The third day was supposed to be the last and we looked forward to a shower and a tastier meal, but a lot of surprises and events were waiting for us in the hours that followed. We left early, carrying our loads, which were thankfully lighter than the first day. My shoes were dry from the fire, but this became irrelevant after the first river we had to cross. The rain had stopped in the morning though and the level of streams and rivers had decreased substantially.
Exactly like the day before, the nice, easy trail didn’t last and we soon had to short-cut some hill slopes and dense areas. After about 2 hours of trek, the only wildlife tracks we had found were red river hogs footprints, although they were in very large quantities. We had passed several hills rich in Coula edulis, also known as Gabon nut, a tree that produces fruits appreciated by chimpanzees, confirmed by Osam’s anecdotes about chimpanzees killed in this area around 5 years ago.
We had travelled through the major hills and the topography had become smoother when we heard branches shaking. We stopped, unloaded our bags, and approached quietly. There were monkeys around, but it was difficult to estimate the number or to see them particularly well. We could clearly see red-eared monkeys, probably because they travel under the canopy making them easier to observe. The monkeys were moving from North to South and it seemed they had not seen us.
Soon after this sighting the path disappeared again. We looked for it a while but decided to give up and go back to Agbor Iyamba. As soon as we made this decision, Osam recognized a bushmango tree where he had met 2 people in the past when he was hunting, and while he was lost on an elephant trail. We found the trail close to the tree and we followed it. A few minutes later, branch movements and shaking attracted our attention. Monkeys were to our right side and we could see fast movements in the trees but we couldn’t distinguish them. It seemed that they finally detected us, as three powerful threat booms were followed by a series of hack calls, making us realize we were in the presence of mona monkeys. Immediately after the adult male mona calls, putty-nosed piows, another type of alarm/threat loud call, came from the same location. There were mona AND putty-nosed monkeys, close by the red-eared monkeys we had seen before. All were moving to the South, just like our trail. We stayed quiet and followed our track for a few minutes until we stopped again.
Putty nosed guenon
A strange unfamiliar sound, like scratching, was produced close to us. Osam, reproducing his ex-hunting strategies, took off his sandals, crouched slightly, and approached where the sound was being emitted. I stayed behind so as to not scare whatever it was, and waited in anticipation. After a few minutes, the sound had stopped and Osam came back to me, illuminated by a large smile. “Mangabey ! Red-capped mangabey, just like the ones we have in camp!” he said. His description was precise enough to put out any doubt in my mind. Osam had approached the sound and saw a large monkey on a branch, very close to the ground. The animal didn’t see Osam and he approached while the monkey was scratching at a big fruit. Osam saw the grey/black back, and the tail with the white tip. Then the monkey suddenly turned himself in the direction of Osam, saw him, and ran away. Then Osam had clearly seen the white belly, the chestnut colored head, and the prominent black muzzle before the monkey could flee.
Red capped Mangabey
We continued and arrived at a location where a shed had previously existed before being destroyed as it was too close to the Cross River National Park. Here we were just on the boundary of the park. We took a quick, well deserved rest and then carried on our walk. Only 5 minutes after we left, familiar contact calls made us stop. We could very clearly see mona monkeys foraging in the lower canopy. There were movements on the ground too, and more monkeys higher in the trees. Red-eared monkeys could be seen and it looked like the same mixed-group as before. We had all advanced in the same direction and location. Another red-capped mangabey was seen at that point but, even with so many eyes to see us, it still took some minutes before the monkeys detected our presence. Then they all moved away, creating a lot of confusion in the trees and in our minds, while we tried to work out what species went where and how many of each there were. In this situation, it is difficult to spot all the monkeys, and usually it is good to concentrate in one area. Most of the monkeys were fleeing to the South, but some scattered in others directions. I could spot the monas at 60 or 70m in front of me, about 30m high. They passed one by one along a branch that I could see clearly through the vegetation, counting 11 of them. All these sightings were extremely exciting, but it had delayed our progress a lot and now it was close to noon and we were still very far from camp.
As soon as we couldn’t see monkeys anymore, we continued on the journey and the rain started. Not a light rain, but a strong shower worthy of any visions we have of the wet season. Soaked in a few minutes, we walked for an hour before reaching a shed. Unfortunately, this shed was only a shadow of its former self- no roof; no shelter for us. Just the time to take a GPS point, which was a good 15min in this weather, and then we were back to walking. The trail was easy to follow until we took a fork to the North. This trail was mainly grown over so we had to cut our way through, which took a long time. We finally arrived to Ebin Iyura, a shed used for logging activities before logging was banned by the state. Logging sheds have a floor made of planks, whereas hunting sheds are much more rustic. It was 3.30pm and we were about 5 hours from camp. Again, each halt was short as the lack of time was praying on our minds. The next trail fortunately was well maintained and we reached Rhoko river around 5pm without difficulties, except for the rain that was still pouring down.
Rhoko river is usually large, but what was in front of us looked like something else. Maybe 25m wide and brown with earth, it ran extremely rapidly forming whirlpools in places, and carrying huge branches downstream. Because of the darkness of the water, we couldn’t figure out how deep it was and where the “normal” bank should be. We planted a stick on the edge to work out if the level was decreasing or still growing, and waited.
The rain had stopped and the Rhoko river was decreasing, but slowly. Too slowly. Rhoko, as the major river on this side of the forest, had received the water from many adjacent streams, and was not forming an insurmountable natural barrier. There was a shed on the other side of the river, called Ocambay, and we were only 30m from it, but blocked by these natural elements. Night was falling. Osam knew of another long abandoned shed on our side of Rhoko and we decided to verify the state of it. Unfortunately, we had to pass yet another stream that turned out to not even be running because it was too close to Rhoko, but instead had reached a stationary level over 2m. Despite that, Osam could cross this stagnating, brown and forbidding water. He crossed by a fallen tree still raised just above the water. I waited on the other side until Osam came back, announcing there was no shed anymore. Then we headed back to the edge of the river Rhoko.
The only solution was patience. We set our wet camping mats on the ground, took off our wet clothes and tried to rest. Osam fell asleep quickly but there was no way for me. The ground was sloppy and I continually slid down slowly, finding myself off the mat. The darkness and the night fell while the entire forest dripped water, even after the rain had stopped. Consequently, between water drops, the cold, and the slope, I barely could find any sleep.
Sleeping next to the Rhoko River
Finally, at 2.00am, when Osam and I were too cold to rest any longer, luckily, the water had seriously decreased. We could see the bottom of the river, which was still very powerful. We figured out that the river was more than 2m high when we had first arrived, but now was only 1m. Osam used my head-light, while I used my mobile phone for light, and we had to walk along a flooded tree trunk for 15m up the river and then fork onto a fallen tree trunk to reach the other side. Osam was standing without any problem on the trunks, while I had to crouch to avoid the heaviness of my load from carrying me into the water. Eventually we made it but it had taken us a good 30minutes to cross!
We stayed in Ocambay shed for the rest of the night. A hot meal and warming fire in the shelter gave us so much relief. We left in the morning and made it back to camp within 3 hours, exhausted but happy to conclude this weekend’s adventure.