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…
Chickens have necks?
I often forget that chickens have necks. I mean, who eats neck? You buy chicken breast in the stores, barbecue some drummies, get wings at your local bar, or pick up a bucket of fried (yes, I’m originally southern and have a weak spot for fried chicken). But never eat neck. You can’t rock up to KFC and ask for a 2-piece meal with a neck.
But as it turns out, they are surprisingly tasty. I am gnawing on one right now, trying not to dance to the music.
What is love? Baby, don’t hurt me. Don’t hurt me. No more.
Yes, that’s right. I’m sitting at a hotel in Mwanza and “What is love” is blasting behind me. Apparently it is Easter, and there is a big celebration. It’s kind of amazing. And surprisingly hard to not groove along. Now Ace of Base’s “I saw the sign” comes on. I feel like I am 10 years old again.
I’m on my way to Gombe Stream National Park, home to Jane Goodall’s long term chimpanzee research center, and temporary home to my dear friend Lisa O’Bryan – a fellow UMN grad student who does the same long field stints there as I do in Serengeti. Lisa’s just received a competitive grant from National Geographic (read her blog) to study some of the ins and outs of chimpanzee communication. I’ve been meaning to visit her since we both first came out in 2009, but whenever I’m out here the months just slip away. I mean to go to places like Selous and Katavi, but before I know it I’m frantically finishing the last round of cameras, revising our data backup procedures, trying to figure out who the last 20 lions were that I saw, devise new hyena-proofing strategies, and board my plane home in a rush of papers, data entry, accounting, phone calls and goodbyes.
And so, even though I don’t have time for it any more than I ever do, even though I’m already counting the days I’ll need without rain to finish my vegetation assessments before leaving Serengeti for good, I’m taking a week and going to Gombe. For the record, by “week,” I mean four days in transit, and two at my destination. But that’s okay; it’s all part of the adventure.
For example, I caught a lift with a Tanzanian researcher – Chunde, a disease ecologist – out of Serengeti, west to Lamadi. Nearly two hours late, because the 10-minute job at the garage turned into 90 minutes, Chunde picks me up with a roll of his eyes. “Tanzanian time,” he says, and grins. We’re in Lamadi by noon, and soon I’m on a bus to Mwanza. A very, very, very full bus. I’m standing, gripping the luggage racks for dear life, chickens squawking at my feet, admiring the variety of decorative hairstyles in front of me. Several hours later, after some games of peek-a-boo with kits in the nearby seats, we’re there.
And I’m here, at the amazingly local Lenana hotel. With Ace of Base fading into horn music into the deep thumping base of Tanzanian dance music. For the first time in a long time, I’m on holiday. Chicken neck, 80’s music, and a lot of stares – and tomorrow? Kigoma, and then to Gombe. Not too shabby. Just like this chicken neck.