Kigoma and Gombe

Trip Start Sep 12, 2006
Trip End Sep 01, 2007

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Saturday, June 9, 2007

So onto the next bit of the journey (June 7 - 9). I'm sorry this is coming in little bits, but I'm back in Mwanza and working like a maniac. I've also had a pretty bad cold and been feeling more sick than bloggy.
We woke up at the Diplomatic Villa, Kigoma on Wed, June 7 and headed into town to look into 1) plane tickets for a weekend departure, 2) information on chimp trekking (was Mitumba really $300-$400?), and 3) to see the town. It was pouring and our new German friends were pretty sad since they had only come to Kigoma to enjoy the lovely beaches along Lake Tanganyika.
First stop... Precision Air, one of Tanzania's two and the only one that flies out of Kigoma. Precision is notoriously inefficient and the Kigoma office was no exception. After an hour, we learned that the Saturday flight was already booked, we couldn't pay with credit cards, that the ticket would be more than we had been quoted in Mwanza (since we would be staying in Zanzibar for more that 48 hours ... duh!), and that Precision offers student discounts (which no one has ever told me even though I have flown them multiple times!). The Germans decided to book for Thursday.
Next stop... the Aqua Lodge, a dingy and over-priced ($22/night for a double) place with icky sheets and hole-ridden mosquito nets. We went there because according to the various guidebooks, Aqua Lodge is also home to Sunset Tours, a budget tour operator. This basically meant that they had a laminated price list of all the stuff we already knew about Gombe from communicating with the park staff and reading quidebooks! We found out that we could hire a boat for $200 to take us to Gombe. Aqua Lodge is in a nice location on the beach, but it is very noisy since it is across from the power station. Ah, tradeoffs... lake view, industrial noise, and icky sheets... another day in Tanzania!

#3 Kigoma Hilltop... Next we took a long winding and very hilly walk up to the Hilltop, Kigoma's only luxury hotel. Oooh, it was lovely: pool, landscaping, great food, nice rooms. Ah, to live that way again! Our mission was not recreational, we were there to inquire about their camp. Turns out it is $400 and that does not include boat! Feeling dejected, we clarified that they were indeed talking about Mitumba (per all the guidebooks and internet). Turns out Mitumba is OWNED by the park and is only $20 per person/night. Yes! A nice man at Hilltop radioed the park and were in, reservations made for the next day. He tells us that we need to take all provisions including food and water with us, so we head back to town.

#4 Back to Aqua Lodge to organize boat trip! .Arranged to be picked up at 7 am.

#5 Back to Precision to book the Friday flight. We arrive at  the office at 3:30 and it is closed! Apparently, the entire Precision Office goes to the airport for "airport time" where they double as check in, security, and baggage claim workers.  We buy supplies (feta, veggies, water, fruit) and then head back to wait for the Precision staff to return. They finally come back at 7:00 pm and inform us that the Friday flight is sold out, as is Saturday's, Sunday's, and Monday's. We are feeling a little disheartened about facing the train again and don't really want to stay in Kigoma until Tuesday (another 6 days!), so we head back to the Hilltop for a nice dinner (3 courses for $10) with Astrid and Marco (aka the Germans). While at the hilltop, we befriended the restaurant manager who snuck us some beers (contraband at this Muslim-owned joint) and informed us that Jane Goodall, herself, would be at Gombe while we were there!

Slept fitfully at the Aqua Lodge ... was attacked by mozzies (please no more malaria!) and annoyed by the generator sound, plus I was just plain worried about the plane situation!

Woke up on Thursday am bright and early. Alli and I decided to keep our stuff in the room and take the minimals to Gombe (change of clothes, bathing suit, towel, food, and camera equipment). This cost us a bit of money, but made us feel much more secure. We examined our provisions and realized that our feta was in rough shape (mushy and odiferous) so we pitched it!   Off to the boat in a taxi with a charming young man who took our first installment ($100) and then left us with two teenage fishermen (fisherboys) who took us up to Gombe.

The boatride was amazing and even though it was pricey, it was great to be in our own boat instead of a crowded lake taxi. The landscape on Lake Tanganyika is gorgeous ... beautiful mountains, crystal clear water teaming with fresh water cichlids, and occupied very sparsely by little fishing villages.  It is hard to capture the beauty of such a remote place, but it was extremely lush and tranquil and completely different from any other part of Tanzania that I've visited. Lake Tanganyika seperates Tanzania from Burundi and the Congo, so the landscape is much more mountain and jungle then either the beach-y coast, the plains (think Serengeti)of the middle, the ice-capped top of Kilminjaro, or the rocky landscapes of Lake Victoria.

We arrived at Gombe after about 11/2 hours on the boat and were warmly welcomed by a lovely woman and two park rangers.  We waited for about half and hour to pay our park fees (since naturally none of these people could take our money) and then left our bags in the office and headed into the forest with Felix, a ranger. Interestingly, he appeared not to speak any English necessitating me acting as a translator for Alli, but other friends who have had him say his English is fine. Importantly, I am not posting very many pictures of the chimps...flash photography is not permitted because it upsets the chimps (obviously) and my digital camera couldn't really deal with the light limitations, so I mostly shot film. Hopefully, I will have a few decent shots when I get my film developed in September. In the mean time, Alli will hopefully post a few taken with her professional digital equipment.

Almost immediately, we saw saw chimps. The first group was comprised of two moms and their babies. They were sleeping in their tree nests. It was quite funny because just like in human life, the babies got up first and started toddling and then swinging around. The moms got up and tried to put them back to bed, but the kids just weren't having it. So the mom's had to get up and feed them. You could imagine the mom's thinking, "Come on kids, can't you sleep for another 20 minutes."  We got to hang out with them for about an hour. We then passed by Jane Goodall's original house (preserved for posterity) and then went for a walk with Felix to see the Gombe waterfall which was spectacular and Gombe stream (which the park is named for). The park is full of baboons which are much easier to take photos of. The park is NOT full of tourists like the Serengeti. During our visit, there was only one other tourist.

On our way back, we came across another (or maybe the same) group of chimps. This time we saw three adult females and two babies. They were on the ground this time, hanging out eating and just chilling out. After a while they got nervous and took off, so we spent another hour chasing them up a mountainside until Felix got tired. At that point, we headed down to our boat and took it to the Mitumba resthouse which is an old converted school. We were graciously welcomed by a young guy who works as the caretakers. Turns out they have everything there including water, cold sodas, and frosty beer. The caretaker arranged for us to have a nice dinner of fish, rice, and mchuzi (tomato-onion gravy).  Since it was only early afternoon, I went snorkelling and swimming in Lake Tanganyika and saw tons of cichlids, then Alli and I went for a walk. We ate our dinner, chatted with the caretaker, and then stargazed. The sky in Gombe is amazingly clear since there is no light pollution. Our rooms were extremely comfortable and spotless -- overall an amazing value!

The next morning, we got up before dawn and got our boat guys to take us back to the park for one more chance to see the chimps before our 24 hour park permits expired. Felix asked if we were feeling strong. After saying yes, he took us on an extremely strenous trip (hike is not the word) following chimp calls. We scrambled up mountainsided, trekked through ravines, scrambled on our bellies through vines, and at one point crossed on tree tops. We felt like chimpanzees! We finally caught up with a big male chimp and one of his consorts but only momentarilly. We headed back down drenched in sweat and covered in mud.

I decided to go for a quick swim to cool off, Alli grabbed a soda, and we both agreed that it was better that we weren't catching the Friday flight since there was no way we would make it back in time. At about 1, we got into our boat and headed back to Kigoma. On our way out, we saw Jane Goodall's boat arriving in the distance.

Once we got back in cellphone range, I turned on my phone to see if there was any luck in getting a flight... we were in luck, the Germans had managed to get up on the Friday flight, but we had to get there and pay in 30 minutes. We jumped out of the boat and got to Precision in the nick of time! Our tickets took an hour to issue, then we had to change our clothes, repack at the Aqua Lodge and jump in a taxi. Luckily for us, Precision was running late so we made the flight to Dar. Taking no chances, I booked us a room at Q-Bar, a pricey but charming and amazingly clean guesthouse in the Msasani area of Dar, before getting on our flight. We got in around 8 pm, took a taxi, and enjoyed hot clean showers and great food (mixed seafood) before crashing.

Coming next... Zanzibar, Zanzibar, you can't get there in a car!  
Slideshow Report as Spam
Where I stayed
Diplomatic Villa
Aqua Lodge
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