Now normally, it’s not recommended that you swim in fresh water in Africa because hippos and crocodiles are a serious hazard. But we were told this area of Lake Tanganyika was free from those animals. Which was good because it was SO hot in this part of western Tanzania that we’d spend much of the day sweating profusely, and the water was so perfectly cool and clean that to swim in there was irresistible.
But the very first day that Ben enjoyed a long morning swim, he saw a weird object only 50 meters in front of him. Not yet wearing his contacts and being unfamiliar with the shape, he watched it for a while, and could still hardly believe his eyes when a hippopotamus slowly emerged from the lake, walked across the narrow strip of beach and disappeared into the forest! Needless to say, Ben vacated the water very swiftly and did not swim again that day. We were all then assured by Anton that Ben’s sighting must have been the ‘once-per-year’ hippo and it would be perfectly safe for us to continue to bathe in the lake….
We had a wonderful and challenging few days of filming. Because the chimps were feeding on these tiny delicious berries called ‘monkey fruits’, they were very widely dispersed throughout the park. We were treated to much vigorous hiking but rewarded with some stellar chimpanzee moments. We’d gone from thinking we’d never get good footage, to getting some really beautiful sequences including fishing for termites!! But the highlight for me was filming at Jane’s house. It’s an incredibly humble home, nestled right in the forest just a few feet from the beach. It, like all the houses, has caged windows so the baboons and chimps can’t get inside. But it was filled with stacks of old books, bones, beach rocks, and other curious finds, that Jane and other researchers had accumulated over the years. To be there felt so special, and weirdly reverent, and the whole crew could feel it. We filmed a little sequence of me visiting the house and just as we finished, Ferdinand, the dominant male chimp in the community strolled right past the house! He didn’t seem particularly interested in us, just passing along the trail and going off into the forest. The sun was nearly setting, I was in the home of one of my all-time heroes, the cameras were rolling, and a chimp chose that moment to visit, and I thought: what did I ever do to get THIS lucky?!
The guys were definitely riding the high of such a great afternoon of filming, and we joked around on the beach as we waited for ideal light for the final shot of me walking down the beach at sunset. I was so grateful that after being together nearly every waking minute of 70 days, running back and forth across Africa, thru fun times and some pretty tough times, we were not only still talking to one another, but joking around, laughing and generally enjoying this lovely little crew of ours. These guys had so graciously put up with my idiosyncracies (and each other’s) like true gentleman! As the sun set that night on Lake Tanganyika, it was also setting on this first film shoot. We’d done it! Our little crew of seven had filmed each of the African apes in the wild in 3D! And though we have a long way to go to finish this film, we can congratulate ourselves on being the first team to do it!
Ben swims in Lake Tanganyika and then 50 meters away a hippo gets out of the water and walks up the beach and Ben nearly s#@ts himself. (Photo by Mike Dillon).
Mark and Stu luxuriate in the lake after a long day of filming, hippos be damned (Photo by Ben Cunningham)
Holly at Jane Goodall’s house in Gombe National Park (Mike Dillon).
Sometimes the chimps like to visit Jane’s house, this one just happened to be the highest ranking male in the community, Ferdinand. (Photo by Mike Dillon).
Even after 70 days together in the field we’re still having a good time. I LOVE these guys! (Photo by Mike Dillon).
A perfect ending to our first film shoot (Photo by Ben Cunningham).