We will be met upon arrival at Nsimalen International Airport, Yaounde in the late afternoon and taken to our hotel where we will be briefed about the trip before going for dinner.
Yaounde, also known as the City of Seven Hills, was founded as an ivory trading post in 1888 by German traders and has grown into the bustling capital city of Cameroon. It's elevation of 750m means that the climate is slightly more pleasant than other, low-lying, parts of the country and the city is renowned as the country's cultural centre.
Today we start our journey towards the jungles of the Congo Basin. Leaving after breakfast we follow the paved road all the way to the small town of Bertoua. From here the road stops being paved as we continue through tropical rainforest towards Bartouri and, later, Gari Gomb until eventually reaching the frontier town of Yokadouma towards nightfall. Along the way we pass pygmy villages and ubiquitous coffee plantations. Much of the drive is along dirt roads through the jungle built by logging companies. As a result we should, hopefully, already start seeing wildlife including hippos in the Ngoko River. Though this is a very long day's driving (approx. 13hrs/650kms) it is necessary if we are to reach the remote regions this trip focuses on and maximise our time there.
Leaving Yokadouma we continue on our way towards Mambele and the Lobeke National Park Headquarters. Though we only journey about 160kms, the road, maintained by logging companies which hold concessions in the region, can be in poor condition in places and we won't be arriving till sometime early or mid-afternoon (depending on the condition of the road). After stopping at the WWF offices, which double as the park headquarters, we will continue to Camp Combo where we will be staying tonight. HRH Price Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and emeritus president of WWF spent a night at this camp as part of a visit of the region in 1999.
Day 4 - 6
Basing ourselves in a wild camp inside the national park we spend these three days exploring the area looking for its wildlife and learning about the local Ba'Aka tribe. Depending on the wildlife viewing opportunities we may stay in the same camp for the three nights or move camps.
Lobeke National Park was set up in 2001 and is part of the Sangha Tri-National Park (along with Dzanga Sangha Forest Reserve in CAR and Nouabale Ndoki National Park in Congo). The tri-national park is the largest area of unexploited, primary forest in Africa. Lobeke itself covers nearly 1,840 sqkm of forest and is home to over 300 species of bird, 45 species of mammals, 215 species of butterflies and 16 species of amphibians. Amongst this rich wildlife are Forest elephants, Lowland gorillas, chimpanzees, leopards, bongos (a type of antelope) and the largest population of Grey parrots in the world. The park is also known for its saline-swampy forest clearings known as Bais where animals, including the forest's mega-fauna, come to take advantage of the rich mineral deposits present. A number of viewing platforms have been set up, 5m above ground in some of these clearings by the WWF for monitoring and observation purposes.
Our schedule will remain flexible, and will be dependent on wildlife viewing opportunities, though it will include hikes in the forest as well as time spent on the viewing platforms. We will also have the opportunity to spend time with the local Ba'Aka pygmies who have inhabited the forest for generations.
Day 7 - 8
Today we will cross Lobeke National Park and base ourselves at Djembe on the Sangha River across from Congo for two nights. We will spend our time exploring the area in search of more wildlife and in the company of our pygmy trackers.
This morning we travel by boat along the Sangha River, a tributary of the Congo River, towards the border with the Central African Republic at Lidjombo (approx. 3hrs). After completing immigration formalities we continue along the river to Bayanga (approx. 1hr) and Doli Lodge, our home for the next four nights. We can spend the rest of the day relaxing and enjoying the enchanting scenery as we watch the world go by on the banks of the river.
Day 10 - 12
The Dzanga Sangha Forest Reserve is also part of the Sangha Tri-National Park. The reserve was established in 1990 and covers about 6865 sqkm of jungle. This remote corner of CAR offers some of the best forest wildlife experiences around and there is a very good chance of seeing some of the resident wildlife which we may have not spotted in Lobeke. The reserve is home to Forest elephants, bongos, Forest buffaloes, numerous bird species, various monkeys and other wildlife. In particular Dzanga Sangha has the only habituated family of Lowland gorillas in Africa. Some of the activities we will partake in over the next three days include:
Bai Hokou gorilla and Mangabey monkey tracking
We head over to the Bai Hokou research camp run by the WWF. From here we will start tracking the only habituated family of Lowland gorillas. The trek can be arduous and, as the gorillas are constantly on the move foraging for food, the exact length of the trek is variable but can take up to 3hrs. Though there is no guarantee that we will see the gorillas the chances are very good. Very few people actually track these gorillas! We will also have the opportunity to track Mangabey monkeys. These are ground dwelling, agile monkeys found in the African tropics.
Similar to the Bais in Lobeke, this swampy clearing is rich in minerals which are lacking in other parts of the forest. Animals travel from miles around to feed on the rich mineral salts found in the soil here and, observing form a tree-top hide, we are likely to see large herds of Forest elephants (on average between 40 and 120 visit the Bai each day), bongos (the largest forest antelope), sitatungas (marsh-dwelling antelope), Red river hogs and numerous birds including Grey parrots and sunbirds. We should have the opportunity to visit the Bai twice during our stay.
Ba'Aka folk experience
The Ba'Aka pygmies are one of the oldest inhabitants of the region and many still live a traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Many Ba'Aka work as local guides and wildlife trackers and we will have the opportunity to join them on a net-hunting expedition. The hunt is launched amidst traditional singing as the Ba'Aka head into the forest tracking animals carrying long nets made from local lianas.
We will also get the chance to learn about the uses of various plants and some of the ceremonies of the Ba'Aka people and to meet local researchers including Louis Sarno, an American who came here over 20 years ago to learn about Ba'Aka music and never left.
Leaving Doli Lodge and Bayanga behind, we travel by boat back to Lidjombo where we will cross the border back into Cameroon. Leaving the river we board vehicles and continue on to Yokadouma where we will stop for the night.
Today is a long day driving as we retrace our route heading back to Yaounde.
This morning we'll have time to visit the Mfou Primate Sanctuary. The sanctuary rescues injured and orphaned gorillas and chimps working towards rehabilitating them. When they are strong enough they are reintroduced into groups of their own kind in safe and controlled environments. The centre also runs an educational programme to teach school children (and adults) the importance of protecting these great apes which are still a delicacy in many parts of Cameroon. We will then have a city tour and visit a local crafts market where you will have the opportunity to buy some last minute souvenirs. Those on the group flight will head to the airport late afternoon.