Kitsafari

Paradise Regained – Parc National Zakouma Tchad

285 posts in this topic

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour

 

William Blake Auguries of Innocence

 

So starts one of the world’s best poems (always for me). It harks of lost days when we used to stop to examine a flower, or chase a grasshopper, or lie on the green carpet of grass, or kick the waves in the sand. When we were kids, unafraid of anything, free of the chains of fear.

 

How does that relate to Zakouma? The newly opened park is exactly that – a paradise for me, and a haven for animals. The poem descends into a whirlpool of depression and repression, but for Zakouma, the opposite is true – it has rebounded from the repression and the loss, the forgotten and the hopelessness. For me, the trip to Zakouma began on a whisper of hope and ended with buckets of optimism, even if tinged with fears for the future.

 

mgeo12Nau2Ygo8cllRLtrptPQ_R3-NBEGLYDmLWb

29 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Once upon a time, I had heard about this wondrous place called Zakouma. It was Paolo, Inyathi and Vijay who brought us through a rabbit hole and landed us with a thump on this parc nationale as the creatures in the land looked at us in curiousity.

 

 

The tales of how the virgin land was filled to the brim with magnificent beasts and radiant birds that the threesome wove were magical and, like a tune played on the piper’s pipe, we harboured hopes and thoughts that we could too go through the rabbit hole.

 

 

But the toll collector stopped us short. And dashed my hopes. The structure of invitational tours through a select group of private guides fuelled the costs northbound, and impressed on us the exclusivity of the parc at a juicy charge. Huffing away, I downgraded this wonderland to the bottom of my wishlist. Surely there are other just as deserving places to go to.

 

 

Being a naive safari goer who knew little about what makes a blotched genet different from a common genet, or how to tell a kob from a puku, or how rare a common crane can be, and being a tourist with a bridge camera that can’t zoom into the vibrancy of a roller or the gold liquids of a lion’s eye, I had little hope that I would be invited to this seemingly exclusive world of invitational tours.

 

 

Then one day, in the last days of my Tswalu trip in May last year, I received an innocuous message that began innocently as Hi there, how was the trip and do you want to join us at Z? Can you seriously say no? No!

 

32oGhUvSRr7BZDkmj4Ro7JSdxTonWsv2Hxb5r4ou

29 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@@Kitsafari How wonderful! I'm going Feb 18 so looking forward to hearing all about your visit.

1 person likes this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@@Galago Oh I am very excited for you then! You will love it and wish never to leave. and I'm already starting to feel envious of you....

2 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A long preface: Through the Looking Glass

 

The Chad-Zakouma trip was a one-night stay in NDJ and a 7-nighter in the park from February 26 to March 6. The group would stay one night in ADD on February 25 and we would fly together into Chad.

 

I’ll go into a bit more logistical details since there are a few people eager to prepare a launch into the park.

 

There are different ways to fly to N’Djamena but since there are but only a handful of persons from Asia that would fly to that location, I won’t delve too much into it. Suffice to say I would have to fly either Air France via Paris to NDJ or Ethiopian Airlines (ET) via Bangkok via Addis Ababa (ADD). ET was cheaper, and made more sense than AF which would make me fly north and back south again. There were horror upon horror reviews of ET and Bole International airport in ADD, which made me wonder if I made the right choice. I reckoned if I flew biz class, perhaps the flights would be more palatable? In the end, it wasn’t as awful as the reviews sounded, but then I didn’t fly economy on the NDJ-ADD leg which was altogether a different story.

 

The trip stuttered right at the onset. ET doesn’t fly into Singapore (it will from June), and it had a tie-in with Singapore Airlines. When I checked into SIA for the start of my journey, the counter staff told me they couldn’t check me in because all my sectors – to ADD, and onward to NDJ and return – were voided.

 

 

A panic and most upset call to my travel agents caused a stir in that centre as well as at SIA. It turned out that my ET flights, prone to changes, had to be re-scheduled at two separate times. The last time ET changed my schedule, they had voided the previous itinerary but forgot to inform SIA. 45 excruciating minutes later and my agent called up and said they contacted ET and had corrected the errors. Fortunately, my flight was in the late afternoon, and on a weekday. Thankfully, the kinks in the flights were worked out for the rest of the journey.

 

My choice of ET made a tie-in of a side trip to Guassa a natural combo. Since the rest of the group was flying into ADD as well, it worked out perfect in the end.

 

I finally met everyone for the first time (other than @Sangeeta) on the overnight stay at the Regency Hotel. Regency Hotel was, well, okay. We had to deal with a blackout in the early morning so we had candlelight breakfast, then we headed to the airport, with slight chaos at the car park as everyone had to get off at the same spot. We then did a self-check in and a boarding pass was printed, and then stripped off belts, coats, scarves, shoes, coins and whatever was necessary at the Xray machine, and then we were through.

 

The Bole International Airport’s departure floor is not as chaotic as other places I’ve been. But the queues for security checks can be very long, so start queueing if the line is long. There is though a priority line for those late for the flights that are scheduled to take off soon.

 

One thing to really watch out for are the gates. They change at a moment’s notice. The departure to NDJ was supposed to be at Gate 1, where we waited. The screen flashed a destination that didn’t remotely look like NDJ so I stole a few minutes to the loo to return to discover we were rushing into Gate 2. As I was about to join our group in the bus to the plane, i was stopped and made to check in my cabin baggage which was within cabin rules. But with so many people also carrying similar bags, they were very strict. Fortunately, i had a handy bag to stuff my camera, binos, ipad, padlocked the soon-to-be-checked-in bag, and boarded the bus which had waited for me. The bag did appear in NDJ.

 

Still on the issue of Bole airport gates - for the return flight to Bangkok, I was informed on arrival at Bole Intl that the gate was 11, but at the business class lounge, the lady told me it was changed to gate 12. Gate 12 was totally empty when I arrived and finally an airport official passing by said it was Gate 11 and the last busload of passengers was about to leave. So the lesson is give yourself loads of time and get to the gate early.

13 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The all-important Visa

 

 

Singapore passports do not need visas for Eastern and southern African countries. Ethiopia and Chad were among the few exceptions. Ethiopia has a consulate in Singapore, and located in a foodstuff factory. So while waiting to hand in my application for a visa, I was also considering buying bottles of sauces and curry pastes. A bit surreal, but, hey, anything for the visa. Although the normal is for a three-day processing, mine took a day. One thing to take note for Ethiopian visa – the visa is effective the minute it is issued.

 

A Chadian visa was more complex. There is no embassy in Asia, except Beijing. I googled and found CBIT had an office in Singapore. @@inyathi processed his visa through the same company when he made his first trip to Chad, so it had to be a sound company, although when I was told I had to hand in my passport to be transported to Belgium, it did give me some pause. I googled the company and reviews were mainly negative, complaining the company would add in extra charges for things not agreed to. In the end, I read through their information very thoroughly and accepted a couple of charged services and rejected others. The final bill was accurate.

 

The typical processing time for the visa is around three calendar weeks from the time i handed in to the time I would get it back, as the courier would take time, and the Belgium embassy would take around 10 working days to process it. Once the invitational letter from AP arrived, I started the wheels in motion (about 1.5 months before the trip).

 

The one-page form was in French, so I got CBIT to fill it up for me. All the extras cost me a bundle, but within 10 days the passport with the visa was back with me. I’ll just have to avoid going to Chad every year. :rolleyes:

13 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A Presidential interlude

 

We arrived in Hassan Djamous International Airport in good time. Who were we? None other than @@Safaridude, @@twaffle, Mr Twaffle and @@Sangeeta, and our wonderful guide Squack. I was awed by my illustrious companions. But I like to think that our camaderie grew from the minute we all met each other, dressed down in our safari attire of tees and shorts in the very informal Regency Hotel. We did develop our own music theme and hummed it during the trip, drowning out the frogs at Rigueik pan at night.

 

The HD airport was smaller than I expected, but security checks are very tight. We were pre-warned not to show our cameras or phones to take any pictures at the airport. Squack went to get his visa on arrival but the rest of us had our visas ready. Keep your luggage tags handy, as they require it when they Xray all your luggage before you can leave the building.

 

 

We went out into the car park under the hot glaring sun to look for the AP driver and the vehicle but none was in sight. Squack managed to get hold of AP and learned that there was a police block just outside of the airport. It seemed the Chadian president was flying off somewhere and the PM and the entourage would give him a nice sendoff. I think we waited for a couple of hours (a long time in any case), before the motorcade of black windows and official looking cars, and trucks of soldiers streamed through, heralding the arrivals. But we still had to wait until the PM left. After that it was a short drive to Hilton Hotel, which is unexpectedly very posh and so comfortable. But then NDJ is a charming and very clean town. Sangeeta, Mr and Mrs Twaffle ventured out to the races and to see the town. The rest of us relaxed and chatted, waiting for the others before dinner.

 

The next morning we were off to the Hassan Djamous airport again. Be prepared for checks. There is a check of your passports just before you get into the vicinity. The security officials had an issue with my passport as the stamp on my arrival the previous day did not show the date of arrival clearly. In Chad, you need a police approval within 24 hours of arrival to travel around Chad, and the officials felt the date showed 20 february instead of 26. Sangeeta was a lifesaver as she explained in French we had just arrived the day before. It pays to speak French in Chad!

 

Then, you have to open up all your luggage which will be thoroughly checked before you enter into the building, and only after that someone met us and brought us through to check in our bags, get our boarding passes, show our boarding passes and passport before heading up on the elevator where we had to pass through xray checks before we were in the transit area to wait for our flight to Zakouma. On our return flight to ADD, I think Squack counted 11 passport checks before we boarded the plane.

 

N'Djamena - roads are so organised cutting the city into little squares.

 

SavoQMWAFBYBhkA_Ps6uugb5l-bzeoGAB5f_4aEv

 

 

MLO9VrfVqSwJlO77K1lGxZgdRuC6e_NA4uOEpaiV

 

 

evWpyDuCt00WWRJi1l7jqd47JRadriElUVntogVb

24 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Such wonderful recollections Kit, thank you for undertaking the TR duties.

2 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted (edited)

@@twaffle my pleasure.

 

I just hope I do Zakouma justice throughout the report.

Edited by Kitsafari
2 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@@Kitsafari, goodness me, I don't think Ive ever read such a complicated introduction regarding visas, passports, airport procedure, good on you for navigating it all successfully. Im sure a real adventure lies ahead.

3 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@@elefromoz Thanks for coming by. A real wonderful adventure did lie ahead, making all the seemingly convoluted pre-trip processes all worthwhile.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@twaffle Thank you to Kit for undertaking most trip report duties, sureky? You're surely not all going to sit it out completely are you? :o

 

Good start @@Kitsafari, even if we didn't actually get very far yet due to the amount of hassle. Also a very worrying start in terms of getting visas from Thailand of course.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@@pault if anyone were to wait for me to do a trip report it would be a long wait and Kit will do such a wonderful job. My time is so limited these days I hardly have time to read any of the fabulous TRS that are piling up.

2 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Look forward to this eagerly...im sure itll turn out to be another epic TR from Zakouma

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@@Kitsafari what a great, not so great, start to the trip. I really enjoy this kind of prelude, it's so useful to know what to expect when travelling to a new destination and especially those tricky to navigate.

 

Looking forward the main event too!

1 person likes this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@@Kitsafari what a great, not so great, start to the trip. I really enjoy this kind of prelude, it's so useful to know what to expect when travelling to a new destination and especially those tricky to navigate.

 

Looking forward the main event too!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@@twaffle....... True, Kit is so quick and efficient with her reports.She puts me to shame too. Maybe you can add a postscrip[t in a couple of months. :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted (edited)

@@Kitsafari

 

Okay, sorry to be the stereotypical stupid American, but I'd be kind of freaking out by now -- and that's coming from someone in a country that has just implemented a seemingly random electronics ban. (End of rant.)

 

First, having your tickets on Ethiopian being "voided," after all that you had gone through in the planning stages, would have been enough. And then having to check to your hand baggage even though you were flying business class....

 

But 11 passport checks to leave N'Djamena? What is with all that? Are they trying to lock people into the country? Any insight into the mindset going on there?

 

A lot of us are certainly turned on to the idea of visiting Zakouma, and nothing in your report is dissuading me. My question is really just one based on curiosity rather than any sense of trepidation.

 

Thanks so much for sharing the particulars and intricacies involved with the travel. (From your lovely prelude, it's more than obvious you felt it was all worth it!)

Edited by Alexander33

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@@pault @@bushbaby @@ld1 @@Alexander33 thank you for dropping in!

 

and I don't mean to scare you off Chad! its mainly the visas and the tight security in Chad that are the main things you have to deal with. But tight security in Chad is no more stricter and probably less tougher to navigate than the current US immigration, especially if you are a foreigner and belong to the minorities. Chad is friendlier, in contrast.

 

and after all the hassles and complex procedures at the gates, there is a magical wonderland that awaits you as balm for your harassed bodies and dampened spirits. You'd forgotten all those checks!

 

One thing I can say for a 101% certainty - I would go through it all again,just to go to Zakouma.

 

@@Alexander33 - on the issue of tight security - this is a military-led government, which toppled the last government 6 years ago. although elections were held in 2016, the opposition boycotted it, which meant the military-led govt came back into power. There are always rumours of coups and that keeps the government and its security people on high alert. Having said that, this is the government that is highly supportive of its national parks and African Parks' efforts tor revive the fortunes of Zakouma. It appears that over the last two years, the way for tourists to come into Zakouma has been vastly improved and smoothened.

 

Never was there a moment we felt unsafe. As it is always with entering new countries, there will always be uncertainties but a smile and a thank you! helps oil the way. And they recipocrate (not my experience with certain developed countries)

oh and a clarification - i'm sorry for being so vague. I flew economy from ADD to NDJ, hence their strictness in bringing larger cabin luggage into the plane. Having seen the chaos on the way back, I can well understand and sympathise with the airline crew in strictly enforcing it. I thought to mention it so that whoever plans to go, can be prepared for it.

 

 

@@twaffle....... True, Kit is so quick and efficient with her reports.She puts me to shame too. Maybe you can add a postscrip[t in a couple of months. :)

 

@@pault - I hope so too! and not just her but the others in the group as well. btw it's impossible for me to put you to shame. I can imagine the stunning photos you would have so I'm quite embarassed to use my photos as they are as shabby as the dishwasher cloth, so please pardon my pics!

10 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Fearless leader

 

Squack was our guide. What a real gentleman. The other group members have been on numerous safaris and I probably scored the lowest at eight safaris, but there are basic stuff we should already know and there was no need to repeat them but some guides do. An excellent guide, like Squack, doesn’t really need to prattle on too much to fill in the silence as some guides do when they get nervous that the guest has been quiet during the game drive (so many times a guide would turn to me and ask are you alright? I like quiet game drives to enjoy the view, the bird songs, the antelope cries, and the wind rushing past me) although I do like a bit of chat in between, too.

 

When I sat in the back rows, Squack was always mindful and considerate and would check once in a while if I was still alive or left dangling like a Christmas ornament on the acacia tree. I don't recall other guides doing that. in fact, they pretty much left me on my own if I was seated at the back.

 

 

Squack drove most of the time in Zakouma and his driving was superb – steady and quiet going into sightings to avoid sending the animals into flight mode. Mahamat the local guide was there to support him and to do the night drives and Squack would do the spotlight. And during those night drives, I realised there had been a sore lack of skills in spotlighting on night drives in my previous safaris. His spotlighting was steady, on the target, and he didn’t shift the light unnecessarily.

 

And he spotted gems - a common crane – a first for Zakouma, and a northern shoveller (I may have got the name wrong), and got fantastic sightings for us – such as a black breasted barbet that he and @@inyathi had scouted for days in the latter’s 2nd trip, and in a far distance, a lioness carrying away a baby hartebeest.

 

Fearless leader marking his spot at fly-camp:

 

fM8YO8P8lQtPMQi_eVgCSfGEbO7EoyfAu6X5WMJ1

16 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Onward to the trip report then. Now, the prickly question was – how do you improve on Paolo-Inyathi’s enthralling joint report in 2014, and Inyathi’s amazingly encyclopedia of a TR in 2015? You don’t.

 

So, please don’t expect details like why a blotched genet is blotched and why a black breasted barbet and a stone partridge created such excitement in our guide. I hadn’t intended to write a TR, so took no notes, took fewer photos, took no notice of where we were nor took time to remember the places we had been as the guide responsibly and rightly briefed us.

 

In my usual waffling way, this TR will be personal recollections and sentiment. I’m sure the others will chip in as and when they feel a need to (like correcting my terrible memory of things) and I sure hope they will also post photos as mine won’t do Zakouma's beauty justice.

 

Ash shadows

 

We flew towards the park for two hours. the semi-arid brown land slowly gave way to trees. (the following pics were taken with my mobile phone)

 

25T_xu2s3aQIT_gNa3We4Mu7u_jFvFdYFdahJdwj

 

lFRpi6HA1h1KS5lAbewBmxRy3BnNb-X2E-8NqKhD

 

As we crossed into the imaginary park border, trees were surrounded by several white outlines lying on the ground. What looked like white shadows of trees were in fact ashes of the fallen burnt trees, laid out exactly as how they had fallen. It was like a silent grave, a mark where living tall trees once stood. It was both fascinating and morbid. I had never seen anything like this.

 

 

 

 

0AvE4wVviEDDtz8LcF7wxNnlsoeuFF8NfRiSQH8s

 

c9q45Pi9wk-2VBf15sHuCB-lQeajDuzJviqzbIEO

13 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Tchadian lullaby

 

A big party met us when we arrived. I cannot recall who were there, but Leon Lamprecht, a tall imposing man who has taken over from Rian in managing the park, was there and the welcome was warm and hearty.

 

We were staying at Camp Nomade, a more upscale accommodation in the park. There are three accommodation options in the park – Camp Nomade a mobile tent in the heart of the park, Tinga a brick and mortar lodge that is about an hour or so away, and Camp Salamat which is open only to Tchadians.

 

While Camp Nomade is a lovely camp located in one of the best parts of the park, Tinga is also a comfortable option. The Tinga rooms have been spruced up, and apparently there is even an air con that will come in handy at the height of the hot days from April to May during the dry season. There is a large inviting restaurant, and a very productive waterhole to which we were at twice.

 

It seems there is a bit of push and pull between the two accommodations but I can’t see why Tinga is not an effective alternative to Camp Nomade – it’s fairly close to Camp Nomade (CN) at about an hour or so without stopping, it is closer to the HQ Zakouma, and night drives around there are pretty good (pale foxes are close by). The only drawback – a minor one - is that there are 24 rooms, but when we visited, all we saw were 3 persons at the dining area, and aside from them, there was one guest on a safari vehicle. Guests at Tinga go to separate places from the camp nomade guests, so in that way, both sets of guests enjoy a complete sense of exclusivity.

 

The CN camp had just moved to Rigueik Pans before we arrived. It is, as has been well documented, a beautiful camp. 8 tents in total are split equally on either side of the restful Moroccan-looking mess tent. It is luxurious – not in the sense of a copper bathtub or a plunge pool or a king size bed wrapped in satin sheets, but in the sense of the rich vibrant colours in the carpets and the throw pillows, in the simple but delicious food that I would happily pay for in a fine dining restaurant, in the hundreds of birds that parade in front of the camp, and the hundreds more of antelopes that quietly trod around the tents.

 

sAw67jISrOLL-psoSD9Oz4KMkbrjuMz_qRs7xasL

 

iE2fzPQgcye1jox1ftdUrBib8xSMZbbELnnT4Yaz

 

2tJ0IiagMTf8W97NhIc7qX0UeNaDnVX38P6I03pk

 

Right in the middle of the mess tent, a skeleton of a dead tree propped up the vast canvas roof – a sure sign that where possible the operators of this camp would use natural resources. Wires stuck out of the dead tree, which became a beautiful centrepiece in the night when kerosene lamps sparkle like crystal chandeliers on the wire branches. As you return to the camp at night, it was as if we were coming back to a tent of a thousand sparkles, glinting a warm welcome. I regret not taking a picture of it but perhaps one of the others might have one.

 

Sangeeta and I took two tents on one side and the others were on the other side. My home away from home is a simple beautifully designed tent that is simply made of mesh that allows again the free flow of air. A single bed with a chest that acts as a side table, a clothes hangar with a shelf and a floor carpet made up the tent. Just behind the tent is the external bathroom, less than 10 steps away. The camp is run by solar panels, and the two lights in the room are very bright. But the kerosene lamp in the bathroom is not that bright and does not last into the early morning hours.

 

Every night, a waterbuck and her sub adult would freeze as I returned to my tent, and every night, a lion somewhere would roar. One night, the lions roared on either side of the camp. I smiled each night I slept. On the first or second night, I heard what sounded like a stampede, a hacking cough of a leopard and some dragging sounds. I never did find out if there was indeed a leopard.

 

That’s why I love sleeping in tents. The dark nights were full of sounds, and ironically they comforted me and reassured me; it was as if I was still on a game drive, listening to, and not seeing, the game.

 

cJ3LY-5fGkVkv8HCmZ9qirmgtJ8ac5eyPic3fwha

 

WBVFzpJma9YtcFLyDmDgmgcxsXa8OIc6nH6ILCu5

 

 

WRmY1F_Yi6thcZnBDehhYjQyZ9yBul2IMU1sXVQ-

29 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

so far so good, building the anticipation nicely @kitsfarai

1 person likes this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A beautiful beginning... poetically written. Wonderful memories!

2 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't need you to explain the excitement about the barber, but I do want to hear about it. Great stuff and looking forward very much to more.

 

Seeing the tents, I imagine a young male lion, with his innate curiosity, watching the guests at Camp Nomade preparing themselves for bed in the evening, like animals on display at a zoo in floodlit cages. A romantic place!

3 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!


Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.


Sign In Now

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.


© 2006 - 2017 www.safaritalk.net - Talking Safaris and African Wildlife Conservation since 2006. Passionate about Africa.