Gombe, part II

## Follow up to Chickens have necks? ##

If he didn’t look so earnest, I would swear Hamisi was getting us lost on purpose. He’s now 40 steps ahead of me, my legs feel like lead (can lead burn?), and he turns around – “Are you tired?” he asks. A mischievous smile darts across his face and I give him my best withering death stare. “You’re killing me, Hamisi,” I grumble, plodding after him. Hamisi is my guide in Gombe. He is tiny, grew up in Kigoma not far away, and manages to trek these hills every day, in blue jeans (!), without so much as a pause. We are climbing to some waterfall that simply cannot be worth this. These are not hills; they are mountains. And I am pretty sure my legs are about to fall off. Like, detach from my torso and fall off.

I work out, I really do. Mostly to keep my sanity in the otherwise sedentary Serengeti. We can’t run, we can’t hike, we can’t do our fieldwork on foot; we spend all day behind the wheel of a dusty, power-steering-less Land Rover, and return home exhausted despite sitting for 10 hours straight. But apparently my kickboxing bag and TRX routines are no match for the hills (ha, mountains!) of Gombe. I can’t believe Lisa and all of the Jane Goodall Institute chimp researchers do this every day. These people are machines!

Despite the lactic acid leg burn, Gombe is kind of awesome. I feel like I am in the jungle, whatever it is that makes something actually a jungle. My mom calls me sometimes on Skype. “Are you out in the jungle?” she’ll ask. I’ll tell her I’m in the bush, Mom, but it’s a savanna, not a jungle. Though without fail, next phone call it’s the same question again. But here in Gombe, if anything feels like a jungle, it’s this. I am clawing my way through vines and chest high grass, tangled, disheveled, and entirely ungraceful, trying to keep up with the chimpanzees that glide seamlessly like little jungle fairies through the forest. Apparently not only am I out of shape, but I am also really uncoordinated.

If you read Chickens have necks? you’ll know I’m visiting my good friend and colleague, Lisa O’Bryan, at her research site in Gombe Stream National Park. It took three days to get here, and it will take two more to get back home. Which leaves me only two precious days to explore this magical place before getting my weary legs back into the (Serengeti) bush and back to my camera traps. Going out with Lisa on her observations, we follow Freud – an old male who spends most of his time alone. Eating.

As it turns out, chimps are only marginally more exciting than lions; whereas lions spend 90% of their time sleeping, chimps spend 90% eating. We watch Freud high up in an msilote tree, plucking the yellow flowers and stuffing them in his cheeks. 4 hours later, he descends, pauses on a rock to let out a looooong chimp fart (which, having the sense of humor of a 13 year old boy, I couldn’t help but laugh at), and then he starts walking. And eating. So, either chimps eat while the sit, or they eat while they walk. That’s a lot of eating. And the adults are big, and the babies are cute. Just as cute as they look in the movies. But not cute enough to make my legs stop aching. My Land Rover never seemed so comfortable before…


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About ali swanson

I'm an ecologist studying how large carnivores coexist. I spend way too much of my time trying to stop hyenas and elephants from munching my camera traps!

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