Congo & Central African Republic 2011

 This trip is truly an expedition into the heart of Africa, taking us deep into the Congo Basin to visit remote National Parks in both Congo and Central African Republic.  We are fortunate to be invited to witness the work of Wildlife Conservation Society’s dedicated scientists at their projects in northern Congo and in Dzanga-Sangha Special Reserve.  In Congo, as well as spending time at beautiful Mbeli Bai watching forest wildlife coming in to drink, we go gorilla tracking with WCS staff and Ba’aka pygmy trackers, looking for a group of habituated Western lowland gorillas.  Lowland gorillas are extremely difficult to track (compared with their mountain cousins), and this is one of the very few groups of lowland gorillas that have been habituated and are now being studied.

At Dzanga-Sangha Reserve we spend time with forest elephant expert, Andrea Turkalo, watching the elephants and other wildlife at Dzanga Bai.  In addition, we have the unique experience of going net-hunting in the forest with a group of Ba’aka pygmies, working in unison to hunt small animals using a method that has not changed for millennia.  This is an exceptional opportunity to gain access to projects and staff in the most remote parts of Africa.

Day 01,                      January 17th

This morning we fly on Air France flight AF896 from Paris (departing 0950) to Brazzaville, capital of the Republic of Congo (arriving 1840), where we overnight at a comfortable hotel.  Tonight we meet for our Welcome Dinner, and to discuss the adventure we will share over the next few days.

Day 02,                      January 18th

Today we fly to the town of Ouesso, and transfer onto motorised pirogues to travel to the village of Bomassa, base for Wildlife Conservation Society’s activities in northern Congo.  We stay at WCS’ camp tonight.

Day 03,                      January 19th

Early this morning we leave Bomassa Camp, and drive to the trailhead for WCS’ Mondika Camp.  The project at Mondika offers the opportunity to observe an habituated group of western lowland gorillas in the wild. The gorillas belong to Kingo’s group, and have been the subject of several National Geographic articles and documentaries.  The experience is one of a kind as you follow local Ba’aka pygmies as they track the gorillas through the forest.  The knowledge and skill of these trackers alone is an amazing thing to witness, but once they locate Kingo’s group, and you find yourself among this family of gorillas, the experience becomes one of unforgettable awe.  As with all the best things in life, there has to be a little suffering to get there!  In this case, there is an 8 mile walk from the trailhead to the Mondika Camp.  The hike itself is not difficult, but will take us through a waist-deep river that flows slowly through the forest.  The water is cool and clear, and the footing across its 300 meters is not difficult.  At the camp, comfortable tents with beds are provided, with communal bathroom facilities.

Days 04 & 05;          January 20th & 21st

We have two full days at Mondika Camp, to track the gorillas and to enjoy the fauna and flora of the area.  In order not to disturb the gorillas only two visitors are allowed to track them at any one time.  Tracking lasts for a half day, and this means that two people will go out with the Ba’aka pygmies in the morning, and two more in the afternoon on each day, ensuring that everyone gets to experience tracking one of the very few habituated western lowland gorilla families.

Day 06;                      January 22nd

Today we leave Mondika, walking back to the trailhead and then transferring by 4WD and pirogue to Mbeli Camp, our home for the next two nights.  The highlight of this area is Mbeli Bai, a clearing in the forest where we sit on an observation platform and watch for forest elephants, sitatunga, gorillas and other mammals and birds as they come to the clearing for water and salts which are essential to their diet.  This site is one of WCS’ more important long-term research projects, and the research staff are full of information about the visiting animals.  From the Camp to the Bai itself is a 1.7 mile hike through the forest that takes less than an hour.  Back at the Camp, visitors are lodged in simple bungalows built up on pylons in the forest.  A shower area (soap, towels and hot water provided in buckets) and toilet are provided for each bungalow.

Day 07;                      January 23rd

We have a full day here to enjoy the wildlife at Mbeli Bai.  We leave Camp early this morning, and spend the whole day on the platform enjoying the parade of wildlife passing through the Bai.

Day 08;                      January 24th

This morning we leave Mbeli Camp early, transferring back to Bomassa Camp and continuing our journey by motorised pirogue to Bayanga in Central African Republic.  We settle into Sangha Lodge, our home for the next few days.  This rustic but delightful lodge, set on the banks of the spectacular Sangha River, is located at the edge of the Dzanga-Sangha Special Reserve.

Day 09;                      January 25th

Dzanga-Sangha has become famous due to the incredible work of WCS’ forest elephant researcher, Andrea Turkalo.  Andrea has worked at Dzanga Bai for 20 years, studying the elephants that frequent the mineral-rich waters of the clearing.  During her time at the Bai she has come to recognise more than 3,000 individual elephants.  We are fortunate that we will be able to visit the Bai during our stay, and will have the benefit of Andrea’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the elephants.  In addition to forest elephants, forest buffalo, sitatunga, giant forest hogs, red river hogs, and even occasionally, bongo, visit the Bai.  The walk to the Bai is easy, taking about an hour, including crossing a shallow area of water.  There is an elevated observation platform in front of the Bai, from which we will watch the wildlife in relative comfort.  The elephants drink, eat, socialise and bathe in the different-coloured salts, producing everything from yellow to even pink elephants: a photographic opportunity not to be missed.

 Day 10;                      January 26th

This area is also home to several Ba’aka pygmy villages, and our activity this morning will be to go net-hunting in the forest with a group of Ba’aka hunters.  Hunting is an essential part of Ba’aka life, and men, women and children seize any opportunity to head into the forest.  At each village people will jump into the back of our 4WD trucks, many equipped with a hand-woven net.  Wonderfully musical, the Ba’aka sing hunting songs as they have done for centuries.  Threatened by the modern world and unsympathetic governments across Africa, these gentle people are fast disappearing and their culture with them.  In the near future this type of hunting will probably be just a story told around a campfire.

We bid farewell to Dzanga-Sangha this afternoon and take a charter flight back to Bangui for an overnight before our early morning flight to Paris tomorrow.

Day 11;                      January 27th

This morning we catch our international flight back to Paris.

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