Monday, December 31, 2012

My best Monday

To us trekking chimpanzees is outright adventure. It so very different every time we are out! I know I am repeating myself here, but it’s hard to imagine how positively intense the experience of viewing chimpanzees in the wild is.

This Monday morning we approached the chimpanzees in the northern reach of their territory. A long but beautiful jungle hike through dense greenery, we could hear the chimpanzees vocalizing well before we actually saw the first individuals. Listening to their voices from afar, our guide Robert could tell some of them were fighting.

Alofu, 33 yrs, 2nd ranking male in M group (left), Kalunde, 54 yrs (center), Carter, 28 yrs.

When we found the chimpanzees a good five minutes later, peace had returned to the group. From where we stood we counted the surrounding forest floor and some of the trees and could see at least 20 chimpanzees. Some of them – Bonobo for example – freshly wounded.

Right in front of us on the edge of the group, three males were peacefully grooming each other. With all the time in the world Alofu (left) groomed Kalunde (center), who on his turn groomed Carter. As we spend another 50 minutes with the chimpanzees, it seemed like quality family time for them. All peacefully resting and grooming on the floor of the jungle.

But how close do they sometimes get? 

Primus; the nr. 1 ranking male of the M - group just sat there for a couple of minutes...

Well - very close. As we stood and observed them, Primus (the M-group Alpha male) walked straight up to us and sat down right in front of me. Less than a meter away from my legs, my heart pounded but I so much enjoyed the thrill of the experience. My best Monday so far!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Greystoke's water world

Sure enough chimpanzee trekking will take the best part of your day in Greystoke. Though many people make it back to camp before lunch and so there is plenty of time to join in other brilliant activities.

Just a couple of our favorites to get your fantasy going…

Suzanne, Richard and Anna Williams on a Kayak trip.

Get some exercise and Kayak the lake waters north of camp. Did you ever kayak a crystal clear lake full of deserted beaches, mountainous forests and wildlife? Here you go!

Snorkeling the rocky coast.

More exercise! Swimming in the Greystoke bay is refreshing and cool with water temperatures hovering between 24 C– 25 C (72 - 75 F) year round. Had enough of normal swimming ? Gear up with a snorkel, mask and fins from the camp and have a look at the nearly 400 colourful Cichlid species that Lake Tanganyika has to offer. Especially in front of our rocky bar area the snorkeling is excellent.

Diving of the from the front of boat during sunset - brilliant! Picture courtesy of Ariadne van Zandbergen. 

Then… likely to be our favorite non-chimping activity of all; sunset cruise meets diving. Sail out far from the coast to the deep blue waters of Lake Tanganyika and take in the stunning surroundings with a cool drink. The lush forest covered mountains are everywhere. Then as the sun starts sinking in the sky, get off that shirt and dive from the boat.  

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Other worldly sunsets

Powerful, spectacular and short; this area of East Africa is known for its tropical thunderstorms. And with these brilliant storms, we offer sunsets you will find hard to believe - so beautiful. 

Just before 19.00 hrs, the sun sets over the mountains in Congo.

As you can see afternoon storms brewing over the Lukuga basin across the lake, you know what’s soon coming our way.

Often unleashed over the lake as they make their way from west to east, the sky remains littered with shreds of stormy clouds all around.

Shreds of stormy clouds fill the sky.

Then when sunsets kicks in - close to seven o’clock – the dense and humid air is lit up in a way that is close to other worldly. Sometimes even, lightening is still striking as the sun is painting the horizon!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

How’s life at your end?

If we develop even the slightest of an office day feeling out here, we’re careful enough to take our remedy immediately. We sail one of the boats out on the lake, have a drink and take in the scenery…

Greystoke Camp and surroundings from the water.

The lake, the mountains, the vast remoteness of it all – this place has no space for dull feelings.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Lucky nr 7

Chimpanzees do visit Greystoke Camp itself too, as I hope you have come across on one of our blogs. Though most of the time when they visit, the M-group members decide to stay within the forested areas of the camp. The fruit bearing trees are obviously more of an attraction to the chimpanzees than our stunning beach front.

Orion; crossing the path to the beach at room nr 7.

Spotting chimpanzees from your room veranda therefore is a special and rare event.

Lucky us!

As we were taking measurements in room 7 we heard leaves and branches cracking. Like someone was approaching from the right. And sure enough here came Orion, silently leading Tani and her son Teto along the beach front.

Orion waiting for Tani and Teto to follow him.

Interestingly that morning, Orion – as part of the M group – tried to mate with Tani but was denied in favor of the much younger Teddy. Now taking Tani and her little son Teto on a private walkabout away from the rest of the M group, sure enough Orion increased his chances on copulation. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Tooth Talk

Chimpanzees have 32 teeth. And although chimpanzees have much larger canine teeth than humans, their nr of teeth and their round jaws corresponds to ours. Like us, chimpanzees have no teeth at birth.

Chimpanzee have four types of teeth; incisors, canines, premolars and molars. And when in the forest this Saturday afternoon, Ceasar gave as the full insight into chimpanzee teeth. As he yawned we could spot every single tooth in his impressive mouth.

Ceasar , 13 years, yawning

But if you have such an array of beautiful teeth, how do you keep them in good condition?

In Mahale Mountains NP research has shown that chimpanzees of the M group chew on the bark of the Pignantas Angolensis. Not only does the bark clean their teeth, it also contains a salt they crave. In addition to that our guide Mwiga recently saw chimpanzee Xantip – 14 years – cleaning her teeth by chewing the bark of Azanza Garkceana.

The forest is full of surprises. But I’ll stick to my Oral B.

Sunday, November 4, 2012


What if you were a chimpanzee and knew that Greystoke has two fruiting mango trees? Right, you would head out to the beach and enjoy the juicy, fresh mangoes.

A group of chimpanzees led by Darwin (3rd ranking male) walks into camp, heading for the mango tree.

Greystoke mango supply is plentiful at the moment. Of the two trees fruiting, one tree is less than 10 mts away from the mess building and carries smaller and greener mangoes. The other tree, standing close to room 7, is similar in size but carries bigger and more ripened mangoes.

Darwin had his pick and walks away.

Accessing the mango tree goes in strict hierarchal order. Others wait while higher ranking males and females pick the first fruits.

Ceasar, a lower ranking male, had his pick after a long wait.

But when you then finally get your hands on a tree, you try to stock up a bit.

Little Tito eating mangoes near the tree.

With refreshing showers in the region, more trees in and around camp will start fruiting. 

Also Cecy had a taste of the mangoes. 

So Imagine the fantastic chimpanzee life in and around camp.

Cecy's mother, Cynthia.

And while Cecy enjoys mangoes up in the tree, mother Cynthia lays relaxed under the tree enjoying the freshly picked fruits.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Thanks a lot Mfaume & Hadija !!

For a long time he was looking forward to it. Mfaume – our Greystoke kitchen chef – had long ago proposed to marry his beautiful wife Hadija. This weekend finally was the day and in all Mfaume’s enthusiasm he invited not only the Greystoke staff, but all of our guests too! 

It’s not every day that you have the chance to go to a traditional Tongwe wedding. All of us were so excited. Everybody dressed up and together with Eric, Dick, Rod, Munira, Thomas and Caroline we set sail to Katumbi Village, a 2 hr boat ride from Greystoke Mahale. 

The Katumbi welcoming committee. 

Traditional and truly Tanzanian, this lakeshore village is worth a visit anytime. Reached only by the water, no roads connect Katumbi to the rest of Tanzania. We could already spot the festivities from water! As we boarded the shore within seconds a children’s  committee welcomed us. Like in all rural places in Tanzania, any visitor gets the treatment of a true guest. Super welcoming and full of joy, the news of us setting foot ashore rapidly spread through the village.

Crowds around the house of the newlyweds.

As we walked down to the house where the wedding was about to take place, the crowds became thicker and thicker. The whole social side of village life quickly became apparent to us. So fantastically colorful and so warm a reception we were given, we felt humbled by it all.

Seats lined up in front of Mfaume.

For us a number of seats had been lined up right in front of the house of Mfaume. The newlyweds were about to come out of the door straight across from us and in between us a big dance floor was created. 

The wedding music system.

To one side a huge set of boxes was playing local and Tanzanian songs. Mixed by a DJ and played at a super loud volume, Mfaume and Hadija were praised at every possible option in between.
Once the couple came out of the front door they initiated the dancing. Everybody – in the mean time a 150 to 200 strong crowd – erupted in a loud cheer! 

Finally Mfaume and Hadija came out and danced!

Hadija and Mfaume danced and danced, having the whole dance floor to themselves. Once they had intitiated the dancing others joined and the place was brimming with joy. All the children watched in awe how one day this also would be part of their lives. Even the surrounding trees were full of people, climbing up in the hope to catch a share of the action!

The cake ceremony 

Then came the cake ceremony. Little pieces of cake were cut off and fed to guests by the bride under loud cheering of the crowd. The experience for all of us – being invited to be even part of the cake ceremony – was just too good to be true!! 

Thomas ready to bite a piece of cake!

Dancing, laughing and full of positivity the new bride fed al her guests pieces of the cake.

Suzanne cheering with Mfaume and Hadija after a bite of the cake

After that people danced to particular songs that were dedicated to the couple. As we all couldn’t believe it was time for us to leave for camp again, all of us would have loved to stay around to the late hours. The evening program was watched and participated in by most of our staff from Greystoke, until the very late hours!

Trees filled with spectators in the back!

Getting out of camp and experiencing what Tanzanian life really is all about should be part of everybody’s itinerary. What a true Tanzanian experience it was for all of us.

Thanks Mfaume, thanks Hadija! And good luck to you!

Mfaume and Hadija 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Butterfly times

Within in a period just a little over two weeks, Mahale Mountains NP is brimming with butterflies again. The little rain showers we had were enough to create the explosion in butterflies so common for this time of the year. 

Mating of Acraea Igola

Announcing the change into the wet time of the year, the butterflies are going to stay with us for a while now. Everywhere you walk different beauties fly around. 
A stunning Iolaus species

A short walk is enough to run into many of them. Photograph what’s out there, look at them flying around, it’s truly so cool to experience. What is certainly more challenging than we thought is setting the (sub) species apart from another.

The Acraea Petraea

But alot of fun it is and with the butterfly season soon in full swing – lasting all the way into April – we should have plenty of time to become specialists!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The real daily Jump

When Matt and Jennifer Hinsley came on their honeymoon to Greystoke Mahale, they brought along a little mission. On initiative of her sister Holly the two made jumps in always different places and photographed them. The reason being simple: to inject fun and athleticism into the everyday life.

And into the clear water of the lake...

With possibilities for jumping being endless, all of us at Greystoke really felt being part of the jump. And so we sailed out far onto the lake to make an awesome jump. With the sun going down slowly, we put away our cool drinks and prepared to 1, 2, 3… JUMP!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Baby beauty

You can read a book or a magazine, watch a documentary or research the net. Any preparation for your trip into the Mahale Mountains is exciting and fun. But how close we really are to our nearest living relative we found hard to imagine from the comfort of a chair. Nothing in the world could have prepared us for the intensity of a real life chimpanzee encounter. 

Kalunde, Ako & her young daughter

Fortunate as we are to visit the M group regular, yesterday again was a mind blowing experience. As we hiked for an hour and half along the foothills of the mountains, we came across Ako, Kalunde and Ako’s 1 year old daughter. As we sat quietly on the forest floor with our group of 4, it was the daughter of Ako that stole our hearts completely. 

Ako's daughter climbing her mothers back

And we are sure she will steal yours too...

Ako's daughter

Although still unnamed – M group chimpanzees are only named when they reach three years due to common infant mortality – Ako’s daughter is so full of life and so full of character. 

Laying in her mother's lab

As the larger part of the M group had moved on, Kalunde and Ako were quietly sitting together exchanging little sensitivities. Where females with baby's are generally a little more shy, Kalunde and Ako where at total peace. 

Ako’s daughter carefully explored the surroundings and her mother’s back, leaving us to share with them some unique moments.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The supersized lizard

Wide spread in sub saharan Africa, the Nile Monitor is the largest lizard on the planet. Growing up to 2.1 mts (or 7 ft) Nile Monitors have muscular bodies, sharp claws and powerful jaws but are harmless to humans. They thrive in an aquatic environment and therefore are commonly found in Mahale Mountains NP.

A big monitor lizard coming down one of Greystoke's pathways.

The forested edge of our beach seems to be preferred habitat for this stunning lizard. You would stand a chance to actually spot it from the comfort of your room. Often the big lizard crosses paths between the rooms on its way to prey for food.

Turning a 180 C as we spot each other...

Its diet mainly consists of crocodile eggs, fish, small mammals, insect and birds.
This particularly big monitor crossed our path yesterday when we walked to our room. As we surprised each other with our presence it took an immediate 180 C when encountered. But man, is it a stunning animal to spot up close!

Within a second the XL lizard is running off towards the forest.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Hippo heaven

Imagine a lake so huge you actually think it is a sea. Imagine the water being so clear it’s like crystal. Then imagine lush and green lakeshores to feed on. 

Photo courtesy of Jin & Paul Levy

That is exactly what hippos would tell you when asked how hippo paradise should look like. And the Mahale hippos are living the dream. 

Photo courtesy of Jin & Paul Levy

And how tremendously lucky our hippos are was again emphasized by Paul and Jin Levy. As they compared their hippo experiences here to that of Katavi – where the hippos fight over every square inch in the mud – they were struck by the peace and beauty that exists out here!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Primus Era

After a power vacuum that lasted nearly 11 months, following the murder of alpha male Pimu last year Oct, it seems that Primus has started his reign as the alpha male. However, his alpha position is still different than that of his predecessors.

Primus walks into Greystoke camp 7th Sept

As power often has shifted between Alofu and Primus during the past 11 months, it’s certainly safe to say that Alofu is not alpha male. Primus – who is physically the fittest – challenges other males and keeps coming out as the winner. But for all the respect he now enjoys in the male corners of M group society, Primus misses the vital support from the other corner; the females.

Wakusi (left) gets groomed by her son Alofu, who is the powerful the nr 2.

The females of M group - lead by strong individuals such as Wakusi, Gwekulo and Nkombo - seem not to accept Primus in the nr 1 position. Although physically Primus might be the alpha without question, this is a force in play that he will need to watch. It seems the main reason for the females to oppose his rule is because of Primus‘s aggressive behavior. That is towards other chimpanzees, both male and female.

Kalunde oversees the grooming party, close to the Greystoke's guestrooms.

So, the fact is that Primus rules a rather large social unit of approx 60 chimpanzees without outright female support. If he is up to the challenging task we’ll have to see. Some of his competitors have already successfully reigned as alpha male for many years; Kalunde, Alofu, Fanana. Therefore Primus can be sure that if he lets his guard down, someone will try step in. 

The new alpha male, Primus

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The red tail monkey

Can we introduce you to another of Mahale’s fine primates? Meet the red tail (or copper tail) monkey. A species of guenon, the red tail monkey is one of the more exotic looking primates in Mahale Mountains NP.

Densely furred from light yellow to dark brown, this monkey comes with a deep coppery red tail of up to 90 cms. With that, the size of its tail alone exceeds its average body length of 60 cm by a third! 

Furry in its appearance, it’s one of the more shy species of primate and can therefore be challenging to approach. Red tail monkeys live in groups of 7 to 35 individuals, usually existing of one male followed by numerous females. Interestingly, the females stay loyal to their territory for life – which can span up to 22 years – while the male gets to travel between other ranges.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Bar Tigers

It seems that the best fishing stories are usually exchanged in a bar. In that respect, the Greystoke bar is no different to others. It was a good two weeks ago that I was chatting with George and Mark over a pre dinner drink. Looking out over the beautiful lake and chatting about it, we all came to the same conclusion: via the direct connection that the Congo River and Lake Tanganyika have, there simply must be Tiger fish in this sea of fresh water. 

Although the camp has no record of anyone catching a Tiger, it was an exciting enough prospect. Therefore, the plan was made and the next morning we went out to see if we could find any. Equipped with trace line, spinners, some bait and a cooler box full of drinks, we went out on our little Tiger trip. The shallow river mouth - a good 5 kms (3.3 miles) south of camp - would be the very best place to station ourselves for that morning. Casting from the boat, we floated calmly in this serene and spectacular environment. Backed by the sharp Mahale mountain range, we had a few nice strikes but no tigers showed so far. 

Then at one moment, a good hour and a half into our morning, another strike hit. As we reeled it in we saw a flash of what could certainly go for a Tiger fish. But close to the boat and just before the surface it managed to unhook itself. Looking at the teeth marks when we reeled in the bait, we decided this very much so could go for a Tiger strike. Excitement! Although we kept trying hard, we didn't manage to really catch it. 

But Mark managed to land a huge catfish of about 80 cms from the river mouth that was a great catch in itself. What a great trip it is to make. So, if it comes to Tigers, I guess we're back to the bar talks again. Come and join us for a chat!