Below is a summary of a trip to Cameroon, Central African Republic (CAR) and Republic of the Congo in September 2010. Main destinations were the national parks Dzanga-Sangha (CAR) and Nouabale-Ndoki (Congo). The ground arrangements were carried out by Jean Pierre Somon from Central African Safaris, who provided excellent service and made sure it was a hassle-free trip. First we drove from Yaounde via Bertoua and Batouri to Yokadouma. This takes about 12-14 hours (including breaks), but we were lucky to find the road in good condition Second day we first headed to Libongo, a small town on the border with the CAR, where we stopped for lunch while Jean Pierre sorted out the customs formalities. From Libongo we took a pirogue on the Sangha river down to Bomassa in Congo. The boat ride is spectacular with lush rainforest on both sides of the river and the occasional pygmy village en route. A variety of hornbills, parrots, raptors and monkeys can be seen from the boat.
The next day we drove from Bomassa deeper into the forest and at a meeting point the staff from Mondika Camp picked us up for the 3 hour hike through fantastic rainforest to the camp. Mondika is a research camp where western lowland gorillas have been studied for many years. Tourists can visit a group of habituated gorillas here. In the morning you head out with a guide/researcher and several Bayaka pygmy trackers to search for the gorillas. If you’re lucky, you only need to walk a few kilometers before the trackers locate the nests where the gorilla slept during the night. After finding the nests the trackers usually locate the gorillas quite quickly. When we arrived, we first saw a female forilla with her one-week old baby. The silverback male Kingo was feeding high up in the trees when we arrived but soon he descended with amazing speed and agility and then crashed through the vegetation walking past us only some 3-4 meters away. Magic!
Our next destination was Mbeli camp deeper in Nouabale-Ndoki national park. Here you spend the day in an elevated viewing hide. Life is good at the bai; there are comfortable chairs and spotting scopes, and you just have to relax and watch the animals come out of the forest to feed in the bai. Most commonly seen are forest elephants, sitatunga antelopes and forest buffaloes, but just about anything could turn up: crocodiles, otters, red river hogs, giant forest hogs, etc. Mbeli bai is also famous for its large numbers of gorillas that come out in the open to feed on the vegetation in the swamp. We saw family groups, all male groups, huge single males, etc. come to the bai. Most spectacular was the sighting of a wild male gorilla that crossed the boardwalk behind the hide only some 10 meters from where we were standing.
In the forest around the bai there are many other primate species and during our visit we saw grey-cheeked mangabeys, elegant black-and-white colobus monkeys and the beautiful De Brazza monkeys. Chimps were heard, but you would be very lucky to see them here. Birdwatching at Mbeli can turn up some rarely seen species but it is hard work to locate them.
Unfortunately, we had to leave the spectacular scenery in Congo, but ahead of us were five equally exciting days in the Dzanga-Sangha area in the CAR. The boat ride from Bomassa to Bayanga was great again for rainforest scenery, but an unexpected highlight was when Jean Pierre picked out wild chimpanzees at the forest edge. I had unforgettable eye-to-eye views of an adult chimp.
In Bayanga we stayed at the very nice Sangha Lodge (the setting beats Doli lodge in my opinion). From there we made a variety of excursions: Dzanga Bai is probably the most famous of all the rainforest bais. If you see TV documentaries on central Africa and its rainforest, this bai is almost always featured. It is best known for the incredible congregations of forest elephants. Sometimes more than 100 elephants gather at the place. When we were there, we saw a maximum of about 60 in the bai, which makes things already look very busy. The social interactions between the elephants are interesting; lots of posturing, “chatting” and intimidating, and every now and then the social hierarchy can obviously only be re-established through violence: we witnessed an impressive and somewhat unsettling fight between two adult bulls.
We also visited Bai Hoku in a different area of the national park. Here we visited another habituated gorilla group for a second unforgettable encounter with the great apes. Other activities in Dzanga-Sangha include net hunting with Bayaka pygmies, agile mangabey tracking and more culturally oriented visits. However, we went out birdwatching with the owner of the Sangha lodge, Rod Cassidy, a well-known birder/naturalist. Rod had discovered a small nesting site for red-headed picahartes, a beautiful but rare rainforest bird, which I was eager to see. When we arrived at the nesting site, things did not look good, the two nests seemed inactive although we did find some footprints of the bird. After waiting in vain at the site in the hope the birds would show up, we discussed what to do and decided to venture into uncharted territory and do some rainforest exploration. This was good fun, our pygmy tracker paved the way and hacked its way through the forest. After a while we heard the sound of water and when we headed in that direction, we found a beautiful three-tier cascading waterfall, but things got even better when we encountered a red-headed picahartes colony at a rocky overhang next to the waterfall. We had incredible views of these rare near-mythical birds. This rounded off a superb stay in one of the most beautiful areas I have so far seen in Africa.
We took the pirogue back to Libongo in Cameroon, and then made the long road journey back to Yaounde via Yokadouma and Bertoua. We had two full days in Yaounde to check out the city and its surroundings, for which Jean Pierre provided a car and driver, which is very handy in rather stretched out place like Yaounde in order to visit places like the handicrafts market, Mont Febe, Mvog-Betsi zoo and Mfou national park, which is a well-run primate rescue centre about 35 km from the city centre. Don’t let the sometimes hysterical news on central Africa stop you from visiting fabulous places like Dzanga-Sangha and Nouabale-Ndoki. I will definitely be back; one holiday was not enough to see everything and do all the activities on offer. You can contact Jean Pierre here: http://centralafricasafaris.com/contact.php