For the past six months we’ve been in “Chimp Training” — walking miles to the bus stop, walking up hills in downtown Seattle, doing lots of core exercises, all in anticipation of today’s trek to see Jane Goodall’s chimps in Gombe National Park. Happy to say, we might be sweaty, but we had no trouble keeping up with our guide as we searched for the chimps.
A bit about the Kasakela chimps — these are the chimps Jane Goodall studied as a young woman, starting in 1960. Setting a new high-bar for moms everywhere, Jane’s mother accompanied her unmarried daughter on her early research assignments. Having spent the day tramping around, I kept thinking about 26-year-old Jane and her mom trying to make their way through all this jungle forest. We were on trails (mostly!), but them? Wow. Just W O W.
I remember being grade-school age and home sick from school when my own mom brought me a National Geographic with the story of these chimps in it. Normally dad did the reading, but this time mom sat next to me in bed and thrilled me with the story of Jane and the chimps. Forty years later, here we are. Thanks, mom!
Back to Chimp Day. We met our guide, Khalfan, shortly after 8:00am, by which time the “chimp trackers” (locals who go out early to find-and-follow the chimps so our hiking is more targeted) had already been out searching for an hour. Lucky for us, they spotted three chimps nearby. We hiked up and down little hills in a spiral for about 45 minutes. The chimps were moving, we were moving…a dance in the forest!
It was so exciting that at one point I jogged ahead of Aaron and David to keep up with our guide. And then *poof* there they were! High in a tree…swinging around…eating leaves. We got some blurry photos – man is it hard to focus through dense, dark foliage! – and if that would have been it, I would have left Gombe happy.
But that wasn’t remotely it! The chimps got closer and closer, eventually climbing down the trees and walking right past me and David. Literally Right – Past – Me, no more than two feet away! The three chimps were a mama, Glitter, her daughter Gossamer and her baby son. Our guide said he was named Gombe, but when we looked on Jane Goodall’s page, Glitter’s son is actually Ghurubu so we’ll go with that.
Anyway, we kept following them, pausing while they ate, continuing, until we found ourselves only about 50 yards from the camp where we started! Now the chimps wanted to drink from the water spigot.
Eventually it was nap time for chimps and our guide had us crawl in next to them. Did you read that? Crawl in next to them! Like on our hands and knees, into the forest for a little sit down. We sat with them about ten feet away until Gossamer decided it was snack time: taking a stick, licking it, and then inserting it into an ant hill. Voila! Snack time! Yes, we got to see chimps using tools! You know how Aaron *loves* handmade tools. And the baby was watching this tool making in action. So, so cool! (Sorry, we were staying in the moment, so no photos of that.)
You’re only allowed to spend one hour with each group of chimps, so we had to say goodbye and travel on. Such a moving experience…just magical. We hiked a couple more hours, finding red colobus monkeys, red-tailed monkeys, and baboons, along with a few of the researchers learning about them. The fact that we saw a variety of monkeys and baboons througout the day was just a bonus. Can you believe I just said that? Yup. The monkeys were just gravy on our chimp-tacular day.
The afternoon ended with Aaron taking a dip in the unbelievably clear Lake Tanganyika to cool off and then our long boat ride back to Kigoma.
There are a lot of details about how we signed up, what it cost and the logistics that Aaron will spell out in an upcoming blog. For now, we are headed to bed having had one of the most electrifying experiences of all our trips.