This past week we have taken the opportunity to go to Kigoma, one of the most western points of Tanzania, located on Lake Tanganyika and to go to Gombe Stream National Park, home of many chimpanzees.
We flew with Precision Air on their reopened Mwanza – Kigoma flight for 189,000TSH (£76) which saved us having to consider the bus route on some rugged roads. At Mwanza airport we were treated to some African dancers which we thought was a nice treat for our departure, only to find out it was actually for the prime minister who arrived shortly before we left (delaying our flight for a bit as the airport was closed for his arrival). When we reached Kigoma and after surviving the half finished runway, we headed straight to the place we were staying for the first 3 nights – Jakobsen’s Beach.
This relaxing place is located just out of Kigoma on the end of the peninsula and is a fantastic getaway. We stayed in the bedded tent (20,000/person/night) which does what it says – nice wood carved beds in a spacious tent and a little porch area to sit out and watch the wildlife go by. It doesn’t have electricity but there is a newly built kitchen area (monkey proof) with gas stove and the staff bring round solar lights and kerosene burners in the evening.
After heading into town to get supplies (it is self-catering) we pretty much spent most of our time relaxing on the beautiful beaches – probably the best beach I have ever been on in my life. One morning we took a walk to the local fishing village to buy some freshly caught fish and another time I wandered around the vast wooded and rocky ground of Jakobsens beach. I also found myself mesmerised looking over to the mountains of the Congo (DRC) which despite being just across the lake, must be a completely different environment and ambiance. The mix of sandy beach with rocky outcrops made it perfect for relaxing under a banda and then going out to do some snorkelling to explore some of the 200 species of cichlids found in Lake Tanganyika, many of which are found nowhere else. We were amazed by the clear waters and myriads of colourful species to be found and happy to be swum amongst, the diversity really was incredible, the only hiccup being one incident where Naomi managed to unhook her snorkel and have it float to the bottom (luckily only about 7m down). Even close to shore offered some exciting experiences – standing knee deep in the water along with the shoals of fry finding refuge in the shallows I was greeted by a selection of bottom dwellers nibbling and cleaning my feet!
Jakobsens also offered us a selection of wildlife in addition to the cichlids. We saw a giant kingfisher patrolling the lake (and they really are huge compared to other kingfishers!), and more common were many Vervet monkeys willing to chase/follow you if they thought they might get some food, fun to watch as they fell out of trees and banged on the tin roofs! Our tent was guarded one night by a scorpion and the 100m walk to the toilet was always interesting in the middle of the night as bushes rustled as you walked past… To really feel like we were getting back to nature (and to make people like Hugh Fearnley-wittingstall proud) one night we took the fish we bought at the village, went down to the beach and had a bbq using the lake a washing up bowl and local leaves as firelighters.
On Tuesday we went to the local port, Kibirizi to catch the lake taxi (TSH4000 leaving at 13:00) up to Gombe Stream National Park. Our journey out was pretty horrendous – being squashed in with people, planks of wood, barrels of kerosene and anything else that needed transporting and on a lake with quite a swell due to a thunderstorm that was brewing. We did make it without using the buckets given out for seasickness and after a jump off the boat at the beach (which took Naomi quite a few goes due to the large waves!) we made it to Gombe to be welcomed by the staff. Rooms were nice and despite being self catering (unless you want to pay $15 for their meals) the kitchen was only open in the evening when they were cooking themselves and as guests we were only allowed to use the 1 kerosene ring and charcoal if lit!
Gombe is home to the longest running study of any wild animal – Jane Goodall’s study of the chimpanzee community started in 1960; we met many of the researchers continuing the work today and our guide had met her numerous times. In total, we spent 3 nights and 2 days at Gombe ($40/day for Tanzanian Expatriates, hostel $20/person/night, guide $10/day) and went on 2 hikes up in to the forest. Both days were fantastic and offered great experiences and an insight into the Kasekela community of chimps. The first day, on our hike up the fairly steep paths, we were treated to a group of 15 chimps in one tree. As part of this some of the chimps came down and wandered right past us, we heard their call – both within the community and their more frenzied response to another community, and I discovered how they will hide their face because they don’t like to be photographed! This group included the alpha male, Ferdinand and Tanga with her yet un-named young (photo below). Hopefully some of the pictures give you a better idea of what they are like and the environment.
And some more
The second day we trekked for quite a while and found a group roaming on the ground. We followed them for a while and observed them drinking, grooming, eating and resting as a community. Check out the video below for a quick recording of their calls that we heard.
The two days really complemented each other well as we got to observe different behaviours and meet different chimps. We even got to see one looking gorilla like when puffed up and charging along. Finally we sat down and chatted deep in the forest with our guide, Eidi alongside Pax, a really relaxed, older chimpanzee.
While at Gombe we also took in some ‘physical attractions’ like the impressive waterfall, old feeding station, and jenny’s peak looking over the lowland rainforest. We also took the time to walk along the beach and do a bit more snorkelling to see some larger fishes around the boat jetty.
I should also mention the troops of baboons that patrolled around the camps and beaches, ready to take advantage of anything food you may happen to leave at your table and to show off their bottoms for all to see. All in all it is a magical place to visit and we are so lucky to have the opportunity to come to such a beautiful habitat and home to such an intriguing species.
The lake taxi back (an early 7AM leave from the Gombe beach) was much nicer – small amounts of cargo, better bit of boat to sit on and primarily the lake was so calm we could enjoy the trip along the lake back to Kigoma.
For our last night we decided to splash out (Tsh120,000) on Kigoma Hilltop Hotel which so nice and our room had a lake view. We took advantage of the pool, restaurant, private beach, resident zebras and huge bed before heading back to Mwanza.
All in all a great holiday of relaxation and intrigue and I without doubt recommend going. Just time for one of the chimps we met to say bye!