Road to Conkouati

What happened next is best described as a physical assault. I climbed onto the backseat of the Toyota Hilux pickup next to some other bloke, between us was a large cooler box so the only place for my backpack was on my lap.

The journey was due to take four hours, I was wet, hot and still wearing my rain jacket. The first half hour wasn’t too bad, the road wasn’t great but at least it was tarmacked, from then on it was pretty much serious off-roading. The French lad at the wheel was either desperate to get the journey done or the love-child of Alain Prost as he didn’t seem to alter his speed of 60km/hr (37.3miles/hr) regardless of the road condition. Both myself and my backpack began to bounce around colliding violently with either the cooler box, the car door or occasionally the roof. Unable to move, I’d ended up in a slumped position with my bag on top. I was glad my reasonably respectable six-pack was protected by a layer of fat, however, I’d stored a tin of sardines in a side pocket and it was doing its best to break my ribs. What there was of a road had been further washed away by the early morning storm and on arrival at Conkouati I had a headache, burnt elbows and shattered wrist. To be fair to the lad, he’d done a pretty good job considering the difficulty of the task and I thanked him as I stumbled out of the vehicle.

There was a small incident during the drive, we’d passed many herds of small goats along the road, most politely moved to the side as we approach. One particular group were actually running towards us, which was strange. Beyond them seemed to be a second group but as we drew nearer we could tell it was a pack of four dogs, each one with its teeth sunk into a different corner of a kid (to clarify, small goat). Pegging it down the hill was a kid (to clarify, small human) shouting and waving his machete, if anyone was going to eat that goat it was going to be him.

Feeding time for Mbifini and Dereck.


Tchula the baby chimpanzee.

Typically, no one new what to do with this random ‘Anglais’ that had turned up, so I was sent on a boat trip up the river, to deliver some food – and the other bloke from the back of the Toyota – then off to see the chimpanzees being feed.

Bungalow no.5, home at HELP.

It’s a good two or three minutes stroll through the jungle before you arrive at the bungalows where I’m billeted. As you walk the winding path hundred of grasshopper spring out of your way, imagine walking into a room full of mousetraps then you’ll get the idea. My first night’s sleep was pretty good, most people are safely tucked up in bed by nine o’clock here, I’m getting used to these early finishes and early starts. My first treat of the day was to go out and watch the chimpanzees being feed but this time it was just me and the two doing the feeding. I got to know some of the chimpanzees names, on the first island is Banane the boss, Pepere and Moana. The second island has Dereck in charge with his two wives, Mbifani and Tina with her baby Tchula.

Monitor lizard, Conkouati.

On my return Madame Jamart, an interesting character and the big cheese around here, gave me a tour of the local area in her 4×4 while telling a little of the Reserve politics. Back in camp there were three big monitor lizards (varanus) in the garden each over a metre long that I studied for half an hour then was invited on a boat trip down river to the sea and beach. What a place, both beautiful and interesting at the same time. The tide was going out and in the mouth of the river, the water flowing out collided with the water rolling in. Wave overlapped wave, wave dissected wave, wave hit wave, wave merged into wave.

The Ngongo river meets the South Atlantic.


Crab going for a paddle.

I strolled along the water’s edge and joined in with the hundreds of small crabs playing chicken with the incoming waves. I stopped to watch, they were feeding on the sand walking sideways as they shovelled claw-fulls of sand into their mouths, every so often, they’d sit down with a left-right twitch that was reminiscent of an old electric golf ball typewriter (if I remember correctly). As time went by slightly bigger, and pinker, crabs came ashore to feed, more cautious than the youngsters any movement would send them scuttling back into the sea. Some others would burrow down into the sand and every now and then pop their head out or flick out more sand as they dug deeper.

Ants on the march.


Shower and toilet facilities, HELP.

I spent the evening chatting about all sorts to the French/Peruvian couple – very nice people – then retired to my hut. It was too early for sleep so I got undressed and pottered about for a while. Eventually, tiredness came and I slipped on my shorts and flip-flops to make that last call of the day to the WC. However, there is no WC as this is a dry toilet and as is often the case with these types of convenience, there’s a square box with a hole cut in the top, seat attached but set further back than the conventional pan. Apologies if things now get too descriptive but I feel it necessary to create a complete picture of the scene. Being all man I prefer to stand, to quote my German friend to ‘make a pee-pee’. For hygienic reasons there’s no way I’m touching that seat so, being considerate and not wishing to sprinkle when I tinkle I adopted a leaning position using my ‘spare’ hand against the wall to balance, so slightly on tip-toes and at an angle of approximately 10 degrees I’m in a suitable position to commence. The only downside to this technique is a good view down into the hole, not a good idea! At the point of relaxation the most excruciating pain stabs into my middle toe, as I jerk upright the same pain is matched in the palm of my hand, quite literally a pincer movement. Its pitch black so I’m wearing my head torch and I flick glances between both hand and foot to discover I was standing in one end of a train of ants and with my hand in the other. More attacks followed and I frantically swiped and stamped in self-defence. Having gained control of myself I surveyed the situation double-checking for any missed ninja stealth ants and took the decision, bearing in mind the time of day, I’d have to try again. All I could do was carefully place my hand and hope to finish before my exposed feet were discovered. Relieved, I was back in my room and inspecting the damage, the little insect, approximately 8mm (0.31inches) in length had cut a slice in the top of my toe. Still chewing on the underside of my flip-flops were three of his platoon, even more remarkable as I’d just walked about 30m (98.4ft) with them underneath my footwear, their jaws embedded into the rubber sole. Several attempts later, I managed to kill them and climbed, wounded, into bed.

Last week in the tent I had three pet lizards to share my bedroom with and keep me company through the night. This week it seems I have two bats, they squeak a little but, being regular socialites they usually go out for something to eat every night or they just hang around above my bed. Their only bad habit is crapping on my mosquito net and the floor where I stand to get in or out of bed, luckily, they do this during the day so I can clean up before going to bed and avoid stepping in it.

Alpha male, Banane.