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.
November 12, 2013
From overhead, a shrieking howl rings through the trees. You look up, but all you see is a streak of white fluttering on the breeze.
Is it a bird? Is it a superhero?
No, it’s a Colobus monkey!
These black-and-white beauties spend most of their time high in the treetops, where they find their favorite food, the tender young leaves that don’t grow down below. In order to get around, they use the springy branches near the trees’ crowns as improvised trampolines, sometimes flying as far as 50 feet through the air.
That may sound like a superhero ability…and when you see a black-and-white Colobus in “flight,” you’ll realize it’s wearing a superhero outfit, too.
The silky white hair that distinguishes the species forms a U-pattern down the monkeys’ backs, fluttering out behind them in the breeze almost like a cape. In fact, the white mantle and long, puffy tail act as a sort of natural parachute for the monkeys, helping them land on narrow branches in the upper canopy.
Like all good superheroes, Colobus monkeys have a special power: imperviousness to poison (at least some). Complex stomachs allow them to eat toxic plants most other animals can’t…which is almost another superpower, at least in times of scarcity.
But no superhero is without a fatal flaw, and the Colobus is no exception: though they’re surprisingly adept, the monkeys have no thumbs.
In fact, that’s how they got their name; “Colobus” derives from the Greek word for “mutilated.”
Though who knows; it could refer to the red sun of their home planet…
November 7, 2013
It goes without saying that different cultures love different foods; where you’re born is debatably the primary influence on how (and what) you eat.
Some of the following foods may not sound appealing to a western palate, but in Tanzania, they’re favorites. While poaching is still a major concern in Africa, none of the following foods is considered bush meat.
-In America, we’ve been taught that pork is “the other white meat,” but in Africa, that title goes to a different animal: the civet. The meat is said to be excellent, and very lightly fruit-flavored, because of the high fruit content in the civet’s diet.
The civet is also valued for a very different reason; glands near its tail produce a strong, musky substance. While it smells decidedly funky on its own, perfumers love it as a rich, earthy addition to scents.
The best known eaters of fruit bats live on Palau, an island situated between the Phillipines and Micronesia, known by many as the setting for the tenth season of Survivor. But they’re just one of many cultures that consider bats—particularly fruit bats—a delicacy. Residents of Guam have long considered fruit bat meat a delicacy, and Tanzanians living on the island of Pemba, just off the coast, also regularly eat bat meat. And though you won’t see bat on western menus today, in 1971 The New York Times Natural Foods Cookbook featured a recipe for fruit bat soup.
Unfortunately, this is one exotic taste with a serious downside: bats share a large portion of their DNA with humans, and bat consumption has been linked to outbreaks of SARS and even Ebola.
It’s a bit of a truism that any strange meat “tastes just like chicken.”
Crocodile’s flavor may be a bit different, but with low fat content and high levels of protein, this meat is often cooked “just like chicken,” in everything from skewers to stir-fries. The tail, however, is highly fatty, and generally isn’t eaten by Tanzanians (though they will occasionally serve it to tourists).
Though the idea of eating crocodile may seem exotic to some, its American cousin, alligator, has appeared on western menus for years, now, especially in the South.
It’s also usually eaten like pig: roasts, ribs, legs and chops appear regularly in recipes.
Found only in Lake Tanganyika, kapenta is probably one of the most polarizing dishes on the East African menu, at least as far as flavor.
Small, sardine-like fish, kapenta are traditionally salted and dried in the sun for a day or more, then cooked up with vegetables. They’re also regularly served marinated, a preparation that will taste vaguely familiar to anyone who’s ever tried pickled herring.
As with many sardines and anchovies, kapenta isn’t boned before it’s prepared, meaning this little fish will pack a flavorful punch…and, for some people, an off-putting crunch.
November 5, 2013
We talk a lot about external threats to wildlife populations, because they are by far the biggest causes for concern.
But in the case of cheetahs, dwindling populations aren’t just the result of land encroachment, poaching, and global warming.
It’s in their genes.
Maybe a better way to put it is that it’s not in their genes.
About 10,000 years ago, at the end of the last ice age, hundreds of species died off in a mass extinction event. Cheetahs manage to survive…but just barely. In the years and millennia following, cheetah populations rebounded, reaching levels of around 100,000 animals in the wild by the turn of the 20th century.
But something was still missing: genetic diversity.
A 5-year study from the early 80s showed that the cheetah gene-pool resembles that of highly-inbred mice used for scientific research. Essentially, the entire population had been built up from too small a stock; the result was a species in which 70% of the males had abnormal sperm and infant mortality soared to over 29%, even in captivity. In the wild, only about 5% of cheetahs survive to adulthood.
To give you an idea of just how serious the inbreeding problem is in cheetahs, among related animals of most species, you can expect to see 80% gene similarity; related cheetahs have 99% gene similarity. Their genes are so remarkably similar, in fact, that even between unrelated animals, skin grafts aren’t rejected. Any one cheetah is essentially any other’s identical twin.
Scientists are desperately trying to force some diversity back into the gene pool via breeding in captivity, but until they do, cheetahs are an incredibly vulnerable species, not only because of the hunting and environmental threats that have already decimated wild populations (most current estimates put the wild population under 2,000 animals), but because a single illness could essentially wipe out the entire species (genetic diversity helps some members of a population fight infections, even when others succumb).
Beyond captive breeding, better protection for remaining wild cheetahs is absolutely vital. Currently, populations are relatively isolated from one another; the more chance they have of mixing, the better the chance that there will be different genes in the mix.
October 31, 2013
Anyone who has been to Gibb’s Farm (a destination many Thomson Safaris trips visit) knows that this working coffee estate nestled in the heart of the verdant Ngorongoro Highlands is a treasure. Set amidst an absolutely stunning landscape, the eco-lodge has been awarded time and time again for its luxurious accommodations, eco-conscious practices, and exceptional service.
We’re incredibly honored that Condé Nast Traveler readers agree that it’s one of the most amazing places in Africa. In the recent Reader’s Choice awards, they voted Gibb’s Farm the top property in all of Tanzania, and the second best hotel on the entire continent of Africa.
Gibb’s Farm has been around since way back in 1929, when it was founded as a colonial coffee plantation. Over the decades, the property has transformed into an eco-lodge, but the rich soil of the Ngorongoro Highlands has ensured that its first function—as an ideal location to grow exceptional coffees—has remained part of its identity. Today, guests have the opportunity to visit the coffee fields, see the process the beans go through before they can go into a brew…and of course to bring home a few bags of the plantation’s exceptional coffee!
But that’s just one of the many factors that makes Gibb’s such an amazing retreat on safari. Organic gardens on the grounds provide unbeatably fresh food to guests, who can take guided tours around the property, or even rent bikes for a tour of the Highlands. Lodges with wraparound windows, private verandas, and luxurious outdoor showers are a home-away-from-home on safari. And service is white-glove (in all the categories CN Traveler readers rated, “service” tied for the highest spot at Gibb’s!).
We’re proud to be able to send so many of our travelers to such a memorable, beautiful spot. We’ve always felt that Gibb’s is a little slice of paradise; we’re incredibly happy to hear that CN Traveler’s readers agree with us!
October 30, 2013
In Maa, the Maasai language, Kilimanjaro is known as Ol Doinyo Oibor, or “The White Mountain.”
But there’s a much more imposing-sounding mountain located just a little further along the Great Rift Valley: Ol Doinyo Lengai, or “The Mountain of God.”
That name might have something to do with Ol Doinyo Lengai’s frequent eruptions. An active stratovolcano, Ol Doinyo Lengai is unique not only in the region, but in the world.
While most volcanos spew forth familiar glowing-red magma, Ol Doinyo Lengai is a carbonatite volcano, one whose lava has a completely different chemical structure. Thinner and more liquid than lavas with higher silicate content, lava from Ol Doinyo Lengai and volcanos like it actually appears black in the sunlight. Unstable in the surface atmosphere of the earth, the flows weather rapidly, quickly turning from black to grey.
The lava’s makeup also means that it erupts at temperatures as low as 950° F. That may sound hot to you, but for most volcanos, it’s not even a simmer; some volcanic magma reaches temperatures as high as about 2200° F before erupting. The low ‘boiling’ point also means Ol Doinyo Lengai erupts frequently; in the last hundred years, Ol Doinyo Lengai has erupted well over a dozen times!
Ol Doinyo Lengai is the only active volcano with this unique, strange type of lava, and is in fact the only volcano of this type to have erupted in recorded history.
Whether or not that makes the mountain godlike is debatable, but it certainly makes it worth a trip!