My north-eastern DRC adventure...





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  1. #1
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    Post My north-eastern DRC adventure...

    Ok, so I am here now, and as I'll be here for at least 6 weeks before heading home for a break, lets see if I can post some of the things I see, whats happening, etc. It might end up looking a bit like a blog, and if this is not allowed by TOS, mods please delete! I'll try to post at least once a week until I go home.

    The reason why I am here is because I am a paramedic, and I am employed to look after the health of a bunch of guys doing minerals exploration out in the jungle. We are many, many hours, possibly days from any other decent medical assistance, so in an emergency, I'm it.

    On Monday I flew from JHB OR Tambo intl. to Entebbe, Uganda. I stayed over in "The Boma", a local guest house very near to the airport. It was very comfortable, the food was fine, and it even has a swimming pool!8)

    On Tuesday morning I was back at the airport for a charter flight to the DRC. We checked through customs and immigration fine, no hassles. (we being myself and 2 geologists - they are both DRC nationals from Kinshasa, but their only way to get to where we were going was to fly to Nairobi from Kinshasa, then on to Entebbe, then back into the DRC!!)

    The charter plane was a Cessna Caravan, turbo prop, and in very good nick. I was pleased about this, as I have in the past flown in some pretty dodgy planes up in Africa, not a lot of fun! We took off from Entebbe, and flew over a large portion of Lake Victoria.

    Unfortunately Lake Victoria now has a very thick layer of green sludge covering a lot of it, much like our own Harties! I could see the trails left by the fishing boats and mokoro's long after they had passed. I also read in one of the local Entebbe newspapers on the plane that there is a severe shortage of fish in Lake Victoria due to overfishing and also taking out undersized fish. The authorities are taking action against this and are catching the culprits and burning their nets. Lets hope the authorities can sort this problem out!

    After about an hour's flight we crossed Lake Albert and landed at Bunia, where we cleared customs and immigration into the DRC. This process took about 45 mins, then we were airborne again. At Bunia there is a very large UN delegation, lots of planes, looks like its for food aid for the area. I even saw a SA soldier driving a forklift to one of the planes!


    There are also several Russian-built helicopters, not sure of the names, but does MI-8 look right? Also a much bigger one, maybe the MI-24? Maybe the guys in the know will help?


    After leaving Bunia we had another 90 minute flight to Isiro. At Isiro there is an old plane that is standing off to one side, a massive thing, a bit bigger than a DC4 Skymaster, that has obviously been there a while. Its even visible on the Google Earth image that was taken in 2004!


    After meeting with the guy I was relieving for a quick 5 minute hand-over, he was on the charter plane and heading back to civilisation for his break. My adventure was just beginning! We drove by Toyota (what else here in Africa?) 4x4 through the village of Isiro and on towards the Base Camp. This is only a short distance of about 10km, but it took us about 40 mins due to the state of the roads.

    Arrived at Base Camp, settled in, met the people, all good. I'm not going to say too much about the people that I am working for, I'll respect their privacy, as well as the privacy of the company that I am contracted to. Please respect this and don't ask too many questions about that!
    I am strong, because I've been weak.
    I am fearless, because I've been afraid.
    I am wise, because I've been foolish.

  2. #2
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    Tuesday morning I was up bright and early for my trip out into the jungle, Drill Camp would be my home for the next 6 weeks. A lot of the supplies are driven out to the camp by 4x4 vehicle, then they arrive at the Vehicle Camp, after a trip of about 8 hours for the 80-odd km. From Vehicle Camp its another 7km hike through the jungle to get to Drill Camp. There are several porters employed for this purpose.

    I hit it really lucky though! Less than a month ago the company finally managed to secure the licensing, permitting and authorisation to use a helicopter!!! so no long hikes through the jungle carrying all my equipment and belongings. I get to fly to camp in style!! We landed after a short 25 minute flight, almost on the top of a very large hill. This is the only open space available, and in the interests of preserving the vegetation and ecology as far as possible this is as far as we can fly.


    From the top of the hill its a relatively short 500m hike down to where the Drill Camp is situated. A pathway has been cleared, but again, the clearing has been kept to a minimum. We really want to have the least impact on the environment as possible. Along this path there is a massive tree that fell over a long time ago. The trunk is at least a meter in diameter, it makes a bit of an archway over the pathway.


    The drill camp consists of 4 large (8 man) tents, 4 small (2 man) tents, a gazebo (storage area) and a centrally located hand built kitchen / dining / sitting area under a big orange tarpaulin. We have a small generator for power, mornings and evenings, and an ablution area off to one side. The ablution area is basically a long drop, thunderbox, and tarpaulin surround for privacy.

    My tent is the one on the right, the trees are massive. We have cleared the underbrush but no large trees were cut.


    When we move on to the next camp in about 3-4 weeks, this area will rehabilitate itself with a few months. The ground is incredibly fertile, lots of rain, and the roots that are still in the ground from the scrub means that in about 6 months it will be very difficult to see that we were here! So tree-huggers take heart! The canopy above is still completely intact, this also means that the camp gets very little light.


    Alongside the path I found a small (+- 5cm across) pink flower. Anyone here know what it is called?


    And bunny-huggers, there are no bunnies here. Or any other small, medium, or large fauna. That has all been hunted out years ago already. I did find a chameleon this morning though! A beautiful tiny chappie, with a very short tail. It doesn't look like the tail was eaten off, it looks quite natural. Anyway, after his mandatory photo shoot on the cover of my laptop he was safely released back into his tree.


    The view from the top of the hill is just stunning. Unfortunately its been pretty hazy since I got here, but perhaps I'll be able to take another clearer pic if it clears a bit.
    I am strong, because I've been weak.
    I am fearless, because I've been afraid.
    I am wise, because I've been foolish.

  3. #3
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    I mentioned to you that I went through Isiro in 1994/95.....sneaked through in the middle of the night trying to avoid the corrupt army, secret police and immigration guys at their checkpoints...... I remember the area for bamboo that must have been 80 feet tall, and for some of the better roads in Zaire (we did 80 miles one day!). You mining guys, though, make your own roads, so that won't be an issue for you. How much of that jungle will still be jungle when you lot have finished with it? The only wildlife we saw were occasional monkeys, parrots, hornbills and a couple of pangolin.

    Have fun Gary!

    Mike
    "A poxy, feral, Brit architect who drinks bad beer and supports the wrong rugby team." Tony Weaver

    "Mike for President" Freeflyd

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    Mike, the guys that I am with at the moment are only using the existing roads. And those that I have seen are pretty poor. They are still in the very early stages of the exploration process, so are not getting in any heavy equipment or the like yet. If they do find a very large, viable, deposit then they may decide to mine it, but because of the remoteness of the area, inacessibility etc, it will have to be a very viable find.

    There are a lot of birds, but very difficult to spot due to the thickness of the vegetation. Yesterday I saw an eagle up on the top of the hill, lokked a lot like a fish eagle from its colouring, but was still too far away to be sure.

    I saw several monkeys in Isiro, tied to trees. Not nice to see. I wasn't going to even try to take a pic, in my opinion that would just be encouraging the problem.

    The reason the Base Camp is on the opposite side of town is just because the military base is closer to the airport. Lots of troops walking around in the town, I'll steer well clear of them. The guys from the project that have been here a while all have stories to tell...
    I am strong, because I've been weak.
    I am fearless, because I've been afraid.
    I am wise, because I've been foolish.

  5. #5
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    Wow, very interesting Gary. Enjoy your stay and please keep us posted with the nice pics.
    "If you don't care where you are, you ain't lost"

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    Gary, as you say, stay away from the dodgy flights - a plane (I think it was yet another Antonov) went down at Kisangani Airport today. Looks like 120 dead. I have been on some truly scary flights in that part of the world, where the pilots appeared to be more drunk than the passengers. Enjoy the jungle.

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    The BBC has it that 40 survived (70+ dead)......... The company (Hewa Bora) apparently is on an EU blacklist because of its safety record, as is every other DRC plane company.

    Mike
    "A poxy, feral, Brit architect who drinks bad beer and supports the wrong rugby team." Tony Weaver

    "Mike for President" Freeflyd

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by MikeAG View Post
    The BBC has it that 40 survived (70+ dead)......... The company (Hewa Bora) apparently is on an EU blacklist because of its safety record, as is every other DRC plane company.
    Mike
    Hewa Bora are one of the worst in Africa. Fly with them at your peril.

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    Apparently it was an old Boeing 727.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MikeAG View Post
    The BBC has it that 40 survived (70+ dead)......... The company (Hewa Bora) apparently is on an EU blacklist because of its safety record, as is every other DRC plane company.
    Mike
    Al Jazeera reporting similar figures, and saying it was caused by "bad weather". I've landed at Kisangani in filthy weather and all I can say is... probably bad pilot, bad air traffic control, bad plane and lastly, bad weather. Gary, sorry to hijack your thread ... keep your non-blog, blog going. Good to hear some news from that part of the world.

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    No worries on the short hijack guys. Terrible news about the plane crash. 2 years ago I flew several times with a small 2 seater commercial plane, pretty reputable company, got to know one of the pilots a bit. Then last year I read that he had died after crashing just before landing. According to what I read a crocodile escaped from one of the bags in the rear, causing a stampede to the front of the plane and an irretrievable nose dive.... yes, TIA
    I am strong, because I've been weak.
    I am fearless, because I've been afraid.
    I am wise, because I've been foolish.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gary110 View Post
    No worries on the short hijack guys. Terrible news about the plane crash. 2 years ago I flew several times with a small 2 seater commercial plane, pretty reputable company, got to know one of the pilots a bit. Then last year I read that he had died after crashing just before landing. According to what I read a crocodile escaped from one of the bags in the rear, causing a stampede to the front of the plane and an irretrievable nose dive.... yes, TIA
    TIA. I've flown with goats, chickens and even monkeys in the passenger section. No crocs so far, AFAIK. I have a collection of photographs of goats standing upright on taxi roofs at high speeds, but don't yet have one of a goat on the roof of a plane.

  13. #13
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    Lightbulb Feedback on the flower...

    Ok, I have received some feedback on the pink flower that I found the other day. Here is a reminder of the picture...


    The flower is actually a parasite, Thonningia sanguinea, and is reputed to have antimicrobal and antianaphylactic properties. It is also used to combat asthma. A picture of it even appreared on a postage stamp when the Congo was still a colony http://www.parasiticplants.siu.edu/ParPlantStamps/Thonningia_sanguinea_Congo.jpg

    Here is some more info, for those just amazed by this

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2269722/

    Seems that the forest is not just a pretty place...
    I am strong, because I've been weak.
    I am fearless, because I've been afraid.
    I am wise, because I've been foolish.

  14. #14
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    I have flown with Hewa Bora in the past and was very apprehensive at the time i must say.
    I remember landing at Lubumbashi and thinking that we were never going to stop on the runway with some rather worried looking faces on the plane, including mine!
    2010 Land Rover Defender Puma (Huberta), cos she too is big & has an adventurous & wandering heart.
    Lots of Bells & Whistles.

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    Default A very busy week...

    Ok, Its been a really busy week this week. I have had to prepare a new drill site, as the hole the guys are drilling now is almost as deep as they want to go. The new site is right on the top of the ridge behind the camp. There are some stunning views from about 3/4 of the way up. Unfortunately nothing from the top as the forest is just too thick to see more than a few yards!

    Another storm approaching...

    I have also had a lot of things to do in the camp itself as well. Several extra tents needed to come in and go up, as next week we are hosting a world renowned botanist from Kew Gardens! The group will be staying in our camp for a couple of weeks, studying the flora of the area. They will also be taking many samples for further analysis at the laboratories in Kinshasa and London. So I'm pretty sure that if we were doing any unnecessary damage to the jungle these guys would be all over us in a flash!

    We had a couple of drums of diesel flown in under the chopper the other day too, as slinging it is easier than trying to load it in the back of the small(ish) helicopter. It easily lifts 3 full 210 litre drums...


    I noticed that there are several trees that have parasitic-type growths on them. This tree had this growth that looked a bit like cabbages growing around its stem, about 15m up..



    Itís also very beautiful when the clouds / mist moves in...



    I mentioned earlier that we have a generator in camp. Yes, I know, the purists would say that its not real camping with a generator, and I agree 100%. However itís the only power source that we have to charge our laptops (we HAVE to work out here too), satellite phones, radios, and other electronic gizmos. Anyway, we have it on for a couple of hours in the morning, and then from about 17h30 to 22h00 in the evenings.


    The responsibility to turn the genny off in the evenings has fallen to me, as I'm usually the last one to retire at night. The first evening that I did this, I switched the genny off and then went to the smoking area for a last cigarette before going to bed. Sitting in the dark, my eyes slowly adjusting to the darkness, (very dark under the tree canopy at night!) I became aware of literally thousands of little lights moving about. The night was alive with glow flies! What an incredible sight.... they were seeming to dance about, playing with each other, almost as if I was in one of the Walt Disney animations! And no, I was smoking a "legal" cigarette

    I have now made it my regular feature, to be the last to bed, so I get to switch the genny off, so I can have a couple of smokes while watching the "show", it certainly is absolutely fascinating and beautiful. I wish I had the eloquence of some of the guys here to put into words what it looks like and how it makes me feel. But all I can say is that no matter how rough the day, no matter how tough itís been, sitting there watching these magical insects just makes one realise that there has to be a higher power out there looking out for us. It makes me feel a bit better about having to be so far away from home, and makes the longing for loved ones just a tiny bit more bearable.
    I am strong, because I've been weak.
    I am fearless, because I've been afraid.
    I am wise, because I've been foolish.

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    Heard today that the very man who's hand we shook the other day canceled the license for Hewa Bora airways after the latest crash. The minister of mining is now temporarily also the minister of transport, seems he means business. Roughly 85 people died in the recent plane crash a few miles from you. I'm pretty sure the number will rise as even the gov said that their hospitals are ill equipped (bit of an under statement). The crash's cause varies between lightning, bad visibility, training ground staff, pilot disregarding control tower commands, plane skipped services and malfunctioning avionics. I will absolutely be fascinated, if it's not all of the above... (Dead serious) Some reports said the plane crashed in dense forest while others said the plane crashed a few meters from the runway. Hopefully your transport is more reliable than the rest of the country's. Watch out for that "firefly" cigarettes...

  17. #17
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    You've taken some beautiful photos there Gary.
    I'm really hoping you guys don't find anything worth digging up!

    Mike
    "A poxy, feral, Brit architect who drinks bad beer and supports the wrong rugby team." Tony Weaver

    "Mike for President" Freeflyd

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    Very interesting Gary. What a ritmarol(spelling) to get to your destination. Idyllic but very very remote, and I don't trust those officials up in africa.
    Corne

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    I'm really hoping you guys don't find anything worth digging up!
    Me too Mike, me too.
    I am strong, because I've been weak.
    I am fearless, because I've been afraid.
    I am wise, because I've been foolish.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MikeAG View Post
    The BBC has it that 40 survived (70+ dead)......... The company (Hewa Bora) apparently is on an EU blacklist because of its safety record, as is every other DRC plane company.

    Mike
    Thanks for the very interesting thread Gary. Regarding charters in DRC - we recently used MAF (mission aviation fellowship) flying from Kinshasa to Luebo just south of Kananga on the banks of the Lulua river.
    The pilots are Americans. But they are quite expensive - US$ 14,000 one way.
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