Meeting Darwin and Gremlin

Meeting Darwin and Gremlin

Meeting Darwin and Gremlin

Tribes’ Amanda Marks goes chimp trekking in Tanzania

“What?! They’re right up there?” I said.

A mountain of impenetrable green forest loomed in front of us. There was no doubting the beauty of this national park – the remote Mahale Mountains rise up from the deep waters of Lake Tanganyika in western Tanzania – but the thought of trekking along the ridge that lay ahead of us to get almost to the summit of one of the peaks … well, it was daunting to say the least. I’m not a big fan of ‘uphill’.

I should have known, of course. Six of us had come to see wild chimpanzees and at this time of year (June) they still tend to frequent the higher reaches of the mountain range since that is where they can find food until the trees and shrubs lower down start to flower and fruit from about July to October. And the chances of us actually finding the group?

“The tracker who left earlier this morning has spotted them, so we know where they are.”

Wonderful!

“But they’re on the move and if they head into the gully over that ridge, we’ll lose them. It’s impossible to get down there.”

Not good.

At first, the forest was quite kind to us. Yes, our guides had to hack a few vines and help us to cross a couple of streams and we had to watch out for stinging nettles, roots and other plants with nefarious intentions, but it’s a beautiful place to be, the birds were singing and the incline was not too strenuous. Soon, though, we were not hacking vines but using them as ropes to haul ourselves uphill, and roots were no longer seen as trip hazards but steps to be grateful for as we tried to conquer precipitous inclines. The guides were incredible with us. Helping us find footholds, carrying bags that had become too heavy, pulling us up particularly difficult bits, and encouraging us with word from the trackers that the chimps were still within our reach.

“A mother chimp, Kupi, was sitting there on the rock grooming her boisterous baby in the sun….”

Three and a half hours later and we were nearly there. Suddenly, the air rang out with the familiar calls of chimpanzees. The sounds echoed around us like a welcoming fanfare heralding our arrival. We stood for a moment, thrilled by the obvious proximity, and we hardly noticed the last push to the top. And then, there they were!

We’d come out at a small clearing with a huge boulder in the middle. A mother chimp, Kupi, was sitting there on the rock grooming her boisterous baby in the sun. My heart was beating so fast I could hear it. We all put on the masks we’d been given so as not to infect the chimps, and then we simply sat with them, and watched, and laughed, and took photos. We were within 10-15 metres of them and, after an initial glance, they totally ignored our presence and carried on with life.

The baby’s father, Bonobo, came and sat with his family (which is apparently quite rarely seen); two adult males, Teddy and Orion, sat in the shade of the trees by the rock grooming each other; another chimp sauntered across the rock and headed off into the forest further up. Our guide asked me if I wanted to follow, and so, leaving the others, I followed further into the trees. It turned out that the big male we followed was Primus, the alpha male. He sat up a tree, just watching. It’s hard to explain why, but you could see in his face that this was a chimp with stature. He soon decided to move on and to my astonishment, walked right past me. I meant nothing to him but being in his presence meant everything to me at that moment.

 

 

We tried to follow Primus but he was too fast, and instead we came across a male called Darwin.

This gentle chimp had the kind face of a well-loved grandfather, with grey hairs and slightly watery eyes, and he just lay on his back on the forest floor with his head propped up on his arm and his feet on a nearby branch. He was the picture of Sunday morning relaxation.

The guide and I sat quietly with him for about ten minutes. He looked over at us occasionally. I just stared, drinking him in. It was one of those moments never to be forgotten.

“We were lucky this day as the chimps had come down the slopes.”

Two days later, I was sitting in another piece of forest further north, but still on the edge of Lake Tanganyika. This was Gombe National Park. You may know the name through the work of Dr Jane Goodall who was the primatologist who first habituated the chimpanzees in this area, back in the 1960s. She is in her eighties now, but still firmly involved and her foundation is still going and still a key force in the park.

Though the terrain at Gombe is very similar to that at Mahale, we were lucky this day as the chimps had come down the slopes. This made the experience here very different, and far more similar to the trek you would expect (even in Mahale) if you visited from about July to October. It took us only 20 minutes walking to find our first groups of chimps in the Kasakela community. The forest at this level is not so dense and there are more pathways that make the going much easier, though of course the chimps aren’t necessarily going to follow the paths – and they didn’t!

“You must keep to a distance of 10m and wear a face mask. You cannot visit them if you are ill – even with a cold – as you could wipe them out.”

We found a few different groups of chimps as we walked, as these chimps were not in such a sedentary mood as the Mahale chimps had been. We walked and stopped, walked and stopped for a couple of hours. We saw Gremlin and her high-spirited twins, we met Gaia and her family, we watched Google and Grendo having a chat on a log, we were there as Golden suckled her baby, as they all ate, squabbled, played and groomed each other.  I could have stayed all day.

All in all we had one hour with each group. I am more than thankful for the experience, for the fact that they still exist and that they accept our presence, that the forest is still here for them, that I was able to have the opportunity to come here, that they are being protected thanks to tourism. However, my heart was also full of concerns after leaving them: could the forest – their home – be protected from logging (either commercial or simply from nearby villagers needing land or wood); could the chimps be protected from poaching (wild meat poachers are known to still cross from DRC); will the tourists like us be the unwitting cause of the destruction of these incredible creatures through the transmission of disease; can these wild chimp populations be assured of a future?

Sadly, I don’t think anyone can offer a confidently positive answer to any of these questions. All we can do is do our best to ensure that forest creatures such as these magnificent chimpanzees are given all the protection we can afford them. They deserve it. This is their planet too.

So, is it worth the expense and the travel and the exertion to see these extraordinary creatures that are so like us?

Yes, yes, and yes again. Do not hesitate. Just come.

Can you help protect chimpanzees?

VISIT THEM IN THE WILD
Although tourism is a double-edged sword because it can bring disease if not carefully managed, in the view of most conservationists, it remains the strongest weapon we have in the protection of the species and their habitat. There are about 700 chimps in Mahale, but only around 100 in Gombe. The numbers in both communities are in decline. Up to 30 visitors per day can visit the chimps, with a maximum of 6 people per group for only 1 hour. You must keep to a distance of 10m and wear a face mask. You cannot visit them if you are ill – even with a cold – as you could wipe them out.

Please come and visit these remarkable creatures. You’ll be helping them to survive as tourism pays for their protection.

Tribes offers sample itineraries on the websites – Ruaha, Katavi, Mahale (11 days)Chimps, Serengeti and Spice (11 days) but we can tailor-make any itinerary you want.

DONATE FUNDS TO THEIR PROTECTION

If you are not able to visit, but still want to help, please consider donating to a charity such as the Jane Goodall Institute. www.janegoodall.org.uk
Their work is critical to the well-being of the chimps at Gombe National Park.

All images © Amanda Marks

Serious ‘chillaxing’

Serious ‘chillaxing’

Serious ‘chillaxing’

 

With Mother’s Day this Sunday, March 31, a straw poll of the mums in the Tribes office revealed (not surprisingly!) that the chance to relax would be a most welcome gift. This then set us off onto a conversation about some particularly relaxing holidays or holiday experiences, with spa treatments topping the list  – we’re talking serious ‘chillaxing’!

‘In India they quite rightly take relaxation very seriously.’

Images © Ananda in the Himalayas

In India they quite rightly take relaxation very seriously, and just reading about the Ananda Wellbeing Holidays had us feeling tensions diminish.  Ananda in the Himalayas is a splendid palace set in 100 acres of grounds high above the Ganges River Valley. It’s a true sanctuary where you feel miles – and years – away from the stresses of 21st century life. There’s a range of programmes to choose from, including Yogic detox, stress management, Ayurvedic rejuvenation and even an active programme for those who want to combine spa therapies with circuit training, white water rafting etc.  Expert therapists, doctors and chefs collaborate to provide an immersive experience – all in a beautiful setting.

Another wonderfully relaxing location in India is SwaSwara, which overlooks Om Beach. This sanctuary is focused on refreshing you mind, body and soul, with three programmes that range from five to 21 nights in length.

A river cruise is, by its very nature, usually pretty relaxing, but an Irrawaddy River cruise in Burma on board the elegant Sanctuary Ananda is another thing entirely in the relaxation stakes. Seeing the sun rise over the temples of Bagan is a glorious way to start a day, and, while the trip has a fabulous range of activities to make the most of your being in this fascinating part of the world – including ox cart and rickshaw rides, pagoda and temple visits and demonstrations by local artisans – life on board the Sanctuary Ananda is designed to make everyday cares float away. Styled rather like a 1930s steamer, this luxurious craft has its own spa offering a range of theraputic and beauty treatments,  plus a plunge pool and a sundeck, which is a perfect spot for yoga.

‘Life on board the Sanctuary Ananda is designed to make everyday cares float away.’

Image ©Sanctuary Ananda

‘Spa treatments with organic, locally-grown Andean plants and herbs..’

Images © Sol y Luna

A number of the hotels in Peru’s Sacred Valley have spas, making them the perfect place to relax after exploring the stunning landscape and remarkable Inca archaeological sites. The charming Sol y Luna, for example, sits in a wonderfully relaxing location in the Sacred Valley, set in 25 acres of flower and bird-filled gardens. The Yacu Wasi spa of this Relais & Chateaux property offers daily yoga sessions as well as spa treatments with organic, locally-grown Andean plants and herbs. Tribes’ travel experts would be only too pleased to help you plan an itinerary that includes not only Sol y Luna but also the Belmond Andean Explorer – this luxury sleeper train has its own spa car!

Nyara Springs in Costa Rica (pictured above and in the image at the top of this page) is in a fabulous setting in the Arenal Volcano National Park. The mere fact that each room has its own private plunge pool fed by natural mineral hot springs is sufficient to initiate the relaxation process. Add a beautiful spa perched above the rainforest, with open-air treatment pavilions and a stunning yoga pavilion, and you’re likely to find it very hard to leave!

Having a spa treatment while on safari is a great treat, and there are some excellent spas to be found amongst the safari lodges of South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia, including The Elephant Camp (Zimbabwe) , Saruni Samburu (Kenya), Leopard Hills Private Game Reserve (South Africa), and Lemala Kuria Hills in Tanzania. This overlooks the plains of the Northern Serengeti. The Melengali Spa at Lemala Kuria Hills is a very relaxing place for a muscle-soothing massage – and the views from the bathrooms of the tented suites are fabulous too!

Or how about a classic Indian Ocean getaway? The White Sands Villa and Spa boutique hotel on the east coast of Zanzibar offers barefoot luxury and a beautifully-located spa in lush, colourful gardens a stone’s throw from the beach

Want to get even further away in search of peace and quiet? There’s no spa or massage service at Fanjove Private Island (pictured above) but, with just six guest bandas and requiring a flight in a small plane then a boat trip to get to it, this 1km x 300m piece of castaway seclusion in the Indian Ocean is hugely relaxing.

Or, if you want to get away from – pretty much – it all but still have a spa to hand, may we suggest Easter Island? A five hour flight from the Chilean mainland, Rapa Nui is an intriguing place to visit, and the Hangaroa Eco Village and Spa is a fantastic place to stay on the island. Spa Manavi overlooks the Pacific Ocean – fabulous!

‘Chillaxing’ at Lemala Kuria Hills in Tanzania…

Water for Life, Zambia – we did it!

Water for Life, Zambia – we did it!

We did it!

Last Friday, March 22, was UN World Water Day. Most of us are lucky enough to be able to take fresh water for granted, not even thinking about it when we turn on a tap. However, while every human being should have access to fresh, safe water, for billions of people across the world sadly that’s simply not an option. Last year, through The Tribes Foundation, the charity that we support with funds and admin, we started a campaign to raise the £5,500 needed to provide a borehole well for a community in a remote part of eastern Zambia so that some 250 people could have access to fresh water.

And we are thrilled to announce that, thanks to Tribes travellers and other generous supporters, we have reached our target!

“Every human being should have access to fresh, safe water.”

In 2010, the UN recognized the right to safe and clean drinking water as “a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.” Yet at present, like so many people across the globe, the villagers our borehole project will help have to rely on streams and stagnant ponds for their water.  They share this with livestock and, consequently, water-borne diseases are common.

The new borehole will, like the one pictured above, directly improve many lives by providing access to fresh, safe, drinkable water.

We’d like to thank everyone who donated to this really important cause – this will make an incredible difference to these villagers, and it’s one that will have an enduring impact.

The Tribes Foundation

Simply by booking with Tribes, you are already making a difference, as every booking helps The Tribes Foundation. Most clients make additional donations which are put to very good use with one of the environmental, social or wildlife, environmental or social projects we work on.

Why choose a Tribes tailor made holiday?

Why choose a Tribes tailor made holiday?

Well, what a summer it’s been! Did you catch the hint of irony there? If you’re feeling somewhat short-changed a spot of holiday-planning therapy could be just the thing you need, so now’s the time to thinking about your next holiday! Here are some benefits of using Tribes tailor made service:

01 – Choice

It’s not always easy to know where to start, with so many countries to choose from, places to stay and things to do. That’s where our handy ‘When to go Where’ pages can help. Select the month of your trip and use our well-researched month-by-month guide to see your options on destinations and activities. So whether you dream of a relaxing post-Christmas beach break, crave thrills and adventure in March or fancy some wildlife and nature in August, we’ve got it covered. Take a look and you might just be inspired.

Very helpful and knowledgeable staff who was able to tailor my trip to my needs and wants

02 – Ease

From there, it’s easy. Once you’ve focused on a destination it’s up to you how much planning you want to put in. If you love researching you’ll find plenty to keep you busy on our website with suggested holiday itineraries, hotels, lodges and camps, activities and experiences. On the other hand, you might prefer to hand over to the professionals at the outset, giving us your wishlist and leaving us to do the rest.

03 – Expertise

Whichever approach you favour, we work with you, combining your ideas and our in-depth knowledge and experience, boosted by annual research trips (we’ve been there and done that), to hone your holiday. We love creating holidays, and the number of repeat clients we get suggests we do it rather well! Don’t just take our word for it, read what our client say.

04 – Service

We don’t always hit the jackpot first go: tailor making an itinerary is more of an art than an exact science, requiring tweaks, amendments and adaptations. Result: your very own holiday, uniquely tailored to you, like a bespoke suit of clothes!

05 – Equals your unique holiday

That’s it in a nutshell. Your ideas plus our professional expertise and personal service equals your very own tailor made holiday. If you’ve not yet put us to the test, maybe now’s the time to try. You won’t regret it and you may join the tribe of repeat clients who travel with us time and again!

Ngare Serian

Ngare Serian

Ngare Serian

A bridge too far?

Amanda Marks, Tribes managing director

 MASAI MARA SPECIAL 

I am sitting on the huge verandah of our vast and gorgeous tent, watching hippos and listening to the Mara River burble happily past the dark rocks, and rush underneath the narrow rope swing bridge that we just crossed on foot to get into Ngare Serian camp.

I should say from the outset that not everyone will like this camp. Some won’t like crossing the Mara River on said bridge (the only way in). Some won’t like the fact that there is no wifi. Others might not like the genteel house party atmosphere of everyone eating together on one big table. And it’s possible that the sound of the Mara River wending its beautiful way through the savannah will bother some sensitive souls if you get the tent by the small rapids.

Mara river hippos

Photograph by Amanda Marks

Me, I love it. I loved it the moment I stepped off the rope bridge to meet friendly managers Sophie and Fred, and was handed a tree tomato juice by Joel, the huge and wonderful waiter who looks like he should be a prize fighter yet who is gently attentive. I loved our tasty 3-course lunch in the main area. I loved our beautiful tent with its stunning position right by the river, looking out onto the acacia-dotted grasslands of Mara North conservancy (there are zebras in the distance as I write). And lastly, wilderness-lover that I am, I loved that there are only 4 tents here so only a few like-minded souls to share this little slice of Kenya with.

“James is a story teller. He makes the Mara come alive for his guests”

Our stay started well when we were picked up at Mara North airstrip by our private guide, James. A silver-level guide, he is knowledgeable, confident, and keen to show us as much of the Mara as he can in the short time we have with him. By the time we had driven the roughly 30 minutes to the camp, we’d already seen ostriches, warthogs, wildebeest, zebras, giraffes and 3 cheetahs asleep under a tree, and we’d been regaled with the story of how the cheetah and leopard got their different style of spots. James is a storyteller. He makes the wildlife of the Mara come alive for his guests, which is a skill that not all safari guides, however qualified, are blessed with.

Following a delicious lunch, our afternoon game drive started with spotting a leopard with a kill, continued with watching a newborn Thomson’s gazelle take his first tottering steps, and ended with watching a pride of lions with two male brothers. Since off-road driving is allowed in the Mara conservancies, you can get surprisingly close to the wildlife, and the rules of a maximum of 5 vehicles per sighting are mostly adhered to. Safe to say, we went to bed very happy.

Leopard with kill

Photograph by Guy Marks

Next morning we took a short bush walk with James, and visited the treehouse for breakfast, as last night’s occupants had already left. Serian has its own private conservancy west of the Mara River, and they offer walks here at the foot of the Oloololo escarpment, and even up to the top if you fancy it. Being in the African bush takes on a whole new perspective when you’re on foot, especially when you know there is a pride of lions in the area!

One night was absolutely not enough here. I’m sure I’ll be walking the rope bridge to this beautiful little piece of the Mara before too long.

NOTE:  Ngare Serian has a sister camp, the original Serian Camp, just next door. The two camps are not within sight of each other; they are quite separate. The original Serian is very similar, however, but with 5 tents, which, whilst still by the river, are higher up on a rocky bank. And since the camp is on the eastern side of the river, there is no rope bridge to negotiate!

 MASAI MARA SPECIAL 

Amanda Marks went to check out camps and lodges in the Masai Mara in June 2017. See her articles about other camps, and about safariing in the Mara:

Responsible travel is more fun!

Responsible travel is more fun!

Responsible travel is more fun!
23
November, 2016

Sustainable
Conservation
Responsible

Responsible travel.  It sounds a bit ‘sensible’ doesn’t it?  So what does this have to do with holidays and having fun?
Well the fact is that travelling responsibly is a positive experience which actually makes travelling more fun, not less.  And on top of that you get that warm feeling of knowing that you’ve made a difference in some way – perhaps you’ve helped with the conservation of rainforest, or helped to fund an anti-poaching patrol, or brought money to a community development scheme.
maasai meeting
When you travel responsibly you might be very aware of the benefits your visit is bringing, for example if you go on a gorilla trek you know that your permit is being used to help protect the gorillas. However sometimes it’s much less obvious. An example of this is if you stay at a luxury lodge where you get the best accommodation, delicious cuisine and top notch guiding in a remote reserve.  It’s not immediately obvious that the lodge is in fact owned by the local Maasai community and that all profits go to help conservation and development projects in the area.
“So how are responsible, sustainable holidays more fun? ”

Well they are quite often far more interesting than a ‘standard’ holiday, and they can connect to you to the place you’re visiting more readily. Also the people you meet are usually really keen that your experience is a superb one. They know that your visit is bringing benefits, and they appreciate that.

Here are 10 examples of fantastic diverse things you could enjoy on holidays which make a difference:

  • Become a Maasai warrior for a week!
  • Trek in the Peruvian Andes and stay at community-run campsites for a more authentic experience.
  • Go pony trekking in Lesotho and stay in local villages.
  • Stay in a romantic treehouse on an island in the Indian Ocean.
  • Go jaguar spotting in the Brazilian Pantanal.
  • Visit musicians and craftsmen in small villages in Kerala and get involved.
  • Take a short break in a kasbah in Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains.
  • Enjoy a safari in the Masai Mara staying at a luxury lodge.
  • Explore the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador with Huaorani Indians.
  • Chill out on a remote beach in South Africa, staying in a reed chalet.

There really are so many exciting things to do, so ask us for inspiration if you want, or check out the website for great ideas.

Go on, give yourself a treat, and know that your fun is bringing positive change.

Viewing Rhino
art-shop
elephant
delta