December 5, 2013
It’s easy enough to find things to buy this time of year (maybe too easy!), but getting that unique, exciting gift that is as fun to give as it is to receive? That’s a tough one.
Luckily, Thomson Safaris has you covered. We’ve got gift ideas for everyone on your list, starting with:
East African Photography Books
It never hurts for an amateur photographer to get some inspiration from the greats. Two of our favorite photogs are Cyril Christo and Nick Brandt.
Christo’s most recent book (with Marie Wilkinson), Walking Thunder, is a stunning tribute to the beauty and dignity of the African elephant, a creature Christo works hard to protect.
Brandt’s third book, Across the Ravaged Land, is the final installment in a trilogy that shows the disappearing wonder of East Africa through hauntingly beautiful photographs.
Point-and-Shoot That Packs a Punch
Waterproof, freezeproof, shockproof, crushproof: the Olympus TG-2 iHS is perfect for adventurers who want the convenience of a point and shoot without sacrificing image quality. In addition to lens adaptors and 1080p full HD video capability, it also includes a Manometer that can pinpoint your location on an active map. No matter where you’re traveling, this fun point-and-shoot can take a beating even in the worst conditions!
The only thing more exciting than jumping out of a plane, skiing down a remote slope, or scaling a vertiginously sheer cliff-face? Showing video of your exploits to eager (less adventurous) friends and family.
Of course when you’re doing those things, you MAY need your hands. That’s where these high-tech helmet cams come in…well, handy. GoPro’s Hero3 cam is easy to use, lighter weight than earlier versions, and conveniently WiFi connected.
Sabi Camera Stabilizing Bags
Of course photographers also need tools to pursue their own craft. One of our absolute favorites for wildlife and outdoor photography nuts are Gura Gear’s Sabi stabilization bags. Easy to carry, set up, and smush into the optimal position, these will help the shutterbug in your life get a perfect picture every time!
The Vintage Fan
Remember the days when travel was incredibly glamorous? No? Well at least your walls can have that bygone dash of elegance with a few vintage travel posters. If you’re shopping for a true vintage connoisseur, consider bypassing the reproductions and looking for originals on eBay (just search “Africa travel poster)!
No one epitomizes the glamour of old Hollywood quite like Ava Gardner, which is why any retro-loving adventurer would be thrilled to get a copy of Snows of Kilimanjaro, starring Gardner and Gregory Peck in the adaptation of the Hemingway classic. And of course any safari-lover’s movie list would be incomplete without a mention of the Meryl Streep/Robert Redford classic, Out of Africa.
Need more movie ideas? We’ve pulled together some of our favorites here!
The Outdoor Adventurer
Mammut Biwak Down Jacket (Women’s)
Even on an icy mountaintop or trudging through swirling snowdrifts, the Mammut Biwak Down Jacket will keep you toasty-warm! This 800-fill goose down jacket defends against even the coldest conditions, and it compresses easily, allowing adventurers to tuck it away on warmer days.
Arc’teryx Alpha SV Jacket (Men’s)
It’s won more awards and topped more editor’s choice lists than we can count; simply put, the Alpha SV Jacket from Arc’teryx is the best of the best! This water resistant GoreTex jacket keeps you so warm and dry, it may be the last jacket you ever buy.
Outdoor Research Flurry Mittens
Wind-resistant and non-bulky, Outdoor Research’s fleece Flurry Mittens are so warm, you won’t even need mitten-liners. Perfect for high-altitude climbs…or high-octane snowball fights!
Hand-made and available in gold- or silver-plate, these Africa pendants are understated while still making a statement.
You’ll feel as good as you look when you wear one of these beautiful “Cause An Uproar” wrap bracelets, the proceeds of which go to help big cats.
Whether you’re shopping for kids, or just kids-at-heart, these fun and whimsical gifts will be a hit.
Louise Tate Illustrations
Perfect for a nursery or child’s bedroom, but charming enough for anyone, these beautiful handmade pieces of art are incredibly unique. Images in the “_ is for” series, featuring an animal for each letter of the alphabet, are distinctly child-oriented, but Tate also has a series of dog illustrations that would please pup-lovers of all ages!
Louise Tate’s “C is for Crocodile” illustration.
Know a little adventurer-in-the-making? He or she will probably love sinking into this Kilimanjaro beanbag-style chair by Swedish designer Little Red Stuga. With patterns drawn from the East African surroundings, and the mountain’s elevation printed right on the cover, it will inspire the next generation of trekkers to reach new heights (or sink into new levels of comfort!). Also available in “Mt. Fuji” and “Everest” styles.
Young Naturalist’s Kit
Get your kids out of the house and into nature with this fun, multi-faceted naturalist’s kit. Filled with essentials like binoculars (and a magnifier, for smaller finds), a pop-up bug habitat, a butterfly net, field guides, and an explorer’s journal where kids can record everything about their discoveries, this backpack full of fun is sure to spark an interest in the great outdoors!
The Wildlife Nut
Mature? No. But(t) these safari animal butt magnets are sure to bring a smile to anyone’s face (assuming you have that half of your giftee in sight!).
National Geographic Subscription
For nature lovers of all ages and all stripes, the stunning images and involved stories in National Geographic are unparalleled, and can be returned to for years. For younger wildlife lovers, National Geographic Kids (or for the youngest, National Geographic Little Kids) is a fun treat (with an added bonus: there’s nothing better than getting mail at that age).
Anyone and Everyone
Foster an Elephant
It can be hard to shop for the person who has everything, but it would be even harder to find someone who wouldn’t be moved to help an adorable baby elephant or rhino, orphaned by the ongoing poaching crisis in Africa.
For just $50, you can foster one of these beautiful, disappearing creatures. Being an adoptive elephant-parent? That’s a pretty unique gift!
Handmade Travel Journals
There’s something about recording your travel experiences at the end of the day that heightens your appreciation of every new experience…not to mention the details of your memories! These handmade travel journals feature hand-sewn bindings and a map cover. Customize them with a map that will get the traveler in your life especially inspired! Made locally in Providence, Rhode Island by Kristin Crane.
December 4, 2013
We’ve heard from dozens of Thomson trekkers what a fantastic guide James is, how he helped them make it to the summit, and how they can’t imagine having done it without him. But how did he rise to the position of Head Guide (a coveted job in Tanzania)? We sat down for a chat with James to learn about his life on Kili.
Where are you from originally?
My parents are from the southern part of Tanzania. We’re of the Makonde tribe, who are known as the best craftsmen in the world [James might be biased, but the Makonde have been renowned for their artwork for decades, in particular their intricate and beautiful wood carvings].
When I was young, they migrated to Kenya, which is where I spent most of my school years. Eventually, we returned to Tanzania and settled in Moshi, which is close to Kilimanjaro.
Is that where your family lives today?
It is. My wife has a small business raising chickens and selling their meat and eggs, and we have a four-year-old son named Freddie.
Freddie is very proud of my work on Kilimanjaro, and we often tell stories and sing songs about the mountain together. His favorite part is when I return from a trip; he knows I’ll always bring him a little surprise. It’s always in the top zipper of my backpack, and when I return, he loves to open it up and see what I brought, usually something like chocolate, a small toy, or a football.
How did you start out on Kili?
I started out as a porter, and after about three months on the mountain, started working for Thomson Safaris. I worked as a porter, then worked my way up to being a waiter. After about four years, Thomson Safaris offered me the chance to start training to become an assistant, and eventually a head guide. All in all I’ve been working with Thomson Safaris for eight years now.
What made you want to work on Kili in the first place?
I’ve always loved meeting different people and learning more about their cultures. It’s fascinating to me. In school, I learned about tourism, and I decided that this would be a way for me to pursue my passion for traveling and learning about the world. Working on Kilimanjaro is like traveling every single day; I get to visit these places through the stories people tell me.
What’s the most amazing sight you’ve seen on the mountain?
When I started, I was a summit porter. Most porters don’t go all the way to the summit with clients; they may carry things to the last camp, or not even go that far. I did. On my very first trek, I remember seeing the glaciers, and how huge they were. They’re much smaller now; even over just the last few years, I’ve noticed a big difference.
Is that your favorite memory of the mountain, the glaciers as they once were?
Actually, my favorite memory comes from just a few months ago. I was working as the assistant guide on a trek, when the head guide was forced to descend early due to a family emergency. There were still several days left, and I had to step up and become the lead guide, bringing the group safely to the summit and back again.
Afterwards, the group was very impressed, and many of them praised my guiding skills. I was so proud in that moment.
James guiding trekkers to the summit.
Photo: Amy Czarnecki
Do you ever miss being a porter?
[Laughs] Well, conditions on the mountain now are much better than when I started, so I suppose it wouldn’t be a bad life. But I’m very much looking forward to working as a Head Guide next season. My family, everyone is so excited for me. And so am I!
December 3, 2013
When we send travelers on safari, we always tell them to pack a broad-brimmed hat and plenty of sunscreen. But how do the animals keep from getting baked to a crisp? If you’re not one of the creatures lucky enough to have a thick coat of hair (or unlucky enough, depending on how high the temperatures soar), how do you keep your skin protected?
If you’re a hippo, the answer is simple: it comes naturally.
Unlike many large mammals, hippos are nearly hairless (and they spend long hours in the sun).
They’re uniquely adapted to address this, however, since their skin secretes an oily substance which acts as a natural sunscreen. Though this secretion comes out colorless, it quickly turns a brownish-red color in the air, which led ancients to believe the animals were actually sweating blood (don’t worry, two acidic compounds make up the secretion…and neither of them is sweat or blood). The acids in this oily substance also protect hippos in another way: from germs. The secretion simultaneously acts as a natural antibiotic.
The sunscreen keeps harmful rays from damaging hippos’ skin, but the skin itself works pretty hard to protect the hippos from just about everything else. Six inches thick, it’s a natural barrier to most predators. And while packs of lions, hyenas, and crocodiles have been known to attack young hippos, adults—with their massive size, thick skin, and well-known tempers—don’t really have any predator problems.
But you can’t just get magical, self-protecting, wall-thick skin without a trade-off. For the hippos, it’s a dependence on the water where they spend most daylight hours; if they stay out of it for too long, their skin will dry out and crack.
So they’re forced to just hang out in the pool all day, not being bothered by any predators, safely soaking up the rays. Tough life those hippos have. Tough life.
November 26, 2013
By the time they’re just a few years old, most kids will have seen a wide variety of safari animals. Not because they’re all lucky enough to travel to East Africa, or even because they have a nearby zoo: because they’ve encountered one of the dozens of pop culture versions of beloved wildlife.
Which safari creatures are working double-shifts as corporate mascots? Let’s take a look at:
Geoffrey the Giraffe
Most kids under a certain age would probably prefer to see Geoffrey, the longtime face of Toys ‘R’ Us, to the real deal (at least until giraffes in the wild start stocking video games). That didn’t stop the company from swapping out their cartoon giraffe for a “real-life” version in 2001 (that still loved selling toys). Voiced by Jim Hanks (actor Tom Hanks’ brother), this “update” to the classic was short-lived; in 2007 the company reverted to a cartoon version of their popular mascot.
It ain’t easy being cheesy, but the staying-power of Chester Cheetah, the Cheetos mascot, implies that at least it’s reliable. Chester, with his slick shades and smooth voice, has been around so long, and evolved so regularly (his most recent revamp, starting in 2007, is aimed at the adult demographic, and features a semi-sadistic, conniving Chester helping Cheetos-eating adults achieve petty revenge), that most people forget he wasn’t the first animal shilling for the snack.
Chester Cheetah’s current Facebook profile picture.
…But Chester wasn’t the first Cheetos mascot; that title goes to “the Cheetos Mouse.”
Hungry Hungry Hippos
Sporting pastel hues, and with names that have changed several times over the years, but have never been anything but innocuous (one of the four hippos in the current iteration of the game is known as “Sweetie Potamus”), “Hungry Hungry Hippos,” a children’s game that debuted in 1978, may have confused kids as to the nature of this large, dangerous animal. The game got one thing right, however: hippos are nearly constantly hungry. In a single night, a hippo can eat up to 150 lbs. of grass.
An even more accurate children’s-game representation of Tanzanian wildlife (now that’s a mouthful!): “Crocodile Dentist.”
Yipes (the Fruit Stripe Gum Zebra)
There’s something eminently 80s about Yipes, the multi-colored, mohawked Fruit Stripe Gum mascot, so much so that everyone’s first question in the Thomson offices, when the gum was mentioned, was “do they still make that?” They do, and Yipes is still around, hawking the colorful gum with temporary tattoos on every wrapper.
Originally though, the zebra was just one of several creatures that helped sell the product, which included an elephant, a mouse, and a tiger named (of all things) Connor. The old commercials have a certain charm…but black and white television may not have been the ideal outlet…
Past-cots: The Crispy Critters
Most mascots have a limited shelf life, and often, so do the products they represent. Such is the case with Crispy Critters Cereal. Featuring the impressively explanatory slogan “the one and only cereal that comes in the shape of animals,” and a doofy lion spokesperson, Linus, the cereal was essentially frosted animal crackers in a bowl. First introduced in the 1960s, and revived in the late 80s, the cereal didn’t last long either time.
Was the world just not ready for animal-shaped cereal? Was the cereal too focused on its looks and not enough on its taste? Or was the cage on the front of the box as off-putting then as it seems now? The world may never know…
November 21, 2013
Even if you haven’t had a chance to visit Tanzania yet, you may have had a little taste of it…in your coffee cup!
The country is now the 19th-largest producer of coffee in the world, exporting over 50,000 tons of coffee every year, but it came to the coffee game relatively recently. The crop may have been introduced as long ago as the 16th century (the beans chewed raw as a stimulant, or even used as money by certain tribes), but the coffee industry in Tanzania didn’t start up until the turn of the 20th century, when German colonists started cultivating it as a cash crop.
Coffee plantation at Gibb’s Farm, located in the Ngorongoro Highlands of Tanzania
Over 90% of the country’s coffee is produced by small farmers, most of whom grow Arabica beans (70% of the crop is Arabica). This type of bean flourishes at higher altitudes, and coffees from the slopes of Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru—often sold under the names “Arusha,” “Moshi,” or, predictably, “Kilimanjaro”—are considered the highest quality in the country. In general, better Tanzanian coffees are described as having a rich flavor, medium to full body, and a distinctive acidity.
For American consumers, Tanzanian coffees might often have another distinctive characteristic: they’re often peaberry coffees. When growing coffee (in any region and at any elevation), some amount of the beans develop into peaberries, coffee beans that grow singly inside the coffee cherry fruit (it’s more typical for the bean to divide in two during growth, leaving each bean with a distinctive flat side). Some connoisseurs believe peaberries have a superior flavor, since two beans have been “concentrated” into one; they’re often believed to be brighter tasting, and lighter-bodied, than normal beans grown in the same conditions. Roasters often also prefer peaberries; with no flat side, they move more consistently in the pan, preventing burning and creating a more reliable product.
Peaberry coffee beans have a “seam,” but no flat side, a fact that makes them easier to roast.
For these reasons, peaberry coffees are often marketed as specialty brews, and priced accordingly. While that may seem like a negative, in the end American consumers may be benefitting; the US market is essentially getting only Tanzania’s “cream of the crop” coffee beans, which can otherwise vary widely in quality from grower to grower.
So next time you’re looking to experience Tanzania, go no further than the coffee pot in the kitchen. It may not be quite as “full-bodied” an experience as you’ll get by visiting the country, but it’s a great way to start your day with just a hint of East African flavor!
November 20, 2013
Perhaps the best known fictional representation of Kilimanjaro is in Ernest Hemingway’s famous story, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” In the story, the narrator, fearing that his death is near, reflects on his life—his failures, achievements, and loves lost.
Frankly, there’s really not much about Kilimanjaro after the opening:
“Kilimanjaro is a snow-covered mountain 19,710 feet high, and is said to be the highest mountain in Africa. Its western summit is called the Masai ‘Ngaje Ngai’, the House of God. Close to the western summit there is a dried and frozen carcas of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude.”
Questions of accuracy (and spelling) aside, the introduction raises one important question:
A frozen leopard near the summit? Really?
According to legend, Hemingway’s reference was inspired by a 1926 photo taken by missionary Richard Reusch.
Reusch claimed to have cut an ear off the leopard as a souvenir, but apparently he wasn’t the only souvenir hunter; at some point after Hemingway’s story appeared in print (originally, the story ran in Esquire magazine in 1938), the leopard carcass disappeared.
If it ever really existed, that is.
The photo that inspired Hemingway is the only one of a creature that, so high on the mountain, would certainly attract attention from curious trekkers. While treks were far less frequent in the first half of the 20th century than they are today, it’s still surprising that no other photos of this curiosity seem to exist.
Not that we’re conspiracy theorists or anything; we’re just asking the tough questions.
Like this one: what WAS it doing up there?
Leopards have been spotted on Kilimanjaro before, even in recent years, when the volume of trekkers on the mountain has pushed many species further down, or even off, the mountain. But above 13,000 or 14,000 feet, the climate would not only be forbidding, there would be few if any prey animals capable of sustaining a leopard for any length of time.
Was the leopard chasing a long-ago antelope up the slopes, only to realize, too late, that it had been caught in a blizzard? Was it brought up the mountain, already dead, by a climbing prankster? Or was it seeking the summit as a sort of personal achievement, a quest for enlightenment that ended tragically? Which begs the further question, what would constitute enlightenment for a leopard, anyway?
For now, no one has the answer. It’s possible, though, that someone has the leopard…