Lords of Greystoke 2.0
Over a decade ago, I first visited Greystoke Mahale. It left its mark on me then and has lived rent free in my head ever since. I went back again this year and immediately renewed its tenancy.
Mahale is an interesting case study in the way that the experience of going on safari has evolved since I was last there. As with travel elsewhere, safari has had to evolve to meet the demands of the market. While there have been the overwhelmingly positive changes (an ever increasing awareness of sustainable tourism practices and environmental impact, along with respect and empowerment of local communities and preservation of ecosystems), there have also been across the board increases in the level of ‘luxury’: the fanciness of hotels, better – often over the top – food and wine, and ubiquitous wifi. In my opinion whether there is a net positive to this second set of changes is less clear cut.
In some cases the changes have been for the better, though in many parts it’s led to a greater homogenization of the safari experience. Quirk and character have been replaced by high-end fit and finish, sometimes apparently just for the sake of it. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this and, don’t get me wrong, I am a sucker for a fancy hotel, but I find that it can mean that the magic and spontaneity of safari can be missing.
To me, Mahale has always been a place that would resist this pressure to homogenize for as long as it could, and I am happy to report that in the very best sense, it’s changed hardly at all. The changes that have happened, have been for the better. Mahale and its parent company Nomad Tanzania are now even better stewards of the wilderness, and while in past eras, the management of a lodge like Mahale would be some posh white guy from England, the team there is now wholly Tanzanian, and the pride and responsibility they feel in sharing such and incredible place with travellers is palpable.
You go to Mahale primarily for the chimpanzees and that experience remains incredible, one that has to be seen to be believed, and which will leave a pretty indelible mark on your memory. The less obvious appeal though is the feeling that you are getting a window into an older style of travel in Africa. A simpler and rather splendid glimpse into a less constrained, less carefully managed, in short more piggy way of seeing the world.
I looked back at what I wrote 10 years ago and can with unshakeable confidence, say that my assessment from back then holds just as true today, “Greystoke Mahale, might just be one of the greatest places I have ever been.”