Field diary: Outward bound
Pair of Hartlaub’s ducks take off and disappear behind a curtain of green. We are buzzing along. The little 15 horsepower outboard eases the dug-out canoe up the tannin stained waters of the Motaba, a snaking river that leads us to the edge of the Noubale-Ndoki National Park and, arguably, the most intact wilderness of central Africa. I look round to face six young men, perched on the sides of the pirogue, who for the next twenty days I will rely upon wholeheartedly.
The little 15 horsepower outboard eases the dug-out canoe up the tannin stained waters of the Motaba, a snaking river that leads us to the edge of the Noubale-Ndoki National Park and, arguably, the most intact wilderness of central Africa.
Boris leans forwards, and yells ‘look! There is the fishing camp of Berengue! We are close!’. A small knot tightens in my stomach. Soon we’ll be leaving behind this river, and motor, and take to the forest on foot. There is a comfort to the river: a smooth passage for the trader, a larder for the villager, and a landmark for the lost.
The vegetation thickens and begins to constrict the water. We disturb a goliath heron fishing in a swampy enclave. It spreads its enormous wings, and struggles to the air. Troops of silky-tailed black and white Guereza colobus squawk and jeer from the tops of raffia palms as the boat pulls into Moliba port. To me, it’s a swamp.
Under my breath, I curse. I’m stuck in a swamp just ten yards from the pirogue. The gravity of the journey ahead holds me in mud. Nevertheless, as Boris and Hugues pull me out, we laugh. We make it out of the ‘swamport’ and onto terrafirma. Bakamba, the oldest member of our party, and Yombe, the youngest, disappear with machetes. They return carrying long leathery strips of mobae bark and fasten them onto each bergen. Then I understand – an optional head loop for relieving the shoulders of the pack load.