I may have to try to spend every New Year's Eve in a new national park somewhere in the world. Celebrating NYE in Gombe Stream National Park in northwestern Tanzania was definitely one of the best New Year's I have had yet. About 10 or 15 of us, from Tanzania, Europe and the U.S., were on the beach at Lake Tanganyika, next to a campfire, and under a full moon to ring in the new year.
We spent three hours that day traveling by lake taxi (looks like a large canoe) from the regional capital, Kigoma, to the park. The water was amazingly clear and clean, a stunning deep blue and green color. The hills around the lake were lovely and green as well. The occasional sailboat passing by completed the picturesque afternoon ride. Though the political discussion heated up on the boat (rising in volume and increasing in participation as it went on) about an hour from Gombe, it was an amazing journey overall.
New Year's Day Kelly (visiting from Dar es Salaam) and I went hiking up through Gombe's lush hillside forests to see the chimpanzees. We hiked uphill for maybe 15-30 minutes before one of the guides ahead of us called to our guide that he had spotted chimps up ahead. We reached them pretty quickly and spent about an hour or so watching them at work and play.
There was a community of about 30 of them in the trees above us, a few adults, along with some babies, just enjoying the morning. A few built nests they would sleep in that night. There were adults playing with the babies at different spots in the trees and some babies just nuzzled up next to their moms - though not usually for long.
Some of the little ones started playing with each other, chasing each other from one tree to another, grabbing branches and swinging here and there. Even when they missed a branch and we thought they were certainly tumbling too far down to save themselves, they would find something to grab onto at the last moment - and they would be at the top of the tree again in no time.
At times, they seemed just as intrigued with us, as we were with them. We got a few photos of some of them just staring straight at us from less than 50 ft away. One mother crossed our path maybe 10 feet in front of us. She was off to join the others in the trees, with a baby holding on to her - just along for the ride.
After spending some time with the chimps, we headed down the hillside a bit and back into the forest. It had rained while we were with the chimps (who are not fans of the rain and curled up into balls as the rain came down). The ground was wet, but not too muddy. It is amazing how much water the soil here seems to be able to hold on to, despite the amount and frequency of the rain at this time of year.
We followed a little trickle of water back to a gorgeous little waterfall, one of two in the park, where we enjoyed the cool spray of the water and the scenery, before heading back to the beach.
We headed out of Gombe the next morning, but not before a baboon came into where we were eating breakfast after checking us out through the window on the balcony. He easily grabbed the door handle and walked right in, without hesitation. Luckily, Kelly speaks Swahili and was able to yell to one of the employees who chased it away a few seconds later - though it seemed much longer.
Groups of baboons had run by our room and across our path to the main reception area the day before. However that was not as heart-racing as being trapped in a room with one, knowing they can be aggressive - and have no fear of humans, at least in Gombe.
We left shortly thereafter, taking another lake taxi back to Kigoma, having had our fill of adventure for one vacation.