Cruising Cameroon And Going On Safari In The CAR

Let’s take a step up in West African wildlife watching from monkeying around in Ghana to hanging with habituated gorillas and buffaloes in the Baï of the war-torn Central African Republic.

Also, get ready to canoe in and out of the CAR and check out city life in neighboring Cameroon. Plus, you want to see some very short people? I don’t just mean compared to me…

Two Years Tardy

After my tour of Ghana and Togo, I went to take a group tour of Cameroon and the Central African Republic. I was actually supposed to take this tour two years prior, before we had ever heard of covid. I had gone to the DRC, Burundi, and Rwanda, and after that, I was planning to visit one or two countries before going on the Cameroon and Central African Republic tour. I ended up postponing the trip because it conflicted with the Nomads Cruise from Athens to Dubai, which I preferred to do instead.

The next year, covid-1984 began, and surprisingly, the tour still happened. However, there were very tight restrictions for travelers, and I was in my boat sailing across the Atlantic anyway, so I didn’t join in. Last year in 2021, it was finally time to take this group tour in West Africa.

Our fancy VIP tour bus 😅

I don’t do group tours anymore. This was basically the last big group tour I went on because I don’t really enjoy them. But I went through it because it was the easiest way to get to both Cameroon and the Central African Republic in one go. Both countries are very difficult to get into, where you would normally need to get a visa several months in advance from the embassy. This group tour, however, allows you to obtain a visa on arrival from Cameroon, and a special border visa in the Central African Republic.

Arriving in Cameroon

I flew from Lomé, Togo to Cameroon. It wasn’t exactly a direct flight, but what’s called a fifth-freedom flight. Like many flights in Africa, they fly the airplanes through different countries where they land for about 40 minutes to drop off some passengers and pick up new passengers before leaving again. We stopped in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, but I didn’t get off the plane there. I basically just sat on the plane, waited a few minutes, and then we flew off again, this time to Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon.

My passport is nearly full at this point

We arrived there in the early evening. I was in line to get a visa on arrival with two other guys from the trip, one of whom was German. After we got through the visa process, we were driven to the hotel, where there were already some people from the group hanging out. We ventured just about five minutes through the streets to a local bar where we had a nice dinner. I had a good steak and some beers, and we got in the mood for the trip, which would officially begin early the next morning.

Unfortunately, my phone had some issues with the time change. It had changed the time by something like 45 minutes and I hadn’t noticed it. The next morning, the tour guides had to wake me up. Everyone was already sitting on the bus angrily waiting for me because I was late.

Somehow, that always seems to happen to me on group tours, where I am late on the first day because of some stupid alarm issue. We were supposed to leave at 6:00 in the morning, but it was already light outside because I was so late. I finally made it to the bus, and we left for a long ride through Cameroon to the eastern border of the Central African Republic.

It would be quite a long drive to the border 😒

Travel Daze

That day was not very eventful. We just drove for a while, stopping at a supermarket on the way to stock up on some snacks and drinks for the road. We continued driving, took a lunch stop, and drove some more to the hotel where we would spend the first night, which luckily had internet.

On the second day, we drove farther through the jungle on terrible roads, although apparently they were recently improved. We were told that the roads had been even worse before, but the Chinese were rebuilding them to extract resources. So we got to our destination quicker than we expected.

We were squeezed into the bus like this the whole first day 🥵 Now can you see why I don’t like group tours?

The second night we stayed at the so-called “Hotel Elephant,” which was probably for many people traveling around the world the worst hotel they had ever stayed at in their lives. There was a bed and a mosquito net, but that was about it. From there, we continued to the border of the Central African Republic and Cameroon, which is separated by the Sangha River.

A glimpse of the Sangha river peeking out from behind the dense jungle

We took a boat on the Sangha River to the Dzanga-Sangha National Park in the Central African Republic, where we looked forward to going on a nice safari to see gorillas and other wild animals. 🦍

We had some beers and a basic lunch, got our passports stamped, and then took a canoe up the river to the lodge in Dzanga-Sangha, which is called the Doli Lodge, located right at the river.

Local children hanging out in trees along the river

It took us around half an hour to get through immigration on the Central African side, so we were just waiting in the heat in the canoes. Then we went about another 30 minutes through customs before traveling another two or three hours up the river to the lodge.

It was a very uncomfortable boat with no protection from the elements. We got quite wet because it was raining after sitting in the scorching heat for a while. Finally, in the end, we made it to the Doli Lodge, which was pretty nice considering the remoteness out in the country, and we checked into our rooms.

We weren’t the only ones packed into uncomfortable canoes.

In Cameroon, we all had private rooms. But because there wasn’t enough space here, we were supposed to share rooms. That was all made clear before the trip and I had no problem with it.

I was supposed to share a room with the tour guide and the only old lady, actually the only woman on the whole trip, but she got very upset and started to cry. I think that she had been raped in the past and by no means did she want to be in the same room as me, so that made me really feel like a rapist.

In the end, they organized a solution for her, and I went with another guy to share a room. It was actually two conjoined rooms, and we each had our own bed. We only had to share the bathroom with each other, which was pretty cool, considering the remoteness of the location.

Visiting the Baï

We would stay at the lodge for four nights, where there was good food and nice views of the river below.

While I didn’t enjoy hours of traveling by canoe on the river, it sure was beautiful just to look at.

On the first day, we didn’t do too much. We just chilled and enjoyed the lodge and its surroundings. For the next two days, the group basically had alternating programs. Half of the group went to the Baï, while the others went to see the gorillas. I went to the Baï on the first day, saw the gorillas on the second, and on the third day we could do either one, so I chose to go back to see the Baï again.

So what is a Baï? Basically, they are special forest clearings in the rainforest. There’s a lot of jungle there, but there are also some grasslands with a lot of mud where the elephants, buffaloes, and other animals like to gather. We took an hour hike through the forest to the first clearing, where they have a watchtower. We spent several hours at the watchtower, just relaxing and watching the elephants.

Looking down at the elephants from the watchtower

On the way to the Baï, we had to cross some small streams, and we had to be a bit careful because there were elephants around, which could be quite dangerous. We had our guide with us, and at some point, we had to evade the elephants.

These are not the kind of guys that you want to get into a fight with.

In the end, we had a great view of the wildlife with many birds, elephants, and a couple of buffaloes.

A beautiful bird looking down over the view below

We sat there for hours and enjoyed watching the animals. It was just fascinating to see the big and small elephants in their natural habitat. I got bored after a while and went to my Kindle ebook reader to read some books, but some guys in the group just wanted to watch and watch and watch.

Buffaloes in the Baï

After something like five hours there, we finally headed back and walked through the jungle again to get to the camp.

Wild Animals

The next day, we went to another part of the Dzanga-Sangha National Park in the western part of the Central African Republic. Dzanga-Sangha is famous for having western lowland gorillas, and it’s probably the cheapest permit you can get to see gorillas in the wild. We actually had to get a covid test before we could enter because gorillas can easily catch human diseases, so people had to wear masks around them even before the pandemic. We all took covid tests, which were luckily negative, so we got to see the gorillas.

It was amazing to see this big guy in his natural habitat.

I think there were eight or ten people going that day, and only four were allowed to be with the gorillas at a time. These gorillas are habituated. In the wild, gorillas are very shy and will run away from people, but habituated gorillas have been around humans for a number of years, so they will go on with their daily lives and basically ignore us.

This is how it looks to get ignored by a habituated gorilla 🙊

While the first four people went to see the gorillas, the rest of us went tracking the mangabeys, a kind of primate that is quite rare. We tracked them for around an hour through the jungle, and it was a pretty cool experience seeing them up in the trees. We enjoyed following them around the jungle.

A wild mangabey

Then it was our turn to see the gorillas, which was quite an adventure, as we trekked through the forest and got wet in some streams along the way. The gorillas moved quite quickly through the jungle, but we followed them over some hills and had a great experience watching them.

Hanging out with a few of our distant relatives

We saw everything from small gorillas to very large silverbacks. It was my first experience seeing gorillas since the mountain gorillas I had seen in Congo. It was pretty cool, although I’ve gotten to encounter gorillas a few times already since then.

A cute little gorilla

Lowland gorillas are a bit smaller, and much more populous than mountain gorillas, but still impressive. I really enjoyed being in their presence. 😁

It was cool to see these gorillas up close!

After a while, we went back and had to wait for the mangabey group, which took quite a while to return because the mangabeys had run away. Then we went back to camp and did our usual stuff. We had no internet, but I used the time to work on some offline projects.

Bye Baï

The next day I would return to the Baï again. Some other people from the group went to the nearby village called Bayanga. We also took a brief drive through it, but there wasn’t much to see, just a relatively civilized, peaceful Central African village.

As the CAR is still in civil war, it’s quite insecure, but this part of the national park is pretty peaceful and we had no issues there, although we always had rangers with weapons with us.

If only the rest of the country was as peaceful as it is here…

On the third day, like the first, we went back to the Baï again. We walked there, trying not to have any problems with the elephants along the way, and we watched them there for several hours before going back.

Face to face with an African elephant

It was a pretty interesting hike again, and we got to see some elephants. There wasn’t too much activity going on, but it was nice just chilling there, and after a while reading a book, before going back. 🤓

Well I guess there was some kind of activity going on

A ‘Little’ Detour

The next day, we were already headed back to Cameroon. We did not drive back there immediately, because we were actually skipping a step of the plan. We were supposed to go back to Yaoundé and then fly out directly from there, but because of the improved roads, we could get back much faster than expected. We would skip the dreaded elephant hotel and drive through in basically one step. We left early the next morning, and we would still have a full day in Yaoundé.

We went back across the river to exit the National Park.

Hopefully, this is the filthiest photo of me you’ll ever see 😳 Heading back into Cameroon from the CAR

This time it was much faster because we were going with the current and not against it, so it took us about 90 minutes less to get back to the Cameroon border. We got stamped back into Cameroon, then took a short drive to visit the local pygmies.

Deep in the jungle with the West African pygmies

The local pygmy tribe has little African dwarves living in the area, so we went to visit their traditional home in the forest. They have some forest huts there where they still live for part of the year.

A pygmy hut in the forest

They danced for us and did a ceremony in our honor. We got to shake hands with the chief, and see how the kids climb in the trees. It was interesting to see how the forest pygmies live. I took some photos with them, which was pretty funny because I am a big, tall guy and they were only about 140 or 150 centimeters tall. 😆

I might be twice this man’s size, but he’s actually older than me!

A Well-Deserved Upgrade

After that, we had a long drive back. It was a very long day but at least it was on better roads than we had taken previously. We went back to the same hotel where we had slept the first night, and the next day we headed back toward Yaoundé. We had some signal on the road again, and I took advantage of it because I had plenty of pictures to upload.

Time to upload photos on the road! Here’s a beautiful (but random) sunset, for example.

It was a very dusty ride, and the bus wasn’t the most comfortable, but I managed to get a nice seat in the middle of the last row where I could stretch my long legs. The bus didn’t have air conditioning, so we had the windows open the whole time to get some fresh air. Because of that, we got very dusty along those roads. It was quite an adventure, but the group was okay with it. As I said, there was only one old lady and the rest of the group was guys, so the group was pretty nice.

Pictured: My filthy clothes after the long drive. Not pictured: My disgusting dirt tan and the much-needed shower that followed afterward.

We made it back to Yaoundé, but then the problems began again. We were arriving one day earlier than initially planned, so they had to organize an alternative hotel.

Back in Yaoundé

The hotel from the first night was okay. It was not at all good, but it wasn’t all that bad either. At least it had good internet for me to work. At the next hotel though, nothing worked. They didn’t have internet or anything. I was supposed to do some work that day, but the hotel was very bad. It didn’t even really have electricity or running water.

At the last minute, I decided to book a room at the Hilton in Yaoundé, which was very expensive, but pretty decent. I took a taxi to the Hilton, and I paid for everything myself.

The comfort was well worth the price.

I was the only one who switched hotels because it was quite expensive, but I really enjoyed my upgrade at the Hilton Hotel. I finally had a nice dinner there. The next day, I would meet the group again to go on a little city tour.

I looked forward to seeing more of the capital city.

On to the Next Adventure

The bus picked me up from the Hilton the next morning for the city tour, to see the town, a national museum, and some other things around Yaoundé.

A reunification monument in Yaoundé

After the tour, we went for lunch at a Chinese restaurant where I had pizza. Then I said goodbye to the group and got back to the hotel to do some work in the afternoon.

At least I had a decent view while I worked

The next day, I would fly to Brazil. It would be my longest flight of the year, but I flew first class with Emirates through Dubai, which was pretty nice. If I could have flown directly from Yaoundé to Brazil, it would probably only be about seven or eight hours. Instead, I first flew seven or eight hours to Dubai through Addis Ababa, then I took another 13-hour flight over the Atlantic from Dubai.

Nightfall over Dubai

I had flown Emirates first-class three times before, but never for such a long distance. I really enjoyed the flight and it was totally worth the detour to finally experience some luxury after six hot weeks in West Africa. 😎

So, that’s it for Cameroon and the Central African Republic. We mostly did the Dzanga-Sangha National Park, drove a lot, saw the cool pygmy tribes, and Yaoundé was also okay. The best part might have been finally being back in a nice five-star hotel, which honestly, wasn’t that impressive either. It was pretty rusty for a Hilton, but at least they had the typical amenities and I could do my consulting calls there. In the end, I got to take a very nice flight to Brazil to meet my girlfriend Alana once again.

Back in first-class, a.k.a. my happy place.