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Published: July 14th 2009
One of the few tourist attractions in the Central African Republic is located down near Bayanga. Where there is a national park that has elephants and habituated gorillas (habituated means that after years of work researchers have been able to get one family of gorillas used to people enough so that you can get close to them).
There is a big watering hole called Dzanga Bai where all the elephants come to drink because the area is rich in mineral salts. The place is more of a giant mud pit than anything else, surrounded by a dense jungle. To get there we had to rent a truck and go off-roading through the jungle for about 40 minutes. Then it was about a half hour hike through the jungle. Our guide made a serious sounding comment about paying close attention to him if we ran into an elephant in jungle. Normally in the US you would ignore such comments as people just being overly protective. However based on my sisters encounters with elephants and all the elephant footprints and dung you see when hiking , you know they are not kidding.
We had to wade through a stream
/ stagnate water for about 20 minutes before getting to the jungle trail. After hiking through the jungle for you come to an observation platform on the edge of the clearing.
There were about 40 elephants hanging around. We spent about and hour and half hanging out watching them. There were whole families that would come and lots of babies that would come and go with some drinking and some playing.
The Gorillas are in a different part of the park that required another hour off-roading trip through the jungle. There is a gorilla research station located there which the gorilla researchers use as a home base. This is one of the few places in the world where you can study gorillas in there natural environment.
Everyday the trackers and the researchers go out in the morning and find where the gorillas are and they usually stay with them till midday. Then the next group comes out and stays with them until they make their nests for the night. As a tourist you usually tag along with one of the groups. They only allow about 2-3 tourists at a time and even then you are
only allowed to be with the gorillas for about 1 hour.
Now on this jungle trip and all the others I did. I was always with a BaAka ( pygmy ) tracker. These guys move through the jungle at an impressive pace. It feels more like you are tearing through the jungle. I should mention that they are almost always wearing nothing more than flip-flops for shoes (that being said their feet don’t look so great either, occasionally missing toes and nails, etc…)
It was my sister, Tim (the lonely planet writer) and I going to see the gorillas. The gorillas obviously don’t stay in one place all the time so we had a several kilometer hike through the jungle to get to them. As we were hiking through the jungle we came across another clearing / swamp. At this point are tracker stopped and started looking around then point off to the other side. Hanging out on the other side of the clearing was a big adult elephant. We continued on. Most of the hike was on small trails that the trackers regularly used, but as we got closer to the gorillas we had to start just randomly
walking through the jungle, which meant getting stuck in lots of thorny vines.
Around this time I was thinking to myself about how surprised I was that the bugs in the jungle had not been to bad (except for the ants you almost always find ants in large masses which makes them a bit easier to avoid, but in Africa all ants are considered bad because most have very painful bites). I was removing one from my toe once and it had such a good hold on me that a small chuck of skin came off with it). However as soon as we found one of the gorillas and stopped my opinion changed. I was excited to see the gorilla but I was immediately distracted by the fact that was covered with hundreds of tiny fly like things called sweat bees. They are a bit bigger than a fruit fly and do not sting. I was very confused since this came out of nowhere. I looked down to see if I was standing on some sort of nest. Then I noticed that everyone else was in the same situation. The trackers are just used to it. I must have
killed at least a thousand of those things, but they still kept swarming me.
Being that close to gorillas in the wild is a very amazing experience. We found the sliverback (Mokumbu) up in tree. Then in a not so quiet fashion he climbed down from the tree. To be fair it is probably hard to look graceful if you are a 500 lb gorilla climbing out of a 100 foot tall tree. He then ran across the path about 30 feet in front of us. The sliverback was napping in a really dense area that made him hard to see after that. We moved over to where two really young gorillas were wrestling, (~10 feet away from them) watching them play for about an hour. At one point there were 4 all playing together.
After our time was up we headed back out through the jungle, leaving the sweat bees behind (which is good cause I think I was about to go insane).
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