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 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 19, 2013
Every culture has its share of good luck charms, items that for some reason are thought to have more power to influence that lottery drawing than the rest of the stuff cluttering up your junk drawer. Then there are those other substances—things like eye of newt, say—reputed to have even greater, almost mystical powers.
In medieval Europe, for example, eating a spider wrapped in a raisin was thought to cure fevers, and touching a dead man’s tooth was the best-known treatment for toothache.
In Africa, similarly legendary properties have been ascribed to pangolins, and particularly their scales (the hard, sharp-edged keratin growths that cover the body of this anteater). These myths, even the most antiquated and outdated, continue to drive illegal poaching of the threatened species.
Do these pangolin scales remind you of toenail clippings? That might be because they’re made of the exact same protein (and are about as effective, magically speaking).
Photo: Daphne Chui
Some of the false claims about pangolin parts that continue to threaten this intriguing creature include:
Protection against (you name it)
Afraid of bad luck? In Africa, you should carry your trusty pangolin scale instead of a rabbit’s foot. But the protective properties ascribed to pangolin scales don’t stop there; when mixed with the bark from the right trees, the scales are thought to ward off evil spirits and witchcraft. Others burn the scales as a protection against wild animals—maybe the smell is enough to drive them off?
In Chinese medicine, as well as some African cultures, the scales, blood, and flesh of the pangolin are thought to cure a whole host of ailments: stomach ulcers, mental illness, allergies, cancer, asthma, venereal diseases, lactation problems, stroke, and run-of-the-mill back pain, just to name a few.
Of course no studies have shown any effectiveness against any of these diseases, but that doesn’t stop the Asian market, especially, from importing hundreds upon hundreds of pounds of scales illegally every year.
A love spell
Looking to snag that special someone? Don’t work on your flirty laugh and just “happening” to be in the right place…bury a pangolin scale under his door. Some cultures in Africa believe that doing so will give a woman “power” over the man in question.
A tree pangolin, the variety you may see in East Africa.
Unsurprisingly, none of these mystical claims for pangolin powers have ever been proven, but that hasn’t stopped the slaughter; according to estimates extrapolated from seizures, between 100,000 and 200,000 (if not more) pangolins have been killed in just the last three years.
What would really be magical? Stopping the senseless poaching of a fascinating animal, and leaving it in its natural habitat.
November 14, 2013
Zanzibar is known for many things: its history as a spice island, its blend of cultures from all over the world, its white sand beaches…
…and Freddie Mercury.
Zanzibar’s best-known son (and hands-down its most fabulous), Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara in Stone Town in 1946. At the time, Zanzibar was still under British rule (Zanzibar didn’t join the country of Tanzania until independence in 1961). That meant that, though he was born on an island off the eastern coast of Africa, Mercury was born a British citizen.
Mercury’s family were Parsis (the name for a branch of Zoroastrians that live in India), and his childhood was divided between Zanzibar and India. When Mercury was 17, however, the 1964 Zanzibar Revolution—during which several thousand Indians and Arabs were killed—drove his family from Zanzibar for good.
The family settled in England…
…and then the magic happened.
In 1970, Mercury joined Brian May and Robert Taylor to form what would become one of the best-loved rock bands of all time: Queen.
Over the years, their songs ran the gamut from disco to rockabilly to heavy metal. The one constant, however, was Mercury’s remarkable ability as a singer and performer. Ten of the 17 songs on Queen’s greatest hits album were written by Mercury, and in 2008, Rolling Stone editors ranked him 18th on their “100 Greatest Singers of All Time” list. In 2009, Classic Rock readers voted him the greatest rock singer of all time.
Though Mercury died of complications from AIDS in 1991, the band’s popularity has hardly waned; according to the RIAA, Queen has sold nearly 35 million albums in the United States alone, about half of them since Mercury’s death.
The release of the movie Wayne’s World helped turn Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” into a fan favorite
Mercury also lives on in other ways. In 2013, a group of scientists discovered a new genus of frogs in Kerala, India, near where Mercury spent much of his childhood. They named the group “Mercurana,” after the singer, reportedly because Mercury’s “vibrant music inspires” them.