I’ve just got back from a trip to the Republic of Congo – also known as Congo Brazzaville – with journalist Sophy Roberts, Roland Purcell and photographer Robbie Lawrence. Roberts you will know from her writing for the likes of the Financial Times and Conde Nast Traveller. Purcell is a pioneering conservationist whose exploits I’ve shared many a time. This is the first time Lawrence and I have met – a lovely man and a fantastic photographer. While this was a Wild Philanthropy trip, and part of future and wider special access plans for the area in general, it was also, for me, the chance to visit a country soon to be a Journeys by Design destination. We travelled to the country’s capital Brazzaville and to Odzala-Kokoua Park.
Roberts’s piece comes out sometime next year, and while I wouldn’t like to second guess what she will be focussing on, I’m fairly sure she will be covering off the country’s history, its culture, and the conservation efforts in Odzala in much more detail than I have the space to do here. Suffice to say, Brazzaville’s a rather neat, administrative set-up. Our overnight at Radisson Blu M’Bamou Palace Hotel was lovely, the restaurant nearby even better. We hardly scratched the city’s surface, so I’ll be looking to spending more time there on my next visit.
Odzala, meanwhile, exceeded all expectations. We stayed at all three camps, spent much time walking and wading through bai (swamp clearings) and high canopy, mainly in pursuit of the park’s 22,000 lowland gorilla. At 13,500 square kilometres large, Odzala has just one 25 kilometre road. Other than this, travel through the forest is on foot, courtesy of the forest elephant, a key species whose travel create paths or ‘boulevards’ essential to the movement of many an animal. The enthusiasm and professionalism of everyone we met was extraordinary. This is a place with a mission: to protect and conserve, and to do so in a way that guarantees the most authentic of experiences.
Apart from having the opportunity to observe both of the areas habituated bands of lowland gorilla, Purcell and I were fortunate enough to spend some time with a third, non-habituated group, usually exclusively studied by Magda Bermejo, who coordinates the great ape research at Odzala and nearby Lossi. It was an extraordinary experience, and one very unlike any gorilla trekking I’ve done before. The forest is incredibly soft underfoot. We spent much time wading through waist-high water. There were just two of us and one tracker. People live in the park, and at one point I saw a woman stop on the road ahead, and with a nod, give a nearby gorilla a wide and respectful berth. We met, during the course of the whole trip, one other foreigner. It’s not Rwanda. It’s not Uganda. It’s very different.
So, to end: We’ll have set up the destination on JbD’s site by the end of month. I would say it’s the kind of trip that you might take once you’ve experienced both eastern and southern Africa – that or you’re born to adventure. If that’s you, then I look forward to hearing from you.