'The chimps are moving so we will have to move faster' and we scrambled up and down slippery slopes, grabbing onto stems and roots .... and suddenly our guide stopped. We listened, our gasping breaths competing with the sounds of the forest. Then we heard them, whooping calls and grunts and the excitement took over. We approached carefully and suddenly there they were ..... two males grooming .... in the path ahead of us ....
We watched the interaction between the two until they got up and moved off. Up ahead a tracker pointed into the trees and there we saw more feeding in the treetops. It was not long before they began to climb down and move towards the river. At the river they began to interact again and I was amazed at their human-like way.
Scientists have determined a ten meter barrier between the chimps and guests to prevent any mishaps - a rule that is strictly applied by the guides and rangers, although there are times that this rule is broken when the chimpanzees suddenly decide to move somewhere, as a young one did by brushing past me when crossing the river.
Too soon it was time to leave the group and head back to camp. The immensity of the experience began to sink in when I was lying in my bed listening to the sounds of the forest at night. I realized how easy it would be to turn the events of the afternoon into a philosophical debate about evolution and life - instead I felt privileged to have experienced what we did.
The next morning we found the chimpanzees in close proximity to where we had left them the day before and again spent an amazing time watching them go about their business, totally oblivious of us sitting close by.
There are a number of chimpanzee groups in the Mahale Mountains National Park of which the majority have not been habituated to human interaction. Occasionally some of these groups can be seen from boats on Lake Tanganyika, although these sightings are very brief as the animals immediately disappear into the forest.
Although there are a number of places to experience chimpanzees in east and central Africa, Mahale Mountains National Park on Lake Tanganyika is arguably the remotest and most beautiful of all the areas. Only accessible by boat the park is truly one of Africa's greatest wilderness areas and a Mahale Safari an experience that will live forever in the memory.