The chimp trek started out early in the morning. We met our porters and they had my African Helicopter to help me through the dense jungle. Today we are spending four hours with a group of chimps that have not been fully oriented towards being around humans. This should be interesting. I was looking forward to observing their behavior. My porters carried me through a dense jungle that was intertwined with large trees, branches, twigs and vines. A porter was in front of us with a large machete trying to clear the path as best as possible. My glasses began to fog up and I could only imagine what the humidity was doing to my lens. Masks are required to protect the chimps from any diseases we might be carrying.
Our party was led by a Ranger and we finally arrived at an area where the chimps were in the trees foraging. Then the show started. Forget great photography. It wasn’t going to happen. If I can get one good image today then I would be happy. This is all about seeing and observing a wild creature in its natural habitat. We were able to spot some of the chimps through small openings in the branches and leaves. I adjusted my camera for shutter priority and set my focal point to be flexible and small. By reducing the size of my focal point I was able to focus on the chimps through small openings in the branches and trees. The chimps were jumping from branches and then they started to make noise. It seemed like they were communicating with each other. One large chimp jumped down to the ground and hurled himself into a large truck creating a big drum like sound. I walked around the area and was held by two porters, one of each side of me. There were times when my feet got tangled up in vines and I was hoping that I would not dislocate my new hip.
Some of the chimps came down to lower branches and started to jump from branch to branch. We tried following them, but I couldn’t keep up with the others. My clothes became more drenched and my shirt and pants started to be covered with mud. How special this experience was. I was a stranger in their world and given a rare opportunity to observe and be part of such a wild and natural setting.
Our four hours were up and my porters carried me back to our vehicles. They were constantly rotating and stoping to catch their breath and take short rests. After about one hour, we finally walked out of the jungle and I was let down.
When we arrived back at Primate Lodge, I slowly walked back to my hut and could only think of the cold and long shower that awaited me. After lunch, I drank a cold Nile and rested in a huge chair around the bar. My exhaustion finally took over and I dosed off looking into the trees surrounding the Lodge.
The second chimp trek also started early, but it was limited to one hour and we would be observing a group that were much more conditioned to humans and less active. My porters and African Helicopter arrived and off we went, back into the jungle. After spotting one chimp, we were able to get closer and the chimp quickly accepted our presence. The photography was much better, but I sort of missed the wild nature of yesterdays chimps. We then formed a line with me at the rear. The others were walking at a much faster pace and we finally lost sight of them. The Ranger at the back of the line, or with me and my porters, then advised me that we should turn around and see what we could find by ourselves. The Ranger spotted a young chimp sitting on one of the lower branches. My porters led me to a place that where the vision seemed to be the most direct, but the chimp was not facing us. His back was visible and then I decided how I would try to fix the problem. I started to make sounds like the ones I had heard yesterday and the chimp slowly turned around to face me. We made eye contact and I clicked away. An experience that will last a lifetime. We then spotted two chimps eating some fruits high up in the branches. I stood on a hill and was able to capture them with my lens.
Our time was up and we all gladly were driven back to the Lodge for lunch and another cold and slow shower. Our game plan was to go out for a nature walk at three.
The nature walk was quite interesting. We were able to capture some nice images of different monkeys birds. Towards the end of our hike, the group decided to extend the walk a little bit further, but I decided to stay back and wait for the vehicles to arrive. A young boy was selling some small wood carvings that he had made himself and he brought them up to me to try and sell me one. We had a long conversation about his village and what crops they grow. He was very interested in the crops that are grown in America. He finally got around to showing me his carvings. I bought one and know that whenever I see it, I will remember my brief experience with this poor local boy and how fortunate many of us are.
Tomorrow is my return home and my final day of this long adventure.