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 20, 2013
Perhaps the best known fictional representation of Kilimanjaro is in Ernest Hemingway’s famous story, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” In the story, the narrator, fearing that his death is near, reflects on his life—his failures, achievements, and loves lost.
Frankly, there’s really not much about Kilimanjaro after the opening:
“Kilimanjaro is a snow-covered mountain 19,710 feet high, and is said to be the highest mountain in Africa. Its western summit is called the Masai ‘Ngaje Ngai’, the House of God. Close to the western summit there is a dried and frozen carcas of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude.”
Questions of accuracy (and spelling) aside, the introduction raises one important question:
A frozen leopard near the summit? Really?
According to legend, Hemingway’s reference was inspired by a 1926 photo taken by missionary Richard Reusch.
Reusch claimed to have cut an ear off the leopard as a souvenir, but apparently he wasn’t the only souvenir hunter; at some point after Hemingway’s story appeared in print (originally, the story ran in Esquire magazine in 1938), the leopard carcass disappeared.
If it ever really existed, that is.
The photo that inspired Hemingway is the only one of a creature that, so high on the mountain, would certainly attract attention from curious trekkers. While treks were far less frequent in the first half of the 20th century than they are today, it’s still surprising that no other photos of this curiosity seem to exist.
Not that we’re conspiracy theorists or anything; we’re just asking the tough questions.
Like this one: what WAS it doing up there?
Leopards have been spotted on Kilimanjaro before, even in recent years, when the volume of trekkers on the mountain has pushed many species further down, or even off, the mountain. But above 13,000 or 14,000 feet, the climate would not only be forbidding, there would be few if any prey animals capable of sustaining a leopard for any length of time.
Was the leopard chasing a long-ago antelope up the slopes, only to realize, too late, that it had been caught in a blizzard? Was it brought up the mountain, already dead, by a climbing prankster? Or was it seeking the summit as a sort of personal achievement, a quest for enlightenment that ended tragically? Which begs the further question, what would constitute enlightenment for a leopard, anyway?
For now, no one has the answer. It’s possible, though, that someone has the leopard…
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.
November 13, 2013
There’s a reason workout montages in movies are so inspiring, and it’s not just the perfectly-placed sweat: it’s a well-chosen “pump you up” song.
Everyone has a different tune that helps her push through those moments when it feels like she’s hit a wall. If you’re still searching for some playlist inspiration for your training and/or trek, Thomson staffers relied on the musical stylings of:
Survivor – “Eye of the Tiger” (Paul)
Admit it: just reading that title, you already have the song stuck in your head, right? On the climb up to Stella Point, cold, tired, and just about ready to give up and head back to camp, it snuck into Paul’s head, too. And stayed there. Though he admits it’s “very cheesy” to use the Rocky III theme as a motivator, Paul says he “credits [his] achievement at least in part to the song’s annoying catchiness.”
He was very sick of the song by the time he reached the top, but it did get him back on his feet, “just a man and his will to survive…”
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes – “Up from Below” (Rachel)
Rachel didn’t have just one song that she used to motivate herself when training got tough, she had an entire album (that’s one way to avoid Paul’s problem)!
Rachel says the music was a fantastic boost to her spirits before the trip, “light, fun, and up-beat—a great reminder not to get too bogged down when things got hard.”
For Rachel, this was “happy music to keep me happy when the going gets tough,” something every Kili trekker will need at some point or another!
Eminem – “Till I Collapse” (Michael)
The opening lines of Michael’s favorite trekking song are pretty inspiring: “sometimes you just feel tired/Feel weak, and when you feel weak, you feel like you wanna just give up./But you gotta search within you, you gotta find that inner strength/And just pull that **** out of you and get that motivation to not give up/And not be a quitter, no matter how bad you wanna just fall flat on your face and collapse.”
It may sound like a motivational speech, but it’s actually straight out of Eminem’s rap hit, which had an added bonus: “the powerful beat and rhythm kept me pumped up and motivated on the hardest parts of my Kili trek,” Michael says.
Best of all, it “continues to motivate [him] on long runs!”
Queen – “We Are the Champions” (Amy)
Queen are the kings of the power ballad, and few songs—by Queen or anyone else—are as openly inspirational as “We Are the Champions.” That’s why Amy uses that song, or “really anything by Queen,” to keep her going up the mountain.
The best part? “We Are the Champions” is just begging for a group sing-along!
Lady Gaga – “Poker Face” (Katie)
Katie’s second trek up Kili was with MTV’s “Summit on the Summit” charity climb for the global clean water crisis, so it only makes sense that her inspiration came from a very MTV-ready song. During training, Katie “saved the song for the last five minutes of each workout,” then on Kili, she “replayed it in [her] head over and over again to make myself stop thinking and just walk.”
Katie said her summit bid—which was completed in 3 hours, instead of the usual 8, because of MTV’s involvement—was intense, but having an intense mental soundtrack helped her reach the top!