Posts Tagged ‘Africa’

To Track an Animal, You Need to Look For…

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

Yes, we’re going there. The topic that makes everyone giggle. Take a deep breath and here we go:


You would think that such a silly subject wouldn’t be something Smithsonian scientists would bother studying, but they do. Scientists at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. keep a close eye on the animals, from the food they eat to the end result. It provides information that is vital to nutrition, reproduction efforts for animal conservation, and the overall health of the animal. Plus, when you are working with certain animals, it’s better to keep them at a distance. That’s why taking samples of their waste is the easiest way to keep an eye on our animal friends.

You can learn more about these scientists by watching SciQ: Poo on the Smithsonian Channel.


But tracking an animal in the wild is a different story. When it isn’t living in a zoo, and there’s a vast amount of land to cover, how do you even start looking for an animal? In that situation, finding a few droppings can really help narrow your search. Remember, when you are on safari in Africa, look for the poo.

Our Tanzania Family Safari is a great tour for adventure, exploration, and a lot of giggling by people of all ages.

Be honest, did this blog post make you giggle?

Memories of São Tomé

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

Patrick Wagner is Senior Program Manager for U.S. and Canada tours and has been with Smithsonian Journeys since 2000. Here, he describes his visit to verdant São Tomé, located off the western coast of Africa. Click here for more on Patrick.

The beautiful landscape of Sao Tome. Photo: Flickr Joao Maximo

The beautiful landscape of Sao Tome. Photo: Flickr user Joao Maximo

After disembarking our ship the Corinithian II in the morning, we made our way by zodiac to the seaside town of  São Tomé. We drove up into the cool, lush mountains at the interior of the island, enjoying the vibrant greens and the calls of some of the 135 species of birds that call the island home. Tucked into a beautiful mountain valley was a coffee plantation straight out of a Victorian novel.

We walked the short distance up a stone path to take a look at the current crop. At the top of the hill, ripe red beans burst from the profusion of dark green coffee plants. Next, we walked to the preparation area, a metal covered porch, to greet the workers. They welcomed us in Portugese, calling “Bom Dia! Bom Dia!” (Good morning! Good morning!) and held out bowls of chocolate covered coffee beans…an immediate hit with our group.

We watched as local São Toméian women pulled the hulls off the beans and prepared them for washing, and then walked further along the porch, lured by the smell of what many of us could only describe as heavenfresh coffee beans roasting over an open fire. As we looked on, a worker raked the beans back and forth to be sure that they roasted evenly. We stood there transfixed as the workers described the traditional roasting methods they’d always used to create perfectly roasted beans. Finally, we had a chance to sample some of the most delicious coffee we’d ever tasted! It was well worth the journey up the mountain and through the jungle.

Close-up of coffee beans. Photo: Flickr Jeff Kubina

Close-up of coffee beans. Photo: Flickr user Jeff Kubina

As we were getting ready to leave, the clouds literally descended on the valley and a hard rain began to fall. I sat with a group of Smithsonian travelers waiting out the deluge. We looked out on the pouring rain, the steep stand of coffee plants, the green mountain ridges in the distance, the palms slick with rain, the air fragrant with roasting coffee, the warm cups in our hands…no one said a word, we all just smiled and listened to the falling rain.

Click here for more information on travel to São Tomé.

Click here for more information on other travel to Africa.

Tell us about your favorite travel memories. Please share below.

Obama’s Inauguration from 4,000 Miles Away

Monday, February 16th, 2009

Alice Stephens has lived on four continents, most recently in Japan for four years. As a Smithsonian Journeys International Program Manager, she recently accompanied Journeys travelers to Timbuktu, Mali, Senegal, and The Gambia. Click here for Alice’s bio.

From the beginning of the trip, passengers on our tour to West Africa had asked about the possibility of seeing the Obama inauguration on television. On January 20, we were on the Gambia River, docked about 300 feet from the nearest bank of the wide, brown waterway, near the village of Kuntaur, The Gambia. It was a busy day of sightseeing, typical of the trip, which took us to such remote spots as Timbuktu in Mali and Joal-Fadiout in Senegal. The day had started with a pirogue ride off the shores of Baboon Islands, a collection of five islands that were the location of a chimpanzee rehabilitation project where human access was limited just to the rangers.

We saw two chimpanzees munching leaves in a tree, as well as a few Nile crocodiles sunning on the muddy banks. Small, widely spaced ears, curved brows, and dark nostrils were the deceptively delicate hints of massive hippos submerged beneath the water. We were accompanied by regally maned red colobus monkeys, the green vervet monkeys seen all over Gambia, as well as a plethora of birds, which attract large flocks of birdwatchers to the heavily tourism-dependent country. Next we stopped in Janjanbureh, formerly known as Georgetown, a refuge for former African slaves in the years when Great Britain had outlawed slavery before other colonial powers. Finally we stopped to visit a prestigious academy, Armitage High School.

Photo: Alice Stephens

Photo: Alice Stephens

We were welcomed by the school’s marching band with battered bugles, cymbals, drums, and flutes prior to visiting the classrooms. Gambia is a country of profound poverty and the classrooms were woefully under-equipped, but the students were obviously serious about learning despite the lack of many things we take for granted in our own schools. We were taken to see the boys’ dormitory, and some of the residents proudly displayed their wall to us. Beneath a few magazine pictures of soccer heroes taped to the wall was this proclamation, written in chalk:

“Obama is taking over today
Victory celebration at 2:30
Welcome to the White House 4 Ever
Hay, hay, hay Barack Obama
Barack Obama, Barack Obama, Hay, hay”

At the end of this long day out, our local guides arranged for us to watch the inauguration in the dusty village, called Wassu, home to intriguing circles of laterite megaliths and the region’s weekly market. We were taken to a nightclub, which had two televisions hooked up to various VCRs and DVD players by a snake’s nest of wires connected to a single surge protector. Chairs had been set out for us, and besides the owner and a few workers, the place was ours.