I awake to the sound of the rain pounding against the vegetation outside. After my daily meditation and yoga I manage to get through to my little girls and husband. The distance is magnified when my oldest doesn’t want to speak to, my husband says it’s because she misses me but it hurts all the same.
After the rain stops we head off to pick up our guide, no journey in this country is a simple route A to B, there is always a detour or someone to pick up. When we reach the guides camp he isn’t there but of course there are two other guys that know where he is. Not for the first time plans change and we head off to the town of Bayanga. Driving in the CAR is essentially slower than running, the inhospitality of the roads has to be seen to be believed.
Huge, water-filled ruts big enough to sail a small boat on are what we have to negotiate, it’s like driving on Mars with the deep red that emanates from the boggy ground beneath our wheels. In fact, I’m almost certain driving on mars would be easier judging by the images I’ve seen sent back from the Mars Rover Curiosity.
Driving into Bayanga shakes me, I’ve mentally prepared myself for this moment but when it’s here it still shocks me. Just the sight of the children running around everywhere in such destitute poverty, I think about myself 10 years earlier and what my reaction would have been? The main difference now being that I’m a mother myself, I push my thoughts aside and try to divert myself from my own thoughts. I do this by observing how journeys on any motorised vehicle in the CAR seem to multiply by at least 3 people from start to finish. Literally people are hanging off cars, bikes anything that will get them to their destination quicker.
We arrive with our guides at the point where we can’t go any further with the car. The first guide hops out with his machete to clear the path as we head off into dense jungle, the second guy escorts us. After 2km through jungle and knee-deep water we reach an opening in the jungle with a watering hole, this is where the elephants come to drink, play and bathe.
When the elephants arrive we have a great vantage point up high, it is a magical experience and a complete contrast to yesterday with the 4 poached elephants.
We are watching African Forest elephants, the smaller version of the African Elephant that is the poster boy of the safari world. We are also lucky enough to see buffalos and bongos before starting on our long journey back to the lodge.
The long journey back gives time for reflection of the last 2 days, when we finally reach the lodge everyone is tired and hungry. Over dinner I’m enlightened about how most safari lodges work and the contradictions of our own behaviour. Most of the lodges allow hunting because it is the hunters that pay handsomely to shoot, which in turn largely funds the parks and allows them to protect the animals from poachers. Poachers are mainly desperately poor people trying to make money to survive, by selling ivory that is bought by the wealthy. On the other side there is deforestation driven mainly by companies that will, if continued at its current rate, see forest elephants extinct by 2040. The contradictions are not lost on me as I retire to my bed exhausted, I fall asleep to the sound of the neighbour beating his drum to keep the elephants from getting too close to his garden. This makes the problem of keeping your neighbour’s cat out of the garden trivial by comparison.