Trip Diaries

Odzala – A life changing experience

I was very fortunate to be invited, along with two other guides, onto a guide ambassador programme by Daniella Kueck, a good friend and guide in Odzala National Park. The aim of the programme is for us to share this well kept secret with the world. The more visitors the park receives the better chance it has at surviving long term. Needless to say I immediately accepted the invitation and we started planning dates. We were set to arrive in the reserve for a week long stay starting on the 4th of April 2019. Little did we know that we were in for a truly life changing experience…

Day 1 – Odzala airstrip to Ngaga Camp

Shortly after landing in Brazzaville, and meeting the rest of the group we were boarding our flight for Odzala. It is a two hour flight over some of the most breathtaking scenery I have ever seen, starting over the mighty Congo river and heading North West to the reserve over hundreds of thousands of giant trees. I felt a childish excitement take me over as we began approaching the landing strip.

A road through paradise.

Once on the ground we were met by a very friendly group of staff and most importantly our guide, Adriaan Stander. After an ice cold Ngok beer we were on our way through our first bit of forest and headed for Ngaga camp some two and half hours away. You are welcomed into the forest by a beautiful orchestra of birds and insects. We made a stop in Mbomo village to get a couple of local snacks on route and then we were in the forest again and minutes away from Ngaga Camp.

The welcome deck and fire place at Ngaga Camp.

The camp is truly beautiful all built out of natural materials so as not to ever leave an impact if the camp is to be moved. We were shown to our rooms and then returned to the deck for our Gorilla briefing with expert researcher, Magda Bermejo. We were briefed on how to behave in the presence of these great apes and what to expect. We then had dinner and planned to meet at 5:30 am for a snack and coffee before heading out on our first ever Gorilla trek!! Excitement was at an all time high and I found it extremely difficult to fall asleep as butterflies raced through me as they would through my teenage self approaching a girl for the first time.

The accommodation at Ngaga camp.

Day 2 – Ngaga Camp – Gorilla trek

It was 05:30 and people were starting to emerge from their rooms in a silent excitement before meeting for a cup of coffee and some delicious fruit. 06:00 and we began to walk into the forest. The sounds and scenery creating a feeling of true peace and then crash, two Gorillas cross our path and head deep into the thickets at quite a speed. This is not the habituated group we were tracking so we listened to the two apes disappearing into the forest and carried on walking through the forest until we came across some fresh signs of feeding activity. We left the path and started moving through some very thick Marantaceae thickets, the leaves of which the Gorillas are heavily reliant on.

Keeping an eye on the family.

After around 15 minutes of very slow moving and some skilled Panga from our tracker, we had our first sighting of the group. Some were feeding on various fruit up in the trees while some others were feeding on the Marantaceae leaves on the ground. We were very close and personal with the group and it was incredible how they accepted our presence and went about their morning activities. It is an overwhelming feeling being around these creatures and I have not yet found words to describe the feeling of being near them. It is simply something you have to experience to understand and even then you are overwhelmed with emotion.

Engagement on a whole new level.

We stayed with the group for just over an hour and left all completely speechless until we stopped for a short break in the forest nearby to discuss how incredible it was to have the experience we had just had. We then headed through the forest back to camp for lunch and did a little birding along the way. We were also fortunate enough to get view of a few Putty-Nosed Monkeys on the path home.

A Putty-Nosed Monkey giving me and my camera a rather suspicious look.

The remainder of the day was spent down at a beautiful stream 15 minutes walk from Ngaga camp. The water is cool and countless butterflies flutter around you while yous sip on a cold drink and take in the sounds of the forest. It is truly hypnotising…

A bit of fun with a Panorama shot in the Ngaga stream with the crew.

Day 3 – Ngaga Camp – Gorilla Trek

As the sun begins to rise on a slightly misty start to the morning, we begin our trek for our second family of Gorillas and after a very successful first day. The excitement in the air is electric as we move swiftly and silently over the damp and soft leaves scattered around on the ground. We’re close whispered Adi. Time to engage stealth mode as we enter a Marantaceae thicket and hear the Gorillas communicating with each other just metres away.

The group was difficult to keep up with at first as they seemed to be having a bit of an argument amongst themselves so we kept our distance but still followed on. 30 minutes later and we noticed the majority of the group feeding up in the trees, which is very common among Western Lowland Gorillas. We moved in closer and had a truly spectacular view of individuals feeding high up in the branches above.

Deep in thought.
Inspecting if the fruit is ready to be eaten.

After spending a good 40 minutes with the family we decided it was time to move on and leave them be for the remainder of the day. On our “path” back to the main track we bumped into a mother with her youngster in a nearby tree so we stayed on and watched for a little longer. The youngster had decided it was time to come to ground and we happened to be in just the perfect spot to gain a view from. Luck was truly on our side…

“Showing off some skills”
Pausing for a brief moment to watch us with curiosity.

We were filled with delight and seemed to float home after the experience with this family, and decided once again to head down to the stream for a swim and try take in the day. We followed that up with a sundowner on the edge of a Savanna looking back Ito the forest and had a flock of African-Grey Parrots fly over head…heaven!

This would be our last night at Ngaga camp as in the morning we would be heading to Mboko camp, a mixture of emotions took over at this point as we were all sad to be leaving but excited for the adventure that still lay ahead…

Day 4 – Ngaga to Mboko

We woke up to a heavy rain shower as we made our way to breakfast before departing for Mboko camp which is 3 hours drive away. We took our time leaving the forest around Ngaga as we wanted to cherish our last moments there. We also wanted to spend some time in the various forests along the way, and so we stopped in Mbomo village and bought some local food for a forest picnic.

Some local treats for lunch on the road to Mboko Camp.
Strong Gorilla withdrawal symptoms started setting in after leaving the Ngaga forest…

We broke the cover of the trees and entered into a large Savanna before arriving at Mboko camp and noticed some fresh elephant tracks on the ground. Luckily for us they continued for some distance down the road before cutting off towards some bushes. We slowed down and then saw him, my first ever forest elephant! Out in an open Savanna happily feeding and going about his business. What first strikes you is how much lighter their eyes are than the elephants you would be used to seeing on a safari elsewhere in Africa and their tusks have almost a pinky tinge to them, they are magnificent creatures. Onwards we drove to Mboko camp seeing our first Palm Nut Vultures on route which are common around the camp. On arrival we saw a large herd of forest buffalo feeding in the Marshy grounds towards the forest while we enjoyed a freshly squeezed fruit juice on the deck of the lodge.

A forest elephant gets our scent and pauses for a moment to see exactly where we are.

After a snack and a coffee we decided to head down through the Savanna towards the Lekoli river for an afternoon boat cruise. The river is spectacular with low hanging branches covering any view of the banks and giant trees extending over the chocolate brown waters. Eventually we reached an estuary that flows from Lango Bai into the Lekoli and we headed up the pitch black waters to an open area for a sundowner, and were joined by a large herd of buffalo…PARADISE!!

The Savanna leading to Mboko camp.
Jani and Marne doing a little birding on the Lekoli river.

Day 5 – Mboko Camp – Forest Walk

We headed out through the Lekoli river on foot for a long forest walk. There are no Nile crocodiles in this river which makes it ideal for using to navigate past very thick sections of forest. From there we headed through some dry forests and headed towards a couple of bai’s to see if there was any animal activity around. We were fortunate enough to see various herds of buffalo as well as a number of elephants on our journey. We also had the privilege of seeing a vast variety of extraordinary insects such as assassin bugs and large whip scorpions. The variety of habitats within this ecosystem is a treat for the senses and you find yourself in constant awe of Mother Nature. We walked for around 6 hours before heading back towards the river for a swim and then went back to camp for some lunch.

One of three Bais we saw on our walk.
A dry forest clearing kept this way by elephants who would frequently visit these trees for feeding.
Another very beautiful Bai that is frequented by many different animal specious all craving the rich mineral salts that the soils hold here.

After a short rest back at camp we decided to head down to the river once again but this time for a late afternoon fishing session near Lango Bai. We had an amazing sunset and fished until it was dark and were surrounded by a large herd of buffalo who were all settling down for the evening. We caught a few small Talapia which we would use to try catch some Tiger fish with the following day.

Our skipper and guide Adi taking us along the Lekodi river.
Our fishing spot for the evening.

Day 6 – Mboko to Lango Camp

This was quite possibly one of the best days I’ve had on this earth. We decided that three of us would swim the 17km stretch of the Lekodi river, armed with fishing rods and life jackets, and try for some Tiger fish on our way to Lango camp. The other two would come in kayaks and carry some water and a few snacks. The day was beautifully warm and the waters were cool as we drifted down the most pristine natural area you could possibly imagine.

A short stop on our Lekodi river mission.

At a stage the three of us on foot decided to take a small channel that the kayaks wouldn’t make it through and on return to the main river we spotted a small herd of elephants feeding in a clearing on the opposite bank. We swam across towards them and watched as they fed and moved slowly down stream. We followed in the river as they moved down the bank and eventually settled just metres away from us. They then gathered together and had a midday nap..RIGHT NEXT TO US!! After 40 minutes they began to awaken and one of the females got our scent and came closer to investigate before returning to feeding and the herd slowly drifted away into the forest. A magical experience to say the least…

The Matriarch of the herd coming closer to investigate us.
A very peaceful approach before she began to feed metres away from us.

The rest of the day was spent slowly meandering down stream and then walking through Lango Bai to our new camp. We sat around the fire that evening reliving the day through stories as we listened to elephants splashing around in the Bai below us.

The beautiful Lango Camp.
These walkways to the various rooms of the lodge create ideal spots to catch views of various monkeys and birds, we were even fortunate enough to catch a brief view of a yellow-backed duiker!!

Day 7 – Lango Camp

The last of our our morning activities began at first light as we set off for the Bai to begin a long morning walk. As we arrived in the Bai we noticed an elephant drinking in the shallow waters and we decided to stay with him for a while. He investigated us briefly before completely accepting our presence and returned to drinking. The elephants will come into these Bai’s and churn up the soils to release minerals in the water before drinking. We continued to walk until until our stomachs called us home for fresh fruit and omelettes. The rest of the day was spent exploring the forest from the various walkways in the camp followed by a wonderful dinner and a few cold ones around the fire.

Adi in simply the perfect spot for a great photographic opportunity..
An elephant just having a great time..truly wonderful experience to lie in the same waters as him and photograph..what an honour to share the same space as this magnificent creature!!
Thanks for the photo Adi! An experience I will never forget!!

A Colobus monkey settling down for a nap in the mid afternoon.

Day 8 – Lango to Brazzaville

After one of the best weeks of my life I woke up with a heavy heart knowing that our time at Odzala had come to an end. As we boarded the plane and took off for Brazzaville we circled the camps and areas that had shown us so much. I am not sure how quite to put into words how wonderful the entire experience was, from the wonderful staff to the people that I got to share the experience with, I thank you from the bottom of my heart!! To the forests and all that inhabit them you have left me in complete awe and I cannot wait to return. To anybody who has read this brief summary of an amazing week, I encourage you to visit this wonderful place!! It is through tourism that we can help keep this complex ecosystem alive and your visit will not only change your life but it will help to preserve a piece of heaven on earth!! If you interested in finding out more please drop me an email, nick@kleerexposure.com

Cheers!


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