North American Nature Photography Association

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NANPA Oral History Project -

Erwin Bauer

Erwin Bauer

Date of Interview: January 18, 2004
Interviewer: Shirley Nuhn (SN)
Transcriber: Susie Parrent
Length: 72 minutes
(Also present are his wife, Peggy Bauer (PB), and John Nuhn, photo director, National Wildlife magazine)

Track 8: (5:00 min.)

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EB: The president of the country, yeah. He had appropriated the plane so he could pick up his girlfriends in Belgium or some place. And so the plane didn't fly for several days and we were waiting in this hotel. You had to fly to another town across a lake and then you'd get out there however you could. Okay, we went out to get the plane this first morning it came in. We got on the plane, and so did, I don't know, hundreds of other people. It was a small German Fairchild plane. It would only take about a fifth that many. And all these ladies with their chickens and stuff on there and people hollering and screaming and the pilot wouldn't take off. He said "We've got to get so many people off of here or we're not leaving." He was Belgian or French, I don't know. Anyway, they wouldn't go, so the pilot then called the military base nearby, which wasn't far. And they came running out of there on their trucks and on foot and got these people. They climbed up on the plane and one by one they grabbed them by the neck and threw them out on the ground. They got all of them until the plane was just evenly full. It was no small throw out to the ground, either; it was one where they had steps. These guys were loaded down and the policemen just threw them out. Well, okay, we finally got going, or started to get going. He turned on the motor and then somebody hollered. They heard a voice from up in the front of the plane. They went up there. That's where the luggage section was. It was covered by two canvases and they opened it up. It was as full of people as you can imagine. They were laying on top of one another. So they threw all of them out. Okay, we took off to this other...

PB: It was Lake Kivu.

EB: No, you know the place. Anyway, we got to this place [Bukavu]. It's only a short flight, like 15 minutes. And we went to a hotel there, which was an old Belgian hotel in the days of the Belgian Congo. It must have been a pretty luxurious place - pretty nice because everything was kind of neat in it, although busted up. You could see that there was damage. We got a room up on the second floor. It was a big room. Must have been a luxurious room with one wash basin in it and a big window - on the second floor - but the glass was gone out of the window. We went to sleep that night and out in the street right beneath us they started fighting - machine gun fire and hollering. We just hugged one another all night. In the morning we got out as fast as we could. We had some breakfast and the way you get out to the gorilla sanctuary, which was Kahuzi-Biega National Park, was by taxi. You just get a taxi and hop in and ride out there. It's about 26 miles and all the way out, there was a parade of people parading, carrying their children and everything they owned on their backs - refugees, because of fighting in the hills where we were going. Well, we got there and it wasn't too bad right there. The park was run by a bunch of pygmies - or pygmy-like people anyway - and they were pretty nice. They sure wanted to show us those gorillas, because it was money. They took us out and the way they get these gorillas pretty easily is that one guide stays out with them all night. He just sleeps under the tree and when they [the gorillas] wake up in the morning and start to forage, he comes running into the park headquarters and then takes the people out to where he last saw them. And you follow them. You might follow them five minutes or an hour. We followed them close to ten minutes. We were lucky. We spent the day out there and it was kind of a pleasant day, banging through this thick brush and snatching a picture whenever we could. And when we came out, the guide asked me... [to Peggy] What did he ask me if I had?

PB: Rock tapes.

EB: If I had any rock tapes to leave him for a tip.

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