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Into the Heart of Madness - This is Gabon!


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Funny what your mind blocks out or forgets over time.  Ivindo National Park was pretty much the only location for my first visit to Gabon in 2006.  I remember the night train.  I remember driving in a truck till there was no more road.  I don't particularly remember the terrain which is not mountainous by any means but it's not flat either!  For my fifty something self, the final leg was a little work on foot to get to Rock Camp...in fact, after the quad bike with all our luggage blew off it's radiator cap, it made the steep climb over the ridge and on it's return, me and @AndMic were happy (at first) to hitch a ride in back.  After a few minutes of bouncing on my tailbone, I had to figure out a different way!  So I stood up and held on for dear life as we threaded through the forest on a small trail.  We finally arrived just before my grip on the flimsy roof gave out.  This was the research camp I remembered from before.  At the time, Oxford University and WCS were conducting research at the bai.  Clearly it's activity level has been greatly reduced but I was happy to see there are still a couple Gabonese researchers making their way out to the bai everyday recording the elephants that enter the bai, the sitatungas, the red river hogs and the gorillas.


I may dissent with my fellow travelers on accommodations in Booue as any "hotel" (I believe it's name was "Splendid" or "Paradise" or some other egregious misnomer! )within walking distance of that train station seemed sketchy at best...in fact on our return, we "freshened up" where we were supposed to have stayed that night and the missing panes of glass in the windows, the lack of running water and one of the rooms with no lights (served a great chicken dinner, though!  But I digress) I'll take the house!  Yes we had to share and therefore @Kitsafari and Josep had to endure my snoring :D but it was clean, there was a fan, the breakfast was good....all in all, it was certainly tolerable...but then again I did not have to listen to my snoring! :D


My goal for Ivindo was to see wild gorillas in the bai and if possible other forest wildlife sharing the bai with them.  This was something I whiffed on my first visit.  Just unlucky.  A spanish couple I met later had seen 35 in their visit to Ivindo but nature is nature...a fruiting tree could delay a family of gorills for a couple days of good feeding, you never know.  All I know is I was excited to be back and determined to bag some gorillas!


Some shots around Booue Town:



Some shots along the way including this nice set of falls near the ferry -- I believe this was the Ivindo River joining the Ongoue River...



The ferry -- On time but there was a flat tire to fix:



The rustic little logging town of Ivindo was just prior to the big logging camp -- "lunch" of pringles and coke purchased at the company store---it's not the first time I've uttered the words "Thank God for Coca Cola!" The life giving liquid sustained me until dinner!:



And the final drive on jungle roads until there was no more road to travel---I would say that besides not seeing the Panther/Leopard :( there was another disappointment/extreme hazard driving in the second vehicle!  Our driver must have been Mario Andretti in his former life and was intent on driving like a BAT OUT OF HELL literally kissing the bumper of car number one the whole way!!!  Clouds of red dust filled our car and our lungs---Vianet had a special mask he put on---several times I requested that he give us about a thousand feet of separation so the dust would settle but when the word was passed on to him he seemed to get quite agitated!!!  I thought to myself "dude you're breathing in the dirt too!" I really didn't get it and it was all I could do to hold my tongue...as any distance of separation he kept creeping up until we were back on car number one's bumper!




The final hike to Rock Camp:




Rock Camp was just as I remembered!  Even found the old chalet I stayed in 13 years ago with a Swedish photographer named Jan!



The granite rock is one of the only reasons it's not covered in forest and trees...I believe I heard that's one of the reasons for the bais/forest clearings as the rock surface is just under ground and hinders the root growth of trees...it was a relief to get to our "home" for a few days...I'll let the others add, fill in missing details and I'll leave it a mystery for now as to whether my wish was fulfilled on my return to the bai, but I'll end the post with a picture of this Eden....a place I never regretted visiting before even missing out on the gorillas...wild places like this, a gathering spot for wildlife for millenia, well, if you're a nature lover, it's just hard to beat...



Edited by gatoratlarge
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Don´t expect smooth sailing, we were told when we booked this trip. We did not. And it was not.   "How was this latest safari of yours, Michael?", my friends asked. "Not really a safari. The

You could say that!   But it´s technically not quite correct, at least not for AndMic and me. Since we found a pretty good flight offer we already arrived in Libreville on Friday, one day be

I signed on to this adventure with one key advantage:  I had been to Gabon once before.  In 2006, fueled by the stories of National Geographic and Michael Fay's mega-transect expedition through the Ce

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Similar behavior from chimp and panther, glimpsed along the roads.  A homecoming for @gatoratlarge.


You wonder what the driver of Car #2 was thinking.  Maybe he wanted to scare the passengers.

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"thank god for Coca-cola" is something I utter on just about every safari/birding trip. The elixir of life, although even better if one can get the rare and precious "coke zero"

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25 minutes ago, janzin said:

"thank god for Coca-cola" is something I utter on just about every safari/birding trip. The elixir of life, although even better if one can get the rare and precious "coke zero"


Oh @janzin  you are a woman after my own heart! My travel-mates will tell you, I was always asking for Coke Zero! 

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What an intrepid group of adventurers you are.  I am beyond impressed by your feats of courage and endurance.  Some of the scenery is truly beautiful but I think the birds are the stars at this point. 

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On 9/18/2019 at 6:02 PM, michael-ibk said:

And adventures are so much more fun when you can share them with good friends and kindred spirits. In a word, with Safaritalkers.


A fine bunch of travellers as ever I saw

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Loved this last section @gatoratlarge.  Especially the picture of the man and two children with looks of "what the ..." on their faces.  I assume they were looking at all of you.  And the picture of 3 of you relaxing in the chairs is great.  Can't wait to read more.

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Yeah well Boué - what a strange night! But I was slowly getting Gabonised and did not really care why exactly we were sleeping in somebody´s house, was happy enough that there was any kind of bed - it was almost 04 o´clock when we hit the pillow. And as mentioned by the others we were lucky - ok bed, working toilet and water in the sink. Luxury almost! I even tried the shower in the morning but that would have been over the top - of course it did not work.




Our very posh room.




And the well-kept garden with very artsy decor.




But as you can see it can´t have been that bad! And despite all I was in quite a good mood next morning (=three hours later), for a little while the sun was out, and I enjoyed running after some birdies around the house, ignoring the baffled looks the neighbours gave me.




Orange-Cheeked Waxbill




Black-Faced Canary








Lesser Striped Swallow




Realizing we would not use a boat up the Ivindo river really irked me, I had been looking forward to this even before the trip. So when we took the group shot posted by Kit I asked when we´d finally change transport, and only then was told they had stopped doing the boat years ago. (Of course, Guillermo later said that´s not accurate, sometimes they do, sometimes they don´t - who knows.)




A white-headed morph of Ayre´s Hawk-Eagle - took me a while to figure this one out. Soared right across Ivindo village on the way in and out.




NP headquarters where we picked up some rangers who would escort us into the jungle. After we left the logging routes the roads became way more "interesting", and we crossed some bridges which I´m sure will inevitably fall apart pretty soon.:ph34r:




And then the fun really started, the final trek to Langoué Bai. Cars can go no further. While they do have some Quads for transportation the terrain was way too steep in the beginning to take passengers so we had to walk.




Note my spotless trousers - the dust had taken good effect! We were told the uphill hike would not take much longer than 30 minutes but I think we needed more than double that. When we finally reached the top, hooray, we were told that the two Quads could take four of us, and Josep and me were more than happy to walk. The Ladies took the front seats while Joe and Andreas tried to make themselves comfortable on the bed of the vehicle. See that smug grin they gave us? "Heya sucker, have fun walking in the jungle for another hour or two, too bad for you, but better you than us."




Ha! Their gloating smiles were wept clean from their faces when the speed-loving driver bumped them through to the bone thoroughly on the uneven, rooty path to camp. The park guys loved driving the Quads, and the faster the better. It was no surprise that all the eggs they had brought for our breakfast did not survive this. Except one - next morning we´d all share an one-egg omelette between us. And even worse - our little walking party picked up Andreas´s rucksack which had also bounced off! It was fortunate we stumbled across it, we´d used several shortcuts leaving the Quad trail so we might easily have missed it.




Ivindo forest is one of the coolest places I´ve ever walked in. It´s an ancient, proper primary rainforest you´d expect to see in a good Tarzan movie. Huge towering trees, arm-thick roots, liana, all shades of green - it has the serenity of a neverending natural green cathedral, and I absolutely adored walking in this wilderness. Even though we did not really have exciting wildlife sightings (a few Monkeys and Squirrels, Black Guineafowl, a Blue Duiker) the walk to camp is one of my most cherished memories from this trip - I loved this. Don´t really have pictures to reflect this though, we did not stop much since we had to cover quite some distance, and mostly it was way too dark under the canopy with no sun in the sky at all to get anything useful anyway.






Putty-Nosed Monkey












Edited by michael-ibk
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When tours for Gabon are advertised I guess they'll have the sub-text 'Not for first time safari goers'. Goodness me, this really kicks all my weird/ what'll go wrong next experiences into the long grass. When this trip was being floated I looked at the itinerary and part of me really wanted to go but, in the end, I said no because I didn't think this ole lady would make it. And how right I was. And how brilliant to have this rolling TR. Just loving it!

@michael-ibk lovely bird pics and I'm very envious of your Quailfinch

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...........and why is there not a picture of at least ONE of you swinging on that aerial root, like Tarzan ? 

Loving this :)

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3 minutes ago, Galago said:

lovely bird pics and I'm very envious of your Quailfinch


One more just for you then - the male. Quite cooperative fellow. :-)



Edited by michael-ibk
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So after reaching Rock Camp we contemplated going straight onward to the bai for a hot minute-- which would have been another hour and a half hiking further into the forest--but exhaustion got the best of us.  We had a pretty long day already and the camp looked quite comfortable.  At first they wanted us to double up again and we protested (I'm not sure why but Josep and Kit seemed to object the most :D something about snoring I think) so they dispersed us among the chalets, mine right across from the one with a satellite TV I would find out later!


Candy or Condi as it was pronounced was a very good cook and made a nice meal out of the limited provisions we had brought along (and survived the bumpy roads).  The "shower" was of the bucket variety from a stream that flowed directly behind camp.  The the rocks were slippery, but I enjoyed the icy water and came away refreshed.  When it got dark and after dinner, I retired to my room,  As I mentioned, there was s "TV lounge" the next chalet over.  The generator remained on and a raucous group of the camp staff watched Mission Impossible and Star Wars if I can identify the musical scores!  Things settled down about 11P when the generator cut off...I was glad they were having a good time, it's just a bit of a weird twist, and quite Gabonese, that I wondered if we were impeding their fun :D 


As @michael-ibk mentioned the next morning our group of six shared the one egg omelette :D but there were other things to eat.  The one bite of egg plus some veggemite looking stuff which I did not eat would have to provide enough fuel to get us to the bai.  The walk to the bai was best described by @michael-ibk beautiful, untouched, primary forest....and then a somewhat steep descent to the edge of the bai...I had forgotten that it was in a depression within the forest.  We caught glimpses of clear sky which is unusual in the equatorial forest as we neared.  We reached the three level viewing platform shortly after 9A  if memory serves-- this was important to me as I heard that the gorillas often feed in the bai early -- of course nature isn't exactly on a schedule but I wanted to leave no opportunity to chance...we only had two or three mornings at the bai.


Well, I know the suspense is killing you :D , we climbed the ladder-like stairs, pushed to the edge of the platform and looked out over the green expanse of the bai...a family of SEVEN gorillas including the silverback were feeding in the tall grasses toward the other end of the clearing!!!  And not too much later, a family of elephants joined them...then we noticed a rust colored, reddish sitatunga wading in the stream that crossed through the bai....ahhhhhhhhh.....it was a relief for me and pure joy to watch them un-habituated, uninhibited, doing their thing...Might be mundane to some, but wild gorillas?  I can say it's my first time seeing an un-habituated family of gorillas in the wild...I was one happy camper...


The distance and my camera didn't make for great photos, but gorillas in the bai:



A sitatunga appears:



Ellies and gorillas---the black dots are the gorillas :D !



ellies and sitatunga, and gorillas and sitatungas:


This ellie digging for minerals (with baby) forest ellies have perfect ears, no?:iv4.jpg.993f351ee5b9a604a5e600d0ebad19fc.jpg

Couple vids of the gorillas---any step on the platform caused my camera to quake so I apologize in advance re: quality:


Glad to see they're still doing research at the bai:


Josep, Vianet blend right in with the researchers:ivi999.jpg.ea7c0f1d36f4f553f0421924ec83395d.jpgivi888.jpg.f4fb31986bcffd143b980633f1d3ebe7.jpg

Edited by gatoratlarge
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Here's a photo that shows the front part of that quad vehicle too:




Yes, there were two staff members standing in the back next to Joel and Andreas as we crashed through the forest. After a little while, Joel decided to stand up too!


I did not take a shower the first night at the rock camp. It was already getting near dusk when we arrived there and it was not explained to me that there was no way to shower at the bai! By the time I heard that, it really was dark and I was not going to take a shower at that point because it was very slippery - it really was not a shower - it was standing on some slippery rocks and there was a thin stream of water that flowed out and back down to the stream and you could use that and a bucket to splash on yourself to get clean. Not something I relished in the total darkness! So that meant I ended up not showering for a couple of days which was not ideal but oh well. 


The accommodations were simple at the camp but we had our own little cabins. There was one toilet for everyone in camp to share and it did not smell great! Also we had to keep asking for more toilet paper in there. And unfortunately, the crew had not brought anything to drink other than water - no cokes, no beers - and we explained to Viannet that next time it would be nice to bring those things. It's just something they aren't used to thinking of I guess since there hasn't been a ton of tourism there, whereas those of us who have gone on several safaris expect at least a soda or a beer at the end of the day! There were three bottles of wine at the camp though left over from some other time I guess, so we purchased one and shared it that first night as we waited for dinner. The food was simple but good enough. (Though it was sad about the eggs! I think it was maybe more than one egg that made that omlette though but most of them had broken. I remember cutting it into slices shaped like slices of pizza so we each could have a little!)


A few more photos. Hiking:




Rock Camp: 










View of the bai from the viewing platform - you can see how large it is and also how far we were from the animals - mostly we saw them at the watery section that was on the far right. There was another watery section closer to the platform, on the left in front of us, but only a couple of elephants ventured there. We heard that that side is favored more in the rainy season and the far side is favored more in the dry season, when we were there. Except the sitatunga, we did see them walking close to the platform at times.



Animals at the bai - it was very cool that when we arrived around 9 a.m.  gorillas were there, and they stayed until about 11 a.m.  And that the elephants came soon after the gorillas was also fantastic - it was amazing to see wild, unhabituated gorillas at the same time as forest elephants and sitatungas, just going about their business, and we were the only humans around! 


















There was a very small baby elephant that was very cute 




It went with its mother into the mud and they were digging and the baby was having a fine time!



I had more videos of them but I had a disaster with my memory card when I got home (long story but I think the card reader I put it into to move the photos onto my computer was messed up and it messed up the photos and videos on the card. My husband was able to retrieve a lot of them but some never were able to be retrieved.)




These were all from the first morning. After the gorillas and elephants left by late morning, there was a lot of sitting around, taking notes, and the birders looking around at birds.






many of the staff had stayed at rock camp and that was the only place to prepare food. So they were going to be bringing our lunch to us, part way on the quad and part way walking with it.  I think they brought dinner at the same time and we just ate it later. Lunch did not arrive at a typical lunch time. My notes say "At 1:20 Michael said "I'm sitting in the rainforest and I'm hungry." We all were. Fortunately some of us had some snacks that we shared with each other to hold us over. I think lunch eventually came around 2:30 p.m.! 


Sleeping at the bai was interesting. The tower had three different levels. They'd brought a tent for each of us but it seemed they had never had this many people at once sleep at the bai. Vianet later told us that even if they had a group of 6 in the past, they would have half stay at the rock camp while the other half went to the bai and then switch. So this was the first time they'd had to set up 6 tents and I don't know if some of them were new, but it took a long time - like about 2 hours - and of course they didn't start til it was almost dark because we were still looking to see if we could see animals until then. But eventually it got done and we slept in the tents and it was ok. 

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So enjoying your TR, what an intrepid bunch of STers! Ivindo NP really turned on a modern day wilderness for you with primary rainforest, real jungle treks, adventurous bridges and Rock Camp. The photos and videos from the bai are amazing, beautiful gorilla action, sitatungas and the elephants. @SafariChick sorry to hear about your memory card, what a bummer.


@michael-ibk the Quailfinch is a lovely bird (I'm envious) and you have a great photo of the male.

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The search around the house for birdies was highly successful.  Gabon was showing you her good side with the recovered rucksack.

You saw gorillas at the bai!  Wow!  And great sightings too.  That one in the last video was rather inquisitive. 


@SafariChick I'm glad to see that what did survive the memory card was good stuff from the bai.

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Oooooh I'm on a (vicarious) adventure.  Whoop whoop.


Great report, love seeing it through each of your eyes.  Can't wait for more.

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The next morning, we were very happy that the gorillas returned! This was the day that we saw them drinking. Elephants came too, and sitatunga. So it was kind of a redux of the day before, but I think the gorilla sightings were better as the did come out in the open more and do a little drinking. I will just put in another video and a few more photos from day two. 



Elephant and Sitatunga 










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19 hours ago, michael-ibk said:

and we crossed some bridges which I´m sure will inevitably fall apart pretty soon


hmmm very prescient, thinks I. 



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Absolutely love the video of the gorilla drinking.  Mesmerizing.  This report just gets better every day. 

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I'd walked in a equatorial jungle before (in Borneo) and I knew how humid it could get. Thrashing through the Lope forest in the morning made me think that it wasn't as bad it had seemed. But walking uphill through a a barely there trail in the middle of the day was another thing altogether. I had expected humidity, and we got it loads and it made walking harder. The morning trek to the Bai was a more enjoyable experience - I've concluded that trekking in the relatively less hot and humid morning hours was a better bet. 


The four photos that immediately follow were at the car ferry station. 



The giant trees loomed above us, the canopy wasn't as dense as those in Borneo and light was still good enough to hike in. 

Oddly, I had expected to hear more birds - we did hear some, but less than what I thought we would hear,. we did hear primates once in a while, but otherwise it was generally quiet. I assumed it was because the birds and mammals could hear us a mile away and kept their locations secret. 




a strangler fig begins its death throes of its host700812986_DSC01913-Copy.jpg.397f33a59643ec1b9a3870f565ae6258.jpg



The Rock camp little chalets were far better and more comfortable than I had expected - certainly beat the Lope lodge room and the guest house in Booue. 


I don't have much to add to the walk to the Bai or the wonders of seeing my first gorillas even in the distance. The silverback stayed hidden most of the time, but it was still so cool to watch them sit and eat, or to bend down for a drink, all the while looking around to ensure that no predator (leopard) was around. Way cooler too to see elephants truddling to the water, while the neighbourly gorillas continued eating uninterrupted. Then a sitatunga would wade in among them. It wasn't a lot to see so one can't expect too much at this bai at this time of the year. 


I have to be honest - the bai was a bit of a disappointment to me. I had hoped to see more density, but it seemed quiet when we were there. Not so for the group 2, from what I hear, but it's just the draw of the luck. Nevertheless, the remoteness of the place and watching nature unfold in a place that is accessed only by triple-digit numbers of people (I think there was a mention of how many people come to ivindo, assuredly not many), and observing the wild gorillas, the wild elephants and the wild sitatunga exude such calmness as they interact with each other - there can't be that many places where these wild animals feel safe and relaxed in the world these days. 




3-in-one shot : sitatunga, gorillas and elephants







an elephant dwarfed by the jungleDSC01466.jpg.972948c77f059516599a9b81a501c574.jpgDSC01548.jpg.031262e0d655ce96415075eac895b949.jpg



Periscopes up as they sniff our scentsDSC01641.jpg.b34c5d296e884f155b78dd74ed358bbc.jpg


dust bathDSC01668.jpg.725fc745d65f1b9681745ce6cb5e6eba.jpg20190802_201659.JPG.667584f996a0d6b9d2b15d1b2afbabf7.JPG

Edited by Kitsafari
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Great that you all got to see the Gorillas, elephants and sitatunga. A proper reward for your efforts. The forest also looks beautiful.

I admire you all for doing this trip and maintaining your good humour.

I am sure it would be too tough for me!

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What a great trip! Read the (until now) 4 pages in one go. And the story telling is fantastic. As are the pictures, of course. I cringed when i entered those smelly toilets..sorry toilet, And i was wondering whether i would have preferred to walk or squeeze myself behind in the quad. No i had better walk. My bum is actually aching.:wacko:


Waiting for more. Great writing STers.

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Let´s see what can I add about Ivindo and the Bai? Some more Elephant pictures for a start.








This guy was at the smaller water puddle a bit closer to the tower - but still pretty distant. I used a 1.4. converter but have to say was pretty unhappy with the results - it seemed to me the quality without and cropped in is better.


The herd in the evening was particularly delightful. It was already too dark for photos, video always seems to work better in such situations.




Birding was not as prolific as I had hoped for. There was a bunch of Cisticola, Waxbill and similar stuff down in the grass but simply too far away from atop the tower. We had Hamerkops, several Palm-Nut Vultures, Hartlaub´s Ducks, many Forest Swallows and even a Crowned Eagle fly through but the dim light did not allow for pictures.




Black-And-White Flycatcher




The male - hopefully the name will make a bit more sense now.




Fraser´s Forest-Flycatcher




It was a particular buzz for me to see so many Sitatunga. An almost mythical animal in places like the Okavango Delta, there a sighting is a super-special affair. On my last safari there I only saw the bustling grass caused by (supposedly)a moving animal. For some reason only the females came out. This is the "Congo Sitatunga", subspecies "gratus". The body and legs of this antelope are specially adapted to its swampy habitat.






Kit is right that I had also been hoping for more density but I still thoroughly enjoyed the place. After all our excitements it felt good just sitting on the tower, relaxing, watching, chatting, laughing. The only thing which would have made this even better would have been a couple of beers.




I found it interesting to see how totally cool Sitatunga and Gorillas were with each other, they did not mind each other at all. No Gorilla photos from me, we will get to far better ones later in this report. But I also have to repeat how enjoyable it was to watch a totally unhabituated familiy for so long.


One disappointment was missing Red River Hogs. The guys doing their research work at the tower showed us their files, about 10 days prior no less than 54 Hogs had turned up. But apparently they only come out every 10 days or so, so you have to be really lucky for them. Leopard - always "Panther" in Gabon - is more common, about every 5 days.






We discussed if we should spend a second night at the tower but ultimately decided against it. We knew we had a long way back to Boué the day after, and it would be better to have a bit more time. The fact that there was no option to wash around the tower except splash one´s face from the water of a muddy trickle of water also was a factor.




So the "shower" back at Rock Camp was very, very welcome indeed. And it was fine - the water not too cold, and a real joy to pour bucket after bucket over one´s head.




The toilet at Rock Camp. A scary place. But be thankful I´m not showing you the one at the Bai. Going there was quite an expedition - the toilet is about five minutes away from the tower, and given the constant presence of Elephants in the area we were not allowed to go there on our own, one ranger always had to accompany. Although I´m really unsure what they would do for you when you crash into a grumpy Ele in the forest. And I´m sure they all could run way faster than me in the jungle. The Peter Allison law is not applicable to Forest Elephants - the rule is rather "Whatever you do, run, and run damn fast". Forest Elephants are dangerous and can attack without warning or mock charge.




Our cabin - quite nice having a bit of space after sharing square metres on the tower.






Obligatory bird picture from camp - a Collared Sunbird.




Our breakfast and dinner table. Our evening after returning from the tower was really fun, staff gave us the second bottle of wine as a gift which was really awfully nice of them. It was surprising how even a trickle of alcohol lightens the mood, we shared the wine with them and then a lot of laughs. Good good times.


It was a good thing we did not know what was ahead of us. If you think this trip has been somewhat weird so far you have seen nothing yet. A cascade of crazyness was to unbound for the next two days. And worse than crazy. If I were an overly dramatic novel writer a teaser from one of the next chapters could go like this:


"There was no light. The cold wind pierced his wet clothes.  He began to shiver, and felt his friends did the same. The elements were crashing onto them. He tried to find the light but all he could see around was grey. Darkness. This was no longer quirkiness. This was serious. They had stopped laughing long ago. Nobody would come. And he started to realize that this could well be the very end. Not of the trip. The very end. Fear crept into his heart. He put down the makeshift cover they had been given to brace against the elements and looked out. He saw the man who held their fates in his hands. And he saw that man cry and pray.


There was no light. And he started to wonder if there would ever be one again for them."


But I´m getting ahead of myself. :ph34r:





Edited by michael-ibk
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