It’s been just under four years since I undertook the JbD Brochure’s September Experience and went chimp trekking at Mahale in western Tanzania. I wrote a blog about my trip shortly after I returned – feel free to have a read for a more detailed recollection. This time, while most of what I have to say is once again about trekking, I just wanted to say that Greystoke Mahale is not just about its chimpanzees, however wonderful they are. The whole place is magical.
Set up by Roland Purcell in the 1980s on the Lake shores of Tanyayika, who purposefully built it to blow minds, Greystoke Mahale was and still is only accessible by boat on Lake Tanganyika. The tents are known as ‘bandas’ and are all open, built into little nooks in the forest. The entire camp is made out of repurposed materials. Every piece of each building has been sourced from the lake and its surroundings – it is incredible. This unique property, full of character and charm, is the epitome of stripped-back luxury.
Of course, there was no way I was coming to Mahale without spending time with its chimpanzees. November means more rain, less food, and so the chimps tend to range further. However, it’s still highly rewarding as many gather in the lower reaches and are reasonably easily accessed. As before, I was initially worried about being able to cope with the five-hour-long trek. However, as soon as I stepped into the forest, my adrenaline and sheer excitement took over. All my worries were pushed aside and I was completely captivated by the entire experience. The scouts had gone out in the early morning to locate the chimps and then lead us to them.
Lots happened on the trek (too much to share here), but my lasting memory is of a chimp pushing my leg to pass by. I had initially thought it was one of the guests in my group trying to move me to get a better photograph. So fleeting, it was both the surprise and the indescribable uniqueness of the moment that makes it so strong a memory. Indeed, the whole trek was extraordinary. The interactions and atmosphere of it all was enamoring. And the guides were a big part of what made the experience unforgettable; they know every single chimp’s name, personality and history.
I am lucky enough to be able to be vividly reliving the experience as I write this blog. I can almost smell the evening campfires, remember dining barefoot and feel the sand between my feet. Absolute serenity and as described in Experience – it really is a latter-day Eden.