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Adventure Travel

Aug 18, 2017

Searching for Wild Chimpanzees Part 1: Languishing on the Liemba

A journey to find some of Africa's last remaining wild chimpanzees starts (somewhat un-fittingly) with a ride on the world's oldest passenger/cargo steamer—a WWI warship that's been trudging along since 1913.

WRITTEN BY

Sarah Kingdom

Click Here to Read Part 2: Marvellous Mahale 

Waiting in Mpulungu, we seemed to be the only people in Zambia who knew the Liemba was coming…

The Liemba is a passenger and cargo ferry that runs along the eastern shores of Lake Tanganyika, stopping along the way to pick up and drop off passengers, between the ports of Mpulungu in Zambia and Kigoma in Tanzania.

Built in Germany in 1913, the Liemba (initially called the Goetzen) was taken apart, packed into 5000 boxes and shipped to Dar es Salaam (at that time part of German East Africa). From Dar es Salaam the boxes were taken by train to Kigoma, where she was finally rebuilt and launched onto the lake in February 1915.

During the First World War the Liemba was converted into a German gunboat, and was one of the three ships the Germans used to control Lake Tanganyika during the early part of the war. The Goetzen initially gave the Germans complete supremacy on Lake Tanganyika. She ferried cargo and personnel across the lake, and provided a base from which to launch surprise attacks on Allied troops. In July 2016 during the German retreat from Kigoma, her captain had her scuttled in order to avoid the ship falling into Allied hands.

Luckily, the engineers in charge of scuttling the ship loaded it with sand and covered the engines with a thick layer of grease before carefully sinking her, this meant she would be well preserved despite ultimately spending over a decade under water. There was an initial, and not entirely successful attempt to salvage the Liemba/Gotzen by the Belgians in 1918. In 1924, a British Royal Navy salvage team eventually raised her and finding the layers of grease had preserved the engines they decided to rehabilitate it. In 1927 she returned to service as the Liemba. Today the Liemba is the last vessel of the German Imperial Navy still actively sailing anywhere in the world.

The Liemba has had a colourful past. From cargo and passengers, to naval gun ship and back. She was the inspiration for the CS Forrester’s novel ‘The African Queen’ and the subsequent movie starring Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart. In 1997 the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees used the Liemba to help repatriate more than 75,000 refugees who had fled Zaire during the First Congo War. In May 2015 she was used again by the United Nations, this time to evacuate 50,000 refugees fleeing from the troubles in Burundi. The Liemba has now settled down to a more sedate, if rather unreliable, ferry service.

Ferry operations ostensibly run twice a month between Kigoma and Mpulungu, though we found ourselves waiting in Mpulungu for a ferry that everyone said wasn’t coming. Despite having it on good authority that the Liemba was on its way (we knew a guy working onboard), the port authorities in Mpulungu were adamant it would not be arriving that day, the next day, or in fact any day in the foreseeable future! We waited patiently, and finally it appeared on the horizon, forcing the staff at the port to concede we perhaps were right after all.

Accommodation on the Liemba ranges from a handful of first class cabins, to seating for up to 600 third class passengers. We managed to secure ourselves one of the first class rooms, though remove all images of the QE2 from your mind when picturing our ‘state room’! We had a bunk bed that took up half the room, a small sink in one corner, one plastic garden chair and thankfully, a working fan. As third class is situated below decks in the sweltering bowels of the boat, the bulk of the passengers seem to sleep on deck, arranged in an array of yoga-like of positions, on all available surfaces. One family had come well prepared with a large double bed mattress that they ensconced themselves on for their journey. It was not uncommon to find someone had gone to sleep in our doorway blocking the only way out of our cabin.

There are docks at Kigoma, Mpulungu and Kipili but at all other stops passengers and goods have to travel between ship and shore on small local boats. This provided hours of entertainment for us passengers, watching with amusement, as joining or departing passengers had to scrabble from one bouncing boat to another, sometimes in the middle of the night. Watching from the upper decks I saw ‘generously proportioned’ ladies in their ‘Sunday best’ and toting large handbags, being hoisted unceremoniously aboard, babies were passed like packages from one set of arms to another; all the while the oarsmen on the smaller boats struggled to keep things relatively stable, and countless instructions and advice were shouted from all directions.

We had left Mpulungu basically empty, doubtless because no one in Zambia, aside from us, knew the Liemba was coming and no one had time to prepare any cargo or get ready to travel themselves. With each stop along the way passengers boarded and the empty hold gradually filled up with bags of grain and an endless variety of other cargo, the ships crane working overtime. Having started in Zambia with a few boxes of apples and oranges and apparently very little else in the way of cargo, by day two the deck was full of chickens and ducks, clucking and quacking, numerous motorbikes and bicycles and an extensive and aromatic collection of dried fish heading to market.  We woke one morning to discover two large containers full of live tropical fish had somehow been hoisted aboard and were now ensconced like giant aquariums, complete with filters, on the foredeck.

Travelling at a ‘stately speed’ of 11 knots/20km an hour… half way through day three we passed our destination, the remote and inaccessible Mahale Mountains National Park, and thirty minutes later it was our turn to clamber down the side of the Liemba and into one of the flotilla of wooden boats who were waiting below to ferry passengers to Lagosa. Six boatmen wielding homemade wooden oars paddled us to shore, while we balanced our luggage precariously on our laps and a guy with a bucket worked even harder than the oarsmen, bailing out the bottom of the leaky vessel.

Reaching shore, with a quick haggle over the cost of our ‘water taxi ride’, we were back on dry land and ready to start the next leg of our journey to Mahale and some of the last remaining wild chimpanzees in Africa

The Outdoor Voyage: Go Trekking with Rwanda’s Gorillas. 

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Focus

Jul 22, 2018

Why We Need to Separate Friluftsliv from Adventure

The Scandinavian philosophy of friluftsliv focuses on enlightenment through spiritual oneness with nature. The contemporary context, however, misleads us into believing that performing adventure sports in nature is a means to achieve friluftsliv. To be honest, it really isn't.

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WRITTEN BY

Jahnvi Pananchikal

That summer, I thought I was on a hiking adventure like any other. In the clean air of wilderness, we hiked through rocks and green pastures while passing by streams of water under clear blue skies. Since the point of most hikes is to reach the top to see a panoramic view, I was curious about how this top would look like. I was with my host family and we didn’t speak the same language. With gestures and a few words, they had mentioned going to the mountains on the previous day. I said yes, obviously.

To my surprise, the narrow passage up the rocks covered in shrubbery opened up to a frozen stream. It was larger than my entire world, with no visible horizon. To a 15-year-old, it was a manifestation of “stairway to heaven.” This was the epic Briksdal Glacier in Norway.

Photo Credit: Christine Wang

At the time, I didn’t make much of my host family’s indulgence in nature and weekly trips to the mountains, lakes, glaciers, and forests of different kinds. I was a young student pursuing high school in UWC Red Cross Nordic and visited them occasionally.

Even in school, I didn’t understand the high emphasis on outdoor and adventure, the weekly skiing or hiking trips, or the importance of an entire week organised just for skiing in nature.

Then I learned about friluftsliv in Norway, which literally translates into “open air life.” That’s when I discovered a contradiction in its historical context and contemporary practice.

Friluftsliv appeared while I was digging further into the history of the Norwegian law allemannsrett. The law promotes friluftsliv and translates into “all man’s right.” Through the Outdoor Recreation Act, Norway institutionalized this law to give freedom and access to anyone who wishes to traverse the countryside and camp or picnic wherever, without having to worry about trespassing violations. The law encourages freedom with responsibility and gives free access to nature, while expecting a certain level of mindfulness and respect for the earth and the private landowners. The law has been a traditional right since the Viking period and was institutionally implemented under the Act in 1957.

Photo Credit: Vidar Stenset

As a concept, friluftsliv finds a significant place in Scandinavian history and culture, particularly in Norway and Sweden. This rich philosophy is deeply embedded in the pursuit of spiritual oneness between humans and nature.  It was popularized by writer Henrik Ibsen in his poem back in 1859, where he wrote, “this is friluftsliv for my thoughts,” while looking into the stove and sitting alone in a cottage amidst nature [1]. Later, ecological philosopher Arne Naess extensively wrote about friluftsliv in his books that focused on the positive spiritual impact of the natural environment on human beings and their evolution.

Both Ibsen and Naess highlighted friluftsliv as a state of mind which doesn’t necessarily require any physical activity. One can feel this “open air life” while doing nothing, and simply sitting and staring at the stove. All that is needed to experience this blissful state is to be in the context of nature.

That said, I’m not sure if the two thinkers would feel drawn to the interpretation and use of friluftsliv in the contemporary context. What I experienced in nature with my host family and at my school wasn’t friluftsliv. They didn’t promise that either. Many Norwegians and Swedes, however, are invited by commercial companies to experience this state of mind in nature with outdoor activities like hiking, skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, and so on. But this sense of adventure doesn’t necessarily carry the true philosophical meaning and value of friluftsliv .

Photo Credit: Orca Tec

Changing contextual meaning may not be a problem for some who see a certain business sense in it. The idea of friluftsliv is attractive because it offers the possibility of enlightenment and higher consciousness. Surely, the ones who are invited to experience it in nature at a ski resort would be naturally drawn to it. That speaks positively of the customers who want to become better human beings. But it definitely doesn’t portray the resorts and tourism boards in a positive light. Such methods depict them as people who promote the wrong direction for the right goal.  A family at a ski resort may get really confused about why they haven’t felt friluftsliv yet. It would be a shame for them to sit around and wait for this philosophical state of mind to happen in a context that is far from it.

Personally, I am interested in the pursuit of both friluftsliv and adventure. But I think it’s important to keep the two separate and not use them interchangeably when it is convenient to do so. While reading more about this idea, I gathered that Scandinavian thinkers seem upset about the commercial sector using friluftsliv in the context of adventure. In the name of outdoor activities, the deeply philosophical experience is reduced to a superficial pursuit.

Ecology is one area where Scandinavia has much to offer to the world. In few countries like Norway and Sweden where laws are mindful of nature, using language and terms in the right context is an important social responsibility. Separating friluftsliv and adventure sports would only help clarify the means of achieving the two ends. Both are necessary and impactful on the body, mind, and soul in their own ways. With that clarity, people can be guided in the right direction to achieve the right goals.

[1] Friluftsliv: The Scandinavian Philosophy of Outdoor Life Hans Gelter, Luleå University of Technology, Sweden

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