I have been living DEEP in the Nouabale-Ndoki National Park in the Congo Basin rainforest with Ba’aka people, trackers, and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) researchers with no running water, no electricity, no toilets, sleeping in tents, and thus no Internet for the past week to experience THIS!

Getting here took a 12-hour drive from Brazzaville to Ouesso (with overnight in Owando because of the roads), followed by a 3-hour boat ride in a tin can, with one “illegal shakedown” along the river. I was alone with a boat man who only spoke Lingali when we were stopped by a dozen men, many with large guns, who only spoke Lingali/French, who were either posing as authorities, or were (hard to say), who tried to confiscate my passport for money, yada yada — a battle of wills — I smiled and played dumb, as basically I was in this case.

They eventually grew exhausted by my “stupidity,” gave up and returned my passport, and let me go (voila!) to Bomassa, where, because of a scheduling mix up, there was no one at the WCS camp when I arrived, so I spent the night there COMPLETELY ALONE — AS IN ALL ALONE, in the middle of nowhere Congo — LITERALLY alone — not entirely sure I was in the right place (after all, my boat man did lead me to a shakedown), and for the grand finale, there with NO electricity — think freakiest episode of the TV show Lost ever… Bright side: I finally learned how to light a match.

Then, a 1.5-hour drive to drop-off point, a 3-hour hike deeper into forest, including wading through a swamp, to reach the NNNP camp, where we took daily 3- to 4-hour hikes (depending on how long it took to find gorillas from night before) through deeper forest, following trackers using machetes to hack through trees to forge openings for us to walk!

But holy cow!!!

Watching the Kingo and Baku groups of habituated gorillas (who took eight years to habituate!) was one of the most spectacular experiences of my life! Getting to sit with, and walk among forest gorillas in THEIR home, just two or three feet away, was breathtaking and tear inducing. I also hiked to another more remote camp to a Bai to see unhabituated gorillas — sooo cool seeing different families interact, and truly amazing.

Meanwhile…I am no longer afraid of insects of ANY kind, or of things that go bump in the night…or of going to pee with insects and things that go bump in the middle of the night, in the pitch-black forest (you stay where you are, I stay where I am, and no one gets hurt). I have also learned you must bring laundry hanging on the line inside your tent at night as forest elephants like to eat socks; to never leave toilet paper uncovered unless you want it colonized by termites, or whatever those gross white things were that overtook my TP four days ago (…moving on); and when you see ants in the forest, run away as fast as you can.

AND, most importantly, if you see an elephant in the forest, run for your life. No joke. NO JOKE. But it WAS funny…(I can’t help myself.)

 

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Preparing our tin can for the ride up the river.

 

Boat Congo River

The boat man who led me to the shakedown, pre shakedown, while I still liked him.

 

Me and one of the Ba’aka trackers, traversing the NNNP as we made our way to the WCS camp in the forest

 

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Out with the pygmies and researchers at 6 a.m. tracking gorillas

 

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This is how close I was!! Here comes the Silverback!

 

A few photos of the gorillas of NNNP.

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I’m now back in Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo, or as the locals call it, the “Paris” of Africa…or as I call it…THE LAND OF NEAR-CONSISTENT 3G DATA BABY! Whoop!

Here I am crossing the Equator Makoua, on the drive back from Ouesso.

I am living LARGE in Brazzaville! Had my first REAL shower in nine days -— there was only a trickle of water, and the shower looked like this, but it was HOT WATER, and I’M CLEAN! It’s all about perspective!
And I ate PIZZA and drank WINE (WHAAAAT?!?!) at ex-pat fave Mama Wadis, after a week of eating white rolls and green beans from a can. And the mother lode…have just realized that the midnight flight (plane) I’m on to Nairobi (to catch morning flight to Uganda) will have an ACTUAL bathroom on it! With a door! And toilet paper! And a sink! And soap! Whoop! Fancy!