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  • Writer's pictureBushtracks

Carol Guy shares her Congo Basin Discovery 2023 experience

Tour leader Carol Guy recently returned from accompanying Bushtracks’ Congo Basin Discovery, exploring remote and pristine national parks in the Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic. It was an adventure in the best sense of the word with remarkable experiences and rare sights.

So, Carol, tell me about some of the highlights of your trip.

This is a unique African safari. A typical safari in East or Southern Africa focuses on seeing a large variety of animals from a game-viewing vehicle and is very luxurious. This trip, however, is active and experiential. We were immersed in the environment: walking, kayaking, hiking and boating. One guest noted, “Wow, we are really a part of this environment.” We quietly observed Western lowland gorilla families climb and play in the trees above us. We walked on the same water pathways as the elusive forest elephants making their way to a bai, a swampy forest clearing. We learned about this amazing rainforest ecosystem that very few Westerners have visited. Brazzaville, the capital and largest city of the Republic of the Congo, is a delightful city on the Congo River. It’s a vibrant city, part African, part French. People are incredibly friendly, and French is the primary language. Some of the highlights included shopping at the Poto-poto market, a haven for African print fabrics and visiting the Brazza memorial, a mausoleum, statue and sculpture garden honoring Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza, the French explorer who founded Brazzaville in 1880.

What kind of traveler does this trip suit?

This is a true expedition suitable for a traveler who wants to explore a remote, pristine wilderness and is not too worried about luxury. We were very comfortable, in authentic, rustic accommodation. The weather was overcast and humid most of the time because we were in the equatorial rainforest. It was not uncomfortably hot, but the accommodations did not have air conditioning. This trip would be enjoyed by an adventurer who likes hiking and is reasonably fit. Game viewing in the forest is different than in the savanna. Forest animals can be elusive, which makes sightings very special. In search of animals, we walked up to our waists in water in the bais and along the elephant boulevards. Travelers with a spirit of adventure will have meaningful experiences you can’t have anywhere else in the world.

What are elephant “boulevards?”

Elephant “boulevards” are paths in the forests where the elephants have walked repeatedly. Eventually the trails fill up with water and the elephants walk them quite happily, as did our group! Accompanied by experienced and diligent guides, we cautiously walked within 30 ft of an elephant. We visited the Dzanga bai and saw over 100 elephants spraying themselves golden with muddy water. The mud provides necessary minerals and salts lacking in their diet. It was fascinating to watch their playful interactions.

There is a major conservation component to this trip. What conservation efforts did you witness?

Our group met renowned primatologist Dr. Magdalena Bermejo who oversees the gorilla project at Ngaga in Odzala-Kokoua National Park. She is currently habituating three different gorilla families and actively studying about 300 gorillas in the area. Dr. Bermejo joined us for breakfast and discussed the different projects. Her research team involves the community in gorilla conservation projects as well and she described how the gorillas are habituated over time to acclimate to human presence so researchers may observe their behavior. At Sangha, our group met an elephant expert who had been studying elephants for years and is involved in training the community to research and preserve these animals.

Did you meet any local communities?

We joined the Ba’ Aka people in the forest where they demonstrated their net hunting techniques, showed us their medicinal plants, and how they build their huts. The Ba’ Aka women had a hut built in 10 minutes and then went inside and started singing to us. We felt welcomed by the community who enjoyed sharing their culture with us and quickly had our group singing, dancing, and clapping alongside them.

Tell me about your role as a tour leader.

It is my role to coordinate and organize the group’s daily timings and ensure the trip runs smoothly. I advise the group what time we’re going out in the morning, what activities are happening throughout the day, and when meals are being served. I advise guests on appropriate attire for the day’s activities and coordinate with the guides and camp management to ensure everyone is organized and gets the most out of their trip. I am not a field guide, but I have been leading trips for 20 years in 36 different countries in Africa.

Why would a traveler want to go on this trip?

The Congo is a unique and remote destination offering adventurous experiences off the beaten path. If you want an experiential, active, and authentic trip, this safari to the heart of central Africa is the adventure for you. Travelers search for elusive rainforest animals, discover a rare and pristine world, and learn about the conservation projects that protect this precious ecosystem.

All images credited to S. Ogg, Congo Basin 2023 traveller


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