August 15, 2013
There’s one thing we can guarantee every Thomson traveler will see on his or her trip. No, it’s not a favorite animal. It’s a kanga!
A sampling of the colorful kanga regularly worn by Tanzanians
Photo by Thomson Safaris guest Richard Shermer
These brightly-colored cotton cloths are the de facto national dress in Tanzania. They first appeared in the mid- to late-19th century in East Africa, especially on Zanzibar, which was a center for the cloth trade at the time. Though no one is entirely sure of the origin of kanga, a popular story says they were first made by fashion-forward women who bought multiple men’s handkerchiefs, sewed them together to form a large rectangle, and started wearing their new creations as everything from head scarves to skirts to dresses.
Early kanga were simpler than those women wear today. Spotted patterns on the cloths reminded people of the coloring of the kanga bird, the Swahili name for the guinea fowl, and thus the popular name for these cloths was born.
Like all styles, kanga have evolved over the years. Early in the 20th century, it became popular to include a saying or proverb on the kanga. This phrase, called the jina, can be a useful communication tool for Tanzanian men and women alike. A man giving a gift might choose a saying about beauty or love; a woman who’s upset with a friend might give or wear a kanga with a phrase like “njia mwongo fupi,” which means “the way of the liar is short.” In a country where women’s place in society, and their ability to openly speak their minds, is still very restricted, the kanga often acts as a means of honest communication women otherwise wouldn’t be able to engage in.
Kanga fashions vary regionally as well. Tanzania is particularly well-known for kanga commemorating political events, such as the election of Barack Obama.
There are dozens of ways to wear a kanga, from simple tucked skirts and toga-style dresses to complicated halter tops. Women in Tanzania also commonly use them as baby carriers, headdresses, and even décor.
The most common way to wear a kanga is also the easiest to execute; tuck it around your waist as though you were wrapping a towel. But there are tons of other styles that we love! Check out the video below for just a few of the many options:
August 14, 2013
Hemingway talked about a leopard, frozen in the ice near Kilimanjaro’s peak, which trekkers have been looking for ever since, but there are stranger things rumored to be buried deep beneath Kili’s snows.
Things like the legendary Seal of Solomon, the ancient King’s ring rumored to possess magical powers.
To understand how a mythical artifact might have made its way to Kili, we need an (apocryphal) history lesson.
During his reign, Solomon was visited by the Queen of Sheba, and some legends say he fathered her child, the ancient Ethiopian king, Menelik I.
When Menelik reached adulthood, he visited his father in Israel, and was said to have received both a replica of the Ark of the Covenant (which some legends say was switched at the last minute for the real deal, which Menelik hid in Ethiopia) and Solomon’s famous seal ring, both of which he brought back with him to his dominions in Northern Africa.
Menelik’s reign was incredibly successful (and the dynasty he established in Ethiopia lasted, with only one interruption, nearly 3,000 years). Late in life, after a successful conquest of lands to the South, Menelik was returning to his own kingdom. On the way, he passed Kilimanjaro and, for no apparent reason, decided to climb to the top, with all his kingly jewels in tow.
When he reached Kibo’s peak, Menelik suddenly fell ill and died (there’s a reason we tell trekkers to give themselves acclimatization time!). His attendants buried his body—with Solomon’s infamous seal ring on his finger—in one of the snowy craters, high upon the mountain.
Legend has it that only Menelik’s true heir will find his body. When that person puts on the ring, he or she will be suffused with all of Solomon’s wisdom and Menelik’s bravery, and will restore the glory of the ancient kingdom of Ethiopia.
So keep your eyes peeled on Kili; you never know what you might find…
August 7, 2013
The most important thing you’ll need to trek Kilimanjaro is determination, but a comfortable pair of hiking boots won’t hurt, either!
There are tons of options out there, and any number of them could be a good fit, both for Kili and for your feet! There’s no one “right” boot, but if you want a good place to start, try one of these recommendations from the Thomson Safaris staff. After all, you know these can get you to the top…because they’ve already done it for us!
Katie’s Recommendation: Merrell Chameleon Thermo 6
Merrell is a leading name in cold-weather hiking gear, and the Chameleon Thermo 6’s are no exception to the company’s reputation for quality. According to Katie, “they are the most comfortable well-cushioned boots I’ve ever owned! They’re amazingly sturdy but still flexible, and good for the changing temperatures and terrain on Kili.”
Best of all, they’ll hold up. Katie’s pair has made it through “two Kili treks, many day hikes, wading through a flood, and five New England winters,” and they’re still going strong.
Though they’re no longer made in women’s sizes, some women trekkers may be able to purchase a men’s boot (after converting the shoe size, of course).
Amy’s Recommendation: Asolo 520 TPS GV
These leather boots are durable, comfortable, waterproof, and well-made. Amy has used them on Kili and to hike 80 miles in the backcountry of Alaska, and says she’ll “probably stick with them for the rest of my life!”
Paul’s Recommendation: La Sportiva Pamir
These boots are all-leather, which means they won’t double as fly-fishing waders, but they will be incredibly breathable during a hike, which will help keep your feet from sweating too much on your way up the mountain!
Michael’s Recommendation: Asolo Power Matic 200 GV
Not only did Michael’s feet stay toasty and dry all the way up Kili, he still has his Power Matics, and uses them “all the time in the winter.”
Rachel’s Recommendation: Lowa Renegade Mid GTX
But it wasn’t an easy choice. Before she settled on them, she “went to REI and tried on every hiking, backpacking, and trekking boot they offer, and settled on the one that was most comfortable for my (narrow) foot.”
Rachel’s quest to find the perfect boot illustrates an important fact: there is no ONE perfect boot for Kili, there’s just YOUR perfect boot!
Good boots for Kili are:
1) Warm (with enough space for thicker socks)
2) Waterproof (in case it rains)
3) Supportive (of both your feet and your ankles—trails are uneven, so you should avoid light trail-running shoes)
4) Broken in (which means you should wear your boots before you get to Kili, during training hikes, while walking on a treadmill, or even just doing your daily errands!)
As long as your boots cover those four bases, and they feel good on your feet, then they’ll be a perfect fit for Kili!
For more footwear recommendations, check out our Kilimanjaro footwear board on Pinterest!
All pictures above from manufacturers’ websites
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 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 16, 2013
Carol A. Criner trekked Mount Kilimanjaro with Thomson Safaris in 2003. In her article below, she reflects on one of the most important journeys of her life.
I’ve been busy-attacking-life in the ten years since climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. I rarely speak of my life-changing experience of slowly hiking the 19,341 ft. (5,895m). However, this morning I reconnected with the smiling 35-year-old who summited at 7:33AM on August 28, 2003.
As I gaze at the certificate and photos on the wall of my home office, I quietly feel that sense of accomplishment bubble up through my chest. My smile widens. My journey began with a phone call from my college sorority sister, another restless spirit and novice hiker who was ready for a challenge…
Ten years later, I am reminded of three Life Lessons from my Kilimanjaro journey:
1. First, confidently commit to the goal. You’ll be surprised by what you may accomplish.
As soon as Christina suggested we tackle Kilimanjaro, I was excited. I was also nervous. Can I really do this? Initially, I was unsure. My first step was to research summit success rates, mountain injuries, and recommended advance physical conditioning. My initial low moment was a phone call I placed to inquire whether my health insurance would airlift me to a hospital if injured.
My second low point was standing at the starting area of the climb; we were well rested and ready to hike in our newly purchased outfits and gear. A husky voice emerged from behind us in line and loudly stated ‘pardon me ladies; your mud gaiters are backwards. You might want to fix that’. Oh my, is it now obvious to everyone hiking the mountain that we don’t know what we’re doing? Quickly, we had to stamp-out the self-doubt and get moving.
Confidently committing to the goal of summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro was closely connected to ultimately achieving success. We focused with the end in mind. That commitment, to the goal as well as to each other, pulled us through mud, fatigue, and the impact of altitude.
2. Although the destination is important; the journey is equally valuable. Take it in.
The terrain changed each day. A long walk through a forest one day would transition the following morning to hikes through barren land, and periods of rock scrambling the day after. Beautiful!
I also fondly remember celebrating my birthday one evening. The crew kindly delivered a small cake, lit a candle, and sang Happy Birthday. We all danced. In the past 10 years, it’s been hard to top that birthday celebration on the side of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
I remember late night talks in the tent about husbands, boyfriends, career challenges, and life. I loved the moments of laughter on the trail as we met many teams of friends and families along the journey. The opportunity to learn each person’s story and share a portion of the climb together was an unexpected gift.
Ironically, the actual summit lasted approximately 10 minutes. We hugged, smiled, cheered, took photos, grabbed a drink of water, and were once again on our way. Time to get moving down the mountain.
The summit was an awesome moment, but the wonderful memories and lasting feeling of accomplishment were collected over multiple days.
3. We all need regular encouragement and positive re-enforcement.
The final summit hike began shortly after midnight as we joined a long line of hikers walking up a steep terrain. The line of hikers reminded me of a string of Christmas lights extending far along the black night sky. The hike seemed to last forever. Step. Step. Keep moving. I remember starting to feel pain and light-headed. I called over to Christina, ‘I am in pain. Is the appendix on the right side or left side?’ The long line of white lights seemed to never end. Would this hike also continue forever? At sunrise, we were still moving and growing tired. Finally, a rest break.
As we rested, Christina communicated that she would no longer continue the hike. ‘I’ll wait for you here’. We debated the subject. Finally, a familiar hiker walked past us, a new friend we met several days ago. He had just summited and was heading back towards camp. He asked how we were doing, clearly concerned. He said ‘Come on! Ladies, get moving. The summit is only about 200 yards away. Start walking that way. You can do it. It’s literally right around the corner. Go!’
Christina and I looked at each other—how silly are we? If we’re that close, we can finish. Let’s get moving. We started walking. And walking. As we continued forward, we were far beyond the 200 yards suggested. Then, we became angry. Why would he lie to us? More than forty-five minutes later, we summited. We hugged, took photos, and celebrated! Later that evening, we met our friend again and asked why he misled us. His answer I’ll forever remember. ‘Ladies, you looked terrible. You needed a push or you’d miss the chance of a lifetime. Now, aren’t you both glad I did that for you?’ Yes!
Thank you Mt. Kilimanjaro, Christina, Thomson Safaris, and all the supportive hikers we met on our journey. I will forever cherish the many memories and life lessons, and will faithfully carry these memories with me for the next 10 years.
Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro – I highly recommend it!