Wednesday, October 2, 2019 – Leah departs for home and another day for us with the chimps…

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Leaving boarding her boat and saying goodbye to Ahadi (Promise)

For reasons that I won’t go into here, Leah was scheduled to depart Gombe this morning as she had an early flight scheduled out of Kigoma en route to Dar and then home. We had all agreed that leaving by 8 am would be more than enough time for the two hour boat ride back south and short drive to the airport so we had set breakfast for an hour earlier. Once again, the power was out in our tents and as we arrived for breakfast, it seemed to blink on for a few moments and then would mysteriously vanish for a much longer time so as to be of little use for anything constructive. We eventually concluded that it was most likely an issue with the solar panels and storing power overnight as that seemed to be when things really went south. No matter, though, as it all added to the ambience of Gombe and made us feel more as though we were in the incredibly remote location that we were. Our clothes had been drenched, and remained so, either from the sweat of our treks or the intermittent, and at times, heavy downpours that occurred during the days. They were not a nuisance as it gave the place a magical feeling whether we were in our tents or on the trail trekking through the dense forests with vines that seemed to reach for the sky.

Beating on the pull cord cover in hopes of it recoiling (it did not)

One of our friendly baboons

After a wonderful breakfast of French toast, crepes and fruit, we went to the tents to get Leah’s baggage which included an impressively large and blocky suitcase that doubled as a steamer trunk (sorry, Leah) and carried, or really dragged, everything out to the boat. She was heading back to Kigoma in the same boat which we had come in, though this morning, there seemed to be an issue getting it started, but not for lack of effort. The pull cord didn’t want to fully recoil necessitating that the cover come off, but it took some time to locate the correct wrench, or spanner as it is known here, for one of the three bolts holding it on. The pull cord was playing coy as it then decided to recoil and once everything was put back together, decided to not again leaving the boat hand to start the process all over again. This went on for several more tries and I know that Leah was probably stressing out horribly, but we were trying to joke about it as much as we could knowing that she really had plenty of time and I was pretty, though not completely, confident that they would get the engine started and be on their way. Sure enough, it did eventually start, though they did have to resort to their backup pull cord with the cover left off (those of you motorheads will know what I’m talking about with outboard engines) to get it going.

The fancy boat carrying the elderly couple

With Leah on her way, it was left up to Mike and I to travel with Ahadi in search of the chimps. While we were waiting for news from the tracker (there was only a single one today where before there had been two), a very fancy boat pulled up on the beach from one of the more exclusive camps north of us and unloaded an elderly couple. Mike and I both joked how much better we liked our boat as it had more character and fit more with what our expectations were. Years ago, when I had volunteered with the kids at a school in Karatu, we had said the same thing about Gibb’s Farm in that it was fine for lunch, but way to fancy and out of place for what we were doing. Once Ahadi had rounded us up, though, we were herded onto the fancy boat along with the elderly couple for a short trip south towards the place where we had landed on Sunday looking for a hot trail.

Ahadi listening for chimp sounds

Once on land, the three of us immediately marched off into the canyon, heading pretty much uphill for some time, much of it going side slope on very steep and slippery hillsides where a simple misstep could put you down on your side if not down the hill. And then there was the bushwhacking, which, simply put, is traveling straight though the dense underbrush without the aid of a machete require you to constantly untangle yourself from the vines that feel like they’re grabbing at you or the ones that have thorns and really are. As we continued to go up, we eventually ran into three or four members of the T-family high up in a tree above us where we had plenty of time to watch them before they decided to move on.

At that point, we continued to follow them and were eventually reconnected with them down much lower on the hillside, where the elderly couple and Scandinavian family met up with us to continue watching them. We all stood below a big tree in which they were feeding with several youngsters moving about the branches and playing. They eventually decided to descend which meant that we needed to move a bit to give them room, though the elderly couple were so mesmerized by the moment that they really didn’t give them enough room nor did they see the guides motioning them to move back. We were all wearing our surgical masks, which, if I didn’t mention it before, are required whenever you are viewing the chimps nearby as they have learned that over the years the most common killer of the chimps are diseases that were directly transmitted by visitors or researchers. The most famous of these was a polio epidemic that killed and disabled a number of chimps in 1966 during the initial years of Goodall’s research.

Several of the chimps were sky high in a palm tree eating palm nuts and could barely be sees as anything other than black blobs at the top of the tree. When the chimps did descent the trees nearby, they took off at a fast enough clip that it was difficult for us to follow them further given the steep terrain, so we decided to return to the boats. Initially, though, they were taking us through the brush in a short pursuit that would have been very perilous as neither the elderly couple nor the Scandinavian family looked to be either fit enough or dressed  in preparation for the bushwhacking and side sloping we had done earlier alone with Ahadi. Thankfully for all of us, as it would have been quite a slog for the others, we turned around and were on the beach in no time, ready to board the fancy boats (the family had come in another) to head back to camp.

It was early and both Mike and I were quite ready for lunch so we showered and met Juma to our lunch shortly after noontime. We were the only two in camp now, though somewhat later, two American women arrived, but did not go out for the afternoon as there were no chimps found by the trackers nearby. It was a quiet afternoon for the two of us and I spent most of it catching up on some blogs, though was neither able to post them or upload photos as we had no internet other than the weak signal we could get around camp, that is when both the power was on and the WiFi was working or we could hike to the end of the beach to download our email and that was about it. Dinner was a wonderful beef stew and large helping of rice and greens. Everything that Juma made was amazingly delicious and both Mike and I commented to each other that there was no way either of us could cook like that from scratch using whatever ingredients you had around the kitchen without a recipe.

Tomorrow, we were to leave camp for a flight out of Kigoma at around 3:25 pm, which meant there was enough time to perhaps get one more chimp trek in if we returned by 11 am. Mike had decided that he would prefer to relax and who could blame him as we had had three incredible days of seeing chimps where there are some visitors who never see them this time of year. I am more the type to squeeze every last moment of opportunity, to leave nothing left on the table, but I will gladly admit that it is very, if not most, often to a fault where I wear everyone else out and, of that, I need to be more cognoscente in the future.

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