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Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Chad, part 2

Day 6 – 29/1/12

We set off early to make use of the cooler period of the day. We decided not to use the car a/c to conserve fuel and to try and acclimatise – we will be in this heat for a few months yet, so need to get used to it.

The road for the 1st 400 km was good tar after that is was not too bad gravel. So it was an easy day driving. The drivers here seem to be more prudent than else where in Africa, there is not the same excessive speed and folks are at least a little considerate of others on the road. Another good thing about driving here is the road signs, the first decent direction signs we have seen since southern Africa. We are back to Chinese truck drivers and even they were not as aggressive as we have seen in other countries – but still aggressive!!

The country side was flat, flat most of the way, then near Mongo there were a few granite hills. The vegetation tends to be just sparse bushes.

Surprisingly, given the lack of feed, there is a very large amount of grazing going on; cows, camels and goats. There are also donkeys and horses. It is interesting to see very young kids, maybe 5 years old, looking after a herd of animals. None of the animals seem to be in good condition, generally ribs etc are showing. With the lack of good feed and what appears to be over stocking, you can see that with one or two bad seasons there would be famine.

We had been advised to stay with the Catholic sisters in Mongo, but either they do not have accommodation or it was full – we are not sure which. So we are staying at a very basic auberge near the Protestant Mission, and elected to camp in the court yard. Again the generosity of the locals stands out. We asked some one the way to the auberge and they just hopped on their motor bike and took us there. Very nice.

There was a group of 4 French folks staying at the mission – must have been a shock for them as it was probably one of the most basic places we have stayed. Bucket toilet & shower via jug. They are on a mission looking at renewable energy in Chad – let me guess, solar. Given the dust clouds we have been driving in, there does not seem to be much wind. Gota love the EU. They have a conference in Ndj after this. Mmm.

Ray driving. 8 hours. 528 km. N 120 11’ 42.5’’ E 0180 41’ 13.2’’ 

Day 7 – 30/1/12

Again we started early to get the cool of the day. For a time we drove along a small mountain range, then it flattened out a bit. The vegetation picked up a bit with the scrub becoming a bit denser, we could only see ~ 50 m into the bush.

Again the massive number of (very thin) livestock shocked us. All along the way there are goats, camels and cattle coming and going to the few water holes. The water holes are a sight to behold, a huge number of animals all in their ownership group either drinking or waiting their turn to drink. No pushing of shoving.

The dirt road is a fair bit poorer than yesterday - the corrugations are OK, but the potholes cause some anxious moments. Out demeanour was not helped by the assertion of a lady with the French group that bandits had held up a French group on the road recently. She only said this as we were leaving!! No one else had ever commented on this, but it did put the wind up us a bit.

On the drive into the park to the lodge we saw groups of Cob de Buffon, reed buck, giraffe, water buck, warthog, mongoose and baboons. A cool welcome drink & cold towel greeted us at Tinga lodge.

Avril driving. 6 hours. 300 km. N 100 50’ 15.9’’ E 0190 46’ 48.2’’ 

Day 8 – 31/1/12

Being good safari people, we were up early and on the road by ~ 06:15. We got back from our morning drive in time for a nice salad lunch. Then after an afternoon’s nap we went on small sunset drive.

We had a marvellous day viewing. We saw; Giraffe, Warthog, Hartebeest, Buffalo, Roan Antelope, Lion, 2 different types of mongoose, Jackal (striped back), Crocodile (massive numbers and really, really big!), Cob du Boffon, Springbok, Reed Buck and Waterbuck. Baboons & Vervet monkeys. There are large numbers of herbivores and they are not skittish, so you can get some reasonably good pictures (however, we have decided to just take one picture of each type of animal, unless there is an interesting event. Otherwise we will end up with 1,000s of pics). There are sufficient numbers of animals to make the drives interesting; you do not have to wait long before something new takes place near you. The animals appear to be in excellent condition, much better than the live stock along the road.

Along one road we saw some horses, ah we though, villagers in the park. But they were eco guards on duty to prevent poaching. This is not a job for the faint hearted – a lot of eco guards have been killed here protecting animals.

The park must be like paradise for the birders. There are massive numbers of birds in the rivers and even we could see there was great diversity.

Thus far we are very impressed with Zakouma. It is clearly well managed by Rian & Lorna Labuschagne. There is an excellent network of well maintained roads, with clear signs. Along the way there are interesting loops that take you past rivers, billabongs etc.

Tinga lodge has a comfortable, open communal area – for meals and drinks. The accommodation is 4 suites in a rondavel – each suite with its own bathroom, air conditioning etc. Importantly it is clean and has working showers.

Lorna has been holding our hands (electronically) re Chad for the last few months. She has been a wealth of information and passed on other contacts etc.

By the way, turns out the banditry the French lady warned us about was not along our route, it was in a remote area and was easily handled with a few bob. No need to worry!

After a beer and delicious dinner, we had an early night in preparation for an early rise in the morning.

Day 9 – 1/2/12

Again, up early. Yesterday we were impressed by the diversity of animals; today we were impressed by the numbers. We saw large herds of Roan Antelope, hartebeest, giraffe (are they a herd?) and a massive mob of buffalo. We saw most of the animals we had seen before as well. In addition, we think we saw an oribi – but as we did not have time to take a photo, we cannot be 100% sure.

There seem to be baboons everywhere, all the troops with young. So, this must be an ideal location for them.

The massive numbers and diversity of birds is amazing. Maybe we have never noticed before, but Zacouma seems to have a greater diversity and higher numbers of birds than we have seen elsewhere.

In the evening Jean (Lorna & Rian’s daughter) took us out for sundowners. Ben (pilot), a Kenyan who is monitoring the elephants here and assisting with anti poaching and Marketa (from African Parks, who looks after the local staff) came along. We provided the nibbles from our extensive stock (which we should now start to run down). We had a very pleasant time on the banks of one of the rivers, the opposite bank was crowded with very large crocodiles. After a true African red sunset we drove back to the lodge, doing a bit of game viewing & really putting the Santos spot light to the test (it performed very well!). On the way out we had spotted the “normal” buck, a lion just outside the camp and a bush buck. On the way back we saw a genet (in the distance), a white tailed mongoose and an African Wild Cat with 2 kittens – our 1st spotting of the Wild Cat – very exciting.

Day 10 – 2/2/12

We explored the north of the park today. The diversity was still there, but not the large numbers we had previously seen. In addition to the other game we have spotted, we saw a grey duiker (and have a fuzzy picture).

The staff have really looked after us. For lunch we requested a salad and despite the distance from a main centre, the chef has come up with a different salad every day. Dinner is salad then a main course (meat plus carbs etc) and desert.

After dinner we went for a night game drive. We were lucky enough to have Jean come along as well. Again we used the spot light, which up to now had seemed to occupy space for no reward. As we left the dining/sitting area Ray said to the driver he wanted to get a picture of a Serval. We had only driven 10 minutes and we spotted 2 serval – and got some great pics! That was just the start of a fantastic nights viewing. We had multiple sightings of genet, serval, civet, spotted hyena, bush baby, black tailed (big) mongoose, fox (also with a black tail), hare plus all the day animals, which we woke up when the full glare of the spot light came on them. We managed to get a few decent pictures and the one picture per animal went out the window for the Serval.
Day 11 – 3/2/12

Our drive out of the park was to be remembered. Just outside the lodge we saw some Papas monkeys and then got a great pic of a grey duiker. Then just past the park HQ we saw a Carakul cat! Unbelievable! He/she walked alongside the road then calmly crossed the road just in front of us then made a chase for a rabbit/hare (?). It did not get the hare, however this was an awesome moment for us.

Knowing the shortage of gasoil in N’Djamena the folks at Zakouma let us fill up our tanks. Very kind and it allowed Ray to have a stress free drive.

The weather was very hot today, however we were going along just fine. Then ~ 40 km from Mongo we got that awful gasoil smell. Bugger the fuel leaks had come back. Having observed the mechanic in Batouri, Ray changed into old clothes and got on with the task. The first few cars drove past – very unusual. Then a group of Tunisian engineers (quoting on a road project) stopped and provided assistance. It turned out that one of the rubber tubes was punctured. Ray tried the magic USA military super tape, but it was not successful. So the Tunisians kindly towed us to the Catholic mission in Mongo.

We were warmly greeted and fortunately they had a room for the night. The room has basic facilities – still a lot better than the alternative auberge near the protestant Mission (where we had elected to camp rather than take a room.)

One of the Chadian priests assessed the situation, and got the bishops mechanic/driver to come out and assist. The driver went and bought some pressure tubing (late on a Friday night!) and seemed to know how to fix the problem. After attempting to fix the leak with the Toyota metal and rubber solution, he gave up and ran a temporary rubber hose all the way. This seemed to work, but tomorrow will tell the story. The mechanic was very impressed with the car and wanted to see all the bits and bobs. The Toyota Landcruiser  utes/bakkies/pick ups here are the sole property of the army, so it was a bit of a thrill for him to work on the car.

For the 1st time in a long time, we had a simple snack dinner. Prosciutto, cheese, tuna, tomatoes and some vita wheat biscuits the kids had brought over.

So, it is now official: Zacouma is in the top 3 parks we have seen. Kgalagadi Trans-frontier Park has been relegated to 4. The volume and diversity of game is extraordinary. To see 3 different small cats (Serval, Carukal and African Wild cat) plus all the other special sightings: civet, genet, fox etc makes the park a very special place. As we said in the daily blog, the bird life is truly amazing. Game drives were always fun (the roads are well maintained and there are wonderful loops) and there was always something to see.

We found the lodge very comfortable and the staff super nice. Always willing to assist – even though at times it took some interesting charades. It is great to be accommodated right inside the park and not have the restrictions of gate open/closing times.

The price is considerably below most other parks.

Avril driving. 9 hours. 296 km. N 120 09’ 57.0’’ E 0180 41’ 40.9’’ 

Day 12 – 4/2/12

A long days drive back to N’Djamena. After a bad nights sleep (dogs and other animals!) in the morning we tested the car (the temporary mend looked good), purchased gasoil (in jerry cans from the road side), paid the auberge which we had not paid when we left a few days previous and bought some bread.

The road description is the reverse of the drive here! We managed to get a few pictures of the mountain range around Mongo, which is very dramatic in places. The local women dress in very bright clothing and seem to either shave the front of their hair line of have very receded hair. The facial ornaments; nose ring or such indicate the status of the women. Is she 1st, 2nd or other wife.

Unfortunately one of our new tyres punctured as we hit the tar road. They are car tyres as Light Truck tyres have not been available since we left RSA. The wheel brace we were given to replace the stolen Toyota one was not up to the task. Fortunately we had secreted (from Peter M!) 12 V impact wrench which had a socket that fitted the tyres and also our socket set. So we managed to remove the tyre and Ray elected to fix the puncture rather than put one of the spares on. This was all successful. Interestingly no one stopped to assist – the 1st time in Africa. Next time we will try and do it as per the Bedouin and insert the plug whilst the tyre is on the axle.

We were stopped by the police for the 1st time in Chad. In English we said we were Australian Tourists on the way back from Zacouma to N’Jamena. This took 1 minute and we were on our way. The lack of road blocks has been a very pleasant relief; and not at all in line with what the guide books say to expect. 

The Chad Evasion folks had booked us a room in the Hotel Sahel – which is pretty run down considering the prices.

Ray driving. 8 hours. 514 km. N 120 07’ 12.0’ E 0150 02’ 00.2’’ 

Day 13 – 5/2/12

A very, very lazy day. After too much breakfast at the local patisserie, we decamped to the catholic mission, which is a lot cleaner and more reasonable priced. Then we just read or prepared emails for the rest of the day. We had dinner at the French/Italian restaurant.

Mission: N 120 06’ 21.2’’ E 0150 03’ 20.8’’ 

Day 14 – 6/2/12

A very bad nights sleep! Denis, the French overlander we met in Waza said one of the big pusses of the mission was that it was quiet. Not for us, between ~ 02:00 and 03:00 there was some sort of oriental religious chants that sounded like they were right outside our window. Then at 04:00 there was another loud noise. We are not sure what that was all about?? But we ended up with a very poor nights sleep.

Anyway, we went 1st to the CFAO/Toyota garage. Ray stayed there until 16:00. We had a basic service done (new oil & fuel filters). You would not believe the dust that came out of the air filter. The trickiest part was reinstating the fuel system. That took considerable time and effort. Hopefully that problem is now behind us.

The good news is that is seems the CFAO folks will allow us to keep the vehicle at their garage whilst we travel to Ennedi.

Avril took a local taxi “down town” and made the final arrangements for the Ennedi trip.

In the evening we dined with Denis, we had met him in Zakouma and he had provided comfort during our fuel saga outside Mongo. By chance Olivier (a mate of his from Togo) was also at the restaurant – so we passed an enjoyable evening with e few beers.

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