Andrew Sneddon – Cameroon & CAR (Feb 2017)

Thanks for all your help arranging what turned out to be an absolutely fantastic trip! Emanuel (my guide) was very competent, and worked hard to deliver what I wanted. There were some variations in the itinerary, but anything I missed was balanced by some extras added in, so I was completely satisfied.

I’ve added some comments to trip advisor (Lobeke National Park, Sangha Lodge, Dzanga Sanga National Park) and also the Thorn Tree Forum (Cameroon and CAR Forums). I’ve made sure I credit your company!

Lobeke National Park in Cameroon is about as remote as can be – two long days drive from Yaoundé in the dry season. In the wet season roads might be impassable, and the journey would certainly take longer. The journey would be possible by public transport. Old and basic Alliance Voyages buses trundle through the jungle from Yaoundé – but you would have to add a day to your travel time. I broke the journey at Yokadouma where the Hotel Elephant is basic, but the staff friendly and helpful, which always makes a difference!

Wildlife viewing in Lobeke centres around forest clearings, where mineral deposits prevent trees from growing. The forest animals and birds all visit the clearings to lick or eat the mineral rich soil, and so all you need is patience and luck – they will come to you! I visited Petite Saline and Grand Saline, both of which have viewing platforms from which to watch the clearings. Petite Saline is a three hour walk through the forest, and Grand Saline another 3-4 hours further. Both have basic rough campsites, so you need some tolerance to washing in streams, and using pit toilets. And to insects! However, the rewards are immense. Both days at Petite Saline I saw Western Lowland Gorilla families emerge out of the forest, and stay in the clearing for 45 minutes to an hour. I also saw Sitatunga – male, female and young – and Forest Buffalo, as well as numerous bird species. At Grand Saline I saw Forest Buffalo, Sitatunga and Red River Hog. I also saw the most amazing spectacle of thousands, if not tens of thousands, of African Green Pigeons and African Grey Parrots performing the ‘bird dance’. Each morning and evening, vast flocks take off from the trees with the crash of thousands of wings, and wheel through the sky, swooping and turning, flocks merging, or passing through each other. The display in the morning was even more spectacular, as the sun was behind me, and hitting the birds, showing of the bright green of the pigeons. I’m really not sure why this sight is not better known. As the flocks landed, I watched a mongoose break cover to try to catch a bird on the ground…..

Walking through the forest between the trailhead and the clearings, we heard or saw gorillas on nearly every occasion – seeing them is hard as the forest is so dense, but you are in no doubt that they are there – you can hear them crashing through the undergrowth, vocalising as they go. On one occasion the tracker told me Chimpanzee were close, but to be honest I didn’t see or hear anything. We saw plenty of elephant droppings and footprints, but I did not see a Forest Elephant in Lobeke. The Bongo also eluded me, although I was told there were other clearings where they were common. I spent five nights camping, as well as two nights at Camp Combo, in a small cabin, from where you can visit the local Ba’aka tribe, and observe their way of life, as well as looking out for monkeys (Putty Nosed, Colobus) and Hornbills. I combined my trip to Lobeke with the better known Dzanga Sangha National Park in Central African Republic.

Despite travel advisories, this small corner of Central African Republic appears safe and stable. I stayed at the wonderful Sangha Lodge, run by Rod and Tamar, a South African couple, who extended excellent hospitality. After five nights camping, the cabins, with hot and cold water and flush toilets seemed the height of luxury, and the food was delicious and well presented. Rod and Tamar are very interesting people, and the conversation is part of the experience. At Dzanga Bai, another mineral rich forest clearing, I added Forest Elephant and Giant Forest Hog, Agile Mangabey, Colobus Monkey and a Genet to my list of mammals, and visited two separate groups of habituated Western Lowland Gorillas for a close encounter. I also paid for a ‘Mangabey Follow’ where you walk through the forest surrounded by a troop of Agile Mangabeys, watching them melt in and out of the dense undergrowth as they walk along the ground or climb the trees. I spent a total of six full days in the park, and could have spent longer. The Bongo still escaped my sight!

I booked my trip in the UK through ‘Travel With Jules’ to avoid having to send large sums of money to a foreign bank account. Using a UK agent obviously adds to the cost, but I considered it well worth it for financial security, and certainty that there would actually be someone waiting for me when I stepped off the plane.

My trip was coordinated on the ground in liaison with Jules by Mama Tembo Tours, a well respected African tour operator. I have heard, and experienced first hand, problems with the reliability of some Cameroonian tour operators. If you have visited some of the better known countries of Africa, and want to try something different, why not give Cameroon and Central African Republic a go? There are species here you will not find together anywhere else in the continent, and the wildlife viewing experience, of standing on platforms in the forest clearings waiting for the animals and birds to come to you, is different, and very, very relaxing. You need patience, the ability to remain still, and the ability to remain quiet – I was told that most groups who visit see very little in Lobeke as they chat and move about too much. The gorillas in particular were very sensitive to human presence.

Thanks to Jules at Travel with Jules, Emanuel from Central African Tours, my driver Mousa, and Rod and Tamar at Sangha Lodge, for making this a wonderful trip.” Thanks again. Once Ndoki opens up again, I may be in touch for a repeat visit!