Category Archives: Africa

Cruise Key Largo Canals on the Real ‘African Queen’

100-year-old vessel back in action — tourist action this time

The original “African Queen” from John Huston’s classic 1951 film by the same name is back in service, and visitors to the Florida Keys can take a ride. Registered as a National Historic Site, she underwent a major $70,000 restoration project to provide for structural, mechanical and cosmetic repairs. The movie starred starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, and last month Stephen Bogart, son of the late film star, was there for the relaunch last month. The “African Queen’s” 100-year history began when it was built in 1912 at England’s Lytham shipbuilding yard. Originally named the “Livingstone,” she served the British East Africa Rail Company shuttling cargo, hunting parties and mercenaries on the Ruki River what became the northwestern Democratic Republic of the Congo, until 1968. When  Huston saw the vessel, it was temporarily pulled from service for the film.

Bogart and Hepburn in the 1951 film, "The African Queen."

In 1968, the boat was purchased and shipped via freighter to San Francisco but was stripped of almost all gear.  A restaurant owner who had purchased her tried to run tourist trips using an outboard engine for propulsion. Around 1970, Hal Bailey found and purchased her for the price of the boatyard bill and put her into seasonal passenger operation on the Deschutes River in Oregon seasonally. Success prompted him to move her to Ocala, Fla., so he could make cruises available year round, but plans fell apart.

In 1982, late attorney (and Bogart buff) Jim Hendricks, Sr., discovered the vessel languishing in an Ocala, Florida, horse pasture and purchased the piece of movie history for $65,000 and ultimately invested roughly that amount to get the boat operational. Hendricks began offering visitors rides in 1983 while the vessel was homeported at Key Largo’s Holiday Inn, but in 2001, the engine broke. The enngine was not repaired, but the boat remained on display for curious tourists and film buffs to see. Continue reading Cruise Key Largo Canals on the Real ‘African Queen’

New Luxury Camp Near Yellowstone

Safari-inspired  “glamping” comes to Montana

When I think of “luxury tent camps,” Africa comes to mind. When we were in Tanzania, my family and I camped on Mt. Kilimanjaro but overnighted in comfortable lodges in four national parks and preserves. Still, sleeping in a true luxury tent camp has been on my bucket list for quite some time. (My husband and I also did stay in a yurt for a comfortable, but not at all luxurious, experience at an eco-camp in Chile a few years ago.)

Luxury wood-floored safari tent practically at the doorstep of Yellowstone National Park.

Now I don’t have to go to Africa or anyplace distant for the experience of nature just outside the tent but without truly roughing it. In fact, I can stay in my own time zone at the gateway to one of my favorite places on this planet. Yellowstone Under Canvas is a new luxury camp near West Yellowstone, Montana with its premiere season from May 14 to September 13. It is part of an international movement called “glamping,” which refers to luxury camping — a contraction of “glamour” and “camping.” Continue reading New Luxury Camp Near Yellowstone

Squaw Valley Panel Discussion on World Travel Topics

Tahoe area panel explores “Conscious Travel”

If I were within striking distance of Squaw Valley, California, I would put the Squaw Valley Institute‘s panel on “Conscious Travel” on my calendar for tomorrow evening, August 26, at 7:00 p.m. Three women on the panel among them are both expert travelers and travel industry experts. Discussion topics will include modernization of the developing world, “the tipping dilemma,” picture taking, bargaining, how to dress, the impact of tourism, environmental considerations and giving back to places visited. The panel discussion will be followed by questions and comments from the audience.

Ruth Anne Kocour is a photographer and world trekker based in northern Nevada whose subjects include the culture and landscapes of the American West, Asia and mounaineering expeditions. Julie Conover is co-host, co-producer and writer of the PBS series,”Passport to Adventure.” Toni Neubauer, president of Myths and Mountains, a tour operator headquartered in Incline Village, Nevada, which offers cultural immersion tours that balance American-style luxury travel with cultural insight and sensitivity.

The program at the Inn at Squaw Creek is free, but a $10 donation per person is requested. The Squaw Valley Institute’s goal is to “enhance the quality of life within the unique mountain environment of Squaw Valley, North Lake Tahoe, Truckee and surrounding communities” through programs and activities “having artistic, cultural, educational and entertainment value..that bring together visitors, residents and friends…[and] foster a sense of community.” The Institute is at P.O. Box 3325, Olympic Valley, CA 96146; 530-581-4138.

Thailand to Revert to Siam?

“Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Now it’s Turkish delight on a moonlit night…”

Those are lyrics to an old tune reminding people that place names change. Like so much else in present times, cities and countries have shed part of their pasts — colonial and otherwise — and taken on new names or returned to old ones, or now have several names instead of one during un-unification. Rewind only as far back the changes since what schoolchildren learned mid-20th century geography classes, and it’s clear why even veteran travelers have problems keep things straight. Some relatively recent and current names in the world atlas are:

  • Belgian Congo – Zaïre – Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Burma – Myanmar
  • Bombay – Mombai
  • British Honduras – Belize
  • Calcutta – Kolkata
  • Ceylon – Sri Lanka
  • Chung-King – Chongqing
  • Czechoslovakia – split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia
  • Federal Republic of Germany (West or BRD by its German initials) and German Democratic Republic (East or DDR in German) – Germany
  • French Congo – Central African Republic
  • Palestine – Israel and Jordan
  • Persia – Iran
  • Peking – Beijing
  • Southern Rhodesia – Zimbabwe
  • Thailand – Siam
  • Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Soviet Union) – Russia (the Socialist Republics being Russia, Ukraine, Byelorussia, Uzbekistan, Kahzakhstan, Azerbaijan, Lithuania, Moldavia, Latvia, Kyrgyzistan, Armenia, Turkmenistan and Estonia, which are now independent countries)
  • Yugoslavia – assembled from half-a-dozen countries in 1946 and half a century later split into Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia

Wait a minute! Why is Thailand on that list. Is it reverting to Siam? As in “Anna and the King of….”? It hasn’t happened yet, but it could. According to an article posted on eTN/eTurbo News, during a recent conference on tourism and globalization, “Dr. Charnvit Kasetsiri, a respected historian from Thammasat University in Bangkok, introduced the debate on changing the name of the country from Thailand back to ‘Siam’ by showing a newly released video and presenting the possibility of a name change in one of the next constitutions to come. “

The change from the historic name of Siam (also sometimes spelled, Sayam) to Thailand occurred in 1939. We could see a reversion in our lifetimes.

WILDCHILD is a Good Kid

In our culture, describing a youngster as a “wild child” has some negative connotations, but in Africa, every WILDCHILD is better positioned to contribute to the salvation of that troubled continent. Conservation Corporation Africa (aka CCAfrica), a safari company that operates 40 lodges in six countries, spearheads and participates in numerous conservation initiatives. One that really intrigues me is WILDCHILD, which has thus far provided conservation lessons to more than 11,000 youngsters from communities near parks, wildlife reserves and other lands where CCAfrica has lodges. I’m not clear on whether each child gets one lesson or whether a series of lessons is involved.

The program is funded by the sale of wristbands to lodge guests. The wristbands cost about $10, which is small change in the context of a safari, that run to thousands of dollars. Instilling the value of preserving the land and animals that surround these children will help sustain their culture and the natural environment at their doorsteps, perhaps keeping them in their communities rather than succumbing to the temptation of Africa’s troubled cities. In addition to being available at CC Africa Safari Lodges, wristbands can be purchased by writing to guestshopping@ccafrica.com.

A safari in Tanzania exactly 11 years ago remains one of the most memorable trips, and I long to return. A link from the main CCAfrica site to the SafariASAP site might provide an affordable way to do so. It features special offers ed Hot Packaged Deals, Safari Auctions, Safaris To Go, the ASAP Hot List and exclusive Offers of the Month. One of the parks we visited was Serengenti National Park, which — coupled with Kenya’s Masai Mara — is one of the world’s great wildlife preserves. A six-night itinerary (three nights each in two luxury tent camps – Klein Under Canvas, right) includes transfers to and from Arusha International Airport, to and from the park, accommodations, three meals a day, and game drives and bush walks in the park for $2,173 — according to the website, $3,618 off the regular price. The tricky part is the August 16 start of the trip, which doesn’t allow much time for advance planning, but for anyone who is flexible and can get a good last-minute air fare, that’s a terrific value.

Another link from CCAfrica’s site took me to WILDWATCH, great for vicarious travel to Africa. It includes postings by the firm’s guides describing wildlife sightings, updates on the great migration and more. A definite plus for anyone passionate about Africa and travel to Africa.

Peace Through Tourism Developments

Right now, there are tens of American thousands of “war tourists” (notably but not exclusively American servicemen “visiting” the Middle East), and civilian tourists have sometimes been the victims of political strife. Yet the concept of linking tourism and peace is a noble and idealistic one that deserves support.

The fourth annual International Institute of Peace Through Tourism Africa conference takes place May 20-25 in Kampala, Uganda. If the images from “The Last King of Scotland” remain seared in your brain, it astonishing and encouraging to read that Uganda’s President, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, in his keynote address announced that his government will introduce Tourism Legislation in support of the UN Millennium Development Goals that link sustainable tourism with peace and the alleviation of the desperate poverty in which so many people around the world are mired.

In making the announcement, the President said, ”The role of the law in the sustainable development of tourism and poverty alleviation is critical. The legislation should enshrine policies that are pro-poor and underpin a coherent institutional framework and supportive infrastructure for the private sector….I specifically would like to sign legislation that empowers the local communities to take advantage of the opportunities to benefit from tourism and enshrine the principles of sustainable tourism development. Finally, as we grapple with the challenges of tourism development, we should not loose focus of the pre-condition of peace in fostering the growth of the travel and tourism industry. I wish to reaffirm my government’s commitment to the entire pacification of the country, to the maintenance of law and order, the provision of support infrastructure and sound economic management principles to facilitate the growth of the tourism industry.”

The IITP reports that, “The 4th IIPT African Conference on Peace through Tourism, being organized in partnership with the Africa Travel Association (ATA), World Bank Group and UN World Tourism Organization and United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), will be hosted by Uganda – the Pearl of Africa. The Conference will seek to broaden awareness of the social, cultural, environmental, and economic benefits of tourism; identify new markets; facilitate product development and investment opportunities; and contribute to reconciliation, peace, wealth creation and poverty reduction on the African continent.”

The millennium hasn’t started out very well, peace-wise, but any effort is better than no effort — particularly when it takes root in a country with a history like Uganda’s.

East African Game at Risk

Thomas Friedman, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and New York Times columnist, is in East Africa. In a recent column, he wrote of Kenya’s Masai Mara, “Surely of all of God’s creations, none is more beautiful than the Masai Mara grassland…The sun’s ascent here is like a curtain going up on one of Mother Nature’s richest ecosystems. Through the day you can be greeted by a bull elephant in hot pursuit of a cow, serenaded by tropical boubou birds, intimidated by two lionesses devouring a warthog, amused by the cattle egrets riding on the backs of African buffalos and impressed by how each small cluster of topi antelope ‘assigns’ one topi to watch for predators while the others graze. Everything seems in perfect balance.”

I have never been to Kenya, but I have been to Tanzania’s great national game parks: Serengeti, Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater and Tarangiri and came away with the same impression. But that was nearly 11 years and, as Friedman notes, “behind the curtain” things were not so great — and they haven’t gotten any better.

He points to deforestation, wildlife poaching and “now climate change [that] present a trio of threats” to the Mara and also to the Tanzanian parks that my family and I visited. A Boulder friend who visited East Africa last summer came back with terrible tales of drought and desperation. This year appears to be no better, as the equatorial region continues to become dryer and the once-reliable rains no longer are so.

Kenya’s rhinoceros population has plummeted from 20,000 in 1963 to 500 today. Friedman quotes Julius Kipng’etich, director of Kenya’s wildlife service, saying, “When you see a rhino today, you are very lucky. Your children or grandchildren may never see one.” We were lucky to see three of the fewer than two dozen rhinos known in Tanzania when we visited. We drove around and around Ngorongoro Crater, with our sharp-eyed driver-guide who spotted them in the grass at least a quarter of a mile from our Land Rover. With strong binoculars, we could just spot them slowly rising up from the grass. When I later saw one at the Denver Zoo, I put it into context of my own then-recent travels.

Friedman pointed out that Africa accounts for less than 3 percent of the emissions that contribute to global warming, yet its fragile and threatened ecosystems suffer from the problems caused by the developed world. “You [industrial countries] are causing aggression toward us by causing global warming,” Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni said at the African Union summit recently.

Drought, famine, disease and death will increase upon Africa’s human population. The animals that we travel so far to see in their native habitats are already fall to that fate.

The Call of Kilimanjaro

A bit over a year ago, my heart sank to my knees when I read the news about three Colorado trekkers killed and five people injured (three tourists, two Tanzanians) on Mt. Kilimanjaro. Among those injured was Jessica Post, a student at the University of Colorado. They were victims of a rock slide that hurtled down to their camp from the Western Breach, the upper route that my then almost-14-year-old son, a friend and I climbed in August 1996. (My husband, the most experienced climber among us, got nipped by the altitude at about 15,000 feet and did not attempt the summit.)
Jessica’s femur was broken in the accident, and guide Sharif Bakari carried her down the mountain. A feature in today’s Boulder Daily Camera reported on Jessica’s recent return to summit Kilimanjaro with her father, who had also been with the 2006 party. The tragedy was underscored for me because I mentally and emotionally connected the 2006 father-daughter experience with our 1996 mother-son one. Bakari, who had not ascended Kili either since the accident, returned with Jessica and her father.
We hiked the Machame Route up the the south side of the mountain, starting at the Machame Gate into Kilimanjaro National Park. We slogged through the deep and muddy rainforest, camped at about 10,000 feet and continued through the magical “heather zone” to the Shira Plateau at about 12,500 feet, where we camped for two nights to acculimatize. We day-hiked along the stark and desolate plateau, where sturdy plants grew out of cracks in the lava, and marveled at the summits bracketing the vast plateau (Kibo Summit shown above). On the second to the last day, we ascended to Lava Tower at about 15,000 feet. There, we camped amid volcanic rocks and sand, where not even rugged high-altitude plants grow and where it gets really cold as soon as the sun sets, even though Kilimanjaro lies close to the equator.
The final pull up a rough trail threaded through the harrowing Western Breach was an arduous climb that began shortly after midnight. It is not a technical climb with ropes but very challenging nonetheless. We were fortunate to ascend under a full or nearly full moon. The scene was eerie and beautiful, as silver rays played on rock and small snowfields. We only needed our headlamps shortly before daybreak. “It’s always darkest before the dawn” is an old saying that was true that evening. From our camp at Lava Tower to the summit to the Great West Notch, which we reached at daybreak, is some 3,000 vertical feet, give or take, and from there, it is another 400 or 500 feet to the Uhuru summit — the roof of Africa at 19,340 feet above sea level.
Having scrambled up the Western Breach route, I was not surprised that there was a rockslide. Of course, I was shocked at the tragedy because a party happened to be camping below, but not really surprised that something slid, especially in view of the precipitous global warming over the last decade. When we were there, we stepped gingerly as we climbed the steep Western Breach route, mindful of loose rocks underfoot that we did not want to kick away and cautious that someone above might dislodge some. In fact, so dicey did we find the footing that I convinced our head guide, Daniel Fundi, to return via the Marangu Route — the smoother “tourist route” — and my son opted to come with me.

Climbing Kilimanjaro is one of the physically hardest things I have ever done and also one of the most satisfying. It was thrilling to share the experience with my son, and I was delighted to read that Jessica, her father and Sharif Bakari were able to return and triumph. While I vicariously celebrate their achievement, I also rue recent report that four bandits armed with AK-47 assault rifles recently held up five tourists in Ngorongoro Wildlife Park. The bandits, thought to be Somali, for a time kept the visitors captive and robbed them of cash, photographic equipment and other valuables. We visited Ngorongoro (also Serengeti National Park, Lake Manyara and Taranjire National Park) after our Kili climb. So did Jessica Post and her dad.