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NDOKI: CONGO BRAZZAVILLE

In 1996 Clarissa and I traveled to Congo Brazzaville on an adventure that took us two years to organize. This journey was the most important one I would ever undertake. This is still the case although since then Clarissa and I have travelled extensively in search of material for paintings in many diverse and wilderness locations throughout Africa and the rest of the world. The reason why Ndoki was so special to me was because it was the last place in Africa I could find that was still mostly unexplored, untouched and with intact populations of wildlife. It was very difficult to access because of local politics, warlords and the remoteness of its pristine, fever-ridden rainforest tracts. There was also considerable personal risk involved as Congo Brazzaville was emerging from a civil war. The rainforest is also a very unhealthy place to be if you spend too much time there. But I knew this was where I would find what I had been searching for all my life ever since that school holiday at Tsavo in 1960 when I had done my first sketches of wildlife. Likewise I planned to do field paintings at Ndoki. I also intended to make a broadcast quality film of our experiences in the rainforest - a film that had its roots in Zimbabwe when my mother had taken me down to Mana Pools Game Reserve in 1960 so that I could make a home movie for a Geography project.
To get to Ndoki we flew to Brazzaville. After that we travelled to Ouesso in the north where we used a huge dugout to take us to Bomasa on the edge of the Ndoki rainforest region. Here we hired a vehicle to take us deep inside the rainforest wilderness to the village of Ndoki. This was where we picked up our Benjele porters for the adventure that lay ahead. Over the course of the next three months we trekked through unexplored rainforest tracts where we encountered forest elephant, bongo, gorilla and chimps. We got sick several times, our porters rebelled and at the very end of our stay in the Congo we were arrested while on the way back to Brazzaville and all our equipment, film and paintings were confiscated. But I didn't care! We had experienced something that was priceless. When we returned to Durban I felt a huge weight lift from my shoulders because finally I had satisfied my childhood obsession with Africa's wildlife and wilderness and I felt strangely free because of that.

1/11 : The vast trackless expanses of the Ndoki beckoned me like a siren song!
An aerial image of the rainforest showing nothing except a green unbroken carpet of huge trees stretching to the distat horizon in every direction
2/11 : We traveled down the XXXX River to Bomassa.
An image of Paul Augustinus in a pirogue (dugout) travelling down a vast wide river that is flanked by rainforest trees. Behind him are other passengers.
3/11 : Ndoki Village. This is where we collected out porters.
An image of  a tiny village on the edge of a stream inside the rainforest. In the foreground is a pirogue with its poler heading towards the landing point.
4/11 : Our porters took 2 days to get to where we would make a camp.
An image of porters carrying camping gear while wading through a stream in the dark.
5/11 : It felt like an endless journey.....
An image of  a group of porters carrying camping and painting gear along a shallow stream flanked by the trees of the rainforest.
6/11 : .....but I was enthralled with the pristine forest.
An image of  Paul Augustinus looking up at the canopy of the forest
7/11 : When we were looking for wildlife, we walked for hours at a time.
An image of Clarissa Augustinus following behind Benjele Pygmy guides through a very narrow and confined path through the rainforest. Streams were convenient paths!
8/11 : We had some very special sightings of wildlife.
An image of a leopard just visible throughthe dense vegetation of a forest clearing.
9/11 : These were my first forest elephants.
An image of several small forest elephant seen from the vantage of a very tall tree adjacent to a swampy clearing. The elephants are barely visible in the tall reeds
10/11 : This fabulous tusker made the entire journey worthwhile.
An image of  a very large tusked elephant at one of the forest clearings.
11/11 : Midday break for some cheese and nuts. Note the leg brace!
An image of Clarissa Augustinus sitting by a path, and eating a small lunch of cheese and nuts. On her leg is the brace she had to wear for the entire trip because of the injury she sustained in a gym the week before we traveled.

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