- A passionate advocate for tourism in the country, Merwyn’s legacy is one that will quickly be forgotten in the sector and by other patrons
Arusha. At the age of 80, he was old enough to retire from the active tourism business that shaped his life for over 50 years.
He would not entirely do so despite his advanced age though at times forced to assign some of his tasks to members of his inner family.
Merwyn Nunes, who lived in Arusha, breathed his last in Dar es Salaam early this week, having been in poor health for some years.
His story dates back to the 1960s when he was employed by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism as a tourism officer.
Upon retirement from public service, he founded a tour firm based in Arusha, the country’s safari capital, called Wildersun Safaris.
Later, he pioneered the founding of the Tanzania Association of Tour Operators (Tato), a powerful lobbyist for the industry now recovering from Covid-19 impact.
As Tato chairman and a famous tour operator, the soft-spoken Nunes interacted with The Citizen and other media houses countless times.
He was neither vocal, outspoken nor a front liner at numerous functions he attended, especially during the peak of tourism business in Arusha.
As tour operators and hotel managers chat loudly during functions, Nunes would be tucked away in a corner of a function hall, taking his drink quietly.
His motto, as is the case with other industry stakeholders, was to see Tanzania become the best destination for tourists from across the world.
The often reserved Nunes would come out in late 2019 when he reached out to The Citizen over a proposal that he did not like to hear about.
That was the plan to put on a cable car system that would carry the visitors to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, one of the country’s tourist attractions.
Those behind the proposal saw it as yet another marketing strategy to increase the number of visitors to Africa’s Roof Top, as Mt. Kilimanjaro is also known.
The proposal generated a lot of debate in the tourism and travel industry and the conservation circles in equal measure.
There is no contention that many of them were and are still opposed to it on ecological and ethical grounds.
Mr Nunes was emphatic that he was not amused at all by the suggestion. “It will kill the spirit of people climbing the mountain for adventure,” he said.
He added: “Some people wanted to climb the mountain in order to set a record of being the oldest person to do so.”
Mr Nunes was a tourism officer with the ministry stationed in the northern regions in the 1960s when the cable cars idea was first floated.
In 1967, for instance,a group of technicians from France visited the area (Mt. Kilimanjaro) to study the possibility of erecting the cable cars.
“Unfortunately they found out it was not the right place to introduce the system due to the environmental implications,” he’d told The Citizen.
Slightly over 50 years later (2018), an American investor was reported to have approached the government about introducing cable cars on the mountain.
Each cable car will carry a maximum of six people (600 kgs) and will take 20 minutes to move from the mountain base to the Shira peak, some 3,800 feet above sea level.
Sources said Avan Limited had intended to invest almost $ 15 million on cable cars on Mt. Kilimanjaro, the aim being to boost the tourists’ numbers.
The National Environment Management Council (NEMC), the environment watchdog, was still studying suitability of the project when he was last interviewed by this paper.
“I am not against the cable cars per se. But Kilimanjaro is a very shy mountain that should be left intact,” he pointed out.
Kilimanjaro mountain is now scaled for tourism through at least seven to eight routes, with Marangu being the most used gate.
The others are the Arrow Glacier, Lemosho, Machame, Mweka (only used for descending), Rongai/Nalemoru, Umbwe and Shira - predominantly used for evacuation.
In his sunset years, the late Nunes continued to be passionate about the conservation of Mt. Kilimanjaro for its natural wonders.
Kilimanjaro is not only the tallest mountain in Africa but the tallest “free standing” mountain in the world.
Its highest peaks do not protrude from a mountain range like Everest, the highest peak in the world protruding from the Himalayas.
He equates scaling the mountain to its snow-covered peaks as a replica of a trip from the hot Equator lands to the freezing Polar Regions.
Tucked at 5,892 metres above sea level, Uhuru peak is the highest point on the mountain and the highest point of the Kibo volcanic cone.
It was at the spot that the national flag was erected on the eve of independence in December 1961 as the Union Jack was lowered in Dar es Salaam.
But who was Nunes? How did he join civil service and what exactly made him so passionate about Mt. Kilimanjaro?
He is a Tanzanian of Indian origin. His parents lived in Zanzibar when he was recruited to join the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism in the 1960s.
As a young man, in his early 20s, he was posted to Moshi as a tourism officer working for the ministry.
He was seconded to the Tanzania National Tourist Board, precursors to both the Tanzania Tourist Corporation (TTC) and the Tanzania Tourist Board (TTB).
Among his immediate tasks in Moshi was to coordinate Mt. Kilimanjaro climbing by tourists and other adventure seekers.
Tourism was more impactful in Moshi compared to Arusha in those days due to the iconic mountain which attracted climbers from all over the world.
Of course, the ‘Serengeti Shall Never Die’ campaign blown from Arusha was pacing up as was the promotion of Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA).
As part of promotion of the ice-capped mountain for tourism, he introduced certificate awards to climbers who would reach the summit of the mountain.
“It was I who in 1968 came up with an idea of issuing certificates to the mountain climbers when I was stationed at Moshi,” he told The Citizen in December 2017.
He pressed for the introduction of the certificates as awards for those who have conquered the mountain and managed to reach the summit.
Until then, (1968 and before) successful climbers were presented with flowers from the mountain creepers coiled around their heads.
Those who reached Gilman’s Point (some 5,681 metres above sea level) were garlanded with flowers around their necks.
“But the flowers were getting scarce and scarcer in the forest. Those who picked them had to go deeper in the dense ravines.
“Because of the depletion of the flowers, I came up with the idea of certificates (to the successful conquerors) instead of the reeds,” he said.
He intimated to The Citizen that he came up with the idea because he was “conscious of the environment of the mountain.”
He designed two types of certificates; a Silver lined and Gold lined to those who would successfully reach Gilman’s Point and Uhuru Peak respectively.
The first mountain climber to receive the certificate in 1968 was the Chief of Defence Forces (CDF) General Mirisho Sarakikya.
The retired general - then a Brigadier- went on to become the record breaking conqueror of the mountain years to follow.
The first recipient of the award was the then Natural Resources and Tourism Minister, Hasnu Makame who spoke loud against what he saw as distortion that the mountain was located in a neighbouring country.