Into the Nouabale-Ndoki forest
We set off. The 20 kilos strapped to my back feels cumbersome and my shoulders quickly begin to ache and numb. Yombe leads us, with quick little steps his feet splayed out at 45 degrees. Terribly fit. At first, I stuggle to find a rhythm; ducking and weaving, clambering over fallen trunks and pausing for the deft strikes of the lead machete. I give in to Yombe’s style and shorten my stride. Clouds gather overhead, the forest is plunged into darkness. There is a clap of thunder and a torrential deluge unloads. Within a flash, poles are cut and a tarpaulin is erected, a fire is lit and sweet coffee is bubbling. I feel the sugars recharging my blood.
Thoughts pulse with the forest too. Under physical stress it becomes easy to ruminate on the negative: the forest can seem snatchy and threatening. In the same moment, a serene encounter with a forest inhabitant washes away any distrust and the load lightens; the forest glows with life and vivid colour.
The forest pulses; we clamber between immense lianas, we duck and weave through dense Maranteceae thicket. Mixed forest would then give way to somewhere familiar; the ground littered with large ochre leaves, the light is dappled. It was as if I were standing amidst a beech woodland in the UK in early autumn. All the leaves are the same I note to Boris; ‘c’est le foret Bemba!’
Bemba forests are a peculiarity of this part of the world. They are dominated by a single species – Gilbertiodendon dewevrei – a proud towering tree. Satellite analysis has shown that this unique habitat covers up to 20% of the Nouabale-Ndoki National Park, usually scattered along its watercourses. We enjoy the openness and clear trails of the Bemba forest for over 15 kilometres, snaking alongside the Mabale River into the heart of the Park.
Thoughts pulse with the forest too. Under physical stress it becomes easy to ruminate on the negative: the forest can seem snatchy and threatening. In the same moment, a serene encounter with a forest inhabitant washes away any distrust and the load lightens; the forest glows with life and vivid colour. One hundred yards ahead, a group of forest buffalo, cloaked in rich mahogany fur, quietly saunter into view. A few minutes later, we stumble into an unwitting solitary silverback feeding in a swampy opening.