Good physical condition is required for travel to the Central African parks. When it comes to gorilla trekking, the habituated gorillas may be 30 minutes’ walk from camp or three hours. You will not know until you arrive at the starting point. In Nouabale-Ndoki National Park in Congo-Brazzaville, it is a two to three hour walk just to arrive at the starting point for a gorilla follow. The forest treks are not arduous in terms of elevation gain or loss. The terrain is for the most part flat so all that is really required is stamina. There are also patches of swamp to wade through and stretches of river to cross. This requires wearing rubber shoes. The parks other attractions are the bais, saline clearings in the middle of the forest which attract elephants, buffalo, sitatunga and bongo antelope, and gorilla. Accessing these baiswhere there are observation towers requires a 45 minute walk each way.
Heat and Insects:
Primary rainforest is extremely humid. It can cool down dramatically at night but during the day, it is hot. There are also insects with which to deal—most of them of them harmless, but annoying nevertheless, like the little sweat bees. Not so hard to ignore are tsetse flies, ticks, and the large biting army ants. A rainforest is arguably nature at its most indomitable. If you stand stationary long enough it attempts to break you down into leaf litter!
Accommodation and Food:
In Congo – Brazzaville’s case, the accommodation is decidedly no-frills. At Mbeli Camp, we share raised wooden chalets with toilet and bathing areas below. At Mondika Camp, we share tents with separate ablution blocks. In Congo too, the majority of food is tinned and while vegetarians wont have any problems, any special diets other than vegetarian are difficult if next to impossible to accommodate. Meals and services in the private lodges of the Central African Republic are much improved, but the bottom line is that meals and accommodation are not the highlights of travel to this remote part of Africa, yet.
Respect for Quiet:
The ability to remain quiet – as you walk through the forest and for the long hours that you spend on the observation platforms – is a requirement for travel to the Central African parks. The trackers and guides will encourage silence. Scientists on the platforms work in silence too. (Your days here offer you the opportunity to experience a researcher’s life.) Wildlife conservation in Central Africa has supplanted a long tradition of hunting. Animals have long ago learned to fear man. The trackers who now habituate gorillas or who escort us through the forest, ever vigilant about spotting elephants, once hunted them. If we talk on the observation platforms the wildlife will leave the clearing. If we are noisy in the forest we risk startling gorillas and elephants. We need to be quiet as we walk through the forest so that our trackers can do their job and avoid any distressing man-wildlife confrontations.