Friday, November 15, 2013

What is Gombe Stream National Park

Gombe Stream National Park is a small (52 square kilometers) nature reserve on a thin forest strip in western Tanzania. It was established in 1968. The landscape of the park includes valleys, and the forest ranges from grassland to sparse forest to thick rainforest. There are also a lot of water systems, including rivers and the famous Lake Tanganyika. The park is about 25 kilometers from the city of Kigoma which you can reach from Dar or Arusha by flying, from Dar or Mwanza by train, from Mwanza, Dar and Mbeya by roads and from Mpulungu by ferry. From Kigoma you can reach Gombe by taxi or by boat.

The most well known animal in the park are the chimpanzees, but there is a vast diversity of other monkeys as well, including red-tailed and red colobus, vervet monkeys an baboons. Also many other animals typical to this kind of environment can be seen in Gombe, including leopards, bushpigs, snakes, hippopotamus and over 200 different species of birds.

Gombe was made famous by the groundbreaking chimpanzee research made by Jane Goodall. Also the location where Henry Stanley famously found David Livingstone in 1871 with the famous “Dr Livingstone I presume” is located close by at Ujiji near Kigoma. Gombe is a very popular tourist attraction. Things to do include trekking, hiking, swimming and snorkeling. The best time to see the famous chimpanzees is during the wet season (February-June and November-mid December). It can however be quite expensive to visit to park. In addition to the cost of getting there you are typically looking at costs including a $100 per person entry fee, $10 guide fee per group, $10 tip for guide, about $40 for food and $20 for accommodation per person.
As in many natural reserves in Africa the wildlife of the park is under a threat by human activity and wildlife populations are diminishing. Lands occupied by locals often hinder animals from traveling between protected grounds. Locals often live in quite poor conditions and hunt wildlife for food, to protect their crops or for safety reasons.

Jane Goodalls famous research began in 1960. She established a research station in Gombe where she spent months tracking and observing the chimpanzees. She was very interested in behavior, emotions and personality of her subjects and bonds between the chimpanzees. She also made the groundbreaking finding that chimpanzees use tools when hunting termites out of their nests. She also observed very aggressive behavior from the chimpanzees, including hunting and killing other monkeys and violence inside groups of chipamzees.

Monday, October 21, 2013

How to prepare for a safari

Preparing for a safari

It’s not every day you get to go to a real wildlife safari in Africa. With all the excitement for the trip, it’s easy to overlook some necessary preparations. Here are some essential items that should be on your checklist for what’s sure to be an amazing, rewarding experience. 

For your safari trip to be as enjoyable as possible it is essential to pack the right things to go with you. Space is probably going to be limited so you need to pay extra attention to bring the right gear and nothing that you do not really need.

Travel documents

Make sure you have a valid passport, an absolute necessity for any time you travel outside the country. Check the expiration date on your passport and make sure it will still be valid for at least six months after you return from your trip. If you do not have a passport, fill out the application in as far advance as possible, at least three months, to make sure you get your passport in time for travel. You will need to pay additional fees to have your passport expedited.

Also check the visa requirements for the country you are traveling to. Some countries, like Rwanda, do not require a visa at all, just a passport. Other countries, like Zambia and Kenya, require a visa but it is issued upon your arrival to that country, at which time you must pay for it. The one you need to be most concerned about it the type of visa you must obtain in advance, as, for example, required by Egypt.

Health and safety precautions

In order to enjoy your trip to the fullest extent possible, you must be in good health. One of the worst things that can happen on a vacation is getting sick and not being able to do or see all the things you want in the limited time you have. First, check the vaccination requirements for the countries you are visiting. You may need a vaccination for diseases like yellow fever and malaria, and some countries may require you to present a certificate of vaccination before allowing you to gain entry.

If you take medications, go to your doctor prior to your trip to make sure all your prescriptions are filled ahead of time and that you will have enough for the duration of the trip. It might be a good idea to bring some bottled water or cleansing tablets in case you’re going to an area where the water is not recommended for drinking. Pack some insect repellant, too. You don’t want to worry about getting stung while trying to enjoy the safari.

Make sure that you have a travel insurance in place and that it covers the planned activities and the required geographical area.


Africa is generally a hot place, so bring lots of light, comfortable, breathable clothing. Go for bland colors, like brown and tan, especially for the safari because you don’t want to stand out too much and attract unwanted attention from dangerous animals. You want to blend in as much as possible. Do not, however, wear camouflage. You could get in trouble for it because, in some places, such colors are allowed to be worn only by officials in many places.

Although you should pack as light as possible, make sure you have both shorts and long pants for your trip, as well as short and long-sleeved shirts. Temperatures can drop in the evenings, so pack a sweater or jacket. Opt for clothes that you can layer to adjust to the temperature. It might be wise to bring a couple of dressy outfits in case you’ll be going out in the cities at night.

Bring good walking shoes and boots. This is especially important if you’re going on a walking safari. Depending where you are, African terrain can be quite treacherous, so definitely invest in some sturdy footwear for your trip. Boots that cover your ankles are ideal because it will protect your feet from scratches as well as ground creatures like snakes.

Of course, don’t forget the essentials like socks and underwear!

Sun protection

The African sun can get uncomfortably hot, so prepare accordingly. Pack lots of sunscreen, as well as hats and sunglasses to protect your face from the sun’s rays. Bring lip balm or chapstick with SPF protection. Make sure you have enough light-colored cotton shirts to wear on the hottest days.


Bring a good camera and extra batteries and film. You want to be ready to capture all those special moments that will give you a lifetime of memories. A trip to the African safari is a unique experience that you’ll want to be able to relive through your photos and the stories they tell.


Binoculars are a very crucial item to bring along. In case you want to take photographs (who doesn’t) or video remember to bring enough memory. Also remember that the availability of electricity for charging may be limited. Another crucial piece of gear are a pair of good sunglasses to protect your eyes and to make you more comfortable. Also bring a comfortable back bag to hold your gear.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Getting into shape for a safari

Planning a safari? Then listen up as it’s probably not going to be just sitting in a jeep cruising through the fields but actually involving a lot of walking and trekking to find the wildlife. It is advisable to take up an exercise plan before heading off to make sure you can cope with the demands so here are a few goals to get yourself prepared physically for a safari holiday:
  • Improve your cardiovascular system by walking or cycling
  • Build muscle in your lower legs
  • Lower your body fat/lose weight if you are overweight
Improve your cardiovascular system

The cardiovascular system is used to deliver oxygen and increase the heart rate as needed and improving its efficiency will increase your stamina. Trekking across different terrains will be tough on the heart and lungs so training these will help you to keep up with the group comfortably without the need to stop or slow down so you can concentrate on the wildlife. Six weeks prior to your holiday you should be doing some sort of cardio/aerobic exercise two to three times a week.

You do not need an expensive gym membership to improve your stamina, simply undertaking regular walking for 20 minutes interspersed with a little jogging will see a great increase in your cardio stamina. Secondly, if you own a mountain or road bike but do not want to go cycling in the cold and rain invest in an indoor bike trainer (my favorite way to do cardiovascular exercise, check out some good ones here) which allows you to connect any normal bike to and cycle while watching tv instead of sitting on the sofa. I am using the Magnet Steel Indoor Exercise Trainer myself. Try to get on the trainer for at least 30 minutes twice a week.

Build Muscle in the Lower Legs

Again many people do not exercise because of costly gym memberships but there is so many exercises you can do at home with no cost. When on safari you will be required to trek, possibly navigating over tough terrain maybe even uphill so having strong muscles in your legs will help you maneuver safely and make climbing in and out of the jeep easier!

To improve your lower leg muscles try this easy body weight circuit after you complete your cardio exercise as advised above. Aim to complete this at least twice a week:
  • Body weight squats
  • Alternate Leg Lunges
  • Sit Ups
  • Burpees
  • Single Leg Lunges
  • Un-weighted Deadlift
Complete each exercise for 30 seconds and work through one to six then rest for 3 minutes and repeat. In weeks three to four increase the time at each station to one minute and weeks five and six increase to two minutes. If it becomes too easy you can invest in some dumbbells to increase the intensity or use household objects such as a bag of flour or sugar.

Lower your body fat

When trekking around on safari you do not want to be carrying excess weight as well as a heavy bag so while undertaking the exercises suggested above you will start to burn calories and lower your weight. However exercise alone will not be able to keep the weight off and you will need to make sure that your diet works with not against your fitness plan. Make sure to lower your fat intake and avoid saturated fats that you find in many unhealthy foods such as take outs. Try to avoid eating late at night as the body is unable to digest heavy starchy foods during sleep and often gets stored as fat.

Lifestyle changes

While undertaking a better diet and fitness plan why not try to make some lifestyle changes at the same time to maintain this new healthy body. Simple changes can help to keep your weight down and burning calories. For example if you use public transport maybe get off a stop early if possible and walk the remaining distance, or using the stairs instead of a lift or escalator. You do not need to walk the entire way up but maybe jump out of the lift a floor below and gradually work your way down.
Instead of simply sitting and watching TV of an evening join a fitness class or play squash or badminton with a friend. This will improve your social life and give you a boost in confidence instead of snacking in front of the box. Feel free to enjoy a drink after a session without feeling guilty.

If you commit 6 weeks prior to your holiday of a lifetime you will be able to enjoy it much more and concentrate on the wildlife and seeing some of the most spectacular sights on earth.