From Lango we moved to Mboko camp, the third and last leg of our Odzala adventure. We drove through a section of savanna to a drop off point on the opposite side of the Lekoli river to the Mboko camp. The vehicle bridge had been swept away by the previous year’s rains so access to Mboko was via a boardwalk and over a wooden pedestrian bridge. This walk was about 20 minutes through thick vegetation next to the Lekoli river. The boardwalk was necessary because it was very marshy. As we walked across the wooden pedestrian bridge, in the water below us was a Tiger fish hunting. The light shining into the crystal clear water showed the Tiger’s colours beautifully.
“I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.”
Once we got to Mboko, we found a camp with wide open spaces – something different after having been in the rainforest. Mboko looked over an open section of savanna grassland with the Lekoli river flowing along its right hand side.
The beauty of this camp was that it was open to all the breezes which float by in this humid forest environment. Mboko boasts 12 comfortable bungalows all linked to the main dining and bar area via gravel paths.
As with all the camps in Odazala, Mboko’s cuisine was excellent and even more impressive given it was so far from civilisation.
Around Mboko camp there are numerous termite mounds. These are a feature of the savannas. These termite mounds play a vital role in the ecosystem as thickets of vegetation start to develop on or around them helped by the concentration of nitrates accumulated in these nests. In turn, the vegetation attracts the elephants who deposit their dung which is filled with germinating seeds and they also start to grow nearby.
After wandering around the waterways you are likely to be wet and muddy but never cold. There is nothing better than a hot shower to wash away the day’s bushwacking. Refreshed, we met for sundowners which developed into story telling around the camp fire on one of the ample elevated wooden decks.
In 2010, park management was taken over by the Odzala Foundation, a partnership between the not-for-profit African Parks and the Congolese government. The lack of tourism infrastructure in the park was addressed by the Congo Conservation Company, an initiative of German businesswoman and philanthropist, Sabine Plattner. Two new camps (Ngaga and Lango) were constructed in the park, and an existing camp (Mboko) refurbished.
Primate research at Ngaga embraced a new approach with the support of Sabine Plattner, African Charities, and the Congo Conservation Company. The philosophy was to join communities, science and tourism on the grounds of conservation. Then, two more camps were built within Odzala- Kokoua National Park, each within a distinct biome. A part of the gorilla research was opened to tourism. The combination created an unique destination rooted in conservation, creating awareness and spiced with adventure.
On our first afternoon at Mboko we went down to the river and climbed aboard a flat bottomed aluminium boat to wander down the Lekoli river.
Sections of the Lekoli river had the forest bulging into the waterway.
“While Newton seemed to draw off the veil from some of the mysteries of nature, he showed at the same time the imperfections of the mechanical philosophy; and thereby restored her ultimate secrets to that obscurity, in which they ever did and ever will remain.” ~ David Hume
A few kilometres down the Lekoli river there are patches that opened up. Here you were likely to see herons, Palm-nut vultures and kingfishers.
The water in the Lekoli river is crystal clear but has a brown hue to it. This comes from the tannin and organic acids released during the decomposition of the vegetation in the river. There are sections of the river bank with groves of wild Date-palms overhanging the river.
From the boat we saw a small family group of Forest elephant browsing on the grass near the river. We were careful to go downwind and got out of the boat and walked along the edge of a marsh area to where the elephants were feeding on the grasses. After we were watching them for a while, this bull forest elephant must have picked up a swirl of our scent and he quickly turned around and crashed through the grass back into the forest. You will notice that the forest elephants eyes are much lighter than their African elephant cousins.
Traditionally, the Forest and Savanna elephants have been classified as subspecies of the African elephant. The two have very different DNAs. They also look very different. The Savanna elephant weighs on average 7 tonnes which is about double the weight of the Forest elephant. A team of scientists looked back into elephant ancestry and found by comparing their genomes that the Forest and Savanna elephants diverged into separate species about the same time as African and Asian elephants split into separate species, according to lead author on the study, David Reich who is a population geneticist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts.
According to our guides Daniella and Adi, the female Forest elephant can be altogether more dangerous than the male, especially when she has a calf. Once they get your scent they have been known to follow it and are persistent. Needless to say once she was alerted, we quickly got out of the way of this now wide awake female Forest elephant and left her in peace with her youngsters.
“It is impossible to meditate on time and the mystery of nature without an overwhelming emotion at the limitations of human intelligence.” ~Alfred North Whitehead
After being encouraged to leave the area by the female elephant we climbed back on board our boat and started to slowly wander our way back up stream towards our camp. On the way we came upon this small family herd of Forest buffalo who were enjoying a late afternoon bath.
The buffaloes have nothing to fear from the crocodiles in the Lekoli river . There are two types of crocodile found in the rivers and bais of Odzala, the Long-snouted crocodile and Dwarf crocodile. The Long-snouted crocodile can grow up to four metres in length but eats mainly a fish, snake and small mammals. When we were walking around in the water in the rivers and bais this was one of the first questions I asked, coming from southern Africa, where we humans are definitely on the Nile crocodile’s menu. The Dwarf crocodile is nocturnal and rarely seen during the day..
We followed this family herd of Forest buffalo for a hundred metres or so along the edge of the river before they disappeared down one of the small tributaries.
“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
It was getting progressively darker. At a particular section of the Lekoli river we found a herd of forest elephants blowing bubbles in the water. Elephants do this to obtain essential salts,deficient in their diet. The salts lie in solution at the bottom of water-filled holes. The elephants access these salts by digging or blowing air into these underwater holes to clear out any debris then they can suck up the mineral-rich water using their trunks.
As it got even darker, the nocturnal wildlife started to reveal itself. Below is a White-backed Night heron. We only had a fleeing glimpse of it as the spot light disturbed it.
Evenings in Africa are usually spectacular. Odzala was no different. After some of the overcast and misty weather and the gloom of the forest it was perfect to sit on the boat having a sundowner. It was still hot and the air was still. There was hardly a ripple on the golden water surface and just the sounds of the forest all around – sublime!
“Man does not weave this web of life. He is merely a strand of it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.” ~Chief Seattle
Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.
Have fun, Mike