By NAVAYA OLE NDASKOI
The Kilimanjaro glaciers are turning straight to vapour. The Arrow glacier is no longer on Kilimanjaro. The Heim glacier was very famous for glacier climbing before 1996. Now almost all of it has evaporated. The Northern ice fields are mostly gone as well. In an interview with Navaya ole Ndaskoi, Alexander Lemunge, Executive Director of East African Voyage Ltd and a Senior Trip Leader who led thousands of tourists to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, said these are footprints of global warming confronting mankind.
Navaya ole Ndaskoi: Would you mind telling our readers about your self?
Alexander Lemunge: I was born on the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro in 1968. I spent my early life supporting the family like many children in Africa and attaining formal education. In 1997 I traveled to USA to become a certified Wilderness First Responder and CPR Emergency Cardiac Care Provider. During my stay in US, I attended leadership training with NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) completing the Outdoor Educator Course.
I also attended several other courses with NOLS in East Africa. In the meantime, I studied a lot about High Altitude Physiology and rock climbing. I attended an interpretation course conducted by Richard Estes who is a well known researcher, conservationist and writer who has been doing field work in Africa since 1963. I attended a two-week course at the college of Africa Wildlife Management at Mweka, Tanzania. I also worked with Tanzania National Parks Authority to organize and recruit over 500 mountain guides, currently leading trips on Mount Kilimanjaro. I trained Kilimanjaro and Meru rescue teams in rescue skills and evacuation.
Currently I am doing Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Tourism at the Open University of Tanzania. Today I have my own company called East African Voyage Company Limited and I still work on contract basis with companies as a trip leader in Tanzania, leading treks on Kilimanjaro and safari. I have been in the tourism industry in Tanzania since 1994. I led over 150 ascents on Mount Kilimanjaro. The clients I led have successfully climbed to the summit of Kilimanjaro on over 95 per cent.
What makes East African Voyage Company Ltd different from other tour operators in Tanzania?
A combination of factors makes us different. Our guiding experience for example has been very instrumental. We also developed a very smooth relationship with our clients. We know the rules of tourism very much. The three of us have one thing in common: to start a company, to start a company that is compliant to the laws and regulations, and determination to provide the best quality services to our clients as much as possible. We do this successfully by ensuring that one of us must lead every group until such a time we have a well trained group of trip leaders.
We also offer periodic training to our staff as a strategy to always improve the quality of the services we provide. In the meantime we have been struggling to diversify our products. Apart from the well-known traditional wildlife tour, we tailor-make itineraries that also include the less known products such as cultural tours meaning that we visit and stay with societies like nomadic Maasai, Hadzabe hunter-gatherers, Mbugwe fishermen, Iraqw agro-pastoralists and many others. We also organize walking safari, hiking, biking and others. We are role models in eco-tourism. We link clients, communities and the environment. We are born in the Greater Serengeti Region and we know the challenges facing the wildlife, people and the environment. We therefore struggle to address these challenges.
How do you describe the tourism infrastructure in Tanzania?
Infrastructure is very broad. I would like to comment on its three aspects. First, the roads are generally in poor condition. During the rain season matters goes from bad to worse. This is responsible for the high and low seasons. Tourists could flow all year round if the roads are improved.
The second problem is about the flights. Very few airlines land on Kilimanjaro International Airport and Julius Nyerere International Airport. So to this day, most tourists coming to Tanzania come through Nairobi, Kenya. The problem of airports, local and international, needs to be addressed very urgently to encourage international airlines to land straight into Tanzania. Finally I would like to say that accommodation is still an acute problem that also needs to be addressed.
There is no set-up system of how much each trip is sold. In effect different companies sell the product differently. Very few sell the product expensively and the majority sells very cheaply. Those who sell cheaply fail to pay porters and other staff. Some delay payment of their staff for months. Others do not pay at all, leaving porters to depend tips from tourists. This in turn seriously affects the quality of service they provide.
The living standard of porters is low. My opinion is that they should set-up an association with offices in Arusha, Moshi and at respective gate through which we climb Kilimanjaro such as Machame, Marangu, Mweka and Rongai. This will make them as accessible to porters as much as humanly possible. It will in turn improve their working conditions. I tried to the best of my abilities to support them in their claims since I understand the importance of their work and the need for their welfare to be taken seriously.
You climbed Kilimanjaro to the summit more than 150 times. Do you see any signs of global warming on the ice of Kilimanjaro?
Of course, yes. The Arrow glacier is no longer on Kilimanjaro. When I started to climb in 1993 it was almost in its full shape of an arrow. The Heim glacier was very famous for glacier climbing before 1996. Now almost all of it has melted. The Northern ice fields are mostly gone as well. Half of Fortangular glacier is no more. All these have led to rock falls especially on the Western Breach. As you can understand global warming is responsible for this. Scientific evidence indicates that there will be no glacier at all remaining on Kilimanjaro by 2025. This is a sad fact confronting mankind.
Around 40,000 tourists attempt to climb Kilimanjaro every year. What are the environmental implications of this? There are numerous camping sites. This means land is being cleared. When you are talking about 40,000 tourists you are talking, to be lenient, of a minimum of 120,000 people if two porters are attached to every tourist. Now this is a very serious crowd. Water consumption is increasing destroying the environment forever. The human waste and other trash are also growing. Tourists, porters and guides should be serious trained about the leave no trace philosophy, you must take out every thing you took in.
What do you advice Tanzania National Parks Authority (TANAPA), a Government agency that manages Kilimanjaro and other National Parks in Tanzania?
Lemosho trail is the fastest growing route. Yet it is surprisingly inaccessible. TANAPA and Kilimanjaro National Park must work on this, if I were to advice.
Can you explain technically about climbing Kilimanjaro?
Climbing Kilimanjaro is physically demanding. You should be in a good shape before attempting climb. On going heart and lungs diseases can seriously affect climb. At 19,340 feet oxygen is half of what you get at sea level. The heart and the lungs should be working properly. I must stress that someone with any history of such problems must consult his or her physician before attempting to climb Kilimanjaro.
How many routes are there, and which one do you prefer?
There are seven routes which are Lemosho, Londorosi, Machame, Marangu, Mweka, Rongai and Umbwe. I prefer Lemosho through Barafu as well as Machame. These routes are more scenic and least crowded compared to the rest. This gives a climber enough time to acclimatize and summit. In addition clients sleep in tented camps instead of in cortèges. Tented camps are not noisy and they give a client some privacy.