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GORILLAS & PYGMIES EXPEDITION Print E-mail
Written by Dr. Jack Wheeler   
Monday, 05 December 2011

GORILLAS & PYGMIES EXPEDITION


  led by Jack Wheeler

Sunday, February 26 to Sunday, March 04, 2012

$7950

This is real African adventure, an expedition to the most uninhabited jungle in Africa where gorillas outnumber people by 100-1.  And most of the people are Ba'Aka Pygmies.

There is an extraordinary profusion of wildlife.  When you think of elephants in Africa, you think of the bush elephant like in the Serengeti - but there is another subspecies called the forest elephant that you can see hundreds of at a time, if you know just where to go.  There are chimps, hippos, crocs, at least eight different kinds of monkeys like putty-nosed monkeys and crowned guenons, baboons, leopards, forest buffalo, an incredible array of birdlife, rare antelopes like the sitatunga and the trophy hunter's dream, the bongo.

The region is called Dzanga-Ndoki, where Cameroon, Congo-Brazzaville, and the Central African Republic (CAR) come together. 

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As it contains Africa's greatest concentration of bongo, a group of wealthy hunters from South Africa built a lodge on one its rivers.  When they suffered in the 2008 collapse, a South African fellow I know bought them out and converted it into a non-hunting eco-lodge. 

The problem is access.  It takes two days driving in a jeep for 250 miles through jungle mud to get there from the CAR capital of Bangui.  Then two more rough days to get back.  Plus you have to stay in Bangui coming and going, which is not a thrill.  The solution:

We'll charter a plane owned by a French mining company that will get us in an hour from Bangui to a village airstrip; from there it's a short boat ride to the lodge.  We even figured out how to avoid staying in Bangui altogether.

Here's the itinerary.  We begin with the easiest and quickest way to get to Bangui from the US.  It is the responsibility of all expedition participants to be in Bangui when the expedition commences Monday morning, February 27.  This is the way we suggest, and are happy to work with you if you prefer an alternative.  Please note that the per person cost of $7950 does not include international airfare (although it does include the hotel for an overnight stop enroute, Sunday the 26th).

Saturday, February 25.

There is a non-stop flight (used by US diplomats to most easily get to Africa) on Ethiopian Airlines, ET 501, departing Washington-Dulles (IAD) at 11:00am for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It is a 13 hour flight, and there is an 8 hour time change, thus arriving Sunday at 8:00am Addis time.

Sunday, February 26.

Arrive Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, on ET 501 at 8:00am (or via a flight from Europe if preferred).  Transfer to the Addis Regency Hotel, the #1 hotel in Addis rated by TripAdvisor.  The day is at your leisure.  We can easily arrange a tour of the city, one of Africa's most historic. Welcome reception and dinner in the evening.

Monday, February 27.

Depart Addis at 9:00am on ET 913, arrive (non-stop) Bangui at 10:40am.  VIP assistance for clearing Customs. We do not leave the airport.  Board charter flight (Cessna Caravan, South African pilot) for one hour flight to Bayanga airstrip.  Transfer to lodge on the Sangha River in time for lunch.  Get settled in your comfortable bungalow (double occupancy) with en suite bathroom/shower.

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Afternoon briefing on area:  cautions, wildlife, activities, Q&A.  Familiarization walk through rain forest spotting for various types of monkeys such as the black and white colobus and crowned guenon, and birdwatching (over 368 bird species in the area).

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Black and White Colobus

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Crowned Guenon
 
Late afternoon, we take a large pirogue (motorized canoe) upriver, turn the motor off and float downriver - our sundowner cruise watching the sunset over the jungle with gin and tonics in hand.

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We'll enjoy a hearty dinner and stories around the campfire, then bedtime for we're up at dawn tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 28

While there are tens of thousands of gorillas - western lowland gorillas, specifically - in this enormous jungle, they are almost never seen. The rain forest is too dense, and they hide from humans.  Due to the patient and indefatigable efforts of researchers over several years, two families of gorillas have been "habituated" to tolerate human presence.

It is a 30 kilometer 4WD drive to the gorilla research camp.  From there, it will be a 30 minute to 1 hour trek through the forest to reach the gorillas (on average, could be shorter or longer depending on where they are).  Only 3 people at a time may visit a gorilla family for a maximum of one hour.  The experience of being close - within meters - of a family of gorillas in the wild is extraordinarily intense and unforgettable.  These are gentle giants, however, who have never attacked a human.

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At the camp, we'll get an in-depth briefing from the researchers, several of whom are American.  We'll also be able to witness and photograph the only habituated group of agile mangabey monkeys in all of Africa - a troop of well over 200.

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Agile Mangabey
 
We'll have lunch at the research camp, for we won't return to the lodge until mid-afternoon, with time to freshen-up - and then it's off on our sundowner cruise.  With luck, we may spot hippos on the river bank, maybe a leopard, and certainly a profusion of birds and monkeys.

After dinner and the campfire, there's the option of a night jungle walk to spotlight nocturnal animals such as long-tailed pangolin (scaly anteaters) and rare types of monkeys called pottos and galagos.

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Long-Tailed Pangolin

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Galago

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Potto
 
Wednesday, February 29 (yes, 2012 is a leap year)

We are going in the dry season, the best time of year to see large animals as they congregate at watering holes.  The most spectacular is Dzanga Bai (bai being the Ba'Aka word for clearing/watering hole), which has a concentration of mineral salts craved by elephants.  Over 4,000 separate elephants have been counted and identified by researchers over the last few years at Dzanga Bai.  It is possible at this time of year to see over 100 at a time.

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The Dzanga Bai at this time is also the best place in the world to see bongo, the most elusive and beautiful antelopes in Africa - up to one or two dozen at once.  We also have an excellent chance to see sitatunga, another beautiful antelope almost as rare as bongo.  Giant river hogs, forest buffalo, various types of monkeys, and a plethora of birds abound at Dzanga Bai.

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Bongo

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Sitatunga

It is about a 30 minute drive, then a 2 km (1.2 miles) walk to Dzanga Bai, and we want to get there early for the waves of African Gray Parrots flying in. Families of elephants and many other animals will come and go throughout the morning, then taper off in mid-day as we enjoy a bounteous picnic lunch on the observation platform.  The animals return mid-afternoon and we'll stay to watch and learn.

We hope to be joined by Andrea Turkalo, an American researcher who has been living near Dzanga Bai for 20 years and is the world's foremost expert on forest elephants.  She'll teach us about "the secret language of elephants," so fascinating she was the subject of a CBS News 60 Minutes segment (January 2010).  CBS called Dzanga Bai "one of the most magical places on Earth," and we'll be seeing why.

We won't want to leave but we must to get back to the lodge before dark, for dinner and the campfire.

Thursday, March 1

You have to get up early to go hunting, and this morning we go hunting with the Ba'Aka Pygmies.  Their most sought after quarry are small antelopes like blue duikers, which they hunt with nets, short wooden spears, and bow & arrow.  If the hunt is successful, there will be a celebration at their encampment.

The Ba'Aka have no permanent settlements.  They are true hunter-gatherers practicing the original way of human existence, setting up temporary shelters of leaves and branches in the forest where the hunting is good. 

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One of the most extraordinary aspects of their life is their music.  Their singing is based on pentatonic five-part harmonies.  Their instruments include pipes, drums, hand-clapping, and water - yes, water-drumming.  You won't believe your ears.

An American musicologist, Louis Sarno, has lived with the Ba'Aka for two decades, and calls their music "one of the hidden glories of mankind." We'll spend the afternoon with Louis, to learn as much from him and his beloved Ba'Aka as we can.  This evening, the Ba'Aka will invite us to an Ejingi ceremony, where they call in the most powerful forest spirit, Ejingi, to ask for our protection as their guests.  The singing and dancing in the firelight will be unforgettable.

The polyphonic music of the Ba'Aka is listed by the UN as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.  Here's the UN slideshow and video commemorating it (be sure and watch the video):
 
Friday, March 2

This is the day the fishermen have been looking forward to, going after the greatest freshwater game fish on earth, the Goliath Tiger Fish (Hydrocynus goliath).

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National Geographic calls it "the monster fish of the Congo," an example of "evolution on steroids."  This bad boy is up to five feet long, can weigh over 150 pounds, and eats small crocodiles for lunch.  The Sangha River has them, and if you bring the right tackle, we'll hook you up. 

We'll also trek through uninhabited virgin rain forest to a beautiful waterfall for a swim and a picnic.

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Another round of fishing in the afternoon, then our sundowner cruise.  After dinner, we'll go spotlighting in the jungle.

Saturday, March 3

This is a day of Options.  Whatever you liked best over the last 5 days, you can do again.  You can simply relax at the lodge bar or go for a short hike to spot monkeys and birds.  Hike back to the waterfall.  Try to snag another goliath.  Visit the Ba'Aka.  For a second gorilla trek or visit to Dzanga Bai, there will be an additional cost for transport, fees, & guides split among those who wish to go.  Whatever you're up for, we'll accommodate.

Of course we'll have our sundowner cruise, and after dinner, a night river cruise to spotlight creatures along the riverbank.  We end with a nightcap around the campfire.

Sunday, March 4

After a nice Sunday brunch, we bid goodbye to our lodge, take the pirogue to the Bayanga airstrip, where our charter plane will fly us back to Bangui in well enough time for the ET 903 flight departing at 3:05pm non-stop for Addis.  Arriving at 8:45pm, this connects with ET 500, departing at 10:15pm direct to Washington-Dulles.

This ends our expedition.  Those who wish to stay longer in Ethiopia or visit other places in East Africa, we'll be happy to help with whatever arrangements you require.

Monday, March 5

ET 500 arrives Washington-Dulles at 7:30am, in time to connect to a flight back home anywhere in the US.

Cost:  $7,980

Cost includes:

*Airport transfer upon arrival in Addis Ababa on February 26 to Addis Regency Hotel; return to airport February 27.
*Hotel accommodation at Addis Regency on February 26.
*All meals, including bottled water and soft drinks, with group from dinner in Addis February 26 to brunch at Dzanga Sangha Lodge March 4.
*Accommodation at Dzanga Sangha Lodge, double-occupancy bungalow with en-suite bathroom.
*Charter flight Bangui-Bayanga-Bangui
*All activities specified in the itinerary (other than a second optional gorilla trek or Dzanga Bai visit), including park fees, permits, and guides.

Cost does not include:

*International air travel to Bangui.
*All personal expenses for incidentals, tips for lodge staff and guides, and alcoholic drinks.  You can BYOB in your checked luggage from the US, buy it in Addis, or tell us your preference and we can purchase bottles of it for you in Bangui, although brand selection is limited.
*Visa fees for Ethiopia and CAR.  We suggest using a visa service in Washington DC such as TravelDocs.  TravelDocs' Africa specialist is Dean Orbell: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it .
*Required medical costs, specifically vaccination for yellow fever and malaria prevention medication (we recommend either meflaquin or malarone).  Please see your physician regarding both.

Deposits, Payments, Cancellations and Refunds   

*Deposit of $1,000 must be received by December 20, 2012.  Note that the maximum number of participants is 8.  We encourage you to send your deposit ASAP to make sure you are one of them.

*Balance in full - $6,950 - must be received by January 20, 2012.

*Refund of deposit and balance in full on the condition of a fully-paid acceptable replacement for you.  Note:  You may want to consider trip cancellation insurance.

Please send all deposits, payments, or inquiries to:

Jack Wheeler
5810 Kingstowne Center Drive
Suite 120-333
Alexandria, VA 22315

* note: Checks must be payable to - Global Venture Holdings

Phone: 703-992-4529  Email: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it
Bank wiring instructions upon request

This is an opportunity to experience some of the rarest wildlife on earth in the remotest part of Africa, easily, in comfort and safety. I hope you will join me.  Please fell free to ask whatever questions you may have.

Jack Wheeler

 

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