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I have always felt that I was born too late! Too late for what you ask? Well, too late to see and experience the Africa of my dreams. I spend my life reading books and watching movies that talk about or illustrate Africa a hundred or more years ago. Whether it be reading extracts from Livingstone’s journal or watching ‘Out of Africa’ (embarrassingly for the 5thtime), I cannot help but to find myself daydreaming about what Africa was like a hundred years ago?
I have been searching for this lost Africa my entire life and when I boarded a Cessna on route to Tanzania’s Mahale Mountains, I was more than a little bit excited. Not only was I headed to the area where Stanley met Livingstone and supposedly uttered those famous words ‘Dr Livingstone I presume?” but the pilot informed me that it is impossible to fly there without stopping to refuel. Anywhere you fly, where you have to stop to refuel, is a good sign in my books!
Five hours later we landed on a remote airstrip that ended on the shores of Lake Tanganyika and thankfully our pilot hit the brakes in time! A further couple of hours by boat and I found myself camped out, in luxury I might add, on the Eastern shore of the lake and directly below the Mahale Mountains. There are still pockets left of the Africa of my dreams and I knew instantly that I had just found one.
Lying on my back in the clear sparkling water of what is Africa’s deepest lake and gazing up at the mountains, I knew that my closest living relatives (genetically speaking of course) were somewhere up there in the mountains. I could not wait for the next morning when I would go chimp trekking!
The forest interior was hot and humid but more importantly, it was wild! I heard the pant-hoot of a chimpanzee calling further up and forget Livingstone, I felt like Tarzan! The Mahale Mountains contain the largest communities of wild chimpanzees left on the planet and I was here to photograph them. This was to be no easy task as I would only be allowed one hour with the Chimps. The forest is also very dark and I would not be allowed to use my flash. I would have to wear a face mask as we are so genetically close to chimps that they can catch human viruses and diseases.
Finally, the pant-hooting got closer and lifting my surgical mask over my nose and mouth, I hoped I would photograph with some surgical precision of my own. Before I knew it, I found myself standing in the middle of a wild community of chimpanzee. I was so incredibly excited! Lifting my camera though, I noticed that the chimps were starting to lie down. My guide casually and calmly informed me that it was their siesta time. ‘What? Chimps aren’t supposed to siesta’, I thought. They supposed to swing through trees and entertain! “How long do they sleep for?” I enquired.
“Oh about an hour” said my guide, even more nonchalantly than the first time.
It was just my luck that I had managed to track down the chimps just in time for their daily, HOURLY siesta! I decided that if I cannot beat them, then I shall join them and taking up a prostrate position, I too nestled myself into the leaf litter. Lying on the forest floor and gazing into the eyes of my subject, I must admit that the adrenaline wore off and a beautiful serenity descended upon the scene. I too felt somewhat sleepy…
Technical Details: 35mm DSLR body, 400mm focal length, ISO 800, F5,6 and 1/80th, surgical mask
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