Lord of Greystoke
Since we’re friends, I’m going to tell you a secret—but you have to promise you’re not going to tell anybody. Here goes and remember, you promised—Greystoke Mahale, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, might just be one of the greatest places I have ever been.
Now, I know you want to hear about the chimps and I won’t let you down as they are undoubtedly the stars of the show. But before we get to them I put it to you that if you’re not a scuba diver and you’re looking for a beach escape in Africa where the only people you’ll see are the staff and the other people at the lodge (to a maximum of 12), this could well be it. Greystoke Mahale has white sand beach, crystal clear water, peace and relaxation, seemingly limitless warm sunshine, great food, outstanding yet laid back service, and on top of all that, a setting so gob-smackingly beautiful that you will find yourself wondering if it’s real. True it’s on a fresh water lake rather than the ocean, but you even get the sound of waves crashing on the beach to lull you to sleep—what more could you want?
As far as the primates are concerned, the experience that you can have with them supposedly varies depending on the season. In the dry season (June to October) the chimps tend to be more spread out and further up the mountains—meaning more walking and tougher viewing. When it’s wet (November to April) they’re generally closer together and closer to camp. I say supposedly because we went in June and saw chimps, either in camp, or within 20 minutes walk of camp for three days running.
Seasonality aside, seeing the chimps is quite an intense experience, and that’s putting it mildly. In some ways they’re exactly as you imagine primates to be from seeing innumerable nature documentaries, and yet they’re so tantalizingly human in their movements and behavior that it’s impossible not to be moved and feel some sense of kinship. If you ever had doubts about evolution, seeing the chimps will almost certainly make you a true believer. It’s a humbling, illuminating, and almost revelatory experience and as a result it’s surprisingly difficult to adequately describe—you really just have to go there and see them for yourself.
In short, Greystoke Mahale is incredible. In fact, if you’re in need of a new spiritual home, this could very well be it—but remember, keep it to yourself.
Dan Achber has taken on some startlingly chimp-like characteristics since his time visiting with them. Charlie Scott has repeatedly asked him to stop checking through his hair for lice, with limited success.