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Spending the day with our closest relatives! 8/15

After such a crazy night on elephant patrol, it was an early morning as we woke to trek the chimps. It was pouring rain, but we didn’t let that discourage us (we sang every song about the sun we could think of during the hike; think George Harrison, Annie and the Polyphonic Spree.)

No one warned us how nasty safari ants really are or how they manage to get to the strangest (and worst) places, but onward we hiked through very thick, very wet forest bush to find our closest animal counterparts. It was about two hours into the trek when we spotted out first panzee eating some breakfast high in the trees. The rain intensified, and not just because the chimps in the trees like to create showers of their own:)

Using the binoculars to get a closer look, all we could see were black profiles against a white cloudy sky. Our guide stopped to have some breakfast too and we wondered if this was it…really wet and chimps that were hiding from it (and us!) After breakfast, we followed him to through the jungle, struggling to keep up, when all of the sudden some of the male chimps on the lookout for enemy chimps let out an extremely loud and violent barking growl. Elizabeth, forgoing the stick, started to run toward me, to which the guide quickly yelled, “Don’t run! They will get you if you run!” (I still am unsure if this is actually true, but it definitely worked to get Elizabeth to stop spazzing.)

But the action was short lived. The chimps didn’t like the rain, so they just sort of sat by a big tree, huddled up to keep themselves warm while on the lookout for potential threats. The energy was low when the first of a few tourist groups arrived to spend their hour with the chimps. (BTW, if you ever find yourself in Kibale, I recommend you pay the little bit extra to spend the whole day with the chimps.) The tourist group struggled in the rain and mud to get their shots, and before you knew it, their hour was up and they left us to enjoy the chimps alone. The chimps got fed up with the downpour, so they started to retreat to the tree tops to build nests and sleep off the rainy day. We worried that this day might be a bust, but Elizabeth had faith in the sun (cue more singing), and soon enough it’ started to poke through the clouds.

The chimps started to get a bit rambunctious, and apparently they were pissed too it had been so rainy…because a few minutes later, they’re having an altercation in the treetops. They screamed and jumped around wildly as giant branches fell to the forest floor causing, the next tour group to run away frantically. The screams of an injured chimp that challenged the alpha male lit up the forest, and suddenly we were on the move to follow them. Our guide seemed to know how to strategically station us so the chimps would pass right around us (see the video!!)…and how to avoid the golden shower.

Then, just as we started, we were alone with the chimps without any other tourists. Lucky us! They started to get a lot more interactive with one another, obviously enjoying the sun poking through the trees. We spent the next five hours watching them play, groom, jump, hump, and talk. It was truly amazing! (Interesting side note: we were not allowed to mimic any sounds they made because in theory, as their closest ancestors, we might actually get it right enough that you could be challenging them to a fight without even realizing it!) We wandered with the chimps all day as they patrolled their territory. We even got to know them by name, as our guide told us his experiences and theories for each one (“That one once threw a big stick at a tourist” or “I think she is secretly in love with him but she can’t show it when the alpha male is around because it will cause a fight.”)

We ended the day feeling satisfied we had the ULTIMATE chimp experience. We could have done without the last hour of our alone time being taken over by a group of Italian tourons, but then again, how could we have had so much fun watching THEM?! (See pics. And they ended up giving us a ride back in their safari vehicle, so we felt like jerks for making fun of them…until we looked at the photos again and were cracking up:)

All in all, the day was definitely one of the highlights of our trip! It was incredible to be so close to them, and it was amazing to see how human they really are…or how monkey-like we are? Maybe that’s just Elizabeth, but either way, and it’s always fun to tromp through the woods with her:) We have watched the video (posted next) about 50 times, so hope you will enjoy them as much as we did!

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