Seems like we have been on the trail for a long time now. That is a good thing. It means we are in the rhythm of the walk. What has been left behind is left behind and when you get up in the morning you can’t wait to go because you are going ever deeper into the unknown.
I figured we wouldn’t see people because there have been no rains yet, and most of the cattle are to the south of us. Our destination today is further north along the Chinko, positioning ourselves for the long dry traverse to the Vovodo. The map showed some forests and mountains on the projected route. The packs are still heavy so we need to avoid the tall hills, if we can. The forests, on the other hand, now that elephants are virtually extinct out here, are very dense and hard to get through.
We were able to get out of camp at 05h30, good thing too because it was a real scorcher today. We hit an open plain and ran into fresh cattle tracks and dung. Ten minutes later, we could hear herders coaxing their cattle off to the northwest and we passed through a camp from two nights before. I was not nervous even though we are in the middle of no man’s land and these guys all have AKs and all we have is a home-made 12-ga to bag a guinea fowl once in a while.
The cattle came into view, the tall white variety with long horns. They were moving south. We were headed northwest. There were six donkeys trailing with no baggage, but the camp was probably a kilometer or so off our trail, so we continued on. Behind them we saw some warthogs; they definitely follow the cattle to eat the dung. Yaya says the Mbororo kill the warthogs for food now that everything else is gone. Way out here it is only haram if you believe it is.
Twenty minutes later we hit a little spot with a few forest swamp trees. We heard some voices. Then we saw four kids pop their heads up above a bank. They first stared, terrified. Then one young girl yelled and fled. In a flash, they all ran to the south, screaming bloody murder. They had come for water in the little mud hole. They left everything behind: shoes, water containers and bowls. There were another four warthogs here waiting their turn at the water.
We continued on. The vegetation was getting thicker and thicker. I decided to take the mountain option. There was a rocky ridge that would lead us all the way to the Chinko. I noticed on the slope a plant with edible seeds called Icacina. They are not yet ripe, but I thought I would try one for when we run out of food. It tasted starchy and slightly sweet. I thought it would be ok soaked and cooked, in a pinch.
It got super hot super fast and by 12h00 we were burning up with 2 km to go. We got to the ridgetop and suddenly I was real nauseous. Two minutes later the Icacina experiment ended in vomit. Getting plant poison is terrible because you immediately think you’re going to die or hallucinate. Neither happened. The mountain was beautiful, granite boulders but no wildlife.
Covered by Sweat Bees
We made it just about to the river, but it was thick forest. We found a trail that actually had quite a bit of giant forest hog dung, but the cattle guys used it as well. We got to the river ok. Spent 10 minutes bathing and drinking. Back up on the bank we got immediately covered by sweat bees, thousands of them. We made our way a bit further, but nowhere great to camp and the bees only increased. The sole of my chaco fell off. So I spent the afternoon in my tent waiting for my shoe to be repaired, and hiding from the swarms.
I studied the map. We are just south of the old 3 rivières hunting camp that closed maybe 15 years ago. It is almost forgotten now, but it was for years one of the best hunting concessions on Earth. The Sudanese horsemen were relentless; they killed tens of thousands of animals just in that concession alone. Those were the guys who joined the Janjaweed when all the wildlife was gone. All in all, in 30 years, they killed well over 100,000 elephants and over a million antelope and buffalo.
A troop of baboons joined me fishing on the opposite bank tonight. I caught yet another carp. But this time we are using it for bait.
Africa explorer-conservationist J. Michael Fay is in the Central African Republic, completing an expedition he started in 2014, retracing as best he can the footsteps of the 19th Century American Game Hunter-Explorer William Stamps Cherry. Fay, a former National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and recipient of numerous National Geographic Society grants, has also worked for decades for the Wildlife Conservation Society. His transects through some of Africa’s most remote and inaccessible wildernesses (among them the National Geographic-sponsored Megatransect and Meglaflyover) rank among the most significant in the history of exploration of the continent. You can read all his dispatches at Expedition Through the Heart of Africa.