Only two days after arriving to Nkuba, Frederik and I were invited to join a patrol to the forest. The patrol was leaving for three days to record data on canopy density at two locations in the forest. Such a short trip (most patrols going to the forest leave for two weeks at a time) was thus a great opportunity for us to get a first look at the forest of Nkuba Conservation Area. And there is one thing for sure: it is hard work!
Any trip inside the forest, whether it involves tracking the gorillas, carrying out biodiversity surveys or collecting any other type of scientific data, must be carefully organized and prepared. Imagine 1300 km² of almost untouched rainforest, with only a few winding and muddy paths leading to some temporary camps strategically located in the forest. The closest camps are a few hours walking but getting to the furthest ones can take a few days!
There is no way to get food or anything else in these camps, so all food and equipment necessary for the mission must be brought over by the team itself. By feet. This means that along with the food, they must carry tents, mattresses, blankets, clothes and the tools necessary for the fieldwork. As patrols usually stay at a camp for two weeks straight, this is a lot of stuff to carry on your back.
Frederik and I were excited to set foot in the Nkuba Conservation Area on the morning of December 14. The plan was simple: walk 3 hours to the Lowa river, take a canoe, then walk another hour to our camp in the forest. Not long after we left however, it became clear that it would not go according to plan. Four hours walking to camp? More like six hours for the white people. And without food, too.
Locals are used to walk in the forest, with the heat, the muddy paths, the roots, the ants. They walk so fast we could not even try to keep up. Obviously, we found the team waiting for us at the crossing with the river. And then again at the camp, where they had already had the time to put all the tents up and were busy building a dining room. They laughed a little at the ‘muzungus’ (white people in Swahili), but not too much: apparently, some other foreigners had done much worse in the past. Our honor was (almost) safe. But on the way back two days later, one of our colleagues took us back with a half an hour head start. You know, so the rest of the team would not have to wait for us at the river crossing again.