Frontier Travel

The Pilling Effect

By | Tuesday, 30th April, 2024

I’m delighted to note that the FT’s David Pilling made the UK Press Awards’s Travel Journalist of the Year shortlist in part for his piece(s) on his trip to and through the rainforests of the Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic.

I was fortunate enough to have accompanied Pilling on the journey and shared, on our return, my thoughts on both northern ROC’s Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park and south-western CAR’s Dzanga Bai. As Pilling mentions in In the village of the elephants, the ‘ultimate goal’ of the trip was to reach Bayanga, ‘a small town beside the Sangha River’, which he describes as a ‘legendary destination for conservationists because of a jungle clearing’ where forest elephant ‘congregate in greater numbers than anywhere else on earth’, which is why it is also known as ‘the village of the elephants’.

Before reaching this mother of all bais, we would sleep on wooden platforms in relatively unvisited Ndoki, stay at Sangha Lodge, possibly the remotest camp in Africa, and accompany the local Ba’Aka on a net hunt, each experience a revelation in its own right. Once there, it did not disappoint. ‘When we reach the clearing,’ writes Pilling, ‘at least 60 elephants have already gathered, a number that will triple as the day wears on’. On this and everything else, I won’t say much more, given the possibility that you have yet to read the piece. Suffice it to say, it was an extraordinary journey.

As well as two articles — the one you know, the other on his trip to Socotra, Yemen — described by the judges as ‘well written, feature-length text pieces that illustrate Pilling’s sensitive and evocative style, often laced with wry humour’, and which tell stories ‘from the inside out and not the stories that outsiders would seek to impose’, he submitted part of a podcast that ‘probed some of the themes that often get marginalised in conventional travel pieces.’ It’s clear that they are blown away not only by talk of ‘controversies around conservation’, but also by the opportunity to peer with their ears into ‘a little understood environment’, including the world of the Ba’Aka net hunters and that of the movement of forest elephant.

So, for the price of one blog, some fine news, at least two articles to sink yourselves into, and the FT’s first four-part travel podcast to wrap your ears around. The Pilling Effect is strong.

Images © Kyle de Nobrega

The Financial Times’s David Pilling was hosted by Will Jones on his trip to northern Republic of the Congo and south-western Central African Republic. Any questions, comments, or queries about travelling there or elsewhere in Africa, please get in touch with our exploration team.

To find out more about travel to ROC and CAR, get in touch with our exploration team

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