Thursday, July 10, 2014

Canoes, rain, rapids and hippos.

     In the United States many people use the 4th of July holiday as a time to welcome the summer and go camping. Although the 4th is not a holiday in CAR, one of the missionaries here, his sons, and I took a week over the 4th to enjoy the summer, and go on our own camping trip.
     The Turk boys go to school in Cameroon, and the parents spent the year there instead of here because of the unrest in CAR. The kids grew up in Gamboula and come back for vacations so they where all back for the summer. Benny the oldest just graduated high school and wanted to get one more good adventure in before heading to college.
      Since CAR is still not safe to do much adventuring in, we headed for Cameroon. At the border town we hopped on a crowded (people not being the only living creatures aboard) bus and headed to a town called Batouri. Here there is a bridge that crosses over the same river that flows by Gamboula. We purchased two canoes, 4 paddles, and set off downstream. 
The smaller boat coming through a narrow spot in the river. 
      I had printed out some satellite photos from Google Earth, but besides that we did not know how long it would take, and what obstacles awaited us around each bend. We did our best to connect with others along the river to ask for directions and advice.
     The first obstacles were the canoes. I am used to and am quite comfortable in flat bottom stand up canoes, like what I used in Congo. This whole area uses wide rounded hull sit down boats. They are more unstable, you are down lower, so you have less visibility, and take more effort to paddle.
My perch for the trip

      Second, the river was, in places quite narrow, and had rapids! Though I have shot rapids in a raft, I have not done it by canoe. From Google Earth I had been able to see where some of the rapids were, but could not tell the right places to pass. Lucky for us most of the rapids were only a few meters long, and mostly just intimidating.
While most of the time we went through rapids the camera was in a plastic bag, I was able to get photos of some from a distance. 

     Our first afternoon a storm caught and drenched us and all our things. We set up a wet camp, and since there was no dry firewood, we did not have a fire to cook over or chase the bugs away. Shortly after laying down in our soggy tent and clothes, driver ants invaded and we were forced to flee our tents. Needless to say none of us got any sleep that night.
     The river was really pretty, with forests on both sides. We saw countless kinds of birds, monitor lizards, playful otters, snakes, and large unidentified animals. The current was quite fast in places, and it was a nice ride.
Although we saw lots of animals and birds, most were moving fast, and so I was unable to get good photos of them. It was nice of this monitor lizard to pose for us as we went by. 

     By the end of the third day the river was joined by another smaller one and the scenery changed. The land was flatter now, with more grass growing on the sides. Hippo territory. There was a town we were able to stop at for much needed supplies. We had planned on catching and eating fish, but with all the rain, finding worms was impossible.
The two boats coming together for resupplying. 

     All through the fourth and fifth days we stirred up hippos on the banks. They would hear the boats coming, and crash through the brush before making huge splashes in the river. Others that were in the river already would just snort before ducking under. Most of them would just go under and stay there until we had passed, but a few of them went out in to the river after we had passed and surfaced again.
Our Camp site on the third night. 

     Our final day had the most rapids. One of our boats capsized after going over one of the falls, but we were able to right it and get all the water out fairly quickly. From Google Earth, I knew our biggest rapids were near the end of our trip. There was a maze of islands, with rapids all the way through them. Either we were paddling hard, or the river was flowing extra fast, because we hit the spot hours before we thought we would, and did not realize it was the spot until we had successfully made it through. Just before we entered into them, we found a fisherman and asked him directions through the mess. He told us and we went for it. The channels were very narrow, fast, and had lots of branches hanging out. Just like in those amusement park rides where you are going down a river and never hit anything you are going straight for, the current and some skill on the paddlers’ part, gave me the same feeling.
All of the travelers at the final destination 

     Since Gamboula is right on the border, we crossed over, and paddled right to the mission’s turbine house. It was a fun adventure and great to be with all the Turk guys..