I have never been a person of small and closed spaces. Although I enjoy trees immensely, the rainforest can easily take over and become somewhat overwhelming as walls of green are constantly surrounding you.
“I am a man of the forest” said our guide Alon with his long beard “I’m never going back to the savannah”
As he said this I smiled for myself, I know the essence of my being is his opposite.
The second stop of our Odzala adventure was a camp about 2 hours away called Lango.
Lango is famous as it sits in a stunning “bai” that greets you as soon as you walk into the main area of the camp. The view is breath-taking and a welcome reprieve from the mysterious forest. “Bai” is the word used to describe the pockets of savannah that dot the forest cover. More formally a “bai” is a forest clearing where animals congregate to drink, socialise, eat and look for minerals. It was because of these bais that we had hopes in this area to come across elephants, bongos, sitatungas, buffalos and so many more creatures.
This place had our hearts almost immediately. It’s hard to beat the feeling of coming into this open pocket of green and being greeted by a big heard of forest buffalo – a new species in the books for us! Later that evening as we all sat on the viewing deck, we were graced by the presence of a forest elephant who came down for a drink. Its quiet spell was immediately upon us. To come face to face with one of these giants had been on the top of our list. How different these elephants are from their savannah cousins! There is something mysterious about them, perhaps it’s the essence of their secret forest life.
After such a welcome it’s easy to understand why we were immediately captivated by Lango and why we decided to extend our stay here by one night and cut it short at the next camp. Although wildlife is all around the camp, Lango isn’t a game “viewing” destination. Game drives are futile in the long grass of the savannah and the forest is impenetrable with a vehicle. The best way to explore Lango and its surroundings is either by boat, kayak or– my personal favourite – on foot. Lango provides endless opportunities to explore the forest and the bai through the myriad of walking routes in the swamps, the bais and the forest.
Although wildlife is often around, it is finding their tracks and signs in the thick of forest that captured me the most. As a walking guide I felt out of my depth in a new and exciting way; approaching wildlife here in the forest is a much different experience.
Bubbling with excitement, the thing we looked forward to the most was to partake in a “long walk”. It’s a walk like no other. You don’t keep dry, you walk in the footsteps of forest elephants, encounter a buffalo or two and walk through some of the most spectacular swamps and patches of forest you could ever dream of.
This walk was the moment we had been waiting for; I couldn’t wait to put on my battered pair of faithful yet sacrificial vans (shoes that wouldn’t make the trek back home).
Our walk (go team girl!) started early morning, wet and broken shoes, dry bags and cameras ready we set out to the river deck to start our journey. The boys had done their walk the day before (smaller groups are preferred when walking) and now it was our turn to explore the bai and the surrounding rainforest.
I have always found it strange how as humans we find pleasure in exploring, in wanderingthru different lands just trying to grasp the moment; trying to be present and let ourselves “be” in the moment while attempting to absorb everything we see, everything we feel as we attempt to store it on our memory bank.
The long walk at Lango was a bit like that for me. With every step we took into the forest, the more I felt like a child on Christmas morning. Beauty and life were all around us. From the tracks of the elusive bongo, to the enormous flocks of African grey parrots, to the herds of forest buffalo grazing on the banks of the river, we could only feel honoured to explore such an ancient place.
True to any safari experience we had a coffee break halfway through our walk. Because we even had coffee cups from the lodge, we indulged in what Vicki aptly called “the civilized interlude during our rough and tumble”. Seeing our guide had gone through such effort of making the coffee and bringing the cups and muffin, we couldn’t say no. Nicki was also lucky enough to find a nearby mandarin tree (traces of ancient trades that went through the Congo basin) and she indulged some more, packing her pockets full of this flavourful and exotic fruit.
The part we had been looking forward to the most was “the deep crossing”. With the water waist, this was the last patch of water we would cross before making our way through the dry forest back to the camp. Here of course we bumped into a buffalo who was happily wallowing and wasn’t too happy on moving on. It all resolved in a happy ending (more for us as the buffalo had to leave his spot) and we left the wet patch of the forest behind, heading deeply into the dry areas. We made it to the areas where ancient trees towered upon us and where elephant had left their tusk marks. You walk quietly in the forest, the leaves muffle any sound and you might be surprised at close quarters by any of the inhabitants of this place, from chimps, to elephants, to buffalo, to the odd bongo.
Walking the rainforest of the Congo felt like walking in the land of some older spirit as we came across some naturally beautiful patches that would belong in some of the most curated and acclaimed botanical gardens, making me wonder if fairies were actually real. Although sometimes the forest looks empty, you never feel alone; there is always some secret being watching.
Being able to explore this part of the world on foot, wading through water and land has been so far an insurmountable experience. One of the highlights of this year coming to an end, and one that I look forward to repeating in the near future!