January 22, Friday, a little monkey was waiting in the dim early light on the wide top of the low wall along the terrace. He or she had a serious look that suggested a trading relationship, pictures for food. After breakfast, I paid the bill for the four Lewises. Huge sums were involved, and I was determined to figure it out without Judy's help. She wasn't at the desk anyway. The dollar was worth about 560 CFA in Dakar, but only about 500 in Simenti, minus 5 percent surcharge for cashing travelers checks, or 475 net. The rooms were 36,000 CFA; dinner, 18,000; T.P.I. [?], 1,600; breakfast, 4,800; total 60,400, which just struck me as an awful lot of money. However, it was US$127, under $32 per person for a room and two meals. Given the alternatives in a strange, remote wilderness, it was an excellent deal.
a short distance to a blind looking out on a grassy plain and saw a fair
number of wildlife grazing. We stopped at a few blinds along the way and
saw more wildlife, mostly small antelope grazing in the distance. At one
of these an absolutely amazing bird, the Abyssinian Roller, flashed its
colors at us and was gone.
The dry, flat forest had mostly small and medium height trees and was fairly open. As the day progressed we traveled through more of the park and saw little wildlife in the main forest. Most of the grazing animals were predictably in or near the "mares," meaning ponds, but really open swales with year-round grass found at a few places along the rivers.
We soon reached Camp du lion, a small nature study compound near the Gambia whose major interest was a leopard in a cage.
The road went
on to another point close to the Gambia, the
Pont de liane, or Bridge
of vines, a rickety old swinging footbridge across the river. Boucar hopped
across as if on a regular sidewalk and the rest of us followed with varying
degrees of trepidation. There were a number of factors causing concern.
At the ends, there was little if any sway, but in the middle, a lot.
There were missing steps. The hand cables were high at the ends but got lower in the middle, and swayed back and forth too much, so that your center of gravity risked being too far to one edge, but your hands were too low to do much about it. There were crocodiles below, or maybe alligators, or was it piranhas? The water seemed far below, thick green, and very wet. Once across, we took a nice little walk through the woods on the other side, saw nothing, and walked back. We took plenty of pictures to show our bravery or record our last moments. I let the women go first, just in case they should need my help.
and there we saw black stubby mushroom like things scattered on dry flats,
about a foot and a half high. They are homes of the "mushroom" termite.
Occasionally we would also see big termite mounds, may 12 feet high.
We stopped at a blind from which we saw, perhaps two hundred yards a away, a large number of big vultures clustered on the ground. We thought we should not disturb them, but our guide, Boucar, marched resolutely toward them and I jumped to follow with camera ready.
birds lumbered off into the air.
We found the remains-a little hide and bones--of a Cob de Buffo (Kobus kob) at, I made a note, 11:45 a.m. The missing body parts told our guide that a poacher had recently been at work. The poachers come into the park on bicycles and shoot wildlife for food and money, and the army tries to catch them. There is a gradual process of developing respect for the park in surrounding villages.
The road continued narrow and uneven, slowing us down enough so we could see things. We turned right at Patte d'Oie (Footprint of Goose), forded the small Niokolo Koba River, wended our way around some mares--perennial ponds--and headed south.
By this time we were really beginning to appreciate wart hogs. They were a little more abundant and less skittish than other wildlife, and would trot away slowly enough to get a good look at their rumps. They have tough, no-nonsense faces only a wart mother could love. Alison's Ph D. in Art History helped her perceive the higher qualities of our fat friends. I am informed that wart hogs are not, in fact, fat, but rather sleek and muscular, but I maintain that their bullet like shape with skinny little legs can appear fat to the uninformed, and anyway has better alliteration.
Wart hogs also caused me considerable embarrassment. At one stop I was looking at some cobs and other animals disappear a few hundred yards away through some trees, using binoculars. I distinctly saw an elephant moving away, and told everyone. However, it did not make sense. What did make sense is that the rear end of a wart hog at a distance is indistinguishable from that of an elephant, and the binoculars cause one to lose a sense of scale. Anyway, must have been a big one.
After a long stretch of road and a late lunch near the Malapa ford, we climbed down to the river to look around.
We packed ourselves back into our vehicles. The road drifted more easterly and then to the north east and the vegetation became more sparse.
We were climbing very slowly, but it was hard to tell. Somewhere along here we saw some soldiers. Our guide jumped out, walked briskly over to them, and saluted. They were working as wardens and he was one of their commanders. They would be camping near us that night.
We looked ahead for our destination, Mont Assirik, elevation 311 meters,
but since we were already at about 150 meters, it was hard to see. The
slight rise ahead had to be it. My American idea of mountains was definitely
getting in the way.
We climbed over the south ridge of the Mont, caught some view, and descended to a harsh, flat plain on the east side.
At the south end of this area was an abrupt drop to a brook and a dense forest. Our camp was just above the trail down to the brook. We were glad to be there after bouncing around in two land cruisers for hours looking at woods. We heard baboons in the trees nearby; they are very noisy and complain a lot about everything. Just when you think they've calmed down another ruckus starts, and our presence itself started a few outbursts. They were, however, always out of sight, and movement toward them ignited a huge commotion and they moved further away. The guide took us down a trail to a tiny little brook in a ravine with the densest jungle we'd seen--finally, an acre of the "heart of Africa" the movies had prepared us for. Along the trail was a water supply.
We pitched the
Mauritanian desert tent up near the land rovers by our cookfire site.
It looked great,
but seemed a weak defense against malarial mosquitos, should one want to
get us. Despite the warmth, the air was bug free, and we cooked, ate, cleaned
up, and turned in, six people arranged in small rectangles of sleeping
bags under the big rectangle.
Map of Niokolo Koba Park, Simenti on left, Mont Assirik on right.
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