To Bima & Back Again: A Journey through the Bush of Bas-Uele

Share your notes and experiences in the field
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To Bima & Back Again: A Journey through the Bush of Bas-Uele

Post by Cabintom »

Back in July of this year, I had the privilege of traveling up to Bas-Uele, DRC for work (I’m a Christian missionary working within the administration of a Congolese church). Bas-Uele province is one of the least developed areas on the planet. I’m not exaggerating. Most of the province lacks basic infrastructure: no electricity, no bridges, no cell service or even radio. It’s a challenging place. We visited to provide training to leaders within our churches and congregations, and, honestly, to let people know they aren’t forgotten and are valued.

But, enough of that, you’re here for the insects. While, collecting was far from the main goal, the opportunity presented to collect in an area which has historically been overlooked was too good to pass up. Fortunately, once I explained my goals and reasons for bringing my collecting equipment along, my traveling companions were quickly and enthusiastically on board and insisted on helping (always travel with more than one net).
What follows is a sort of diary of the 2 weeks we spent on the ground. I’ll probably bore you with videos of the “road” and you’ll probably be disappointed by the lack of photos directly related to collecting activities… but, I have good reason for the latter: It’s difficult to take pictures when you’re busy with the net! (and every moment matters)

Specimen photos will follow and will be presented in the order they come off the setting boards. I’ll keep a running list of the species found throughout the trip in the next post.
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Re: To Bima & Back Again: A Journey through the Bush of Bas-Uele

Post by Cabintom »

PLACEHOLDER FOR LIST OF SPECIES FOUND
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Re: To Bima & Back Again: A Journey through the Bush of Bas-Uele

Post by Cabintom »

Map of the area visited (with villages featuring our churches & congregations labeled) :
Image

- The area shown is ~250km across (sorry for the lack of scale) and is oriented with North at the top (unlike the locally drawn maps which are almost always oriented to have the Uele River at the top).
- Key places that will be mentioned: Banda, Manonga, Bandueli (or Bandweli, depending on who you ask), Disolo, Bamokandi (located at the confluence of the Uele & Bamokandi rivers), Ezabisi and Bima.

Here’s satellite imagery of roughly the same area:
Image
As can be seen, the south-west corner of this map (Disolo/Bamokandi/Ezabisi/Bima) is on the edge of the great forest of the Congo Basin, while the rest shows the patchwork of forest and savanna that is typical across most of the border region with Central African Republic

I have not spent as much time collecting in the savanna of the region as I probably should… but the richness of the forest is difficult to pass up.
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Re: To Bima & Back Again: A Journey through the Bush of Bas-Uele

Post by Cabintom »

DAY 1 – July 5th (Bunia, Ituri to Banda, Bas-Uele)

The only realistic way to get in and out of the region is by air. We organized with Mission Aviation Fellowship to fly us in to Banda on a Cessna Caravan (this is a charter which usually costs about $2000 US).

View of the Bamokandi River:
Image

Approaching the airstrip:
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This dirt airstrip (which also acts as a main road into Banda) feels quite short when you come barreling onto it.
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Re: To Bima & Back Again: A Journey through the Bush of Bas-Uele

Post by Cabintom »

DAY 2 & 3 – July 6th/7th (Banda)

These two days were spent in administrative meetings and leading a training seminar. I managed to find an hour or so to walk around with the net, but the environment around the mission hill is largely anthropogenic and I didn’t find much that was interesting. I set-up two bait traps shortly after arrival, but my bait was too fresh and the traps were invaded by ants, so they yielded nothing.

View south from the base of the mission hill:
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The guesthouse where we slept was full of these giant spiders:
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They’re about as large as my hand. (Anyone know the ID?)

In the early mornings, I was able to do some birding:

Ploceus nigricollis – Black-necked Weaver
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Zosterops senegalensis – Northern Yellow White-Eye
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Psalidoprocne pristoptera – Black Sawwing
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Estrilda nonnula – Black-crowned Waxbill
Image

Tauraco leucolophus – White-crested Turaco
Image
Image

Euschistospiza dybowskii – Dybowski's Twinspot
Image
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Re: To Bima & Back Again: A Journey through the Bush of Bas-Uele

Post by Cabintom »

DAY 4 – July 8th (Banda to Manonga)

I unwisely packed away both my phone and my camera and so have little photographic documentation of this day’s travel.
Banda to Manonga is 86km along the main east-west road cutting across the province, north of the Uele River. We left Banda around 10:30 and made good time, arriving in Manonga just after 17:00. In that time, we took two 15-minute rest breaks. The first break was in a small village, as travelers in the region usually do. There I was able to convince my colleagues that resting in forested areas away from planted fields or houses would be more effective for the research I wanted to conduct. Consequently, the second stop was at a bridge over the small River Loy in some dense forest. Amazing! It was late in the afternoon at that point, and the weather a mix of sun & cloud, but there was still an abundance of mud-puddlers: mostly Pierids (Terias senegalensis, Terias floricola, Appias sps.) and Polyommatinae (Anthen larydas, Uranothauma heritsia, etc.), Phalanta eurytis was present in numbers. Whenever the sun would pop out from behind the clouds Papilio would reappear and away from the river bank the Limenitids (Euphaedra medon, Aterica galene, Bebearia sps.) would begin to fly. 15 minutes was far, far, far too short to gather examples of every species observed there, but we needed to get moving. It’s not a part of the world which is conducive to travel after dark.

Here’s a bridge (we did not stop at this bridge):
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As I mentioned, we arrived in Manonga just after 17:00 (meaning we had about an hour of sunlight to spare).

Here are our accommodations in the church guesthouse there:
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I’ll point out that this is rather nice for the area: mosquito netting, a mattress and a clean sheet! Bring a sleeping bag though, if you like to sleep under a blanket.
The pants are my colleague Joseph's. He and his motorcycle fell while fording one of the rivers where the bridge was in even worse shape than the one pictured above. Fortunately he managed to keep the engine running and so it didn't flood and strand us in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately, he was soaked for the last half of the drive.

To be continued...
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Re: To Bima & Back Again: A Journey through the Bush of Bas-Uele

Post by daveuk »

Enjoying this !!😊
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Re: To Bima & Back Again: A Journey through the Bush of Bas-Uele

Post by Chuck »

I enjoyed the pleasure of mosquito netting once, it was glorious, better than the Hilton.

Looking forward to more, more!
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Re: To Bima & Back Again: A Journey through the Bush of Bas-Uele

Post by Paul K »

What a journey!
Thanks for sharing.
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Re: To Bima & Back Again: A Journey through the Bush of Bas-Uele

Post by Trehopr1 »

The spider that you took a photo of is a huntsman spider of the family (Sparassidae). They are also called giant crab spiders because of their large size and the characteristic "crab-like" pose which they strike when on the lookout for prey.

They move fast and are alarming initially to see but they are great at keeping huts free of cockroaches, flies, and other vermin.
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Re: To Bima & Back Again: A Journey through the Bush of Bas-Uele

Post by Cabintom »

DAY 5 - July 9th (Manonga to Bandueli)

It poured all night and through most of the morning. This was problematic. As far as I can tell, the savanna is characterized by a thin layer of clay-rich soil, sitting on top of a sheet of rough volcanic rock. It's not permeable and water tends to flow over it, instead of sink down into it. Rainwater flows across the savanna landscape and down to low points in the topography, where patches of forest spring up and the soil is fertile and much thicker.
Practically speaking, this means that during and immediately after the rain the road is basically transformed into a small river. Our drivers insisted we wait until a few hours after the end of the rain, before setting out. Otherwise, they said, "we wont know where to place our front tires and we'll almost definitely drive into a hole." It was a good reason to wait.

Here I am sandwiched between my driver, Augu, and our luggage:
Image
Behind us in yellow is Joseph.

Some random sections of the road:



Our intention was to travel 46km to Disolo, but instead we had to limit ourselves to 18km and stop for the night at Bandueli. This was problematic.

Some context: since there's no cell service Disolo, the week prior to our arrival in Manonga, the Supervising Pastor for the region had sent out a messenger who cycled all the way to Disolo to alert them of our coming visit. This allowed our church there plenty of time to prepare a place for us to sleep (borrow beds, mattresses, sheets, and mosquito nets from the few fortunate people in the village who own them) and put together the resources necessary to feed us. The church at Bandueli, on the other hand, had no chance for such preparations.

Some additional context: This isn't a part of the world which caters to traveling or travelers. There's no hospitality industry. No hotels. No restaurants. You need to know people, or hope that strangers will trust you enough to take you in for a night.

Back to the story: We had left Manonga at around 15h00, driven the 18km, and arrived at Bandueli just before 18h00. The village was empty. Not a person. Ghost town. Apparently, it's the time of year where almost everyone is out working their fields which can be anywhere from 2 - 30km away from home. People usually build a field house and live out in the bush, only coming back to the village for market days and church.
We needed shelter, food, and water. For shelter we had my 2 man tent, but there were four of us. Fortunately, we were on church property, so we could just appropriate a payotte* (a circular thatch-roof gazebo-like structure), but that would mean 2 of us would be sleeping on the ground. We had also brought a couple of tarps and I had my portable mosquito net, so at least there would be that. For food we had the emergency rations I'd brought along: 20 packs of "Glucose Biscuits" which are basically calorie dense cookies which cost 5 cents (US)** per pack of 9 cookies. Lastly, we had 2 portable LifeStraw filter bottles. We wouldn't die. While we discussing our supply inventory a thought struck me: "Kumboti," I asked the 4th member of our traveling crew, "can the GUGU be used to let people know we are here?" (A GUGU is a traditional Zande talking drum) Evidently the answer was yes, though it was culturally awkward for us as visitors to be using the drum.

Kumboti playing the specific rhythm for alerting that "Vistors are here!" :


Well, hospitality is strongly valued among the Azande, and our playing the drum evidently created a bit of a panic. Within about half an hour (during which I snagged a nice example of Amauris hecate), a number of young people came running from various directions into the church compound. Soon, we were shown into a payotte where we could relax by a fire, while a hut was prepared to lodge Kumboti & Augu for the night. With the sun setting, Joseph and I pitched the tent next to the gazebo, which drew a small crowd – apparently several of the church ladies had also arrived. I was then surprised when a young man approached me to say that my “bath” was ready. There’s no well on site, so someone had gone out, who knows how far, to fetch water. Someone else had gathered wood, set a fire, and warmed the water.
Undressing, bucket-bathing and getting dressed, in a too-short, dirt-floored, doorless bath-hut is not easy when you’re inexperienced in the practice, but let me tell you, it was one of the kindest baths I’ve ever had the pleasure of taking. Once clean, I was greeted back in the payotte with fresh, grilled peanuts, then came local coffee, then sweet corn-on-the-cob, and finally a full and very delicious meal. Amazing that these women would drop everything, walk several kilometers, organize, procure ingredients, and cook an amazing meal for a group of unplanned and mostly unknown visitors, all in the space of a few hours and all the while expressing a profound joy in welcoming us. What wonderful people!

Joseph and I relaxing outside the payotte:
Image

Azande appetizer:
Image

My tent:
Image

* A french word pronounced close to "Pie-ought"
** The official currency in DRC is the Congolese Franc, but in larger centers people are happier to receive American dollars, which is a much more stable currency. $1 are not accepted though. Neither are bills that have even the slightest of a hint of a tear. The current exchange rate is 2100FC/USD.

To be continued...
Last edited by Cabintom on Tue Sep 27, 2022 1:17 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: To Bima & Back Again: A Journey through the Bush of Bas-Uele

Post by daveuk »

Incredible story, photos & YouTube footage . Thank You for sharing.
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Re: To Bima & Back Again: A Journey through the Bush of Bas-Uele

Post by wollastoni »

Thank you Thomas for sharing your entomological adventures with us ! It is enjoying to read, interesting to learn about this part of Congo and it motivates us organizing some expeditions.
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Re: To Bima & Back Again: A Journey through the Bush of Bas-Uele

Post by Cabintom »

DAY 6 - July 10th (Bandueli - Disolo)

We woke early with the intention of leaving early to arrive in Disolo on time for the Sunday church service. (Un)fortunately (I'm not sure which), the ladies insisted on feeding us before we could leave and it's hard to say no to such hospitality! First came the local coffee (it seems most families have a coffee bush close to home - I appreciate their priorities), then more peanuts and sweet corn, and then a hot meal of rice, sombe (a sort of sauce made with manioc/cassava leaves) and mystery meat. I can't say I have the habit of eating such heavy meals early in the morning (and in such quantity!). If I've understood the thinking, when traveling, you honestly can't be sure of when you'll eat your next meal, so eat when you can and as much as you possibly can.

Brewing coffee:
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The much appreciated coffee plants:
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Breakfast:
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At this point in the trip, with more than a week still ahead of us, I was quite literally falling apart from head to toe.
My helmet visor had broken on day one of the drive (it fell off the bike during that lovely stop at the bridge, splitting the visor in two), and then here in Bandueli, while loading luggage the bike tipped over directly onto the helmet, crushing part of it. I felt, that since a crushed helmet isn't really going to provide adequate protection, I ought to just leave it behind. But, my thinking was corrected: wear it and I'd avoid the police or military manning security checkpoints trying to issue me a ticket for traveling helmet-less.
Now, my boots. My trusty, gortex-lined, Salewa hiking boots, which had accompanied me on more than 6 years of adventures, decided it was time to retire, spectacularly. The soles were coming unglued at the toe (the front 5+cm had completely detached on both boots) and the hardened foam supporting the heels were crumbling. We found a local cobbler, provided him with fishing line since he had no cord and it was the only analogous material we had at hand, and he valiantly stitched the soles back to the boot. It's amazing that it held up for remainder of the trip... and I'm so glad it did! Other than the boots, I only had flip-flops for footwear and I can't imagine riding and hiking in those conditions with just flip-flops on my feet.

Anyways, once we'd finished coffee & breakfast, we were off!
At Bandueli, there's a major fork in the road: NW takes you to the territorially capital, Ango, while S takes you to the river. Apparently commerce in Ango is lucrative enough that people hire trucks to move merchandise from major centers like Isiro (Paulis) or Kisangani (Stanleyville). These trucks utterly destroy the road.

Image
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You all probably get the point. Bandueli to Disolo is 28km. I'm amazed it only took 3 hours. The one positive thing about all the mud, is that it’s often easier for my driver, Augu, to have me to hop off the bike and walk or push. Stretching my legs is usually a welcome luxury, even if it means I walked a not insignificant percentage of the distance we covered.

When we finally pulled into the church property, we were greeted with a warm & enthusiastic welcome:


We were housed in the hut on the left:
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Azande hospitality goes so far as to even build a new latrine and shower for visitors who will be staying for no longer than 1 night:
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With the church service ending a bit after midday and the obligatory meal served shortly thereafter, I ended up with some free time around 15h00 which I used to poke around with my net and set up a couple of traps. It was a bit late in the day, nonetheless, I found some interesting Neptis and the nominate ssp. of Eurytela dryope, which is interesting simply because we have ssp. angulata flying in Ituri.
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Re: To Bima & Back Again: A Journey through the Bush of Bas-Uele

Post by bobw »

Those sorts of roads on the back of a bike? Rather you than me!
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Re: To Bima & Back Again: A Journey through the Bush of Bas-Uele

Post by Chuck »

Great photos & story!

Too bad about the boots! How far to the nearest Walmart? ha ha ha ha ha.

With the mud and clay there, the only boot I'd wear is the Altama jungle boot. But if you like the Salewa you might also look at the La Sportiva (light!) and the Solomon GTX. "Look" meaning next time you're home.

Have you any live insect photos? I'm primarily a lep person, but photos of African beetles would likely be impressive.
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Re: To Bima & Back Again: A Journey through the Bush of Bas-Uele

Post by Cabintom »

Chuck wrote: Tue Sep 27, 2022 2:57 pm Great photos & story!

Too bad about the boots! How far to the nearest Walmart? ha ha ha ha ha.

With the mud and clay there, the only boot I'd wear is the Altama jungle boot. But if you like the Salewa you might also look at the La Sportiva (light!) and the Solomon GTX. "Look" meaning next time you're home.

Have you any live insect photos? I'm primarily a lep person, but photos of African beetles would likely be impressive.
I've already got my replacement boots! We've got a tight nit ex-pat community here, and, thankfully, someone was traveling back from the US shortly after my return from Bas-Uele.

I'll be posting a few insect photos later on, but sadly no beetles.
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Re: To Bima & Back Again: A Journey through the Bush of Bas-Uele

Post by Chuck »

OK, I know you're a Lep guy. But you MUST run across beetles, probably big beetles, colorful beetles there. Right? Where you are I'd be grabbing everything and papering it!
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Re: To Bima & Back Again: A Journey through the Bush of Bas-Uele

Post by mothman55 »

Takes a lot of courage to make a trip like that, good on you. Memories for a lifetime.
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Re: To Bima & Back Again: A Journey through the Bush of Bas-Uele

Post by Cabintom »

DAY 7 - July 11th (Hike to Ezabisi)

After a large breakfast we headed off for Ezabisi, a small Kango village on the bank of the Uele River. Unlike the Zande (the majority tribe) or Barambo, who are primarily agriculturalists and hunters, the Kango are unique in making their livelihoods primarily from fishing. Many of their small villages, which dot the shores of the Uele, are inaccessible except by water, and so are isolated from the rest of the world. To get to Ezabisi we hiked 11km from Disolo, following a practically invisible, winding trail, mostly through pristine primary forest. Without our porters I'm certain we would have lost the way.



Since we had a schedule to keep to and we needed to keep moving, it wasn't ideal for collecting. Even so, I managed to snag some interesting specimens and, more importantly, really captured the interest of my traveling companions.
Once arrived in Ezabisi, began by meeting with the village chief and the elders of our small church congregation. I'll admit that the Charaxes, Papilio, Graphium, Neptis, etc. flying about were quite distracting, but it wasn't an appropriate time for collecting and my colleagues rightfully judged that it would have negatively impacted our work and the relationships we had come to establish. So, the nets had been tucked away into the tent and remained there until our departure the following morning. Our meeting went well and soon we were swapping fishing and hunting stories.

Here the chief (on the left) is describing a design for a wild boar trap:
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They're laughing because, when I pulled out my camera, I had jokingly told them I had come to steal their hunting secrets. An important thing to know about culture in this part of the country is that at a baseline people are suspicious or your motives if you are an outsider, and even more so, if you are a foreigner. There's a long history of exploitation at the expense of Congolese and, I think rightfully, people are wary of being taken advantage.

Our meeting drew to close when the mamas approached saying our bath was ready. It being midday, this was a bit of a surprise to me (usually a bath is offered at the end of the day), but one simply can't refuse hospitality, especially after a long hike through the humid rainforest. I was led to a small 3-walled screen in which was placed a practically boiling bucket of milky water and two lengths of bamboo on which I would have to balance so that I wouldn't be standing in the mud. I very quickly rinsed off and still finished feeling more like a sandy boiled lobster than I imagined possible. Well, I guess, it's the thought and consideration that counts.

The village mamas:
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As evening began to fall, I was pleasantly surprised that the elders agreed to let me do some fishing! I had brought a couple of fishing poles and tackle with me just in case the opportunity presented itself.

Here's me & one of my young fishing guides:
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The Kango use these long, hand-carved, round-bottomed, dug-out canoes, which are notoriously unstable, and yet they all seem as comfortable standing in a canoe as they do standing on land. Incredible!

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Unfortunately, I didn't catch anything (though I definitely had a bite), but my time out on the river, in the dug-out canoe, casting my line, and enjoying just how adept the young Kango men are in their boats, is one I won’t soon forget. It was one of those moments when you feel that you are just where you ought to be. It’s hard to convey how “foreign” or “exotic” it is compared to where I grew up in northern Ontario, Canada, and yet I felt at home, like being at camp with the men of the family : drinking coffee while sitting around a fire, talking about the big one that got away, and comparing notes on how to best trap a monkey.

Fishing nets are a common sight in the village:
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I ended up giving away about half of my tackle:
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I grew up fishing on lakes from motor boats and so I feel I have a good sense of what lures work well... in Ontario. No telling if anything I brought with me would perform in the silty flowing water of the Uele, or attract the local fish species. I asked the guys to keep notes and give me a report the next time I visit. Amusingly, the pastor who received the treble-hook spoon (above) plans on fishing for crocodiles. I had inherited that spoon from my grandfather, who I'm sure would be pleased to know how it's now being re-purposed.
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