As I reflect, I realise that one of the best experiences of my life was spending time amongst the forest elephants at Dzanga Bai. I believe that this unspoiled, pristine and beautiful saline that lies in the Dzanga Sangha National Park, is one of the most beautiful and well kept secrets in all of Africa; one of the best places to watch elephants and other animals, just like watching an exciting wildlife documentary that never ends. Dzanga Bai is unsurprisingly called “the village of elephants” by local people.
Bai, in Sangho, means “saline”. In the forest when there is a high concentration of minerals and salt it happens that a natural watery marshland, grass covered open area is formed and becomes a magnet for the animals of the forest. Elephants, Bongo, Sitatunga, Forest Buffalo, Giant Forest Hogs, all congregate in this amazing muddy area as if waiting in anticipation for the forest god to come hold court before them.
The first time I visited this timeless saline, was during the rainy season. It was laid down with a tapestry of green grass. I was astonished by the thousands of grey parrots that were chatting and singing and drinking there early in the morning. I thought of the many that are kept in some dark apartments in the cities of our world, something so terrible.
The most exciting moment was a few minutes before arriving there, the energy was incredible and the rumbles and the trumpeting of the elephants mixed with the noise of the grey parrots is something that I will never forget. It was a great day, but it was when I went there in February, on my own, and spent the night on the platform surrounded only by the elephants and their noise, that truly transformed me. I felt gently wrapped by the power of the forest and its inhabitants.
I left Sangha Lodge one morning in February and by car I first arrived at the “Listening elephant project “ research center to meet the researcher and bring to them some bread and biscuits that I made that morning. Then I started walking into the forest to reach Dzanga Bai.
It’s not a difficult walk through a mature rainforest, that’s because the branches of the tall trees block the sunlight, so not many plants grow on the forest floor.
At first the feeling is that you are completely alone, but then the sound of insects, leaves falling from trees, birds singing, give life to the most beautiful symphony of nature. And I started to inhale the scents of the forest, a fertile concoction of sensous aromas.
I passed through beautiful streams along the way, the water was cool and the feel of elephant dung between my toes was a pleasure and an amazing feeling of connecting to them and to the earth.
As I walked deeper into the forest, the vegetation became thicker with lianas, palms, strangler figs and other plants all growing together in a crazy dance of life.
When I arrived at the Bai my heart sang, I was at peace with myself, I forgot all the troubles and sorrows of the world, I was just there with nature, with the elephants.
The most amazing moments were during the night. The sounds of the elephants during the night is louder than during the day. The noise of them in the distance breaking trees and walking into the forest, and the splashing of water in the Bai, it was like to go back to a primeval time when nature was our world, and when there was no human greed and rampant destruction.
I felt so privileged to be there. Then the morning arrived, other elephants, other animals came into the Bai to fill them up with minerals and water for the day, then back into the forest in a continuous stream of animals all day. One group after the other, they socialising, and then depart again. I was lucky to meet there that morning two different big groups of Bongo, they mixed with the painted elephants of the Bai in an armony of colors that could envy the best impressionist painter.
I sipped my coffee that morning, in the best company ever and the afternoon sadly arrived again, it was time to go back to the world,and it was like waking up from a beautiful dream that you wish would never end…