November 5th, 2015 by Kristina
Travel Report – Tanzania: Northern Serengeti, Katavi NP & Mahale NP/Chimp trekking
Helga Casto, Mills Africa
My October 2015 travels to Tanzania were wonderful: very rich game viewing in the Northern Serengeti (the crossing of the Wildebeest at the Mara River was, as always, quite a spectacle), a truly remote bush camp experience in Katavi National Park in Tanzania’s Western Corridor, and finally Chimpanzee trekking at Mahale National Park on Lake Tanganyika.
Katavi National Park is located in the much less travelled Western part of Tanzania. It is my first visit to this area and I loved the remote experience, away from the crowds of the Serengeti & Ngorngoro Crater. In my opinion, explorations of these lesser-travelled national parks are a must for a well-rounded Tanzania itinerary. Katavi is an opportunity to experience the real Africa, very remote, good (if basic) camps with all necessary conveniences and a stunning diversity of landscapes. Within 70 miles you go from open Savannah to a tropical looking environment with lots of growth, particularly an abundance of palm trees.
After Katavi another flight to Lake Tanganyika – Mahale National Forest. After landing at the airstrip, a dhow waits at the edge of the lake to take guests to Mahale’s Greystoke Lodge.
The white beach and the thatched, high peaked buildings of the lodge is reminiscent of the South Pacific. The immediate backdrop of the tropical beach scene of the lake is the escarpment of the Western Great Rift with dense forests and mountain peaks up to 8,000 ft. Very dramatic and stunningly beautiful.
The lake has an abundance of fish. Guides on the boat provided simple fish line (no reel, just a hook at the end – as you see in South East Asia) and everybody that had a go at fishing pulled out a beautiful, yellow-colored iridescent fish, at least 1 ft. in length. Some of the fish was served for appetizers as sashimi (delicious)and most of it was used as food for the mascot of Greystoke Lodge, an orphaned, habituated pelican named Big Bird.
Chimpanzee trekking is arranged similar to the process in Rwanda for the Mountain Gorillas. Only 12 people can go up per day; the group is then split into 3-4 each, based on physical conditions. There were 3 guides from the lodge and 3 wardens from the park authority to watch that all rules are strictly enforced, i.e wearing face masks whenever around the chimps, no eating/drinking, no pointing, no direct eye contact and, of course, no touching. The park wardens were instrumental in getting us into the thick growth, by using their machetes to create small openings for trekkers to gain access.
The trek is fairly arduous, steep, hot and long but it is worth every effort. The experience is very lively with a cacophony of shrieks, chimps running up trees, young ones swinging from tree to tree and some chasing around on the ground.
After a while the initial ruckus calmed down and our guides lead us to openings where we could sit down and observe the group at length. From that point on they were very relaxed, the males lying down on the ground and taking short naps, grooming themselves, looking around and slowly acknowledging our presence. And when it came time for them to move on they very calmly passed right through us. The small families are fun to watch, especially of the babies that are doted on.
The trek down passes a Japanese research center from Kyoto that has been in the Mahale National Park for 50 years, studying the M-Group. This group consists of about 60 members, many of which we saw.
Jane Goodall’s chimps and her research center are located in Gombe National Park, two mountains away, also on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, where a group of approximately 30 is left.
Overall a fantastic return to one of my favorite countries in East Africa – with lovely experiences, both new and old. To observe these close relatives of ours was the highlight of this trip.