“Madame, look me,” whispered my Congolese guide for the morning, Gideon. This translated into “Wait here, don’t move.” Left on a steep hill hidden among the duff and tucked beneath a decaying tree trunk, I felt embarrassingly like a newborn duiker or bushbuck who hasn’t quite grasped the use of her legs. I watched as he stealthily disappeared into the dense forest with arms wrapped around my knees thinking, “It’s too early for this shit.”
Up at the usual 330AM for a morning with bonobos, we set out to arrive at the nest site a little before 5 AM. The canopy blocking out what little light there was, we were still enshrouded in darkness listening to the sounds of crots and urine falling and spraying. Hearing low grunts like a snoring ogre and shaking in the bushes—Gideon whispered, “nsombo,” Lingala for the bush pigs that roam around these parts.
“Très dangereux. C’est très mauvais. ”
Still waiting for the sun, the shadows whispered by as Gideon pointed them out, “Lentement, lentement.” We proceeded to creep forward as slowly as possible so as to not disturb our arboreal and terrestrial neighbors. As the bonobos began to move, we started to follow while ripping leaves to simulate harmless foraging behavior.
The nsombo were not pleased with this invasion into their territory. The grunts and rumblings became more threatening as one false charged us. Gideon and I yelped as I jumped behind him as he brought up his machete poised and ready. Telling me to wait, he runs into the bush with a loud whoop and waving his arms as I run behind a tree to see one large nsombo run by me.
He tells me to quickly come over as I trip over vines and branches to him—half-blind in the dim light. Hearing all the excitement below, the bonobos have dispersed but we still need to collect nest info. Unfortunately, we’ve somehow wandered into a swarm of angry, foraging nsombo that are taking advantage of the falling fruit from the bonobos and monkeys above. In fast-talking French, Gideon explains he’s going to try and scare them away and I should wait here ready to climb into a tree. With arms wrapped and ready around a tree, he nods at me and proceeds to run into the bush again as I hear war cries, scrambling, running and other noises. He calls to me to get into the tree and I try pathetically but barely make it up a meter—slipping on the moss and dew with the nearest branch 3 meters from me.
Seeing my desperate (and unsuccessful) scrambles to get up this damn tree, he makes a mad dash for me waving his machete before settling on the idea of hiding me on a hill just out of reach (“I do not fear for myself, madame, but for you.”). Nearing forty-five minutes later, he comes back and announces it’s all safe and we begin collecting our nest information. With the crots mostly eaten and the urine scattered, we finished up quickly before heading back to camp.
Within minutes of our return, Gideon retells this morning’s events to the others in Lingala while acting out each part with menacing sounds. Basking in his hero status, I watch amused as he’s captivated his audience. At the peak of the story, he pauses with arms raised for dramatic effect. After taking a deep breath, he delves into the conclusion. Everyone at once goes into discussion.
Too much excitement for one day as I settle in to process the crots. Time has started speeding up here in the rainforest and with a little over a month left, there seems to be so much work left to do! It’s so easy to get caught up in the tranquility and slow pace of the forest. While excited to get back to the “real world,” returning to civilization will be weird—although I wouldn’t mind the hot showers and cold beers. Talking with Gideon, he says the forest is the life. With clucking chickens, ngila and other monkeys swinging in the forests and civets crying at night, I’ve begun to love it here. Nights are the best—sitting by myself in the middle of camp under a full moon when everything is quiet or guessing what animals are crawling past my tent while falling asleep.
However, I still miss the stars at Lajuma (they’re disappointingly dim here) and I’m getting paler by the day as I notice the red bumps from biting insects on my arms become more noticeable. But after spending almost a week here at Ndele (due to rumors of armed men in the forest which have been all cleared up), I’m aching to get back into the forest. Being semi-connected to everyone else only makes you realize how secluded you are. And with the journalist gone (I still HATE goodbyes and cannot deal with them!) after a lovely photo shoot in the forest and amazing duck dinner, my cabin fever has started to increase.
But the next time I return to Ndele around Mother’s Day, I’ll have less than a month left before my flight back to South Africa! First thing I’m going to do is kick back with a bottle of Castle and a pizza at the 1322 Backpacker’s pool.