The emailed request went like this: “After reading all of her books, I long to feel a little bit like Jane Goodall; like a castaway in a remote corner of Africa, tracking chimps in the wild! Can you suggest where I can track down this feeling?”
Mahale Mountains National Park in Tanzania hosts the largest known chimpanzee population in Africa, and the troops flourish in the protected park thanks to its size as well as the remoteness of the Mahale Mountains. Disturbance to the primates is minimal, and this is one of the few parks in Africa that one can only explore on foot. There is no infrastructure within the park boundaries, and the only way in and out of the park is by taking a boat across Lake Tanganyika.
As a result, our intrepid traveller became ever more enthused at the prospect of visiting Mahale, which is nowadays often recognised as Africa’s ultimate chimpanzee trekking experience.
We asked Ana Zinger to share some of her thoughts about her experience:
“To achieve my dream, Africa Geographic Travel designed an itinerary that involved flying for four hours to the furthest and most remote confines of Tanzania, followed by an epic two-hour lake cruise in a dhow, braving the somewhat angry waters of Lake Tanganyika.
Throughout the trip, I remained hypnotised by the alluring and incomprehensible vastness of Congo’s lowlands that extended to the west. And when we eventually reached the white beaches of Greystoke-Mahale, I could not unlock my gaze from the verdant and looming peaks that towered behind the lodge. We had finally arrived, and I have to confess that, not only did I feel a bit like Jane Goodall, I also felt a bit like Tarzan’s Jane!
The staff at Greystoke were wonderful, I felt welcome and comfortable from the moment that I walked into the lodge! I shall also always be thankful to them for introducing me to the delicious Ndovu Beer, which is now my favourite beer in Africa.
Anyone landing at Greystoke is bound to become enamoured with every nook and cranny of this lodge. The lofty main banda, which is visible from the lake, provides a charming and relaxing ambience in which to read or just hang out and chat with other guests.
Everywhere that you stumble across seems cleverly considered and skillfully designed to best take in the beauty and serenity of Lake Tanganyika.
Each room is a love affair, spiced with exquisite décor! And each room is disguised from the next, tucked into the surrounding bush and at perfect distances from each other, which gives guests all the privacy that they deserve.
But chimp trekking is what this whole trip was about, and every chimp trek that we did was better than the previous one – whether that be thanks to learning something new or the addictive feeling that grew with each encounter.
I have trekked with gorillas before in Uganda and, as magnificent as the experience was, I have to say that tracking chimpanzees is in a league of its own. When it comes to gorillas, you know the drill – you find them and then stay put wherever they are, watching them and the odd movements that may happen, from playful youngsters darting about, to the general allogrooming and social interactions that keep troops cohesive. Chimps, on the other hand, tend to always be on the move. And boy, do they move! Trees and hills are conquered with equal ease and consideration, and they move like black phantoms. They are not the easiest primates to keep up with, but this is where the skills and instincts of Greystoke’s trackers kick in, and they amazingly keep you on track every time you set off after them. Being fit helps, but the thrill of the tracking experience is the perfect prelude to the feeling that will overcome anyone when they first make contact with these chimps.
I also noticed another key difference to my previous gorilla experiences. Chimps are ‘all over the show’ compared to gorillas, which are generally quite merry and calm. Chimp troops, on the other hand, are more likely to be divided into sub-units with several still up in the canopy, while others swing in the mid-storey, and the remainder interact with each other and their babies at ground level. However, on sunny days, when light beams pierce through the forest leaves, it was quite common to find the entire group down below, stretched out and enjoying the warm rays of the sun, or engaged in some serious grooming sessions. Needless to say, these all make for the most perfect photographic opportunities.
Whilst framing them in my viewfinder, I could not help feeling a bit jealous. I thought to myself that I could definitely use a bit of that grooming as it looked very relaxing. I felt a bit like I was photographing a chimp spa! Comparatively, it was rather funny to observe how edgy and grumpy that they were on a misty morning after a night of rain.
This was one of the most intense experiences that I have ever had in the forests of Africa, and it is in no small measure thanks to Africa Geographic Travel, as well as Mahale’s Mountains, the incredible lodge and the amazing guides at Greystoke. I shall never forget their patience, and innate ability to track the chimps, and also how we laughed when they discovered my ability to imitate their contact calls. When they asked how I did it, I replied: ‘I have learned from the best.’
Back at home, when I close my eyes and think back, I can vividly remember the chimps’ chestnut brown eyes, their fascinating gazes and their intense stares.
But no one ever forgets the power of a pant-hoot. Hearing the noises that they make carried a very special significance for me, as these were the sounds that Jane Goodall played as an overture to her presentations, and were the same cries that triggered my curiosity and yearning to experience chimp tracking in Africa. Needless to say, my dream has come true.
Africa Geographic Travel got everything right. Starting with the suggestion of this wonderful place, all the information that they provided, their patience, and the swiftness with which they replied to all of my queries. Even the arrangement of my rather complicated flight schedule was done splendidly, and all flight connections worked like clockwork. Throughout the trip, I had no surprises or changes to my itinerary, and I felt well looked after at all times so that I could relax and enjoy a most magical time.”
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