Every day I would say we are losing a bit of condition; walking in the hot sun and eating one meager meal a day adds up to below zero. Despite fatigue, we managed not only to get out of camp just after five, but Yaya caught a 2.5 lb catfish that will help the larder.
We decided to start on the north side of the river and make it past the confluence with the Douyou, which swings a bit east toward Sudan. The big question was whether or not there was water in the Douyou. It blustered a storm yesterday with wind and a few drops, but no rain.
Close to camp, we saw a flock of guinea fowl and a bit farther on some piles of roan antelope dung. Then the prize of the day: I saw something black move on a termite mound. At first I thought it was a piece of plastic tarp left by the Sudanese. Then I saw it, a ground hornbill, the first of the walk. But they are always in pairs, if they haven’t been shot. Sure enough, a few seconds later, I saw the male. So an intact couple of ground hornbill. I had the same reaction as I would have had to a herd of 400 buffalo in this area 30 years ago. The ground hornbill used to be common, so they are definitely getting shot out as well.
After a few hours walking, it is pretty evident that the cattle are all pretty much south of us now. And there is not a huge number of mura, or cattle trails, and most of the traffic is at least a month old. I think we may be starting to trend a bit north of the main transhumance mura. We hit one camp that was already over a month old. Not much paraphernalia in the camp.
At 10 or so we crossed the Chinko for the last time, hopefully, until the return. We crossed north of the Douyou; in a couple hours we would know if it had water. As we crossed out of the floodplain grasses, we picked up waterbuck tracks and dung.
Greeted by Baboons
The traverse to the Douyou was hot and open. We picked up some more roan antelope dung there. Finally, we hit the floodplain of the Douyou; baboons greeted us. There was a deep riverbed, but no water. I thought: game over. The map showed us past the river. We pushed on and hit another floodplain; still no water. There were waterbuck tracks and dung, some fresh, so at least a few individuals are around.
We pushed on and hit a gallery forest, and there was our water. We got down in the bed and spooked a warthog wallowing. The water was cool; I immediately doused myself.
So it is verified that at least 4 km up from the confluence with the Chinko there is water in the Douyou. The bed is quite small and the pools are punctuated by dry river bed for about half of the way; so if it keeps up this way, we are golden.
A storm brewed heavily this afternoon, but only a few drops of rain fell. I took a reconn walk to the north and I hit a well-marked mura going north along the Douyou. This might be one of the entry paths from Sudan.
There are lots of floodplain grasses on the Douyou, so if there is anything but waterbuck in the plains antelope category we should pick it up tomorrow. All I saw this evening was a lone red river hog coming out of the river bed. Hopefully we will be able to find water for the next three days; that will probably get us sufficiently close to the Sudan border.
Did inventory again today. We are still doing pretty good for rice and manioc. Oil and sugar are low and consumption is too fast. The boys cooked up a mean catfish stew with manioc paste with tomato sauce; what a treat. I even joined the crew and drank a brine solution tonight, feeling a bit tired. I have also started to eat a bit more as my fat reserves go.
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.