July 31, 2013
Some of the first reports of “the white mountain” speak of them, and they’ve been immortalized by Ernest Hemingway. The snows of Kilimanjaro are almost as famous as the mountain itself.
But they won’t be around for long; estimates of when Kili’s famous glaciers will completely disappear vary, but most scientists agree that by 2060, the ice on Kili’s peak will live only in memory.
Global warming is almost certainly speeding up the glaciers’ demise, but it doesn’t appear to be the only cause of the melting. Between 1912 (the first year they were formally surveyed) and 2011, the glaciers shrunk by 85%, but even between 1889 and 1898, the dates of Hans Meyer’s first summit of Kilimanjaro and his second climb, they had retreated dramatically, leading Meyer to predict their complete disappearance within three decades.
There are a few possible reasons for the glaciers’ disappearing act. Increasingly dry atmosphere in the surrounding region has changed weather patterns; drier atmosphere means fewer clouds overhead to protect the ice from the sun’s rays, as well as fewer of the snowstorms which help replenish the ice fields.
That atmospheric change might be an indirect result of global warming, but no matter why it’s happening, it’s almost certainly contributing to the glacial melt.
Another possible contributor is the nature of Kilimanjaro itself.
Though it’s no longer active, Kilimanjaro is a massive volcano, and while its last major eruption was hundreds of thousands of years ago, it showed activity as recently as 200 years back. Scientists believe that molten magma still courses through the mountain just 400 meters beneath Kibo’s summit crater; even though the peak is frigid, Kilimanjaro itself is hot.
And as more ice melts, the ice melt will speed up. Kili’s peaks are covered in obsidian, a black rock formed when lava cools rapidly. As more and more of that black rock is exposed, more light and heat will be trapped by the mountain surface, melting what ice remains more and more rapidly.
Whatever the cause (or causes), at this point it’s unlikely that the retreat of the glaciers can be stopped. So if you want to experience the mythic beauty of the snows of Kilimanjaro, make sure you get there soon!
July 30, 2013
Laying in bed at the end of a long day in the bush, you hear a distinctive high-pitched giggling sound, a hee-hee-hee on helium.
Even without your guide at hand, you know this one: it’s a hyena.
The hyena’s “laugh” is a well-known sound in the bush
But what’s that strange, whooping call, like an animal with a slide-whistle lodged in its throat? Or the eerie, low-pitched “oooh” that sounds something like a recording of a space alien being played back at 1/10th the speed? Or the rapid, high-pitched staccato screeching? Didn’t the guide say there were no chimpanzee near this campsite?
Believe it or not, all those strange sounds come from hyena, too. From rumbling bass growls to strange, shrieking squeals, hyena use a wide range of vocalizations to communicate with one another and with other predators.
Whooping is probably the best-known hyena vocalization after giggling
The vocalizations are just one indicator of the hyena’s extreme intelligence. Often dismissed as carrion-eaters, hyena are actually primarily cooperative hunters, living in hierarchical clans with complex social structures that dictate their day-to-day lives.
Each of these calls (scientists have identified as many as 14) communicates specific information to the rest of the clan. Though we may hear it as laughter, the hyena’s giggle sound actually means it’s being attacked or chased, generally in a dispute over a kill. Groans are part of the greeting ceremony, but grunts are a warning to an unwelcome hyena to hightail it, fast. And while some whoops mean the clan is gearing up for a fight, others mean nothing at all, the hyena equivalent of singing in the shower!
Not only do they talk to each other, hyena lie to each other. Scientists have observed hyena using distress calls when no enemies are present (but when food they’d rather not share is), a behavior both cunning and effective.
The hyena’s strange groaning sound communicates to its clan
Some scientists even posit that hyena are as smart or smarter than primates; in a cooperative problem-solving study, hyena handily outperformed chimpanzee (humans’ closest living relatives in the animal kingdom).
Whether or not they’re the smartest animal you’ll encounter on your safari is debatable, but one thing is certain: they’re definitely one of the loudest.
Can you understand what these hyena are trying to say? Check out more calls here:
Audio clips from acoustics.org
July 25, 2013
Tanzanian cuisine is incredibly varied (as you might expect from a place with over 120 different ethnic groups), but there’s one food you’ll see almost anywhere you travel in the country: ugali.
A simple starch made from cornmeal or corn flour, ugali is similar to a stiff polenta, or very thick cream of wheat. A generous serving of this Tanzanian staple accompanies most meals, serving as a simple, filling supplement to the main course, much like fufu in west Africa, or breads and pastas in a western diet.
Ugali and sukuma wiki (a traditional greens dish). Photo: Paresh Jai
Cooking ugali is simple:
Step 1: Bring some amount of water (and if you’re feeling daring, a teaspoon or so of salt) to a boil.
Step 2: Slowly add the cornmeal, stirring constantly to prevent lumps, until it thickens and pulls away from the side of the pan.
How much cornmeal you add depends on your preferred ugali texture, but a good rule of thumb is to start with a 2:1 ratio of water to cornmeal, adding more if you need it.
But making ugali is just the start: the real fun comes when you try to eat it!
Traditionally, Tanzanians will use three fingers to scoop out a small amount, then roll it into a ball and use their thumbs to form an indentation in the center. They’re left with a miniature ugali “bowl” that can be used to scoop up whatever else is on the plate, from meat stews and fish curries to vegetable side-dishes like sukuma wiki (an east African version of collard greens).
It may take a little while to get the hang of using ugali as your only utensil…but that’s just a great excuse to try out a fun ugali dish at home to whet your appetite (literally) for a trip to Tanzania!
Ugali would go perfectly with mchuzi wa biringani, a traditional Tanzanian eggplant dish:
4-5 small eggplants, chopped (salt, rinse, and squeeze dry before cooking)
2 large tomatoes , chopped
2 large potatoes, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ c butter
1 ¼ c water
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp chili powder
1 tbsp curry powder
Salt to taste
1) In a large sauté pan over medium heat, melt the butter
2) Add all the vegetables and the garlic to the pan and cook until the potatoes and eggplant begin to brown
3) Add all spices and water
4) Simmer until liquid reduces to a thick, sauce-like consistency
5) Serve with a hearty helping of ugali!
July 24, 2013
Kili is sometimes thought of as the “easiest” of the seven summits because its relatively gentle slopes require no technical mountaineering expertise.
But at 19,341 feet, Kili’s summit is solidly in the “extreme altitude” range. Potential climbers may not have to rappel down sheer cliff faces, but they should definitely account for the effects of altitude on the body. Kili’s overall summit success rate hovers around 50%, likely in large part because the ease of the climbing blinds people to the importance of adjusting to altitude on the mountain (budget trekking companies who try to herd climbers to the top as quickly as possible, building in little if any acclimatization time, also contribute to lower overall summit success).
Without proper acclimatization time, very serious health issues can develop. Most Thomson trekkers choose longer routes that help minimize the chances of these issues occurring, and our certified Wilderness First Responder guides receive intensive training to spot (and stop) any serious problems before they start. They’re also equipped with the most extensive medical equipment available and perform daily health checks on all climbers; Thomson trekkers can be confident that their health and safety on the mountain is our #1 priority.
But even with ample acclimatization time, many trekkers experience some of the more ‘normal’ effects of altitude, from headaches and mild nausea to vomiting and shortness of breath. As you climb, there are a few things to keep in mind:
1.) Your fitness level doesn’t affect acclimatization
You can, and should, train for your climb, but you can’t “train” for altitude. Incredibly fit people can experience difficulty, and people who have never hiked before might feel fine. This is because your reaction to altitude relies on two factors: your genetic makeup (studies have shown that populations living at high altitude, like the Nepalese, have different lung capacities, blood oxygenation, and red blood cell counts than lowlanders), and acclimatization time.
You can’t change your gene pool, so give yourself as much acclimatization time as possible. It’s estimated that full acclimatization requires 11.4 days for every kilometer you travel above sea level; for your body to fully adapt to oxygenation levels at Kili’s summit, you’d need over 67 days! But with 9-10 days on Kilimanjaro we’ve found that people do exceptionally well, resulting in Thomson’s 98% summit success rate.
2.) Your reaction to altitude can change from climb to climb
General altitude tolerance isn’t something you “build up” (unless you never return to lower altitudes); you may experience little to no effects of altitude on one climb and be hard-hit on the next (or vice versa!). It’s important to give yourself ample acclimatization time on every climb, even if you don’t think you’ll need it.
3.) A bad day doesn’t mean you won’t summit
A bad day on the mountain doesn’t mean you’re doomed; it absolutely can (and usually does) get better after it gets worse! If you do experience altitude symptoms, your guide can probably help; he might tell you to take it easy, or even just to drink more water. He wants you to reach the summit, so he’s going to make sure you feel as healthy as possible during your trek.
You can also consult with your doctor before you leave; acetazolamide, commonly sold under the name “Diamox,” can be taken leading up to and during your trek as a sort of “preventative medicine” for altitude issues.
Even if you have a rough day, don’t give up; every single Thomson staff member had at least one day on Kilimanjaro when they wondered if they could really do it…and every single one of them summited.
We know you can do it too!
July 23, 2013
One of these things is not like the other…but at first it might be hard to see the difference between African and Asian elephants. After all, they’re both big, and grey, and trunked; how much does their zip code really matter at the end of the day?
A lot as it turns out. If you could put them side-by-side, the first difference you’d probably notice is the ears. African elephants have large ears filled with hundreds of tiny capillaries to help them release excess heat, keeping them cooler on the hot, often treeless plains of Africa. Asian elephants have smaller, curved ears, likely because they live in slightly cooler climates.
Now that you’ve had a peek at the ears, look up. Is there something slightly…camel-like about that Asian elephant’s forehead?
Unlike their smooth-headed African counterparts, Asian elephants have a distinctly humped skull (maybe they store double the wisdom up there for later?).
Asian elephants may have twice the head-space, but African elephants have twice the grip:
That’s because an African elephant’s trunk is equipped with two “fingers,” which allow it to really grasp onto leaves and grasses before bringing them to its mouth. Asian elephants use their single finger to curl around food, which they then squeeze up into their mouths.
Maybe the ease with which they can grab onto food explains why African elephants get so much bigger than Asian elephants. You can only be speaking in relativities when 6000 kg (13,200 lbs.) is “the small one.”
There are other differences: African elephants have looser, more wrinkled skin; Asian elephants have harder trunks and bigger bellies; African elephants sometimes have fewer toenails on both their front and hind legs (though you may not want to get close enough on your safari to count the toenails).
They may not seem that important to you, but nature thinks otherwise: African and Asian elephants can’t be interbred; the only known crossbred calf died within just two weeks.
That means that Dumbo, whose big ears look remarkably different than those of his mother, was probably even more special than you thought!