Hidden Gems of the West: Katavi & Mahale

My excitement has been building for months.Here I am about to travel to western Tanzania, one of the most remote and exclusive safari destinations in the vast country. For 7 nights I will be completely off the grid and far removed from the main tourist circuit of the northern Serengeti eco-system.For years I have heard of these magical places; Katavi where one can still find wild untouched Africa and Mahale nestled onto the shores of Lake Tanganyika between the sweet warm waters of blue full of tropical fish and the majestic rain forested Mahle Mountains which tower up thousands of feet above the lake.This is the land of the chimps.The legendary camp which gives adventurous travelers the unique opportunity to interact with habituated chimpanzee families in their natural setting.I have dreamed of Lake Tanganyika of over 30 years as I heard the rumors of the mysterious lake which connects Burundi to Zambia cutting straight across the north-south border of Congo and Tanzania.Here is the …

Walking in the Wild

Red dawn brings a golden light onto the plains as we get an early 6AM start on foot into the wilderness.I am back in my element, walking is such a special treat and I love camps that allow this activity as it brings nature directly to one’s sense of smell, taste, touch, and hearing.
Soon we reach a 10 foot bluff overlooking a hippo pool only yards away from over 20 large adult hippos and 4 juveniles bathing in the muddy river.Hippos are so much fun to watch and it is a treat to be able to observe them on foot only so close up.Their yawns span a good 6 feet, they grunt loudly and make funny noises.They roll and lean into each other in a big tangle of huge bodies - like so many Sumo wrestlers in a mud bath!Good fun.Later we spot 8 lionesses just across the river - another incredibly rare sighting on foot.They turn to look at us and then scamper ever the embankment to start their morning hunt.About twenty minutes later we come across an adult and juvenile eagle owl perched in a giant tree…

Journey to Paradise

Another red dawn lights up the golden grass.We set out for a long drive to one of the most remote parts of the park: Paradise.This is so remote that few vehicles even make this journey and we find the road is challenging but luckily we have an excellent Land Rover and John is an expert driver. about 30 minutes from camp we find 2 female lions with 2 cubs that are 6 months (so cute) old siting by the river.
Just fifteen minutes later we come across a large pride of 11 female lions with 3 cubs all about 3 months old.This is incredibly good luck for us as the lions are calm and allow us to approach to with about 10 feet for great viewing.The cubs are curious but shy, roving from the tall grass and then peaking out at us and cautiously approaching the vehicle.

It took about two more hours to reach Paradise. This is the land of plenty.One of those iconic African scenes where you see animals blanketing the plains in every direction - here the zebras, there the waterbuck, some giraffe in the m…

Beyond the Hippo Pool

Morning drive in search of roan antelope - found 3 at bush breakfast plus male giraffe battling, using their necks to bash heads - brutal action.We see severalhippos on land (usually this is rare but here there are so many hippos they are calm out of the water), and a monitor lizard.The roan antelope sighting is a real coup - only the second time John has seen them in several years guiding in Katavi.This is a rare sighting and we are treated to a great scene as we set up a bush breakfast and the roan just graze only yards away.

Later we enjoy a relaxing sunset drive to hippo pool - there we find 2 female lions, 1 large male and 1 cub 3 months in the open with very good visibility.  Idilllic setting by the river with hippos, giraffe, impalas, crocs, pelicans, saddle bill storks, and vervet monkeys on display.

Journey to Mahale

This morning we bid farewell to our hosts at Chada Katavi camp and board our flight to Mahale.In just 30 minutes we are dropping over the Mahale Mountains to Lake Tanganyika.The landing is very steep landing but the pilot expertly guides us in for a smooth touch down.We are greeted by our guides, Mwiga and Butate and board our wooden boat for the 1.5 hour ride to Mahale camp.  As we arrive the entire camp staff is on the beach with huge smiles and waving arms welcoming us to their paradise. 

The lodge is amazing - an open pavilion on the beach features a bar lounge and dining area with a second story under a thatched roof where there is as small library and lots of comfy chairs to sit in the cool breeze coming off the lake. Our lodging are individual thatched bungalows that are open air and face the lake in complete privacy.This is what they call bare foot luxury.We are here for the chimps which can be very elusive and hard to fund so we are shocked when we here a call go out from the …

Trekking into the realm of the chimps

Today we trek to chimps staring at 8AM as we get word from the advance trackers that the chimps are near camp.After a tough 45 minute hike up the slope to M group which consists of 60 individuals - 19 males including the alpha, Primus and his crew. Again we have the great luck to have the chimps approach us at very close range and just plop down and sit amongst us as we marvel at their human like faces and actions.At one point as we are walking in the forest and a a large male comes and starts screaming and shaking all the branches around us in a very provocative display but we are not alarmed as our guides have assured us we are completely safe and he is just showing off.Good action!

We hike back to camp and enjoy warm showers and then I take a kayak out in the afternoon as the other guests board the boat for a visit to the nearby village.My kayak trip is magic.I float in silence over turquoise waters as I look up to the forested slopes above and travel along the beach crossing severa…

Elusive Chimps

Today we set out at 9AM but the trackers warned us that the chimps were mobile and would be hard to locate.We trekked over 2 hours and could hear some chimps far ff in the distance.We were told to wait there while the advance rangers allowed them.Unfortunately the chimps moved off into the high mountain range and were difficult to locate so we moved to new area about an hour trek away and then waited 30-40 minutes until we heard some chimps calling.
Another hour trek brought us into range of 4 male chimps including Darwin sleeping on trail.This gave us a taste of how difficult tracking and ending chimps can be and made us appreciate our ridiculous food fortune of the past two days.We spent the allowed hour with these 4 males until they heard a cake from the mountain and erupted in screams and went dashing off up the slope in a furious rush. 

We then trekked back 45 minutes to the boat and enjoyed lunch in camp with cold beers. Afternoons swims led to evening cocktails and the guides tol…