Greystoke Mahale is nestled on a white sand beach in Lake Tanganyika. Towering behind the lodge are the Mahale Mountains, home to one of the largest known populations of wild Chimpanzees left on our planet.
Wed, May 10, 2017
The moment the camp closed for the season, Greystoke guides Butati and Mathias set off to sort out their visas and vaccinations for what would be a big adventure. Senior guide and partner-in-mischief, Mwiga, would soon be on his way back from a sales trip to the US and would meet them in Kigali. A week later and they were ready to hit the road.
Butati & Mathias hit the road to Rwanda.
Their journey took them first by bus to Bujumbura where they immediately noticed the change in language, culture and time. Hawkers lined the streets selling goat skewers and a traditional cassava dish. Canny cyclists hitched lifts by hanging onto the back of huge tankers and trucks. Drinking alcohol before 6pm is prohibited, but as the sun lowered, people emerged to sit outside their houses and enjoy a drink and a neighbourly chat.
Greystoke Mahale Guides reunited
The three lads were reunited in Kigali the following day amid great excitement – the adventure had now begun in earnest. The next morning saw them board a bus to Gisenyi in Rwanda. As they climbed through the cold air, fog gave way to spectacular views of the mountainous landscapes that the country is known for. At the border, the team was met by Eric Rwimo, who they at first mistook for a guide, so knowledgeable and personable was he, but found out later is a driver for the Virunga Park.
Greystoke Guides with their new friend, Eric.
As they drove through Goma, Eric pointed out the chikudu wooden bicycles and spoke of the lava flow that damaged so much of the town after the 2002 eruption of Mt Nyiragongo. The team immediately warmed to Eric’s charm and they became friends.
The chikudu - Congolese wooden bicycle.
Soon the group, accompanied by armed rangers, reached Mikeno Lodge – their base for a couple of days. Besides the treat of the beautiful lodge, the guides were delighted to be reunited with Kate and Cam, good friends and previous managers of Greystoke Mahale, now working in the Congo. They planned their activities and startled the trackers and guests with their all-too realistic pant-hoot, causing one of the waiters to seriously consider diving under a table.
Once again reunited with previous Greystoke Managers, Cameron & Kate, now working in Virunga.
The next morning saw a successful trek in search of chimps, spotted at a distance through binoculars, but still thrilling. In the afternoon, Cam and Kate took the group to Semkwekwe – a sanctuary for gorillas orphaned by the illegal charcoal trade, which had brought them into conflict with this family. Excitement at seeing the first gorilla was tinged with regret for the group’s traumatic past.
Semkwekwe Gorilla Sanctuary - first encounter.
The following day, the team eagerly grabbed a quick breakfast and hit the road to Bukima to start their trek. After a thorough briefing, they set out on foot in search of the gorillas accompanied by the rangers and some other guests. This was an opportunity for the Greystoke guides to observe their Congolese counterparts in action for a session together later when they would share constructive input as part of this exchange. The group split in search of the Humba and Nyakamwe families and as Butati said: “I can't explain how exciting it was for us to have our first taste of the gorillas in the wild. It was a breathtaking moment and we were all overwhelmed with joy. The things were damn big!”
A silverback with presence!
Later in the day, the Greystoke guides and Virunga Rangers met for several hours and talked through the trek, our lads giving some pointers about the briefing and how to better lead groups and take care of guests. They discussed the challenges faced by the Rangers and considered ways to tackle them. There is no formal guide training in the Congolese Park and the Rangers really appreciated the input. The following day, the Greystoke guides led the trek by way of a practical example, handing over when they reached the gorilla groups. This trek yielded a particularly exhilarating sighting and the mettle of the guides was tested in the face of a huge charging silverback, which halted just a meter away. What a finale!
Greystoke guides and Virunga Rangers
On the last day in Virunga, the group got to climb to the summit of Mt Nyiragongo. A taxing 8km hike with a number of stops saw them arrive at the cold summit of the volcano, devoid of vegetation from the frequent eruptions. They peered into the crater from the edge and took in the mesmerizing sight - the rumbling sound of the boiling lava, smoke full of sulphur gas and the glow of the lava lake. It was breathtaking. A cold but happy night’s sleep later, they woke to fog, unable to see 2m ahead, but descended quickly and headed back to Goma and on to Lake Kivu Lodge for a final lunch and goodbye to Kate and Cam.
The bubbling heart of Mt Nyiragongo
The last part of the adventure was by a fast boat (which took 3 hours) to Lwiro Primate Sanctuary. They first toured the beautifully designed and richly stocked library, built in 1953, and the natural history museum, which is an unexpected marvel of scientific records and specimens. The guides then met the community of captive chimpanzees, all there because the illegal pet trade had decimated their families. Despite that they are well protected and cared for here, it was striking and saddening how dysfunctional this society of chimpanzees was compared to the wild M-Group at Mahale. The Greystoke gang chatted to Itsaso, the Spanish primatologist based at the Sanctuary, about the challenges faced by conservation the world over.
The boat trip to Lwiro.
The adventure was at an end. All that was left was for the group to make their way back to Kigali to catch their flight home to Tanzania. It had been an exhilarating, informative and thoroughly fun trip. We look forward to welcoming the Rangers of Virunga to Tanzania later this year.
Thanks to Butati, Mwiga and Mathias for a great trip report and photos, and also to Kate and Cam for photos and for helping organise the trip.
Fri, Mar 10, 2017
At the moment the raining season offers us stunning views of our great Lake Tanganyika. And what a Lake! The second largest water lake by volume (17% of the fresh water on Earth stands in front of us!), the second deepest (1400 meters!), and the longest one (670 km!).
Every single evening the sun sets in such harmony with it, then disappearing far ahead in the hills on the Congo side, leaving us with the rising Venus and the stars popping up one by one. African time for dreams...
And blue, blue, how blue you are Tanganiika. Swimming in your essence is such a pleasure. Butati our fantastic guide has such freedom in you!
And what an ecosystem, hundred of cichlids flourishing for millions of years along the shore. Time to fish Cameron, my friend, and former manager here in Greystoke, the Yellow-bellied Cichlid or "Kunwe". Sashimi is waiting for us around the fire!
Great history is passing by, twice a week, with the MV Liemba. The former German war ship called at the time the "Graf von Goetzen". It was buit in 1913. The captain had her scuttled in 1916 but a salvage team raised her from the water in 1927 than she returned to service as the MV Liemba. Today she still runs and such poetry come to us when we see her passing by in the Great Lake.
Boat cruising is always such an epic time to relax and enjoy the Mahale Mountains, specially when you have the smile and fun of Mwiga our guide on board. And sometimes see the hippos under the clear water. Thank you Willem Dekker, our guest, for this great shot you did with you Go Pro my friend!
Have a lovely weekend,
Mon, Jan 9, 2017
2017 has come! Happy New Year to you all! And what a start of the year over here, my friends. As you may know our current Alpha male is Primus, his reign started in 2011 after the violent murder of the previous Alpha, Pimu. Alofu, one of the most well-loved chimpanzees, is ranked number 2. Unfortunately we haven't had news of him and his mother Wakusi since early June. Orion is currently ranked number 3. The last few months we felt Orion gaining trust and around Christmas time, one day, our guests and the guides witnessed almost a "Coup d'Etat"! Primus being chased by the males and some females. Lots of screaming, action, Primus protecting himself high in the trees while the insurrection was taking place.
We thought the time had come, a change of King! But it seems that our chimpanzees do believe in Christmas peace as well. Things settled down. Grooming took place again. But tension is in the air, and when Primus appears you can feel the others on the edge. Primus did not abdicate, Primus did not call "my kingdom for a horse" just yet.
But maybe, just maybe, we're gonna have the "Return of a Prince"! Maybe, deep in the forest Alofu is preparing his glorious return...!... To be follow my friends...!
Sat, Nov 26, 2016
Mount Kungwe is considered by the villagers around to be a sacred Mountain, and before going there we had to ask the permission and receive the blessing from the Elders. We started our journey from the main headquarter, 17 km ahead would be our goal, Mount Kungwe Peak!
My friends I can tell you, it has been the toughest climb I ever did! To reach Mount Kungwe we needed to climb first 2 other Peak, Mount Mhensabantu and Mount Humo, then finally our final ascent to Mount Kungwe
Up, down, up , down, 45° up, 45° down, the landscape around were just stunning. On the ascent to Mount Mhensabantu we could see tracks of buffalos. Miombo woodlands was the main environment there, and meeting with Red-Colobus Monkeys and Red-Tailed Monkeys was such a pleasure to the eyes.
But finally, after many hours of walking, here we were, reaching our goal! How fantastic it was! The sun reflecting on the lake offer us a vision of endless fiel of gold. We spent the night in a small Ranger post there, an amazing abundant forest hosting us, with so many different kind of birds and the unique Angolensis Black and White Monkeys. Unfortunately we did not have the chance to capture them in photos, just hearing them at dawn. And also, big time unfortunately, i promised my fellow friends that we would be back in the afternoon! Why? I tell you! They had the plan to play a football match against the rangers at the village in the afternoon!! I dont know how they did it, i was just a dead body at the end!! I can tell you we will be back there! The vegetations and wildlife up there is just stunning! We also heard the calls of the unhabituated wild chimpanzees in the forest below us - that was really special.
It has been such a privilege to spend time with my friends doing that. The moon was stunning that night. So much to see, so much to do here, the Mahale Mountains is full of secrets still to be discovered. Mahale is unique, and yes this climb made me think more about it. Thanks guys!
Sun, Oct 23, 2016
Party Time for the moment at Greystoke Mahale! The last 2 weeks have been so epic here! The reason is that our Forest Water-berry Tree just in front of the office is fruiting, but also the Fig Tree just beside one of our bungalows and some of our Mango Trees close to the beach! And such fun it can be! Here Teddy's just been visiting the bungalow, checking the housekeeping works.
What a great time for our guests, no need for hiking up the mountains, the show happens right there at the morning call!
Here again "Teddy" boy eating, yes elegantly, the water-berry fruits.
What a fig-feast for our lady "Phone"
A little refreshing drink from our bucket
And then of course a little chat while we digest!
Such a happy time isn't it Fanana?! 7, 9, 12 even 20 visiting us every day! So fantastic; Greystoke Mahale is for sure the place to be for the moment!
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