VOICES Ideas and Insight From Explorers
Tag archives for central african republic
We reached the river again after climbing one last hill. We saw both warthogs and giant forest hogs along the river. Also big news, very old tracks of a very large male hippo. He passed several months ago.
We can hear burros and people cutting a honey tree across the river; we will try to find them tomorrow morning.
Herve killed three tilapia and three polypteris fish with his machete. He also made the mistake of hitting an electric catfish. He said the shock that went right through the handle almost knocked him out.
The slave-raiding here continued well into the beginning of the 20th Century. Cherry saw first-hand, just before the turn of the century, the devastation of villages, and slavers on raids. He witnessed cannibalism on a large scale, of the people who were not considered to be fit to be slaves. So these bits of pottery here are the remnants of one of those villages that may have gotten raided. It was nestled deep in the hills. Further to the north here I have seen entire alternate villages built into the rocky hills for protection from the raiders.
We reached the river at our target around noon. The water has also come up here. Took an afternoon stroll and saw fresh waterbuck tracks. In the evening, when the sun is going down and it starts to cool off, I am struck by four things: the beauty, the enormity, the thought of all this habitat that is intact (yet empty), and a mixed feeling of desperation and sadness that not more has been done to protect this gem on Earth.
As we cross the landscape, I am snapping pictures of the various vegetation types, and thinking about restoring this place. Compared to endless places around the world, I thought this place is like a city for animals that is completely equipped: the water and lights work, the buildings are in place, it just lacks the wildlife. I think about old sheep farms in South Africa, where they remove the sheep, restore the vegetation and watersheds, and bring back every species of large mammal that existed there before. Here, compared to the millions of hectares already restored in South Africa, this place is a piece of cake. The savanna, its forest, grass cover, creeks and rivers, and the remnants of fauna are all here.
The team walked well. We reached the Chinko at 11h30 of marching. The water levels seem to be quite a bit lower now than when we passed by earlier. We found a beautiful spot to camp, with rocks and sandy beaches and good water and shade.
I took a stroll at 16h00. I love walking slowly in the late afternoon, kind of still hunting and enjoying this beautiful place. I saw guinea fowl and quite a few francolin, then a warthog. When I got a look at this guy, he had the biggest tusks I have ever seen on a warthog. They covered his eyes, they were so long.
I heard rustling in the leaves around 01h30. Thought maybe it was red river hogs, so got my headlamp ready to spot them. Then I heard the clang of a pot. Somebody is up? Then I heard murmurs, and by 02h00 the campfire was alive with chatter. It was like Christmas morning; the boys were up in anticipation of the return walk. I resisted until they brought me coffee at 03h00, so I got up. What the heck, I thought, I would take advantage of the excitement and get us out of camp before dawn. Everyone was in good spirits, had eaten well the night before, and Felix, even though still acting strange, looked fine. I told them, dudes, it is 60 km further going back than coming, so don’t burst any seams.
On the trail walking, you have a lot of time to think. That is one reason why I love to walk; just cruise along, keep focused on the visuals and sounds, but also let your mind explore. Today is a sad day, but also always a bit of relief, because we are on our homeward leg. Sad, because we are not penetrating into the unknown any more, but relieved because we are alive, in good shape and every day we will be closer to the Chinko Project HQ.
We have accomplished our objective out here, get as far as you can from human settlement and see if there any remnants of William Stamps Cherry’s world that he saw.
We hit the destination creek, having left the Douyou on its northward path. Well, it was bone dry. Like the soil had no indication of moisture. We walked about a kilometer of river bed, no joy. We knew we would run out of water at some point. In fact, some water we used this morning had a real high suspended-solution of gunk and mud. Anyway, no sense in moving forward with no water, so we crossed the river and headed east toward the Douyou.
We pitched up on the Douyou after about 17 km in a straight line. I had told the guys earlier that I was going to go ahead, real light, with just Felix, to see how far up the Douyou we can get before we run out of water. I want to get as close to the Sudan border as possible. So Felix is going to carry minimal food and I barebones comms.
We will shoot for two and a half days up, and the same coming down. We will leave Herve and Yaya behind. Yaya is looking very frail, and Herve is still not 100 percent, so this will give them four days to rest up and fish. So I will not be sending journal updates for four days.
For 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.
I was driven from my sleep halfway, when I half-dreamt half-felt things biting my head. Then two seconds later, I knew what I was dealing with. Let’s just say, been there before. My tent was full of driver ants that were treating me like one giant piece of prey.
William Stamps Cherry was the first American to set foot in deepest Africa, and the first American, if not the first hunter-explorer, to return alive from his journeys there. He had gained a name and a reputation for himself as a successful big game hunter and collector, and also as an explorer. He covered more than 30,000 miles of navigable Congo and Mobangi River tributaries (10,000 miles during his first trip working for a Dutch trading company, and 20,000 miles during his second as Chief Engineer of the entire French Marine fleet in French West Africa under Major Marchand), and was the first explorer to go deeper into the heart of deepest Africa, into the Central African Republic to the Congo’s largest tributary to the north, the Mobangi River, and then further still to the north and up the Kotto River to the headwaters and the Bahr el Ghazal.
Made 16 km in straight line today, Day 7. Lots of cattle and herders about. No bad encounters yet, but people very fearful and prudent.
We were cruising along through the bush and suddenly I thought I heard voices to the west. We stopped and could see two guys walking along at a rather fast clip with 4 burros with small loads and a single very skinny cow. They didn’t see us and we waited untill they got real close to greet them: “Assalama ou aleekum,” Yaya said. “Aleekum salum”, I think they didn’t realize yet we were not fellow herders. Then they saw us and veered off.
Today was short because I didn’t want to take any chances with Herve. I have been pumping him full of salt and sugar for the past 36 hours and he has gone from looking like death warmed over to just about his old self. It is amazing how dehydration can kill you real fast if you don’t get the electrolytes back in the system.