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Published: January 15th 2013
Happy timeAnother mission and yet another country, after North Korea and Iraq, here I am for the very first time in my life, working in West Africa! Fully settled in, time to write my first entry about Liberia, my new home for a little while, no security issues here so I am very much determined to discover step by step this part of the world! Many things have happened during my first few weekends in Monrovia, or should I say outside of Monrovia...Robertsport and its national surf contest, mind-blowing; a great farewell of a dear friend in Liberia first ecolodge hidden between jungle and sea an hour and half drive from the capital and my very first close encounter with chimpanzees in the wild... Monkey Island, Liberia here we come!
Monkey Island, Liberia
The getting there part, as usual one of my favorite one!
Driving in Liberia - I could write a blog just about this topic… Chaotic, intense, and quite often pure fun whenever you start to read the signs on the back of the minibus and cabs. A few classic…
On the back of a bus “Limitations are broken. I will praise my
maker transport service”
Yellow cab bypassing you full speed, on the back written with white paint “dependable god” “young money”, “safety is in the hand of god” and other very inspiring messages…
Not that many roads either so somehow although we had very few indications on how to reach the “monkey island”, it ended up being quite straightforward.
From Monrovia, an hour plus of driving on the main road going to the airport, straight line with shops & houses on both sides which are then replaced with the bright & intense green of the Liberia country side with at some cross roads street sellers selling bush meat and freshly caught fish. Watching out for the fearless motorbike drivers & pedestrian walking on the dirt path along the road, avoiding cars which somehow ended up breaking in the middle of the road, we finally passed the Monrovia airport and this is where the asphalt road stops. The path immediately becomes a bumpy bright red dusty one, and the contrast between the colors of the bush, blue sky and red & orange hues soil is striking,
Half an hour later, after driving through small mud house
Chimp Family Picture
Monkey Island, Liberia
village and makeshift bridge, we reach the end of the road.
In front of us, there is simply one tree under which a few locals are hanging out and behind the estuary bordered by a labyrinth of mangroves. We are obviously the only foreigners around and the minute we park the land cruiser, locals approach us, shaking hands with the elders, laughing with the kids who immediately run toward us & starting the usual bargain to secure the much needed traditional wooden embarkation.
A little chat later we reach a deal with two locals who promptly bring up two colorful dugout.
The dugout are long & narrow & it takes a few minutes to find the perfect balance for us not to tip over. Sunday & John our two “guides” are all smile, thin but muscular they quickly get the embarkations flying over the river water. They start chatting between them & I simply don’t understand a word of what they are saying. English or should I say Liberian English is the official language in Liberia and understand it can at times be quite challenging but at that precise
moment, my hopes were gone… I discreetly ask my colleague who seems just as lost as me before checking directly with Sunday who burst into laugh when he hear my question. No, they were using one of the local dialects but then quickly switch back to Liberia English, pfff…my hopes are back!
We are by now navigating along the mangroves, with their deep roots plunging into the river. Keeping my eyes up as we navigate under some of the tree branches, the last thing I was looking for that day was a close encounter with one of the mamba snake…These bright green snakes love to hung on tree branches and fall on their prey before asphyxiating them, lovely ones!
Luckily enough outside of birds no snake encounter that day, I definitely can live with that!
After approx 45mn, we finally reach a more dense part of the jungle, trees are higher & although from the tiny embarkations we can barely see anything behind the first rows of mangroves and tree, we are all looking out for the Chimpanzees…
So how to you get them to come over…?
A total of 12 chimpanzees are living on this tiny but densely forested Island after they were released from a nearby pharmaceutical laboratory.
We are by now all keeping quiet and then Sunday starts to bang on the embarkation using its paddle while calling out for them imitating the sounds the monkey do. Simply unbelievable, a few minutes later, a really large one starts approaching. We are still on the boat and he is standing on a tree at less than 5 meters from us. We start to get a bit closer and throw a first banana to him, which immediately disappear, pressed into the chimpanzee mouth in one swift move. We are now really close and our first new friend is staring at us, jumping from one branch to another trying to get closer from our boats.
A few bananas later, more Chimpanzees come and before we know it we have nine of them hanging a few meters from us. We are trying to distribute the banana evenly among the group of chimpanzee, while observing their every move & facial expression. I thrown a few bananas and one of them missed the
chimpanzee and fall in the water along the mangroves. Their expression, mix of perplexity & disappointment is somehow extremely human. They start to look at each other when one of the youngest one, volunteer himself to go retrieve the banana in the water.
Simply incredible, chimpanzees are normally not fan of water but here is a young one, carefully climbing down from the tree along its roots, dipping one foot into the water, clearly not happy about what is lying ahead but still determined. So slowly he gets into the water, now up to his waist, keeping a firm grip to the root with one hand while exploring the water with his foot in a lookout for the banana.
He looks for it for a little while, all the other chimpanzees eagerly looking at him, and then his face lights up & he proudly raise his trophy out of the water using one of his leg. He has by now a really large smile on his face, enjoying the moment before savoring its banana, clearly not taking the risk to eat it once back on the tree surrounded by the other chimpanzees.
we start to reach the end of the banana stock, wish we had brought more with us, the chimpanzees start to be quite agitated, moving nervously from one branch to another, screaming & clearly dissatisfied with the end of the treat. We slowly move a bit further away from them when one of them clearly was started to look at ways to jump on the embarkation on which my colleague Salem was.
Chimpanzees by their size and strength are quite impressive and I would definitely not want to have one coming on the boat.
We enjoy our last few moments with them, although from slightly further away, and by then they seem to have understood that they would not get more so they calm down and some start to leave. We do the same and sliding once more along the mangroves, the three of us are all smile… Discussions on the way back are animated, full of laugh & comments about this unique encounter.
The late afternoon light gives a warm hue to the surrounding jungle and calm water, the colorful wooden embarkations reflecting themselves on the water. As we arrive at the starting point
where we parked the car, the kids of our guides are waiting for us. A few more laughs and chat later we are on our way back to Monrovia.
Felt like we went for a holiday when it was simply an afternoon out in the wild…got to do that more often!
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