Gane and Marshall Africa and wildlife specialist Sarah Williams recently returned from a one-week stay in the Republic of Congo. Read on for her account of her Congo safari, which she spent exploring the forests and waterways of Odzala-Kokoua National Park on foot and by kayak.
Snip, snip, snip…. This was the subtle sound made by the trackers in the early morning as we searched for a family of Western lowland gorillas. Unlike East Africa, where they use a low rumble to alert gorillas to their presence, these trackers use the unlikely sound of secateurs to announce themselves as they cut a path through the thick vegetation.
I was in the Ndzehi Forest area of Odzala-Kokoua National Park, which surrounds Ngaga Camp in the Republic of Congo. This is where a research couple have been responsible for habituating two gorilla family groups – Neptuno and Jupiter – and where they are currently working on habituating a third family. The entire Ndhezi Forest area is well populated with gorillas, as there are many other unhabituated families in the region, though these latter groups tend to be nervous and are not often seen.
Our gorilla trek began early when our small group of four followed the tracker into the forest and to the gorillas’ last known location, their overnight nest. A path was then cut through the marantaceae – a large leafed plant and a favourite of the gorillas – until we were in a position to observe the gorilla family at a safe distance. We had a wonderful sighting of a whole family in a tree, for well over an hour, as they completely ignored us while enjoying the delicious ripe fruits!
Taking a break from the gorilla tracking, during the late afternoons we would accompany our guide for walks in the forest, where we saw troops of putty nosed and moustachioed monkeys, as well as several interesting birds, insects and flora.
After a few days in the jungle we moved on to Mboko Lodge which is situated a couple of hours drive away but in a completely different environment. The lodge stands in a huge expanse of savannah, punctuated by massive red termite mounds. The spacious accommodation overlooks an attractive river.
The activities from this lodge are predominately water based, with boat trips along the river, kayaking and walking through the bais and streams. Although you will get wet, the streams are clear and warm so I found these activities to be a highlight of my stay and not an uncomfortable experience.
On a long adventure walk we passed through several ecosystems, from thick forest where we saw forest hogs, forest elephant and colobus monkey, emerging into an area of savannah where we had to crouch low in the tall grass, while buffalo slowly walked passed us!
We then waded through a beautiful deep stream, the trees and flora surrounding us creating curtains of greenery; it was one of the most picturesque places I’ve ever seen and not what I expected of the Congo!
I have to make a special mention of the accommodation, which was of a much higher standard than I imagined. The lodges are unusual but in keeping with their surrounding and very comfortable, the cuisine is outstanding… be prepared for delicious meals served by delightful chefs and staff!
Travel to the Congo won’t appeal to everyone but if you have a sense of adventure and are looking for somewhere which is genuinely off the beaten track – often said but rarely achieved! – then you should certainly consider a Congo Safari… it just may surprise you, as it did me!