achatfromchad

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Elephant Safari in the Cameroun!

The elephant herd

The elephant herd

Our first day off

In N’Djamena people work Monday to Thursday 7.30am to 4.30pm with one hour for lunch. Friday and Saturday they work mornings only and Sunday is their day off.
Our first Sunday arrived and before we could ponder what to do with ourselves in our new and unfamiliar environment, Annabelle our Belgian host, rang and asked if we would like to go across the river to the Cameroun as she had heard there was a 150 strong herd of elephants an hour’s drive south.
Horrors, we are just acclimatising to being in Chad and all the security measures that entails for foreigners in these risky times, the Foreign Office says Brits can’t leave the capital and Annabelle is suggesting she take us, without any papers, permits or visas to another country on some clandestine trip!! We looked at each other BUT then the lure of the elephants was just too great so I think we hesitated for about one second!!
At this point I think I should introduce you to Annabelle as I think she will be featuring often in this blog! In this very male orientated, mainly Muslim country she is amazingly one of the directors of the Chadian company Geyser SA, with whom Carlo now works. That in itself tells you she is no ordinary woman. She is mid 30’s, married to fellow Belgian Marc. They have two boys, Albert and Hughes, 14 and 10 years old respectively. The family has been living in Chad since 2008. Before that they spent at least 10 years in other central African countries. So now that I have painted the picture of this lovely family you can understand that we felt we were probably in knowledgeable and safe hands. Well as safe as you can ever be in today’s Africa.So off we go, in the out muted coloured clothes, walking shoes and sun hats as instructed by Marc.
Driving out of NDJ (N’Djamena) was in itself exciting as the traffic in this part of the world is chaotic. Bicycles and mopeds come at you from all directions and there really are no road rules, well none that people abide by! Meandering in and out of this dusty traffic are thousands of people ranging from toddlers to old men with sticks and few seem to look right or left. Expats, when they arrive in Chad, are given security briefings about what to do when they have an accident …. basically get the hell out of the place and THEN ring, in our case, the head of security at Geyser. He was formally the Chief of Police in Chad. Useful man to have on your side.
Annabelle is skilful at negotiating her way out of town in spite of road diversions taking us right through the frenetic central market. We cross the long bridge over the muddy Chari River which is the border between Chad and the Cameroun. Here we encounter the first of FIVE checkpoints, two to leave Chad and three to enter the Cameroun. Carlo and I are quite anxious about our lack of documents, Annabelle isn’t!! Unsurprisingly at each check point there is an issue ranging from ‘But your car insurance papers are out of date’ to ‘You don’t have a permit to leave Chad so how will you get back in’!! Each time Annabelle and Marc patiently and skilfully laugh and joke with the official and after much shrugging of shoulders and them repeatedly asking ‘Well what should we do now then?’ we are told to proceed. We do so without paying a bribe to any official. At one check point Annabelle did have to ring the big boss of Geyser before the car was allowed out of Chad. Amir Artine, the big boss, is a very influential man in Chad and in fact this week has been promoted to Government Minister for Rural Development and Cattle Farming! The officials then wish us good elephant viewing. No one even looked at our passports nor those of the two children in the back of the car!
After this nerve-wracking (for Carlo and I) episode the rest is relatively plain sailing until we have to get into a dugout canoe! We drive south for about an hour. The countryside is dry, dusty and sparsely vegetated. We wonder what there is for 150 voracious elephants to eat? We enter a small unsigned game reserve where the local ranger joins us in the car. ‘Lots of elephants have babies so it is very dangerous if you go on your own’ he tells us. OOOOOOK I feel another little adventure coming on!
We drive slowly along dusty tracks barely wide enough for a vehicle to pass, the bushes scraping the sides of the car. The vegetation is now quite dense as we are running parallel to a large river. We stop periodically to listen for the elephants, for sounds of breaking vegetation. Suddenly there’s a loud trumpeting behind a bush immediately on our left. A huge female elephant is waving her ears angrily at us, her trunk high in the air. A baby disappears into the nearby undergrowth while our guide is shouting ‘recule, recule!’ (reverse, reverse!). Annabelle, calm as ever, slams the gear into reverse and we retreat to a safe distance. We then realise there are lots of elephants all around us. With no choice, we sit quietly hoping they are more frightened of us then we are of them! They were and quickly disappeared into the undergrowth. Phew!
Onward and we reach an open beach on the bank of the brown river. We park in shade and walk down to the water where our guide points out that the large herd of elephants are on an island in the river. He also points out very large hippo footprints….. not really what we want to see at this point as hippos have a habit of sleeping at the bottom of the river and popping up when least expected.  Such as under a canoe! The guide spots some local fishermen with dugout canoes and signals that we want to cross to the island. Marc is meanwhile muttering that this is a national park so why are fishermen allowed to be here. He is of course right. Moments later we are clambering into a wobbling, water-logged canoe with the owner shovelling water out as fast as it comes in.

Annabelle and family cross the rive first

Annabelle and family cross the rive first

We follow with the park guide

We follow with the park guide

Fish being dried in the sun

Fish being dried in the sun

We reach the island and walk straight through an active fishing village where the Africans are drying fish on rush mats. Tilapia and glistening tiny silver fish like anchovies lie covered by flies and stinking in the 40 degree midday sun. Just beyond this village we hear and see dozens of elephants crashing through woods and fields as they eat their daily 100kg quota of fodder. White cattle egrets swarm around them taking advantage of the disturbed insects. What a wonderful and breathtaking site. Our guide is very cautious and keeps us at a respectful distance, not taking his eyes off the elephants. We lend binoculars to our curious entourage of fishermen who laugh and scream with delight – ‘they are SO close’. I am cursing that I chose to leave my large, super Canon camera in France as I fight to use my new dinky Panasonic Lumix. Carlo is meanwhile snapping away successfully with the Iphone.

Carlo with IPhone

Carlo with IPhone

Dugouts in various states of repair

Dugouts in various states of repair

We eventually drag ourselves away and back to the dugout canoes to cross back to the car. I get into a canoe with Carlo and sit down not realising the seat in this one was balanced on bricks. I end up in the bottom of the canoe with a crash as the seat collapses. The nearby black children roar with laughter.

Curious fishermen

Curious fishermen

Children in fishing village

Children in fishing village

Our dugout man

Our dugout man

The morning ends after we drive further up stream looking for crocodiles, but without success. As we left the fishermen two of them came behind us on mopeds, using our car as a protection barrier between them and the elephants. They hugged our rear bumper. Then without warning Annabelle slams on the brakes as we again come face to face with another rather large, trumpeting female elephant. Again it’s a case of ‘Recule, recule!’ but of course we can’t unless we flatten two motorcyclists!! Our guide is getting quite agitated, his arms flailing around outside the window trying to make the fishermen move back. They CAN’T reverse as they are stuck in deep lose sand. We just watch with our jaws open as the elephant decides whether to charge or to retreat. All goes quiet, she looks at us, swings around and lopes off into the forest in a cloud of dust.  Luckily for us it seems the animals in this little known park are as yet keen to avoid humans.

A teenage elephant

A teenage elephant

That’s enough action for today!   Our ranger is dropped off as we leave the park. We repeat the five checkpoints and re-enter Chad amid  waving hands and wide smiles from the officials, shouting to ask if we saw the elephants.  Indeed we did!   The checkpoint barriers were raised one after another as we sailed back into Chad without showing a document.
Half an hour later we were eating Chinese food in a local restaurant in N’Djamena with Annabelle and family. The day ended with coffee and chocolates (melting fast in the heat!) back at their house. How civilised. What a crazy life this is and suddenly it no longer seems so foreign!!

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11 Responses to “Elephant Safari in the Cameroun!”

  1. Carlo Says:

    Well well I finally see the pictures having lived the experience from the wrong side of the lens!

  2. Ailie Says:

    What an amazing day! A very exciting pre-breakfast read!

  3. Kay Says:

    What a truly amazing blog. I am full of awe and look forward to following your adventures as they unfold. Thats for sharing it all.

  4. Kat Says:

    Wow! What a tale – you are having such amazing adventures….reading this in my boring old office I’m very jealous! The photos are great and really bring it alive 🙂

    Love the new blog site as well – very professional!! Lots of love to you both,

    Kat xxx

  5. achatfro Says:

    Well I would rather like to hear about your amazing trip to see James off Koh Samui. How was it?? Was the diving as good as last time? xxx

  6. Sue Bastable Says:

    Rosie, it is magical reading about your adventures, I can’t wait for the next instalment. Just been out to a restaurant in l’Isle for Anne-Marie’s birthday lunch. Rick and Michael came too as wives are away. A far cry from adventures with herds of elephants! Useless to tell you to be safe as it seems the goalposts change all the time!

  7. Amelia Says:

    Amazing Rosie, I can’t wait for more!

  8. Paul Says:

    Great work Rosie. A great blogsite. Looking forward to following all your adventures.

  9. Julia Bond pictures Says:

    This blog is the greatest. You have a new fan! I can’t wait for the next update, favorite!

  10. achatfro Says:

    Thank you Julia for your comments. Do stay with us and hope you enjoy what is yet to come.

  11. Forrest Says:

    We love reading your adventures in Africa. I am sending them to my daughter who lived in Africa. The little non NIkon camera and iPhone are doing a terrific job, Rosie. I love the photos with the very cleverly written commentary from the cobra shower head to the windstorm, just read today. Keep us on your list.