Tuesday July 3 The Shell Hut is busy with breakfast and packing at 6am in preparation for the boatride to Sounga village and the trailhead to Ynioungo Camp, our destination at the end of an 18 kilometre trek through jungle forest. Once we leave the Shell Hut, it takes at least an hour to get to Sounga, as there are numerous sandbars to negotiate and a pod of hippos to observe.
In Sounga, we meet the chief of the village, a single family village of women. With respect, we clarify our intentions with the chief, then set off into the forest.
We pass several banana, manioc, and sugarcane plantations in the first kilometre, protected from elephants by heavy rope from which are suspended aluminum cans. Several snares have been set along the trail, the size suggesting they are set for duikers. Soon after passing the plantations, we plunge into forest on a trail originally bull-dozed through the forest for lumbering operations perhaps a hundred years ago, then maintained to service a plantation village deep in the forest. Now heavily overgrown and obstructed regularly by downfall trees, the trail has eroded to a single path. A series of six bridges in various states of disrepair cross over streams along the trail between Sounga and the end of the trail at Ynioungo river.
We see a few small invertebrates along the trail, a spider the size of my palm lurks among the leaves, we step around several millipedes, and pause to appreciate a striking white flower cluster. Ghislain shows us a few fruits dropping from the canopy that are edible, the plum-like purple fruit of crysobalnus, with a berry-like flavor, the yellow-orange fruits of manilkara, with a sweet, sticky juice favored by gorillas, and we stop to taste a forest apple, slightly citrusy with a texture of avocado.
The trail is criss-crossed constantly by elephant trails. There is elephant sign everywhere.
Monkeys can be heard in the treetops, a herd of red river hogs feed alongside the trail, and the croaks and trills of great blue turacos reverberate beneath the canopy. Though many trees were harvested during the wave of lumbering a hundred years ago, many large virgin trees remain, as well as the dead and dying, imparting a primeval appearance to the forest. The hike is long, leaving Sounga at 9:30am, we finally reach our destination of Ynioungo camp at 4:30pm. We are exhausted when we arrive, but the clearing at Ynioungo camp is refreshing and we busy ourselves setting up camp and preparing dinner.
Spaghetti boulagnese, prepared and frozen in advance by Mary, is enjoyed around the evening campfire. After dinner, Ghislain administers a hot compress to Justine’s ankle, which has become swollen from an insect bite during the hike.
The night begins hot and muggy. The forest surrounding the clearing sings with insects and what we later learn are bats calling, providing further distraction to sleep. Early in the morning the clouds lift, bringing cooler temperatures beneath a moonlit sky.