Adventure Travel in the Time of Covid, Part I

Keeping clients healthy has been a Tusker trademark for over two decades.

Tusker Trail’s founder, Eddie Frank has pioneered ways to treat altitude sickness on Kilimanjaro and found a solution to conquer “Delhi Belly,” the water born intestinal issue that impacts Nepal Base Camp trekkers. Mitigating back-country medical issues is a way Tusker separates itself from the pack, but it requires a lot of thought and work.

Now in the time of Covid-19, Eddie has come up with various changes to keep his trekkers safe on the trail and around camp on Mount Kilimanjaro. “There are ways we can mitigate this. By using single tents for each client, serving meals to everyone individually not in a group inside a dining tent and having our guides do the daily medical checks wearing PPE, we can mitigate Covid while on the climb,” Eddie says.

Tanzania reopened to foreign tourists on May 21 and is the first of the East African nations to reopen to foreign tourists. It has disbanded its 14 day mandatory quarantine on foreigners that had been in place since April 4.

Some international airlines have resumed flights into Tanzania, but we are still waiting for flights to start arriving at Kilimanjaro International Airport.

The Covid Kilimanjaro trail adjustment

For anybody who has been to the top of Kilimanjaro with Tusker, they know how socially close the group experience is. Meals are served in a large dining tent where everyone gathers side by side to share food and storoies of their day on the trail. In this new era of social distancing, Eddie plans to have all meals served in each individual’s tent. Tents were recently redesigned and are large walk-in/standup tents. Couples and families on the trek can still share a tent, but individuals will be separated and have their own tent where they will have the option of take meals inside or sit outside and dine.

On the trail, changes are in the offing as well. Spacing the line of trekkers will be closely monitored by Tusker’s guides who will make sure hikers are keeping a safe distance between them. Trekkers will not be wearing masks as they climb because they need to be able to fully breathe the thin oxygen on Kilimanjaro. Masks will be worn while in camp and at the hotel. On breaks for water and snacks while on the trail, group members will again be distancing themselves. When medical checks are required while hiking, Tusker’s guides will wear  protective gear to do the appraisal or to attend to blisters, ankles, knees etc.  And there will be monitoring of handwashing all the time  – for clients as well as the climbing crew.

Adapting to Tanzania city life

Visiting the vibrant markets in Moshi before or after a Kilimanjaro climb is always a favorite time for traveling photogs to get that special shot and for those who enjoy meeting the locals. Unfortunately in the short term, these visits will be put on hold. “We want to keep our clients away from large congregations. Our meals will all be taken in the open air dining area at the hotels where the waiters will be wearing masks, and diners will be seated at a safe distance from one another.  And there will also be a long list of sanitary requirements for employees of the hotels where Tusker stays.

All foreign passengers upon arrival in Tanzania will not be tested for Covid but will have their temperature taken by airport authorities. They will have to fill out forms and adhere to infection prevention rules that include wearing masks, hand hygiene and keeping social distance.

Tusker’s  team in Moshi, which includes guides and cooks remain on the Tusker payroll and have been getting frequent Covid updates from Eddie who has relied on Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center guidelines. The Tusker team in Moshi are encouraged to wear masks and are regularly reminded about distancing and to take Covid seriously. So far all remain healthy and eagerly await the resumption of Tusker climbs that will resume shortly.

Dr. Callahan’s advice

One of the world’s top epidemiologists, Dr. Michael Callahan, has been a medical mentor to Eddie for the last 10 years. Dr. Callahan was among the doctors who worked in Wuhan, China in December 2019 as the disease was breaking out and his team found that poor elderly Chinese who were taking Pepcid, an inexpensive tablet for heartburn, had higher rates of Covid survival than the wealthy Chinese who take more expensive tablets. This led to clinical trials this spring in the U.S., involving famotidine contained in Pepcid.

Dr. Callahan has climbed Kilimanjaro with Tusker five times and has brought teams of U.S. Army elite Special Forces on these climbs to train and study the effects of high altitude on their ability to remain combat ready. He has responded to seven Ebola outbreaks in Africa and is among a handful of U.S. doctors called on when U.S. government personnel are infected with tropical travel diseases.

Eddie has learned much from him sitting around campfires on the past climbs, although not this year as Dr. Callahan has been working overtime trying to stem the Covid tide for all Americans currently.

For Eddie, adjusting to adventure travel in the time of Covid is a daily protocol puzzle. He continues to work on the right protocols to keep travelers safe and welcomes Tusker’s past and future clients to check in with him to get the most up to date information.

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