Not All Who Wander Are Lost: A Blog for Adventurous Women

We Cannot Be Safe, We Are Not in Danger

Posted by Marian Marbury on Jan 12, 2016 8:40:17 AM

I woke up this morning to the news that a bomb had gone off in Sultanahmet, the Old City of Istanbul. Along with sadness for the victims and wondering who they were and what they had been doing when the blast occurred, I wondered how it would affect the thinking of the women who are signed up for our trip to Turkey next fall. And I thought of how two realities that appear to be contradictory are in fact simultaneously true.

We cannot be safe. Helen Keller recognized this long ago. Many people know the last sentence of a famous quote: "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing" - often interpreted to mean that we should live our lives adventurously or they are empty.

But that really isn't what she was saying. The whole quote is "Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. God Himself is not secure, having given man dominion over His works! Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold. Faith alone defends. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable." 

Her point is that no matter what we choose, the belief that we can be safe is an illusion. While she was writing before random acts of terror became almost common, she lived through the two World Wars and the Great Depression, surely times that felt as insecure and uncertain as our own. She lived during a time that over 50,00 people a year died in car accidents in the U.S. We cannot be safe, whether we stay home or travel widely.

We are not in danger. At the same time, most of the world's population, and especially in the United States, is not at risk of sudden unexpected death from a bomb blast. Of course there are places in the world where that isn't true - Syria most obviously right now - and the terror of living with that as a daily reality must be more horrendous than most of us can imagine. For those who lost loved ones in Sultanahmet Square or San Bernadino, it cannot be any comfort to know how unlikely the death of their loved ones was.

But how many of us have lost people we know that way? When I think back to people I know who have died unexpectedly, it was car accidents, cycling accidents, boating accidents. None of those made me think I should give up driving, biking, or boating. Like the vast majority of people in the U.S., I don't know anyone who has died in a terrorist attack. With the exception of a friend who lost her sister on 9/11, I don't know anyone who knows anyone who died in a terrorist incident. The purpose of terrorism is not the deaths it causes but the fear it instills, and how that fear cripples us and reorders our priorities.

At the same time, we have to acknowledge that we cannot enjoy travel if we are gripped by fear. Fear is largely an emotion that cannot be conquered by rationality. If we know we will be constantly worried about our safety and we feel more comfortable staying in the United States, than that is the choice we should make. North America is an amazing continent with tons to explore.

Understand, however, that if we wait until we feel safe, there are large parts of the world that we will probably never see. It seems unlikely that, in my lifetime, the world will have the illusion of safety it did in the 1990s. If we decide not to go someplace this year, we are likely deciding not to go ever.

Topics: adventure travel, safety

Making an impact through charitable contributions: resources for informed giving

Posted by Anne Flueckiger on Dec 28, 2015 6:39:13 PM

Editor's note: I asked Anne Flueckiger, who is a guide and is also trained in evaluation research, to help us make decisions about where to donate money this year. I also asked her to write a blog post about charitable giving.

Did you know that a leading charity-research group recommends giving to a single,specific charity this year? (Read on if you're curious which one and why; there's a good chance you haven't heard of it.) GivingUSA reports that individual donors represented 72% of total charitable giving in 2014. Whether you have $50 or $5,000 to give, you want to feel confident that an organization will use your donation effectively to make a difference in your community or in the wider world.


Many of us donate to (or volunteer for) local nonprofits such as an arts center, food pantry, animal shelter, or youth-serving program. Perhaps we ourselves benefit from the work a group does, or we can directly observe the positive impact the organization has on our community. Small nonprofits tend to have limited resources for evaluating their programs, but an organization's annual report should at least provide an overview of what they have accomplished.

Several "charity watchdog" groups rate nonprofit organizations on how well they meet standards for financial transparency, fundraising efficiency, etc. These rating systems have been heavily criticized for a variety of reasons, one of which is that the ratings don't tell a potential donor anything meaningful about the effectiveness of an organization's work. A nonprofit receives a high rating if it spends most of its revenue on delivering programs (v.s. on fundraising or the CEO's salary), but what if the programs delivered don't accomplish what was intended, or if initial good results don't have a lasting impact?

Since 2007, the founders of GiveWell have been trying to fill what they view as a void in independent, credible information on charity effectiveness and impact. They believe that donors can do the most good with their dollar(s) by helping very poor people in the developing world, and their research points to malaria nets, de-worming, and direct cash transfers as the most effective ways to do this. GiveWell takes into consideration whether a highly-effective organization is funded to capacity or could quickly put to use additional funding. The "underfunded" factor led to their recommendation of the Against Malaria Foundation as the charity most deserving of your donation in 2015. If you're willing to be slightly less effective, another charity that has reduced childhood mortality is Living Goods, through which women in several African countries sell health products and provide basic health counseling in their communities.

If you're not familiar with cash transfers, it simply means "giving people money." You may have heard of, or perhaps participated in, "micro-lending" programs which provide a way for average citizens to lend a small amount of money to a poor person somewhere in the world so they can start or expand a small business. Micro-lending (in various forms) remains a widely-used strategy to help the poor, but the practice has come under significant criticism, leading some researchers and development workers to advocate for direct cash transfers instead. Evaluation of cash-transfer programs is ongoing; in the meantime, if this kind of giving appeals to you, GiveWell recommends GiveDirectly which distributes cash to very poor households in Kenya and Uganda.

Two good sources for current research on reducing global poverty are Innovations for Poverty Action and Center for Global Development. An organization called AidGrade synthesizes research on international development and compiles it in a database that donors can use. GiveWell has a new initiative called the Open Philanthropy Project which looks into U.S.-based issues such as criminal justice reform, biosecurity, and farm animal welfare but this work has not yet led to charitable donation recommendations.

Note: To confirm the nonprofit status of any organization, visit <> For local nonprofits you can also consult your state's Secretary of State website. Charity Navigator maintains a "Donor Advisory" list of organizations that are under investigation or have had a complaint filed.

Tomorrow we'll share where we decided to donate this year.

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Patagonia in Pictures

Posted by Marian Marbury on Sep 2, 2015 1:36:44 PM

Patagonia is a vast, sparsely populated region of South America. Encompassing parts of both Argentina and Chile, it stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean and is known for the towering peaks of the southern Andes, as well as steppes, grasslands, and even desert. Rugged and windswept, for years it was known as the province of cattle ranchers and outlaws. The inhabitants have changed over the years, particularly with the advent of airports and better roads, but its beauty is no less compelling than it ever has been. Fortunately for hikers and climbers (and wildlife!) both Argentina and Chile have preserved some of the most iconic areas in National Parks, and it is those we visit on our Adventures in Patagonia trip.


The small and very charming town of El Chalten is the entry way to Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina. The largest spire is Mt Fitzroy; Cerro Torres is over to the left.


Hiking toward Mt Fitzroy. Fitzroy is one of the most technically challenging mountains for climbers in the world and also the basis of the logo for Patagonia clothing. The clothing company was founded by Yves Chouinard, a mountaineer who climbed it in 1968.


While largely known for its mountain spires, Los  Glaciares also has some gorgeous lakes. This is Laguna Capri and there is definitely a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow.


One of the most common adjectives used to characterize Patagonia is windswept. As these trees demonstrate, it's an apt description.


Cerro Torre is the other iconic spire that Los Glaciares is known for. The story surrounding its supposed first ascent by Cesar Maestri is quite intriguing and was hugely controversial until later ascents helped debunk it. You can read a fuller account here.


Patagonia isn't all mountains though. It's vast steppes support a robust ranching industry and sheep are an important part. In fact barbecued lamb is a national specialty.


Guanacos are the parent species of llamas. Although considered endangered in much of Patagonia, they are protected form hunting and are quite common in Torres del Paine National Park in Chile.


The spires behind this glacial lake are the famous Torres del Paine, three spires that present formidable rock climbing challenges. 


Weather is one of the challenges of hiking here but also has its own beauty.


And the sunsets are legendary.

Is Patagonia one of the most beautiful places on earth? We think so. Join us for Adventures in Patagonia next March!


This is our first "photoblog" of one of the places we go. Let us know what you think.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Adventure Travelers

Posted by Marian Marbury on Jun 2, 2015 9:58:21 AM

Having been in the adventure travel business for over 16 years, we've seen a lot of people have truly amazing experiences during their travels. What habits do they cultivate?

1. Responds with flexibility to unanticipated changes. While all group trips have a schedule, the likelihood that the itinerary will go awry on adventure trips is greater. The effective adventure traveler knows that the itinerary is a guideline, not a promise. And of course she always carries good rain gear and snacks in her daypack.

2. Lets go of goal orientation. She truly embraces the saying "It's the journey, not the destination." Sometimes that's harder than other times. But its possible even when you trained for climbing Mt Kilimanjaro for 5 months and the worst weather in 20 years descended on the mountain the week of your summit attempt, making an attempt impossible.

3. Practices patience. Group adventure travel is pretty much guaranteed to try your patience at some point, whether it's the other people in your group, the guide, the food, the accommodations, the weather, the logistics snafus.  The effective adventure traveler recognizes when she is becoming impatient, takes a deep breath, and realizes how lucky she is to be where she is and doing what she’s doing.

4. Takes things as they are. On an adventure trip, particularly when traveling in other countries, everything will be different- food, customs, etiquette, time sense etc. The effective adventure traveler embraces those differences as part of why she chose to visit that country, rather than comparing everything to an external standard (often how it is at home). She sees herself as a travel Ambassador who wants to respect and understand the differences.

5. Knows the level of challenge she enjoys and prepares for it. She knows that at the end of vacation, she wants to feel refreshed and rejuvenated, not exhausted and drained. With that in mind, the effective adventure traveler chooses adventures that either match her current level of fitness or require a level of fitness that she can reasonably commit to achieving.

6. Stays present - or knows when she is choosing not to. The effective adventure traveler doesn’t distract herself from where she is by checking in at home, surfing the net, or immersing herself in a good book. She may choose to do any or all those things, but it is always a choice not a habit.

7. Laughs at herself. Whenever she starts getting bent out shape about how things aren’t going as she expected or starts beating herself up for some way she wasn’t adequately prepared, she takes a step back and enjoys the total absurdity of the moment and recognizes that everyone, including herself, is doing the best job they possibly can.

Some of these may seem more like personality characteristics than habits. But each is a habit of mind, a practice, that can be cultivated – if that seems worthwhile to you. Take patience as an example. Yes, some people seem to be naturally more patient than others. But anyone can learn to recognize when she is feeling impatient and, more importantly, choose to redirect or reframe whatever she is feeling. The great thing is that many of these habits not only help you get more out of travel, they're pretty useful habits in the rest of life too.

Topics: adventure travel

AGC meets GoodReads: The Booklist from our latest women's hiking trip

Posted by Jan Latham on Apr 28, 2015 7:06:02 AM

One of the many pleasures of women's hiking trip is that often the talk turns to books that readingwe're currently reading or that we particularly enjoyed. With any luck some enterprising soul volunteers to write the list down and then share it with everyone. And if the stars align, it actually happens. 

We've decided that when that happens, we should share it with you. This list was compiled by the hikers on Wildflowers and Waterfalls: Exploring the Great Smokies.

  1. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love by Lisa See

  2. Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar

  3. 11/22/63 by Stephen King

  4. Beyond the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

  5. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

  6. A Piece of Cake by Cupcake Brown (This is a memoir.)

  7. This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett 

  8. Five Days at Memorial Life: Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink

  9. Boys in the Boat by Daniel Brown

  10. Elephant Company by Vicki Croke

I love the variety of fiction and non-fiction and definitely see some new books to try! Thanks, hikers.

Topics: books

How to Train for Your Next Hiking Trip

Posted by Marian Marbury on Apr 8, 2015 6:52:33 PM

The correct title for this should probably be "How I'm training for my next hiking trip". Everyone is different and has their own ways of getting ready for a hiking trip so take this for what it's worth. But I'm pretty typical in many ways (I've never done a marathon in my life) and I'm getting ready for two challenging trips: Trekking in Nepal: the Mustang Region June 6 - 22 and Trekking to Machu Picchu July 29 - August 8. Being unprepared is not an option.

So first - it's at the end of a long winter. My last trip was in October and after I returned from CanadianRockiesCelebthat trek, I took about 3 weeks off where I didn't do more than walk the dogs every day. After that I started going to the gym 4 or 5 days a week (I'm extremely fortunate to be a 7 minute walk from a women's gym) where I worked out on an elliptical machine for about 30 minutes at a moderate pace (translation: I was breathing hard but I could still talk). I used to run but creaky joints made that uncomfortable and the elliptical is non-jarring. This is enough to keep me reasonably fit. Throw in a little stretching afterwards and the whole thing was about 40 minutes. I began telling myself I needed to prepare more in mid-February and finally in mid-March I actually started. This is what I am doing. The first 2 are on the elliptical and the third is on a stairmaster.

  1. Twice a week I do intervals. In a 30 minute period, I warm up for 5 minutes then I alternate cycles of a minute of working really hard with a minute of much less intense effort (the recovery period) for 20 minutes (so 10 cycles) and then end with 5 minutes of cooling down. Some days I can push myself harder than other days. A lot of research proves that this improves aerobic conditioning more effectively then longer periods of more moderate activity. I'm adding 2 minutes every week until I get to 40 minutes.

  2. Twice a week I do a longer moderate workout, at about the same level of effort that I was doing during my winter downtime. I started with 40 minutes and every three weeks I add another 5 minutes until I get to 60 minutes. The main purpose of this is to build endurance.

  3. Twice a week I workout on a StairMaster to combine aerobic training, endurance, and muscular conditioning in a way that mimics the long hills I'll be climbing. This feels like the hardest thing I do and I've found the key is to start slowly each time and build gradually and then do a series of intervals that are longer than a minute but where the pace is increasing or decreasing every minute  (e.g. 1 minute at 7, then 8, then 9, then 10, then 9, then 8, then 7). It must be working because today 10 felt easier than a month ago. I do a total of 30 minute and I plan to very gradually increase to 40 while also increasing the highest level I go to.

  4. Twice a week I also do sets of lunges and squats, along with a couple of upper body and triceps exercises. I started with 3  sets of each and have now worked up to 4 with the plan to go to 5, also increasing the hand weights I use while I do them. I also do abdominal exercises of some sort right before I stretch every day. I should do more weightlifting but I don't enjoy it, and this seems what I can make myself do. I know from long experience that my knees will be incredibly grateful on the long downhills.

  5. Now that the weather is nice, I plan to start hiking every Saturday. It's a truism that the best training for hiking is hiking and if I lived somewhere I could easily hike more often, that's what I'd do. I hike in the Baltimore-DC area and if you want to join me for a hike, please shoot me an email.

  6. But wait, does that mean I never take a day off?! No. I say twice a week but it can be more like 6 out of 8 days if something interferes or if I start feeling too tired. Sometimes when I'm tired I make myself workout anyway and it peps me up. But if it doesn't, if I'm slogging thru mud, then I take the next day off.

This may sound like more than you want to do. Honestly, its more than I want to do on a regular basis. But I'm really looking forward to both trips and I know that I will be grateful for every ounce of extra energy I'll have then from the training I do now.


Topics: hiking, health and fitness, trip preparation

Choosing the right active vacation

Posted by Marian Marbury on Mar 27, 2015 12:16:20 PM

In rock climbing lingo, the definition of "sandbag" is: "A climb which receives a much lower grade than steepclimbdeserved. Also used as a verb when referring to the act of describing a climbing route as easier than it actually is." This under-rating isn't intentional -  the rating is assigned by the first person to climb it and reflects their own experience, skills, and climbing quirks. What feels like a sandbag to me might feel spot on to you.

There is probably no topic on our active vacations, trip evaluations, and even our guide retreats that engenders more discussion than the topic of the ratings for our trips. Our goal, always, is to get you on a trip that delights you and meets your expectations. Choosing a trip with the appropriate degree of challenge is one part of that.

Your personal experience of how challenging a trip will be are a complex interplay of at least 5 factors:

  1. your fitness level; 
  2. how many hours of hiking, kayaking etc the trip requires; 
  3. your amount of experience with the activity;
  4. the current conditions (especially weather); 
  5. your personal reaction to all of the above.

Fitness and activity:
Our ratings system is primarily based on fitness and length of activity. None of our trips are suitable for women who are completely sedentary. A rating of 3 is often interpreted as moderate and it is - but its moderate for a woman who regularly engages in aerobic activity, either jogging, biking, working out a gym, or power walking. Women who are very active during the day but whose regular exercise is walking mostly on the flat will find that trips rated 3 are pretty challenging.

Previous experience: 
Previous experience in the activity is also a key factor. We try to address that in the section of the trip description called "Is This the Right Trip For You", especially in the Ratings section. Here we describe why it has the rating it does and whether it's appropriate for novices or whether some or alot of previous experience is suggested.

But experience isn't everything. A few years ago on our Canadian Rockies Hiking Holiday we had 2 hikers of very different experience levels, one having hiked a couple of times in the Colorado Rockies and the other having hiked in a variety of places, including several trips with us. On one descent from a pass the trail goes through a scree field, i.e. there are lots of small rocks. Most people, unless they have lots of experience hiking on similar trails, find they have to pick their way down carefully. On this particular trip, the woman who had less experience wasn't bothered by the trail and came down easily. The more experienced hiker had a lot of trouble, felt totally unprepared by our description, and was exhausted at the end. I personally hate descending on trails that are hardpacked with lots of tiny little slippery rocks and can pretty much count on feeling tired at the end of the descent if its more than 30 minutes. We all have our personal reaction to different conditions. Experience helps - I've learned how to safely go down those trails with hiking poles - but I'll never enjoy them or find them easy. And of course the only way to gain the necessary experience is to do them. Experience can, to a degree, also compensate for lower levels of fitness because of the efficiency learned over the years. An experienced less fit hiker/paddler will often have more energy at the end of the day than an inexperienced hiker/paddler who is more fit. This is particularly true if the conditions (weather, footing) are challenging.

Current conditions:
Whenever you're engaged in an outdoor adventure (i.e. any of our trips), there are always unpredictable conditions that can change the nature of the experience. A common one is weather. We have been offering kayaking trips in Belize for the last couple of years that we have rated 2 and 3 because there are options for how you balance relaxation time and activity time on some of the days. This year the initial day was quite windy on one trip with bigger rolling waves, and what had taken an hour and a half last year took three hours of hard paddling this year. Everyone successfully made the crossing but they definitely had to work harder than they expected. Based on this experience and the feedback of participants, we have decided to rate the trip as a 3, since we generally want to put the rating at the highest level that might be required for any one day. But next year if the water is calm, we might hear that it deserves a lower rating.

Personal Reaction:
The last factor, your personal reaction, is probably both the hardest to quantify and the most critical - often because you yourself won't know until you're in the middle of it. But that is also what makes something an adventure - we are outside our normal routine, trying new things in new places with new people, and in the process learning about ourselves. You might learn that you don't like something or that you really need something specific to be happy. Or you might learn that you can push yourself further and harder than you ever imagined. I was recently talking with someone who was interested in Trekking in Nepal, a trip that not only has challenging hiking but also a completely different culture and living standards than we are used to. She was quite fit but had done little hiking and no travel in a Third World country. Since I was confident she could do it physically, I told her that I thought it would be taking a big leap to go on the trek; but if that was what she was looking for, it would be an amazing experience.

Our ratings are meant to be a starting point, a way for you to start assessing whether a trip is appropriate for your fitness level. The itinerary will also give you additional information. But the itinerary can't give you context you don't have i.e. if the itinerary says that you will be hiking 4 hours with a 3000 foot elevation gain - but you've never hiked more than rolling hills - you can't have any way of knowing how that will feel. So if you're in any doubt whether a trip is going to be suitable, we want you to call us so we can talk about what your experience is, what you're looking for, and why you're interested in a particular trip. We don't want to sell you a trip, we don't want to talk you out of a trip, we want to help you choose the right trip for you. The last thing we want is for you to feel sandbagged.

Hiking Tips for Women

Topics: active travel, health and fitness, preparation

Getting ready for your next backpacking trip

Posted by Jan Latham on Feb 26, 2015 4:31:33 PM

I'm sitting here looking at a lot of snow and dreaming about being on the Appalachian Trail instead!  It does seem like a long time from now but it'll be here quickly.    So, to satisfy that urge to backpack, this time of year is when I begin to take a look at my 'stuff' to see what needs repair, replacement, or maybe just some CrossBridgegood old fashioned cleaning and rehabbing!  

If you're like me, even though I clean everything after each trip I don't always rehab it.  So, if you haven't throughly cleaned/rehabbed your clothing/equipment/boots lately --- especially your rain gear and down jackets/vests --- it may be a good idea to consider doing that.  The accumulation of oils from our skin and dirt/dust (from everywhere) does decrease the ability of our garments to function well --- they don't keep us as warm or as dry as when they were new. 

The best way to insure their continued efficiency is to throughly clean them occasionally --- how often really depends on how often you use them.  Doing this will definitely increase the longevity and function of your clothing and your equipment.  It is best to use products for cleaning that are recommended by the brand you own.  If you don't know what your brand coat for example recommends you can find out either online or by calling their 800 number. 

The other part of cleaning is the rehabbing -- waterproofing.   Just so you know, you can apply an after market waterproofing product on any garment even if it didn't start life as a water resistant or proof garment.  The after market product doesn't completely waterproof the item but it does give it more resistance to moisture which is sometimes all you need.  I don't recommend using this after market product on the more intimate items of clothing such as under garments or socks though.  

Here are a few websites that give both specific products and walk thru methods for cleaning/rehabbing.  I especially liked the YouTube video 'speed up' of washing clothes --- wish my clothes washed that quickly!  

Dreaming of the Appalachian Trail!

Ten ways to lose weight from your backpack - click here  


Topics: backpacking tips and trips

The Story of the Buff

Posted by Marian Marbury on Feb 20, 2015 2:14:27 PM

In our February newsletter, we talked about buffs- what they are, their many uses, and that we are starting to offer them as an option for women who go on a trip. But we had no idea where they came from until we received this email from our local partner in Spain. 

Hi Marian,

"Got a real chuckle at the February newsletter highlighting Buff.  DId you know it's a Spanish (well, Catalonian) company?  I have at least four buffs, and have been eyeing this year's models. BuffCindy

Short Buff story: the man who invented the thing was apparently using his neck gaiter from the military service (obligatory until not too long ago).  They're an ugly olive green and he decided that other colors just might sell to sports people.  In Spanish the name is the same as underwear for women:  braga.


All that is cute but....   not too long after they set up the company sometime in the 1990s, Buff funded a Spanish all-women team on a mega raid-adventure.   I don't remember the name of the raid, but it's something done every few years, funded by a millionaire who wanted to do some unusual giving-back.  The deal is (or was, maybe no longer happening) that teams of four people had a weeklong route, including hiking, probably some scrambling (not technical climbing), some water sport and maybe biking or horseback riding.  I think the team got 2 or 3 people for managing their supplies - but what was really unusual about this raid was that you signed up not knowing were it would be, and 2-3 weeks before it started you got a trip pack and had to plan everything in a short time:  when to cross the control points (that had a specific schedule), what to eat, what gear to take, and all that.   And they went to really isolated or underdeveloped areas.  No prizes, just a certificate for teams that completed the route in the stipulated time, with ALL the team members. 

The deal was of the team of four, one had to be a woman.  Thinking how to communicate and work together and all that, take the pace of the weakest member of the team (ummm).  The Spanish women team was the first all-woman team, and they needed to get funding. Government declined, but Buff said yes.  Buff got a lot of fabulous PR, used that in their adds for next few years  (rightly so!). And yes, all the photos of the women's team had Buffs somewhere in the shot. 

So what happened to the team?  They completed the route successfully and apparently even had fun. One of the blurbs was about them trying to get the rafts going in the right direction, amid gales and gales of laughter.  This route was so challenging that (so the story says) US Marines were seen sitting in tears next to the trail.  The women's team was praised for understanding that the spirit of the adventure was to test oneself, but also to have fun.

Just thought I'd share that with you, in case you didn't know. Makes the Buffs even better!"


Now that we know the history of the buff, we like them even more!!

Topics: clothing and gear

Ebola and travel to Africa: Is it safe?

Posted by Marian Marbury on Sep 17, 2014 11:03:19 AM

NOTE: I wrote this specifically for women who are signed up for our Kilimanajaro Climb and Safari next February, but I hope it is useful for anyone planning to travel to Africa in the next year. -- Marian

Safety is always our first priority at Adventures in Good Company, and we are constantly evaluating the safety of the places we go and the activities we're doing. While adventure travel often has inherent risks that are different than those of conventional travel, we believe that preparation and knowledge can minimize unnecessary risks. 

With constant stories about Ebola in the news, it is easy to wonder if you should be scared. If you are planning to climb Kilimanjaro this winter and you hear statements that the Ebola epidemic is out of control, and you have seen the movie Contagion, it is impossible not to have images of Kate Winslett dead in a body bag 24 hours after she started coughing. And the movie, with a little dramatic license, did accurately portray how a highly infectious respiratory virus could spread quickly around the world, causing panic and social chaos. One of these days a strain of bird flu may mutate and cause something similar.

But Ebola is not that virus. And speaking from my training as an epidemiologist (my career before starting Adventures in Good Company), when evaluating the risk of travel to Africa, particularly to Tanzania, it's important to understand the following points.

  1. Part of the reason that Ebola is so scary is the very high mortality rate associated with it. Although so far it seems less lethal than previous outbreaks, when 90% of victims died, 50% is still very high.

  2. We understand from previous experience how to control Ebola outbreaks. It takes public education, decent quarantine facilities where people who are sick can get treated and given some hope of recovery, and adequate manpower to track down and quarantine every one who comes in close contact with anyone who is sick. Nigeria has, so far, been successful in doing this;  at this point, all their cases are directly attributable to the Liberian who flew into the airport at Lagos and collapsed. Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia are poor and fragile countries whose efforts have been unsuccessful. In those three countries, Ebola is indeed out of control and the resources necessary to control it only now are being marshalled.

  3. There are two very important characteristics of Ebola that do not receive enough emphasis, but in fact make it very unlikely that it will cause a worldwide pandemic.

    - Ebola is not contagious until a person develops symptoms. If someone looks and feels well, it is possible that they are infected and incubating the virus, but they will not pass it on.

    - Ebola is spread through direct contact with infectious bodily fluids such as blood and sweat. Those fluids are highly infectious and the closer the person is to death, the more infectious they are. But it is not spread through the air, and simply being on the same airplane or in the same room as an Ebola victim does not expose you to risk.

    Ebola is actually more like HIV than it is the bird flu. They are both spread through contact with bodily fluids, although Ebola is more infectious than HIV. However, HIV is infectious before people develop symptoms and it is a much more widespread problem in Africa than Ebola. But because we understand how to protect ourselves from it, it is less scary.

  4. Africa is a huge continent. The Ebola epidemic is in West Africa, Tanzania is in East Africa. The distance between Monrovia, Liberia and Arusha, Tanzania is 3300 miles, basically a little more than the distance between Maryland and California.

  5. In every epidemic, much of the damage is caused by fear. We see that with some villagers stoning the guys in yellow suits, convinced they are coming to drag people away to die. But we also see it with the government in South Africa predicting a 40% drop in tourism next year.

  6. Could the virus mutate and become more infectious? Yes, viruses can always mutate and that could substantially elevate risks. But some viruses are more prone to mutate than others and, so far, Ebola has not demonstrated a high likelihood to mutate.

Everyone always has to decide their personal comfort level for themselves. But you can be assured that if a case of Ebola appeared in Arusha or Moshi, we would cancel our trip before we received the first email requesting it.