Gluten-free in Zanzibar

Gluten-free in Zanzibar

Gluten-free in Zanzibar

 

With Coeliac Disease a gluten-free diet is a necessity not a choice. So a trip to Zanzibar – though enticing in so many ways – did fill me with some trepidation…

…wondering if I was going to be able to eat for 12 nights.

I am always nervous when travelling, not for the sake of travelling, but when you are travelling with a specific dietary requirement it can be pretty much hit or miss. It can be tricky trying to explain your needs to a waiter than knows only a few words of English, whether you are vegan, gluten-free or kosher. In my case, its gluten-free; not from choice or any desire to diet, but because a gluten-free diet is the only way to manage Coeliac Disease.

Whereas once a gluten-free diet was unheard of, now it has become a celebrity diet. I will not complain because it has meant more products available for us than ever before, but the result is also that many places think of it as a fad, an allergy or an intolerance. It can be all those things, but to me its much more! Eating a strict diet is my only way of staying well.

So, there I was, bound for Zanzibar wondering if I was going to be able to eat for 12 nights. I always take some supplies. My hand luggage always contains some basics that I can eat on the flight such as bread rolls and cheese, biscuits or chocolate. Do check that the country you are flying to has no restrictions on food as some are very strict and you may only be able to take enough for that flight, or certain products.

My first hotel was a small hotel in Zanzibar, in Stone Town. As expected, the waiting staff were not very knowledgeable on gluten-free and looked at me slightly confused. I explained as best I could, and they very kindly said they would get the chef for me so that we could discuss what I could have and be safe.

In fact, every hotel I stayed in from then on, I explained to the staff that I had this issue and maybe it would be best to speak to the chef. The result was some amazing meals throughout my stay on the island.

Fresh food cooked to order -what’s not to like?

As most hotels have limited set menus that are changed daily based on available produce, you know what you are getting is fresh. And in the smaller hotels, everything is made to order so nothing is wasted. Results were a lobster dinner big enough for 2 people, and amazing steak with a specially made brandy and peppercorn sauce, and a beautiful piece of barracuda, which I had never eaten before, in a saffron sauce. I always had options of rice and fresh vegetables, and the desserts… well! These ranged from pannacottas with fresh berries and sauces to flambé bananas with caramel sauce and ice cream. The bread wasn’t great, but then, it often isn’t and when you have such beautiful meals it’s not needed. At breakfast there was always choices of fruits and cooked options. Eggs whichever way you wanted them, bacon, and one hotel went out of its way to get gluten-free flour to do pancakes for breakfast and make bread so that I didn’t feel left out. That’s service!

So, would I recommend a stay on the island to anyone with particular dietary needs? Absolutely. My thanks to The Swahili House, Matemwe Lodge, Tulia Zanzibar, Breezes Beach Resort & Spa, Unguja Lodge and Fumba Beach Lodge for keeping me safe and healthy. Fresh food cooked to order and plenty of it. What’s not to like?

Off to market

Off to market

Off to market

There is something fascinating about a market. And when that market is in a foreign country, the attraction is even stronger…

Most of us like to include one or two shopping opportunities on our holiday, whether that’s exploring high-end shops in elegant galleria or perusing home-made wares spread out on a tablecloth on the ground in a Maasai village. But you don’t have to be intent on a major shopping expedition to enjoy visiting a market – it’s a fabulous way to see what daily life is like for the locals as they shop for essential supplies or sell their artisan crafts. It doesn’t have to be a ‘general’ market either – fish markets are fascinating places to visit for example, with the added bonus that there will usually be some excellent fish restaurants close by!

A  market can be colourful in more ways than one. Whether it’s table-upon-table piled high with pyramids of vibrant spices or fruits and vegetables, racks of brilliantly-coloured woven goods or simply the local colour provided by such a bustling environment as you’re surrounded by the indigenous languages and customs, a trip to a market is bound to be memorable. Just don’t forget to take your camera!

 

Images above – header image © Shutterstock – Curioso, inset image © Shutterstock – Dendenal

The vibrancy of Latin American markets

The markets in Latin America are every bit as vivid as one would expect. The Plaza de los Ponchos (Otalvo Market) in Otalvo, Ecuador, sells everything from weaving tools to fresh fruit, while the Flower Market in Lima, Peru, is a gorgeous explosion of colour and scent. Unmissable!

The Bolivian city of La Paz has a range of markets, from the Mercado Lanza food market (a great place to try a salteña – a Bolivian empanada), the Ayni artisan crafts market and Comart Tukuypaj, where you’ll find beautifully-made alpaca and llama goods, to the intriguingly-named Witches’ Market (see photo below). This latter sells herbs and traditional medicines, and fortune tellers will happily read your palm, but it also sells lovely leather goods and woven items. Haggling is fine in Bolivia, so you may get a bargain!

Ferias (farmers’ markets) about in Costa Rica. In addition to farm products such as cheeses many sell honey, wine, clothing and crafts. But even if you’re not in the market (so to speak) for plantains, eggs or balls of string cheese, if you get the chance to visit a feria while in Costa Rica, do go. You’ll find ferias in many towns, with particularly good ones in or just outside Tamarindo, Quepos and San Jose. The Tamarindo Feria (Saturday mornings) sells a lot of organic products and chocolates, cheeses, flowers etc.  and there are often live music performances. The Feria Verde de Aranjuez in San Jose is a large, organic gourmet market and the perfect place to spend a Saturday morning.

 

© Shutterstock – Saiko3p

“The markets in Latin America are as vivid as one might expect.”

While in Chile, look out for local fruits and vegetables such as lúcuma and chirimoya, as well as leather, silver, lapis lazuli, alpaca and wood crafts. Angelmo, the coastal bay just outside Puerto Montt, has a superb seafood market – you couldn’t get fresher fish! It is THE place to try curanto, the South Chilean delicacy of seafood, vegetables and meat cooked over hot stones.

Santiago has plenty of markets, the most famous being Mercado Central, which specialises in fish. Don’t miss trying a traditional fish stew in one of the local restaurants! A short walk from Avenida O’Higgins you’ll find the Santa Lucia market, with a wealth of gifts and crafts on offer. You’ll also find excellent local hand-made goods in Pucon’s Mercado Artesanal, while Valparaiso’s Mercado El Cardonal features great piles of fruit and vegetables, all housed in a historic market hall. Make sure you also visit the fish market in Valparaiso; check out the pelicans, seagulls and sea  lions hovering around hoping for scraps as the fishermen unload their catches.

“You’re surrounded by the indigenous language and customs.”

Local colour in Peru

The town of Pisac in Peru’s Sacred Valley is famed for being the Valley’s highest settlement, for the Inca ruins above the town and for its bustling Sunday market, when traditionally-dressed members of the Cusco region’s indigenous Quechua communities gather to buy and sell produce and supplies. However, there is also a daily artisan market in Pisac, so whichever day you visit the town you be able to buy crafts and gifts and capture all that local colour in some great photos.

In addition to the afore-mentioned Flower Market, Lima has a number of markets to explore, ranging from the Feria Artesanal craft market to Terminal Pesquero, the daily fish market and Mercado de Surquillo, a superb food market. Peru has some 4,000 varieties of potatoes, so the potato displays alone are incredible in Peruvian markets! And if the idea of the Witches’ Market in La Paz appealed, you could well find Mercado Modelo in the Peruvian town of Chiclayo equally fascinating, with its stalls selling essential ingredients for potions and spells.

Cusco and Chinchero have ecellent markets and, for something absolutely exotic, there’s the market adjacent to the floating shantytown of Belén, Iquitos, where jungle village residents sell their wares. If you have a hankering to taste fried leafcutter ants or Amazon worms, this outdoor market in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon is the place for you…

Coast to winelands

There are some great markets to be found in Africa too, from the sophisticated establishments in Cape Town and the Cape winelands to Maasai markets in Tanzania.

The Cape Winelands have some terrific markets in stunning locations, such as the Friday evening market at the Boschendal wine estate in Franschhoek. There’s great food and drink and incredible mountain views. And you get some  amazing views of the South Peninsula at the weekly Cape Point Vineyards Market. Sit here at sunset, marvel at the views, and chow down on wood-fired pizza as you sip a glass of the CPV’s own award-winning wine before browsing for jewellery and crafts.

In cosmopolitan Cape Town you will find a host of markets with a lovely relaxed atmosphere, and you can usually enjoy some fabulous food there.  Oranjezicht City Farm Market on the V&A Waterfront is operated by the innovative team behind the urban farms project. You can buy wonderful breads, honey, fruit, herbs and vegetables here and find specialist stalls selling chocolates, vegan food etc. The market has gorgeous views of the ocean, and is a great place to wander around, enjoy a pastry or crepe etc. The Waterfront’s Old Power Station now houses the V&A Food Market, with more than 40 food and drink stalls, including one with 23 varieties of South African gin!

Cape Town’s Good Company Market (Sunday), based in the Company’s Garden and near to the Art Gallery is fantastic for all the family, with food and craft stalls and plenty of family activities such as pony rides,

Don’t miss Elgin’s Railway market, an Art Deco delight in a converted apple warehouse.  Live music plays as you explore the clothing, jewellery, food and ceramics stalls, and there are some great cafes and restaurant. If you visit on a Saturday you can even travel to Elgin from Cape Town on board a historic stream train, then ride it back to Cape Town after a day at the market.

If you head out to Hout Bay you’ll find more than 100 stalls inside an old fish factory next to the ocean at the Bay Harbour Market. Musicians and street performers do their thing, the air is fragrant with the enticing aromas of freshly-baked bread and, in the distance, Chapman’s Peak presides over it all like a benevolent market manager.

From Maasai crafts to curios within earshot of the Victoria Falls…

Every Thursday afternoon hundreds of Maasai converge on Mto Wa Mbu village, close to Tarangire National Park and Lake Manyara in Tanzania, for the vibrant weekly Maasai Central Market, with an even bigger market held there on the 22nd of each month. It’s a really interesting break in your safari itinerary as you taste Maasai food, shop for their crafts etc. There’s also a Maasai market selling crafts and curious in Arusha, and the lively Kariakoo market in Dar es Salaam, which is hot chaotic and fascinating. It is very crowded though, so perhaps think of it more as an experience than a shopping opportunity!

Malawi’s roadside Lizulu Market is aimed firmly at the drivers and passengers in the passing cars and buses, giving it quite a different feel to many other markets. With its piles of fruit and veggies, it’s a definitely a place to get some memorable holiday snaps. There’s also a market in Dedza township. It’s not aimed at tourists, but among the essential items for everyday life here you will also find stalls selling straw hats, clay cooking pots and lovely woven and printed cloth. If you’re in Dedza you’ll probably also want to take a trip to the pottery, which has its own shop selling beautiful items – which can be personalised.

If you can tear your eyes away from the majestic Falls themselves, head to the Big Curio Open Market in Victoria Falls town (on the Zimbabwe side of the falls) where you will find crafts of all kinds, includig Shona sculpture.

Spicing it up in Dehli

As for India, well, there’s not enough room in this blog to do justice to the wealth of markets in the sub-continent! However, if you are in Dehli, pick up your camera and head to Khari Baoli, the largest spice market in Asia. You’ll find it near the historic Red Fort, and the market itself – which takes up the whole street after which it’s named – is a historic institution, heaving with endless shops and stalls selling spices, herbs, dried fruit, rice, tea and nuts. It’s colourful, incredibly highly scented and unique. Fabulous!

Let Tribes take you to market!

Many of our trips include the opportunity to visit a local market or two, and if we tailor-make a trip for you then we can craft an itinerary that takes in just exactly what you require in the market department.

Our Golden Triangle trip, with its tour of Old and New Dehli, is a great way to experience the scents, sights and sounds of the Khari Baoli spice market, while many of our Peruvian itinerarys, such as Classic Peru will include a visit to the famous market at Pisac. Peru for Foodies is a market-lover’s delight, featuring market shopping in Lima –  where you sample the local produce and buy the ingredients you’ll be taught to prepare for lunch – in Pisac and in Cusco, where you will be stunned by the huge variety of potatoes and other produce on offer in San Pedro Market.

Itineraries such as Costa Rica Coast to Coast include free time in San Jose, where you could fit in a market visit, while our Costa Rica Self-Drive Holiday takes you to Tamarindo, and its farmer’s market.

If you’re intrigued by the concept of the Witches’ Market in La Paz, our Bolivia Authentic Experience will do the trick for you, and our Trekking and Culture in Otalvo holiday puts you right in the heart of this Ecuadorian market town.

Those planning to take in the glaciers, deserts and cities of Chile will find visits to Santiago and Valparaiso markets possible on our Chile, Deserts and Glaciers trip, while no visit to Cape Town and the Winelands is complete without at least one (but probably rather more!) market explorations. Try our Cape Town and Winelands holiday or Cape Town, Coast and Mountains.

Our Maasai Culture and Wilderness holiday takes you to the Maasai market at Mto Wa Mbu and finally, if you’re drawn to the idea of market shopping to the thunderous audio accompaniment of the Victoria Falls, our Victoria Falls in a Nutshell Zimbabwe trip will deliver exactly what’s required!

The lure of fishing

The lure of fishing

The lure of fishing

  • Top image © Shutterstock – Vitec
  • Inset image © Shutterstock – Pavel Svoboda Photography

Whether you enjoy fly fishing in slow-moving rivers, wading up to your chest in a tranquil lake or want to experience the thrill of the chase with deep-sea fishing, there’s no need to forego your favourite pastime while on holiday.

From searching for barracuda in the Indian Ocean or marlin or sailfish off the coast of Costa Rica to tiger fishing in Zambia and fly fishing for trout and salmon in the crisp, crystal-clear waters of Chilean Patagonia, there are plenty of opportunities for catch-and-release fishing in some truly amazing locations.

If freshwater fishing’s your thing, Lake Arenal in Costa Rica is the perfect place to fish for rainbow bass a you enjoy glorious views of Arenal volcano, while a fishing trip on the Rio Frio in Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge gives you a fantastic opportunity to spot some of the 300+ species of birds that live here, along with sloths, monkeys and turtles.

Costa Rica is also a superb destination for deep-sea sportfishing off its Caribbean or Pacific coasts. Blue marlin is the species this country is most famous for, but tuna, roosterfish and sailfish are also found here, with the port of Queopos renowned worldwide as a sportfishing destination. There is a strong emphasis on catch-and-release in Costa Rica, to preserve the fish populations.

“From still lakes to raging white-water torrents, there are some absolutely stunning fishing locations in Chilean Patagonia…”

  • Image © Shutterstock – Wolf Avni

There are also some fabulous fishing opportunities in Peru. Freshwater fish such as rainbow trout and the feisty butterfly peacock bass abound – if you’re up to the peacock bass challenge, head to Iquitos in the Peruvian Amazon.  The waters off Peru’s northern coast offer brilliant deep-sea fishing – a world record-breaking black marlin was caught off Punta Sal for example.

From still lakes to raging white-water torrents, there are some absolutely stunning fishing locations in Chilean Patagonia, most notably Coyhaique, which is renowned for fly fishing. The remoteness of this entire region, combined with its pristine waters, mean that there are vast fish stocks, many of whom have never encountered a hook or lure. The fish here can be vast in more ways than one; 40lb salmon are not entirely uncommon! The rivers of the beautiful Torres del Paine National Park are home to Pacific salmon, huge brown and rainbow trout and Patagonian tooth fish.

 

Tuna fishing in the waters off Cape Town can be spectacular, and Kwazulu Natal has great freshwater fishing, while the East African coast also offers some wonderful sea fishing, with big game fish such as swordfish, sailfish, tuna and marlin inhabiting the waters of the Indian Ocean, along with barracuda, kingfish, dorados, red snapper and grouper.

Kenya has long been famed for its deep-sea fishing, but Tanzania is now attracting those with a love of the sport, with the benefit that it is still much less fished than Kenya. Deep-sea fishing is a popular activity around Msasani Bay near Dar es Salaam, while the waters around Zanzibar, Pemba, Fanjove and Mafia islands are another rich source of big game fish.

Fishing is prohibited in Tanzania’s national parks, but lake fishing and fly fishing can be arranged in gorgeous locations outside the parks; a wonderfully peaceful way to experience rural Tanzania, casting in a Rift Valley lake or a sparkling mountain stream. Or how about fishing amidst the incredible natural beauty of Botswana’s Okavango Delta, where your rivals will be fish eagles?

 

 

 

  • Top right image © Karen Coe
  • Centre right image © Shutterstock – Janelle Lugge
  • Bottom right image © Shutterstock – Sergey Uryadikov

  • Main image © Shutterstock – Sean Nel
  • Inset image – the Lady Jaqueline Houseboat

“Fishing, perhaps with an elephant audience…”

The tiger fish of the Zambezi river is a real challenge – this speedy, striped predator doesn’t give up without an energetic fight and can weigh as much as 30lb, though 12-18lb is more common. The best time to go tiger fishing in the Upper Zambezi is June to August, when large shoals of baitfish draw them to the region. The prime period in Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park is June to September.

You’ll also find tiger fish in Zimbabwe’s Lake Kariba – where a stay on the Lady Jacqueline houseboat offers fantastic opportunities for keen fishermen (perhaps with an elephant audience!) – and in the Chobe river in Namibia.

And don’t forget, that in some locations fishing tuition is available, so even if you’ve never picked up a rod or tied a lure before, you could learn to do so in a remarkable location, giving you another wonderful holiday memory. And perhaps a new interest forever!

Speak to our consultants about the freshwater and ocean fishing opportunities in the destination you are travelling to.

 

Into the wild

Into the wild

Into the wild

From pangolins to fossas, and shoebill storks to red pandas, we know where and when to send you to give you the very best chance of seeing these incredible species. 

Our colourful new brochure ‘The World’s Top Wildlife Experiences’ brings together some of the incredible wildlife experiences that we are delighted to organise for our clients. Here is just a snapshot of some of the content – plus details of how to acquire your own copy to peruse at your leisure…

Wallow and yawn – the hippo pool

I watched as a lone hippo tried to muscle in on the pool. Hippos are territorial, and dangerously aggressive with it, but Katavi National Park hippo pool attracts hundreds of hippos which come to wallow cheek-by-jowl in the springfed mud. There was a gloopy ripple in the pool as the other muddy bodies grudgingly gave way for another incomer.

This behaviour is unusual. Far more likely is that you will see them in pods in rivers or lakes. South Luangwa is a fantastic place for hippos. You’ll see them wherever you stay here, but hippo-lovers should especially consider Kaingo or Mwamba camps for access to their hippo hide. And of course, most keen photographers are waiting for the hippo shot: the yawn.

 

“On the prowl…”

  • Cheetahs © Shutterstock -Stephanie Periquet
  • Chilean Puma © Shutterstock – Joe McDonald

On the prowl with the cats of Africa…
You might be in the Masai Mara or Serengeti witnessing big cats taking advantage of the wealth of the wildebeest migration. You could be here when three cheetah brothers race off their viewing mound towards a herd of impalas, or when your guide spots two tiny leopard cubs on a rock in Zambia’s South Luangwa. Being in the bush with Africa’s top big cat predators is exhilarating and touching in equal measure, and a joy that, once experienced, must be repeated!

Meeting the Latin American cats
Jungle cat and mountain lion –  big cats that have been persecuted for generations due to their conflict with domestic livestock. But in places without livestock, such as riverbanks and remote areas, they have posed little threat to the livelihoods of fishermen and the likes. As man’s focus has recently changed to think more about conservation, these big cats have had something of a renaissance. Some are even habituated or at least comfortable enough not to run away from humans.

As a result, if you know where to go – and we do – we can take you to places where you will almost certainly get great sightings of these magnificent jaguars and pumas.

In search of big cats in India
Searching for tigers and leopards (let alone the vastly more rare snow leopard) is not easy, but when you see these incredible big cats, I promise your heart will sing. They are mesmerising.

There are under 4,000 tigers left in the wild, most of these are Bengal tigers found in India. There is thought to be a similarly low number of snow leopards, and though the Indian leopard is more numerous it is still at great risk. Come and see them.

 

Pura Vida in Costa Rica

Osa Peninsula is treasure trove for nature and wildlife lovers. It is home to at least half of the species living in Costa Rica – about 140 mammal species and over 400 bird species – many of these living in Corcovado National Park within the peninsula. Much of Costa Rica teems with wildlife, but if you are a true enthusiast and want the very best wildlife experience in the country, Osa is the place to come. National Geographic called it: “the most biologically intense place on earth.”

Osa’s 700 square miles is almost entirely covered in rainforest (with about 700 tree species) reaching right down to the Pacific coast. It’s rare to find anywhere on the planet now where rainforest meets the sea. You come for this incredibly rich forest habitat, but you can also enjoy the coast, see whales in the Golfo Dulce, and go snorkelling at Cano Island.

 

 

  • Resplendent quetzal: © Shutterstock – Ondrej Prosicky
  • Whale breaching: © Shutterstock – nuriajudit

“Two million animals on the move…”

Witnessing the Great Migration
It’s hard to get your mind around 2 million animals on the move. The world’s largest mass land migration is just this though. Vast swathes of wildebeest, as well as huge numbers of zebras, plus Thompson’s gazelle and eland make the arduous journey from the Serengeti to the Masai Mara and back again. They constantly follow the fresh grazing afforded by the rains. This circle of life includes birth, joyous moments of youngsters learning to play and love life, heart-in-mouth river crossings, dramatic narrow escapes from predators, and sadly, death. It’s raw, it can be emotional, it’s an incredible sight.

 

  • Migration: © Shutterstock – Jurgen Vogt
  • Lion: © Shutterstock – nwdph

“We are all nature lovers and we travel for the joy of what each new adventure might bring.”

© Shutterstock – Longjourney

Step into the wild with Tribes

Wildlife-loving world travellers are always planning the next trip and considering what they’d like to see next. Here at Tribes, we’re no different. We are all nature lovers and we travel for the joy of what each new adventure might bring. Since travel is not just a job for us but also a passion (especially when it’s linked to conservation and species and habitat protection), we love talking to people who are equally besotted by the world and its wildlife.

Tell us what you want to find next. The chances are that we might already know, but if we don’t, we will find out for you and hopefully find a way to get you there.

If you’d like your own copy of ‘The World’s Top Wildlife Experiences’, you can download a digital copy here or, if you’re based in the UK, contact us and we’ll post one out to you. Or pick up a hard copy at one of the shows Tribes is attending this year:

 

Meeting Darwin and Gremlin

Meeting Darwin and Gremlin

Meeting Darwin and Gremlin

Tribes’ Amanda Marks goes chimp trekking in Tanzania

“What?! They’re right up there?” I said.

A mountain of impenetrable green forest loomed in front of us. There was no doubting the beauty of this national park – the remote Mahale Mountains rise up from the deep waters of Lake Tanganyika in western Tanzania – but the thought of trekking along the ridge that lay ahead of us to get almost to the summit of one of the peaks … well, it was daunting to say the least. I’m not a big fan of ‘uphill’.

I should have known, of course. Six of us had come to see wild chimpanzees and at this time of year (June) they still tend to frequent the higher reaches of the mountain range since that is where they can find food until the trees and shrubs lower down start to flower and fruit from about July to October. And the chances of us actually finding the group?

“The tracker who left earlier this morning has spotted them, so we know where they are.”

Wonderful!

“But they’re on the move and if they head into the gully over that ridge, we’ll lose them. It’s impossible to get down there.”

Not good.

At first, the forest was quite kind to us. Yes, our guides had to hack a few vines and help us to cross a couple of streams and we had to watch out for stinging nettles, roots and other plants with nefarious intentions, but it’s a beautiful place to be, the birds were singing and the incline was not too strenuous. Soon, though, we were not hacking vines but using them as ropes to haul ourselves uphill, and roots were no longer seen as trip hazards but steps to be grateful for as we tried to conquer precipitous inclines. The guides were incredible with us. Helping us find footholds, carrying bags that had become too heavy, pulling us up particularly difficult bits, and encouraging us with word from the trackers that the chimps were still within our reach.

“A mother chimp, Kupi, was sitting there on the rock grooming her boisterous baby in the sun….”

Three and a half hours later and we were nearly there. Suddenly, the air rang out with the familiar calls of chimpanzees. The sounds echoed around us like a welcoming fanfare heralding our arrival. We stood for a moment, thrilled by the obvious proximity, and we hardly noticed the last push to the top. And then, there they were!

We’d come out at a small clearing with a huge boulder in the middle. A mother chimp, Kupi, was sitting there on the rock grooming her boisterous baby in the sun. My heart was beating so fast I could hear it. We all put on the masks we’d been given so as not to infect the chimps, and then we simply sat with them, and watched, and laughed, and took photos. We were within 10-15 metres of them and, after an initial glance, they totally ignored our presence and carried on with life.

The baby’s father, Bonobo, came and sat with his family (which is apparently quite rarely seen); two adult males, Teddy and Orion, sat in the shade of the trees by the rock grooming each other; another chimp sauntered across the rock and headed off into the forest further up. Our guide asked me if I wanted to follow, and so, leaving the others, I followed further into the trees. It turned out that the big male we followed was Primus, the alpha male. He sat up a tree, just watching. It’s hard to explain why, but you could see in his face that this was a chimp with stature. He soon decided to move on and to my astonishment, walked right past me. I meant nothing to him but being in his presence meant everything to me at that moment.

 

 

We tried to follow Primus but he was too fast, and instead we came across a male called Darwin.

This gentle chimp had the kind face of a well-loved grandfather, with grey hairs and slightly watery eyes, and he just lay on his back on the forest floor with his head propped up on his arm and his feet on a nearby branch. He was the picture of Sunday morning relaxation.

The guide and I sat quietly with him for about ten minutes. He looked over at us occasionally. I just stared, drinking him in. It was one of those moments never to be forgotten.

“We were lucky this day as the chimps had come down the slopes.”

Two days later, I was sitting in another piece of forest further north, but still on the edge of Lake Tanganyika. This was Gombe National Park. You may know the name through the work of Dr Jane Goodall who was the primatologist who first habituated the chimpanzees in this area, back in the 1960s. She is in her eighties now, but still firmly involved and her foundation is still going and still a key force in the park.

Though the terrain at Gombe is very similar to that at Mahale, we were lucky this day as the chimps had come down the slopes. This made the experience here very different, and far more similar to the trek you would expect (even in Mahale) if you visited from about July to October. It took us only 20 minutes walking to find our first groups of chimps in the Kasakela community. The forest at this level is not so dense and there are more pathways that make the going much easier, though of course the chimps aren’t necessarily going to follow the paths – and they didn’t!

“You must keep to a distance of 10m and wear a face mask. You cannot visit them if you are ill – even with a cold – as you could wipe them out.”

We found a few different groups of chimps as we walked, as these chimps were not in such a sedentary mood as the Mahale chimps had been. We walked and stopped, walked and stopped for a couple of hours. We saw Gremlin and her high-spirited twins, we met Gaia and her family, we watched Google and Grendo having a chat on a log, we were there as Golden suckled her baby, as they all ate, squabbled, played and groomed each other.  I could have stayed all day.

All in all we had one hour with each group. I am more than thankful for the experience, for the fact that they still exist and that they accept our presence, that the forest is still here for them, that I was able to have the opportunity to come here, that they are being protected thanks to tourism. However, my heart was also full of concerns after leaving them: could the forest – their home – be protected from logging (either commercial or simply from nearby villagers needing land or wood); could the chimps be protected from poaching (wild meat poachers are known to still cross from DRC); will the tourists like us be the unwitting cause of the destruction of these incredible creatures through the transmission of disease; can these wild chimp populations be assured of a future?

Sadly, I don’t think anyone can offer a confidently positive answer to any of these questions. All we can do is do our best to ensure that forest creatures such as these magnificent chimpanzees are given all the protection we can afford them. They deserve it. This is their planet too.

So, is it worth the expense and the travel and the exertion to see these extraordinary creatures that are so like us?

Yes, yes, and yes again. Do not hesitate. Just come.

Can you help protect chimpanzees?

VISIT THEM IN THE WILD
Although tourism is a double-edged sword because it can bring disease if not carefully managed, in the view of most conservationists, it remains the strongest weapon we have in the protection of the species and their habitat. There are about 700 chimps in Mahale, but only around 100 in Gombe. The numbers in both communities are in decline. Up to 30 visitors per day can visit the chimps, with a maximum of 6 people per group for only 1 hour. You must keep to a distance of 10m and wear a face mask. You cannot visit them if you are ill – even with a cold – as you could wipe them out.

Please come and visit these remarkable creatures. You’ll be helping them to survive as tourism pays for their protection.

Tribes offers sample itineraries on the websites – Ruaha, Katavi, Mahale (11 days)Chimps, Serengeti and Spice (11 days) but we can tailor-make any itinerary you want.

DONATE FUNDS TO THEIR PROTECTION

If you are not able to visit, but still want to help, please consider donating to a charity such as the Jane Goodall Institute. www.janegoodall.org.uk
Their work is critical to the well-being of the chimps at Gombe National Park.

All images © Amanda Marks

On the right tracks

On the right tracks

On the right tracks

Header image © The Blue Train

Side image © Imvelo Safari Lodges

There can be a romance in rail travel in foreign countries that’s hard to find in the 11.05am from Ipswich to Liverpool Street. From luxury trains crossing South Africa, Peru or India to  switchbacking up and down an almost sheer cliff face in Ecuador, there’s something rather special about taking to the tracks on holiday.

Image © Belmond

First class all the way…

Cocooned in elegance, spectacular landscapes viewed through picture windows as an attentive waiter proffers a glass of champagne, a fine afternoon tea or splendid silver-service dinner before you retreat to your peaceful, sumptuous cabin, to be lulled to sleep by the rhythm of the rails… a luxury train journey is a thing of beauty.

Thanks to a certain Agatha Christie book and the subsequent A-list star-packed films, the iconic and exotic train that immediately springs to mind is usually the Orient Express. However, let me present some others for your consideration…

The Belmond Andean Explorer  is owned and operated by the same organisation that runs the Venice-Simplon Orient Express and there are clear echoes of that famous piece of rolling stock to be found in what was the first luxury sleeper train in South America.

“Coccooned in elegance…”

Images © Belmond

One of two distinctive, midnight-blue Belmond trains running in Peru, the Andean Explorer is a glorious way to travel from Cusco to Peru’s famed ‘white city’ Arequipa or Lake Titicaca, stopping at points of interest en-route. You get an amazing view of the glorious scenery from the observation car and can even relax with a massage in the spa car.

The Belmond Hiram Bingham is an unforgettable way to travel in classic style to Machu Picchu. Fantastic, 1920s-style elegance transports you back to a time when polished brass and wood were the norm and Pullman carriages were the only way to travel. Crossing Peru’s Sacred Valley, heading to the iconic ‘lost city of the Incas’ on board this superb train is something that’s definitely on my personal bucket list. They take it slow, so you get to enjoy around three and half hours of refined style and impeccable food, wine and service as you look out onto cloud forest, mountains and valleys and ancient towns and villages.

Belmond never forgets that this is a Peruvian adventure. Enjoy a Pisco sour, take in traditional local music performances on board, and savour fine Peruvian wines and local delicacies with a sophisticated twist.

PeruRail…

PeruRail’s Vistadome train, which travels between Cusco, Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu, allows you to enjoy contemporary Andean style and elegance. On board you’ll also be treated to a fashion show demonstating the newest trends in alpaca clothing, together with live traditional dance performances. The rail carriages  have vast expanses of glass, wrapping up to the roof, to help you make the most of the panoramic views.

PeruRail’s Titicaca train crosses the Andes between Cusco and Puno and features 1920s-style Pullman carriages and an open-air observation car which is ideal for photographers looking to capture shots of the jaw-dropping landscapes.

 

 

Traverse South Africa in style

In South Africa you have a choice of luxury sleeper trains between Cape Town and Pretoria and vice versa; the Blue Train and Rovos Rail.

The Blue Train has operated since 1946 and the 1,600-mile, two-night journey is unforgettable. Think of it as a five-star hotel on wheels, with a glorious and ever-changing view and the finest of South African wines and haute cuisine. Oh, and your own butler on call.  The Blue Train also travels to Kruger National Park, and I can think of no finer way to arrive on safari.

Equally sumptuous, Rovos Rail is another wood-panelled piece of handsome rolling stock. Before you even step on board, the exclusive Rovos Rail pre-departure lounge at Pretoria station puts you in the frame of mind for the opulence that lies ahead.

 

Main image and top side image © The Blue Train

Bottom side image © Rovos Rail

“Game viewing as the train trundles along.”

Imvelo’s Stimela Star is a private sleeper train running from Victoria Falls to Hwange National Park. It may not hit the luxurious heights of Rovos Rail or the Blue Train, but, with its cheerful and endlessly helpful staff, recently-restored retro accommodation and excellent food, it’s immensely charming and a great addition to your safari holiday without busting the budget. If you’re staying at Imvelo’s Bomani Tented Lodge or Camelthorn you can extend your rail journey on Imvelo’s Elephant Express, an open-sided single railcar that provides game viewing as the train trundles along the tracks to the lodges.

 

Elephant Express and Stimela Star images © Imvelo Safari Lodges

“A fantastic way to travel across a country famed for its rail tradition.”

Palace on Wheels images © Nav Jyoti TV Studio

See India from the Palace on Wheels

How about an eight-day sleeper train ride through Northern India? The Palace on Wheels maintains the longstanding Indian tradition of rail travel, taking in Agra, Bharatpur, Dehli, Chittorgarh Fort, Jaipur Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Ranthambore National Park, the Taj Mahal and Udaipur en-route. It’s a fantastic way to travel across a country famed for its rail tradition, with guided tours of the famous stopping places.  Of course, there’s a huge choice of rail journeys in India and our consultants often book overnight trains for our travellers; they’re a great way to travel between the game parks of central India for example. These aren’t luxury trains, but are a very convenient way to travel and a fantastic way to see another aspect of day-to-day Indian life.

If you’re a narrow gauge railway fan heading to India, make sure you talk to us about one of the ‘toy trains’, which operate on a number of routes including from Kalka to Shimla or Ooty.

 

All aboard the Ecuador Cruise Train

Here’s something new and a little different – Tren Ecuador is not a sleeper train but a way to see Ecuador at a leisurely pace by rail while stopping at hotels and lodges en route. Two levels of travel are available, Luxury and the upgraded Gold class, with the difference being in the hotels or haciendas you say in on the journey. You’ll travel on the same luxury train, through incredible ever-changing scenery, stopping at fascinating places and meeting local craftsmen and women, visiting markets and enjoying traditional cuisine.

The route includes the dramatic switchbacks along the Devil’s Nose route (see images above and below) – and if your itinerary won’t allow for the full six-day experience, you can board the train just for key sections, including the Devil’s Nose. There’s also the Tren de la Libertad, which crosses bridges over steep canyons and through seven tunnels between Ibarra and Salinas, where its arrival is greeted with the tune ‘La Bomba’.  Salinas is home to the Afro-ecuadorian people, and a visit to this town, with its colourful murals and fascinating museums, is a great way to spend a day.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the available train journeys so, if you fancy getting on the right tracks on your holiday, don’t forget to ask us about the opportunities for rail travel in your chosen destination!