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Alex Chadwick - Commentary  

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Elephant bai  

NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
22 Feb 2002

    Geography
  • Central African Republic
    Sangha-Mbaéré
    Locality
  • Dzanga-Sangha Reserve; Hike to elephant bai; Mirador observation platform
    Latitude/Longitude
  • 2.954323   16.364085
    Channels
  • Mono
    Sampling Rate
  • 48kHz
    Bit Depth
  • 16-bit
    Recorders
  • SONY TCD-D8
    Microphones
    Accessories
    Equipment Note
  • Two-track Mono

Show: CAR Elephants
Log of DAT #: 5C
Engineer: Bill McQuay
Date: Feb. 22, 2002

AC = Alex Chadwick
CJ = Carolyn Jensen
Bill = Bill McQuay

Alex's hike to the Bai.

Bill checks the levels.
Getting started.

3:00-4:01
Alex is miked and walking, breathing audibly as he walks.

4:03
Alex and Bill chatting. Getting set up.

9:49 AC
So we're just starting off here from camp, walking down from all these adjustments. It's just 10 o'clock in the morning. We were going to be here to start out at 7:45 but you know, things take some time. Things take time.

10:08
Carolyn and Alex banter.

10:56 AC
So we're just starting out here, it's 10 o'clock in the morning. And we're walking away from the camp. You go down this dirt road, through the forest. And we're following our guide. What is the name of our guide, do you know?

11:11
Introductions in French among Emmanuel (the guide), Carolyn, Bill, and Alex.

11:50 AC
This is Alex's first DAT, on Friday, the 22nd of February, in Dzanga Sangha, walking away from Andrea's camp, heading for Dzanga Bai. And this is il patron speaking to you.

12:21 AC
So I'm following Emmanuel, our guide, and to my astonishment, I am barefoot, because we're heading for the swamp. And I want to cross that in bare feet.

12:54 AC
This is all kind of a sandy bottom here, packed hard. It's wet 'cause this is the marsh area that we're coming to. Little swarm of butterflies at our feet. Walk through a cloud of them. And ferns on the left and the right and then higher trees growing up. Little leaf litter below us is these enormous leaves, they're as big as footballs. And here's the stream. This is the marsh area.

14:00
Alex discusses with Bill

14:49 AC
It's just ankle deep water here. We're heading for the main part of the swamp. This is just a little rivulet that runs out here. And beside me I see the footprints of elephants. (15:10)

15:25 AC
A pile of elephant dung, which is massive. These animals eat a lot, and they excrete a lot. The water's cool. (15:45)

18:14 AC
The water's about to mid-calf. Every footstep stirs a cloud of dark swirling bottom which is elephant dung. I've come to a little sandbar here. (18:45)

19:04 AC
There's a cloud of butterflies all around me. They're white, maybe palm sized, flitting here at the water's edge and then into the forest. Something crying over on the other side of this clearing here, birds I think.

19:49-20:10
Birds flying overhead.

21:09 AC
Those were large black birds, kind of like heron, smaller than heron, but shaped like heron, a pair of them. (21:28)

23:45 AC
Just at the end of the marsh area here you walk through a section of this water that's got a kind of a urine foam on it and very thick elephant dung. And that is how we leave the marsh.
So all of this way we're going barefoot. I'm astonished to be walking barefoot in an African forest. But I'm astonished by a lot of things here. It's not as hot as I thought it would be, it's not as buggy as I thought it would be, it's not as noisy as I thought it would be. (24:50)

26:53 AC
We just stopped here for a second, I'm putting on my sandals. We're beginning to walk through the forest, up to the Bai, the clearing. Bill's stopped about 50 feet back of me. Carolyn's behind him. Okay. (27:25)

28:10 AC (whispering)
I warned Carolyn before we came to wear her sandals a little bit, break them in, so she wouldn't get sore spots on her feet. Of course I didn't wear mine and now I've got these sore spots. They're open and I'm a little worried about infection. Actually I'm sure they're infected. (28:40)

29:04 AC (whispering)
So starting into the forest we're climbing uphill a little bit. The path is very plainly marked, it's easy to see. The trouble is there are a lot of paths that are plainly marked and easy to see. And if I didn't have this BaAka guide with me I'd be lost in about a minute and a half. There's a lot of undergrowth in the forest here, smaller trees and bushes, and then the big trees. So there's a canopy up there at about 70 feet. But this is low, this is beside the marsh. So there's a canopy up there about 70 feet and then another one at about 30 feet. And then low down here, 10 feet or so, there's a lot of these small trees. And a burst of leaves at the ground. But this is right near the marsh and we're going to move higher up into the forest. Bill's following along behind me and you get to a turn in the trail and you look ahead and say, where's the guide, what's going on, where am I? Because you really could not follow the trail at all. (31:10)

32:22 (whispering)
You can hear how quiet the forest is. You can hear a group of BaAka going the other way.

32:32
Greetings between the soldiers going by and Alex's group. French.

32:56 AC
So they're forest guards. About oh 5 or 6 of them have just come by, led by a BaAka guide and then a couple of guys carrying weapons and in uniform. And there they go down the path. (33:20)

33:50
Bill has a stone in his shoe, party stops. Then starts walking again without talking.

37:55 AC (whispering)
We're still going uphill. The path is sandy, this red kind of sand clay. The trees are bigger now, much bigger, a hundred feet anyway. Well I guess I'm not very good at estimating distance but it looks like a hundred feet. (28:25)

38:45 AC (whispering)
Everybody whispers. They whisper so as not to scare the elephants. The elephants are afraid of people, they've been hunted. They don't like human scent. They don't like human voices. So we all whisper. It's funny to think of whispering with the elephants, kind of the way that elephants are supposed to be afraid of mice. I feel like a mouse in the forest. (39:50)

42:03 AC (whispering)
Carolyn! Look out, ants!

42:23 AC
We've just crossed over a little section of ants here. Emmanuel, our guide, pointed at the ground; he said look out, there's a nest of ants there. I skipped over them as quick as I could. If he pointed them out, they're biting ants. (42:55)

43:41 AC (whispering)
The ground is leveling out. We're near the crest of this ridge. It's hard to see a ridge in this forest, it's all trees. And smaller trees. And green plants below them. And roots. And vines. And fallen leaves. (42:20)

44:38 AC (whispering)
And sometimes fallen trees, like this one there. To step over. (44:50)

48:32 AC (whispering)
Bill's stopped for a roll here in the forest. We're just waiting for him. Wind high up in the trees. (48:54)

49:28 AC (whispering)
Here he comes. (48:30)

50:40 AC (whispering)
We've only come about half way so far.

51:19 AC (whispering)
All the way through the forest there are butterflies. Red ones, several white ones. Just lifting off the leaves, the trees. And they flit along beside us at about knee height. That's it, we just topped the ridge. And we're headed down. There's not much grade here but a little. There's a small termite mound, and another. A tangle of vine. Bill's close behind us now, no more than 30 feet back. (53:55)

56:21 AC (w)
There's an enormous tree here with these great buttresses coming out from the side¿I've forgotten the name of this kind of tree¿but it's huge. This one's got to be a hundred feet I think. More of them. (56:49)

58:32 AC (w)
We're approaching the clearing, I just heard an elephant trumpet.

59:23 AC (w)
Still a ways to go. I don't see any opening yet.

1:01:19 AC (w)
There's another tree down along our way.

1:02:54 AC (w)
Can you hear the faint buzz that goes on all the time? It's the bees.
Can you hear the faint buzz? It's the termites.
There's so much alive in this forest. (1:03:40)

1:06:38 AC (w)
We've just come to a divide of the path and you could go left or right. The guide turned left. I would be utterly lost here. I couldn't tell which is the right path to take. One doesn't look more used than the other. The elephants use these.
These are wooden footbridges across an area that would be muddy sometimes, be very wet sometimes, but it's the dry season.

1:07:43 AC (w)
When you cross that footbridge you're almost there. I can see it. I can see the forest beginning to thin. There's more light coming through the trees.

1:08:57 AC (w)
I can see there's a line up ahead where the forest breaks up at the top you can see light coming through. That's the clearing. (1:09:10)

1:10:05 AC (w)
I first heard about this place 4 years ago, and I've been trying to come here ever since, for the story of the elephants.

1:10:25
Carolyn and Alex chatting about elephant dung on the path. Then asking Emmanuel in French about the dung. Then they continue walking.

1:11:36 AC (w)
There it is! The clearing, and the tower. I'm not seeing any elephants, yet.

1:12:04
There they are, there's an elephant, there's forest buffalo. There's an elephant maybe a hundred feet away. He's in one of these pits, eating something, the soil. He's looking this way and I'm going to go up these stairs to the tower. There are a lot of them. We can see more as we get out here.

1:12:45
walking up the stairs

1:13:09
unintelligible whispering. Fuzz in the microphone.

1:13:59 AC (w)
We've arrived at the top and I'm going to shut down.

1:14:10
Stopdown.

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