We decided to spend 3 days in the bush in Conkouati park, a reserve where two associations devoted to save primates have settled, in a mish-mash of islands and narrow strips of land between sea and mangrove. The journey to get there was already an adventure.
The association HELP lives thanks to the volunteers who come to stay for a few weeks or months, and tourists (like us) who come to spend the weekend and “workers” who are young people of the surrounding villages. There is also a research center that studies the primates, records their movements, note all their habits, and lives completely at their own pace.
Two or three years ago, there were over twenty volunteers to keep the association going, but when we were there, there was only one woman who seemed to be strung out as she was completely on her own to keep the association going, and believe me this is not an easy thing to do! Therefore we are very lenient about the weekend schedule! The association is gradually sinking because of a highly questionable management… and that’s a pity!
So let’s go back to our chimps! After two hours drive, we took a rough road for an hour, which led then to a river. Therefore we were obliged to take the ferry. The price given by the ferrymen was double the official price. I negotiate, I laugh, I get angry, nothing to do, I pay 20,000 CFA… for 5 minutes journey. I believe this the most expensive crossing in the world!
Then we followed the directions we got: “after the ferry, it is always on the left for 45 minutes” … Mouhahaha what a joke… two hours later, completely lost, we ask some guys we met to guide us. We picked on our way, 3 girls (absolutely hysterical to get on a pick-up “mundele”), and about 15 water cans and an old man who was going back home. In Africa, no unladen trip!
Then we finally reached HELP’s site, and as I said, it is an association that hosts and reintroduces chimpanzees into the wild, who were wounded, captured, mistreated or who are orphans and who could not survive alone.
The campsite is basic, the rooms are wooden bungalows with two beds, mosquito nets and some boards as shelves. We installed our hammock for adding a relaxed atmosphere! The common areas are all in wood, with large tables all together for dinner and with a kitchen at disposal.
The campsite is located in the middle of the jungle, huge trees stand above our head and provide some shade, a thick carpet of fallen leaves covers the ground and deadens our steps, bushes, shrubs, wild flowers growing everywhere… my nose picks up a strong smell of decomposed leaves and wet earth.
A thousands of different sounds coming from the surrounding jungle, stifled by vegetation. Insects, birds monkeys? My imagination is at its height and I cover myself from head to foot for protecting myself from the numerous bugs surrounding us. But despite the precautions taken, I believe that tsetse flies fiercely love me…
Our guide told us then it was time to take on board, and once on board, we head towards the mangroves. We sail on flat water, sky and vegetation is reflected in water, elements infinitely merge together in this natural mirror in perfect symmetry.
We swapped our motorboat for canoes and went down the mangroves along the current. There was no noise except the sound of our oars on the water, we listened careful to the muffled sounds of the forest around us trying to identifies the cries and calls, and we scan the trees to see a eventual monkey on a branch. Finally we did not not see any monkeys, elephants or buffalos… nothing actually. But we were absolutely not disappointed because this trip was magical, the feeling of being in the heart of the jungle, teeming with life and yet which is a habitat so hostile to man, you feel lost, small, humble .. . and moist!
But when have we finally met chimpanzees then? Well it comes, it comes… Twice a day, volunteers from the center, go and feed the chimpanzees who are not yet released. A chimpanzee eats 4 kilos of fruit and vegetables a day… and rice pudding that they are absolutely made about! We’ll have then to load the boat, and here we go!
Once there, we first saw nothing, not a sound, apprehension rose, suddenly shrieks resound…. To this mix of sounds creaking branches, leaves that are shaken, again shouting, there is in every sense.
When 1, 2, 3 and fifteen chimpanzees of all sizes and all ages emerge from the jungle and hang the roots of the mangroves.Volunteers start throwing their vegetables and fruits and the feast begins. I am amazed how they look like us, their expressions, glances, gestures, sign language, this is awesome! They have habits that are their own, their character, they are all different. I take thousands of pictures and I really enjoy this special time, almost supernatural.
We end this weekend with a stroll on the beach, accompanied by hundreds of crabs!
Our #Huddlegloberoporter, Cynthia, also writes her travel adventures on her own blog: go and have a look! This article is published there too but as an “Huddle exclusivity”, she shares here with us great tips if you want to experience this great trip too!
VERY practical info:
- Visa in Congo? the short-stay visa “single entry” costs 55 Euros and you must obtain it before leaving. You need an invitation letter or hotel reservation to obtain it. The invitation letter or the hotel reservation have to be presented at customs when entering the country! (otherwise huge negotiation… (I borne the consequences the first time) .
- Budget in Congo? High budget!!!! It’s a petroleum country, so the cost of living is very high! Moreover corruption is very present…it’s tiring.
- Can we visit the chimps with kids? Yes of course and it’s recommended! no minimum age to go and visit the chimps. (Good to know as in other countries such as Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda… it is forbidden under 15 years old).
- Night Budget at the association campsite HELP: About 200 Euros for 3 days 2 nights with all activities included. But you will have to come with your own car, bring your own food, bed sheets, water… You will have to add 15 euros fees to cross the river by ferry and 15 Euros per night per person as a park tax fee… so the weekend ends to be fairly expensive but it worth it!!