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Zim Girl

What an amazing viewing of the Makumba group and what a superb trip!  Really enjoying this report.

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“And you’re OK with this?”   That was the question Terese would get as we shared with friends and family our plans to visit the Congo basin.  Trekking through the jungle, wading through swam

1/7  Jupiter’s Group – Up around 4:30am.  Being our first morning we didn’t have a routine and we didn’t get to breakfast until just after 5:30. But, we were still ready to roll by 6 as planned. 

1/5 – NBO to BZV 5am flight out of NBO.  We were early enough to ‘politely’ wake the immigration agent to get into the gate area.  Our Ethiopia Air flights were on time, planes clean, food good,

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Even though this trip report is not completed yet I’m ready to award it 🥁 Trip Report of the year 2019-20:rolleyes:

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safarigirl.se

 

Many thanks for this magical TR. I am completely enchanted by the whole experience, everything from nature, activities and animals. Totally fantastic! We have long dreamed of this trip but never got away (which one deeply regrets now) I have learned so much from this TR so thank you very much!

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  • 3 weeks later...

Hi @GBE

how about giving us a nice Christmas present by finishing your report:rolleyes:

thanks! 

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  • 4 weeks later...

@AKR1While not by Christmas, I'll be loading the final installment over the next several hours with the goal to be done... this year:-)  My apologies for the long breaks between each installment.  I'm not sure where the time goes.

 

@safarigirl.seSo pleased to hear you are enjoying this report.  Covid-19 will pass and I wholeheartedly encourage you to make the trip into the basin.  I think we'd be planning a return if we weren't working on a trip to Gabon in '22 (getting ahead of myself:-)

 

@Zim Girl We've been blessed with some extraordinary experiences.  I believe I expressed this earlier in the report, but we intentionally book 'duplicate' and 'triplicate' days/experiences to allow for off days and increase our chances of stellar sightings.  That said, I think the nature of the Odzala and Sangha is that everyday is extraordinary in its own right in part because it is so unique, wild, lightly traveled...

 

@Kitsafari We love the fruit in each hand as well.  He was so relaxed and comfortable.  Truly one of the most memorable experiences of this trip.

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1/21 – Waterfall trek and canopy view

 

While the other guests were up and out early for their gorilla tracking, we had a later start much like our Valley of the Giants day.  We went upriver about 20 – 30 minutes and similar to the previous trek were dropped off along a high bank with no apparent path.  Initially the jungle was very similar.  Soon the terrain changed, and we ascended up through a series of small cliffs, all with water flowing over in cascades or free falling over several over-hung ledges.  We were there during the dry season, so the volume of water was low relative to the evident path when flowing at full capacity: I’d like to see it in the wet season.  Just the same, there was plenty of waterflow contributing to a cacophony that nearly drowned out all other sounds.  While the jungle is pretty much wet all the time, this area is WET with both flowing water and mist.  The foliage was thicker with leaves and there was far more moss, lichen, and ferns than anywhere else we’d been in the basin. 

 

As shown below, there were some giants on this trek as well.  The dark split in the trunk was cavernous, enough so that individually our guide, Clem, and Terese all went in for possible views of flying squirrels high in the cavity. 

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 Note the lichen, moss, ferns, and ‘wetness’ on pretty much all surfaces.  Very different than any other places we’d trekked in the basin.

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Several of the ledges were quite large, allowing us to explore behind the waterfalls and deeper into small mammal caves: one large enough for Clem to crawl in and retrieve some porcupine quills… fortunately they were quills that were left behind!

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Some ledges were small and narrow but offered a nice place to sit and look out into and through the lush jungle.

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There is a view over the canopy on the top of the last ledge where we were able to get close enough to the edge to see through a ‘window’ out over the forest.  The haze was heavy, but we were able to see several horizons. 

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What an incredible wonderland. 

 

The trek was just 2 hours and we were back to the lodge by 11am.  If we were to go again, I think we would ask for Valley of the Giants to be combined with the waterfall trek.  While it might make for a long day, with lunch in the boat transiting from one spot to the next it would be quite doable. 

 

For the afternoon we’d considered requesting a ride into Bayanga to walk the market.  With the day warming and knowing this was our last day at the lodge, we opted to hangout for lunch and then join Maja (Pangolin Project) observing Koki.

 

Our time with Koki was quite memorable, though we have few sharable images.  She was moving the entire time, which makes her fun to watch but tricky for images.  At one point she was on the ground and looked like she might even go between one of the tracker’s legs.  But soon she was back in the trees.  For good measure, a parting shot of Koki (from T’s cell phone camera – go figure).

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There was a welcome, slight breeze when we returned to the lodge.  We relaxed a bit but then reluctantly began organizing for our departure the following morning.  We enjoyed the early evening and dinner chatting with the other guests and lodge staff.  Again, Sangha is special in this way as Rod, Tamar, Alon, Tessa, Maja, Fulvia… everyone from Sangha lodge join in the conversations and it truly is like family and friends gathered for the evening.

 

1/22 – Return to Mboko

There was a definite sadness this morning as we were preparing to leave.  While I always think in terms of return trips, deep down I knew it was unlikely we would ever return.  I write this with a certain melancholy.  Perhaps someday.  This was a typical morning with a 6:30 breakfast and planned 7am departure.  By the time we’d loaded the boat and said our goodbyes it was closer to 7:20. We didn’t feel like clients leaving.  We felt like we were saying goodbye to friends as sorry to see us go as we were to leave.  The minutes seemed to tick ever so slowly as we arranged gear in the boat and prepared to leave; time for a lump to develop in my throat.   I welcomed the ‘solitude’ the boat motor provided as we glided with and across the glassy, milk chocolate Sangha river.  This was needed reflection time…

 

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We expected a non-eventful motor down river.  We found it curious that on our way upriver we needed to leave the boat to clear customs, immigration, police, military…  you name it.  But on the way down river, while we made all the same stops, we never left the boat except to stretch our legs.  Clem and Blaze handled all checks.  That was fine.  At most of the stops there was much activity where we tied off and we enjoyed watching and being watched. 

 

This was the dry season.  While the Congo river was flooded from rains in the east, the Sangha was low.  It was so low, in fact, that we found ourselves down the wrong channel.  ‘Channel’ is perhaps the wrong word as from our view it didn’t matter where we were, the surface of the river looked the same to us from shore to shore.  But, as we scrapped gravel and then reversed the motor, we clogged the water intake for cooling and found ourselves ‘between a rock and a wet spot’.  Kudos to Clem for calling out the clogged intake to Blaze.  Seems Clem has some experience with outboard motors and alerted Blaze before any damage was done.  It probably took a half hour to clear the motor and get us back to the right channel.  No harm from our standpoint.  It wasn’t as if we would miss our flight back to Mboko: The plane was there for us and had nowhere else to go.

 

It took about an hour from the time we arrived in Kabo to clear immigration and complete our transfers to the plane.  There we met two other guests heading the other way.  How I wanted to change our plans and go back upriver with them! 

 

The flight was uneventful.  We had good views for most of the flight.  Having experienced so much of the life, wonder, and magic on the forest floor, we couldn’t help but see the canopy in a different way now than on our way in.  It took just 5 ½ hours to make the trip from the shore at Sangha Lodge to the steps at Mboko.  While Mboko is very much in the wild, I could already feel our time in the bush starting to slip away. 

 

The rooms at Mboko are very much on par with what we enjoyed at Ngaga and Lango.  It’s always fun to see the towel sculptures…

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Sitting area.

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View from the bed.

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Sitting area on deck overlooking the forest.

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The lounge area is larger in order to accommodate up to 24 guests.  A view right

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A view left

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Big, beautiful dining tables

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Early evening, we retired to the lounge.  There we met the other two guests, John and Nancy.  We enjoyed lite conversation through the evening with them, Biff (their guide), and Clem.  And then the conversation started to heat up.  John is a biology professor that spent the last 20 summers working in the field in South Africa.  It was his contention that the best wine in the world comes from SA.  That was simply too much for Clem, our FRENCH guide.  The intensity was comical, almost like discussing politics or religion at table!  But as they each became more insistent and animated in expressing their absolute certainly of their respective positions, I couldn’t help noticing how uncomfortable Biff was becoming.  I suspect she may have been kicking Clem under the table in an effort to get him to relent.  These were her clients, on their last night, and she didn’t need another guide to upset the end of their trip.  In the end it all worked out and we didn’t need to arbitrate – Besides, everyone knows the best wines come from Central Coast California and Walla Walla Washington!

 

During daylight we were allowed to walk unescorted to and from our room.  At night they required escort.  After dinner we took a walk to see some spiders Clem said were best viewed in the dark!  While we didn’t find any of the spiders we did ‘enjoy’ a few moments of watching two ‘lights’ about hip high loping toward us and then off into the night.  We assumed it was a hyena, but we’ll never know for sure.

 

1/23 – Return to Brazzaville

 

We woke to a light fog that seemed appropriate for our last morning in the bush, almost like a soft ending…

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We had a leisurely start to the morning with a 7:30 breakfast, 8:30 departure for the airstrip, and 9am push from the gate.  In addition to John and Nancy, the CCC director of finance was on the flight.  There was still room for each of us to have a window.  As with the flight inbound, our elevation and haze limited the views and engine noise limited the conversation.  We did get some good views as we descended to Brazzaville. 

 

This was an in-country charter so there were no clearance procedures.  We met Net in the baggage claim area.  In a very short time, we were shuttling to the Radisson Blu.  We napped, caught up on emails, transferred photos, hand washed some clothes, and then went down to the bar for beer and snacks: A good end to the day.

 

1/24 – Brazzaville city tour and return to Nairobi

 

Our flight out was scheduled for 11:15pm.  When we booked, we planned to simply relax and perhaps take a walk, but the previous day we discussed taking a city tour with Net.  It sounded worthwhile and knowing Net would be our guide sealed the deal.  We set 10am this morning to meet in the hotel lobby.  The hotel agreed to a 6pm checkout so we could leave our bags in the room and also have time for a shower before heading to the airport.  With the midmorning meet time we were able to sleep in a bit and have a leisurely breakfast before meeting Net.

 

The tour was indeed worthwhile and made better by Net’s familiarity and pride in both the city and its history.  The tour included some driving and walking along with drinks and snacks overlooking the Congo river just below the rapids.  Standouts for me included: the mural on the history arch

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Notable People Avenue,

 

 

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A walk through one of the markets.  No pictures of this, but I could have spent the day wandering through the streets and alleys of this market.

And a fun local artist gallery.  One of her mediums being the repurpose of ‘garbage’ such as this elephant made from bottle caps.

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We wrapped the tour with a view of the rapids and then a stop for drinks and snacks overlooking the river just below the rapids.  In addition to the view, we enjoyed watching fisherman throwing their nets, gathering them back in, and throwing again.

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After the tour we had time to shower, rest a bit, and do some last-minute rearranging of bags.  We also had time for a beer and snacks before our airport shuttle.  At the airport we had a little over 2 hours curbside before we could clear initial security screening.  Maya Maya is new and comfortable but with limited ‘diversions.’  We took turns walking a loop from upstairs, downstairs through baggage claim, and back up.  About the 3rd trip through, stares started to change to smiles and bonjours…  I nice departure recollection of how friendly the people of Brazzaville were.

 

Initial screening is called by flight and was, by and large, uneventful.  It is worth noting that check-in and ticketing is secure side, so make sure you have flight confirmation if you haven’t printed your tickets prior.  Check-in included a humorous finish: The attendant was adamant we check our bags.  Communication was challenging but we were not open to checking any bags (we pack specifically to travel with carryon only).  Eventually another agent came up, reviewed our information, and seemingly exasperated said to the first agent “business” and to us with a bit of a smile, “OK carry, don’t want to anger you”.  With boarding passes in hand, we moved to the next security screening.  It’s always a head scratcher how items that had cleared security multiple times earlier in the trip, including at Maya Maya, had to be examined and, in the case of the snub nose bandage scissors, confiscated.  Oh well, just part of the experience.

 

While being a non-stop flight to NBO, we did have a stop in Kinshasa.  I was surprised by the number of people that actually deplaned.  It was a 10-minute flight that didn’t get above 5,000 feet.  We’ve had many flights take off and land at night, but we’ve never experienced an airport as dark as FIH.  We were told we’d be on the ground for only 20 – 30 minutes: An hour later we started to taxi back to the runway.  I was quite surprised and pleased it only took an hour.

 

1/25 – Recover in Nairobi

 

On arrival at NBO we experienced a new layer of health screening: While not specified, we now believe it was Covid-19 related.  The Crowne Plaza (formerly Lazizi) shuttle was waiting for us.  This hotel is within the airport security zone and we were in our room by 8:30 am.  While we could have flown out of NBO late on the 25th, we booked out on the 26th so we could relax and/or do a little sightseeing.  It was good we’d planned this as a rest day as T had food poisoning from the meal on the flight.  While she alternated between sleeping and trips to the bathroom, I was able to transfer files, check emails, and finalize our plans for the following day:

Before leaving Brazzaville for Odzala we reached out to Zarek Cockar to see if he would be available to guide on the 25th or 26th.  We’d spent a day with him in NNP on a previous return through NBO and were looking forward to another great day together.  While Zarek was not available, he referred and introduced us to Andrew Conway.  Thank you to Zarek for the referral and introduction to Andrew.  And thank you to Andrew for working with us through sporadic email to set the 26th aside for a day in NNP.

 

Later in the evening T was feeling better and was ready to try eating again.  We enjoyed a light dinner in the hotel café and also arranged for them to pack us box lunches for the following day.  Kudos to them for the follow through to produce and deliver the boxes to our room at around 4:30 the following morning.

 

1/26 – Nairobi NP, Sheldrick, and return home

Up early, packed, lunches delivered, and we were in the lobby and checked out by 5:30am.  Andrew arrived at 5:40, a few minutes early, and we were ready for our day in the park.  Andrew’s rig was in the shop, so he arranged for Frank to be our driver.  This was great for us as it freed Andrew so we could all get to know one another as well as free him to guide and spot.  On top of this, Frank had over 10 years’ experience driving and guiding in NNP.  This proved quite valuable as he was able to navigate away from the crowds, giving us some exclusive viewings: And, the day was fraught with rains, washouts, and vehicles stuck in the mud; but not us!

 

Nairobi National Park is a jewel and worthy of a day if you are traveling through NBO.  Following are a couple of our sightings.

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We finished our day in the park with a visit to Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.  This was our first visit and was certainly worthy.

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Andrew dropped us at NBO around 6:30. While I was able to check-in online, I was not able to print our boarding passes.  The kiosks curbside wouldn’t print them either, so we waited until about 7:30 for the ticketing counters to open.  While waiting, we pulled a change of clothes, toiletries, laptop and camera gear to carry with us and checked the rest: Home bound we don’t care if a bag is lost or delayed.  Pretty smooth the rest of the way.  Our flights were on time, we had time to shower and relax at LHR before our onward flight, and for the first time our Global Entry worked without a hitch getting back into the states.

 

This trip is still a marvel in our minds.  Much as we assertively encourage anyone vaguely interested in an African safari to make it a priority… save every penny and make whatever sacrifices are needed to create the time and finances to make the trip:  Multiply that for anyone that has been on safari and is now contemplating at trip into the Congo Basin.  Odzala, Sangha… they are wild, other worldly… spectacularly brilliant…

 

As much as we love the savanna and NNP, to end this report with lions, impala, or even rhino seems inappropriate.  So, I’ll leave you with an image pulled from “the lost 100” images recovered just days ago…

243209070_23.001bongofinish.JPG.c6fea759dfc8775142a7a0482493968d.JPG

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AKR1

@GBE

While you believe you may not return to the CAR, most of us will likely never get to actually make the trip. So the fact you actually pulled a highly complex trip like this off without a hitch is itself remarkable. Thanks again for a truly exceptional trip report. 
Be well and happy new year. 

Edited by AKR1
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Zim Girl

Beautiful image to finish on.  Great trip report, enjoyed it very much.

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@AKR1I hope this report, and others like it, help to inspire others to visit the Congo Basin.  But for those that can't, I hope they can derive some vicarious enjoyment from this and similar reports.  

I must call out again the Congo Conservation Company and Sangha Lodge.  These two separate but now coordinating groups made this trip run "without a hitch."  For all we know there were issues that cropped up, but they covered them without us knowing.  It's also worth repeating how each made adjustments on the fly based on our requests or their anticipation of what we might want to consider.  So, in addition to hoping more people get to experience this incredible place I wholeheartedly recommend putting your trust in CCC and SL.

 

@Zim GirlAfter all that time in the basin we really had a need to satisfy our savanna craving.  Nairobi NP is such a jewel and I feel a little bad about giving it little more than a footnote, but this report is really about the Basin.  While a rhino image is pretty cool, it just seemed right to finish with a Bongo. 

 

Thank you both for your kind words.  

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  • 2 weeks later...
Kitsafari

what an exhilarating trip you had. I'm so amazed that things ran smoothly, but as you said, if they didn't, the CCC and organisers smoothened the wrinkles very well. 

 

Thank you for sharing and thank you for completing the report. 

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