I’m cheap. Well, not always, but on month four of traveling, having had no serious job in the past and certainly no prospects for the future, I decided it was time to watch where my money was going.
So bargaining has become my second favorite sport, and I’ve gone to a number of clubs for free, but every now and again I stray from my frugal ways. And so last week on my big trip west, I convinced myself that it made sense to pay 150 dollars to go chimapanzee tracking. People pay 500 dollars to track gorillas, so I kind of figured I was getting a bargain.
We were told we’d walk for an hour or two, have a mind-blowing hour hanging out with the monkeys (sorry, the primates) and trot happily back to a satisfying lunch. Which, of course, would not be included in the price.
But let’s not forget who we are. We are the girl who had to get a rabies injection on her first full day in Africa. We are the girl whose camera, wallet, keys (and almost ipod) got stolen in less than a month. We are the girl who fell into the sewer five minutes before going to crash a wedding. If that’s the way a chimp tracking day is supposed to look, that’s obviously not how it’s going to happen.
We started at 11. I was with a friend from Uganda, a friend from Tanzania and a guide. Oh, and gum boots. I had forgotten about mud, snakes and rainforests, and wore sandals – so I was given a not so new pair of rain boots to put on my bare feet. As you read, bear in mind that my feet are chafing, sweating and smelling throughout the story.
At noon I was still patient. I’ve gotten better, you know. By 1 I was starting to get antsy. Why hadn’t I made them agree to give us a refund if we didn’t see a chimp? We’d asked jokingly what would happen and they said we could get another shot. What the hell was I going to do with “another shot”? It’s not like I plan on hanging out in Ugandan forests the rest of my life.
When the clock inched toward two, I could see the guide was getting agitated. His tip was looking smaller and smaller. I cursed The Book (Lonely Planet East Africa) – it had said there was a 90% chance of seeing them in Kibale Forest. It said nothing about the other ten percent. But it began to dawn on me that ten percent meant that one walk in ten was a dud. And we might very well be that one.
We did see cool things. Twisted branches and lots of funky mushrooms. One of us would stop and take a picture, the next would take the same photo, and the third would too. It passed the time. But it didn’t help that sneaking sensation that we’d just gotten majorly ripped off. And I was starving (no, a bag full of nuts, oats, and a half kilo bag of yogurt do NOT count. I am a growing girl and I need lunch). At three o’clock we had some action.
Our guide who had gone ahead to see if he could find anything without three noisy brats disturbing him, came back running. “I think he saw one!” my friend exclaimed, and we all charged. Let’s take a moment to remember my bare feet and gumboots.
Thanks. We ran and ran and ran. We wanted to see a chimp. Now. But when we reached a tree (which looked to me just like all the other trees) we saw our guide had given up.
We were always just one step behind him. We saw chimp tracks. We examined chimp shit. We heard chimp cries. BUT WE SAW NO CHIMP. Disappointed, tired and me with a growling belly, we trudged on.
At four o’clock (when we should have been sighing after a good coffee after a good dessert after an enormous meal) the guide’s walkie-talkie cackled with the information that another guide had found the chimpanzees. He turned and faced us. He looked solemnly into our eyes and said, “They found them. But they are far. We will have to walk quickly and quietly” we nodded in unison, thrilled beyond words. There was hope!
We walked. Through thorny plants and long weeds, through water and mud and insects – and at around half past four, saw a very seriously-dressed safari couple (I’m sure you remember the type from my previous post). They were both looking up. We looked up. And what did we see?
One pot-bellied chimpanzee reclining on a branch – playing with himself. He eyed us smugly and twiddled his ding-a-ling. Was this what they meant by genetically similar to humans?
“What?!?!?!!” I shrieked. “Is this it?” I looked at the guide. Where were the other 99 chimps? Why was he so high up on the tree? And why was he looking right at me and pleasuring himself?!
I looked at the girls. It didn’t take long for us all to howl with laughter. The chimp continued to stare and do his thing and I tried to convince myself that I had not just paid 150 dollars to see a masturbating monkey. Sorry – primate.
Chimp or pimp, it was money well spent, even for a cheapskake like me.