Expedition in Central Africa – Part 2/4

We continue with our overland expedition in Central Africa

After 10 days of travelling in Chad, and having visited the Ennedi plateau, we headed south to Zakouma National Park, the continuation of an overland trip in Central Africa that would take us through the central and southern part of Chad, Cameroon and the Central African Republic for 21 more days.

Expedition in Central Africa
Bush camp at the gates of Zakouma

The sands of the Sahara and the arid landscapes of the Sahel gave way to savannah forests. The populations became “typically” African and the “camelids” became huge herds of bait, goats and sheep led by nomadic Arab shepherds 

In the Chadian town of Mongo, a group of 7 other travellers who had already travelled with us to the north of Chad on a previous trip, joined our overland expedition in Central Africa, and were especially interested in visiting the national parks of Zakouma and Dzanga Sangha.

The group came from N’Djamena in two 4×4 vehicles, a trip that took them one whole day.

The place chosen for the meeting was a Wodaabe refugee camp. These Wodaabe clans, formerly nomads, had lost all their cattle during the war in the Central African Republic.

Life in a refugee camp in Chad

We knew about the existence of this camp after visiting it briefly during our last trip to Zakouma National Park the previous year. Even though it is not a pleasant place to visit, we thought that spending the night with the Wodaabe refugees and getting to know their harsh realities would be interesting for everyone.

Several hundred people live in this camp, divided into different family clans. They are organized in “sudus” which are the movable structures made of wood that serve as a bedroom for each family nucleus and are spread across a wide area of land.

Wodaabe Chad

Accompanied by the “chief” we visit the camp. We met people who are surviving as refugees in one of the poorest countries in the world. Even though it is early in the morning, there are many tired and sad faces, and too many lost expressions from those who have lost everything. Both their loved ones and the animals that were their means and way of life.

Gerewol is not held here, it is not a time for festivals and celebrations. Looking for some grain to put in your mouth every day leaves little place for joy. Perhaps in the depths of each one of them, there is a glimmer of hope that one day they will be able to recover a life of dignity and freedom.

Refugee Photographers Project

You can know more about the situation of the 286 people living in this refugee camp and collaborate through this beautiful project realized by the Chadian NGO Guera Touristique, directed by our friend Hassan Abdoulaye, in collaboration with Mathias Monet , photographer and documentary filmmaker.

Web Refugee Photographers

Pretty surreal encounter night

The evening we spent at Wodaabe camp, was the moment of the meeting between the two groups: us who came from Ennedi and the passengers who were starting their journey.

The travellers coming from N’Djamena did not arrive much later than us at the camp. It gave us just enough time to introduce ourselves to the Wodaabe chiefs, negotiate with them and set up the camp.

Gathering a group of 16 travelers in a remote refugee camp, from a country like Chad, resulted in one of the most surreal nights I have ever experienced. It has to be said that the wine and other liquors brought by different passengers made everything flow properly on that first night…

Zakouma National Park

After visiting the Wodaabe camp and picking up ours, we continue our overland expedition in Central Africa, towards the second highlight of the expedition: Zakouma National Park. In addition to the Kumakonda truck, we were followed by the two 4×4 vehicles that came from N’Djamena. This helped to free up space and allowed Isaac and Chema to shoot and record with the drones (Viajes Chavetas).

It took us the whole day to cover the more than 300 kilometers of track that separate the town of Mongo with the National Park of Zakouma. A track that is in pretty bad shape at the beginning but gets much better later.

Expedition in Central Africa
Picnic “on the road” to Zakouma

We spent the night at the gates of Zakouma, where we witnessed a strange (to us) ultra-marathon taking place in the park. Several European runners were participating in a physical resistance test in one of the most remote places on the planet, something that left us stunned.

Expedition in Central Africa
Zakouma National Park main gate

Zakouma National Park according to NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

National Geographic has listed Zakouma National Park as one of the 20 must-see destinations in 2020.

Zakouma is fast becoming one of the best safari destinations in Africa. This is due to the successful conservation and anti-poaching efforts of the African Parks organization in recent years.

Chad is one of the least visited countries in the world which makes Zakouma National Park a real treasure as it is possible to see abundant wildlife on safaris limited to a very small number of travellers.

In this year of international recognition, it was a real pride for Kumakonda to be able to take a group of 16 travellers to Zakouma National Park.

Our last group in the Zakouma gate. Feb 2020

The Zakouma safari experience

At Zakouma it was clear to us that a lot of success on an African safari depends on luck and also on a good guide.

Our group was divided into two parts to do the different safaris at Zakouma. In each vehicle specially adapted for the safari vision we were 9 travelers, with a very different luck. While one group was “very lucky” to see all kinds of animals including predators and thousands of birds, the other group was unlucky during the 5 safaris we did at Zakouma.

What is guaranteed in Zakouma National Park is the observation of an enormous number of kordofan giraffes, symbol of the park. Also elephants, buffalos, different antelopes and a good number of birds.

The Rigueit Pan wetland in Zakouma

The landscape of Zakouma is a mixture of bush savannah, meadows, swamps and vast flood areas. These flood and swamp areas can cover almost the entire park in the rainy season, which makes possible to visit Zakouma only from December to mid-April.

The Rigueik Pan wetland area is in our opinion one of the most attractive areas of Zakouma. Here it is possible to find huge herds of buffalos and hartebeest along with hundreds if not thousands of birds. The spectacle at the end of the afternoon becomes absolutely wonderful and impressive.

The sound of the huge flocks of birds, the colors of the sunset and the abundance of animals make Rigueit Pan a place that is difficult to forget. Once again this place was chosen to have an improvised picnic with the group and enjoy a wonderful sunset.

Tinga Camp, relaxing on the expedition

While it is true that we like to camp, it must be acknowledged that from time to time, a room, bed, shower and toilet is appreciated. Even more so if you have been camping for almost 15 days in a row.

The Tinga Camp is a pleasant oasis when you come from a trip in the desert. I think we all enjoyed the nights at camp. A three-day break that helped us to gather strength for what was to come.

After Zakouma’s visit it was time to say goodbye to Oscar, Isaac and Chema. They were returning to N’Djamena and later to Spain. The rest of us continued our expedition in Central Africa, setting out for the city of Sarh, in the south of Chad.

Odyssey in southern Chad, continues our expedition in Central Africa

There were two different possible routes to continue the expedition. The first, which would have been the easiest, was to go back 50 kilometers to the main track and there take the route of Am Timan – Sarh – Moundou – Cameroon. And the second option was to cross the entire.

Zakouma National Park and tread for a few hundred kilometers until we left at some point near Sarh.

This second option was totally uncertain. Little or no information was given to us by the rangers and employees of Zakouma. What had become clear to me, and I had been warned in N’Djamena, was that I should not try to reach Lake Iro in any way, since the tracks leading to it went through acacia woods and were too small for the size of the truck.

I don’t know how (or yes), but I chose the second option. And I also don’t know how we ended up at Lake Iro with the truck.

It was a terrible two days of driving through horrible tracks, woods, and cross country. It was necessary on several occasions to ride nomads with us in the truck, with their respective 2-meter spears, which we found along the way as we got lost on several occasions. The impossibility of following the main track, either because there were low trees or because there were swampy areas where the truck would have been trapped forever, complicated our journey even more.

I have no idea how we were able to get out of there and how the truck was able to withstand such severe wear and tear. But luck was on our side and in the end we managed to get out of that infernal maze that was Lake Iro.

Transhumance in Southern Chad

This crazy part of our truck trip in Central Africa led us to discover some unusual and remote places in southern Chad.

All these forests and flood plains, now mostly dry in February, were huge areas of transhumance. Hundreds and hundreds (not to say thousands and thousands) of cattle were grazing in that region. When we found a clearing after a forested area it was incredibly surprising to find large camps of Arab nomads. An incredible sight.

One of the nights we spent next to one of these camps, undoubtedly one of the best experiences of this truck trip through Africa.

Lake Iro, fishing communities in the inland of Chad

We traveled through a Sudanese/Guinean region, a territory very rich in water. There are several rivers that cross this region of Moyen-Chari, being the Bahr Salamat river the one that feeds Lake Iro with water.

Lake Iro is a circular lake of 13 kilometers in diameter, which is believed to have been formed by the impact of a meteorite.

Located in south-eastern Chad, a little more than 100 kilometres from the border with the Central African Republic, Lake Iro supports several different communities, including the Goula, who have lived around it since time immemorial, fishing with spears and traps and then drying fish. There are more than 20 species of fish known to exist in Lake Iro.

Nomadic fishermen of the Sahel

Apart from the original population of Lake Iro, “in the 1970s, drought in Sahel areas, caused transhumant pastoralists and fishermen to migrate to lakes and wetlands in Southern Chad
In Chad, this period was marked by the important arrival of fishermen from Kanouri and Hausa from Nigeria, as was the case in Lake Chad and Lakes Léré, Fitri and Iro.
These fishermen brought their fishing practices with them and sometimes settled down, particularly on Lake Iro, where they were joined by their families. Other fishing villages arrived later, such as the Kotoko and the N’Gambaye. This immigration, according to our interviews, seems to be part of a long time ago in Lake Iro”.

Source: LE TCHAD DES LACS Saharan wetlands in the face of global change

Authors: Christine Raimond, Florence Sylvestre, Dangbet Zakinet and Abderamane Moussa Publisher: Synthèses

Lac Iro Chad
Imagen credito: Le Tchad des lacs / https://books.openedition.org/irdeditions/30450

Although for those of us who were part of this overland trip it may seem impossible, due to the complicated access to Lake Iro, much of the smoked fish that comes out of these stocks is exported even to Nigeria, more than 1,000 kilometers away.

Lake Iro has a seasonal character and even though it is large, it can dry up at the end of the dry season. We found it still with plenty of water in mid-February. We drove along its banks, looking for a track that would lead us south, very afraid, as sometimes the truck threatened to get stuck in some muddy area.

Once again, it was necessary to ride the truck with an inhabitant of the lake, who guided us through bushes and riverbeds until, after an extreme effort, we managed to reach a good track that led us quickly to Sarh.

Project EnganCHADos

On several occasions he had met with some volunteers from the NGO EnganCHADos, based in the hospital of Fuenlabrada in Madrid, at the Catholic Mission of Kabalaye in N’Djamena. The majority of these volunteers are ophthalmologists, surgeons and nurses who come for several days to the Saint Joseph de Bébédjia hospital in southern Chad to offer assistance and training to the operating room personnel.

As chance would have it, one of the afternoons when we were driving through southern Chad, very tired and about to fall asleep, I happened to see the sign for the Saint Joseph hospital. After asking permission from the director of the centre, he very kindly allowed us to camp on the site, even giving us some rooms and, more importantly, a few showers with running water.

To be honest, I was so tired that I retired early to sleep, but the rest of the passengers were able to learn first-hand about the interesting projects that this NGO is carrying out in Chad from its director and from some nurses who came to share a chat and a glass of wine.

It is highly recommended to know everything that EnganCHADos is doing in Saint Joseph Hospital through its web: https://www.enganchados.org/index.php/que-hacemos

Enganchados Chad
Acampada en el Hospital Saint Joseph de Be

“Flying” through southern Chad

The rest of the trip in southern Chad was easy and comfortable. After the odyssey that involved crossing Zakouma and the Moyen-Chari region, reaching the paved road from Sarh – Moundou and the border with Cameroon was as a pleasant walk.

Our expedition in Central Africa continues in our next post

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