Camping on a beach at the Chinko River in the middle of nowhere

Just as I thought, this morning at 04h00 there wasn’t a peep. I was sleeping outside the river valley to stay out of the cold air coming back down the creek at night. I woke the troops and prepared my bag, packed my tent, brushed my teeth, and went down the hill. Yaya was ready; he handed me a cup of coffee. Herve and Felix were still fumbling about a bit.

Herve announced he now had the runs. I didn’t hesitate, I gave him a Cipro and made him drink brine. These guys get the runs, and almost immediately they go down with this heat. At first, he said it was the water. Then he said the catfish they ate was a bit off.  I told them, how come only the white man is not getting sick? Because I take care to make sure my water is managed, my electrolytes managed. At this point, Yaya has understood that he just needs to drink a bit of salt water. Since he has, he looks much healthier and bright. Felix said his joints hurt. His face was no longer bloated, so at least I didn’t have a case of anaphylaxis to deal with.

Cattle trail. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Cattle trail. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.

Right out of camp there was a big mural [cattle trail] that hasn’t been used in a couple months. The cattle are all south of us since there has yet to be any rain. Our objective today was to make our 15 km and reach the Chinko River.

Creeks still bone-dry. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Creeks still bone-dry. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.

Walking was smooth; there is still very little forest along the creeks; also all still dry as a bone. It would seem that in several of the more open vegetation types with typical savanna trees, like terminalia or burkea or strycnos, there is a proliferation of seedlings. This is probably due to the lack of trampling by large mammals. It certainly isn’t due to lack of fire; this place is almost completely burned. The good thing is the vegetation types are intact, the forest is healthy, and there are no noxious weeds like the bokassa weed that has completely dominated overgrazed lands to the west of the Chinko Project area. I have only seen it twice along a couple of creeks, right at the beginning of the transect.

In one of the rutted areas we ran into one of the biggest saline complexes I have seen.

Very large unused saline. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Very large unused saline. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Mike posing in front of unused saline. Photograph courtesy of J. Michael Fay.
Mike posing in front of unused saline. Photograph courtesy of J. Michael Fay.

Many thousands of tons of soil have been excavated. This part of the world is poor in salt and when animals find a deposit they exploit it to the fullest. We didn’t see any fresh tracks other than those of warthogs. Years ago this saline would have been visited nightly by hundreds of animals. You could have a herd of 500 buffalo up until the early 1980s here. There was a part excavated into a small cave. There were no long-past signs of elephants digging with their tusks. They were the bulldozers of these places heretofore.

Last of the giraffe. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Last of the giraffe. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.

A bit further on, a spot along one of the creeks was tilled like somebody went through with rototiller. Then Herve signaled. There was a nice big red river hog rooting just 50m off; he didn’t see us. He bolted when he finally got a whiff of us.

If you had the resources you could bring back the fauna here. The habitat is perfectly intact.

If you had the resources you could bring back the fauna here. The habitat is perfectly intact. You could do like they do in South Africa: bring back the hunting concessionnaires and finance the restocking. Trouble is, the same problem since Cherry’s time: no state, no ability to police millions of hectares. No private person in their right mind would finance such an ambitious project, but world powers can.  Look at the cost of trying to catch Joseph Kony in this same area, a couple of hundred million dollars a year. You could finance a project that would establish an economy and stability, room for the state to exist over a few million hectares. I have been singing the same tune for decades. We can spend literally trillions of dollars on failed adventures of war, but only a pittance to actually keep places like CAR from becoming failed states.

Guys making their way across laterite shield. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Guys making their way across laterite shield. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Cattle trail marked through Uapaca forest. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Cattle trail marked through Uapaca forest. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Unknown flower. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Unknown flower. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.

The team walked well. We reached the Chinko at 11h30 of marching. The water levels seem to  be quite a bit lower now than when we passed by earlier. We found a beautiful spot to camp, with rocks and sandy beaches and good water and shade.

I took a stroll at 16h00. I love walking slowly in the late afternoon, kind of still hunting and enjoying this beautiful place. I saw guinea fowl and quite a few francolin, then a warthog. When I got a look at this guy, he had the biggest tusks I have ever seen on a warthog. They covered his eyes, they were so long. Then I found what I think is very old giant eland dung. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are still a few herds around. Like the roan antelope, they outlast the plains game. We had a group of baboons visit, and there are a few small crocodiles in the pools.

Lophira forest in the evening. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Lophira forest in the evening. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Everyone tells me sandals can't hold on long walks. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Everyone tells me sandals can’t hold on long walks. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.

We did inventory. We should have enough food to get us real close to the road ahead about a week from now. Yaya caught two cat fish; that helps the larder. I heard a plane in the very distant south tonight. Smiling big smile; far from all that, just where I need to be.

Storm brewing as I write on my back in my tent. No rain here. Sounds like the north is getting hit.

Home sweet home. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Home sweet home. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.

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Africa explorer-conservationist J. Michael Fay is in the Central African Republic, completing an expedition he started in 2014, retracing as best he can the footsteps of the 19th Century American Game Hunter-Explorer William Stamps Cherry. Fay, a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and recipient of numerous National Geographic Society grants, has also worked for decades for the Wildlife Conservation Society. His transects through some of Africa’s most remote and inaccessible wildernesses (among them the National Geographic-sponsored Megatransect and Meglaflyover) rank among the most significant in the history of exploration of the continent. You can read all his dispatches at Expedition Through the Heart of Africa.

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Changing Planet

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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.