Ants in pants...
Trip Start Aug 26, 2011
56Trip End Oct 27, 2011
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Where I stayed
Chimpanzee and Tea Camp
What I did
A guided tour around the tea plantations followed breakfast, heading off at 0830. Guide was a local called James who took us initially through the recently harvested tea crops in the grounds of the camp site. Extremely interesting to hear about the whole process which started in the area following colonisation. James was a font of knowledge, including other medicinal uses of local trees and plants growing in the area. Saw several birds of prey including eagles and managed to get some shots.
Met local tea pickers and gave them some Rwandan Shillings for them taking time out to talk to us and even have a go at picking the tea which has to be exactly 2 1/2 leaves; the speed they pick them and throw the leaves into the baskets on their back is incredible
The tour lasted about 2 1\2 hours before heading back for a light lunch, then to the forest itself for the chimp trekking. We we escorted with a ranger armed with a rifle which was a little disconcerting. Sad to know that the forests we were entering, only 20 years ago, was home to leopards and lions, which were now displaced from the area.
We started trekking through the forests at about 1330 hours and walked several hours before even hearing a chimp, it got to a stage where I thought i might not even see one. The guides were very good and pointed out lots of interesting insects including dung beetles which play dead when you approach, and also huge lines of army ants moving from one nest to another. It was made clear to us to avoid these...I'll come back to that later!
The butterflies in the forest were incredible, to look at the ground before you, you wouldn't know they were there - you tke a step forward and the ground literally jumps to life in a psychadelic display of flashes of vivid blues and greens as the butterflies take off
Upon hearing a chimp call we changed direction, it wasn't long until the tracker pointed out the distinctive knuckle marks in the mud left by the chimp we had heard. Ten more minutes walk and I got my first glimpse as a female descended a tree carrying her baby. They were then joined by another and we followed them to about five or so other chimps jumping from tree to tree and making incredible noises. Close by a chimp was hitting the bottom part of the trunk of a fig tree which creates a loud booming noise which can be heard upto 2km away. This is a chimp equivalent of a phone call and gives the group a 'heads up' there is to be an announcement. Loud chimp chatter followed. In return another boomed out on another tree and vocalised, followed by another and another. To be in the middle of this was an unforgettable experience. I took hundreds of photo's, due to the light issues very few are of any real quality; but I will never forget this time. The tracker explained a stranger, a lone male chimp had entered the area and was competing for the female's attentions which is what all the commotion was about. I had glimpses of chimps on the ground and saw a couple mating.
We had been told the previous day the chimps had hunted down a colobus monkey and I saw a female finishing off the remainder, it's a shame we couldn't have seen the chase which is quite a rare event
We spent longer in the forest than we were supposed to and headed back to the truck at about 1800 hours. The forest was hot and sticky, incredibly humid. Whilst taking photos of the chimps earlier, I had been scratching my back and stomach and thought it was simply something like pricky heat in the hunidity. The itching got worse and I eventually lifted my top up to see hoards of army ants having a party on my skin- I had evidently stepped on a colony whilst trying to take a photo and they had climbed up my boots, up my legs and under my t-shirt which was untucked. Thankfully I had purposefully tucked my trousers into my boots earler. My socks were seething with the little sods and had to strip off to get them off me, much to the amusement of others, until one other looked down and realised they were also under attack. Not sure if you know was army ants are, but they're vicous and once they bite, they don't let go - the local tribes use them for stitching wounds!
Some elephant dung was pointed out, found it pretty hard to believe elephants could live and move about in the forest, but they clearly do...didn't see any however.
Got back to camp about 1900 - had a long shower and scrub to get rid of the ants and then a lovely BBQ in charcoal pit at the camp site. Spot fell asleep on my lap in the bar and then off to bed. .