On the shore of Lake Tanganyika
In the remote west of the country lies Tanzania’s best kept secret – Gombe National Park. Perhaps this fact is due to the point that you cannot discover the park with a Landcruiser, but hike through the lush forest on foot. The longer journey and the only option to reach the park via boat contributes to that. It goes over rivers, then back up the verdant forested mountainside as it is part of the Albertine Rift. The untouched nature is beautiful but also rough. On top of the hills you are rewarded with a magnificent view over the largest fresh water lake in the world. This is where the eastern chimpanzees live, the most common subspecies of chimpanzee. They never drink from Lake Tanganyika, only from springs and rivers and are the main attraction for this African adventure alongside the red colobus and red-tailed monkeys.
We set off in the dark – to Gombe
A boat docks just next to our overnight point and we climb over the edge of the boat with a flashlight. The skipper draws water over the edge of the boat. The engine won’t start, we float on the calm water for a few minutes and chat with the other guests on how they got to Kigoma.
Then we glide over the water surface towards Gombe National Park, the place where Jane Goodall lived. The skipper tells me that the water level has risen in the last 2 years. Some villages had to be resettled. With the rising sun, the beauty of this area becomes visible. Crystal, clear water in which we swim, green mountain slopes that invite you to hike and manageable villages in idyllic tranquility. The lake water is so still that the clouds are reflected in it.
The journey takes about 2 hours until we dock at the main park entrance of Gombe National Park. The white, round stones along the shore form a strong contrast to the densely overgrown mountain slope and give an idea of this is a very special place. The park ranger, who is stationed here for a few weeks, asks if we would like a coffee. Then it’s off to the Kasekela Group, one of three chimpanzee groups. We hike about 1.5 hours through dense rainforest, listen to the cicadas and spot turacos in the treetops. A total of about 120 chimpanzees live in the park. We are lucky and see around 25 animals up close.
By kayak along the Gombe Stream
It’s worth staying an extra day. Because in addition to the chimpanzee tracking, other activities are also possible. I find the new kayaks particularly inviting and I would have liked more time to swim in this paradise. There are also red colobus monkeys who like to share the beach with baboons.
Jane Goodall and the Chimpanzees
When Jane entered the forest of Gombe at the age of 26, the world knew very little about chimpanzees and even less about their unique genetic relationship to humans. Taking an unorthodox approach to her fieldwork, she immersed herself in the chimpanzees’ habitat with binoculars and a notepad to understand their complex society and interdependence among individuals. Jane pioneered understanding of species as emotional and individual. Her fieldwork in Gombe changed the understanding of chimpanzees and redefined the relationship between humans and animals in a way that still resonates around the world today.