The big news out of Gombe this year is that they’ve changed the shoes. I was extremely skeptical when Anne first told me about the cheap soccer shoes that everyone wears in the forest. It seemed completely counter intuitive that a pair of shoes, made in China, and sold for $5 would work in the extremely rugged terrain of Gombe. Especially, when we are encouraged by slick advertising to spend over $100 on the latest and greatest pair of hiking boots at the local REI. I arrived with my expensive hiking boots but was open to trying the shoes so I had someone pick up a pair for me in town. It only took a few days in the forest to become a convert. The shoes are amazing. They are lightweight and so don’t weigh you down and the soles are sticky enough to keep you mostly glued to the paths. My hiking boots sat lonely in my room for my entire stay last year as I completely wore out my pair of Cosovo sneakers. This year the plan was to again rock the Cosovo shoes in the forest, this time trying out the red and yellow combination instead of the dull black and yellow combo. Andrea broke the news to me first. “The shoes this year suck”, she said, “they wear out in only two to three weeks”. This was horrible news for me but devastating for the field assistants without the backup hiking boots. There was nothing to do but buy several pairs anyway and hope the rumors weren’t true even though every indication points in the opposite direction. I’ll be sure to keep you updated on the saga of the shoes.
A few other things have changed since I left Gombe last August. For one, it’s raining now. Last year, I arrived a month or so after the wet season ended, this year I’m here for the tail end of it and I seem to have brought the rain. It’s poured everyday since I’ve been here. I’m hoping it will stop by the time my quarantine (I can’t go in the forest for a week to be sure any international bug has worked its way through the system and won’t be passed to the chimps) is over. The rain also means the hills are alive in greenery. The upper slopes are tinted green instead of tan and the walk to the waterfall that used to be along a nice open path is now completely overgrown. The chimps have grown up too. Amri and Nasibu have done a splendid job with Makiwa and she is now mostly unafraid of researchers. Familia is sometimes traveling without her mother at the tender age of eight. Zinda has also said goodbye to his mother at the even more astonishing age of six, meanwhile his older sister Zella still seems to be a momma’s girl. How quickly they grow up these days. I secretly hope that Familia will be a typical precocious F and that this is an early sign that she’ll make a break for it and head to Mitumba, This is entirely wishful thinking but, hey, a girl can hope.
Though much has changed, the best part is that on a short jaunt to the waterfall I felt as though I’d been walking through the forest just yesterday. Everything fell into place and it was second nature to stroll through Kakombe Valley. I’m sure my legs won’t agree though after a few days of continually climbing the hills!