Tanzania Part II – Jane Goodall’s chimps

On Day 140, a Monday, we left Katavi for Kigoma, on the north-eastern shores of Lake Tanganyika near Burundi. It meant taking the terrible B8 again and being shaken about for hours. At least the last 80 km were tarred, a fantastic surprise. This road wasn’t even on the map and saved us an hour according to our GPS’s estimated arrival time.

For accommodation, we first tried our luck at two fancy hotels. But their prices were far beyond us. So, camping again. We drove to Jakobsen’s Beach and Guest House, which came highly recommended, and not without reason. The campsite, guest house and bungalows are on the shore of Lake Tanganyika. There were two beaches that made you feel that you were on a tropical island. Sandy beaches with crystal-clear water and good snorkelling.

 

On Tuesday, Hugo took Petronella to have her 10 000 km service, with the kind help of the owner of Jakobsen’s, Oddvar ̶ who recommended the mechanics ̶ and his wife Ingrid.

 

Oddvar told us that he had a problem with his Landcruiser a few months before. He took it to the Toyota dealers in town and they couldn’t find the fault. He then took the car to a few other places, including Nairobi; still no joy. When he brought it to these guys for something else and told the mechanic about it, he promised to find out what was wrong. He told Oddvar to drive up and down the streets, with the bonnet open ̶ and the mechanic balancing himself on the car to the side of the engine, listening and watching. He found the problem and fixed it in no time!

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While we were waiting for the car, we went to explore the nearby market. We were introduced to a local favourite street food, chips mayai. A chips omelette. Or french fries in egg. Gustav and Hugo enjoyed it, but Sophia and I preferred the chips with tomato sauce. Although the sauce looked as though it might be radioactive. As far as utensils go, we had to use toothpicks…

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Wednesday, 15 July, saw us up and about at five in the morning. We had to be ready and at the beach at six to take a boat to Gombe Stream National Park. Just so you know, since December 2014 we’ve been on GMT+2. Tanzania and Kenya are on GMT+3, which meant that we got up at FOUR (!!) to meet the boat at FIVE! When the boat left the beach, it was still pitch dark. As it is at five the morning in most places in the world. Just so you know, we were on time!

We shared the boat with eight other adults and our two monkeys. The boat ride took almost three hours; even the lake taxi/ferry passed us. Plus our boat leaked. [Ed: That’s reassuring.] At least no one got seasick on the smooth lake.

Gombe Stream National Park

An excited whoop erupts from deep in the forest, boosted immediately by a dozen other voices, rising in volume and tempo and pitch to a frenzied shrieking crescendo. It is the famous “pant-hoot” call: a bonding ritual that allows the participants to identify each other through their individual vocal stylisations. To the human listener, walking through the ancient forests of Gombe Stream, this spine-chilling outburst is also an indicator of imminent visual contact with man’s closest genetic relative: the chimpanzee.

Gombe is the smallest of Tanzania’s national parks: a fragile strip of chimpanzee habitat straddling the steep slopes and river valleys that hem in the sandy northern shore of Lake Tanganyika. Its chimpanzees – habituated to human visitors – were made famous by the pioneering work of Jane Goodall, who in 1960 founded a behavioural research programme that now stands as the longest-running study of its kind in the world. The matriarch Fifi, the last surviving member of the original community who was only three years old when Goodall first set foot in Gombe, is still regularly seen by visitors.

Chimpanzees share about 98% of their genes with humans, and no scientific expertise is required to distinguish between the individual repertoires of pants, hoots and screams that define the celebrities, the powerbrokers, and the supporting characters. Perhaps you will see a flicker of understanding when you look into a chimp’s eyes, assessing you in return ̶ a look of apparent recognition across the narrowest of species barriers.
The most visible of Gombe’s other mammals are also primates. A troop of beachcomber olive baboons, under study since the 1960s, is exceptionally habituated, while red-tailed and red colobus monkeys ̶ the latter regularly hunted by chimps – stick to the forest canopy.

The park’s 200-odd bird species range from the iconic fish eagle to the jewel-like Peter’s twinspots that hop tamely around the visitors’ centre.

After dusk, a dazzling night sky is complemented by the lanterns of hundreds of small wooden boats, bobbing on the lake like a sprawling city.

About Gombe Stream National Park
Size: 52 km2 (20 miles2), Tanzania’s smallest park. Location: 16 km (10 miles) north of Kigoma on the shore of Lake Tanganyika in western Tanzania.

̶ Source: www.tanzaniaparks.com

Gombe Stream National Park is located in western Kigoma Region, Tanzania, 10 miles (20 km) north of Kigoma, the capital of Kigoma Region. Established in 1968, Gombe is the smallest national park in Tanzania, with only 20 square miles (52 km2) of forest running along the hills of the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika. The terrain is distinguished by steep valleys, and the forest vegetation ranges from grassland to alpine bamboo to tropical rainforest.

Accessible only by boat, the park is most famous as the location where Jane Goodall pioneered her behavioural research conducted on the chimpanzee populations. The Kasakela chimpanzee community, featured in several books and documentaries, lives in Gombe Stream National Park.

Gombe Stream’s high levels of diversity make it an increasingly popular tourist destination. Besides chimpanzees, primates inhabiting Gombe Stream include beachcomber olive baboons, red-tailed monkeys and vervet monkeys. The park is also home to over 200 bird species and bushpigs. There are also 11 species of snakes, and occasional hippopotamus and leopards.

Visitors to the park can trek into the forest to view the chimpanzees, as well as swim and snorkel in Lake Tanganyika with almost 100 kinds of colourful cichlid fish.

̶ Source: Wikipedia

[Photos of the chimps to be added once I’ve sorted out the so-and-so laptop…]

Arriving at Gombe, we checked in, paid, and our guides were assigned. The rules allowed only six people per group, including the guide. As we were ten people, it would’ve meant that one couple would need to split up. Hugo and I decided to rather get our own guide, so we could come back when we wanted. The age limit to see the chimpanzees were 16, and we had to leave the children behind. The staff were obviously used to it and assured us they would take good care of the children. (We did know that beforehand.)

And so we set off, armed with lots of water and cameras. Hugo with the GoPro and me with my Canon. The hike up the mountain was not too bad. There was a clear footpath, and our guide often stopped to show us something of interest or tell us a story, which gave us (me!) time to catch our breath. We saw massive baboons and redtail and red colobus monkeys.

Our guide, Hussein, was in constant radio contact with the spotters, the guys who stay with the chimps throughout the day to keep track of where they are.

We were not on the track leading directly to them and had to cross a stream and climb and crawl through vegetation. The forest was beautiful: a typical rainforest, but with trees that had also been planted, like lemon, mango and banana trees.

We found the chimps sitting high up in the trees and we could barely see them. They were eating some kind of fruit and were dropping some, being too greedy, and it got kind of dangerous standing there. You never knew when one would land on you! After a while Hussein said that they would stay in the trees for a while longer before they would come down for the day, and that we should go look at a nearby waterfall.

Which we did. The waterfall is fed by a spring not far upstream and the water was clean and crystal clear. We drank handsful of water straight from the stream then headed back to the chimps.

When we reached the chimpanzees again, they were on the forest floor. It was a magical moment, which we had to share with way too many people. The rules stated that only one group of persons were allowed per group of habituated chimps, and for only a maximum of one hour. Due to the season, it was apparently hard to reach the other groups higher up in the mountain, so everyone watched the same group. For our boat, it meant thirteen plus the guides, another group of six, three or four trackers, PLUS a big group of researchers. It was a bit ridiculous, but it was obvious that at least the chimps were used to it. And because we were so many, we could stay longer than an hour, so everyone had enough time to take good photos.

I could have watched them for hours, especially the little ones. They reminded us of human children playing around and being silly. While frolicking around, one of them fell off a low branch and ran screaming to his mother. She held him for a while and then he came back to continue the mischief.

Having seen chimps in zoos before, we were surprised at the size of the adults. They are MUCH bigger in their natural habitat. I’m sure the fact that their diet in the wild is supplemented with dates, mangoes, bananas and so on also adds up. Especially the dominant adult males are massive; way bigger than the baboons, which also impressed us with their size. We got to see a power play between two male baboons and a chimp, and the baboons were running away long before the chimp could reach them.

All too soon our special time with the chimps ended and we headed back down the mountain. We found the children happily playing on their iPads. They haven’t missed us a bit, as they could play games to their hearts’ content. Little buggers, we told them to be sensible, but I guess children and chimps are very much alike. Sensibility doesn’t often come into play. For that matter, maybe we should throw men into this equation as well… Just kidding my love, just kidding!

The three-hour boat ride back was a nightmare. The wind came up and the surface of the lake became choppy and there was a visible swell. Our neighbour from the campsite got violently ill. It was the first time I’ve seen those words so accurately describe someone. Gustav and I also did not feel well ̶ I sat in front and kept my eyes on the distant horizon while Hugo tried to help Gustav. The wind was so bad that I was constantly wet. Once, a wave caught me full in my face, completely soaking me. At least the cold and my wet clothes helped take my mind off the horrible queasiness.

Many sailboats were on the lake to take advantage of the windy conditions. They were all handmade with wood and sails made from big flour sacks. Everywhere we looked were fishing boats with white sails.

We were all very happy to be back at “our” beach and on solid land. Even so, seeing the chimps was a fantastic experience and I will do it again. But next time I’ll make sure I take the motion sickness medication with me. Poor Sophia had “delayed” motion sickness that night in bed and made it outside just in time to vomit. She said her bed felt like the boat…

On Thursday we went to Ujiji ̶ the place where Stanley spoke his famous words: “Doctor Livingstone, I presume?”

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In 1867, Livingstone set off from Mikindani to spend the last six years of his life wandering between the great lakes, making notes on the slave trade and trying to settle the Nile debate. He believed the source of the Nile to be Lake Bangweulu (in northern Zambia), from which the mighty Lualaba River flowed.

In 1872, while recovering from illness at Ujiji, Livingstone was met by Henry Stanley and became the recipient of perhaps the most famous words ever spoken in Africa: “Dr Livingstone, I presume.”

Livingstone died near Lake Bangweulu in 1873. His heart was removed and buried by his porters, who then carried his cured body over 1,500km via Tabora to Bagamoyo, a voyage as remarkable as any undertaken by the European explorers.”

– Source: Tanzania Safari Guide by Bradt

Our guide at the museum was at least two hundred years old. In fact, he might even have met Livingstone in person. He was retired after many years at the museum and doing this job because he didn’t want to sit at home. I have a recording of him ̶ he obviously knew his spiel by heart after repeating it so many times, and zoned out while reciting it in a sing-song voice not even close to his normal way of speaking. It was hysterical and I couldn’t hear a word! I was concentrating too hard not too laugh and so insult the old gentleman.

We spent six glorious days at Jakobsen’s, again meeting many interesting people, as well as spending time with chimps, Livingstone and on the beach. We had the car serviced, had dirty laundry done and had the slow puncture on one of the tyres fixed. And then we sadly had to move on again.

We weren’t very far from Kigoma when Hugo realised our newly repaired tyre was still losing air. So we had to stop so he could change it. He had a big audience cheering him on! And no, I didn’t use a red filter to take the photos. The dust really is that colour and the texture of baby powder.

Our next stop was somewhere towards the border to Rwanda, but on our way there we first went to a Congolese refugee camp in Tanzania. We explained to the children that due to a war, they had to flee their houses, their land, their loved ones and their country. They left all their worldly possessions behind and are now living in a different country in tents where they’re dependant on donations. Gustav’s comment was that we also live in a tent… But I have to say though that he and Sophia were very sympathetic, especially towards the children.

Oddvar told us about a mission station about halfway to the border where we could overnight, but due to a misunderstanding we started looking for it 30 km before Kibondo instead of 30 km after. When we reached Kibondo without finding it, we went in search for alternative accommodation and were almost in tears at the town’s fanciest hotel. It was disgusting. I should’ve taken photos but were too upset. The bathroom in the biggest room was completely flooded ̶ I didn’t even ask what kind of water it was. I told Hugo I’d rather sleep in the car next to the road and he agreed.

We left the “hotel” and saw a car with another church’s stickers on its doors. The owner could explain clearly how to get to the Pentecostal Mission Station, and we finally reached it less than an hour later. After some language problems, the pastor showed up and welcomed us in perfect English. That night we slept safely behind massive walls with dogs and a night watchman.

Next stop: Kigali, Rwanda.

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