May 29, 2012
Each spring, four staff members from the Arusha office visit the United States for an all-expense paid, two-week trip, courtesy of Rick and Judi. We are always so excited to welcome our friends and share a little bit of our lives with them. It is truly a treat for us! This year, we welcomed our Senior Guides, Freddie and Mustafa, Trip Manager, Shamim and Nyumba Camp Chef, Herriel.
Boston staff and Tanzanian guests gather for a logistics meeting in our conference room
During their stay in Boston, we talked shop, explored major attractions like the New England Aquarium, went bowling and had a taste of a variety of cuisines from both local restaurants and Rick & Judi’s backyard grill.
Then, they were off! Past Thomson guests from all over the country heard about the annual staff visit and extended all-expenses-paid invitations for the staff to visit places like Arizona, New York, California, Vermont, Pennsylvania and Colorado. Old friendships were rekindled and new ones were made. Needless to say, everyone had a great time exploring America!
May 22, 2012
Thomson Safaris sponsored a group of Maasai women from several villages in Loliondo to participate in Arusha’s International Women’s Day activities in March.
International Women’s Day celebrates the economic, political, and social achievements of women past, present and future. The events, which are held annually across the world, range from seminars, conferences, and to political rallies and networking events. Women from all over Tanzania gathered for this multi-day conference under the theme of “Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures.”
Over the course of a few days, the Maasai women attended seminars on topics such as domestic violence, entrepreneurship, human rights, HIV/AIDS and Female Genital Cutting (FGC). The seminars not only increased their awareness about these issues relevant to their daily lives, but also supplied the women with strategies and knowledge to work on these issues and to improve their quality of life.
Maasai women rally at International Women`s Day
Selling Maasai beadwork
Selling Maasai beadwork
Maasai women attending International Women`s Day seminars
The Loliondo women not only enjoyed learning the valuable information covered at the Women’s Day events but also found modern life in Arusha to be a learning experience in itself. Most of these women have never left their remote villages, which made Arusha’s busy streets and crowds, along with things we take for granted, like electricity, an eye-opening experience.
The women intend to share their newly-gained knowledge about women’s rights, violence prevention, and the importance of better access to education for girls with their communities.
April 25, 2012
Fans of The Martha Stewart Show caught a glimpse of iconic Tanzanian imagery courtesy of Thomson Safaris guest, Lisa Wagner, during an on-air segment earlier this month.
Lisa, who is the Senior Supervising Producer of The Martha Stewart Show, appeared alongside Martha Stewart in a “how-to” segment where they created a collage of Lisa’s safari photographs. The segment (below) shows viewers a creative way to get their vacation images off their cameras’ memory cards and on display in their homes.
Clip provided courtesy of The Martha Stewart Show
Lisa traveled with her entire family – all 3 generations – on a private safari with us over the December holidays. She and her family spent over two weeks visiting must-see locations like the Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti National Park. “It was my parents’ idea…and it was the best trip I’ve ever taken,” said Lisa.
Like many of our safari guests, Lisa had a big job of editing and sorting through over a thousand photographs when she returned home from Tanzania. She selected several of her favorites for The Martha Stewart Show segment including the picturesque Tanzanian sunset, lions lounging on a kopje, and members of a Maasai tribe they visited – which she says, was a highlight of their trip – as well as a snapshot of herself with her sons by their Nyumba at the Thomson camps.
March 25, 2012
When people told Hellen Lovukenya that she couldn’t make a living fixing cars, she simply didn’t listen to them. “You are a woman! You are Maasai!” they said. “Exactly,” she responded. “I can do whatever I want to do.” Today Lovukenya happens to be one of Thomson Safaris’ most gifted mechanics and a role model for women in Tanzania.
Elbow-deep in engine grease, head buried beneath the hood of a Land Rover Defender, Hellen Lovukenya fiddles with the wiring of a voltage regulator. She’s determined to get the Thomson Safaris vehicle back up and running.
As Thomson’s ace auto-electrician, Lovukenya has zeroed in on the glitch and fixed it. Ten minutes later, the Rover starts up with a roar — alternator and battery fully charged and in solid condition.
Another safari vehicle repaired. Another half dozen sit in the open-air garage under the toil of Thomson’s skilled team of mechanics. Lovukenya wipes the sweat from her brow and takes a swig from a bottle of water before moving on to another job.
“I love this work,” Lovukenya exclaims. “Since I was a little girl, I always enjoyed problem solving and getting my hands dirty.”
As a Maasai woman and mother of two, Lovukenya leads a life that is very different from those of her relatives and ancestors. She excels in a field dominated by men, and her story serves as an inspiration to thousands of young Tanzanian women struggling to do the same.
“When I was growing up, it was rare for Maasai girls to even go to school,” she says. “But now more and more girls are being educated. I believe in the workforce things can change, too.”
Becoming a mechanic
By the time she turned 17, Hellen Lovukenya had already overcome extraordinary obstacles in pursuing her education. She was fortunate that her father, a Maasai from northern Tanzania, completely supported her desire to attend school despite opposition from his extended family. Highly educated himself, he worked as an engineer for the national electric company. However, the nature of his job kept the family on the move as he was regularly transferred from one end of the country to the other.
“I can’t even count how many schools I attended,” Lovukenya says, noting that she has lived in more than seven regions. “Even then, I had an interest in fixing cars. I used to watch my dad fixing things all the time at home. But I still knew my parents would not be supportive of my dream to become a mechanic.”
Later, while attending Arusha Secondary School, Lovukenya began to sneak away when she did not have classes, as she had convinced the owner of a nearby garage to teach her the basics of auto repair in exchange for doing odd jobs. Surprised at how fast the young student picked up the basics, the owner told Lovukenya she could easily get work as a mechanic if she pursued vocational studies.
Once she graduated from school and shared her dream with her parents, however, Lovukenya felt like she had crashed head first into a brick wall. “No way!” summed up their response. Since their daughter had passed her exams and qualified to attend teachers’ college, Lovukenya’s parents said she was destined to become a teacher, which they believed to be more suitable for a woman.
“I am very stubborn and hard-headed,” Lovukenya says with a smile. “When my parents would not let me study mechanics, I told them I was going to join the army and be a soldier. When they struggled with me over that, I decided to just stay home and help them to farm and look after the cows.”
Yet again, Lovukenya remained determined, surreptitiously studying auto-mechanics via correspondence courses and eventually passing several exams to obtain certificates and diplomas. Soon enough, she found work in a local garage.
“My parents and relatives were still completely against it at first,” she recalls. “It took a long time for people to get used to me being a mechanic. Some of my uncles confronted my father and told him he had failed to guide me properly, and I was a lost cause. But I begged my father just to give me freedom and the opportunity.”
From fixing Land Rovers to Strengthening Communities
Joining Thomson Safaris in 2001, Lovukenya exhibited not only skilled hands and a quick mind, but also one of the company’s more vibrant personalities. Those who first meet Hellen might mistake her for being soft spoken. However, they soon learn that Lovukenya speaks her mind, and she speaks it well. With broad shoulders and a piercing gaze, the Maasai mechanic has the calm, patient demeanor of someone wise before her years.
She says that her relatives eventually accepted her career wholeheartedly, especially after she was able to help support many of them. “Now even my brothers and relatives are starting to send their daughters to school. They have seen that if I can do it, so can any girl,” she says. “This makes me happy more than anything.”
Lovukenya balances her career by looking after her family, including an 11-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son. In her scarce personal time, she says she enjoys reading novels, such as the classic African works of Chinua Achebe and Ngugi wa Thiongo.
Most recently, Lovukenya expanded her career by assuming additional responsibilities as Thomson Safaris’ volunteer coordinator. The position requires her to work with a vast number of Tanzanian communities and different cultures in setting up volunteer programs for Thomson travelers. From prestigious universities to groups of families, she sets up volunteer teaching, construction, and cultural exchange programs and serves as a liaison between communities and volunteers.
“The community work is actually more challenging than repairing vehicles,” she says. “Automotive mechanics are rather simple once you learn. But people are much more difficult to understand. When I started doing this work, though, I truly began to feel like a dream that I had been dreaming for a long time had started to come true.”
Inspiring Women to Empower Themselves
It’s near quitting time at the Thomson Safaris auto garage and headquarters in Arusha. After thoroughly scrubbing her face, hands, and arms, Lovukenya changes from her navy blue mechanic’s jumpsuit to a comfortable pair of jeans. Other staff members have already begun to board the large bus that takes them back to town.
“Overall, women need more self-confidence in Tanzania,” says Lovukenya. “Too many women have the capability but they lack the confidence. I would love to tell girls that they have the capability. They can succeed. You just have to be determined. It’s the same for the Maasai. The strength is with the women who will make changes and make sure their children go to school. They are the future.”
And what about her own daughter, Jennifer? Will she follow in mama’s footsteps over some grease-slicked garage floor?
“No. She wants to be a doctor,” says Lovukenya. “She can be whatever she wants to be.”
March 15, 2012
We are honored to earn a place in Outside Magazine’s 2012 Travel Awards Hall of Fame. The trek and safari package included on Outside’s “All-Time Favorite Trip List” begins with our Grand Traverse Route, a 10-day trek virtually circumnavigating Mt. Kilimanjaro. Not only does this lesser-traveled route offer stunning views, extra acclimatization days and a daytime summit bid, it also gives trekkers access to explore ancient glaciers while providing the best opportunity for summit success. Our 12-day Explorer’s Safari rounds out the itinerary by combining a mix of traditional wildlife viewing with a special Maasai-led hiking adventure across the Great Rift Valley. From the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro to the plains of the Serengeti, this trip has it all!
“We are honored and thrilled to be recognized by Outside,” says Judi Wineland, Thomson Safaris’ co-founder and co-director. “Travelers first started going on adventures with us in Tanzania more than 30 years ago. Today you will find the beauty of Mount Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti to be as breathtaking and boundless as ever.”
The April issue of Outside Magazine, America’s leading active-lifestyle and adventure-travel magazine, is available on newsstands this week.
March 5, 2012
Ruaha National Park is unlike any place I’ve ever visited. If asked to describe it, I would say it is remote, wild and natural…but that barely scratches the surface. The truth is, Ruaha is a really difficult place to describe. I can tell you the wildlife is unbelievable but how do you describe landscapes so untouched that make you feel you discovered the place? How do you accurately convey true adventure and the feeling that you and your guide are the only people for miles on end? My recent visit to this intriguing national park proved that Ruaha is a place beyond words, it is an experience.
On paper, Ruaha is pretty amazing: Located off the beaten track in southern Tanzania, it is the largest national park in the country; it is also home to about 10,000 elephants who are able to sense and excavate water beneath the surface of Ruaha’s sand rivers; and rare species such as wild dog, sable, and roan antelope can be found here.
While this was a new and exciting destination for me, I still appreciate visiting parks of northern Tanzania, like the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater. These are some of the world’s most ecologically important regions and the fact they are teeming with wildlife makes them a must-see destination. But for a true wildlife enthusiast who enjoys the art of the search, tracking wildlife and has an understanding of wildlife behaviors, Ruaha is a dream.
The only way to explain the wonders of this inexplicable place is by recounting my first morning game drive from Mwagusi Safari Camp. We barely had to drive at all, just 50 yards from camp, we spotted a mother cheetah teaching her cubs how to hunt. With the sun barely above the horizon, the light showered this feline life-lesson in golden tones as we settled-in to observe this spectacular sight for the next 2 hours. We watched as the mother taught her cubs how to run, chase down prey – she even picked up a fox in her jaws just to show them how to do it. Phenomenal stuff. Comparatively, if we were wildlife viewing in the Serengeti, in 2 hours, we would have covered more ground and would have probably seen elephant, lion, wildebeest, and more. But taking our time and watching this single, natural event unfold was a totally fulfilling experience for me.
Leopard in Ruaha National Park
Clearing elephants from the airstrip to prepare for the next flight
My tent at Mwagusi Safari Camp
Cheetahs enjoying an afternoon repose
Mama cheetah teaching her cubs how to hunt
Elephants excavating for water in Ruaha`s sand rivers
The trip was enhanced by Mwagusi Safari Camp. The guides and staff at Mwagusi are passionate about the camp, the park and its wildlife. As for the accommodations, I’d call this lodge beyond eco-friendly – it is infused right into the ecosystem. Set on the Mwagusi River, each banda is made out of natural materials and has modern comforts. On nice evenings, guests enjoy dinner served under the stars on the banks of the river.
For any major wildlife enthusiast or experienced safari traveler, you really have to take a chance on a place that is hard to describe and experience the wilds of Ruaha National Park.
Want to experience Ruaha National Park for yourself? Check out our North & South Safari, which includes a visit to Ruaha. We can also help you plan a private/custom safari incorporating Ruaha into your itinerary. Call us for details.