Aaron and I kept hearing about the Bonobo Sanctuary southwest of Kinshasa, so we decided that a trip to Sanctuary would make a nice day out for us and the Afful family (Innocent, Wilhelmina, Charity, Ephraim and Jacobson) and Clovis. So, of course it pours down rain. The rainy season is supposed to be over!
However, days off are rare, so off we went. The Matadi Road (for those of you who want to go get their atlases, I’ll wait………….) is one of the nicer roads in Congo, which is a good thing because all the freight that arrives in Matadi is trucked to Kinshasa along that road. Matadi is a port for ocean freight that is on the Congo River, but not on the coast – you will have to get the map now, right?) So for about half of the journey we were on one of the best roads in Congo.
We wound our way up the hills that surround the Kinshasa basin and then made a left turn onto …. mud. For the next 12 kilometers or so, we dipped in and out of some of the biggest “pot holes” I have ever seen. Our driver, Tresor had never been to the sanctuary, so we stopped often, and asked directions. No one trusts my google map app. Which was probably a good thing, because at one point it wanted us to turn onto a track no wider than your average coffee table, and deeply rutted, not to mention very steep. Instead, we took the neighborly advice and stayed on the road that hugged the river (not THE river, Congo, but another very fast moving river south of Kinshasa.) The river runs fast and at times the water is a milky brown and at other times almost red. The rich soil from the hill has been terraced along the river valley to support many farms.
Cassava leaves, banana, plantain, mangosteen, papaya, pinapple, avocados and corn are thriving on the many farms. Curves in the roadside provide just enough room for food stalls and stalls for mobile phone refill minute cards. The road isn’t heavily trafficked but large trucks from the nearby quarry as well as motorcycles compete with our comfy Toyota van as we slowly move along. For the last two kilometers we drove in and out of several pond sized pot holes, causing a few squeals from occupants in the back of the van.
When we got to the Sanctuary, we had to park and cross the river, hiking a small distance up to some offices where we paid our $5 per person entrance fee ($10 for International guests). Then up to see the bonobos
The Sanctuary provides a large orientation area, under cover, where they show a documentary about the rescue of the bonobos from markets in other parts of the Congo. Frankly we couldn’t hear a word because of the rain, but the gist of it seemed to be that the bonobos are hunted and killed for meat and the young ones are also captured and sold as pets. Lola ya Bonobo means Bonobo Paradise and the women who started it and continue to run the Sanctuary have created a safe place for these rescued members of the ape family.
In spite of the rain, there were other visitors at the sanctuary. About 50 high school students as well as about a dozen other foreign visitors braved the tropical downpour to share the experience. Our guide was a very nice Congolese man who donned a poncho and found some extra large umbrellas and we set off for the first area.
As we clustered around our guide to hear as much as we could about the habitat – lots of trees, plenty to eat, bonobos are vegetarians and they like to climb….) a few brave bonobos came up to the fence. They seemed mildly interested in us until Aaron pulled out the Nikon with the big lens. Then they kind of turned up their response! One of them slung a bit of sand at us, and we all had a laugh and quickly headed on across and up a hill to the second area. Again, mild interest in the visitors, until the big camera came out. This time one of the young males didn’t throw a little sand he threw a lot of sand and mud, which he got a big kick out of, throwing himself back on the ground and having a good belly laugh, then he turned and gave Aaron a very cheeky grin.
I am going to have to remember this, the next time I don’t want my picture taken.
There was a third area to visit, but it’s up a steep incline and the rain made that an impossible journey for today. We’ll just have to have another day out! Thanks be to God for a safe and happy day with our friends.
A bonus for the day: We got so wet, we actually felt cold and had to come home and dig out a sweatshirt! Hallelujah!