Tanzania Part 1: Mahale Mountains

One year ago or so, my mom brought up the suggestion of a family trip to Tanzania. At that time, I knew very little about the country, or what a trip there would entail. Now, reflecting on our 2 week trip to Tanzania, I can tell you that our trip there was absolutely the most amazing trip of my life. Over the next couple weeks, I’ll post about the different things we did and places we visited. Today, I’ll share some photos from the first destination on our trip: the Mahale Mountains National Park.

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After an almost 24 hour journey, from Toronto, to Amsterdam, to Kilimanjaro and a night in Arusha, where I had a restless slip due to jet-lag and the neverending sound of barking dogs, we were driven to Arusha airport. Security at the Arusha airport involved asking you to take a sip of your water bottle to prove it was water :). This was the first of many tiny airports we would visit, and the first of many 12 seater planes we would take through the course of our trip. These plane rides were amazing – it’s such an incredible way to see the landscape, and we spotted many herds of animals from above on our journey.

Around 2pm we arrived at the Mahale airstrip. After finishing up some lunch and meeting our guides (Mwiga and Filbert), we took a gorgeous 1 hour boat ride along Lake Tanganyika, finally arriving at our destination – Nomad’s Greystoke Mahale – a truly remarkable place.

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Greystoke is a resort of sorts, in the middle of the Mahale Mountains National Park. Crystal blue water, sandy beaches, and incredible lush green mountains act as the backdrop. We stayed in these amazing bandas, which were huts, that opened on to the sand, and looked out over the water. They even included an outdoor shower (which felt like one of the most luxe experiences of my life) as well as lovely little touches like a yoga mat, incense, and fresh coffee greeting you on your porch each morning.The only issue I faced was the walk down the dark walkway to the bathroom, which at night could be somewhat scary, not knowing what critters and animals could be waiting for you on your path! Greystoke also has a very famous pet – a pelican named Big Bird, who was injured as a baby and who is cared for by the staff. Big Bird behaves rather like a petulant 2 year old, who always wants to be fed or played with, and is constantly pestering you for attention!

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But the real reason you come to Mahale is singular: for the chimpanzees. Every day you are there you have the opportunity to trek out into the forest to observe and track a very special group of chimpanzees. Mahale is home to roughly 900 chimpanzees, but the chimps we spent time with are part of the “M group”, a group of chimpanzees who, due in part to a group of Japanese researchers, have become habituated to humans. This means that when you are around them, they do not run away, but instead, go on with their life! It also means that your guides are extremely familiar with this group – each chimp has a name, age and a story, and you get to learn about them all as you encounter them.

Each day followed the same plan: early in the morning trekkers go out into the mountains and locate the chimps, they then send word back to the camp, and our group would hike out, for anywhere between 1-3 hours, to arrive at the chimps, and then spend time watching them. But each day was very different, one day we ended up forging rivers (maybe 5 or 6 times?) to find a family of chimps laying around, while another day we ended up with a huge group of chimps in the trees, watching mothers feed their babies while the alpha male looked on. I cannot express to you how remarkable the experience of being with chimps is. If you need any more proof for our shared evolutionary past, you simply need to spend time with chimpanzees – their human-like behavior is astounding.

The government in Tanzania is fantastic at prioritizing wildlife and nature, and doing everything they can do to protect it. A few years ago, there was a terrible outbreak of pneumonia amongst the chimps, that killed many chimps. The horrible thing is that the scientists believe this outbreak started with a human visitor. As a result, there are very tightly enforced restrictions for chimp visitors. This includes always wearing a mask (that’s why you see them in the photos below) when you’re in sight of any chimps, and always being accompanied by a Tanzanian ranger on your trek. If anything, these restrictions gave me a deeper respect for the national commitment to wildlife preservation, and we were all happy to follow the rules.

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Tanzania - Mahale (Web)-49Every day in Mahale was adventurous, inspiring, and meditative. In addition to our daily “chimping”, we went fishing in Lake Tanganyika, and all caught yellow-bellies (2 for us, and 1 for Big Bird!),  read books on the beach while warthogs and monkeys wandered by, and sipped drinks while the sun went down. It honestly felt like heaven.

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Oh yah, and my mom got us matching t-shirts :).


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  1. Michelle – you have created a wonderful legacy of an experience of a lifetime. I spent two weeks in Botswana a few years ago and I still treasure those memories. I ‘bumped’ into your father this morning at the doctor’s and he spoke glowingly of your photographic skills. And all I can add is he had a right to.
    Best wishes,
    Gary Carr

  2. Beautiful photos! What a trip. Also, cutest/dorkiest family pics 🙂

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