After dinner I took a shave and a nice hot shower. You have to tell the staff twenty minutes before you want to take a hot shower. They then turn on the boiler outside your hut. I slept so well. Curled into my nice big bed, went under the covers and fell asleep listening to the waves from Lake Tanganyika. The air was nice and crisp but not too cool, just right. After experiencing the “Africa Hot” of Katavi, The difference was so comforting.
At 6:30 I was woken up and delivered my coffee. Sat looking out at Lake Tanganyika as I contemplated what I will experience today. Will today’s memories last me the rest of my life? I hope so. After coffee got dressed wearing long pants, long sleeve shirt and tucked my pants in my socks.
We are meeting for breakfast at 7:30 to await our call from the trackers. Hope the call comes early.
We had just finished breakfast and my fourth cup of Tanzanian coffee when the call came from the trackers. My porters name was Sullimon. I gave him my camera bag with my two cameras and lenses. I picked up a walking stick. We all boarded the old boat for a short ride down the coast. Everyone disembarked on a small sandy beach. The head guide led the way with a machete. We walked through a thick and tangled jungle with vines and thorns everyone. The head guide led the way and we were walking in a single line. The head guide cut numerous vines and told us to always look at the ground when walking. Lots of long roots were growing and it would be easy to trip and fall. That’s exactly what I did. Took a fall with one of my cameras Fortunately no scrapes and bruises and the camera was not damaged. Our surgical mask was attached to our ears and we would be told when to raise the mask over our mouth and nose. The jungle was like a steam bath. There were portions where the light was hitting the ground but much was in shadows. I started to sweat and the sweat started to drip down my arms and fingers. My shirt and pants had become totally drenched with my sweat. We then spotted one chimp in the distance. The group was moving and foraging for food. We followed them and came upon a group of them sitting around and enjoying themselves. The guides know the names of each Chimp. The Japanese research team gives them names and the guides know each chimps characteristic behaviors. We spotted a mother with her baby. Both had names. The guide told us that the baby acts like a gorilla and pounds his chest when eating. We saw a dominant male showing off his private parts to the others. Our group was broken up into smaller groups and we wandered around taking pictures of these awesome creatures. As I was taking pictures, I began to think where else can you go to get this type of experience? There are less than five places like this left in Africa and this is only one of two places where you can get this close. The sweat was dripping down my arms like a faucet, but I was determined to take as many shots as I could. Don’t forget, you are given one hour from the time you spot your first Chimp and then you must leave. The Chimps were walking right by us and one even brushed into me. We were told we had six minutes left and the exhaustion and sweat finally got to me. I stopped to drink some water. Our time was up.
We returned to the boat and the only two things I could think about was seeing some of these pictures on my laptop and taking a long cold shower. We had some refreshing drinks on the boat back and my mind kept on thinking about peeling these sweaty clothes off and the shower.
When we disembarked at the Camp, Fabio, the Camp manager, told us the water pump had broke and there was no running water yet. That’s part of staying in the Bush. He had sent someone to get a replacement.
I then walked back to my hut and found some monkeys in the hut looking around. I invited them to stay, but they took off. I have tried to make my hut monkey proof. I then downloaded my pictures and took a look. Some of them are really good for the first time shooting Chimps in the jungle. I then laid down and fell asleep. Was woken up by a monkey walking around and luckily it was lunch.
Lunch was excellent. Some vegetation wraps with a huge salad. Will then critiqued some of my Chimps. He is a real artist. Gave me some pointers for tomorrow’s trek and what to focus on and we discussed the way some of my images should be edited. I felt that I had accomplished my goal today and gotten used to shooting the Chimps and most of my pictures did not need much editing.
Was it worth it walking through a thick jungle and sweating until you are exhausted to see the Chimps? What do you think? We have two more treks. I vote PRICELESS.
Let’s talk a little of the challenge of taking pictures of chimps in their natural environment. There are only three known places in the world that have specific Parks set up for Chimps, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda. This is not like sitting in a Land Rover in the Serengeti taking pictures. The chimps first have to be found. That could take some time. We were lucky. They were found by the trackers in early morning. Then you trek through dense jungle watching out for thorns, vines, roots, snakes and any other creature that calls the jungle its home. The jungle is very hot and humid. You start to sweat right away until your clothes are drenched and you can barely hold the camera with your sweaty hands. The jungle also has sporadic light shining through the canopy creating a light disaster for taking pictures. Once the chimps are found, you cannot tell them to sit still and smile. You try to get up close, but vines, roots and holes get in your way. Fabio told us that the last two groups trekked all day following the chimps until they were found in late afternoon. He also said that pro photographers come here for four to five days and call it a successful trip if they come away with less than five great shots. I forgot to mention, while you are dealing with the jungle you are wearing a surgical mask that makes you sweat even more. If you are wearing glasses, like me, your glasses fog up all the time since you cover your mouth and nose. Let’s also throw in that you have a time limit of one hour once you see your first chimp and a government guide is with you monitoring everything. Furthermore, you never want to learn on the go while shooting chimps. You have to trust your ability and knowledge. The subject matter and location are too difficult. If you have a want to take pictures of chimps, most people should just go to a zoo. Two of the people in the group have become sick over this mornings trek. Hope they recover before tomorrow morning.
At four thirty some of us went for a boat ride on Lake Tanganyika. I can say that Lake Tanganyika is the clearest Lake I have every seen. The bottom is always visible. We took some nice bird pictures and wandered into the mangroves. The scene could have been from the movie “The African Queen”. Imagine Bogy dragging the boat through the mangrove put into a large lake. Our guide told us that the story comes from Lake Tanganyika. Without internet I cannot find where the film was made.
The water pump has been finally fixed. The guide radioed into Camp that we all needed hot showers. I stood under the hot water from Lake Tanganyika and closed my eyes.
Almost time for dinner and then a comfortable rest before the second trek. I pray the chimps are found early. I have now created a game plan in my mind and look forward to the morning adventure