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Kitsafari

Wow - i'm so enjoying this TR which brings many flashes of memories from Gabon, but this CCC seems to have organised it down to a T. I'm amazed at the "wet walk" in the bai - never seen that before. how did you get the shoes to dry in time, or did they provide boots, or were you prepared with another pair of shoes?

 

Lango camp looks absolutely incredible with the prime view of the bai. 

Very much looking forward to your Sangha experience. 

 

 

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GBE

 @Treepol – We certainly have been fortunate in our transfers, both on this trip and others.  In part, our fortunes are built into the overall itinerary: while we didn’t know how we’d get to Lango, we did know there were a variety of ways to get there.  As Clem got to know us, he felt comfortable putting us in kayaks with little more than a ‘how are you with paddling?’  Another example of the benefit of not just a competent guide, but one that really does get to know you as more than just clients and truly enjoys making those adjustments that really add to the overall trip experience.

 

@AKR1– Great to hear the videos are helping to bring the narrative alive and the listing of clip length.  This is my first effort posting any kind of video anywhere.  I learned on the first batch that anything over 60 seconds better be very, very compelling.  I welcome any feedback to help make the TR and links better for everyone.

 

@Kitsafari – We were very pleased with our experience with the CCC.  As the only concession in Odzala they are able to curate the experiences without concern for competing with other services.  The relationships between locals, researchers, park personnel, conservation organizations, and the CCC appear to be the epitome of Eco-tourism.

 

We bought shoes specific for this trip.  I hope this isn’t a violation of ST, but we chose Astral.  We’d never heard of them but with some research learned they specialize in footwear for wet environments.  The ones we chose had solid soles, drain holes in the toes and mid foot, had no coating or waterproofing, and had no insulation; though there was some padding around the ankle.  We opted for over the ankle style but most of the time only laced to the ankle.  These were the only shoes we had for all activities from flying to and from, to tracking and trekking, to paddling and wading.  We did have flip-flops for camp.  Combined with a thin, synthetic socks they were comfortable wet or dry, though they would dry in the sun in about an hour.  We would highly recommend them and will use them again for any similar environments.

 

Lango is a conundrum.  We would have enjoyed another day or two there.  It’s beautiful and we know there is so much more to see.  That said, we both agree we wouldn’t give up any days at the other camps…  another reason we’ll need to go back along with adding Gabon😊

 

@Sangeeta – Apologies for not responding sooner.  The CCC camps (lodges really) and Sangha lodge, in their own way, are every bit on par with Greystoke, Mahale and Chada, Katavi.  They are not inexpensive.  Being the only concession allows them to charge a premium (worth it in our view) sufficient to build and maintain the facilities one would expect given the cost.  We suspect the upkeep is significant and building anything less would be fraught with costly challenges not the least of which would be regular replacement facilities of less quality.

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GBE

1/12 continued – Up the Sangha River

 

The Sangha river…  Where to start?  It is wide, shallow, and smooth to our eyes but with roils here and there to indicate sand bars or other impediments below the surface.  It’s milk chocolate brown bordered by lush, dense, and vibrant greens.

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In places the forest seemed to grow straight out from the river.

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And in other places it hung suspended on vines, indicating how high the river can be in the wet seasons… a full 12 feet higher!

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We traveled in an aluminum, flat bottom skiff with a 40hp outboard motor.  Even with earplugs there is a constant ‘hum’, but it becomes gray noise that we didn’t really notice except when stopping and starting.  It had two bench seats: we opted to sit on our PFDs for cushioning instead of wearing them.  It’s open with no wind screen so we enjoyed a constant and refreshing breeze. There is a sun cover… crucial!!!

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Between the wind, motor noise, and earplugs there was little to no conversation.  The view was forever changing and forever the same.  Time seemed to be suspended.  There was almost a sense of isolation/meditation riding in the boat and seeing the forest pass by us.  There is time for the mind to wonder, to reflect.  Any connection to Kabo, Odzala, or Brazzaville slipped further from us with each bend, sandbar, village, and the never-ending wall of green between river and sky.

 

We made 4 or 5 stops along the way at police checkpoints and for immigration control.  We didn’t take pictures of the villages or any close-up pictures of residents.  In some cases, we were told not to.  In other cases, we simply weren’t comfortable.  That said, we couldn’t help taking this image from a checkpoint office when the officer stepped out… not a fancy office, but well organized and a pretty good view from the window. 

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Passing through the checkpoints was smooth as far as we could tell.  We don’t speak French, so don’t know what was actually said.  But the process is pretty consistent crossing boarders whether at an airport, land crossing, or traveling upriver.  Our captain, Blase, knew where and who we needed to see, the process we needed to follow, and for the most part seemed to be known by the officers.  All stops were fairly similar:  coast in to the bank between people washing, fishing, kids playing, pirogues, and such; tie off to a root, branch or similar on a moderate sloped high bank; walk 50 – 100 yards to the checkpoint, smiling and waving to the kids as we became the object of their attention; wait a few minutes for the official to arrive, review our papers, and have us sign the book; then back down the slope, into the boat, and on up the river.

 

We did vary from the above process on one stop.  With all of the excitement of the Minister staying at Mboko and having breakfast at Lango, we were dispatched without lunches.  We had water from the plane but no food.  We think it was in Malongo we walked through the town to a store where we were able to buy some snacks.  We’ll be recommending to CCC and/or Sangha they consider extending time in one or more of the villages.  While we haven’t sought cultural experiences on other safaris, this is still so raw and natural, i.e. not a commercial boma created for tourism $, that in retrospect we would have enjoyed taking some time to interact with the people.

 

Common view along bank, particularly as we coasted into checkpoint villages

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View of kids playing on an island from one of our checkpoint stops. 

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Typical tie in point… just noticed the cushion on the seat next to the motor.  Oh well, the PDFs were comfortable enough.

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Here and there along the shore there would be a break in forest where a home or two stood.  Some were inhabited and some were vacant.  Many along the river are semi-nomadic hunter/gatherers that move in and out of these home sites depending on the season.  Again, we were advised not to take pictures without first getting permission.  From the boat this meant holding up the camera and pointing at it.  If they waved an OK, we could shoot. 

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If you look at a map, you’ll the Sangha river is the border between the Republic of Congo and Cameroon where we put in at Kabo.  Shortly after the first checkpoint stop in Bomassa is three corners.  This is where the Republic of Congo, Cameroon, and Central African Republic converge.  Continuing upriver and leaving the RoC behind us, Cameroon remains on the left and CAR on the right.  There are no stops on the Cameroon side, though the largest town we saw along the river was Libongo. From the view and what we learned later, among other things, Libongo is a lumber town with a sizable mill on the river.  Quite a way further and just prior to Malongo the river is no longer part of the border, flowing now entirely in the CAR.  While the views don’t change, I felt this as another step deeper into the wild.

 

As we passed by Bayanga there was relief and excitement.  It was now approaching 5 hours on the river, stops notwithstanding.  It simultaneously seemed to have been an eternity and a blink of the eye.  All thoughts and searching now turned to Sangha Lodge.  The lodge is tucked into the forest and rooms positioned so well that it is very difficult to see unless you know what you’re looking for and where. 

 

We put in on a sandy beach.  From there we crossed a small river by hand ferry, walked up a slope and covered stairs, and were greeted with cool juice, wash cloths, and a team – FAMILY – of people that make Sangha Lodge one of the absolute standout camp/lodge experiences we have had in Africa.

 

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Facilities are welcoming, open, well placed for enjoying the views and built to blend with the forest.  The community dining, lounge, library, and viewing space is at the top of the stairs coming up from the ferry.  Great location as we welcomed the cool drinks and wash cloths each day we returned from our excursions.  A trail continues up the slope providing access to each of the rooms.  They have been replacing the old rooms.  We were in the new #5:

Our room’s viewing deck.

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Note the full wrap screens for viewing… they are still very private as the back is solid and there is dense forest between cabins.

View in from deck.

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View out

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View of back from trail

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Ensuite with on demand(ish) hot and cold water.  Sometimes the hot water needs to run for a bit to make it from the ‘boiler’ to the room, but for the most part we showered in the early evening when a cool start to the shower was quite welcome.

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Sangha Lodge stands out for so many reasons, but for us the quintessential difference that sets it apart from all other camps we’ve experienced is Rod, Tamar, Alon, Maja, Tessa, Fulvia, Pedro, Alain, Guylain…  While Fulvia and Pedro may have moved on, I have no doubt Rod and Tamar will seek out and foster the same familiar approach.  It is difficult to adequately express through words the difference, but I suspect it comes down to the passion they all have for Sangha and the Pangolin Project and their desire to share it.  The evening meals included everyone, bouts of malaria notwithstanding:  Rod and Alon missed a couple of evenings.  Conversations ran the gamut and were reminiscent of family gatherings at home.  To be sure, Rod and Alon have a special and quirky sense of humor; but once you understand, it becomes quite fun and entertaining. 

 

Alain, Guylain, and the entire staff supporting the lodge…  Always smiles.  Always there offering a helping hand, cool drink, or snack.  It was never forced, and we were welcome to go behind the bar or into the cooler if there wasn’t anyone around.  Never needed to.

 

A toast to Fulvia!  We may make a trip to whatever camp she ends up working at (I believe she was heading for Kenya, but who knows with the pandemic) simply to enjoy her personal hospitality and magic touch with food… fresh focaccia, bruschetta, antipasto, and little touches to meals that took them from very good to memories we’ll recall when preparing our own meals or dining in fine restaurants throughout the world. 

 

The first example of the personal investment came when Rod learned that we were sent upriver without lunch.  While he had no part in the mix up, it was clear he was personally upset and concerned.  We were fine albeit a bit hungry.  It was too late for lunch, but he moved hors d’oeuvres and dinner up.  And as we learned over our 10 days there, best to self-limit on the hors d’oeuvres because they could be a full and balanced meal on their own. 

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We’d had one of the most unique days of travel.  The serene breakfast view over Lango Bai, the arrival of the Minister and her entourage, challenges with the cruiser, quick flight into the sea of green broken by brown river ribbons, up the river, village stops and views, and then Sangha Lodge…  and not a bad view to close the day.

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1/13 – Dzanga Bai

 

Up around 5:30 to enjoy coffee and review of gear for the day.  We’ve always enjoyed our morning coffee on safari but sitting on our private deck looking out over the river was pretty special each morning.  Breakfast around 6:30. We opted to sit out near the viewing deck each morning…

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Down the steps, ferry across the river (not the Sangha, the little tributary), and into the cruiser.  Pedro was our Sangha driver/guide.  Clem sat shotgun.  T and I filled the next row of seats for the 20 minute drive up the lodge road, down through two B’aka villages, and down the WWF road to the headquarters just before Bayanga.  At HQ we picked up Christian, our WWF guide; Yaff, our chainsaw man and a dead ringer for a young Wesley Snipes, right down to the wrap around, mirrored sunglasses; and Ayus, our B’aka tracker.  Except for the two days we went upriver for treks in the Valley of the Giants and up the waterfalls, this was the morning routine.

 

All loaded, off we went for the 1 – 1 ½ hour drive to Dzanga Bai.  The road becomes a track, becomes a vehicle path requiring some clearing every morning.  Sometimes it only required some cutting of branches from inside the cruiser.  Other times it required Ayus get out and trim.

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And other times it required Ayus, Yaff, and Christian…

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While none of our trips required the chainsaw, there was evidence of old and recent chainsaw clearing. In one place on the spur road to Dzanga Bai we saw where it took 3 days to eventually get the tree fall cleared.  BIG trees, but we'll save that review until our Valley of the Giants trek.

 

We left our cruiser at the WWF camp at the end of the Dzanga Bai spur track.  We understood the trek to the bai would take around 35 minutes and include some water crossings in the first 5 – 10 minutes.  The prior evening Rod had said the path was smooth and that he’d walked it barefoot on occasion.  I decided, ‘what the heck’ and started off barefoot but with sandals for the section after the water crossing.  I must admit, I loved the idea of walking barefoot through Central Africa/Congo.  It was worthy, but I didn’t do it on our return😊

 

Ayus looking back to make sure we were staying together, Pedro and Terese next, and then Clem and Yaff.  Note: Pedro and Clem are carrying shoes, Ayus and Yaff are carrying their flip flops, and Terese was wearing her boots.  There is no right or wrong way to do it, as will be shown on our return…

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I’d scoured the internet for everything I could find on Dzanga Bai.  I watched video, viewed stills, read reviews.  Nothing prepared me for those last few steps before the platform.  We were told about midway to the Bai that we were to keep talking to an absolute minimum, keep on eye on Ayus for any indication we needed to stop, and that when we get to the bai we were to continue directly to the steps of the platform and up as quietly as possible; no stopping for pictures.

  

About 5 minutes out we could hear the occasional rumblings, roars, and trumpeting.  Hard to describe the anxious anticipation.  As we weaved through the last bit of thick forest, we started to glimpse clearing and the posts of the platform… and beyond an elephant here, an elephant there, and then as eyes started to grasp what we were seeing - all the time being aware of foot placement and trying to keep moving toward the steps – it wasn’t an elephant here and there, THEY WERE EVERYWHERE! 

 

https://youtu.be/svRESwoNS6w - 29 second 180* panorama of Dzanga Bai with a great trumpet at the beginning.  Shot wide angle.  The bai is truly huge.

 

The far, right side of the Bai

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Far, left

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Far, Center

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Mid, Center

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Near Center

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Most of the day we spent on the platform.  It is spacious, covered, and open.  While it can sway a bit if people are walking around, it is only an issue if shooting video.  The cover is essential for shade.  I’m sure it is welcome in the rain as well.  While we were there it was sweltering at times. If we didn’t have shade it would have been unbearable.  Being open is great for whatever breezes came along, and they mercifully did from time to time.  Being open also means sweat bees (tiny flies) have access.  They don’t bite, but they swarm to the eyes.  At times they were relentless, and we sought cover under head nets, but most of the time it was fine.  In fact, we only remember the heat and the flies because of our notes.

 

A little after noon we went down to ground level for eye to eye views.

 

https://youtu.be/K1hRS7nC1rc – This video is 3:06 long (you can skip through if it moves too slow😊).  Audio at the beginning is heavy with wind and shutter snap but soon is replaced with bird call and some fun elephant rumbles and trumpets.  The mineral hole in front was a center of interest and as soon as one gets access, another will push them out.  A group made a bee line from the forest directly to the hole.  You’ll see the mama would only tolerate the calf for a bit, then push it out, but the calf was persistent and got back in while mama remained out to ward off others coming in. Then we were discovered and had to retreat.  We spent close to ½ an hour on the ground.

 

Golden

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Racing stripe

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Two Tone

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Natural

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Contrast

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A little later in the day a couple of Giant Forest Hogs came into the bai.

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Almost forgot the buffalo!?!

In the relative cool of the morning on firm ground

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When it heated up they moved to mud.

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Sometimes they roamed and mingled with the elephants, but mostly the elephants moved them out.

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There were elephants coming and going the entire time we were there.  They are constantly moving, calling, covering with mud, sucking up water and minerals, bullying and being bullied...  It is near impossible to convey the experience.  How many you may wonder?  We counted as many as 155 in the bai at one time.  With them moving in and out I have no doubt we saw over 300.  Later in the trip we will return to Dzanga Bai and will share more information and images.   

What the heck, one more classic view.

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At around 3:15 we packed up and headed back.  We were delayed a bit because of elephants on the trail, but otherwise we moved at a pretty good clip.  Our experience walking in helped with footwear decisions going out…

Socks work on the dry in between mud and wet.                                                                       And they work in the water too!

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https://youtu.be/WdMl2WRgLew - an 11 second “Disney” moment for Clem… Walking through butterflies along the river. (mostly because it's fun and his mother will be so proud!)

 

The drive back was uneventful.  We dropped off Christian, Ayus, and Yaff, and then back to Sangha Lodge.  We got back around 5:30. It was still very warm.  We love the western view out over the water, but this also means the room takes direct sun in the evening.  We both enjoyed cool-off showers before heading down to the lounge area for drinks, snacks, and dinner.

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A worthy sunset

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Tomorrow we track gorilla.  Or, do we?

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AKR1
Posted (edited)

@GBE

This was simply an outstanding episode. What a transfer- while it seemed a long 5 hours down a river on a tiny boat with a noisy 40hp outboard motor, your comment “ it simultaneously appeared to be an eternity and [yet] a blink of an eye “ says it all. A special shout out to the superb Dzanga Bai videos, especially the one at eye level that’s technically superb and allows the rest of us to really experience part of what you saw. Great pictures as well. 
Along with @johnweir excellent report this one now really confirms Sangha Lodge is something truly special in deep, untamed Africa. Thank you again. 

Edited by AKR1
Correcting Sangha Lodge name
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Kitsafari

awesome videos - such incredible sights of the elephants, hogs and buffaloes. your 5-hour ride on the water might have been noisy but it was first class compared with what we had in Gabon. I would have felt completely safe. 

 

sangha lodge sounds just perfect. and thanks for the info on the treks to and fro the bai. socks, or crocs seem the way to go!

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GBE

@AKR1 – Thank you.  I’m about 1/3 of the way through @johnweir Sangha TR.  We’d finalized our trip prior to their trip, and I was off ST until earlier this year.  No doubt his and @optig reports would have driven or reassured our decision to commit 10 days to Dzanga-Sangha and Sangha Lodge.  I’m going to hold finishing his TR until I’m done posting ours so as not to be swayed in my presentation/recollection.  However, I absolutely agree with your assessment that the combination of our TRs should give anyone interested sufficient beta to make a decision and hopefully inspire more people to go.  As John points out, there needs to be more tourist travel to help support and sustain the lodge and the conservation efforts in the area.

 

There are some clear changes between last May and when we were there in January.  For one, the new rooms at Sangha lodge are almost complete.  Also, it sounds like the building we relaxed in at Bai Hokou (next episode) was under construction last May.  Tremendous infrastructure progress in a short period of time… but another reason more visitors are needed.

 

@Kitsafari – The noise wasn’t a negative, but for full disclosure in a TR I felt it necessary to let prospective visitors know.  As in most experiences, attitude makes all the difference.  For us, the noise was just part of the experience, not a negative and perhaps a positive as it forced a certain level of isolation and hence freedom to simply observe and let the mind wonder.  

 

There was never a concern, or incident to cause concern, about security or safety at anytime on our trip.  I’m looking forward to reading your Gabon TR.  Perhaps after that we can have a discussion on support, comfort, pioneering, safety, security, et al as these all impact how we go about exploring, whether it is a first time game driving safari or pioneering areas with little to no tourist history or infrastructure…  if there is such a topic already on ST, please point me in that direction.

 

Footwear – We took gaiters.  While we found them indispensable trekking mountain gorilla in Virunga and Rwanda, we had little to no use for them on this trip.  Wading was always over the ankle, rendering gaiters more of a hindrance to drying than a protection against water getting in.  The humidity is so high, and it is so warm, that within minutes of the vehicle stopping, and hence losing the convective cooling and drying, we were soaked hat to sock.  We’d thought the gaiters would be useful for keeping debris and insects out, their primary value in Virunga.  But debris and insects weren’t an issue in Dzanga-Sangha.

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GBE
Posted (edited)

1/14 – Bai Hokou and the Mata gorilla group

Today’s plan was to drive the 3 – 3 ½ hours to Bai Hokou and track Mayele’s group.  The morning went as expected.  After picking up our WWF team we headed out the same road toward Dzanga Bai.  Vines and branches encroached, necessitating occasional stops to cut them back.  We were starting to understand the relationship between speed, overhanging branches, branch and vine height relative to the cruisers hood, canopy, and roll bars such that we could anticipate whether we needed to duck, put an arm up to deflect, or simply test our ability to ‘not flinch’ as a branch whips past us.  While I enjoyed the game, I believe it was this morning or the next that Terese decided to shift from the outside seat to the middle seat to reduce potential whipping.  While little to no sun breaks through the canopy we found it practical to wear our sunglasses for protection from insects and debris. 

 

We had special circumstances that are likely not to be repeated, but that I want to share.  First is that Clem was trained at Odzala by Alon.  So, there was familiarity and friendship along with the stories we enjoyed in the evenings.  Second, with Clem scheduled to fill in at Sangha Lodge in a couple of weeks, he was with us so he could learn the area, people, procedures, etc.  This benefited us in that he understood us from the week prior in Odzala.  The other benefit was Pedro was his primary teacher.  Raised in Belgium, same generation as Clem, and similar guide school experiences contributed to them hitting it off right from the start.  It was almost as if they were long lost friends.  Third, Pedro was interning at Sangha, part of his guiding education.  While he was teaching Clem about Sangha, Clem was teaching him about species, behaviors, realities of guiding, and butterflies.  These combinations provided us with a unique experience and broader insights into our experiences. 

 

The last mile or two is arguably the trickiest track to navigate we’ve ever encountered.  People pay big bucks at amusement and ORV parks for such rides!  No other way to describe and images don’t do it justice: You’ll need to go and experience it yourself!  Listening to Christian and Yaff goading, challenging, and laughing just added to the overall fun and good humor as Pedro white knuckled us through.  Clem paid close attention as he’d be tasked to make the drive next time.

 

The Bai Hokou camp is similar to Dzanga Bai’s camp albeit larger to support more volunteers for both research and habituating.  There is a large, comfortable, screened community space we were able to use as we waited for information from the trackers.  Tracking the groups here is more similar to Rwanda and Virunga: There are tracker/observers that radio back to camp to advise on each groups location.  This is also in place to control how many humans are near each group as there are various researchers also viewing.  We originally planned to view the Mayele group.  We learned they had not been found yet this morning and that they had been far out the previous days.  We had the option of waiting or we could switch to the Mata group.  The Mata group was much closer, just a 2-minute walk!  Plus, they were in the bai!  But trackers hadn’t seen Mata himself and we’d likely only see the females and juveniles.  On top of this, evidently the Mata group is the least habituated of the 3 groups and there was no telling how much time we might have with them.  Seeing a silver back is really cool, but simply watching gorillas interacting is very rewarding too.  We also had two more tracks planned.  So, we opted to see the females in the near by bai. 

 

In addition to having masks, in Dzanga we also washed our hands and dipped the soles of our boots in sanitizer before entering the forest.  I wish all trekking/tracking followed such strict rules.  We had to wait a bit after entering the forest.  Turned out there were researchers with the group, and they had to return before we could continue.  The wait was only a minute or 2 and within 5 minutes of leaving camp we were descending a small hill to the edge of the bai. 

 

The bai is relatively narrow, maybe 50 yards wide where we were.  Across from us it was bordered by a steep hill, thick with forest.  Farther up it tended to flatten out and curve away, so we don’t know how long it was. Where we entered it was very similar to Dzebi with incredibly lush, green grasses.  Sure enough, on the other side of stream we saw some of the group.  More than that, in the middle of the bai, strolling to our side, was Mata himself.  We would have been quite content to stay where we were and simply observe but the trackers were insistent we follow them through the forest on the edge of the bai for better views of Mata.  We tried twice to indicate we were fine where we were; we would rather observe from a distance than chance chasing this ‘least habituated’ group out of the bai.  Our objections overruled, we followed them into the forest, losing sight of all the group for a few minutes, but coming out a little further up stream where we had a peekaboo view of Mata on our side and the rest of the group on the other.

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While the group drifted out of sight, Mata remained visible in the shadowed fringes of the bai.  We enjoyed putting the cameras down and just watching as the dappled sunlight simply wouldn’t allow for worthy images. 

 

           --This situation is one of the reasons we book multiple tracking days. Knowing we had more days, we were able to simply enjoy watching him without feeling the need to ‘get the picture.’  It is also interesting to observe the trackers reaction to us not shooting.  They kept wanting to move us, we learned later they equate shutter snap with happy clients.  Clem understood we were good just watching and I do think he had to work with both Pedro and Christian to communicate to the trackers that we were content to sit, watch, and simply let things unfold.  Between video, no shutter snap, and using live view screens on the back of the camera it can also look like we aren’t shooting when in fact we are.  Kudos to Clem for helping to manage the communication. --

 

Indeed, sitting still for a bit, some of the group came back into view across the bai.  We watched them for another 20 minutes or so.  They would feed a bit, move, feed some more.  The adults tended to move only a few steps before settling in while the juveniles tended to be a bit more restless or perhaps less efficient in their moving from spot to spot.  Eventually they moved up into the forest and then up into the trees.

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Always fun to see infants clinging, peaking around, and getting a free ride...

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gcc1727bfU4 - This 94 second video reflects the activities we observed.  While there is little doubt they knew we were there, they went about their business in a very casual way, not indicating in anyway they were aware of our presence. This viewing was more similar to our time at Dzebi Bai in Odzala than the other tracking experiences, even Ngaga.  About 2/3 in, with audio turned up, you can hear the mama with the baby on her back grunting.

 

 

As the group moved into the forest, Mata moved out into the bai.  He looked at us, as if to say ‘I know you’re there… and you are allowed to be here because I allow it’ and then he headed across and into the forest.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GwwosLLRtKM - This 62 second video… is one of my favorites.  You can also hear in the background the trackers ‘tlock, tlock’.  The sound is used as part of the habituation process, signaling no harm is intended.

 

We had about 40 minutes with them before they all effectively disappeared into the tree.  While we could hear them and occasionally see movement, the darkness of the canopy against the brightness of the near noon sky made it difficult at best.  We agreed the quality of the viewing made up for any 'lost minutes' and started to make our way back to camp.  Along the way we camp upon a mass of butterflies.  Quite a contrast, gorilla to butterfly...

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Clem was quite adept at catching, displaying and explaining features unique the each specie, and releasing again.

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We followed the same wash/sanitize process going back into camp.  Seemed unnecessary, but Pedro explained that it was easier to maintain the process if it was done both going and coming than just going in. 

What happens to those that don’t follow the rules😊 And in back is the large screened community space.

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We then took a walk down a side trail to their natural shower and wash area... and bat hangout.

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Pretty crazy, but it wasn’t even noon yet!  There was a small part of me that almost felt like we’d violated some code about ‘earning the view’.  But that was a very small part and we all appreciated how amazing it was to have such a great viewing so close.  We decided to have lunch at the camp.  Christian and Yaff interacted with the camp staff.  Ayus brought out some handmade bracelets, necklaces, and such.  We didn’t have cash on us, but communicated we’d like to see again another day.

 

Back to the lodge relatively early.  We moved our deck chairs off to a shady spot and alternated enjoying the shade and taking cool showers.  This also gave us an opportunity to catch up on notes, review images, and make adjustments to gear choices for the next day.  Cool drinks, appetizers, and another amazing dinner.  We talked with Rod about the possibility of staying overnight on the Dzanga Bai platform.  This would mean some changes to our itinerary and was contingent on the WWF, but at least the possibility was being explored.  Then off to bed.  Tomorrow we net hunt with the B’aka.

Edited by GBE
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  • 1 month later...
jeremie

Ufffff!! I just came across your fantastic TR right now!!! I have to confess you it is actually my dream to visit Loango, Odzala and Sangha!!!!  Thank you so much to share this experience with ourselves, it is very much appreciated! :)

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pault

What a great trip this is. Gorilla heavy, but that is no bad thing. And how spoiled have you been?! Sounds so wonderful. 

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GBE

@jeremie Thank you for your kind words.  I hope to get back to writing in the next day or two...  only about 1/2 way through with several new experiences to share.  I hope you realize your dreams as the basin is everything and more than we imagined it would be or can convey with mere words and images.

 

@pault ... we really get "spoiled" on our next day of tracking:-)  

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jeremie

Can you give us further information about Dzebe BaÏ?

Where is it located and how far is it from Ngaga and Mbomo? How often are they visited by tourists? What is the scientific project there?

 

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@jeremie

 

It's a few hours from the camps, on the edge of the park. Hadn't really opened to tourism when the lodges were still opened, but we're planning to.

APN monitors it and has a group of habituated gorillas not far from it.

@GBE

Amazing trip report, brings me back home while stuck in France😄

Hope you're good!

 

Clem

@G&T

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AKR1

Recalled this trip report while watching PBS in the US this evening - they had a fascinating segment on Dzanga Sangha. Had interviews with Park Rangers and Rory Young. Recommended if you have access. PBS Newshour July 28. 
@GBE a gentle reminder to consider restarting your excellent report 🧐

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GBE

@jeremie My apologies for the delay.  What @Clem stated is about as much as we could have provided.  Prior to our trip I was able to find a mention of Dzebe on a TripAdvisor review, but since your inquiry, I haven't been able to find it or any other.  

 

@AKR1 Thank you for the PBS lead.  I've built the next 3 days:  B'aka hunting, (Koki) pangolin, back to Dzanga Bai for a day and over night.  Hope to have it loaded in the next hour or so.

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GBE

1/15 – Net Hunting with the B’aka

 

This morning started much like the other days with us driving through the B’aka villages to pickup the WWF team.  Typically, we would see people here and there going about their business.  More often than not we exchanged waves and smiles with an occasional call out between Pedro and someone he knew. Kids would run after us waving, calling out, and trying for a ‘high-five’.  This morning there were many, many people lining the road, all clamoring for our attention and opportunity to be selected for the hunt.  Going on these hunts is coveted for a number of reasons not the least of which is the prospect of catching something.  On top of that, we provide transportation to locations farther out that might provide better results.  Also, everyone selected gets a share of the fees paid to join the hunt.  We didn’t pick anyone up on our way through to the WWF.  Christian decides who is selected and this would be done passing back through on our way to where the hunt would occur this day.

 

To our eyes the selection processes is chaotic.  With dozens of people out with nets trying to get in the vehicles, Christian had his hands full demanding some stay out/get out while others could get in/stay in.  All the while there are others watching, cheering, encouraging, distracting Christian so others good get back in…  kids running around.  It seemed explosive but everyone seemed to understand how far they could push.  It was a fairly even split between men and women as well as young and old.

 

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lniumqSvSmU – This 43 second video is primarily of the singing and clapping that started as soon as they were in the vehicles and for the most part continued the entire drive to the hunt site.  The elephant at the end delayed us a bit, but such is traffic in the jungle.

 

 

 

We reached our hunt site in about an hour, elephant delay included.  Christian provided a brief explanation of the hunting process and how the meat would be split if something were caught.  With that, we were off down the track a bit and then into the forest.  There are no trails, unlike the path out to Dzanga or most of the gorilla tracking.  This gave us a much different perspective on how ‘thick’ the forest is.  While visually it is open, i.e. not lush with giant leaves or dense with Marantaceae, the sheer volume of trees and vines made passage a fun and challenging obstacle course, especially at the pace set by the B'aka.

The drive to the hunt                                               Nets up close

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The walk up the track                                                                                     Trail-less Forest

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We’d asked if we could participate in the hunt and were told we could join in the making of noise to force animals from their freeze to flight instinct.  Nice thought but not practical.  This experience is not staged nor contrived.  The B’aka are there to hunt.  They were focused and moved to maximize their time.  While we may have been welcome to participate, they were not going to jeopardize their opportunity by slowing down or instructing us.  In the end, this was fine.  We had little to no down time between observing, getting explanations on the hunt, learning about the flora, drinking from a tree branch, watching Ayus make net string/rope from a vine, and the list goes on and on. 

 

The hunting process is a series of stringing the nets, making noise, pulling the nets, and moving to the next spot.  It is amazing how quickly they get nets strung.  While we could only see where two nets came together, they always were at exactly the correct length:  Two B’aka would come into view from opposite directions, hanging their nets as they go, and miraculously meeting and connecting the nets without gaps or excess.  Within minutes of the nets being set they would begin the process of taking them down.  How they could do this without getting them tangled or hung up on branches is amazing.  Per explanation, no single person was in charge; “they all know what to do”.  They went through the setup, noise, take down, and move 8 times over the 2 hours spent hunting.

 

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SRz6xZ78c3w B’aka Net Hunting – This 1:42 video is a mix of net set and net take down with the shouts and noise in the background.

 

Throughout the hunt, they are also looking for and collecting other things.  In the below picture we see her net over one shoulder, a collection of leaves in one hand, and a smile showing off her filed teeth…

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After the hunt they built a shelter (in about 7 minutes), lit a small fire, and had some fun dancing, clapping, and singing before we all gathered for a group picture.

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And a wave good-bye.  One thing that was constant from beginning to end were their smiles…

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If we return, we will absolutely hunt again.  Maybe twice so we can be more than passive observers. 

 

We were back to the lodge by about 1 for lunch.  We then took a short break before heading out to see if we could see Koki, the lone Pangolin under their observation/study.  It is quite warm and humid in the afternoon and we were quite optimistic when we learned Koki might be just a 15-minute walk from the lodge and only about 5 minutes off the road.  That estimate may have been spot on.  It’s a little funny that we probably weren’t more than 100 yards off the road, but the tangled density of the forest slowed us to a virtual (and literal) craw.  That same tangle of forest made shooting pictures a bit tricky, but she afforded us some nice views and a very enjoyable time just watching her move through the branches. 

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YCP1dCwXcF8 - Bracketed with tongue action at the opening and closing, this 87 second video also includes raiding some ants and climbing.  This is one of the more worthy videos...  just saying.

 

 

After about an hour she climbed herself into the far reaches of the trees and out of our sight.  The trackers said she likely wouldn’t descend and would be shortly looking for a hollow to bed down for the night.  With that, we headed back to the lodge and enjoyed a quiet evening relaxing on the deck and watching the fisherman below.

 

At dinner we learned that our request to spend a night on the Dzanga Bai platform was approved for the following day/night: No problem for Rod and team to adjust our itinerary to accommodate the WWF.  We discussed gear and logistics and headed off to bed – marveling at our day’s experiences and with excited anticipation of the upcoming night at the Bai. 

 

1/16 – 24 hours of Dzanga Bai

We started a little later this morning.  This was good as we wanted to review our gear decisions for the extended stay at the Bai.  And while the routine was very similar to previous mornings, there were some other differences; Namely more gear and trips to load the vehicle and a few more conversations between Clem, Pedro, and Rod on the logistics.  Oh, and time to sit with our morning coffee, watching the fishermen and listening to their singing…

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We arrived at the platform around 11:50 am.  While Christian and Ayus helped carry gear to the platform, they left shortly after arrival and wouldn’t return until late morning the next day.  Being familiar with the platform and bai, it took little time for each of us to pick our spot(s) and set up for the day to come.  Around 12:30 Pedro started to set up lunch.  By 1:30 we’d all finished lunch, cleaned up, settled in… and both Clem and Pedro were sacked out.  By 2:15 Terese had curled up for a nap as well.  On one hand, how on earth can anyone squander time on the platform with a nap?  On the other hand, the beauty of visiting twice and spending the night is that there is no sense of urgency to keep watch every second of every minute.

 

Right up to about 3 it was very comfortable on the platform.  It was warm but with a nice breeze to keep us relatively cool and the sweat bees to a minimum.  But then the breeze stopped, the humidity became stifling, and the sweat bees saaaawwwwarrrrrmmmmmd!  I believe we all opted to wear head nets for a time.  Later the breeze picked back up, the sun was a bit lower in the sky, and it became very comfortable.  We took this time to set up a couple of sleeping tents, a hammock tent, and get our sleeping bags/mats and personal gear situated for the night. 

 

Life on the platform, in no particular order…

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Up to about 5 the activity in the Bai was pretty similar to our previous visit.  Elephants would come and go with a solid 135 – 155 visible at all times.  There was constant activity posturing and scheming to get access to the coveted mineral hole directly in front of the platform.  There were numerous mock battles, ongoing roars and trumpeting, and a constant flow into and out of the various “hot spots.”  A ½ dozen buffalo wallowed in the mud; ignoring and being ignored by the elephants.  Giant Forest Hogs wandered through; not ignoring or being ignored by the elephants.  Actually, pretty funny to watch some of the smaller elephants chase off the hogs. 

 

The ebb and flow of the bai was non-stop...

going deep                                                        coming up pink                                                        drinking it down

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mud can be fun too

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how the older kids play

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jbtn8avTxhg - This 60 second video is of the classic trunk plunge, blowing of bubbles, drawing up, and then sauntering off as they enjoy the fruits of their labor.  This process is going on throughout the bai all day, and we assume all night based on the sounds we slept/didn’t sleep through. 

 

We were enjoying the softer evening light on the bai, something I’d hoped staying over would provide.

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Then, at 5:42, Terese called our attention to the left edge of the bai.  A string of Bongos!  3, 4, 5…  13, 14, 15…  23, 24, 25… 36 in all.  They paraded across the bai directly in front of us and well up into the far right end of the bai.  We watched them as day turned to dusk and they faded into the shadows as dark fell on the bai.  What a great wrap to the day.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJhDzE8ZReU - Bongo in Dzanga Bai is a 90 second video of them coming into the bai, crossing in front through the mud, and then grouped in a part of the bai with more vegetation than mud.  While your eyes will be drawn to the Bongo you may also enjoy watching, and listening to, the elephants as well. 

 

 

Night on the bai is a whole other experience.  Lights are kept to a minimum on the platform.  Dinner after dark is a little tricky without light, but with the Bongo capturing all our attention through the last light of day we thought it a fair trade.  Besides, it was a fun adventure figuring out what we were eating by taste and texture!  In the dark before moon rise there is little to nothing visible.  So, by 8:15 we were all sacked out and listening to the sounds.  Wow!  I suppose there was just as much roaring, trumpeting, and splashing during the day, but with hearing as the primary sense it was really something.  Somewhat by choice and somewhat because of the all-night party in the bai I don’t think any of us got a full night sleep. 

 

I was first up at around 4:45. The low moon and heavy mist created eerie shapes and shadows.  As day broke, the mist was so heavy there was no visible sunrise and the far end of the bai remained obscured.  We could see 1 buffalo and 1 bongo but otherwise all elephants.  The most evident difference in the morning was that most of the elephants were their natural darker grays and browns.  The few that had a little red or yellow only had a remnant dusting.  There weren’t any in the mud holes either.  But, we witnessed a significant increase in mock battles.

                                  Some battles were in the open.                                                                                              Some were in brush                                                                         

1104533911_14.010mockbattleintheopenRESIZED.JPG.e75787238be67e1f152c67b56c2d5e53.JPG1502155257_14.011mockbattleinthebrushRESIZED.JPG.e4808b35423ab48c1a9724c56feac107.JPG

 

And some were just a little different!

 1980979417_14.012mockbattleRESIZED.JPG.01fbaa4f2ff30fed677df895f7f9f12f.JPG

 

Everyone was up by 6 – 6:30. We broke down the tents while Pedro set up coffee, juice, and breakfast; All the while gazing out over the bai. The sun and mist vied for supremacy for a good part of the morning and it wasn’t until about 9:30 that the mist finally succumbed, and we started to get views across the entire bai.  As the morning started to warm the bongo left, more buffalo came in, colobus could be seen in the forest fringe directly across from us, and the elephants started covering in mud.  It was really fun to watch them enter charcoal grey and over about 15 – 20 minutes completely cover themselves in a vibrant yellow coat of mud.  By about 11 the tapestry of colors in the bai looked very much as it did when we arrived the previous day.  Wonderful to have seen a 24-hour cycle.

The sun would start to burn off the mist                                                                   Then the mist would settle back in                      

417168996_14.020earlymorningwithmistliftedRESIZED.JPG.cf12f64b2d3b1741c27d716215594c67.JPG551373720_14.021morningwithmistreturnedRESIZED.JPG.580279bdb1e534b2d52fe6ecbc2833ee.JPG

And a common view in the morning haze... especially the charcoal gray of the elephants.

1410402712_14.022inthecoolofthemorningmistRESIZED.JPG.5f5d7897f1142383335d6f45c6539037.JPG

 

 As the mist gave way to the sun and the bai started to heat up, the elephants started covering themselves in mud.  

Enter charcoal...

1731206999_14.030entercharcoalRESIZED.JPG.0147126ab2ce1932eb76a062808ce31f.JPG

 

Exit gold plated...

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ukJpF12Zyqw - 'Dzanga from Black to Gold' 78 second video is as the title suggests.  The actual time was about 17 minutes, during which time others came and went.  This process went on all day long.  Some good trumpets on the video as well.

 

 

A couple of classic views…

All mudded up and ready for the day

1220325145_14.035allmuddedupandreadyforthedayRESIZED.JPG.8c48e2f4dfcaf98ca366219e866d2fde.JPG

 

Who doesn't love a cow and her calf...

810733755_14.036classicRESIZED.JPG.1e9dcb0e079f2e0cba9ccc355429b8f7.JPG

 

Christian and Ayus arrived around 9:15. At 11 Christian suggested it was decision time, i.e. stay, and pay for another day, or pack it up and head out.  We were content with our experience and knew we could come back again if we wanted.  Loaded, down the steps, a last glance back, and into the forest.  We did have to pause a couple times in the forest because of elephant activity.  Our final elephant view was while we were wading the last bit of the trail…

1369145741_14.040finalviewRESIZED.JPG.f713eea421179318e948d1820fa897ae.JPG

 

We were back to the cruiser by noon, the lodge by 2, showered and seated for lunch by 2:45.  The rest of the afternoon we relaxed in the shade next to our cabin.  Down for drinks around 6 and some great conversations with Rod, Alon, Clem, and Tessa.  Dinner at 7:15 was fish from the Sangha river: As with all the meals it was delicious and prepared perfectly.  Lite conversation with friends during and after dinner was the perfect conclusion to the day.

 

A final thought on Dzanga Bai – I asked Terese what she found most memorable about our time on the Bai.  To wit: ‘We were there, surrounded by everything that goes on, with little else to do but simply be there experiencing it as each moment unfolded.  There was no urgency to keep eyes alert, yet there were always multiple activities to capture our attention.  This allowed us to relax and simply soak it in… or take a nap… or watch the others on the platform…’  We can’t think of another experience like this on any of our safaris.  

 

1/18 – “you are so lucky”

 

Those were Christians words to us as we reached Makumba… but I get ahead of myself.

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JayRon

Wow, it just look like an amazing experience... Thank you for sharing :) 

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michael-ibk

What a sensational Bongo sighting, fantastic!

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GBE

@JayRon It was quite a trip and it's fueled desire to explore further in west central Africa.  Happy to share... just trying to figure out why it takes longer to post a trip report than it does to plan and take the trip:-)

 

@michael-ibk It really was sensational.  It was one of those times when the guides were perhaps more excited than us, and that, in itself, is fun to witness. 

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AKR1

Superb videos- the Bongo one in particular is just tremendous!  Overnight in the Bai appears to be a unique experience not for the faint of heart. So glad you restarted this Trip report. 

Edited by AKR1
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  • 1 month later...
gatoratlarge

Such magnificent gorilla photos and the bai is just eden!  Thank you for sharing!

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