The rewards and challenges of being a porter on Mt Kilimanjaro

We interviewed the wonderful Cathbert Cosmas who has been a porter on Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania for the past eight years.  Porters do the most incredible job of ferrying climbers’ food and equipment up the mountain while expertly guiding the group,  helping set up camp each night, and cooking hearty meals to boost you up the next part of the climb.    Often, a porter’s job can be incredibly tough and you will come across porters up the mountain wearing just flip flops, surviving on very little food and water, and with a distinct lack of decent clothing or sleeping equipment often working for very little or no money at all.  In order to combat these difficult working conditions, KPAP (Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project) are working hard to improve conditions for the porters and we are very proud to be working alongside KPAP ensuring that the porters we use enjoy fair working conditions, pay and treatment.
Read on to find out more about this physically taxing yet hugely rewarding job as well as hearing more about the wonders of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro – maybe it’ll even inspire you to include a trip to Kili on your next trip to Africa!

Cathbert Cosmas

How did you start out as a porter?
Actually there is no any training involved for a person to become a porter. I actually found it as a job and started as a porter without any training.
What are your favourite parts of your job?
My favourite part is to see animals in the wild but also interacting with other co-workers sharing some experiences and to do the best of my job as a porter. Also mixing up with different people with different stories.

Climbers at the summit

What sort of wildlife do you normally see during a Kili climb?
Blue monkey – Primate concentration are highest in the clouded forest at the base of the mountain.
Colobus Monkey – These beautiful monkey have a distinctive black and white colouring with a long bushy tail.
Birdlife – Malachite Sunbird,  these stunningly beautiful birds have a distinctive bright metallic green colouring and small scarlet patch on their chest and can often been seen hooking their long beaks into giant lobelias to extract the nector. Mountain Buzzards, Crowned Eagles and rare Lamergeyer Giant Vulture.
Honey Badgers.
Large Mammals – this include Buffaloes
Four-striped Grass Mouse.
NOTE: The further up the mountain you go,  the less wildlife there is.
Have you had any close calls with wildlife?
No. I had never come across with such situation on the mountain. But sometimes i actually hear stories from some of my co-workers.

Colobus Monkey

What are the challenges of your job?
This depend on your experience but the main challenge will be the altitude and lack of oxygen and how you personally adapt to these changes. The most challenges of my job include the following:
Lack of sleep in sometimes in different camps,  experience rain,  huge wind,  cold all in one week,  extreme altitude above 5500m/18044 feet, high UV level from the sun.
Which is your favourite mountain to climb and why?
Mt. Kilimanjaro is my favourite mountain to climb. This is because it’s situated in my home country of which I like to promote tourism in my country. Secondly it possesses good environmental attraction together with unique species found only in such mountain.

View across to Mt Kilimanjaro

What do you enjoy doing on your days off?
I do enjoy making interaction with some of my neighbours and friends changing ideas and some experience of life from each other,  also reading novels  and having some body exercise at home.
How do you ensure responsible tourism for your Kili climbs?
> Through making optimal use of environmental resources that constitute a key element in tourism development.
> Through maintaining essential ecological processes and helping to conserve natural heritage and biodiversity.
> Also through respecting  socio-cultural authenticity of host communities,  conserve their built and living cultural heritage and traditional values and contribute to inter-cultural understanding and tolerance. Because tourism is the socio interaction of different people and communities.
With huge thanks for Cathbert Cosmas for taking the time to give us an insight into his working life.

Behind the scenes at Amanzi and Anabezi Camps

We had a cup of coffee last week with Shaun Davy, who even brought some African sunshine to Edinburgh with him!  Shaun and his family created the amazing Amanzi and Anabezi Camps in the Lower Zambezi in Zambia so we seized the opportunity to ask him a few questions about setting up the camps and his personal highlights of safari in the Lower Zambezi. Read on for the local’s lowdown…

Shaun Davy

What’s it like building a camp from scratch and why did you choose the Lower Zambezi?

Difficult and rewarding. We have one of the most remote camps in the park so the planning and logistics were challenging to say the least. The nearest hardware store is a 14-hour round trip from camp, but that is how you create a special place – build something beautiful in a beautiful place. The Lower Zambezi has got to be one of the most under visited parks in the region, and we wanted to find a way to share it with people.

Aerial view of the camp

What do you love about the Lower Zambezi?

The pure beauty of the place, the Zambezi is an iconic river that runs through one of the last accessible wildernesses. To be able to experience this place through so many different activities like canoeing, boating and walking makes the Lower Zambezi a must-do safari experience.

With so many choices, what type of safari do you prefer and why?

I love being on a boat floating down the Zambezi, there is something special about letting nature pull you through one of its great spectacles.

Boat Safari at Anabezi

What’s been your best wildlife encounter ?

I was on a game drive and we came across a herd of elephants that were all around us. We stopped under a tree to get out of the afternoon sun and observe the herd. Suddenly there were small pieces of bark that started dropping into the vehicle, we looked up and in the tree directly above us was a female leopard who we had not seen but had obviously sought shade in the tree. There was a moment of panic, for all involved, as the leopard decided how it was going to vacate the tree. Fortunately, our guide quickly reversed and the leopard settled back down and allowed me to take one of my most cherished wildlife shots.

Leopard at Anabezi

What do you enjoy doing when you’re in camp?

I love fishing, mostly because it gives me an excuse to spend the day in a boat floating down the Zambezi.

Fishing at Anabezi

Are there any favourite wildlife visitors to camp?

There are six cubs who were born this year to the two daughters of a lone lioness called Guvu (her name means ‘lump’ because she has a growth on the side of her belly). She came to the Anabezi area by herself, fought three males who attacked her, fought them again to protect her two cubs, which she raised to adulthood, and she has now single-handedly established a pride in the area. A real testament to survival and motherhood.

Main area and firepit at Anabezi

And what about memorable experiences for guests in camp?

About two years ago a leopard killed an impala and dragged the kill under Tent 7. The guests in that tent were woken up to the sound of crunching bones. They were thrilled, but we were forced to move them because the leopard left the carcass under their tent and came back to feed the following night; it was not the sound that bothered the guests but the smell that was a bit much!

Impalas and waterbuck gathering by the camp

Huge thanks to Shaun for the interview and we’re all now hoping we can get back to the Lower Zambezi so very soon!

Private terrace and room

An insight into life as a walking safari guide…

We had a lovely interview with Tony Zephania, one of the walking guides at Namiri Plains.  Tony has had an inspiring career, starting off as a waiter for a safari camp before his enthusiasm for all things wildlife shone through and he was entered into the Asilia training programme to become a fully fledged safari guide.  He is now one of Asilia Africa’s head guides and, as Tony puts it himself, “a childhood dream has come to life”.  Read on to hear more about his love of the smaller wildlife, and some of his experiences on safari.

Tony Zephania

Can you tell us more about Asilia’s Trainee Guide Programme?  
So the duration of the initial walking training was 30 days – this was safe rifle handling, elephant rifle shooting and safe walking how to approach and avoid dangerous animals. Then I did a year as a backup guide with a very experienced walker – totalling to 100 hours of walking – then I was coached and assessed as a lead walking guide for 20 hrs. Fortunately I had learned well as a backup guide and I passed.

What’s the best part of your job?
Birdwatching and exploring the small life on a walking safari.

What’s been your biggest challenge?
When guests come in with high expectations of big game and on walking safaris that is not what we are looking for – we appreciate the smaller life in the bush – who are just as exciting.  I also struggle with guests who do not speak English so I take more time with them to ensure they understand.

Lilac Breasted Roller

What do you do in your spare time when you’re not with guests?
I like spending my time watching or listening to wildlife programmes. I also like to sit with my guides and discuss work challenges and how to overcome them.

Which National Park is your favourite to visit?
Even though I’m now based in Eastern Serengeti I have to be honest and say it is Ruaha National Park because the wildlife and landscape is so diverse.

What animals do you enjoy seeing on safari?
Birds mainly, but for large mammals, I enjoy watching elephants.

Namiri Plains, Serengeti

How many miles do you end up walking every day?
Depends what we come across and what we see and what the guests want out of their walk- but on average 3 miles a day.

What’s the best experience you’ve had on safari?

When I saw for the first time an elephant giving birth in Ruaha and it was almost dark but I could see everything. So very special and a moment I will never forget.

Have you had any amusing experiences with either animals or guests?
Yes! One of my guests jumped out of the car when we were viewing a leopard and the leopard climbed out of the tree. He did this to impress his fellow photographic friends who had been waiting for hours for the leopard to move. He thought it was very funny but it was so dangerous.

Leopard climbing down a tree

Huge thanks to Tony from Namiri Plains Safari Camp for answering all our questions.  Namiri Plains is currently undergoing a complete refurb, and we’re super excited to see how the renovated camp looks once it reopens in Autumn 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why owner-run lodges really matter

A holiday in Africa’s about the animals right? Well, to an extent- but it’s also about the people. Africa attracts some pretty wonderful characters and the owner of your safari lodge can make as much of a difference to your trip as the wildlife can.

The owner’s the person who can ignore the rules, who can give you the fun, because, frankly, she’s enjoying your company and wants you to have a great time. The owner’s the guy who can help you meet an elephant because he’s been here for 20 years and knows them. The owners’ the guide who tells you the outrageous stories that you’ll tell your friends for 20 years to come. And the owner’s the person who might just say “Ah, you’re travelling with Alex. We had a few drinks in Durban a while back- have an upgrade.”

So, I’d like to introduce some people who made my most recent holiday in South Africa especially wonderful:

Lindsay and Catherine (pictured here with their Dad, Anthony) owners of Montusi Mountain Lodge

Owner run Montusi Mountain Lodge

Lindsay, Catherine and Anthony in the hills

Montusi Mountain Lodge was the surprise treat of my road trip around KwaZulu Natal. I arrived mid thunderstorm, and was the only guest eating in that night. “We’ll bring dinner to you”, I was told. So instead of trudging to the rain to sit in a lonely restaurant, I snuggled up on my sofa beside the fire, with the curtains drawn wide watching the lightening crackle across the top of the Drakensberg. Would a hotel manager have done the same? Maybe….

Ant and Tessa, owners of Ant’s Nest and Ant’s Hill

Ant and Tessa

Ant and Tessa

Visiting Ant’s Nest is very much like visiting someone’s home (in fact, when we visited the lodge was so full we actually stayed in Ant and Tessa’s home, and couldn’t have been made more welcome).  Meals at are eaten around one big jolly table and the rapport between the staff is so strong Ant’s been heard to joke that he’s running a marriage bureau as a well as a safari lodge.  Having Ant and his wife Tessa on site creates an incredibly fun and welcoming atmosphere for a family safari one that we think would be impossible to recreate without themOn top of this, as Ant’s family first settled here over a century ago, taking it from cattle ranch to wildlife conservancy, chatting to Ant and Tessa is a fantastic way to properly understand the land and the challenges they face- not something you’d find in an every day hotel. We learnt more about rhino conservation in our stay here than I have done in 10 years of taking safaris in Africa.

And, of course, there’s the safari camp owner who told us the tale of the unfortunate guest found roaming the camp the nude in the wee small hours, but he’d better remain nameless…