Remote Tanzania: Katavi and Mahale National Parks
The small Cessna Caravan took off from the bush airstrip climbing over the Katavi plains. As we gained altitude, the features we had just explored looking for lion and leopard, and watching hippos, crocs, and elephants, took on a different beauty. The drying river course stretched across the plains, a bold black line against the yellowing grass. Hippo trails and other game paths that led to waterholes looked like the cracks leading from where a stone has hit a pane of glass. The herds of buffalo turned into black dots and giraffe cast long shadows in the grass. The different vegetation zones painted different colors and we tried to retrace where we’d walked from the air. We’d had a good four nights of special game viewing in a park that felt wild and isolated. One night we’d spent in tiny mosquito nets watching the stars. It had been the only night in the past months that it had rained. The plane lifted higher and soon we were flying over miombo woodlands heading towards the Mahale Mountains that dive steeply into the worlds second deepest lake.
The plane ride was short and soon we were descending over the peaks of the mountain to a small airstrip on the edge of the lake. The steep mountains added to the anxious anticipation of seeing chimpanzee, and there were only a few mutterings for the boat journey along the edge of the lake to the little cove where Greystoke camp hides.
Barbecued chicken kebabs, sweet potato chips with guacamole and fresh fruit satisfied our stomachs, but everyone’s real hunger was to see the chimps. We were barely given time to put our bags down before one of the guides came to tell us that the chimps were close by and we must hurry. We hurried off as a big group, not worrying to split into different fitness levels, everyone excited, and also hoping it wouldn’t be too far for the sake of one of the group who had sprained her ankle.
We saw the chimps and everyone was happy, and over the three days we were there saw them a total of four times. The last afternoon though was probably the most rewarding. The trackers had not been able to find the chimps in the morning and Nicol and I set off on a walk with one of the camp guides, content to enjoy the forest, trying to photograph the beautiful butterflies and get some exercise. Deep down we hoped to bump into the chimps and we climbed high to where we might be able to hear them call to each other. The radio crackled to life; “The chimps are close to camp, and heading for camp”.
“Camp was at least an hour away but if we ran…?” We ran and in 20 minutes made it down the hill to camp. We got our exercise and arrived as the 5:30 golden light was shining through the autumn colored leaves. The males from the troop wandered down the path in single file towards us. It was the perfect moment and we followed and watched as they stopped to rest, lying in the path, while we listened to their quiet mutterings wishing we could understand.