Set on the gin-clear waters of the magnificent Lake Tanganyika, the jungle-chic lodge of Graystoke Mahale is where you can embark on a legendary journey to meet the Chimpanzees in their leafy nirvana. At the lakeshore, on the white beach is where Greystoke opens its arms to guests, who arrive by dhow. The second deepest lake in the world, Lake Tanganyika is over 670km in length, over 60km wide and over 1500 meters deep, and borders 4 countries – Tanzania, Congo, Zambia & Malawi. The water is crystal clear and hosts around 400 species of cichlids fish and is home to hippos and crocodiles – the Nile crocodile & the slender snouted Crocodile which is endemic to the lake.
As we made our way around the bay, Greystoke Camp showed its self with the beautiful sun shining down on it like a little piece of paradise in the middle of nowhere, with staff waiting with arms waving, I knew this was going to be a special trip.
After our briefing on our first evening at the sundowner bar about what our plan of action, I couldn’t wait to get out there to see these incredible creatures. Mwgia our very experienced guide who had been at Greystoke for over 22 years, explained how that they would head out early the next morning to track the direction of the chimps, and then we would follow.
In the morning we kitted up and awaited word from the scouts that the chimps had been located. Once the call came through, we headed off with a National Park’s ranger and our guide, Mwiga, and proceeded on the what was supposed to be a 3-hour hike to gaze upon these creatures. Within 45 minutes of our walk we heard an alarm call, and Mwiga set off in the direction of the call, which wasn’t too far from us, and within minutes we were all headed into the thicket of the forest, following the ranger as he pushed branches and leaves out the way so we could get a clear path to the chimps. We couldn’t believe our eyes! Before us stood Nkombo, the oldest chimp in that family, born in 1970, and Ua, a very shy female with her two young, Upepo (born 2011) & Uai (born 2017). We watched as Nkombo grew tired while feeding and then suddenly started making a nest for a quick nap. It was an incredible experience to see beautiful creature just lying there, at peace gazing upon me! It was truly magical.
We ventured out again the next day, on a very difficult hike, which became more and more challenging and we needed to split our group and continue without a few of our party. I was determined to see the chimps one last time! After what seemed like hours, we finally caught up to Ako (born in 1981), and her daughters, Asahi (born in 2011) and her youngest daughter only 2 months old who has not been named yet. Chimps are only given names after reaching the age of 3 as their survival rate is only about 50%. The first thing I noticed was how relaxed Ako was around us. We got to sit with her in complete silence while they went about their own business, feeding on figs. It was incredible to watch as they would only pick the ripe fruit from the tree and when they were done picking all the ripe fruit from that tree, they would move to the next tree.
There was a moment when Asahi had climbed onto a much thinner tree which could not hold her weight, so she hung tight as the tree bent towards the ground. It was so funny to watch, as chimps don’t jump from tree to tree like monkeys do. I had to pinch myself to make sure this incredible experience with an animal I have never seen before this trip, was real. That evening we all sat around the fire, sipping wine and reminiscing about our magical time at Greystoke Mahale.