stall.

At one point we pass an overturned truck with a large crown around it. A passing Frenchman told us there were 13 dead 33 injured. Terrible!

As usual, there were road blocks and checks along the way. At the 1st Road block they asked for CFA 2,000 p.p for the Police and Gendarme for registration. Ray let them know that we had paid in the town, so we proceeded without incident. Rod Cassidy, the owner/manager of Sangha Lodge had provided us with a “Mission Statement”. This was a simple document giving our passport numbers and vehicle registration with a statement that we were going to the lodge. We quickly developed a system; Avril parked a careful 5 m from the barrier and Ray got out with the Mission Statement walked over and greeted the officials. The Mission Statement together with the “we only speak English” & “Australian tourists” did the job (Avril claims this is grovelling!). We were not held up unduly and were not asked for any bribes during the day. Again, it all seemed to be very professional.

Along the way we passed a Fulani clan on the move. Brightly dressed women (all carrying something on their heads) with pack donkeys at the rear and the men driving their cattle at the front. They do not like photos, so memories will have to do.

The vegetation continued to be scrubby for most of the day. ~ 60 km from the lodge it surprisingly went into open savannah for a time and then quite suddenly the rain forest started. ~ 30 min from the lodge some local villagers waved us down; there were 2 elephant ~ 30 m in the bush. That bodes well for the park.

You can see the real poverty in the villages along the way. We noticed that the villages do not have bars that you see in such numbers in other African countries. Maybe this is an indication there is not the excess income to buy beer. The people are really friendly; we get lots of waves and genuine smiles. When we wave back they shout “merci”. Closer to the park we start to enter pygmy villages, here the smiles, laughter and waves are even bigger.

We arrived at the lodge at 16:30 and were greeted by Rad and the staff. After a hot days driving, Rod welcomed us with a cold beer – very nice. We had a delicious curry for dinner.

Avril driving. 10 hours (the projections were very accurate). 300 km. N 020 59’ 04.3’’ E 0160 13’ 59.8’’ 

Day 3 – 11/1/12

After breakfast we went by boat some distance up stream and visited 3 different water falls. These are not really on the tourist trail and one of them was only recently “discovered” by Rod. All 3 were gorgeous. They were set in the forest, with some very tall trees on the walk. Not a lot of water, but the spray/film more than made up for that. At the 2nd fall Ray climbed to the top and was rewarded with a grand vista across the Sangha River valley.

We then went to the National Park office to book for the next day, but there was no one there. They had gone to meet the president who was in town.

So back to the lodge, as we arrived Rod said “we have a problem”, the President stays at his lodge and Rod had given us the best room. So, we had to give up the “best room” for one equally as good.

We then met Dave Robertson (pom) & Julie Samuel (Dutch doctor) who run a micro NGO – Drive Against Malaria. Basically this is just the two of them. Dave has been doing this for many years and has been around Africa 5 times. They test local people and the provide cure if they test positive. In this area >90% of the children < 5 test positive. Dave is a fantastic bloke, with a great sense of humour (that means it is a bit like Rays). This is even more extraordinary given he lost his right arm and leg to a drunken driver in the late 1970’s.

We then lined up to shake hands with the President. He took time to sit with us in the common area, and as a gentleman ensured that we were all included in the conversation. We noticed he was dressed very humbly – no designer labels. We also noticed that his entourage and security contingent were very small.

He was particularly interested in Dave & Julie’s work and submitted himself to a test. He tested positive and was they gave him a course of tablets. Great effort from Dave & Julie and really commendable from the President.

If you want to make a donation to an NGO with NO overheads, where every cent goes into the activities (Dave even badgers the hotels to give free accommodation and gets the test kits and drugs for cost) I can recommend Drive Against Malaria: Please give a lot!!

Day 4 – 12/1/12

Today we went to the globally significant Dzangha Bai. Given this is the reason we had driven this far, we elected to get up early and maximise our time at the bai.

Before we left, we had photos with the President. Again he was impressive asking Avril (who was taking pictures) to also come over and be part of the photos and one of the soldiers took photos for us.

When we arrived at the Bai there were > 45 elephants there. Over the day the numbers grew and in the mid afternoon there were more than 110 elephants at the bai. We spent the day watching the comings and goings, the antics of the groups, the tests of strength between elephants etc. We were also fortunate to see a group of 7 giant forest hogs (the biggest pigs in the world), a sititunga, Colobus monkey, squirrels and on the walk out some very small monkeys. 

We were very happy we had made the effort to come to Dzangha.

Day 6 – 13/1/12

Sangha Lodge is run by Rod Cassidy a renowned “birder”. It is a beautiful location set high on the Sangha River. The rooms are big and he provides hot water – which is luxury here. Rod provides all the useful information for the area and great contacts in other areas.

We decided to not to go on another gorilla encounter – the cost is really prohibitive.

We had an unfortunate day as our camera is “lost or stolen or strayed”. Unfortunately all our CAR pictures were on the camera, so we have lost this bit of the trip. We have offered a reward for its return, so hopefully it will show up.

Otherwise – it was a slow day. Lots of resting, chatting etc

Day 7 – 14/1/12

We drove back to Gamboula in convey with Dave & Julia. Julia rode in the luxury of a Landcruiser. Ray slummed it in the Land Rover. No A/C! lots of dust, but the end of the day both Dave & Ray were red heads. We are very, very happy with our choice of a Landcruiser.

To give some idea of the state of the road, we lost 2 items from the vehicle along the way. The towing attachment on the tow bar vibrated off and one of the gas struts that assist with erecting roof of the accommodation unit also vibrated off. In addition, the mount for one of the Garmin GPS units broke. The road is very corrugated and rough.

We stopped at Berberati to buy fresh vegetables (they are hard to come by at Bayanga) and Avril made a lovely vegetables stew & rice for dinner. Dave & Julia dined with us.

Avril driving. 10 hours again. 300 km. Stayed with the wonderful people at the mission again.

Day 8 – 15/1/12

Kim Cone at the mission assisted both Dave & I with some running repairs to our vehicles. Dave needed new bushes and washes (the washers manufactured from an old weight used to weigh babies!) on rear shockers and to reset his spring. Kim also made modifications to make his high lift jack more secure. For us, we needed assistance in installing the spare gas strut (Peter Mitchley: please note that I had a spare strut!! But only one).

We were asked for money on both sides of the border, but with some assistance from Julie, we managed to avoid this. We did show the border guards some pictures of us with the President and that did wonders. Fortunately we copied Dave’s pictures onto the computer.

CAR Summary

We found the people in CAR very friendly. In the small area we travelled we did not see any security issues. The corruption seemed to be low key and non threatening. We were impressed by the humility of the President. Dzangha Bai was everything it was made out to be.

Big negatives were having our camera stolen and the appalling state of the roads.

Cameroon, part 7

Day 41 – 15/1/12

After the border we had the drive back to Batouri. After a quite ale, we said our goodbyes to Dave & Julia and proceeded to the mission.

Ray driving. 4.5 hours. 124 km. Again we are staying in the Bishop Fosters compound.

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