There’s an overwhelmingly, wonderful sense of peacefulness in this place. It’s so comforting that somewhere on this planet, in the heart of Africa, Mother Nature is still reigning as she should be, pulsing her energy through each and every creature of this magnificent rainforest area. Mboko camp is all about the river and an abundance of water, flowing through woods and savannah areas.
Our guide, Adi, is a 26-year-old legend in the making. Sporting a Camel Man look with his wild brown hair and beard, he is passionate and enthralled by the area. His energy is infectious, as is his appreciation of every single contributor to the wonderful ecosystem around us. When Sofie casually mentioned that she spotted a flower that she was curious about, Adi immediately stopped the vehicle and reversed back a couple of hundred metres to find exactly what she was talking about and give us a closer look. It was a lovely , white flower that grows directly on a tree’s stem and turns into a fruit that the monkeys love to eat (watch this space for Elza’s improved flower vocabulary…!)
The river is an ideal vantage point for seeing primates in the area. Our first afternoon river cruise led us to see no less than 3 types of monkeys: De Brazza’s monkeys, putty-nosed monkeys and grey-cheeked mangabeys. But the most fun of the day was with the forest elephants. Adi beached the boat in a marshy area and led us out towards the two females (Margaret & Co) that were happily feeding in the distance. The ladies hadn’t noticed us – or if they had, just went on with business as usual. Following Adi’s lead, we quietly made our way towards them, hiding behind bushes and wading through knee-deep mud. Our barefooted Camel Man explained to us that he first checked that these were elephants that he’d already encountered before and were somewhat habituated to people, so it was safe to approach them. The notion that there are still forest elephants out there that had never seen humans before is enthralling! Paradise is not all lost… I came here looking for authenticity, and with the three of us floating downstream and not having another human around for stretches and stretches of kilometres, that wonderful sense of isolation was awe-inspiring.
For a bit of geographical context, the Odzala National Park is in the Cuvette-Ouest Region of the Republic of the Congo and about 800km north-west of Brazzaville. Founded in 1935, the park now covers 13,600 km2. The charter flight between Brazzaville and the Mboko airstrip is about 2 hours, a much more convenient option than the 12-hour road trip!
When we first arrived at Mboko and were driving from the airstrip towards the camp, we were caught in a flash rainstorm that had us drenched within seconds. It was the fastest way to wash away the city dust and become immersed in this forest life. I loved the reassurance of the rain that is so integral to this ecosystem. At 4am in Mboko, I could still hear a consistent drizzle, accompanied by a symphony of frogs and the flow of the Likeni River by which the cabin had been built. Each cabin is minimalistic and elegant, with the luxury of warm water and electricity – something to be appreciated this far away from civilisation! It’s a place where you can sit on the patio and feel the healing touch of nature, quietly be part of something that is massive and beautiful. Where the themes are ‘growth’ and ‘green’ and ‘water’ and ‘life.’ Being outdoors and inhaling fresh air, observing birds and monkeys and the most incredible insects and butterflies. Life as it should be.
With all the rain, the river is getting higher and forms small islands of reeds and grass, trapping insects such as locusts and crickets. For carnivorous river creatures, such as the cat fish and tiger fish, it means that hunting season is open! We were fascinated to see brutal splashes from the big fish all around as they were grabbing an early dinner towards sunset at the plain where the Lekoli river branches into the Lango stream. There was also a handsome elephant bull watching all the action from the bank. Lekoli is truly a fisherman’s paradise and this is being added as another activity in Odzala’s fabulous repertoire.
My final highlight for the day were the fireflies on the drive back to camp from the river. Adi switched off the vehicle’s lights for us to appreciate how the tiny little lights flashed as far as the eye could see in all directions around us. Each species of firefly has its own frequency – like a type of Morse code – where the female sits on the ground and flashes her availability to the airborne males. The male responds with the same frequency, finds the female, and the rest is history… But deception is not only a human trait: a bigger type of firefly sits on the ground and mimics the frequency of a smaller firefly. The unsuspecting male would see the flash, respond excitedly and then dive bomb towards what he thinks is a pending female. But rather than getting laid, he gets eaten! Who said life is fair… Seems like there’s a lesson in there (hahaha).