It had rained very heavily over night, but not in the early morning hours meaning that most of the trails would be drying by now. Mike was sticking with his plan to relax until our boat ride back to Kigoma some time before noon and I had remained steadfast in my hope to see the chimps one last time despite have a pretty significant pulled muscle in my right hip area that had been bothering me and getting worse over the last several days. Probably from carrying all that camera equipment on the first day of hiking. If I had any intelligence whatsoever, I would have been relaxing this morning as well, but I’ve already made it clear that isn’t my personality, for better or for worse. Ahadi had wanted to go hiking early given our short window of opportunity and so Mike and I were upstairs in the dining area before 7 am in hopes of snagging and early coffee and tea, respectively.
The lights were again continually blinking in the dining area as the power was continuing with its normal pattern of cycling more off than on, but, thankfully, it was light enough outside this morning to see our feed. Juma continued on his string of wonderful meals for us and didn’t disappoint on our last breakfast even despite the lack of power. Most everything is cooked with gas here where the typical cooking appliance is the short gas cylinder with a permanently mounted burner on top (hence all the burn injuries more common in epileptics).
Ahadi came by early at around 7:30 to check in with us and I was ready to head out whenever we heard from the trackers. We couldn’t go high into the surrounding hills as I had to be back by 11 am to shower, pack and eat before leaving at 11:30. There was only one tracker again today and they hadn’t seen anything all morning, so we decided to head south along the beach in hopes of finding the family that we had seen yesterday, but without spending too much time hunting for them. We hiked just inland from the beach for the most part, crossing several streams still flowing with runoff from the heavy rains last night and basically ended up at a location just shy of where our boats landed the day before.
Ahadi left me on the beach while he went inland looking for the tracker and listening for any sounds of the chimps that he might be able to hear. I waited for close to 30 minutes for him to return which gave me plenty of time to dwell on this amazing opportunity we’ve had to visit such a place as Gombe as it is tremendously more remote and less traveled than all the other sites I’ve been to in Tanzania. To see the chimps in their natural habitat and in a place where one of the greatest conservationists had studied them was more than I could have ever hoped for and was as meaningful to me personally as much of what I’ve done here in Africa to date. As a young child, my heroes were Heinrich Schliemann (discoverer of Troy and Mycenae), Louis Leakey and Jane Goodall, and one of my favorite books was The Last Days of Pompeii by Edward Bulwer-Lytton. I didn’t follow sports, but rather explorers and adventurers, and still do to this day. (Yes Leah, definitely a nerd alert!). Here I was standing alone on the shore of one of the most ancient lakes in the world in perhaps the most remote place I had ever been.
Yet here, in this incredibly remote location in the middle of the Dark Continent and directly across from the Congo, I found the telltale signs of man’s destruction of this planet – washed up plastic and Styrofoam. The World Without Us is a well-written book about the true legacy of man and how long it would take the man-made structures and pollutants to disappear if we suddenly vanished from the Earth. Tiny plastic beads that are byproducts of plastic production are probably one of the widely distributed pollutants currently known and can be found in the furthest reaches of the most remote oceans and sees and will take hundreds of thousands of years to degrade. Here I was on the shore of Lake Tanganyika, remote for me, but certainly not the most remote place on the Earth, so why I was so shocked, I’m not certain. It is total naivete, yet it was still there and seemed just so out of place to me to be depressing.
Ahadi found the tracker who hadn’t yet located any chimps and it was too far for us to walk to the next valley, so we started back along the same trail. It was a gorgeous day and the weather was even a tad breezy and cool. About half-way back, Ahadi still made an attempt to find the chimps as we walked up into the forest several hundred meters where he left me again so he could race upwards, but there were no sounds of the chimps. This time, I was left along a forest trail in the deep overgrowth, listening mostly to the sounds of the birds until one of the other guides we had run into earlier and was with the two women who arrived to camp yesterday walked up along the same trail having left his clients down on the beach to wait. This just didn’t seem to be the day for chimps, though I remained satisfied that we had three excellent days of trekking and absolutely no regrets.
We got back to camp early and I was able to pack and shower in leisure (still no hot water, though) and Juma made us another lunch for we had to leave. As we were saying our goodbyes to Ahadi, a day group arrive from a nearby country wanting to head out at noon with the hope of seeing the chimps. By the looks of the group they weren’t going to be very happy if they did see them and they also didn’t look like the type that were ready to hike up in the mountains as we done for the last three days. We wished Ahadi luck and I hoped for his sake that he would be successful in finding them.
Our bags were loaded into the boat and we began our journey down this prehistoric coast towards Kigoma. Juma was with us as his job had really just been to take care of us at Gombe and, for that, he had been overly successful. One our way south we passed the local water taxi, a much larger though similarly designed craft as ours, that is packed with people and is half as fast, taking four hours to Kigoma. As the boat came closer, I could see one non-African on it and it was Dr. Collins returning from two nights in Kigoma. We both spotted each other and waved our goodbyes. We landed at the Hotel Tanganyika on the south west side of Kigoma and found our ride so that we were to the airport in plenty of time. We were screened for Ebola with a temperature scan and were allowed to board as if either of us had a fever we might still be there.
Our flight was leaving at 3:25 pm and was surprisingly on time and as we lifted off the runway, the beautiful waters of the lake remained visible out the window for the longest time. In fact, they were visible for much longer than I would have imagined until I realized that were heading due north when Dar es Salaam was far to our east. I had thought the flight was stopping in Tabora, a small city half-way across the country in a direct line to Dar, but when I pointed out to Mike that we weren’t heading in that direction, but rather due north along the lakeshore, it became just a little concerning as to where we were actually heading. The terrain became far more mountainous than it should for Tanzania and when I looked at the map on my phone, sure enough, we were no longer in Tanzania, but rather had entered Burundi en route to their former capitol city of Bujumbura.
We were on the right flight, but had no idea we were heading there and we were also starving since it was now a bit late, both in time and for the flight to reach Dar. We now had a very short connection and needed some sustenance so bought the last four samosas at the snack bar and inhaled them before they announced that our flight from Dar to Kilimanjaro was actually delayed by an hour. I immediately got up to buy some sodas since we were going to be there for another hour, but the snack bar mysteriously closed just as they made the announcement delay. To make matters worse, our flight was stopping in Zanzibar (the opposite direction), so we wouldn’t be getting into Kili until after 10 pm.
Thankfully, we had a transfer already arranged so wouldn’t have to bother Pendo and Leonard with picking us up given house dangerous it is to drive at night here. No sense risking everyone’s lives. We arrived to their home well after 11 pm, but, of course, in typical Tanzanian fashion, and, even more so, “Pendo fashion” as anyone who has had the pleasure of her hospitality knows, there was a full meal on the table waiting for us of spaghetti and meatballs. Knowing Mike to have never turned down a meal in his life regardless of how tired he was, we both sat at the table and enjoyed our midnight “snack” in this incredible country of the most loving and gracious individuals I know. Pendo and Leonard are, of course, family, but their generosity still goes far above and beyond!