After what felt like hours in a light aircraft, the dry barren interior of Tanzania transforms into lush green mountains beneath us. The plane banks steeply, and drops suddenly onto the airstrip, careering at high speed towards the lake shore. It stops just in time, my heart in my throat; certainly an interesting introduction to Mahale. We escape the Cessna caravan to sail on a wooden dhow along Lake Tanganyika, passing villages where children play in the shallows as we enjoy a picnic lunch, soaking up the sunshine – now that’s more like it! After two hours, we round a corner and see the majestic tall thatch building I have seen in the photographs, the iconic Greystoke, our base for exploring the Mahale Mountains. Shoes off, we hop off the dhow and walk through the powder-soft sand to our rooms, furnished with reclaimed wood from old dhows with the peeling coloured paint a reminder of their former life. A dugout canoe has been transformed into a ladder leading to an upper daybed area. To me, I have finally found heaven, at the ends of the earth. No mobile phones or televisions here, no modern day stress, and some of the most spectacular scenery I have ever encountered. Towering mountains cloaked in dense green forest, home to chimpanzees, forest hog and countless other creatures, beautiful beaches and Africa’s deepest lake, crystal clear for swimming in.
We wake early the next day to track down our primate cousins, the chimpanzees. The trails twist and turn through the forest, steeply rising until we catch our first glimpse of a chimp in the wild. He acknowledges us with a sideways glance before rolling over onto his back to bask in the sunshine. Walking further, we find two boisterous males play-fighting, testing one another’s strength in preparation for later years when they will likely battle for dominance in the troop. A young one bounds through the trees with remarkable speed, branches crashing and leaves rustling as he leaps around his natural jungle gym.
The afternoon is as relaxed as the morning energetic, a dhow sailing trip around the small coves further along the lake shore, enjoying a spot of fishing. We keep the best fish of the day to take to the kitchen to make sashimi as our pre-dinner treat at the bar. Dinner is a feast, served on the sand under the stars, our bare feet plunging into the cool sand. After dinner, we retreat with a gin and tonic to the campfire, treated to some local dancing by the staff. Clumsily we all try to join in, much to their amusement, before eventually retreating.
All too soon it’s over, and we are back on the plane, doing the reverse version of our dramatic landing with a steep incline up and over the mountains, leaving the glistening lake behind us.