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Exploring the Congo, in Search of a Bongo
October 26, 2015

Originally published in Universal Hunter Magazine, written by Jen O'Hara.

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So many stories have been told about the Congo and what a scary place it is to hunt. Who would have dreamed of five women traveling to Congo Hunting Safaris to film and hunt?

It started earlier this year when Norissa and I had an opportunity to hunt in the Congo. Norissa being cautious as she usually is did her research and determined that this was not a place she was willing to travel to. The media chalked it up to blood diamonds, ruthless people, and lots and lots of poisonous snakes and bugs. I reluctantly agreed with Norissa, even though I had always wanted to travel to the rainforest, and I was an adrenaline and danger junkie.

Later that year in August, we were hunting at Agagia Safaris in Namibia. Carin and Tielman, the owners, were also the owners of Congo Hunting Safaris. From the first night, Carin, Norissa, and I were fast friends. They had a family environment with two fun-filled boys. Tielman took me into his office one evening and showed me the photos from his previous visit to the Congo. I could barely contain my excitement. He said we must go! I remember grabbing his arm and saying, you have to show these to Norissa! It was some of the most beautiful scenery and animals I had ever seen. Earlier that year, we had seen a full-size mount of a Bongo at SCI. It had since been an animal I had truly wanted to hunt in my lifetime. Here was the opportunity! Tielman and Norissa spoke and even after showing her pictures of one of the most poisonous snakes in the world, the Rhino Viper Snake, he had convinced her it was safe. Six weeks later, we were off to the Congo with our Producer Kappie and his wife, our Production Manager, Chantelle.

To our surprise at the airport in Joburg, we weren’t met by Tielman, but by...Carin and our PH’s wife, Tania! Norissa, Carin, and I jumped with excitement! It had truly turned into a girls’ trip! We landed in Brazzaville and jumped into a cab. Chantelle and I were taking pictures as fast as we could of the city around us in shambles. When we got to the Congo Hunting Safari’s office, it was very nice. Carin had to make arrangements for us to drive to the hunting camp because the government wasn’t allowing flights to come out of Brazzaville. Little did we know, this would be a fun part of our journey.

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Carin, Jen, Norissa, Tania and Chantelle on their first day in Brazzaville.

We started out at 7:30 p.m., sending out the last few messages before we were without Wi-Fi for two weeks. Our driver only spoke French and none of us did. The first stop was in a dirt alley behind some very tattered homes where we were met by a slew of local men who were trying to get a look at who was inside the vehicle. Norissa and I quickly grabbed our Kershaw knives out from our packs and said a quiet prayer holding hands with Chantelle. Kappie was happy as usual with any drama and got out with the camera to film what was about to ensue. To our surprise, they did an oil change, (which one would think they would do before we took off on this long drive), and then we were off again through the bumpy dirt roads and rain forest.

It rained most of the night. To Norissa’s dislike, I can sleep through anything, and I mean anything. Apparently, our driver scared her and Chantelle so much that they stayed awake for the entire seven hours that I slept. They woke me a few times for a pit stop, telling me about him falling asleep at the wheel and swerving all over the road. I quickly went back to sleep. We made a stop about halfway into our journey to get fuel on the side of the road. It wasn’t at a gas station, and there were no buildings in sight. I thought it strange that all of the fuel was coming from empty alcohol bottles. It was amusing, but I decided not to get out with Kappie when one of the other guys on a motorcycle started blowing us kisses. This was the most uncomfortable moment we had. No one else during the entire trip made us uncomfortable.

As the sun rose, we had left any remnants of a tar road behind and we were left with only dirt roads and jungle all around us. We stopped several times to take pictures. Unfortunately, one of those stops wasn’t planned. To our surprise in the middle of the jungle, Carin and Tania’s truck, which was leading the way, lurched to a complete stop and started smoking. We were in the middle of nowhere. Kappie had finally fallen asleep after taking our driver’s place for several hours so that the girls could rest peacefully knowing he wasn’t going to fall asleep. Chantelle grabbed the camera, and we got out to see what we could do. The language barrier made it difficult to know what was happening so Carin jumped on the top of the truck to try and get a signal on her cell phone. She was finally able to get through to Tielman who rallied the PH’s in camp to try and meet us halfway. About that time, Kappie woke up and was to our rescue! We were so happy, not knowing he had any mechanic abilities. The truck continued to break down about every twenty minutes, and at one point, Carin and I got out and did the jungle dance while Norissa DJ’d some good tunes from our truck. Twenty-four hours later after lunch in a pizza place in Oeusso, a barge ride, and a stop at the Equator for photos, we had arrived at the hunting camp.

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Producer Kappie playing mechanic.

 

Norissa and I were to be the first women to hunt Bongos in this camp. That in itself was awesome! We had a quiet bungalow that we shared with Carin. They were busy building new chalets, but we decided to take the older, but bigger one. It was very much like a girls’ camp out. We became acquainted with the staff and learned the only words we could say in French: Bonjour (hello), S’il vous plait (please), Merci (thank you), and eau (water). The humidity was almost 90%, and I could tell that it didn’t matter that the airline had lost my luggage with my makeup in it, because there would be no need for it the next few weeks with how much sweating we were going to do. We met our PH, Vianne (Vianne) who was very excited that his wife Tania had surprised him. We all enjoyed a beer and went to bed early.

Unfortunately, in my lost luggage was also my ammo for my gun. Ammo is scarce in the Congo. I had no way of getting any, and I was not happy about it. Six weeks earlier in Namibia while filming with Norissa, I had rolled a quad on the sand dunes and separated my shoulder and my AC. I was having a hard enough time moving my arm, the PT told me shooting a gun would be extremely painful, but I was not about to give up an opportunity to shoot a Bongo! Vianne said that he had a Ruger 338, which sounded like it had a much worse kick than my 30-06. To my surprise, he had a compressor on it. Norissa sighted in her rifle to 70 yards since the Bongos are typically a closer shot and then proceeded to shoot the 338 to let me know how it kicked. I climbed onto the truck and shot into the target. It felt ok, but my shoulder was sore later that night. We both felt ready, and Norissa was first in the hot seat. We drove around that evening and saw a few duikers and a Bongo Bull at a distance, but she didn’t have an opportunity to take a shot. We woke up at 3 a.m. the next morning to the generator in camp and started getting ready. Carin came with us the first morning, and we were all giddy with excitement. If you ask any of our PH’s or guides, it’s definitely different hunting with two women. We have fun and enjoy the ride. It’s about the journey, but when it comes time to hunt, we are serious. We shared hunting stories between Vianne, Kappie, Carin, and Norissa and I while looking for a mature Bongo. It was a fun day, but we arrived back to camp that evening empty handed.

After five days of 3 a.m. wake up calls and 16-hour days, we spotted Norissa’s Bongo in the early afternoon. One of our trackers, Joseph, was so excited that he kept whispering as loudly as possible for us to hurry and motioning for us to get to the side of the road. Bongos are almost impossible to hunt in the jungle because of the noise, but they can be typically found on the road after a good rainstorm grazing on the new growth because the logging company cuts the roads back. Norissa took a step out and made an excellent shot while Kappie and I captured every minute on video.

We all jumped up and down in excitement as we could tell the shot was good. Her Bongo ran into the jungle. Bongos are one of the most dangerous animals if wounded, so Vianne had us wait twenty minutes before our trackers started using the machetes to make a tunnel into the jungle for us. As we approached behind them, we heard Joseph yelling excitedly in French, and we knew he had found the Bongo. We all celebrated and Norissa started crying with happiness. Video and pictures ensued amongst a million flies and ticks, which is never fun, but it’s part of hunting.

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Full of emotions, Norisssa sits with her Bongo trophy.

 

I was next up, and we were already exhausted. The other girls had decided because we only had 5 days left that they wouldn’t go with us so that there was one less person. There was a time when we really thought I wasn’t going to get a Bongo. Most hunters are in camp for 20 days, and Norissa and I had two Bongos on our list and only an 11-day hunt because our flights had been cancelled in Brazzaville. The sun shined for the next two days, and Norissa and I weren’t sure I would get a shot. We were running a little late the morning of the seventh day, even the trackers woke up late. We were all exhausted from 16-hour days in the jungle. That morning, I was impatient, and I didn’t even want to do my interview, I just wanted to hunt. Kappie made me stop in the dark and do a quick interview for the camera before taking off to what we had called Road 14. There was a logging sign that said 13 on the road before so we named this Road 14. There were always a lot of Bongo tracks on it, and that morning was the same.

I realized later that day if we had been on time that morning that I would have never seen my Bongo. As we were driving down Road 14, our trackers tapped the roof. Vi - anne and I had been talking about hunting and when we looked up he came to an abrupt stop. The sun was shining directly in our direction and there was a Bongo directly in front of us. He hadn’t seen us, and we all sat perfectly still. Vianne, Norissa, and I started assessing the Bull in our Swarovskis, and Vianne whispered, “He’s a Monster!” That got my blood pumping!

Kappie zoomed in and kept an eye on him as he went behind a hill, which made it look like he was walking back into the jungle to my disappointment. We all got out any - ways and started stalking the Bongo. Vianne and I crept out into the road with the sticks to try and get a shot. The Bongo slowly turned away from us thankfully and walked back out into the road. I didn’t even wait for my PH to say shoot, even though he was walking I took the first broad - side shot I had.

He ran away and because Vianne hadn’t seen the shot he said reload and shoot again! I did just as he fell to the ground, and the bullet aimed at his backside hit the tip of his right horn. I didn’t need the second shot, but it is always good insurance. I literally attacked Vianne with hugs, jumping up and down as Norissa ran to me yelling Happy Birthday! My birthday was a few days later, and I told her that all I wanted was to get a Bongo on this trip! We all celebrated as our 16-hour days were over and both Bongos were down!

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Jen, Norisssa and PH Vianne proudly sitting with Jen’s Bongo.

 

Just as they had done with Norissa, the trackers stopped along the way and cut branches from the jungle to decorate the truck. As we came in, Norissa, Kappie, and I sat on top of our doors while Joseph, Dominique, and the Pygmies we had picked up along the way sang and Vianne honked the horn. The whole camp ran to the lodge to greet us all clapping and singing. Finally, I was overcome with emotion, just as Norissa had been, as I realized Joseph was singing a Christian song and was saying Yahweh. It was a beautiful moment. Norissa and I looked at each other, knowing that this isn’t something that happens everyday.

It was a special moment that only a hunter can understand. Carin yelled because she couldn’t believe I had tears, and Norissa and I laughed. We’ve shared a lot of tears the past year on our journey with Universal Huntress.

We experienced the Congo as women do, with emotions, adoring the beauty that it beholds, and realizing that this is truly God’s creation.

Jen, Norisssa and PH Vianne proudly sitting with Jen’s Bongo.[/caption]   Just as they had done with Norissa, the trackers stopped along the way and cut branches from the jungle to decorate the truck. As we came in, Norissa, Kappie, and I sat on top of our doors while Joseph, Dominique, and the Pygmies we had picked up along the way sang and Vianne honked the horn. The whole camp ran to the lodge to greet us all clapping and singing. Finally, I was overcome with emotion, just as Norissa had been, as I realized Joseph was singing a Christian song and was saying Yahweh. It was a beautiful moment. Norissa and I looked at each other, knowing that this isn’t something that happens everyday. It was a special moment that only a hunter can understand. Carin yelled because she couldn’t believe I had tears, and Norissa and I laughed. We’ve shared a lot of tears the past year on our journey with Universal Huntress. We experienced the Congo as women do, with emotions, adoring the beauty that it beholds, and realizing that this is truly God’s creation.

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