Kilimanjaro in the time of COVID
Kilimanjaro is a beacon, a landmark towering over its region. Beacons provide light and landmarks show us where we are in relation to the world around us. Both geographically and metaphorically Kilimanjaro is living up to its reputation in this world turned upside down by COVID. While most of the world is closed to travel, Kilimanjaro is open to trekkers.
Written by Steve Guthrie
The “normal” process of how expeditions to Kilimanjaro operate has changed to adapt to the reality of the virus, but these changes provide a beacon to shed light on how we go forward.
Mountain Madness has a long association with Kilimanjaro. In 1984 Scott Fischer and Wes Krause pioneered a trekking route, developed logistics plans and infrastructure, hired and trained staff, and operated countless trips. Their vision is carried on to this day, which importantly includes a guiding tenant for us to not only leave no trace in the lands we visit, but be a good partner to the people that work with us and have a positive impact on their lives. A living wage is just the first step. Making sure that all staff are properly equipped, providing cutting edge industry standard training, and opportunity for advancement is important but needs to be combined with respect, transparency, open communication and embracing our differences. The essence of Mountain Madness is that we strive to be a family, a group of friends, both operating and staffing the trips but also participating as guests.
As the extent of the pandemic became apparent, we worked with our partners in Tanzania and our friends/clients of Mountain Madness to provide some relief to Kilimanjaro staff. Funds were collected and food and cooking supplies were purchased and distributed to ease the burden until regular work could begin again.
This past fall it became clear that Tanzania offered a unique opportunity for travel in a world largely shut down. Wilderness, mountain environments, and Savannah make it easier to practice social distancing. We worked diligently with Tanzanian staff to develop risk management protocols relating to COVID that would allow guests to continue experiencing Kilimanjaro and safari with all the magic inherent in our trips. To accomplish this, we are taking exceptional measures which include:
- Testing of all staff prior to each trip and isolating everyone at a remote safari camp while waiting for test results. In fact, we test 120% of needed staff so we can have “extra” in case someone tests positive.
-Vehicles are cleaned and sanitized after each use. Drivers are tested and isolated with the rest of staff.
-Masks are required in vehicles, in groups and where social distancing may be difficult.
-Bubbles or pods are created to limit contact. For example, porters will not have direct or close contact with guests. The lead and assistant guide will pack, prepare, and sanitize guest baggage beginning and following each day of trekking. Additionally, they will set up guest tents and prepare the dining tent. Kitchen staff will have their own bubble and food preparation and service will be maintained within that bubble.
-We are not using hotels or publicly accessed accommodations. Mountain Madness has private compounds and camps that we can keep isolated and monitor all staff and guests. We have been operating remote safari camps for decades which has prepared us for this transition during the pandemic. These camps are high-end and very comfortable with great food and accommodations.
-We monitor, in real time, all news relating to the virus both in Tanzania and throughout the world and will not operate in places where we feel there is exceptional danger or unknown factors.
Mountain Madness is currently offering Kilimanjaro treks and safari. We had two groups in December and experienced effective implementation of the protocols. Despite all the limitations, changes, and disappointments of the past year, it is not only possible to travel to Kilimanjaro, but highly recommended. Imagine being the only party on the summit. You will probably have much of the mountain to yourself. On safari you might not see another vehicle for hours and have a large expanse of the Serengeti or the Ngorongoro Crater in splendid isolation. This is perhaps a once in a lifetime chance to see Tanzania as it was 40 or 50 years ago. Sublime beauty, vast tracks of uninhabited land, herds of animals without herds of tourists, and the care and warm hospitality of our Tanzanian friends.
Once again, as throughout history, Kilimanjaro stands as a beacon and a landmark, guiding adventurers and travelers through an uncharted time. It shines hope and as the cradle of humanity, shows us that there is a way forward and the future is bright. Kilimanjaro was, and remains, the most life-changing and empowering adventure I have ever embarked upon. My eyes were opened to an utterly amazing world and that first experience there still resonates strongly and is an important touchstone. My wish for the New Year is that when you feel comfortable enough to travel, that you have an adventure that resonates with you as much as my first trip to Kilimanjaro resonates with me. We will take care of the details so you can relax, take a deep breath of life and shed the skin of this past year.