Adventures in Bonoboland
I am indebted to Australian GRASP for helping me take the first step
on my incredible journey of 1000 miles up the Congo River to
Bonoboland with Bonobo Conservation Initiative.
And I was fortunate to enjoy firsthand the fruits of Australian GRASP's
USD$3000 contribution to BCI's project to construct a community
education centre in Kokolopori that catalysed the enthusiasm and efforts of local
villagers to expand and embrace the centre. I saw it regularly used
as a venue for carpentry, textiles and soap-making activities and
training, as well as village and conservation management planning. Also,
it provided basic but comfortable accommodation for our little
group and for visiting local researchers from nearby
bonobo ranges. It was encouraging to see that relatively modest contributions like these go a very long way, but the villagers here are the bonobos real guardians and they are still desperately poor. These are my notes, scribbled at varying points along the journey. They were written to, in some small way, take my friends and family along with me. Anything beautiful in it is a reflection of the Congo, the bonobos and the wonderful people I met along the way, for which I extend my utmost gratitude. Anything tedious, clumsy, petty or just wrong is all me, for which I extend my most sincere apologies. Particular thanks goes to the dedicated, conscientious and sacrificing staff of Bonobo Conservation Initative and their local partners, who do so much with so little to protect the bonobos."
Martin Bendeler December 2005
Thu Nov 9
Our boat was waiting for us. Surely, never before has a group travelled upriver in such style. Three wide pirogues (dugout canoes) lashed together, 40 feet long, reed matting, tarp canopy, four bed frames with foam mattresses, a cooking area with hot coals, and the crowning glory- camping chairs with beer holders. New twin 85 horsepower engines should cut the journey time by a Third. But it will still be at least four days and I am grateful for the comfort. Sharing the journey with me are the foreigners- Paul, Arne, Michael and myself- and the Congolese- Bienvenu (aka Bienco) the BCI logistician, Augustin the Kokolopori chief and his granddaughter, Violette, Nina the cook, Charles the Best Boatman on the Congo (aka Le Blanc due to his striking green eyes), and his humble helper, Meda.
Bonobo (Photo- Arne Schiotz)
Two of the canoes contain the beds, covered by a tarp over timber, stick and vine frame. The third boat is largely uncovered, except at night and during storms, when the tarp is pulled over it, and contains the cooking equipment and the Kokolopori hitchhikers.
How do you describe such a river? A trillion litres flowing beneath. In its reflections, a monochrome extension of the grey morning sky, of the sabled green shadows of the dipping forest, of the deepest pitch blue of night's last dark and dawn's first spark, silhouette framed. Where the outboard motor churns, the water looks like a frothy Guinness/ice tea milkshake. The wet season has flooded the banks up to the lower canopy and we pass along a valley of sheer echoing cliffwalls of trees .