August 29, 2013
They’re one of the most ubiquitous forms of wildlife in Tanzania, watching them move en masse is a truly unforgettable sight, and they’ve been a favorite food source for East Africans for hundreds of years.
No, we’re not talking about wildebeest; we’re talking about termites, whose massive, intricate tunneled mounds dot the plains of the Serengeti:
Like ants or bees, termites are divided into different groups: workers build and maintain the mounds, soldiers defend against invaders (often fiercely; they’ll attack just about anything they see as a threat, no matter how big it is, locking onto it with strong pincers) and the winged alates—or “reproductives”— breed with the queen, tend the eggs, and periodically fly out of the mound in huge swarms, staking out new ground where they can settle down, ditch their wings, and start their own colonies.
That freedom of movement comes with a cost, though:
It’s easier to catch, and eat, the flying termites (or kumbikumbi to Tanzanians), particularly when the start of the rainy season has them coming out of their fortress-like mounds in swarms.
It may make a westerner’s skin crawl, but in Africa termites are considered a delicacy. High in both protein and fat (a termite’s body is between 35% and 45% fat!), they reportedly have a delicious nutty flavor, and are served roasted, fried (usually in their own fat) and salted, or are simply eaten raw.
In fact, if termites have a drawback as a food source it’s their richness; 100 grams of termites has a whopping 560 calories. To put that in perspective, 100 grams of foie gras hovers around 460 calories. Even fast-food, the perennial culinary villain, is less caloric; a cheeseburger from McDonalds has just over half the calories—300—even though it weighs in at 114 grams.
Don’t worry though; when you go on safari you might spot termites bustling around their mounds, or even swarming, but you won’t be served any.
The Tanzanians will be saving that treat for themselves!
* If you’re feeling adventurous, the Eat-A-Bug Cookbook has recipes for everything from termites to honeybees!
August 28, 2013
With such a striking profile, it’s no surprise Kili made it big in Hollywood. Watch the White Mountain’s star turns in:
The Snows of Kilimanjaro
Based on the Hemingway story of the same name, The Snows of Kilimanjaro features Gregory Peck as Harry Street, a writer laid up with a possibly-fatal wound, reflecting on a life he’s come to see as wasted.
Though the film begins in a base camp at the foot of the famous mountain, the majority of the action takes place in flashback, in places like Paris, Cairo, and Spain. Some filming was done on location in Kenya, which is closer to Kilimanjaro, but in reality, a film whose framework is set in Kili’s foothills never made it near the actual mountain!
East of Kilimanjaro
Filmed on location in Tanzania (Tanganyika at the time), East of Kilimanjaro weaves a love-plot into a story of…cattle inoculation.
Though the adventure plotline (not to mention the romance) might seem a little far-fetched to us today, the stunning scenery, and the focus on the Maasai (a tribe intimately tied to the cattle they have traditionally herded), is remarkably accurate for movies of the period.
The Mines of Kilimanjaro
A secret archeological discovery, filled with mystical power, which, in the wrong, Nazi-ish hands, could destroy the world.
Sound familiar? That’s because The Mines of Kilimanjaro, complete with a 30s archeologist in a familiar fedora, is clearly an effort to jump aboard the Indiana Jones train. Spoiler alert: this is no Indiana Jones.
Killers of Kilimanjaro
Chock full of dangerous cannibals, terrifying stock footage of every safari animal under the sun, and predictably evil slave traders, Killers of Kilimanjaro is a movie even Robert Taylor can’t make exciting. Reviews at the time dismissed the movie as cliché, and Taylor reportedly called it a failure later in life.
Intriguing as an entry in the annals of charmingly-dated film, Killers of Kilimanjaro is a movie you may laugh at, but probably not with.
The Road to Zanzibar
We know, Zanzibar isn’t even all that CLOSE to Kili, but this Hope & Crosby buddy comedy also includes Bengal tigers, broad swathes of jungle, and an inexplicably non-fatal cage-wrestling match with a gorilla, none of which are all that close to Zanzibar, either.
Like all the “Road to…” movies, this is a goofy, slapstick romp that’s more concerned with the joking banter between its two leads than it is with historical (or geographical) accuracy. It won’t teach you much about the mountain, but it might get you in the positive frame of mind you’ll need to conquer Kili!
Summit on Summit
|Watch Through the Roof
|Watch IMAX film
To the Roof of Africa
August 27, 2013
It’s a jungle out there…okay, more of a savannah, but either way, life in the wild can be hard to handle on your own. That’s why so many species of wildlife team up, forming symbiotic relationships that help them both survive (or at least get a little more comfortable). Some of our favorite dynamic duos include:
Warthogs & Mongooses
Warthogs are fierce fighters, armed with razor-sharp tusks, sturdy bodies, and, if you believe The Lion King, some serious stink.
But these notorious tough guys turn softy when they see a pack of mongooses. Even though a warthog could easily crush an entire pack, it will lay down when it sees mongooses approaching and allow the smaller animals to score a tasty meal of ticks and fleas in exchange for a thorough cleaning. But the mongooses know they have to be quick; it’s the only way to outpace the warthog’s famously-short temper!
Rhinos & Oxpeckers
Anyone who’s visited knows the bush can sometimes be a dirty place. That’s why big (and relatively inflexible) animals like the rhinoceros rely on partners like the oxpecker to clean ticks off their hides.
Rhinoceros do benefit from the oxpeckers, who act as an early warning system if predators are approaching, but oxpeckers benefit more; not only do they tend to prefer to “clean” the ticks that are already engorged with blood, they then burrow into the sores left behind for more tasty treats. Some scientists even refer to oxpeckers as “vampire birds,” since they use both the ticks and the host’s blood as food sources.
Nonetheless, rhinoceros tolerate these freeloaders in exchange for the occasional “heads up.” With friends like these…
Photo: Harvey Barrison
Olive Baboons & Elephants
The olive baboon is the most widely-ranging living baboon, with populations in 25 African countries. Maybe part of that can be chalked up to its mutually beneficial relationship with elephants.
Elephants are known to dig “wells” in the sand when it’s dry…so olive baboons know to follow elephants around when they’re thirsty.
Of course an elephant would never forget a debt; in exchange for allowing them to use the watering holes, elephants rely on the tree top baboons as an early warning system when danger is near.
Ostriches & Zebras
If Jack Sprat and his wife had been African animals, they’d be the ostrich and the zebra. Ostriches are a bit hard of hearing, with a poor sense of smell, but their massive eyes are great at spotting predators. Zebra, on the other hand, can hardly see the stripes at the end of their noses, but they make up for it with heightened smell and hearing.
And so between the two of them, predators are heard, smelled, AND seen.
Between them, ostriches and zebras have one full set of senses.
Photo: Terry Robinson
Plovers & Crocodiles
It’s a relationship straight out of one of Aesop’s fables. The crocodile will open his mighty jaws and allow the humble plover inside, where the bird picks away the bits of meat stuck in the crocodile’s terrible teeth, safe from the crocodile’s deadly bite.
Unfortunately, the charming tale of crocs trading some free dental work for a free meal does seem to be a fable. The tit-for-tat trade between the fearless little plover and the fearsome croc has never been documented.
This is about as close as you’ll see a plover get to a crocodile.
Photo: Gordon Langsbury
The Honeyguide Bird & People
Many believe the honeyguide leads the honey badger, or ratel, to its favorite food source, but evidence shows the honey badger don’t care, he’ll find his own hives.
People, however, have quickly learned to follow this bird, who will fly to a bee colony, wait while people crack it open and take away all the unwanted honey, then feed on the wax and remaining larva inside.
Talk about a sweet deal.
Photo: Derek Keats
August 23, 2013
After months of summer heat, everyone at the Thomson office was ready for a little summer fun. Luckily, in Boston “getting away from it all” only takes about thirty minutes of boating across the harbor to Thompson (no relation) Island!
It was a perfect day to get away from the city; the sun was shining bright, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and the breeze off the water made the island a cool retreat.
The staff enjoyed a traditional New England clambake…and a few cold ones! After a day of games, sun, and fun, the Thomson team returned to Boston refreshed.
August 22, 2013
By Thomson Safaris staffer, Emily Martin
When I visited the Serengeti, I expected to see giraffes and zebras, beautiful landscapes and peaceful sunsets over the plains.
What I didn’t expect was to form a lifelong friendship with a Maasai tribesman.
Of course that’s just because I hadn’t met Emmanuel, yet. Warm, intelligent, with a smile that lights up his face, Emmanuel was not just a translator to us, he was a true cultural liaison to his fellow Maasai, and to a way of life unlike anything I’d ever imagined before.
I met Emmanuel at the Thomson Safaris’ Private Nature Refuge, as we headed out to one of the nearby Maasai villages. He was our translator, and I was amazed by his vast array of knowledge and near-perfect English. He politely answered all our questions about the Maasai, taught us a few Maa words to try out when we visited the village, and even spent some time asking us about our lives. Thanks to Emmanuel and his easy smile, our village visit was filled with dancing, jumping, pictures, and laughter shared with the villagers. It was a true cultural exchange!
During the rest of my stay I learned more about Emmanuel’s life, his family, and his dream of going to wilderness school. He was curious and driven, and I was impressed with how he navigated the two worlds he lived in: the traditional Maasai setting in which he was raised, and the modern, global world he was learning more about as a translator for Thomson Safaris. His doubts weren’t so different from any young man who wanted to see the world, but didn’t want to disappoint his family or lose sight of his heritage.
On my last day, as we were saying goodbye, Emmanuel told me he had a question.
You can imagine my surprise when Emmanuel proposed, offering a dowry of 100 cows.
I had only known him for two days, and besides, I was not on the market! How was I going to let him down easily?! My guide, Mohammed, started laughing hysterically. Soon Emmanuel joined in and I realized he was joking. Still laughing, we exchanged email addresses, took a couple photos to remember the moment, and I headed back to the US.
From just a few heartfelt conversations in the bush, I struck up a totally unexpected friendship. Who knew a girl from Ohio would connect so well with a Maasai from the bush? Emmanuel and I exchange emails regularly and send updates about our friends and family. I sent him pictures of my time at the Private Nature Refuge with the Maasai, and he passed them along to local villagers.
Emmanuel did finally make it to wilderness school thanks to the generous help of past Thomson Safaris guests the Lincks. He graduates this fall, and I, along with the entire Boston office, am so proud of his hard work—we can’t wait to see what he’ll do next! From the moment I met him, I could tell Emmanuel was just one of those people who would go on to do amazing things. I am grateful I had the opportunity to get to know him better during my time on safari with Thomson.
Emmanuel not only made it to wilderness school, he’s graduating this year.
We’ll be following up with Emmanuel soon!
August 21, 2013
History remembers Hans Meyer as the first person to reach Kilimanjaro’s summit in 1889, but some accounts award the title to another man: Yohana Kinyala Lauwo.
In 1889, when Hans Meyer came to the villages surrounding Kilimanjaro, searching for a guide, Yohana was an 18-year-old member of the Chagga tribe, a Tanzanian ethnic group that still calls the base of Kilimanjaro home.
Meyer assumed he was getting the best of the best, but in fact Lauwo and the teenagers chosen to act as porters were picked as a form of punishment from the tribal elders, who were upset that they’d been poaching. At the time, the tribe believed Kilimanjaro was an impossible journey; the Chagga chief thought sending the troublemakers up the mountain with Meyer would be the last he’d ever see of them.
What the chief didn’t know is that Yohana may have already reached Kili’s peak; some people believe Yohana had summited as many as nine times before. Either way, Yohana successfully led Meyer to the summit, and went on to earn his living as a Kilimanjaro guide, taking others up less perilous routes than the one he forged on that first, uncharted trek.
Now Yohana’s grandson, Pendaeli, is carrying on the family tradition, leading Thomson Safaris trekkers to Uhuru Peak.
How could Yohana’s grandson still be working as a guide, you might ask? Wouldn’t even the grandson of a man born in 1871 be far too old for such a strenuous job?
The answer is that Yohana didn’t just live to tell his tale of Kilimanjaro, he lived to the ripe old age of 125, fathered many children, and only passed away in 1996.
After years as a porter, followed by five years helping trekkers reach the top as an assistant guide, Pendaeli (or “Penda” to his trekkers) was promoted to a head guide position this June.
He’s already proven how great he is at getting trekkers to the top of the mountain. After all, not only does he have years of experience under his belt, reaching Uhuru Peak runs in the family!