We completed our tour through the forest with a two hour hike back to the drop off point. We rode back to Camp Kombo, and spent a bit of time at the camp doing laundry in the small stream. After we had thought our laundry was a clean as was possible to get by hand our guide laughed at our inefficiency and proceeded to show us how much cleaner they could be when someone who had mastered the skill took over. He had clearly perfected his technique when he showed us a white shirt that looked as it was new. In late afternoon, we went into the small town and bought bonbon (candy) to give to Baka children. The Baka community is the local tribe that lives in the forest, relying on the forest for everything they do, and moving their camp every few months to find more food. We will be visiting a small community in a few days.
The next day, we set out for Djembe Camp. It’s about a four hour drive, deep in the heart of Lobeke National Park. This part of the forest was being logged until it became protected about fifty years back. We certainly noticed the trees were smaller than on our hike into Petite Savane and Djangui, which has never been logged (primary forest!). After driving on the normal dirt roads we turned onto what looked like a trail and then proceeded to drive for nearly 50 kilometers to the Camp. On the way we observed some men who live in the jungle trying to get as close to the gorillas as possible in an attempt to habituate them. Habituation programs have proven to be successful ways of allowing tourists and researchers to see gorillas. The gorillas are still wild but are more comfortable around humans and don’t run and scream when approached. Programs like this have shown to increase ecotourism and help bring desperately needed funds to the local communities. When the locals have a chance to prosper when the animals are safe and abundant they are less likely to engage in illegal poaching.
Another point of note on this trip was a stop to repair a damaged bridge. The WWF vehicle in front of us had brought some timber to make the repair. However the timber was not nearly enough. At that point they pulled out one of the largest chainsaws I have ever seen and proceeded to cut down a tree for additional support on the bridge. Ben quickly jumped in and began helping in the effort. Once the bridge was completed we all stood on the far side and waited for the driver alone to cross the span. After he did we all hopped back in and continued on. So I guess you can say we are metaphorically and literally building bridges in Africa.
The camp in Djembe sits along the Sangha River, which is the border between Cameroon and Congo. Across the river is part of Congo’s national park. Ben saw an elephant swim in the river from Congo to Cameroon; certainly they don’t know political boundaries. For this reason, Cameroon, Congo, and Central African Republic have created a trinational park to preserve these intact forests.
Within fifteen minutes of our hike into the forest, we saw two female gorillas and a baby. Really, I just saw a flash in the forest, they move so quickly! We also heard and saw the colobos, a type of primate which has a howl larger than the actual animal.