So how does a Pair of South Africans end up living in The central African republic? This si always the first question any tourist asks of us when they arrive. This story does not have a short answer, but starts way back in 1999, when I was running a small tour Company called silver safaris, we specialised in Bird watching torus mainly around southern Africa but in 1999 we ran our first trip to Gabon, Tropical rainforest at its best. over the next two years I ran not only one more bird watching trip but three trip to look for elusive Western Lowland gorillas and other tropical wildlife.
Realising that Gabon although exceptionally beautiful was not the best place to find these animals at the same time we stared to explore the forest of Rep.Congo where we found gorillas in their hundred on every tour. this was in The Odzala Cokua National park in 2001 and 2002 as far as I recall. this was great with the trip reports we produced at the time we had a bright looking future working both Odzala and Nouabale Ndoki national park also in Rep Congo. BUT!! what happened in 2002 was a huge outbreak of Ebola in Congo, right in the Odzala National park, the park was close d to tourist and over the next few years over 5000 gorillas were estimated to have died from the disease. This killed our plans. However there was still a healthy population of Gorillas in Nouabale Ndoki but this was not a viable destination to run a 14 day trip, and needed to add some variety. we first came to Central African republic in 2004, to explore the possibilities available here. what we found amazed us, the forest was far more interesting, the people fascinating, and the park founders in their wisdom had stared a tourism program as early as the mid Nineties... so we developed a really nice tour that ran between the two nation park at that time, This work well for a few year until 2008 when the old lodge was given to a new concessionaire, and the writing was on the wall for us small operators wanting to keep our trips within budget. AT the time, I was on a trip here and heard that there was a hunting camp up river that was not being used any longer... I took some time out for the tour and paid the site a vist..WOW!! a site of unbelievable beuty on a small peninsular sting into the mighty Sangha river. I fell in love with the site and ask about whos concession it was, and who owned the assets....because although the site was in a poor state of repair, due to the forest reclaing osme of the building, and vandal have stolen a lot of the infrastructure, water pipes, electric cables etc it still had a lot of monetary worth... plus someone owned the concession. We found the owner actually lived in Pretoria not 5 Kilometres from where we lived, I went to see him, we exchanged some money and I returned to CAR to start rebuilding. This is on-going but at the time we had Our first tourist in September 2009.we worked room by room, and got 6 rooms up and running that year as well as hired and trained staff, and stared to establish relationship with the local communities. A lot has happened between then and now, 2 coup de tete and a six month period of ethnic cleansing.... we have lived though it all and we believe have come out stronger albeit a lot poorer.
In my next Blog I will tell more of the interim years and the period of the rebels and also develop on some of the work we do here with conservation, Comunities and animal rehabilitation, especially of pangolins.