While the jungle is a fascinating place, the very act of staying there is exhausting. It is the heat, day after day that never stops pressing, the sticky humidity that does not let you smell good for more than 20 minutes after each bath, the flying bugs of all sizes that overwhelm you by sticking to your body and buzzing around your ears, the lack of good food and basic comfort. Staying in the jungle for a long time can be an exhausting experience. On top of all this, the accumulation of my physical fatigue, and months of sleeping on the floor and feeding badly, led me to feel the need of a little comfort, that's why I accepted with great enthusiasm Rod's invitation, which had come from word of mouth all the way to Louie's village where I was, after he had learned from word of mouth about my presence in the region.
Rod and his wife, Tam, are South African and arrived in the region a decade ago to run the hotel they had bought, the Sangha Lodge. Located in the middle of the jungle, on the banks of the Sangha and with views that take your breath away, the business was perfect to bring upmarket tourists who love wildlife and look for something truly remote and different. The hotel is within walking distance to the magnificent elephant reserve where Andrea works, and the Dzanga-Sangha National Park to spot gorillas, as it is also a paradise for lovers of exotic bird watching.
But not everything works as easy in such volatile places of the world. The very high political instability of the region, the enormous difficulty of access due to the lack of infrastructure, kept Rod and Tam largely isolated after an initial period of prosperity. The culminating point was when a little over a year ago, between 2013-2014, the eternal civil war in the Central African Republic reached one of its highest peaks and Rod and Tam (and also Louie and Andrea) had to be evacuated when the Anti-Balaka Christian militias took Bayanga to fight the Seleka Islamic militias and the place became a dangerous hell. For several months they had to go into exile, and both the hotel and Andrea's reservation were taken and plundered by the militias.
Now in 2015, I arrived a few months after the militias backed down and Rod and Tam were able to return to the hotel to try to restart their business. But business isn't good because upmarket tourists are usually the most susceptible to panic and the first ones to freak out and change their plans after reading a headline, regardless of whether the region has become completely safe at the moment, therefore, their hotel has been empty for several months. There I arrived, at a time when Rod's Namibian friends were also visiting, along with another South African friend, Ian Sinclair, one of the world experts in bird watching and author of one of the most renowned bird books. With them I spent 3 incredible days in this distant paradise that would be totally inaccessible to me if it were functioning normally.
The birds have never really called my attention but I must admit that seeing them through the eyes of these fanatics of them has opened my perspective a bit. Ian Sinclair has visited 167 countries just to study and watch birds and compile one of the most complete manuals on the subject. These people not only carry all the optical equipment to be able to see them in detail, but they have applications on their phones that include the particular singing of each species of bird recognized in the world. When you are in the region where you find this or that particular bird that you want to spot, all you have to do is connect your iPhones to the speakers and play the singing of the chosen bird in the application. In a very short time, this deception works. It attracts the real birds, who magically come to where we are and with their singing they respond to the singing reproduced by the application. I was speechless.
Honestly I just wanted to be belly up all day resting but I was not allowed to refuse to participate in one of their expeditions to see exotic birds in the middle of the jungle. We left by boat up the Sangha river and disembarked in the middle of nowhere an hour later. This was followed by a strenuous hike between stones and vines in the middle of the rainforest at 35 C and 1700% humidity. Soaked in my sweat under an intolerable sun, along the way I was devoured swarms of gnats, which orbited wildly around my head and were so many that just by breathing I would swallow them. If they only had proteins, I thought, at least it would be easier for me to tolerate this misery. I think I've never cursed these fucking birds so much, and by the time we reached the our goal, after 3 hours of suffering, and found the bloody Picathartes, I wanted to throw a rock at it to kill it.
Look! Look! Look! There it is!!! - The four exclaimed, with an enthusiasm that did not contribute to improve my bad mood. There, in the distance, between an impossible entanglement of vines, was the bloody bug with wings, yellow and red, and as I kept self-flagellating by slapping myself to kill the gnats that were on me, I thought to myself: - "Really? All this hell to see that shitty bug? "- but instead I would say out loud, fabricating a smile - "Wow, such a fascinating bird! "
Ian looked at me and said proudly, as if the gnats did not exist: "If you ever cross paths with other bird watchers, tell them you've seen a Picathartes, and they'll be dead envious" - And while I was straining the muscles of my cheeks to force a smile I thought: - "I would like to tell you that I am the proud murderer of the international expert in winged shits that brought me here".
To end the day, on the way back, one of the typical torrential storms of the tropics took us by surprise while in the boat, throwing enough water to sink it, but not all the water in the world was enough to alleviate the unbearable itch in all my skin result of the multiple bites of the gnats. By the time we got back to the hotel, I went straight to sleep at 5:00 PM and forgot that afternoon forever.
But except for this episode, they were all wonderful, hospitable people, and I learned a lot about nature with them. Among other things, I also had the joy of holding the two beautiful pangolins raised by Rod and Tam, a rare animal in danger of extinction due to poaching as a result of the immense demand for its scales for use in Vietnamese medicine and also as bush meat.
After spending really beautiful days, I said farewell to Rod and Tam with enourmous gratitude for their invitation. Now I was ready to go back to Louie's village because I honestly missed my pygmies very much.