Lesio-Louna and Mount Ngakah

Posted on February 3, 2014

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This weekend Tarzan, the Brit and I went to Lesio-Louna. It’s in the province of Pool about 170km from Brazzaville. Famed for it’s striking landscape it is also home to a gorilla orphanage in the heart of a forest.

We left the apartment on Friday at 6.30pm and loaded up the pick-up truck taking with us food and water and headed out of the city. We’d booked to stay in the eco-lodge which was self catered. Tarzan sat outside bouncing around in the back with all the supplies while the Brit and I squeezed in the front.

The journey should have taken two and bit hours but our driver decided on a ridiculously long route out of town and the traffic was back to back.

With the windows rolled down the warm air filled the truck – it was heavy with burning charcoal and barbecue meat. Outside roadside fires crackled and brightened up the sidewalks. As we crawled through the various neighbourhoods it was clear it was the start of the weekend as people spilled out onto the street with an air of expectation for what the night might hold.

I was just thinking how good the infrastructure and the roads were when there was an almighty bang and the inertia of the impact forced me to throw both hands on the dash board to stop me being hurled forward. The right front wheel of the truck had slipped through a large hole in the road which was poorly covered by slabs of concrete acting as a makeshift manhole over the drop. We were stuck.

The driver hit the gas and the wheels spun furiously but there was no movement forward. Then ensued the cacophony of horns and comments from rubber necking taxis and other road users. Of course no one stopped to help, offering only sarcastic comments, laughs and insults for holding up the rush hour traffic. I did think we were all going to have to get out and push, but in the end reversing worked a treat, despite the fact the guy behind us would not reverse back for love no money until Tarzan had a go at him.

As we left the city the landscape changed. It went from flat and built-up to dramatic, open and mountainous. Above us the clear sky was filled with bright stars. It was very beautiful. En route we passed some tiny villages; in one, an open bar had turned into a local disco equipped with two large speakers pointing out onto the road and just three men going hell-for-leather to local African beats – it was quite a sight. Several check points later we hit the start of the reserve and snaked our way through the tall grass in the savannah which reached the height of the doors.

The truck rocked from sode to side over the uneven potholes and dips in teh road, the forest was like an enchanted world. Creepers and the tree canopy folded over us providing a barrier from the outside world. The road narrowed and steepened. Either side of us was a ravine, but it was too dark to realise this until the following morning. The forest air was sweet and clean and memories of Budongo came flooding back. This was the first time in 2 years I was back in a forest and it felt good.

When we finally came to a halt, it had taken approximately 5 hours to reach camp and we arrived in the dead of night. We grabbed out stuff and trekked a little way. We crossed over a fast flowing river via a wobbly bridge made from logs laid side by side before making into camp guided by one head torch and my blackberry screen light.

Fortunately we were the only visitors to camp, so we had the run of the place. We agreed to rendez-vous for breakfast at 0800. The rooms were raised above the ground and were simply decorated. Creaky wooden floor boards, some shelves to put clothes as well as pegs, a large comfy bed with a mossie net and lots of friendly spiders clinging to the walls. I hit the sack content to fall asleep to the sound of the forest and excited about the weekend ahead.

In the morning before coffee Tarzan led us into the forest to a little lake where he had spotted Sitatunga (large marshbuck). Two adults were by the water’s edge drinking in the morning sun. There were beautiful. We watched silently from the bushes, contorted in awkward positions. They locked antlers a few times and pulled apart but it wasn’t rutting. We were probably only there about 7mins of so before we were found out, the animals sensed they were being watched and bolted. asap.

After breakfast where the boys shovelled down scrambled eggs on toast and I ate quick oats and honey we set off for Mount Ngakah. The forest bit was a doddle considering. When we hit the savannah the enormity of how long the journey would take hit me and there was no cloud cover. An hour an a half of walking through the long reeds o grass made for a scene out of the film Gladiator. In the baking sun with a heavy backpack in 35 degree heat, my clothes were left saturated in sweat and my face dripping like a human fountain. Even as a Bikram devotee, the ferocity of the blaze with nowhere to hide was tough to handle.

The landscape climbed up then dropped down and climbed up again. We reached the foot of the mountain and then came the fun part. Rock climbing. With each foot and hand I carefully placed I pulled myself up with intense determination and all the energy i could muster. Our guide Prime – a 49 year old smiley Congolese man offered me his hand on many occasions to yank me up when the muscles in my twig-like arm failed. “This is supposed to be the easy bit,” I thought. “Christ almighty what’s it gonna be like on the way down?!”

The boys scurried up what felt like a vertical face with barely a bead of perspiration while I huffed and puffed each step of the way concentrating hard not to have a heart attack. “Slow and steady Asha, don’t be a hero. Breathe, breathe.”

When we reached the top the view was absolutely extraordinary and there was not a soul in sight nor a village for miles. I felt truly humbled by the whole experience. We sat staring into the distance for about an hour taking in the river and the various bits of forest and savannah. I’ve never seen untouched beauty like that before and i was blown away. I could have stayed for hours not least because I was dreading the decline that awaited me and the two hour hike back into camp!

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