Into the heart of Africa, Odzala

Linda Fox

27 Sep 2017

Greetings from Brazzaville!

Crazy, dirty & potholed! I love this place! Granted, I'm staying in the lovely air conditioned oasis of the Radisson Blu and not directly in the madness, but what a fascinating place. The dusty and dirty roads are contradicted with the beautiful bright fabric that is everywhere. Our day tour took us past the colourful fabric markets and art markets today - great time to top up on the present shopping. 

Sundowners tonight are on a sand island in the middle of the Congo River. What a way to end our first day in the Republic of Congo! Toes in the soft sand, good local beer in hand, Kinshasa on the far side of the river and the sun setting over Brazzaville's laser light lit bridge that is wishing us a happy new year....(as the same light display is still running!).

Brazzaville to Odzala

An eventful morning... in good African style! It turns out the president of the RoC is meeting with the president of the DRC, who is on a ferry right now crossing the river at our hotel and if we don't leave in the next half hour, all the roads will be closed and we will be stuck here for the foreseeable future. A flurry of packing and checking out later and we are outside the cordoned off area in time to see the military escort drive by. 

After our narrow escape this morning, we are finally on our way back to the airport. The check in for our flight to Odzala is through the main check in counters and passport control.

There is no one else in this small but impressively modern airport - slightly ghostly that we are the only people checking in for a flight. 

As soon as we clear the outer limits of Brazzaville the countryside opens up and there is absolutely nothing to be seen as far as the eye can see! No homesteads, fields, cattle... just rolling dry hills... 
  

The two hour flight takes us north across the country and after an hour and a half the landscape starts giving way to the dense green of the forest. The odd tall tree breaks out of the canopy and sandy rivers intersperse the landscape. 

Ngaga Camp: Tracking the western lowland gorillas

The first thing you realise about the western lowland gorillas is that they are very happy balancing in the branches of tall trees, high above the Marantaceae forest below. 

The sight of a large silverback gorilla sitting peacefully above you on a tiny branch is slightly unbelievable.

The tracking here is on relatively flat pathways through the forest. The Marantaceae (A flat leafed, abundant forest floor plant that flourishes in huge patches where the sun breaks through between the tall trees) has been cleared back to reveal sandy paths, making the walking very pleasant. Things only start to get more difficult when the guide indicates that we about to go off the path through the undergrowth. The tracker and the guide have to hack back this thick growth with machetes and secateurs so we can get closer to the gorilla family.

These gorillas are smaller, less hairy and seem much more active than the mountain gorillas. The family is enjoying breakfast in their treetop perch, the only indication of their presence is the breaking of branches and showers of leaves drifting down. 

The silverback finishes his meal and shimmies down the tree followed by his family. He is very agile for such a large and bulky looking primate.

The makeshift paths through the Marantaceae are getting narrower and huge leaves are almost closing over our heads to block out the sky, our breath inside our surgical masks are steaming up glasses and camera lenses alike. The tracker indicates for us to stop and be quiet. We have found the family again. The gorillas eat the tender shoots of the Marantaceae, there are little indents in the vegetation with discarded and chewed on bits of the plants where a gorilla has sat for a while to eat. 

The family is not far from us and watching us a little suspiciously inside the thick undergrowth, going deeper and only allowing us brief moments for photographs. But these moments when a gorillas stops and looks back at us through a clearing are some of the most special. 

Ngaga Camp: Afternoon forest and night walk

The forest area around Ngaga Camp is a relatively young forest that was savanna only about 300 years ago. The park has forest areas that are much older, but here the canopy is not fully formed yet and lets in enough light to maintain the thick undergrowth. 

We set out in the afternoon to get to know this beautiful surrounding forest better. 

The little things which you miss on the gorilla trek start to come to life - fungus, birds, frogs, butterflies, and fascinating termite nests - some hanging in the trees shaped like rugby balls, others encrusting the tree trunks, shaped into stalactites by the rain washing down the tree. 

When you slow down, listen and look closer, there is so much going on nearby.

Butterflies hover around us, seeming to be curious about our presence, almost landing on an arm or a nose, but flittering away just before they do.

Our river relaxation is sadly interrupted by rain and evening darkness spreading through the forest, so we head back to camp for dinner.

Our day of exploration is not over yet; the rain has stopped and dinner is over so it's time to discover the forest at night. Close by on the open sandy roads we meet our first Central Potto, closely followed a few meters down the road by a Palm Civit who is happily sleeping on a termite nest in the v of a tree.

Frogs, bats, insects of every description are going about their business in the dark forest. There is so much life!

Our second day gorilla tracking

Back out into the forest this morning to track a different gorilla family this morning. We head deeper into the forest, the guide hacking at the Marantaceae to make a path for us. The gorilla family today is more relaxed, lying in the trees looking at us curiously. This is such a great opportunity to relax after the excitement of yesterday and just enjoy being in their presence.

Mboko Camp & Lekoli River

Today we leave the thick Marantaceae Forest and Ngaga Camp and transfer along the dirt roads looking for birdlife, insects and monkeys along the way. Our searching is rewarded with more beautiful butterfly’s, Palm-nut vultures, a woodland kingfisher and the call of a Narina trogon – sadly too deep in the for us trees to see. The forest opens out into savannah land dotted with some of the most artistic termite mounds I’ve ever seen. The open space is a welcome relief after the closeness of the forest. Mboko Camp is set along the Lekoli River, a beautiful clear small river, perfect for an afternoon swim! 


Now the water part of this safari starts! Mboko Camp is the perfect base from which to explore the waterways of Odzala.

Kayaking quietly along the river we drift past buffalo lounging along the banks and even see some forest elephants in the distance at the water’s edge, who disappear rather swiftly into the forest as we drift a bit closer. So peaceful! 

What a perfect, quiet way to really appreciate just being in the depths of this beautiful park.

Back to Mboko for dinner, their main deck overlooking the open savannah clearing, with the fire crackling we are treated to a light show in the distance, highlighted by the complete darkness.

Lango Camp is the perfect place to explore the bai’s further or just relax and listen to the sights and sounds around you. After another morning walking and looking for red river hogs, bush buck and bongos (sadly we did not find the bongos on this trip…) and enjoying being in the magnificent area we have a chance to relax on Lango’s beautiful deck area, go through the photos of our adventures and just look over the bai into the jungle beyond.

Our last day, and we set out on the kayaks again to go further down the river, exploring the narrow waterways and just listening. Our quiet presence is rewarded by a sighting of forest elephants further down the river, their tails disappearing into the undergrowth. The boat is meeting us so we settle onto a sandy river bank and discover a natural vine swing! Nothing like a nice swing over the Lekoli river! The trees are huge here and covered with moss, a tree huggers paradise…

The boat comes round the river corner and we set off to explore further; palm-nut vultures are everywhere here and the bird life is prolific! Returning back to Mboko for a late lunch, which is set up on their deck looking over the river, we have time for a last swim in the river and relaxed BBQ style meal.

Sadly, the next morning it is time bid farewell to our Congo adventure and fly back to Brazzaville for our onward international flight.

What an amazing safari! Unique in every way!

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Comments

Abs Worthington

21/10/2017 7:47 PM

Lovely blog Linda - am very jealous!!! Sounds like you had an incredible time.

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