Mto wa Mbu, A Great Cultural Tour in Tanzania

mto5February 5 to 16, 2013, we’ll be in Tanzania to host a photo safari/ecotour with World Discovery Safaris and Safari Legacy. One of my favorite stops on this particular itinerary is Mto wa Mbu, near the entrance to Lake Manyara National Park.

Mto wa Mbu (which translates to Mosquito River) is a community in central Tanzania with a unique Cultural Tourism Programme. This agricultural community includes representatives from more than 120 tribes who moved into the area to take advantage of the opportunities provided by an irrigation project in the 1950s. In 1995, SNV – The Netherlands Dutch Development Organisation assisted the Tanzania Tourism Board in developing programs to provide benefits to local people. The community was involved in planning the tours to be offered and they manage the tours.

On a previous tour of Tanzania, we took part in one of these tours and found a well-designed experience that began with a slow meander through the community marketplace where local women sit at wooden tables heaped with dried fish, fresh fruits, vegetables, chickens, eggs, clothing and household goods.

mto2Next we visited the home of a Chaga family who brews banana beer. There we learned the unique story of how this special brew is key in marriage negotiations and friendships. It is 1 to 2% alcohol and must be drunk “green” when it is one to two days old, because it goes bad quickly. We passed a mug of beer to share among our fellow travelers and the pleasant taste was unique, unlike any beer I’ve ever tasted.

We then walked to an open-air shop where our guide explained that woodcarvers are taught to create three-dimensional pieces that represent people from different tribes working and living together in harmony. The effort required by these complex carvings helps the craftsmen to hone their skills before carving simpler items offered in most sales outlets. Visitors can purchase the work direct from the woodcarvers working on site if desired. We also visited a cooperative where local artists demonstrated the traditional Tinga Tinga style of painting. Finally, our guide led us down a trail through a banana farm to learn about the many varieties grown for beer brewing, eating, and cooking as vegetables.

The tour of the farm ended in an outdoor shelter with local women preparing traditional dishes over open fires. When the food was ready mto1they interpreted each food dish before we served ourselves buffet style. We had white rice, brown rice with beef, okra, spinach, spicy beef in oil, eggplant, potatoes with cardamom and cinnamon, and pork ribs. The food was delicious, washed down with a cold soft drink or the local Tusker beer.

Our upcoming tour will allow us to visit at least three cultural communities and five national parks and conservation areas. We have just a few seats left for this tour at the height of the wildlife migration season in the Serengeti. If you have the time, desire and funds to take part, please join us for the trip of a lifetime.


Download the Tanzania Tour PDF Itinerary – Feb. 2013 12-Day Tanzania Safari – Questions – 970-231-0537 or

– Tim Merriman

Interpret Your Town or City: What Makes It Special

Bicycle events like New Belgium Beer's Tour de Fat are signature community outings and enjoyed by people of all ages.

Bicycle events like New Belgium Beer’s Tour de Fat are signature community outings and enjoyed by people of all ages.

We live in Fort Collins, Colorado, a very nice city of 100,000 or so people located at the edge of the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Money Magazine recently named it the best place in America to live. Through the years it has earned a great deal of praise as a lifestyle city. And it is true that it is a pleasant place to live with great weather, beautiful bike trails, Old Town shopping and restaurants, many breweries and Colorado State University.

When you visit Fort Collins’ official tourism website it reads “Adventure Casual, and So Much More.” I don’t know what that means. I have worn no formal clothes on any adventure in my life. They have all been casual. Certainly casual clothing is the norm in Fort Collins. I don’t know how that tagline distinguishes the community in any way.

Cities like to declare themselves the capital of something. Austin is the “Live Music Capital of the World.” It does make a statement that is true. They have lots of live music venues, including Austin City Limits, a TV show held in great esteem. The Austin tourism website adds “What You Hear is True: Austin Always Dazzles.” Like “Adventure Casual,” it sounds good.  But I’m not sure it really means anything. I still like “Keep Austin Weird.” That’s a lot more interesting as a tagline and describes the eclectic mix of lifestyles that makes Austin such a unique place to live and work. Las Vegas brags, “What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas.” I think that works in that it identifies Las Vegas as an adult playground. But some years ago when Las Vegas wanted to rebrand itself as a family destination, it found the tagline didn’t work in its favor.

Mahone Bay in Nova Scotia has a welcome sign that tells us what matters to them.

Mahone Bay in Nova Scotia has a welcome sign that tells us what matters to them.

City websites invariably give information about places to stay, eat, and visit, but unfortunately, many feel that is enough. Convention and Visitor Bureau websites sometimes take a stab at a brand or tagline to attempt to connect with a potential visitor. But most fail to say much about the real character of the place. Carmel by the Sea indicates it is a “world-renowned destination” with the sophistication of San Francisco and the glamour of Hollywood nestled into one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. That gives some idea of what is there, but mostly it compares itself to somewhere else.

Instead of relying on weak taglines or simple information, communities could tie into their real attributes and history and the deeper meaning of being in that unique place to begin a lasting relationship with residents and visitors alike.

Brain research indicates that we create memories around experiences that touch our emotions. It is not information that tantalizes us. We make memories out of experiences that include information, but it was not the information that attracted us. We go to new places for romance, adventure, relaxation, inspiration and many other intangible reasons. Our memories are complex mixtures of the facts and the happenings. I won’t return to Paris or Amsterdam because they have more museums, restaurants and gardens than anywhere else, even though they do. Those are useful facts about the cities, but my memories of those places are less tangible and more romantic.

The charm and romance of Paris is on the streets, in the cafes, not easily portrayed with facts.

The charm and romance of Paris is on the streets, in the cafes, not easily portrayed with facts.

Crafting websites and taglines that actually interpret a place and begin building some understanding of what makes the place unique takes thoughtful planning that goes beyond catchy branding. You can interpret your community in a more enduring way by tying the image, tagline, website, and promotional materials to the real sense of place, the experiences, the emotions evoked.

I still love Fort Collins, but “adventure casual” would never be in my description when I tell someone else what makes this a great place to live. This community is a place to ride a bike along the river and enjoy a beer at a brewpub in Old Town or take friends from out of town on the New Belgium tour. I don’t think of life here as an adventure so much as a healthy relationship with nature that manifests in a largely outdoor lifestyle.

If your community needs an interpretive plan to help tie the local stories together into a central message or theme, we can help. It’s worth the effort . . . and better than a recycled tagline.

– Tim Merriman

Teach a Child to Give

Giving is a behavior that children learn from parents and role models. Giving gifts is one of the traditions built into our winter holidays. Some give toys, clothes and games to their kids. Some give their kids money. There are some other opportunities in this season that might be good to think about.

We can certainly give our kids some of the things they want and will enjoy. We could also add an amount of money that will be given to charities and involve the youngsters in making the decision about where to donate it. You might even let them deliver the check or enter the credit card information on a website and be directly involved in the transaction. Or it could be as simple as handing them change or currency at the grocery store to put in the familiar red buckets of the Salvation Army.

We could also look for that volunteer opportunity at a church or a community charity that delivers gifts to others. We could help prepare a meal shared with others who would not have it otherwise. We could go shopping for toys with our kids that they will turn around and donate to a holiday program that gives toys to kids not getting a holiday gift.

javelinaZoos, museums, nature centers, aquariums, and historic sites can create a holiday program that invites young people to contribute small items or small amounts of money. The Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum has a bronze javelina piggy bank on the entry plaza to their facilities, an obvious way to get kids to ask mom and dad for coins to drop into this familiar savings icon. Think about what you might do around these holidays so heavily built on gifts that shift the message from “What do I get?” to “What can I give?”

Recent events at a school in Connecticut and a theater in Colorado remind us of how fragile life is. Young people are barraged with messages that are all about getting more things. Many of us actually do not need more things as much as we need to reconnect with the value of helping others. In this holiday season, perhaps we can all look for that chance to help someone else. The gift we receive is one of understanding that the best “things” in life are not “things.”

Family, love, and sharing special moments with our children or friends is a gift. We transcend the meaning of giving ourselves when we teach our children to give. They will have a greater appreciation for and understanding of what is really important in life if they learn to give of themselves. And it could start this holiday season.

Happy Holidays to all of you. We hope you have a chance to give something special to your children, the gift of giving. It’s a gift that lasts a lifetime.

Lisa Brochu and Tim Merriman

Join Us On Safari Feb. 5-16 to Tanzania

An African elephant female cares for her youngster for years.

An African elephant female cares for her youngster for years.

If a safari in Africa is on your bucket list, there will never be a better time than now to visit the Serengeti in Tanzania. A proposal to build a highway across this pristine plain could threaten the wildlife migrations of the future. We hope it will not be built but too often this kind of “progress” gets in the way of protection of great parks and the resources they contain.

February 5 to 16 is very special timing for visiting Tanzania because that is when more than a million animals migrate from the Serengeti to the Maasai Mara in Kenya. Hundreds of thousands of female wildebeests drop their young within a two or three day period in February. This is a protective synchronous birthing that puts so many young on the ground in a short period that predators cannot greatly hurt the population. However, lions, leopards, cheetah and hyena are abundant and visible along the way taking advantage of easy hunting as long as it lasts.

Download the PDF Itinerary – Feb. 2013 12-Day Tanzania Safari – Questions – 970-231-0537 or

tanzaniaThe last time we were in Tanzania we watched a cheetah anticipating an easy meal when an unsuspecting baby Tompson’s gazelle began slowly wandering directly toward the waiting cat. We watched with trepidation for the gazelle and hopes for the cat finding a meal at the same time. When the gazelle, only a few days old, was just ten yards or so from the adult cheetah, the cat vaulted toward it and the chase was on. The cat would zig and zag as the gazelle changed directions, but in less than twenty seconds the small, but lightning fast prey animal took just one more sudden shift in direction and the cat was left far behind, still hungry. Even at two or three days old this gazelle was well-equipped to evade one of the most talented hunters on the Serengeti. I confess we all cheered when the gazelle escaped, though we hoped the cheetah would be more successful in the future.

This trip is appropriate for all ages from 12 and older.

This trip is appropriate for all ages from 12 and older.

Our 2013 ten-day journey across Tanzania begins on arrival in Arusha. We head immediately into Tarangire National Park, to find giraffes, baboons, zebras, and large numbers of elephants among giant baobab trees along with lions, leopards, and cheetahs. Just when you think it can’t get any better, it does, as we take a walk in Mto wa Mbu (Mosquito Creek) for a cultural tour through this town that has members of almost all of the 119 tribes of Tanzania. We drink banana beer, visit the local market, chat with artists and wood carvers and end up with a wonderful lunch prepared by local women. Then we’re off to Lake Manyara and a chance to see massed flamingos, hippos, elephants and possibly the tree-climbing lions of the area. Baboons, monkeys, eagles and colorful birds are abundant along the way.

The next couple of days are spent in the Ngorogoro Crater Wildlife Preserve and surrounding Maasai villages. The crater has rare black rhinos, lots of hyenas, lions, elephants, bustards, ostriches and jackals, all easily seen with opportunities for the photographs of a lifetime. A visit to a Maasai village gives you a unique understanding of the more than half million people who still live as herders of cattle and goats in the plains of Tanzania and Kenya.

We leave Ngorogoro and stop at Olduvai Gorge where Mary and Louis Leakey made amazing discoveries of extinct hominids. If you have heard of the origins of modern man traced to eastern Africa, here you get to see where hominid footprints were found and some of the oldest skulls and skeletons of man’s relatives were uncovered.

The zebra and wildebeest migration in the Serengeti is amazing.

The zebra and wildebeest migration in the Serengeti is amazing.

Perhaps the highlight of the trip is the tent camp in Serengeti National Park. Each of the previous game drives will already have been incredibly rich, but here the wildlife show will make you feel as though you’ve stepped right into the pages of a National Geographic magazine spread. Hundreds of thousands of animals will be on the move. Your camera lens will be filled with zebras and wildebeest interspersed with large herds of Tompson’s and Grant’s gazelles. Big cats of all the kinds found in Africa are abundant here and easy to find. Our skilled guides from Safari Legacy have been taking people to see these incredible wildlife migrations for decades, so although the open safari vehicles provide clear access to photographs with nothing between you and the animals, you can feel safe and secure (as long as you stay in the vehicle).

Tent camping in the Serengeti has all the romance you might imagine. Each tent has either a double or two single beds with comfortable mattresses, a hot shower, a toilet, a sink and a nice seating area with incomparable views. The camp area includes a large open-sided lounge area with a bar and comfortable couches. You spend evenings eating great food together around a long table in the lounge area and enjoying a Tusker beer or glass of wine. There is no TV or radio, so conversation is broken only by the sounds of wildlife as the animals wander past (or sometimes through) the camp.

Leopard with its young.

Leopard with its young.

At $4,995 for the tour experience, your lodging, vehicles, guides, meals and entry fees to parks are completely covered. You pay additionally for the flight to Arusha, guide tips, any alcoholic beverages, and of course, souvenirs or extra services such as laundry. This is a safe, comfortable experience that gives unparalleled exposure to the wildlife and people of one of the most amazing places on the planet. Sadly, it is all changing and a journey of this quality may not be possible for much longer.

Join us – we already have enough signed up to go, but we do have a few open seats in this small group. We hope you will consider taking one or two of them by yourself, or with a friend or significant other. Though we can never promise exactly what will happen since spontaneity is what characterizes this unique experience, we can promise it will become one of your most treasured memories. Download the complete itinerary and registration information or call us if you have any questions at 970-231-0537. Download the Feb. 2013 12-Day Tanzania Safari.

Tim Merriman and Lisa Brochu

hipposP.S. We need your firm reservation by Dec. 31, 2012.

Where Do I Come From?

Interpretation of natural and cultural heritage often makes us wonder, “Where do I come from?”  Especially for Americans, Canadians, Australians and the many other countries that have been cultural melting pots, history beyond the past generation or two can seem very distant. Now, helping people learn about their deepest roots has never been so easy.

Screen Shot 2012-11-30 at 8.42.29 AMThe National Geographic Society has been working since 2005 on an amazing program, The Genographic Project (GP). Dr. Spencer Wells is the Harvard/Stanford educated population geneticist who directs this project. His research over two decades has taken him all over the world to collect genetic information from indigenous populations.  In 2005 the public was invited to send in their genetic information in the form of cheek cells and now more than 500,000 individuals are in the database.

I have done genealogical research into my own family roots and I lose my patrilineal line in Stewart County, Tennessee due to a courthouse that burned, destroying all records. I like tracking my recent ancestors, but this is not that kind of research. The GP does not track my individual genes back through recent ancestors. offers some options for those interested in genetic testing of a more specific nature. This testing also does not check for medical markers used by to identify inherited diseases.

The Genographic Project 2.0 uses 150,000 genetic markers identified in the GP1.0. These markers identify specific gene sequences that map the route of migration your ancestors took over the past 200,000 years.  If you have ever wondered where you come from, you’ve had the answer inside you all along. Your genetic sequence includes markers from distant communities in which your ancestors lived in the past. You have your genetic footprints in the nucleus of every cell in your body.

The price of a Genographic 2.0 test kit is $199.95 and it will take you two months to get results. A simple swab of each of your inner cheeks collects cells, which contain the chromosomes needed for testing. You swab, push the swab tip into a tiny test tube they provide to preserve the cells, slip it all into a pre-addressed envelope and send it off to the lab in Houston. Six to eight weeks later you look up your assigned number and letter code on the Internet and get the results. We sent ours off this week and now must be patient as we wait to see where it all leads. Like many families in the U.S., we are very mixed in ethnic background and have heard that we might have some Native American ancestry. Do we really? I’ll find out through this.

Teachers can get a discount for using this program educationally and a special section of the Geno 2.0 website provides resources for the classroom. A portion of the fees for the test kit goes to the Genographic Legacy Fund that assists indigenous communities in a variety of ways, a feature that we like very much.

This is a non-profit program and the Frequently Asked Questions page of the website really fills in the blanks, if you wonder why this is useful and different from other forms of genetic testing. I’ll report back on what we learn on this journey into our genetic past. Just wish I had gotten the patience gene.

– Tim Merriman