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CHIMPANZEE TRAVELS by Dale Peterson

CHIMPANZEE TRAVELS

On and Off the Road in Africa

By Dale Peterson

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-201-40737-X
Publisher: Addison-Wesley

 The affable Peterson (Visions of Caliban, with Jane Goodall, 1993, etc.) takes a leisurely amble through equatorial Africa, drinking in the atmosphere and poking into the lands of the chimpanzee. Peterson goes out into the field to get his periodic dose of primates (he might teach English at Tufts, but his writing and research center on great apes), and he displays an unusual talent for travel, exploring that ``blissful interior twilight where sense is woven into nonsense and words dissolve into nonwords.'' He has the knack of taking the everyday and making it memorable: the slow pecking sounds of a typewriter filtering out a window; a woman, child strapped to her back, bending and washing her feet in a small stream; lazy, random conversations with other travelers. Urban Africa gives him the willies, with beggars here, shysters there, thugs tending every corner, bureaucrats who live by the bribe. The forest is more his bailiwick, though poachers and the ever-present bureaucrats vex him. Peterson has a serious fascination with chimps and renders their lives with loving strokes: their Machiavellian talents and flirtations, the beauty of the matriarchal society in which adult males, since they can never be sure who fathered a given child, protect all the community's young. Lastly, Peterson gives a glimpse of his paradise: an enchanted forest, a patch of genuine terra incognita, in northern Congo. Here, in the Ndoki forests, he gets a taste of the truly wild, where gorillas and chimps and monkeys have probably never laid eyes on man, and where Peterson has some close, very close, encounters with his quarry. Peterson brings a wealth of good humor, a snappy irony, and a laid-back style to what were surely travels with a hard edge of difficulty. It's easy to admire the man and easier still to admire this droll, shrewd piece of travel writing.