Happy to say that we finally have intermittent reception again. Being this completely isolated – it’s a strange line between living quite happily au natural without your phone, and hoping fervently for a shower of text messages without appearing to do so. The one is liberating, the other superfluous, although it serves to confirm that there is a world beyond the jungle.
Friday evening and the four of us are quietly pining for some lamb chops on the braai, a salad and Supersport. Thankfully cook slaughtered a scrawny chicken for us and the beer was almost cold. Coming into the kitchen from a rinse in my bucket after a run in the forest, I find these objects lying on the Tupperware. Cook had saved us the chicken treasures: lungs, an egg developed to the stage of having a soft, opaque shell, and two semi-developed egg yolk chicks…Either way, the bit of braai was delicious and the company excellent. What more does one need?
By day 4 on the road I was almost missing these delights of the base, having arrived at the auberge we were staying in on Sunday afternoon in the small town of Etoumbi. Going by the dubitable name of ‘Hotel Ce Plaisir’, I left three days later still waiting to discover the pleasure. Waking up in the middle of the night, second night. It sounds like somebody is trying to saw the door in half with a nail file. Thinking someone is trying to get into my room, ninja instincts kick in. Lightning quick reflexes find me armed with my knife and Petzl. Not exactly a fear inspiring image I know, but a girl has to make do with the tools to hand. Petzl on, ready for action, I realise there is no nefarious character outside my door. But crawling under it, seemingly wanting to carry my backpack away, I find instead mutant sized cockroaches. Mystery solved I figure I have bigger problems and my bag will probably still be there in the morning. So I roll over, pull the sheet over my head to hide from the mozzies and fall asleep. And this is the higher end of the accommodation scale. Obviously no running water but thankfully woke up every morning unidentifiable-bite free from whatever inhabits the sponge masquerading as a mattress.
We had five districts to meet with in Etoumbi and most are very positive about the new management of Odzala. The government has also recently passed new laws and classifications for hunting, designating some species as partially protected and some like gorilla and elephant as integrally protected. Villagers will also now have to purchase permits to hunt and can face quite severe consequences if caught hunting without one or with snares and arms of war.
Some of this is obviously hard to process for them at times as is the concept of eco-tourism as the rewards are not immediate. But one only has to take a minute to reflect on the vast numbers of tourists who visit Rwanda and its neighbours annually to spend hundreds of dollars for an hour with the gorillas to realise the potential Odzala holds. Trust me when I say it is incredibly beautiful. Congo currently has no tourism industry, but a place like Odzala has so much potential! Not merely from a conservation aspect, but related employment generating industries as well. Fresh fruit and vegetables here are as rare as the Bulls winning the Currie Cup and tourists, lodges and overlanders will all require fresh produce. This is to be sourced from local producers, creating a demand and s sustainable source of employment and food. Getting villagers involved in commercial agriculture will also hopefully result in less time available for illegal hunting.
Our next village auberge and one look at the dubious sponge again finds me adamantly pitching my tent. I was quite happy to sleep in it outside but my motley crew of road companions just as adamantly refuse. Whether this is due to security concerns or just thinking I am a crazy white woman for wanting to sleep outside when there is a bed inside, gets lost in translation. I compromise by pitching my tent inside.
The bliss of falling asleep inside a clean bubble, even though I am on the cement floor? Priceless.