© Kyle de Nobrega
Dispatch, Rare | Republic of the Congo

One step beyond

Just a quick note about my upcoming trip in a couple of weeks to the Republic of Congo’s Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park, a tri-national protected area that spans borders with Cameroon and the Central African Republic (CAR). It is probably the most intact forest ecosystem in the Congo and possibly in the world, is home to large populations of western lowland gorilla, and I am particularly excited by the link by boat along the Sangha River between Ndoki and Dzangha-Sangha Special Reserve in CAR. It’s novel, it’s unique, and it’s rare – all of which fits very well with our Rare approach to travel.

This is my second trip to the Republic of Congo. Close readers of this blog may remember I travelled with journalist Sophy Roberts and Roland Purcell. Both are two old friends with whom I’ve shared several adventures, and this – which saw us travel to the country’s capital Brazzaville and Odzala-Kokoua Park – was one of the best, a superb introduction to the country, and exactly the right kind of stepping stone for going on to explore the even more frontier habitat that is Ndoki. I’d always promised that we would return to complete the journey or ‘travel triangle’ that takes in Odzala, Ndoki, and Sangha.

This time, I’ll be guiding the Financial Times’s Africa Editor David Pilling, whom I got to know on a wonderful walking-with-camels trip in northern Kenya earlier this year, and whose writing I first came across in a hugely perceptive piece on the Omo. Having spent a lot of time reporting on Africa, his broad and deep knowledge is matched by his modesty and care when it comes to sharing it, and his independent perspective correlates with a paper that prides itself on editorial independence. He is, in short, a superb and erudite travel companion.

Hosted by the Wildlife Conservation Society, David and I will be exploring the role responsible tourism does and can play in helping maintain the park and forest ecosystem. There is no actual tourism structure in the park, so any travel relies on working closely with the Society, the country’s main conservation partner, and which has been busy helping reclaim, protect, and grow many of the Republic of Congo’s wildernesses for a quarter of a century. We are, in effect, prototyping travel before travel has really reached Ndoki.

What this means is travel on foot and by boat with activities all based around ranger-research conservation programmes. Accommodation will consist of sleeping under mosquito nets on wooden viewing platforms with thatched roofs – so no accommodation, in other words. There are plans, as I understand it, for installing accommodation in the future, which is why trips like ours are the means by which the Society is able to gauge what works and what doesn’t work in the interests of the ecosystem.

Meanwhile, I’ve been hoping to get to Sangha to meet founders Rod and Tam Cassidy for what feels like forever. They set up Sangha Lodge, converting an abandoned hunting property into an idyllic and highly community-orientated property. Legends in the frontier-conservation travel industry, the way they live, work and play – joyfully within the constraints necessarily imposed by what it means to operate when putting the environment first – is a lesson to us all. An extraordinary couple on the outpost of one of Africa’s last great wildernesses, whom I have regularly failed to visit – until now.

So, the trip will see us spend five nights in Ndoki and three in Sangha, and are the final pieces, as said, in the stitching together of a largely Rare itinerary that will see guests arriving in Brazzaville, cutting their teeth in Odzala, diving deep into the forests of Ndoki and Sangha, before flying home or elsewhere from Bangui in CAR. Or the reverse, starting in Sangha and finishing in Brazzaville. Watch this space.

All images © Kyle de Nobrega.

If your travel interest is piqued by the above, please get in touch with Will Jones, Kyle de Nobrega, Squack Evans, or Hannah Rayner. We’d love to have a chat. 

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