Chimps, Chimps, Chimps and maybe some butterflies

Hello people,

since I got a lot of nice responses on my previous blog I decided that I will write another one here in Congo encompassing my last week in this country. As I explained in my previous blog the plan was to go pick up my stuff at the Mandrill site on thursday, go to the islands from friday till tuesday and then tour around the sanctuary and visit Pointe Noire for a last time. As is the case with a lot of things in Africa. Normally things don’t go as planned. Especially when you look at timeframes. Thankfully I am used to waiting after my years abroad.

Thursday came and went without me going to pick up my stuff. The new plan was to leave friday early in the morning. So I was ready from 08.00 onwards. 9 o’clock came, 10, 11, 12 and still no sign of the car which was supposed to bring us after getting gasoline and food for the mandrills. I was getting worried about having to stay for another day of doing nothing. But finally at 1 the car came and the driver assured me that we will go and that he will return in the evening. It took him another hour to get ready. So at 2 o’clock we finally left. The field assistents insisted I sat in the shotgun position (next to the driver) and, as the luxurious bastard I am, I accepted it without any fight. After a three hour drive I was finally back in the camp and was already dreading the journey back (another three hours on the mainly terrible roads and now even in the dark). 

Quickly I packed my bag and got my tent down. You could actually not describe it as packing the bag. I would rather call it throw everything inside and sit on it till everything fits… After 30 minutes we left the camp already. It was getting dark, so we needed to continue quickly. Every guide book of a random African country advises you against travelling by car after dark. But since I sure as hell did not want to stay for another night with my large army of friends in the forest (called the Tsetse-fly, black-flies and Malaria Mosquitos) I decided against speaking with the driver about it. Luckily we did not encounter any problems and got back to the sanctuary at around 20.45.

Since I was supposed to leave for the islands where they are reintroducing chimps on Friday I wasn’t sure when I would get a new opportunity. So saturday I set out to find someone who would know. Finally aroun noon I found the head of the Islands project and he told me that they would actually leave in 10 minutes. So I quickly packed my bag (nicely, not like the day before) and went with him. Tuesday I would still be able to return. After a nice one hour boatride over a big river (forgot the name) we arrived at the basecamp on the opposite side of the Tchindzoulou Island. After finding a nice spot for my tent I went with the local staff and the french head of the project to feed the group on Tchindzoulou Island. Wow, it was really great to see chimps so closeby. The only thing which separated us was 1 meter of muddy shoreline. I was not allowed to leave the boat, something I also did not wanted looking at the size of some of the chimps (yeah yeah, pussy, I know).

On sunday I woke up early and went with the staff to all the islands (Gombe, Tchindzoulou and Tchibebe) and spoke extensively with the head of the project. Encountered a lot of chimps, one decided to even spit on us (there is always a possibility to get piss or poo on you when being around monkeys, so spit was one of the best things you could get on you) . Overall a nice experience. I even found the time to have a small hike in the forest in the vicinity of the Tchindzoulou camp. However, hiking alone in an unknown forest with several dangerous snake species present did not seem to be one of the best ideas of my life. So after an hour I decided to head back. Thankfully (and rather boring) I did only see some birds, crabs, insects and butterflies (of which I made some really nice pictures, but I can’t share them now since they are on my camera). 

On monday I joined the head of the project and some staff members during a trip in the forest near the Islands to gather and cut fallen trees to use in the construction of the houses for the project. A good way to use useful timber species which are otherwise decaying on the ground. However, there is also an argument against it (in dutch we say “Dood hout leeft”: Dead wood lives), being that dead wood harbours a lot of insects and nutrients for regeneration. But looking at the small scale at which this is done I would see it as a good example of the multi-purpose forests we like in Europe as well. 

After a relaxing afternoon of reading with a view on the chimps on the Tchindzoulou island (on the opposite side of the river) night came and meant that my last day at the Islands was over. It was a great experience and a good example of project with a bright future!
Tuesday I had to wait again for the boat. Which came around 12.30 and we left around 13.30. Fully packed with staff whom where going home we got back to Bas-Kouilou in only 35 minutes. There was already a car waiting with building supplies for the islands and two white researchers whom also needed to go to the Islands. The odds of finding another dutch person in Congo Brazzaville are very low and for that dutch person being from Wageningen University the odds are even lower (however, probably Wageningen has one of the largest amounts of students and researchers doing research abroad). But here stood two researchers (a supervisor and a masters student) from Wageningen university whom where going to research Malaria-mosquitos in the vicinity of chimps. After a short introduction they left for the Islands and I went back to Tchimpounga for a nice shower and a normal bed.

I still needed to buy some food, so thursday I wanted to go for a shopping trip to Pointe Noir. The new car (sponsored among others by the JGI Netherlands) had arrived and I could go with it to town. However, plans quickly change and I had to wait another hour and go with another car and the other dutch people to town. I only needed to get my last groceries, but they needed more. So in the end we spend the whole day in Pointe Noire and we only arrived back with groceries, a cooler box (since they couldn’t find the rest) and only the dutch student since his supervisor already had to get back. Today (friday), was marked by two nice experiences. The youngest chimps here are led every morning to a nearby forest to play and learn more about the forest. Since they are led to the forest by their caregivers whilst being free some manage to run off and making the caregiver to follow them. This morning I was sitting outside going through my pictures when the caregivers walked near me with the young chimps. One broke free and ran at me. Quickly he climbed on top of me, after which he hugged me and ran of again since the caregiver was nearby. I was a bit stunned about what had just happened, but afterwards I can say it was again a great experience.    

Rebeca (the head of the sanctuary and JGI Congo) took me and the dutch student to a hill overlooking the sanctuary and explained us everything about the history and the future of Tchimpounga. She also took us to see the large groups on another side of the sanctuary where you are normally not allowed to go as a visitor, since these large chimps after a possible escape could easily hurt you. Seeing these large chimps makes you really wonder why they aren’t called the king of the Jungle… 

Now I am finished with packing and also done with writing. Having to write this on a tablet with a bluetooth keyboard which sometimes has a delay, causing you to write double letters or delete more letters than you want to, is not a great way of writing. So for my future trips I will probably take a laptop with me again. I would like to thnk you all for reading and I will keep you updated about my search for a job or projects abroad where I can work. Somethings are currently being arranged. But since there are a lot of maybe’s I am not going to discuss it here yet.

greetings from Congo for the second and last time,

Yannick

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