May 21, 2013
During a girls’ night out, longtime friends, Deb and Emily decided to tick an item off their bucket lists and made a pact to summit Mount Kilimanjaro together. Over the course of the next year, they prepared and trained for their January 2013 trek with us. Emily was especially enthusiastic about the trek; she yearned to return to East Africa, where she spent her childhood and where her dreams of summiting Mount Kilimanjaro were born.
Unfortunately, only one of the women was able to climb Kilimanjaro. On December 20th, just two and half weeks before the start of their trek, life took an unpredictable turn of events – Emily was diagnosed with breast cancer. Instead of boarding a plane for Tanzania, she was in the hospital recovering from a bilateral mastectomy. As the ever-positive Emily put it, “A greater power had me training for a different mountain.”
From her hospital bed, Emily cheered Deb on as she followed the daily trek schedule and vicariously climbed alongside her friend. Little did she know, Deb created a large cardboard cutout of her friend so that Emily, in one way or another, would trek Kilimanjaro. In a sincere and heartfelt display of friendship, Deb literally carried her friend up the mountain to bring Emily’s goal to fruition. Later, the friends dubbed the cardboard cutout “Flat Emily” after the popular children’s book, Flat Stanley.
Deb embraced the journey of carrying her cardboard companion by taking photos of “Flat Emily” everywhere: on the airplane, at the trailhead, in the sleeping tents, and with her Thomson Safaris porters. When Deb finally had Uhuru Peak in her sights, however, she became very emotional, “It affected me in a way that I did not expect. Our assistant guide, Abeli, asked if I was OK. I said that Emily was the one who should have been there, not me; she was the one who wanted it the most. He simply said, ‘It’s best to be quiet now,’ as he walked me to the summit.”
Dinner with trekking group at Ndarakwai Ranch
Flat Emily at the gate (and properly outfitted with a Buff)
Deb carrying Flat Emily through the alpine desert of Kilimanjaro
Guide carrying Flat Emily through the rainforest
The porters pitched in too!
Flat Emily at camp
Deb summits Mount Kilimanjaro with Flat Emily
Deb presents Emily with "Flat Emily" and a photo album of their Kilimanjaro trek
Upon returning from the Kilimanjaro, Deb compiled all of the images from her trek and surprised Emily with a photo album. On its pages, Emily could see that she (or her likeness, anyway) had, indeed, experienced every step of the trek alongside Deb. Emily was also touched to learn that everyone in Deb’s trekking group, including porters and guides, contributed to Emily’s dream and took a turn carrying “Flat Emily” up towards the summit.
Emily keeps the album Deb so thoughtfully created on her coffee table. She adds, “I was moved to tears. It was (and is) the most thoughtful, sacrificial gift I have ever received. I am humbled at the forethought and planning this amazing woman did to bless me through the valley.” She adds, “True friends will not only walk that extra mile for you but complete strangers become friends when they are willing to share the dream and carry the weight of a “Flat Emily” to the Roof of Africa.”
Since her treatment began, Emily’s bright spirit and strength have not wavered. She shares, “The last few months have been a roller coaster, I have spectacular days, followed by days that are an effort just to complete general tasks. ‘Chemo brain’ is the worst of it – thank God for spellcheck and my Garmin [GPS], otherwise I truly would be in a pickle! However, I’m now considering plans to trek Kilimanjaro for my 50th birthday, as long as there are no other lumps – pun intended – on the road to 2015.”
May 15, 2013
Thinking about going on an African safari? Your trip will deliver memories to cherish for a lifetime. As you begin planning your African adventure, take a look at the following eco-friendly and socially responsible travel tips to help you become more familiar with local customs and to help you tread lightly on the land during your visit. Safari njema!
Feel free to add your comments section below, and make sure to share these tips with fellow travelers on Facebook and Twitter!
May 9, 2013
Every spring, we are reunited with some of our friends from the Arusha office who get an all-expense paid, two-week visit to the US, courtesy of Rick and Judi. It is such a treat to spend time with our colleagues and to be able to reciprocate the hospitality they so graciously give to us when we visit Tanzania.
This year, we welcomed Hashim, Ally and Albert to Boston:
As Workshop Manager, Hashim manages our fleet of vehicles, which is about 50 strong. Maintaining the fleet is a big job: it includes the Thomson Safaris’ Land Rover Defenders for wildlife viewing, trucks to haul mobile camp supplies and camp resupply vehicles.
Ally began working with Thomson Safaris in 2006 as a Camp Manager and has since been promoted to Manager of Camps. His tasks include overseeing staff and ensuring quality control of our Nyumba camps. During this visit, our past guests graciously invited Ally to California where they hosted his stay in San Francisco for four days.
As Assistant Equipment Manager, Albert ensures our camps’ equipment is in good working order and oversees logistics of camp resupplies for guests and staff. You can’t miss Albert’s bright, friendly smile. He is, however, a force to be reckoned with on the football field, where he has brought Thomson some big sporting victories as the team’s goalkeeper.
Hashim, Ally and Albert’s enthusiasm seemed palpable from the moment their plane touched the tarmac at Logan. From the get-go, our friends were eager to learn and absorb as much as they could about American culture. During their trip, their schedules were packed with activities and sightseeing excursions.
Hashim, especially, seemed to embrace the experience by taking photos every step of the way…we’re talking every step of the way! Rick commented that whenever they were in the car, Hashim had his head out the window, snapping one photo after the next! It is apparent from his final collection of images – which consist of snapshots varying from the Boston skyline to the aisles of Home Depot during an errand – that he was particularly moved by each experience. Michael, in our marketing department, said, “They were so excited about things we may take for granted. It really made me think differently and feel grateful for everything we have!”
View from the observatory
Hashim surprised us all with excellent bowling skills!
Reunion at the office
Boston Duck Tour
Jurassic Park in 3D at the IMAX theater
During one of their first evenings in town, we gathered for a welcome dinner at Rick and Judi’s. The men enjoyed mingling, learning more about our lives and telling us about the sights they had seen thus far. That night, we also learned they had never tried shrimp or wadudu wa bahari (direct Swahili translation: bugs of the sea). Eliza, who recently returned from an extended stay in Tanzania and was eager to introduce them to a new experience, said, “When I was in Tanzania, everyone wanted to take me out to very Tanzanian places, to try new food, and to speak Swahili. It was really fun to be on the other side and to be a host.” Although wadudu wa bahari probably wasn’t at the top of their list of American cuisine to try; they did and they loved it! When asked if they would try lobster in the future, however, they responded with a resounding absolutely not!
The men enjoyed more American experiences during an evening of bowling with the staff. Even though Hashim had never bowled before, he was a natural! We all wondered if there was a bowling alley in Arusha we didn’t know about! We’re not sure how he did it, but he beat all of us!
In addition to exposing our friends to American culture, we also spent time learning more about their specialized day-to-day activities and challenges in the field. Special Interest Safari Consultant, Evan, said, “I loved hearing them speak about the work they do in Tanzania and how our jobs, here in Watertown, relate and coordinate with their jobs; it brought things full circle.” The men agreed with this sentiment and especially appreciated learning about the recent efforts of Focus on Tanzanian Communities.
Megan, in Guest Relations, summed it up by saying, “We learned about their families, education, which cultural tribe they come from and a bit about how they try to balance their work and family life. They experience the same work/family life balance issues that we all do – their jobs include time spent away from home to be in the bush for weeks at a time! It’s evident that despite our cultural and geographical differences, we all tend to face similar challenges.”
April 10, 2013
Volunteering at FAME Health Clinic in Tanzania: Kathy Gaines, RN and Thomson guest, shares her story
Kathy Gaines is a registered nurse with 29 years of experience in pediatrics, maternal child health and medical/surgical nursing. She has visited Tanzania with Thomson Safaris nine times. During her most recent trip to Tanzania, she volunteered at the health clinic, Foundation for African Medicine & Education (FAME) in Karatu.
She shares her experiences with us below.
While on safari three years ago, I delivered a young Maasai woman’s infant in the back of a Land Rover. Obviously, this wasn’t a planned event on my safari itinerary! I just happened to be in the area and was the only medical professional able to handle what had become a complicated delivery. This was my introduction to medicine in Tanzania – it was an eye-opening experience and alerted me to need for better access to quality medical care in Tanzania.
The emergency delivery was the impetus to volunteer my time as an RN at FAME. I spent almost a month at the clinic, which was founded by American physician Dr. Frank and his wife Susan in 2002. In order to maintain a sustainable operation, volunteers are not used to staff the clinic; they are used to educate the staff. My role as an RN at FAME included educating the nurses in both the clinic and inpatient ward and kick-starting their pharmacy program.
One of the issues facing the clinic is maintaining an ample supply of medications. So I took inventory of every pill, vial and ampule in both the clinic and inpatient ward and entered the data into their computer system. I have to admit, it was an overwhelming task but a very important one as the results directly affect patient care. I sat with the staff to make sure that they understood how to use the system.
I also spent time on the inpatient ward, a 12-bed unit that opened approximately four months prior to my arrival. I helped educate the nurses staffing this new facility on basic tasks such as drip rates for IV fluids, correctly taking vital signs, reading MD orders, and sterile techniques for wound care/changing dressings. The nurses had differing degrees of skill; the clinic aims to elevate their skill sets to facilitate future plans of opening an obstetrics unit for delivery and care of mothers and their newborns as well as opening up an emergency room, which I spent some time helping to set up.
Eleven-year old Renata’s first visit to the clinic was in 2008 in congestive heart failure. She was found to have rheumatic heart disease, which was treated with medications until it became progressively worse. In 2010 she was sent to Germany to have an aortic valve replacement. (A physician who spent some time at FAME and met Renata donated the trip and surgery).
When I arrived at FAME, Renata had been in the clinic for a little over a month. She had returned with complaints of nausea, vomiting and weight loss and was diagnosed with an infection of her heart and likely her new valve. She is a wonderful, young girl – along with her caring mom, who remained at her side from the instant she was admitted – she won me over. The FAME staff was won over too!
To treat Renata, I was tasked with developing a drinkable shake to help increase her weight. This is easier said then done; we had to find ingredients available locally as well things she would like – her favorite flavors included Orange Fanta and Pringles! I was able to come up with something she would tolerate and would hopefully help her to put some weight back on. I look forward to hearing updates on her condition from my contacts at the clinic.
Thoughts on Volunteering in Tanzania
The time that I spent at FAME went by very quickly and I wondered if my stay had any impact. In retrospect, I know I left my mark. No matter how small, everyone who volunteers time at FAME makes a lasting impact. Perhaps mine will be made when Dr. Frank says one day, “we haven’t run out of any medication in months since Kathy straightened out the pharmacy program!”
I ended my stay in Tanzania by joining a group at Gibb’s Farm that just climbed Kilimanjaro and was on a 4-day safari with Thomson. How could I go all the way to Tanzania and not go on my 9th safari?! It was a pleasant surprise to meet up with Kileo, a wonderful guide I have met on some of my previous safaris.
I was also very grateful to the Thomson guides who stopped by to say hello while I was at FAME. These included Kaoneka, Kumbi and Leonard. It was nice to see familiar, friendly faces so far from home. They have become friends to me.
My nursing career has been enriched by my time spent at FAME. I feel it was an experience that was meant to be and I feel strongly that I have more to contribute to FAME in the near future. I will return to the clinic again.
March 26, 2013
Mountaineer, Vanessa O’Brien attempts an Explorer’s Grand Slam
after summiting Mount Kilimanjaro
On March 10, Vanessa summited Mount Kilimanjaro with us, which was the final climb of her Seven Summits challenge (the Seven Summits is a mountaineering challenge to reach the highest peaks of each continent). There have been about 50 women in history to have successfully climbed the Seven Summits and Vanessa is the first woman to have done it in the span of 10 months (she smashed the record which was previously held at 12 months.)
Climbing the Seven Summits is an extraordinary accomplishment but Vanessa is aiming for an even loftier goal – the Explorer’s Grand Slam, which includes the Seven Summits plus the two poles. She has already reached the South Pole and plans on reaching the North Pole next month.
click to enlarge map*Vanessa climbed mainland Australia’s highest peak, Mount Kosciusko, which was initially on the list of Seven Summits. The highest point in Oceania, however, is New Guinea’s Carstensz Pyramid; a more difficult climb, which replaced Kosciusko as one the Seven Summits in the 1980s. Vanessa covered all the bases and climbed both.
Training, staying healthy and planning the logistics for one major mountain climb is no small task, much less 7+ in rapid succession. When this British-American mountaineer isn’t training near her home on Boston area beaches, where she pulls truck tires through the sand, she’s bagging another summit with no time to waste – she had to make a rapid descent down Mt. McKinley in order to catch her departing flight!
We are proud to have played a part in Vanessa’s expedition; regarding her trek up Mount Kilimanjaro, she commented, “Kilimanjaro is the 4th highest mountain among the Seven Summits. Although one doesn’t need all the alpine equipment to summit Kilimanjaro, as they do for Denali or Elbrus, one must still deploy the discipline of acclimatization to be successful including climbing high, sleeping low over a number of days, drinking plenty of fluids, and eating proper nutrition. Just like any of the other Seven Summits up until one hits the ice, the paths on Kilimanjaro can be steep, uphill, rocky, slippery, muddy and the weather can vary from sunshine to sleet/snow/rain. A climber is a climber and every mountain must be treated with respect.”
Taking a break in Kilimanjaro`s rainforest with Thomson trekking team
Trekking through the rainforest on the Umbwe Route
Celebrating summit success at the gate with Thomson Safaris trekking team
Descending through the rainforest after a successful climb
Scaling the Barranco Wall
In the Barranco Valley
Vanessa O`Brien with Thomson Safaris` trekking team
Vanessa`s Record-Breaking 7th Summit within 10 months!
“Climbing with the Thomson Safaris guides was an absolute pleasure. Prosper and Simon were both extremely knowledgeable about the routes, the wildlife, flora/fauna, the rock and the history of Kilimanjaro. Our group decided to take local Swahili names for our trek/climb and bonded very well with the whole Thomson Safaris’ team from the cook to the porters to Focus, our medical guide that trekked the entire route to the summit with us. We shared a lot of great stories, shot some great video footage, and took some amazing pictures. I couldn’t have wished for a better support team for my ’7th’ summit!”
What’s next for Vanessa? She reached the South Pole in December and is only two weeks away from meeting her final challenge on the North Pole, which will complete the Explorer’s Grand Slam. Only 13 days and counting until she embarks on the exciting conclusion to this record-breaking expedition.
UPDATE: Vanessa O’Brien reached the North Pole on April 16th!
March 6, 2013
One of the most frequently asked questions we receive is, when is the best time to see the Great Migration? Since the giant herds consisting of wildebeest, zebra and gazelle are constantly on the move in a year-round circuit, there really isn’t one definitive answer.
The migration is driven by rainfall patterns and the subsequent grazing potential on the nutrient-rich green grasses it produces. Each month of this circuit offers visitors a look at one of the unique and dynamic facets of the migration, whether it is calving season, the rut, or river crossings – there is always something interesting to see!
Read on as our safari consultants, Bryan, Emily and Andrew reveal their perspectives on the migration and share their experiences, photos and favorite times of the year to witness what has been called Nature’s Greatest Show on Earth.
Although the dry season river crossings have been well documented on many nature films and are touted as being the highlight of the migration, I much prefer seeing the herds together in the largest groups during the calving season from January through March. During this time, the wildebeest are clearly in a “safety in numbers” mode as they birth their babies and graze on the grasses of the southern Serengeti. As they follow the light rains, about 2 million wildebeest move together in herds with almost 200,000 zebras mixed in. The first time I witnessed this, it was like the animals had melted together in a sea of brown – it took a minute for my brain to fully process the amount of animals I was actually looking at! The most amazing part is that they can sense where the rains are falling and seem to move in a hypnotic trance in that direction. This is an ideal time for predators too and the potential for action is high. Spring in the Serengeti was a definite highlight for me and, I think, a great time for safari travelers to visit Tanzania.
Click to enlarge Bryan’s photos
I find it extremely difficult to pick a favorite time of year to see the migration, but I do love visiting the Serengeti in May and June as the migration makes its way to the western corridor through the central Serengeti and collides with the big cat populations that reside in this region year round. The opportunity for a big cat kill is at its peak during this time. The best part is that our central Serengeti camp is right in the heart of this area. During my Signature Safari in May, I had the opportunity to stay in this camp; the proximity to the wildlife and the Great Migration was incredible. We would drive a mere mile away from camp and the wildebeest and zebras were everywhere!
May and June is also a time of year known as the rut when the wildebeest mate. To add to the drama of this period, males try to attract the attention of the females with various displays of aggressive behavior. Guests often capture incredible photos of male wildebeest sparing and fighting to win the affection of the nearby females. Some of my best photos of the migration were a result of the many drawn out fights that took place.
I wouldn’t hesitate to travel back to Tanzania in May again to experience the rut, the mega-herds, and of course, all of the amazing permanent wildlife that resides in the Serengeti year round!
Click to enlarge Emily’s photos
I was on my most recent safari back in November and had an unbelievable time with my guide Casmir. Many folks will read that November is a month when the “short rains” return to Tanzania and so they will opt not to visit at this time. Well, they are missing out! November is an absolutely gorgeous time to be on safari. If anything, the little bit of rain I encountered added to the experience. After all, water is life in the Serengeti!
November is one of the only months on the calendar when travelers can enjoy both dry season and green season wildlife viewing on the same trip. The predators are active, the herds are vast and you (and the wildebeest) will also enjoy the first green grasses and wildflowers of the season. I was lucky to catch the migration in both the northern and central Serengeti at this time of year. So, if you are considering a safari to Tanzania and you are available to make the trip in November, go for it. You’ll enjoy unbelievable scenery and wildlife viewing and you’ll have most of the bush all to yourself. (Flight prices are also at their lowest in November!!)
I always say that anytime is the best time when you travel with a company like Thomson Safaris who makes it a priority to always use seasonal camps. Whether you go in the summer or fall when we bring guests to our camp in the northern Serengeti to catch the migration during the peak of the dry season, or the winter and spring when our guests have the opportunity to see the migration in the Southern plains, our guests will have the opportunity to see all of the great facets of the migration because we make sure they have the best access to it all.
Click to enlarge Andrew’s photos