From the Serengeti to Lake Tanganyika
When I reached the little airport, I was loaded right away onto a waiting caravan (small, single engine plane) and we took off for Mahale Mountains National Park after a short wait on the runway while elephants crossed it.
The passengers, besides me, were a single man and a couple and we were all heading to the same place. There was a fuel stop that went on forever as the pilot communicated back and forth with her base until it was finally decided that the weather was too bad to make a stop to pick up crew for the camp so we headed directly to the lake. The landing strip at Lake Tanganyika was a tiny length of dirt that ended at the water but it was more than long enough for a caravan.
We were herded into an open terminal where we had to sign in. From here, our bags were loaded into a dhow type boat but motored, and we headed on a ninety-minute ride to the camp.
Hamza, our head guide, had met the plane and he would be accompanying us on all our outings.
The ride was beautiful. The water was incredible shades of blue and the jungle forest that covered the hills was very, very green. I really like boat rides and they were well stocked with Tusker lager.
All the staff came out to meet the boat at the camp and we met the New Zealand managers. They were supposed to have been off that day but the stop we missed in the plane was to pick up their replacements. They were pretty good-natured about it. It was to be his fortieth birthday in the coming days and he had friends and family coming from home, but everything was just shifted forward a few days.
It was very nice to be on a beach. I would only put footwear on for trips into the jungle for these next four days and it was lovely. I was taken to my hut (cabin, banda?) immediately after the welcome drink. It was a neat, post constructed, thatch covered, open fronted thing with a huge bed that sat in the front room. Behind this was a sitting/dressing area with desk and above was a loft that had couches and the perfect view. Along a short walkway behind was a separate room with sink and toilet and a shower. The shower was heated by a boiler that required a twenty-minute warm-up so it was usually requested by the guide via radio on our way in from a hike. There was an unlimited amount of water that came from the huge freshwater lake but the hot water was finite, though with just me, even with my hair, I didn’t run out.
We congregated in the big, common hut soon afterwards to get a lecture on life at the camp. This was about when meals were and we were told about the separate bar area that was up a stairway and had a couple of decks that overlooked the lake. Very pretty, especially at sunset. There was an option of having a private, romantic dinner served on one of the decks but being on my own, I didn’t opt for it though the other couples did.
We had to be escorted to our bandas after supper by one of the security guards who were dressed in long jackets and wide brimmed hats. They looked like they walked out of a dark comic book, but they were happy in their work and one even sang for us one night.
We were not permitted to enter the forest without a guide and we were advised that swimming from the perfect, white, sandy beach was allowed after a waiver was signed but to be careful of crocodiles and a super venomous species of water cobra.
I swam every day. The water was silky-soft and crystal clear and schools of bright, little fishes flitted around in the shallows.
I was the only one of the guests who swam from the beach. The crocodiles didn’t like the boats in the little bay and besides; they would be easy to spot in the clear, shallow water. And the cobra is a very shy creature plus it would be almost impossible for it to bite me with its backwards facing fangs.
There were also kayaks and snorkel gear but I didn’t take advantage.
That evening we would have a lecture from Hamza about the chimps and how to behave when we met them but in the meantime we had entertainment options. The couple jumped at the option to go boating and hippo searching and swimming in the deep without fear of creatures. I opted for a tour of the jungle with a young guide.
It was an interesting walk if you are interested in forests and trees and the uses that people and animals make of the (I am). I was shown the difference between a male and female palm seed and how oil could be pressed from one. And I also learned that the area around the bay had been a village once before it was turned into a park and the villagers were moved. This would explain why there were plant types in the area where the village was that weren’t indigenous to the area. This area had also been and still was a research station for a group of Chinese scientists that had been studying and habituating the chimps to humans for years and some of the trees had been planted just for chimp bait; palms, mangoes, and lemon among them.
We had a bit of a communication issue about some things like guava but he was a very good by-rote tour guide, saying a little spiel for each tree of interest and handing me bits of branches and leaves to smell and guess at the name of. Lemon and ginger and guavas and mangoes… Not a lot of fruit was ripe on any of the trees so the chimps had to go further afield and eat rougher stuff for food. They also ate the red colubus monkeys if they could catch them.
We saw golden baboons and red colubus and red tailed monkeys and red safari ants (which were neat if they don’t bite you). The trails were very rough and sometimes steep but they were all labeled if you could figure out where the label was. I love the woods and I’m at home in them even if they are jungle.
The weather here was generally nice but it was very humid and sometimes a shower would roll through. It made it difficult to dry clothes, which was a source of real irritation to one of the ladies but it was a nice change from the dusty dryness of the Serengeti.
Appetizers and drinks were served in the bar and we listened to the lecture on how to behave around the chimps. It was interesting; don’t point at the males, no flashes or even the camera lights allowed, stay on the same side of the trail if they are passing you, if you are charged, move to a tree and hug it, don’t drop anything and always wear a surgical mask when within thirty feet of them. That last was to prevent the spread of diseases that pass easily from human to chimp.
And always do as the park ranger, that accompanied every trip, told you to do. When a chimp or group was encountered, only one hour was permitted to spend with it and it was carefully timed. We would start our first hike the next morning after breakfast.
Supper was served in the open common hut much the same way as it was on the Serengeti, which makes sense because they were both Nomad camps. I spent some time in the common areas bar area (of course) getting to know the bartenders and servers so they were extremely attentive to me without neglecting anyone else. The managers ate with us at dinner and one of them would join us for lunch and breakfast.
A fire was built on the beach after dinner and we were encouraged to socialize around it. It was here that we learned that more guests were expected and would be arriving the next afternoon. They were on a private charter with their own guide and the managers were a bit bemused by the situation as the guide would have his own cabin and would be charged the same price as his employers.
I spent some time talking with the other single guest who was not actually a guest, but was there to repair and service the motors for all the boats. Very important in a water-access only camp.
His name was Gonzales and he was originally from Rwanda, had grown up in Montreal, lived in New York and Hong Kong where he met his wife and was now living in Dar es Salaam with her and running the only marine engine repair company in the country.
It was interesting how he was treated. He had the cabin next to mine and he ate with us, but wasn’t allowed to go on the chimp hunts. He was treated like staff by the managers (who called him Gonzo) and he was treated like a brother by the staff. He spoke Swahili perfectly as well as English and French and whatever he grew up with in Rwanda. The other couple ignored him, but they ignored me too.
I got my escort to my banda and had him turn out the lamp that was set on the front deck. I declined to have the canvas curtains at the front pulled preferring just the security of my mosquito netting, which had been drawn for me. The night was not quiet and I spent my usual one to three awakedness listening to baboons screaming and bush pigs squealing but it was nice. Dawn was a bit odd as the mountain was to the east of us and the light came fairly late.
Coffee and hot water for washing were brought at an hour that was designated the night before and I was waiting in the morning darkness on one of the deck chairs when it was brought to me. I drank my first cup watching the colours creep out of the darkness and listening to the baboons and the palm nut vultures above me and then I took my second cup inside to wash and dress for the mornings hike.
The brochure advised guests to pack forest coloured clothing with full sleeves and pants. I happily happened to have some hiking clothing of the required colours that I used just a bit ago to climb a little mountain. A hat was not required as the sun could not get through the forest canopy and that was so nice. I do burn easily and it’s nice not to have to think about that.
Breakfast in the common hut was buffet fruit and cereal and hot stuff could be ordered. I ate fruit and toast and drank more coffee, which was really good. The other couple arrived late and were dressed very expensively in perfectly tailored, forest coloured clothing.
We were told to be ready to hike after breakfast but the trackers were having some trouble finding the chimps that morning and we waited while they continued their search, communicating with Hamza by radio, though he had to go out on the boat once to get reception.
By ten, there was still no sign of the chimps and Hamza asked if we wanted to wait or if we wanted to walk up the mountain a bit to see if we could help find them and at least we would be closer when they were found. We all decided to go and everyone was encouraged to grab a wooden walking stick but I used one of the telescoping aluminum ones from the Kili climb.
We headed into the forest under the canopy, along the trails that I had travelled the day before. The couple were a bit shocked that the trail was so rough and steep and the lady complained of a weak ankle. I think they were expecting nice paved trails with handrails if not an escalator.
We were accompanied by Raymond, the park ranger, who had to be with anyone who went beyond the trails immediately around the camp. Hamza chaffed a bit at that restriction, as he was very interested in the forest and would have liked a free hand to explore it at his leisure. Hamza took the time to explain things as he went and he was extremely knowledgeable and very interested in the forest and its inhabitants. He had a great camaraderie with Raymond and it seemed that they had known each other for several years.
The red safari ants are very dangerous and we were cautioned to be aware of where we stepped. They moved constantly and swarmed anything in their path and it is said that they could kill an elephant. They are tiny but legion and when they swarm up a leg, they will bite in unison. Hamza said that if they ever move through a house, the only thing to be done is to leave until they are gone, but there wouldn’t be any living thing left in it once they were gone. The good thing is that they do keep moving.
The dung beetle was a neat and fortuitous find since I had a request from my dive buddies to bring back a picture of one. He was a brilliant, bright green and was determinedly trying to get a ball of bush pig poo up a little rise to entice the love of a female. I called him Sisyphus.
The going was slow and there were still no sightings by the trackers or us. After an hour and a half and it was decided that we would wait for a while on the convergence of several main trails to see if they would be found. We waited for a half an hour or so and Raymond and Hamza entertained me by calling a bird to us with four soft notes. A small plain bird that flitted in and away very quickly as soon as it realized that it had been duped.
It was eventually decided that the couple, who were getting cranky and complaining and wanting to call it a day, would be sent back down to the camp with a guide who would come up the mountain to meet us. They could come back up by the shortest, easiest route if the chimps were found. Hamza and Raymond would continue to search and they asked if I wanted to join them. Yes. Emphatically yes.
Finally we were moving down a trail quickly and blessedly quietly. The couple talked incessantly. The three of us would end up spending a lot of time in the forest together and we were all very comfortable and adept at moving through it. Hamza went first, then me then Raymond. We had passed through a couple of streams and gullies and climbed a ridge and slid down another and we covered more ground in half an hour than we did in the morning hike. We had rounded a bend in the trail when we came across a mama chimp and her baby sleeping in a tree with an adolescent female in another close by.
The chimps in this group of about sixty were carefully studied and they were all given names after they reached their second year. The guides could recognise every one of them. We all donned our masks and I took what pictures I could but they were up a tree amongst the foliage so the pics weren’t great but it was cool to be around them.
The baby was wide-awake and curious and the mum was tired. It was a very recognizable scene having done the mum thing myself. Hamza called the other guide and the couple were turned back towards us. My hour with the chimps didn’t start until the other people showed up so I got to spend a lot of time with them.
They finally got there with their very expensive cameras and huge lens and I deferred the best viewing positions to them since I had already had lots of ogle and pic taking time. At the end of the hour the mum and babe came down the tree a bit and I got a couple of nice pictures and then we moved back towards camp. Slowly and noisily.
As we got to the section of trail that was close to the camp, Hamza asked about afternoon activity preferences. We each had one fishing licence and Hamza tried to convince the couple that we should all go out together and pool the licenses so we could fish every day but the lady was adamant that she and her husband would go alone together and it was funny listening to Hamza try to convince her that it was best to share.
When someone finally thought to ask me what I would prefer, I said that I would be happy to go fishing on whatever day they were not going fishing. She looked insulted at that. Funny people, but they got first dibs on the boat and it was decided that they would go out that afternoon and I would go the following day.
Lunch was a cold buffet and there was pizza that first day and salad and fruit. The wife half of the manager couple joined us and fretted a bit about the new guests that would be arriving that afternoon. Apparently they were vegetarian and lactose intolerant and couldn’t do glutens either. They were also allergic to nuts and that wasn’t the end of the list. Fortunately I didn’t have to suffer from their real or imagined food issues.
In the afternoons all were to meet in the common hut to see about afternoon activities. I had none planned but I had had a nice swim and was reading up on the chimp and other fauna information that was kept here. Some of it was quite well done. The chimps were all pictured and named with what information was available as to age and parentage and habits. The lake fish were identified and pictured too, which was nice because they were mostly unique to the lake.
Birds were less so and Hamza and I had a discussion about whether the palm nut vulture really was a vegetarian though that was kinda made moot after one tried to snatch a fish that I caught later. There was nothing on trees or plant life, which was disappointing considering the quantity and history and medicinal qualities of the trees and plants that I learned from Hamza and Raymond. I told Hamza that he had some work to do in that regard.
The couple were supposed to meet Hamza and Raymond (he had to come along as the park ranger to see that no fish were actually kept) for their fishing trip at three but by four they still had not shown up and Hamza asked the manager to go see if they were coming. It turned out that they decided not to go and also not to tell anyone, but that gave me an opportunity to go that afternoon that I jumped at. I had to run and grab sunscreen and camera but I was on the boat within ten minutes.
I had never used a hand line before and it had to be explained to me even though it was very basic. I had a bit of problem when the first fish hit my line because I had just generously sunscreened myself and the line kept slipping through my fingers. Hamza had to help and so the first yellowbelly was a communal effort. There was no fight at all to these fish. I would bring in five of them and because Raymond liked me (though he liked everyone), he let me keep them all.
I had one hard hit on the light line that snapped it immediately and we suspected that it was a giant Nile perch as they were known to live in that cove but we were busy looking at Nile crocodiles at the time. There were four of them on the beach that we managed to sneak up on, to the boat crews delight. Apparently they were very shy and sure enough, as soon as they noticed us they shuffled into the water and disappeared.
A bit further along this stretch of shoreline was a lovely little beach that Hamza said was the spot that the camp usually brought people to snorkel since it had a very pretty bunch of fishes that lived along the rocks. That was until it was discovered on a very exciting swim that the crocodiles also lived along the rocks. No one was hurt on that day but Hamza said that there was a lot of screaming.
We did a side trip into a river mouth-these were very shallow hulled boats-to see if the resident hippos were there. The boat driver grumbled a bit about this since the area was rampant with tsetse flies and they were bad, but bugs don’t find me very attractive so I wasn’t bothered much. We did see tracks of hippos and fish nests and a mangrove kingfisher. I like kingfishers.
A fish or two later, we came across three hippos in the water; a mother and babe that we clearly saw walking along the bottom of the lake underneath the boat and a male that breached, snorting loudly just behind the boat. It was a very good afternoon on the water.
Hamza called for my hot water as we got back to the camp and I was asked to say that I had caught five fish and was allowed to keep two. That way the staff would eat fish that night. I was good with that.
After my shower, and it was a very nice shower with lots of pressure and a huge showerhead, I went to the bar. The chef had made sashimi out of one of my yellowbellies, complete with chopsticks and soy sauce and wasabi. It was delicious and that’s not just the pride of the catch talking. It had no smell but a nice mild flavour and a great silky texture. Gonzales had never eaten sushi before and didn’t want to try but was cajoled by the managers into trying some and he loved it.
The deck, where we watched the sun set over the Democratic Republic of Congo on the other side of the lake, was constructed of wood that had been reclaimed from some of the lake boats. The railing of the deck was an engraved name board of a boat which read: ‘Myenyi fotina hakosi sababu’ or close to that, which Gonzales translated as meaning ‘a jealous husband usually has a good reason to be’.
The new guests had arrived while I was fishing and they were getting their chimp briefing while we were appetizing and so I met them at supper. It took me a bit to realize that this was the same older American couple that I had thought was accompanied by their son in the Serengeti but it was actually their South African guide. The other couple immediately closed social ranks with them with a certain amount of relief and they were happy enough to include the good-looking white, South African guide in their circle.
I was happy to talk to Gonzales and the waiters and left for the fire right after dessert. I should mention that my fish was served for supper and they cooked it ginger which was interesting. I didn’t stay long at the fire as I had had a busy day and I was tired so I called for my escort and went to bed.
That night was quiet and I spent my awake hours listening to a munch munch munch noise that never came within sight of where I was sitting on the deck.
The next morning was a bit damp with the threat of more rain and after breakfast, there was no word of any chimp sightings. By ten, it was decided that the guests would wait at the camp while the guides went out to help the trackers. I was invited along and it was heavenly walking up and down the rough trails, listening to the birds and occasionally an explanation of a tree or a bug or a monkey.
We were all provided with rain ponchos, which were hooded things that reached the ground, but I refused mine as I couldn’t move through the dense forest wearing a tent. When I told Hamza that I had a rain jacket, but it was bright blue and the camp info said that I had to wear forest colours, he laughed and said that the chimps didn’t care about colour and to wear it. I got some disdainful looks from my fellow guests when I showed up in my neon blue jacket but I ignored them.
After an hour Hamza was called to say that a male named Bonobo had been sighted and we headed off to meet the trackers that were watching him. We were a fair ways away and had many a gulch and gully to traverse before we got close to the stream that was our destination. At one point, we went down a steep slope that consisted of slick red mud and we all ended up sliding and slipping on our way down that and we ended up with the sticky mud all over our boots which made the next part of our hike even more treacherous.
We came to the stream after that and had to leave what trail there was to get upstream crossing on rocks that wobbled and were slick with running water and moss. I had to stop and wash my boots off because the muddy soles were going to kill me and even after that, there was much tree hugging and helping hands by all three of us.
We finally reached the trackers and Bonobo who was so far up a tree that Raymond decided we didn’t need our masks. They were a bit suffocating in the humidity. There was some discussion amongst the guides and trackers about how best and easiest to get the rest of the guests to the site and it was decided to boat them to a point directly down from the area and slowly walk them up the easiest trails. I had a long wait with the trackers and the guides and Bonobo before they got there.
The chimp ate and rested and called out a few times and I was told that he was a contender in the pack leader race for the group that had been opened with the murder of the former leader by the pack the month before. After a while Bonobo came down the tree and brushed right past me after crossing the river on rocks, to climb a tree right beside me.
I’m a bit pleased that the picture that I took of him is only a bit blurry because he was a big boy and he didn’t look like he had much of a sense of humour. Bonobo sat up this tree and Raymond got a lesson in don’t-sit-under-the-primate when he got shat upon. Then he started to move through the treetops down river and we followed.
The going was rough and we had to cross and recross the little, fast-moving stream over super slick and wobbly rocks but none of us went in or over, unlike the other guests who had to follow us or miss the chimps.
I could hear them coming for a long ways away; the brook wasn’t the only thing that babbled incessantly. It was funny watching them trying to cross the water as it gave me a picture of the time I had of it. The trackers had to form a human bridge at one point but the older couple, though less mobile than they might have liked, were determined to see it all regardless of the effort. They weren’t bad sorts at all.
We were all rewarded with an encounter with a dozen more chimps; mums, babes and other males that were quite close and made good pictures. I had spent an hour and a half with Bonobo and Hamza had given me a rundown of the group in that time with occasion corrections and arguments from Raymond. The blog on the Greystoke Mahale website is pretty good although Hamza disagreed with some of the chimp bits.
The hour started with the arrival of the the rest of the group and when it ended, they were to make their way back down to the shore and the waiting boat. Hamza, Raymond and I decided to walk back. I liked being told about the plant life, learning what I could learn and tasting what I could taste. We used my water to wash off a low-growing lily pad-like thing and we chewed on that but I was warned not to swallow; it was just for moisture. Others like ginger and wild lemons and a hard sour berry that was a bit like a tiny crab apple were okay to eat.
We made it back to camp in good time although we took our time and I had had lunch before the others made it back. The weather was windy and threatening rain so there would be no fishing or boating that day so I was offered a forest walk in the other direction that afternoon which I happily agreed to. I swam and read until the appointed hour and decided for less clothing-shorts, tank and my ballet like running shoes-over raingear.
We did get wet, but it was a nice, warm wet and the forest was beautiful. We went to a site that had leavings of the village that used to be there until they were relocated with the creation of the national park. There were pots that had different purposes and grinding stones that Hamza said could have come out of his grandmother’s house. Grandma was large in the plant lore that I learned that day.
We ran across a huge swath of red safari ants that I was advised to run across making contact with the ground for as short a time as possible. I was okay since I wasn’t encumbered by boots and raingear but the other two had numerous bites each. I was bit on the way back since we were upon them before we saw them but only once or twice.
One of these ants have a strong bite; so strong that they can be used as sutures in an emergency by allowing the ant to bite across a cut and then twisting its head off. It will stay for days apparently. I have to confess that I’m sure if these were the same species of ants or different but they were in the same area.
I had hot water waiting for me when I got back thanks to a timely radio call and realized, after fingering my laundry from the day before ,that my clothes weren’t going to dry so they were relegated to wet and dirty piles. Clean and dry, it was time for the bar and the appetizers which were always good. Fried coconut was especially tasty and the sunsets were consistently spectacular.
Dinner that night was pork which I declined only to be immediately offered chicken. There is some benefit to having fellow guests with outrageous food preferences. I was the only one at the fire that night until Gonzales joined me. He was pleasant company and I amused him with my horrific French for a bit. He wasn’t required to wait for an escort to his banda which was right beside mine (all the other guests were on the other side of the common hut) so I asked him to escort me to mine which he was happy to do.
I had always asked the official escort to take away the lantern that was lit on my deck but not having one that night, I was stuck with it. Probably just as well as there were distinct leopard tracks in the sand outside my door in the morning.
Each banda had a cast iron bowl at the bottom of the few steps that led up to it and it was to be used to rinse the sand off ones feet. It was also used as a water bowl by animals and the leopard partook of it that night. She also got into the camp kitchen and rummaged around. It didn’t happen while I was awake unfortunately.
The boat. There was a German steamboat from the war that was used as a ferry. It made a noisy and dirty passage across our little piece of the lake.
The morning worked out as to the official plan in that the chimps were sighted by the end of breakfast and we were to leave on a boat in one group to get to a spot that was within easy walking distance. It was a bit disturbing having all those people around me after having spent the previous days with just the guides. It seemed that they never stopped talking and they walked very slowly but they did seem to be enjoying themselves.
The trackers made a call just as we set out and we only took the boat as far as the research camp just to the north because the chimps were moving towards us. The camp had an adorable resident herd of warthogs which sidelined us for a bit but we were off and up the trails only a relatively short distance before we came across the mother lode of chimpanzees. They were everywhere; up trees, sleeping on the ground, walking along the trails, mothers, babies and the contenders for the empty primate throne.
It was odd being so close to them and being ignored. They groomed and ate and nursed and had sex (quite regularly for about ten seconds a time) with no regard for us watching in slightly apprehensive fascination. They wouldn’t move aside for us; we had to get off the trail and if one of us were sitting where they wanted to pass through, they would just walk over us.
It was an entertaining hour as a new guide who was incredibly knowledgeable and quite charismatic had joined us and he attached a personality to each of the chimps as he explained who they were and where they fit in the group and you could see the chimp acting the way he said they would.
Because we found the group early, at the end of our hour, Hamza asked everyone if anyone wanted to take a trip to the top of Mahale Mountain. It would be very rough, very steep and it would take several hours. Surprisingly, no one but me wanted to go. I was a bit concerned that someone else might want to come but Hamza made it seem as unappealing as he could without being discourteous.
We didn’t actually go to the peak; that would have taken about six more hours. Raymond and Hamza had done it several times before and it had to be an overnight trip, which obviously wouldn’t have worked for me. We saw more chimps on our way up, one of which was sitting in the middle of a trail and we had to walk around him. On mask, off mask, on mask, off mask.
We did climb seriously for two hours to reach a ridge that provided a gorgeous view of the camp and the lake and the swamp that was inland which I couldn’t convince either one of them to take me to. I did want to see a python and I figured that finding one for me was the least they could do. But even after promising that I would do all I could to get the snake to release them after I had gotten my pictures, they still said no.
It was funny that we had that conversation on the mountain top because on the way down, which was by a different route and these trails both up and down were barely navigable, they were so overgrown, Hamza and I both just missed being bitten by a young spitting cobra that lunged at the space left between his retreating foot and my advancing one. We both jumped, him forward, me back and it took a while before we decided that it was safe to pass through the narrow place where it had disappeared into the rocks. Raymond and I did it very quickly but we didn’t see the snake again.
I told Hamza, after our adrenaline had subsided some, that if he was a really conscientious guide, he would have walked a bit slower and let the snake bite his boot for a bit so I could take a picture. I shouldn’t have teased because he was quite shaken up by that. I was less so, mostly because I was protected by both hiking boots and gators that day and besides, that kind of weird stuff just makes me happy.
We got back at three and I spent the afternoon swimming and reading because everyone else was out on the boats. Dinner that night was out on the beach and the guides had to attend. Kiri (the female manager) was seated at the end of the table with Hamza and Gonzales and me but she did a good job at talking and listening up the table so as to make the whole thing more inclusive.
I spent most of the evening in a conversation about Rwanda and the gorillas, which we all wanted to see but none had, and the genocide and Romeo Dallaire. And about things in general.
Gonzales had finished his work that evening and had to leave with the rest of us the next morning though we would all be on different boats with me leaving on the first one at first light. He had been told that if the chimps were close, he could go out with the trackers for an hour in the morning before he had to leave and he was excited about that.
Hamza asked me for a favour and after dinner he gave me a book that he had his guests sign and asked me to write in it with my email and also, he asked if I could exchange his small US bills for large ones and I could. So I spent some time that evening trying to come up with something nice but noncommittal to say in his big book of tourists and I think I did okay.
He also told me that if I wanted to see the mongooses which he said were making the crunch crunch crunch noise outside my hut, that I had to jack light them but I didn’t hear them at all that night. Go figure.
I was awake early and had coffee delivered shortly afterwards. I had requested a shower that morning so the boiler was chuffing away out back as I drank my first cup. I had found a scorpion next to the toilet the night before but the silly thing scuttled away before I could get a picture of it. There were no poisonous bugs that morning.
By 0730 I was at breakfast that had been set out for me, eating, drinking coffee and watching the rain clouds get closer and more ominous. I wonder that they might have thought that I was the guest least likely to complain and so I had drawn the short straw on the choice of transport to the airport that morning. I would be taken in the small, but fast, open boat.
Hamza met me and I gave him my big bills and used what he gave me in exchange, for tips. He was a bit shocked at the amount I gave him but I also included some for Raymond, which he promised to pass along and I hope he did. He did very much want to visit the gorillas in Rwanda after all, and that isn’t cheap.
I was happy when Gonzales raced by me on his way to see the chimps which were right at the camp.
When it appeared that rain was eminent, I was rushed from the table to the hastily loaded boat and was assured by the overly jovial manager that we would outrun the rain. We didn’t, but we were all equipped with rain ponchos and apparently none of us were so sweet that we melted after all.
The young guide that gave me my first tour of the forest escorted me on this trip. He was to meet the people coming in on my plane and bring them back to camp. They would be the temporary replacement managers. All white people, though in the Serengeti camp, the managers were local.
Cell service was available at the airport but only if you stood in the right spot, so all of us were crowded on this one small rise, texting and talking. My kids had run out of dog food and wondered what to do. I didn’t quite call them idiots.
After a long wait we saw the plane approaching by its landing light. It was a Cessna 206, which is a good plane, but small and noisy and I would spend the next five hours in it. I sat up front with the pilot who was a Canadian guy and wondered that he flew so high. The altitude was usually around 13000 feet for no terrain reason but the lack of headset made it impossible to ask while we were in the air and I forgot when we landed.
Our first stop was Ruaha and I finally saw baobab trees. The Serengeti and Mahale didn’t have any and I love those trees. There was a massive one that shaded the fuel tank at the airport and more in the distance with elephants and gazelles underneath. They are gnarly to touch and just absolutely cool.
There were elephants on the runway here as well and it was apparently a common occurrence since there was a truck dedicated to trying to chase them off. We picked up three passengers here and took off for Mkumi Park to get more people. The poor little plane was hugely overloaded after the next pick up of people and luggage and the stall warning was wailing away whenever we took off and climbed but I had seen much worse and we finally made it to Zanzibar.