Chimp Tracking in Nyungwe Forest - Quite an Adventure
It’s not easy. You have to work hard to find the chimps, and the first part of working hard is getting an early morning call at 3.30. After muffins, croissants and a strong cup of coffee, we were on the road at 4.15 to pick up our guide from the forest HQ. Then it’s about an hour’s drive to the part of the forest where the chimp tracking takes place. Here, those who wished could hire a porter to carry their backpacks, and then we were off into the forest at about 6am, as dawn broke. This is the time when the chimps are active, feeding up in the fig trees and moving through the forest canopy searching for food.
You start off on a forest trail and it all seems fairly easy, if a bit steep; but then, when the chimps are located, it’s a machete job, cutting a trail through the rainforest - and suddenly we are following paths through undergrowth where no human foot has trodden before. It’s steep and we are walking over a carpet of vines that can be a couple of feet thick; anything I grab onto is rotten, has no substance, comes away in my hand - and we are trying to be quiet so that the chimps do not clear off before we get there. My lightweight trekking trousers were ripped apart by a thorn, and I will take a pair of gardening gloves next time.
We encountered our group of chimps at about 10am. There were three of them, eating in different trees. We had a few minutes looking at them, took some pictures and then they moved on. I think we were making too much noise. Was our brief encounter worth four hours’ tracking? Well, we all felt it was, that we’d witnessed something special, and that the tracking/ trekking had been a wonderful adventure.
We spent another hour or so trying to locate a second group, but failed and came out of the forest lower down the slopes. As we came out of the forest, the cultivation began. There is no intermediate zone: where the forest ends, banana trees begin. Every inch of land that can be, is cultivated in Rwanda. It has the densest population in Africa.
Soon we came across a Twa (pygmy) village. Everyone seemed pleased to see us, and we took some pictures, bought some pots and masses of children gathered around. A 4x4 came down to collect us so we didn’t have to climb back up the forest slopes and we were back at our starting point by midday. An hour’s drive took us back to Nyungwe Forest Lodge where lunch awaited.