Hanging out with Wild Chimps in the Jungle and Shower in a Waterfall

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Africa » Tanzania » West » Gombe Stream National Park
September 10th 2018
Published: September 11th 2018
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Today has been one of the best of my life, I've been lucky and privileged to have seen around 25 wild chimps in the wild and was with them for 2.5 hours. I walked out of the jungle a hot, sweaty mess with twigs in my hair and covered in dirt, but totally exhilarated. Just amazing.

Breakfast was at 7.30 and was a bit odd: some savoury pancakes, bread and fried egg that came after we'd eaten the rest as Duma had forgotten them. Ahadi, our chimp guide met us just after 8am and off we went. He had just the clothes he wore and a small bottle of water in his hand - no backpack, no first aid kit, no namby-pamby tourist health and safety shit, this was the real deal. He had warned us that there's always a chance to see no chimps at all as the area is big and there are only around 50 chimps, plus they wander around a lot, foraging for food and finding new spots to chill. Last week he'd trekked for 4 hours and just a came across 4 chimps very fleetingly. We were warned we could be out for 8 hours in our quest for chimps. With this in mind we paid a few extra quid for two scouts who would go ahead and help find them. Not all tourists want this but we'd come this far and I wanted to leave as little to chance as possible.

We started our journey through the staff area, where primate scientists also live. All the homes, equipment and even the washing were in padlocked cages because of the pesky baboons, who we saw trying the locks unabashed. I stopped to photograph them but Ahadi was as interested in them as I am in pigeons up town on a Saturday. Following the shoreline gave us a breeze but it was still hot and muggy. Soon after, it was upwards and inwards to the jungle and my eyes were stinging from my own sweat. It was very steep in places and I was glad to stop whilst Ahadi started hooting loudly across the dense foliage. Eventually we heard a hooted reply: it was one of the trackers we'd paid for and eventually we met him after a very steep climb.

He told Ahadi that chimps were nearby and we were to cut across the bush. Or, the bush to cut across us - I could have done with a machete! There were infinite vines tripping me and garrotting me; I unintentionally sat down more than once. There were no paths here and I had to just shove through, constantly getting caught up in branches and making a right racket. It was like trying to trek through tangled string and ropes - a health and safety nightmare!.p I understood why we were told to wear long trousers and sleeves as my legs would have been shredded.

At around 9.10am, I heard them. Chimp calls and screeches surrounded me as the trees shook - it was extremely noisy. It was just like a Tarzan movie. Nearby were some chimp scientists who were chatting and noting things down. Ahadi gave us facemasks as humans can pass diseases to chimps having resulted in many dying in the past. This was when I saw my first chimp, one of the males climbing up a tree. Then I saw a mother and baby in another nearby tree. We were free to wander around but told to keep a safe distance, so I clambered further through the undergrowth, as some of the chimps stared at me and eyed up my big lens. They are not worried about humans and one full grown male sauntered by me only a metre away, Ahadi called me to get back as it could be dangerous, but it's very hard to move in the dense jungle.

The chimps moved on and we skirted around them, getting close to a group that were relaxing on the ground. One mother started jumping impatiently as her baby was taking too long to get out of a tree. Further along we met one of the scientists photographing a couple of chimps and we sat down in the undergrowth. Ahadi chatted softly with the guy as Glyn and I sat nearby in awe as a baby chimp swung and played in front of us, obviously showing off. A few alpha males started kicking off making loud noises, but the rest of the troop rolled their eyes and mostly ignored them apart from one female who was up for a bit of hot chimp loving. We were incredibly lucky because Glyn and I were the only tourists, so we had this all to ourselves. It was only meant to be an hour but we stayed for two.

I managed to look up into the trees just in time to witness a rather large chimp turd whistle past and splat to the ground. Good job the dumper hadn't been eating nutmeg as that gives them the squits we were told. There's also some type of fruit in the jungle that they love and makes them drunk.

Another thing I learned about chimps is that they have been known to eat baboon babies and even the babies of each other's families. So that smashed the cuteness factor, finding out that they can be cannibals. They have also been known to eat human babies, but not since 2003. I wanted to ask more about this, to find out in what circumstance would a chimp do this, but communication was a little hard and I didn't want to be morbid, not openly anyway!

Ahadi said we had 5 minutes left, but as we headed back, it turned out that the chimps were going our way and we had another half hour with them. This was a real bonus also because we were in an open area, so I had better
jungle showerjungle showerjungle shower

Kakombe waterfall, Gombe, Tanzania
light to photograph them. Eventually after 2.5 hours, it really was time to go and we literally had to crack on back through the jungle, having to crawl in one area to get back to the track. Atop the highest trees I could just about see Colobus monkeys, apparently they never come down so are not easy to spot. However, it wasn't hard to miss the shower that came out of the trees, but luckily it missed us!

Trekking further down we made it back to the lake and followed the edge back to camp. Here were many more baboons that no one apart from me was interested in.

Ahadi offered us an additional extra of trekking to a waterfall, so after changing out of my minging clothes, Glyn and I followed him back up into the jungle. It was after 12.30 and there was no mention of lunch, so we kept going on the packets of refreshers we had brought with us. Ahadi told us about the trees and food that the chimps like and don't like. Following a river upstream, we clambered over rocks and mud, tripping over tree roots until we came upon the very the powerful Kakombe waterfall. Standinh close to it, I felt a lovely breeze and I decided to get in it. I didn't have a swimming costume so went in wearing my shorts and shirt. I've never had a shower in a waterfall before and this one felt so cool and refreshing after the hot climb, but the water pounded on my head quite hard! I walked back soaking wet but feeling a lot more comfortable being wet with water rather than sweat.

Upon our return we were invited to the gift and curio shop run by a young lady who had to unlock the dusty room so we could enter. We bought a few bits as I'd like to support the people and chimps here rather than some pushy street vendor.

Now we thought we were staying another night but Duma thought differently. Glyn had paperwork saying it was one more night so Duma went off to make a call whilst Glyn and I went swimming in the lake.

Lake Tanganyika facts: it's the longest freshwater body in the world, being 425 miles in length and the second deepest bring 1,500 metres at its deepest. The water is reputedly the world's least polluted and it is very clear.

It also is so big it has waves just like a sea, so we had a lovely time swimming and bobbing in the water. We didn't want to come out but eventually, we worried about getting sunstroke and bizarrely common sense took over and we went back to shore. Lying down on the wooden sun beds to dry off, I began to realise that I was quite tired and if we weren't careful we could fall asleep and get burnt. So we grudgingly got up to be met by Duma saying food was ready. It was around 4pm and I didn't know if it was lunch or tea, but I was more hungry than I realised at first and scoffed down a lot.

Now Duma is adamant that we are leaving and Glyn found an email that confirmed this, but it does contradict his paperwork. So sadly we pack and I have to put all my soaked clothes in a plastic bag as nothing has dried yet. We got on the boat, unsure about what happens at the other end - if we will be met and where we will stay. We booked two nights, so hopefully someone was expecting us. We shared the boat back with Ahadi and a young woman and I spent a lot of the journey writing this blog as we chugged past a few baboons at the water's edge, plus many fishing boats going out for the night. The sun started to set and I got some arty-farty shots of boats silhouetted against the golden sun reflecting on the lake.

After a couple of hours we arrived somewhere and asked Ahadi if this is where we disembark as we didn't know where we were going, or where we were for that matter. Turns out we were in Kigoma, a little further up from where we'd left yesterday and James was here to meet us. I had to remove my shoes and socks to get off the boat as the distance was too far for me to jump to shore and so I walked barefoot up to the car.

The sky had turned salmon pink by now and the whole town was warm and golden, with the orange/brown ground glowing in the evening sun. We drove through packed markets with people in colourful clothing, buzzing with a good atmosphere.

James took us to the Aqua Hotel which had rooms right on the lake side which was more like a beach with palm trees. We sat outside admiring the view and feeling very happy as we were served drinks until...

A young Belgian student girl came running to us asking if we'd seen anyone in her room - she and her partner had been out for an hour and been robbed. They'd lost all their money, their visas, two computers, cameras and gopros. The girl was sobbing loudly, quite understandably. As I type this there's quite a commotion going on as this place has a locked gate and guard and everyone is very upset. Quite the downer on an otherwise brilliant day but I shall be a lot more vigilant with my stuff from now on.

I thought I'd ended my blog but as we sat outside reading, something caught my eye hopping about following the man who brings beer. It was a kitten! My first Tasmanian cat!! It was white and grey and eventually came to me, demanding some fuss. After a while, he went to hang out with the Frenchies a few rooms away - he must be the official kitten greeter and had to do the rounds on all the guests.


14th September 2018

Congratulations on jungle showers and chimps
I think it was a good idea to pay extra for the scouting guides. As you say it is best to enhance your chances. This group you are traveling with sounds unorganized and not informed on what you paid for. Stay safe and keep an eye on your things.

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