Changing Planet

Leaving the Central African Republic, for Now

I was only about 70 km from Zacco and against my better judgement had negotiated another bush motorcycle ride the night before. The bike, they told me, was not working, but it would be by morning. Sure enough our 6 am departure was a bit delayed, but when 09h00 rolled around I had to play scary monster, yelling at the guys who were now jacking me around and not being serious. I said that if we were not out of there in 30 minutes I was pulling the plug on the operation. Of course that was a totally impossible threat to execute because there was only two bikes in this whole area.

Miracle of miracles the road trip started again, this time quite a bit faster because the footpath was large. This way I really could close my eyes. The driver was a 15-year-old Christian kid. He loved speed. About 5 km from Zacco I could feel the gear box melting down and soon we were at a complete halt, but I thought no problem, I am in range. David was coming in his Cessna to pick me up, so I called him on the Thuraya, but he was already at the strip, nervous because the longer you stay on the ground, the more chance there is for somebody to do something that is not in your interest. I told him I would walk as fast as possible.

I got to the town and eyes were upon us. It is basically just a big diamond camp. It had been attacked several times by Tongo Tongo in the past year, so people were pretty jumpy. I asked about the airstrip and they said, up past the Ugandans. Yes Ugandan troops are based here, paid by the USG to keep Lord’s Resistance at bay. I braved my way up the hill, and sure enough there were some sleepy young Ugandan troops who sprang into life when they saw me. They didn’t know what to ask and their English was pretty bad. The pointed their guns and told me to halt. They searched my bag, ran out of SOPs, and let me go. They hadn’t dealt with a scantily clad white man with a back pack strolling through this part of the world before, only guys with mesh vests, sunglasses and handguns strapped to their legs who arrive in Russian MI-8 choppers.

I got to the strip and there was David. There were also Ugandan troops there. We managed to get these guys to warm up and take a few pictures with us. God I love this country where there is no state. You don’t have to convince me that Cherry had adventures only a few white men have ever experienced. He was the real deal.

Now I wanted to do the same that he did, go to the out and beyond. To do this I would have to return and go where Cherry didn’t, to the East. This is where there are no roads, not even old ones, there are no central Africans left, just Chadians, Sudanese, Lords Resistance, and the occasional Ugandan Forces patrol. This is my next destination out here.

Mike Fay continued his exploration in March 2017. Follow him as he shares the experience in words, photos, video, maps, and social media: Expedition Through the Heart of Africa. This link contains all of Fay’s dispatches.

Mike Fay has spent his life as a naturalist—from the Sierra Nevadas and the Maine woods as a boy, to Alaska and Central America in college, to North Africa and the depths of the central African forest and savannas for the last 25 years. He has worked for the Wildlife Conservation Society of the Bronx since 1991. In 1996, Fay flew over the forests of Congo and Gabon and realized there was a vast, intact forest corridor spanning the two countries from the Oubangui to the Atlantic Ocean. In 1997, he walked the entire corridor, over 2,000 miles, surveying trees, wildlife, and human impacts on 12 uninhabited forest blocks. Called Megatransect, this work led to a historic initiative by the Gabonese government to create a system of 13 national parks, making up some 11,000 square miles (28,500 square kilometers). In 2004, he completed the Megaflyover, an eight-month aerial survey of the entire African continent. He logged 800 hours and took 116,000 vertical images of human impact and associated ecosystems, many of which are now visible on Google Earth. In 2008 Fay completed the Redwood Transect, a new project to learn more about the redwood forest. He walked the entire range of the redwood tree, over 700 miles. Since then he has participated in the 2011 BioBlitz at Saguaro National Park, and is a regular team member of fellow NG Explorer Enric Sala's Pristine Seas Expeditions, recording the life and land above the waves.

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