How to climb a really, really tall tree with a piece of vine

I am currently back in Hong Kong relaxing and spending time with my family, and I will be returning to the C.A.R. on February 7th. Everything is looking relatively good, with the peace agreements signed, a new prime minister appointed and the cabinet dissolved. From now on the only hold-ups I anticipate are silly delays, like when government officials were late to the negotiations in Gabon while the rebels were on time.

In an unrelated matter, Ugandan soldiers together with US Special Forces have killed Kony’s chief bodyguard in the eastern jungles of the CAR (I’m in the west, phew). I think this is good news!

A few months ago, there was a period of time when the radio in our camp was broken. Being our sole form of communication to the outside world, it is rather vital that it remain up and working. After several fruitless attempts to fix it, someone came up with a decidedly novel solution: have the best Ba’Aka tree climbers mount antennae at the tops of very high trees. Didou and a couple other trackers were enlisted due to their elite tree climbing skills and were driven in for this specific purpose.

The Ba’Aka are known for their amazing tree climbing skills, which they need to access the most prized treat of all: wild honey. Check out the mind-blowing segment above from the BBC’s Human Planet, in which a Ba’Aka man climbs to head-dizzying heights and braves a hive of bees in order to impress his wife with some fresh, all-natural honey. (Human Planet is similar to their more famous series Planet Earth but about people and yes, narrated by David Attenborough!) Seriously, watch it. CRAZY. This was actually filmed in Yandoumbe, a village very close to where I am.

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I’m not sure if this picture does justice to the height of this tree, but I guesstimate it to be about 130 feet high. If it helps at all the tiny oval at the base of the tree is a toilet seat; I have no idea why that is there, because we most certainly do not have any toilets.

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This is Didou looking rather smug with himself at the top of the tree. It was pretty terrifying to watch him as I was half-convinced that I was going to witness him plunge to the ground that day. Using no equipment except for a piece of vine with its ends tied together to form a hoop around the tree, Didou shimmied his way up  (watch the BBC video above to see how he did it). I couldn’t tear myself away to grab my camera as he was going up, but scroll down a little to see the video of him coming down.

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Here, Didou is performing some careful maneuvers trying to get a giant pole up the tree. I’m not entirely clear on the thought process behind this entire plan, so don’t ask me why he was doing this.

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A couple of other men climbed up other trees to attach yet more antennae. This guy here uses a different technique than Didou, chopping small footholds into the bark for a surer grip.

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As you can see, there is a very precarious split second during each upwards shimmy.

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The same guy up another tree.

And finally, here’s the video of Didou descending. I couldn’t zoom out to give you a full view of the tree but the length of time it takes for him to get to the ground should give you an idea.

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