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!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The habitat generalist

Mahale Mountains is a primate paradise. Of the 8 (or possibly 9) other primate species that are present in addition to chimpanzees, the vervet monkey is one not to miss. An almost certain encounter during a visit to Greystoke, vervet monkeys are the most widespread of any of the African primates.

Recently a large troop of vervet monkeys called the trees fronting our beach their territory. And although relatively common, they are fascinating to hang out with. There is always something going on within the troop.

Vervet monkeys are largely arboreal and are very social monkeys, with troops numbering anywhere between 10 to 50 individuals. They have beautiful black colored faces, ears and hands that easily stick out of their olive grey fur.

Never far away from the trees that offer natural protection from its predators, they certainly are far from shy and with that offer some unique photo opportunities. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

M group power struggle update

We went out this morning to see how the M group chimpanzees are doing. The answer is that they’re doing fine. Almost business as usual… 

As for the past 10 months, there still is not a clear cut decision on who exactly is the Alpha male of the M group. Between the two main contenders - Alofu (33 yrs) and Primus (22 yrs) - we do lean more towards to Primus for having the best cards. However as it stands now it’s far from a rock solid appearance.

Primus sitting next to Tito with an oestrus female (background).
It seems that Alofu prefers the nr two 'out of the wind' position more, but only to use his influence cleverly when it matters. Doing so, he obtains access to certain privileges of the Alpha position such as females.
So how does that work?
Well, Alofu is aging and although a massive chimpanzee, he has less physical power and stamina than Primus. But being a former Alpha he turns out to be a master strategist. By ‘half way’ choosing the 2nd spot, he keeps himself out of the wind on a number of things, like confrontations.

Alofu looking up at noisy scene in the tree.
And well aware of how to influence the group members around him, he demands Alpha privileges when they matter to him. Primus knows Alofu is a force to be reckoned with and so does let it happen. But in contrast to that, it seems Primus mostly has the privilege with the ladies on heat.

So does this make Primus the Alpha male? Likely, but not certainly not definite. Does it make Alofu Alpha male? No, that is more unlikely. Is this interesting? Very!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Mt. Brutally Brilliant (2462 mt)

Generally, over a drink at the campfire the best ideas are born. And so we decided to make a plan to climb the majestic Mt Nkungwe. Towering over Greystoke Mahale camp, the highest peak in the Mahale mountain range, commands respect already by looking at it from the beach… Within a very short distance of the lake the mountain range quickly shoots up well into the 2200’s meters (6600’s ft), with Nkungwe topping with 2462 mts (7500 ft).

A great idea – and very well possible. However we wanted to try the round climb in one long day. That could possibly make a great activity to add to our repertoire right? Most trips cover the mountain in 2 or sometimes 3 days. But staying at a stunning camp like Greystoke, we reasoned that you would like to be back by dinner time if possible.

 So we planned our trip the 22nd of July. Together with our guide Hamza, two park representatives; Ernest and Raymond and hiking buddy Ian we decided to set off... Not realizing that you actually have to climb 3 peaks before you ascent to the highest 4th peak. And the third being almost as high as Nkungwe!

Knowing it would be long, we departed at 04.00 in the night, taking the boat to Bilenge where we started. Straight from the beach at Bilenge up the steep Mt. Pasagulu, I do remember Ian’s famous first words… “this is a brutal start isn’t it”…? Those words resonate until today.

As we climbed and climbed we crossed territories of wild chimpanzees. Loud screams were heard around us, still dark. As we kept going and going we passed Mt Mhensabantu after breakfast. Already completely challenged by the very, very steep slopes, we knew we had to take on the two biggest still.

Deep into the range, brilliant Mt. Humo showed us many different leopard and buffalo tracks. It’s so exciting to be so deep in the forested mountains. Close before summiting the 3rd peak, Hamza encountered 5 wild chimpanzees just before the summit. But man! Were we being taken by surprise of the effort you have to make to reach the top of these mountains.

Fantastic, but oh so steep. Blisters, cramp, tiredness; every bit of discomfort the range had in store for us. But no mountain comes easy. And no scenery or trip has been just so untouched – absolutely stunning.

Yet where we to climb the Nkungwe. The highest of them all. Nkungwe has the views – all the beaches, the lake and the horizon, mystically covered in a thick haze of smoke, heat and humidity. Before its forested slopes gives way to its barren peak filled with protea bush, red colobus monkeys jump from tree top to tree top as you make your way through the steep tracks. But once out the forest a new landscape is at your feet and a pleasantly cool wind refreshes the tired body. 

At the top, satisfied and stunned by the dramatic range, we realized we’re only halfway. Hiking back to Bilenge where the boat was waiting for us, was the next task. Though quicker then up, only close to 21.00 that evening was when we sat ourselves on the cushion of the boat. Oh man. 16 hours of uninterrupted climbing. Were we fantasizing about camp dinner now!! Really one of the best days in Mahale but I think we better skip planning at campfires for a while...

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The ideal afternoon

A perfect afternoon activity at Greystoke is the hike to a small but lovely waterfall. Remote and peaceful it really is a gem of a hike. 

At the moment the conditions are ideal, the water in the river bed is low but still sufficient and the rocks and boulders help us to find a nice way to climb up. 

Yes, it includes jumping from one rock to the other - and may involve some wet feet… - but generally the slope is gentle. 

As the rays of the afternoon sun shine through the forest canopy, colors are brilliant. Sounds of monkeys surround you. 

This really is such a cool walk! 

As you pass many pools and lots of small waterfalls, once you reach the end of the hike there is this beautifully crisp pool awaiting you. 

Away in the forest with no one else. 

I think I’ll go again tomorrow…