Adventuring in the Congo
The name Congo tends to conjure up images of war, exotic diseases and sweaty impenetrable jungles. Like most things though, the reality is often less frightening that the reputation, and this is particularly true when talking about the Republic of Congo, the smaller safer neighbour of the Democratic Republic of Congo. In Congo, a conservation story is unfolding that is nothing short of miraculous. Within the Odzala-Kokoua National Park you’ll find Odzala Discovery Camps, a trio of camps deep in this forested wilderness that can get you up close and personal to a part of Africa that you’ll likely only have read about in books.
Odzala isn’t the Africa of open savannas, wildebeest, and lions. Instead, think more the jungles of Tarzan movies. This is a wilderness of lush forests, rivers, gorillas, and forest buffalo and elephant. You can kayak down the the Lekoli River looking at swimming elephant. Or you’ll walk through a clearing in the forest (called a Bai) through herds of peaceful grazing buffalo. As you wade through gently flowing channels among the tree, you never quite know who’s watching you. Is it a colobus monkey, or a grey-cheeked mangabey? What was that blue bird?
The undoubted stars of the show though, and what makes a trip here impossible to duplicate anywhere else, are the lowland gorillas. This was my first visit to western lowland gorillas and seeing them is amazing, wonderful, unforgettable – any word you choose will fall woefully short. While the adults ate and snoozed, the youngsters of all different ages played in the vines above. Most incredible of all were the two silverbacks in a group of over 20 gorillas. As massive and intimidating as they looked, they were gentle as could be with the other members of their family. We watched and photographed them for an hour and had one silverback walk past us, too close to even photograph.
The proceeds from the tourism operation go directly to helping preserve this incredible ecosystem and researchers, like Dr Magda Bermejo (the director of the Ngaga gorilla research who has been in the Congo basin researching great apes since 1991) are often on hand in camp to offer an insight into the challenges and successes of the project.
This is not an experience for your first time to Africa. Once you’ve got the big five under your belt and you’re up for something a little more intrepid, Odzala is where it’s at.
Yvonne’s original expertise in Africa was earned the hard way – at the wheel of a bus driving back and forth the length and breadth, across frontiers and through deserts, in the old days of tourism. But she’s anything but jaded, indeed still gob-smacked by the continent, and you can contact her here to discuss a trip.