If you don’t know it already, then hear this: Tanzania is wonderful, huge and welcoming, and blessed with more than its fair share of parks and reserves, most obviously the Serengeti, but also Tarangire, the Selous, beautiful Ruaha and super wild Katavi, all of which I was lucky enough to visit last November.
However, while indeed marvellous, I’m reserving the rest of this post for the untold wonders that are Mahale Mountains National Park, which though I knew a great deal about, having organised itineraries that included it as a destination, I’d never had the pleasure of actually visiting. Frankly, I didn't know what I’d been missing.
Owing to Mahale’s very remoteness, it being located on the eastern shores of Lake Tanganyika, and consisting of some 600 square kilometres of mountain habitat, getting there’s a plane ride, and then a short boat. It’s a proper trek, but I can’t tell you how wonderful an approach it is, flying over miles and miles of dense forest, not a single sign of human habitation, the whole experience a scene out of Jurassic Park. I couldn’t speak. It’s the meaning of awesome.
The story behind the setting up of Mahale’s we’ve shared before, but briefly it’s the heart-child of Roland Purcell, who off the back of a vision, a Landrover and extraordinary fortitude, spent years building a lodge, hosting visitors, and helping preserve the world’s largest known population of chimpanzee. Having been, and experienced arriving at Greystoke Mahale, the forest stretching up and behind, I can vouch for everything he saw and hoped for: it is both beautiful and an experience like no other.
The lodge itself is quirky, built out of found and recycled materials, a project made up of much time and love, and run accordingly, everyone extraordinarily lovely, the food too. It’s tracking the chimps, however, that takes you into an entirely new place – both obviously and also within yourself. Again, we’ve shared this before, so I won’t go over what I think for everyone is the same stunning experience, the sense that, when in the company of chimpanzees, you are watching yourself and not watching yourself, their socialising extraordinarily human-like, their movement, the noises they make, very animal. It’s as close to mystical as I’ve ever felt.
Still, I should say that I had been worried about keeping up, the heat, the strain of walking for long periods. I’d not been tiptop health-wise, and was obviously concerned. I needn’t have worried. Despite the fact that the chimps do tend to move very quickly, the forest’s cool, and the sheer excitement, coupled with the scenery, takes over. I returned delighted, refreshed, full of beans.
I’m gushing – and I haven’t even mentioned the lake, the boating, swimming, snorkelling, the forest walks, the butterflies, the wonderful characters I met and shared this experience with, both human and animal ... It’s paradise. Please, do go.