Islands of Diversity The Philippines

October 19, 1999 | Tags: Asia

Jeff & Cynthia Gneiser, October 1999

Shaped by geological and historical influences, the Philippines of yesterday and today came to life for us in a beautiful tapestry of natural wonders, fascinating people and diverse activities. This island nation is divided into three main geographic regions: Luzon in the north, the central Visayan Islands, and Mindanao in the south. Each region has a distinct character. Luzon is the largest and most developed of the islands. It is home to Manila, the bustling capital of 11 million people, and Subic Bay, which until 1992 was the site of the largest American military base overseas. The six larger and numerous smaller islands sandwiched between Luzon and Mindanao are referred to as the Visayas. The Visayas move to a slower beat, with typical Pacific Island-style palm-fringed white sand beaches, clear blue waters and colorful coral reefs teeming with fish. Here, Magellan landed, MacArthur returned, and crumbling Spanish churches attest to the passage of time. Mindanao is considered the remote counterbalance to Luzon. The land is rich in natural minerals and agricultural production, while culturally it is the most diverse. Over 60% of the country's ethnic minorities inhabit Mindanao and the southern Sulu archipelago.

Natural Wonders Abound

The jewels of the Philippines are its natural wonders, generously distributed throughout all three regions. Mindanao's Borboanon Falls are a vision right out of The Jungle Book. While in the Visayas, a visit to the Chocolate Hills of Bohol Island is a must. Also in the Visayas, we visited the Sohoton Lagoon at Bucas Grande, a labyrinth of beautiful water passages lined by lush green hillsides, accessible only at low tide through a hidden cave. In Northern Luzon, the close proximity of the mushroom-shaped Hundred Islands make them ideal for Zodiac touring and a great place to find a small, secluded beach from which to snorkel or dive.

The Land of Fiestas

The Filipino people are as diverse and intriguing as the archipelago on which they live. Conversion to Christianity during Spanish colonial days brought about a belief in religious miracles and a strong tradition of holy celebrations. Colorful fiestas have developed into a communal expression of devotion to the divine, integrated with social and political causes. So frequent and important are these celebrations, filled with music, dance, decorations, and feasting, that the Philippines has been referred to as the "Land of Fiestas."

A resilient people

The Filipinos put as much energy and design into their daily lives as they do into their celebrations. Known for being resourceful and resilient, the Filipinos are excellent at taking a potentially bad or unworkable situation and making it livable if not an improvement to lifestyle. After volcanic ash washed down the sides of Mt. Pinatubo in Luzon in 1991, burying an entire town, its displaced citizens returned to rebuild their homes on stilts and reclaimed the remaining top quarter of their cathedral for Mass. At the end of World War II, many U.S. Army issue jeeps were left on Philippine soil. The Filipinos ingeniously redesigned them, creating the Jeepney, the most prevalent form of public transportation, hand-welded to carry up to 25 people. No two Jeepneys are alike, as each is individually fashioned and personally decorated with lights, mirrors and signs.

A wealth of activities

In addition to enjoying the visual delights and the fascinating people of the Philippines, the islands offer activities for all kinds of travelers. The volcanic origins of the islands have made them rich in natural springs and lush vegetation. Hiking into the forest is often rewarded by a swim in a refreshing waterfall, so numerous here that they are still being discovered. The Visayas are known for five-star snorkeling and diving opportunities, particularly in the Bohol Sea and Tanon Strait. Exciting and unusual birds live in the forests, such as the black-faced coucal, celestial monarch, and the Mindanao hornbill. The ethnic diversity of the over 80 different minority tribes living in the Philippines offers the opportunity to learn about a variety of well-preserved cultures. Whatever your desire, the Philippines have a wealth of treasures to offer.

Whether learning about the geology, history, culture, or exploring the natural wonders and activities of the Philippines, we found pleasant surprises and rewards around every bend. The Philippines offer a generous helping of diversity wrapped in a warm friendly smile.

Life During the Age of the Vikings

October 19, 1999 | Tags: Arctic


Karen Gruber, October 1999

With the new millennium fast approaching, it seems natural to ruminate on the last 1,000 years. The past millennium has seen profound advancements in science, technology, and exploration. There seem to be very few frontiers left on our planet that we have not yet explored. But what must have it been like during the age of the Vikings? Skilled craftsmen and navigators, the Vikings forged a path across the North Atlantic islands like stepping stones to a new world, discovering the Faroes, Iceland, and Greenland. Perhaps the most significant of all their discoveries will celebrate its 1,000-year anniversary in 2000: Leif Ericsson's landfall on the North American continent.

The Viking Age, from the 8th to the 11th centuries, is often associated with images of barbaric plundering and brutal colonization. This conception often loses sight of the great accomplishments of the Vikings, whose influence not only spread north, but east across the Baltic and south into the Mediterranean. They were pioneers of maritime adventure and their seafaring prowess helped them to establish trading links across Europe into Asia. The Vikings also instituted the world's first parliament, the Althing, when chieftains gathered in Thingvellir, northwest of Reykjavik, in 930. The Viking sagas, written in the late 1100's, document the tales of Norse discovery and are one of the most tangible legacies of the Viking Age.

According to the sagas, Leif Ericsson was the first to set foot in the New World, but a fellow Norseman actually caught sight of North America some years before. In 986, Bjarni Herjolfsson attempted to journey from Iceland to Greenland to visit his father when his ship was blown off course. He and his crew sailed west for days before they sighted land on three separate occasions. Herjolfsson refused to land, however, as the terrain of the sightings was clearly not that of Greenland. Eventually, he reversed his course and landed at his father's settlement. Herjolfsson was later criticized for his lack of curiosity; a more adventurous spirit would have made him the founder of what is now believed to be Baffin Island, Labrador and Newfoundland.

Yet, the news of Herjolfsson's sightings traveled quickly and caught the attention of a young Leif Ericsson. Ericsson was living in Greenland, the country that his father, Eric the Red, had discovered. After purchasing Herjolfsson's ship, Ericsson set sail from Greenland and in 1000, five hundred years before Columbus, he landed and eventually created a settlement on the North American continent. Further attempts to colonize the area were abandoned after repeated altercations with North American natives.

Many historians have argued the validity of the Viking sagas. The tales were finally substantiated in 1960 when a Norwegian archeological team, led by Helge and Anne Stine Ingstad, discovered Viking ruins at L'Anse aux Meadows in northern Newfoundland which date back 1,000 years.

To travel in the wake of Viking discovery is to see a land that has changed little during the past millennium. One can still experience the gentle moorlands of the Scottish Isles, with grazing sheep amid historic Viking archeological sites; the Faroes' rugged seascapes packed with nesting birds. Iceland, although colonized for over 1,000 years, still remains relatively undiscovered territory in terms of tourism. Perhaps the legacy of its name, coined by the early Norwegian settler Floki Vilger.

The Shackleton Expedition: History of the Shackleton Expedition, 1914 - 1916

July 20, 1999

Carmen Field, July 1999

"Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success. Ernest Shackleton"

Who would have thought a newspaper advertisement such as this would attract nearly 5,000 applicants in 1914? However, the man who placed it was the renowned explorer Ernest Shackleton, who now had his sights set on leading a British expedition across the tremendous span of the Antarctic continent. Adventurous men (and a few women) from around the globe applied to join this venture into the Great White South. Fifty-six men were finally chosen to join one of two parties. The first would sail from Hobart, Australia, on the Aurora to establish a base on Ross Island and lay supply depots for the team of men crossing overland from the Weddell Sea. The second, led by Shackleton, would sail south to the Weddell Sea onboard the Endurance, a 300-ton barquentine of wood and sail formerly known as the Polaris. The ship had been rechristened Endurance after the Shackleton family motto - By Endurance We Conquer. It was a fitting emblem for the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914.

As England readied itself for war, the Endurance sailed from Plymouth to Buenos Aires and on October 26,1914 departed South America for South Georgia Island. The ship was skippered by Captain Frank Worsley, with Frank Wild as First Mate and Thomas Crean as Second Mate. Once at South Georgia, expedition members learned firsthand from whalers the conditions they would be facing further south.

On December 5, after a month's preparation, the Endurance sailed from Grytviken whaling station for the Weddell Sea. Onboard were 28 men, 69 dogs, and one cat, known as Mrs. Chippy. Less than a week into the journey, the ship encountered pack ice and the expedition's progress was slowed as the Endurance dodged and skirted ice floes and bergs. By the first of the new year, they had crossed the Antarctic Circle, still beset by ice. On January 10, the men had their first glimpse of the Antarctic continent, the ice-rimmed coast of Coats Land. Shackleton planned for his sledging party to access the continent at Vahsel Bay, which was approximately a week's journey further south. But on the evening of January 18, one day's sail from Vahsel Bay, the Endurance became entrenched in the pack ice. From that day on, the ship drifted at the mercy of the Weddell Sea's tides and currents, following a clockwise path along the east side of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Exercising the dogs kept the men's minds off of their frustrating predicament, and games of hockey and football helped to keep them in shape. Hunting seals provided exercise and fresh meat for both the dogs and men. As the ship drifted first south, reaching its furthest latitude of 77oS, and then began to head north, Shackleton suspended the ship's routine and took careful inventory of supplies and food. A series of cubicles were built in the storage area between decks, creating new quarters dubbed "the Ritz." In these confines, the men read poetry, discussed world politics and participated in group games and contests. Together, they endured the onset of winter with its fierce storms and sub-zero temperatures.

But as the sun appeared less and less, the hardships became greater. Disease racked the dogs, giant icebergs charged towards the trapped ship, and mounting ice pressure continually threatened the Endurance and her crew. In April, the Endurance first began to shudder with the pressure. Yet, the men's spirit endured. They hunted emperor penguins and seals, conducted dog races and derbies and celebrated holidays as best they could.

By July, the Endurance had covered almost 700 miles since first becoming trapped. Severe storms racked the ship, and on August 1, the Endurance was rammed by rafting ice and strong winds. Over and over she was lifted up onto immense blocks of ice, and the pressure badly damaged her rudder. Finally the storm abated, granting both men and ship a brief reprieve. On the evening of August 27, expedition photographer Frank Hurley captured the memorable and eerie image of a trapped Endurance in ice, highlighted by 20 photographic flashes. During the third week in October the Endurance was again assaulted by moving floes, causing her to list about 30 degrees to the port side. By the 24th, ice damage created leakage. Three days later, the pressure began to destroy her beyond repair. All hands were ordered onto the ice, and the expedition's hope of crossing the continent evaporated.

The men watched their ship and home being swallowed up by the Weddell Sea from a hastily-set camp, dubbed Ocean Camp. On November 21, the Endurance slipped beneath the ice forever. The party's fate now hinged on the drifting ice and the three lifeboats salvaged from the Endurance. Patience Camp was established, and from New Year's Day, 1916, until early April, they focused on securing food and preparing these boats for open water. With food becoming too precious to share, the party's dogs were shot. Raging storms forced long periods of inactivity and doubts assailed the men's thoughts. Summer faded into winter as Patience Camp drifted ever northward toward the edge of the pack ice.

Clarence and Elephant Islands came into view on April 7, 1916. The Endurance party was now about 500 miles south of Cape Horn and 60 miles from possible landfall at one of the islands in the distance. On April 9, after more than five months of living on a moving sea of ice, the men took to the three boats - christened the James Caird, the Dudley Docker, and the Stancomb Wills after the expedition's chief benefactors - at the disintegrating edge of the pack. For the next few days, they alternated between boat travel and floe camping, but finally, after a harrowing journey, landed at Cape Valentine on Elephant Island. Once ashore, it became clear that they had to find a more protected site. First Mate Frank Wild located a suitable spit seven miles away; Point Wild became their new home.

Shackleton knew that his party had virtually no chance of being rescued if they stayed at Elephant Island. They must reach South Georgia and its whaling stations for help. From the many volunteers who offered to join him on this 800-mile boat journey, Shackleton chose Worsley, McCarthy, McNeish, Vincent, and Crean. The James Caird was renovated for the upcoming open water voyage, and on April 24, the Boss and his five crew sailed east on what would become one of the most remarkable small boat journeys ever undertaken.

Over the next two weeks, the six men faced enormous challenges: blizzards, giant waves, deep troughs, uncomfortable sleeping and sitting quarters, a lack of sufficient fresh water, and the never-ending chore of chipping ice off the boat or bailing water out of it. Worsley's incredible skill as a navigator brought the James Caird "spot-on" to the northwest coast of South Georgia Island. Land was spotted on May 8, yet they first had to wait out a hurricane before sailing into King Haakon Bay on May 10 and finally making landfall at Cape Rosa. Here, they found fresh water, fresh meat, and a resting-place for their weary bodies. They stayed for four days before sailing further into King Haakon Bay to a pebble beach protected by a tussock-lined bluff. This site was dubbed Peggotty Camp, after a Charles Dickens character in David Copperfield who lived in a house constructed from a boat. From this camp, the men would try to reach the island's interior and eventually, a whaling station on the opposite coast.

At 3:00 a.m. on May 19, Shackleton, Worsley, and Crean headed up into the mountains under a full moon and clear skies. They brought with them food for three days packed in socks, a Primus stove with fuel for six hot meals, matches, a pot, two compasses, a pair of binoculars, a coil of rope, an adze, and a chronometer. By daybreak, the men were 3,000 feet above the beach. They climbed - and sometimes reclimbed - icy peaks and mountainsides, crossed glaciers, and survived a dangerous slide down a mountain and into a fog bank. Their bodies were nearly worn out after all they'd been through; only perseverance and thoughts of the men left behind carried them across the rugged terrain of South Georgia. The morning of their second day, as they approached Stromness Station, the sound of the whaling station's work whistle floated on the wind to the struggling hikers. They overcame one last obstacle, a steep waterfall bordered by ice, to at last arrive at civilization on May 20, 1916.

Shackleton's arrival at the station manager's office is legendary. A Norwegian who witnessed the Boss and his two comrades walking in, later recounted the moment: 'Everybody at Stromness knew Shackleton well, and we very sorry he is lost in ice with all hands. But we not know three terrible-looking bearded men who walk into the office off the mountainside that morning. Manager say: "Who the hell are you" and terrible bearded man in the centre of the three say very quietly: "My name is Shackleton." Me - I turn away and weep. I think manager weep, too.'

Shackleton: Historic Explorer and Modern-Day Hero

July 20, 1999

Karen Gruber, July 1999

Antarctica Sir Ernest Shackleton

Anyone who has traveled to Antarctica will immediately know the significance of that name. Shackleton was one of the greatest Antarctic explorers of our time; the story of his fateful voyage on the Endurance and how he and his crew of 27 survived nearly two years on the Antarctic ice is an inspiration to any visitor to this isolated region. Why 77 years after Shackleton's death is he now getting the attention of so many people? Timing perhaps. The Endurance ordeal coincided with World War I and the impact of Shackleton's story was secondary in comparison to the drama on the battlefields. All that has changed. The Antarctica Ernest Shackleton story has recently gained a large audience due to a snowball effect of media exposure; one of the most perseverant leaders in expedition history is again making headlines.

The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition

Over the last few months there has been a literal explosion of interest in Antarctica and Ernest Shackleton, sparked by the release of Caroline Alexander's book, The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition, which includes some never-before published photos by expedition photographer, Frank Hurley. The American Museum of Natural History assisted in the production of the book, and in turn has opened an exhibit honoring Shackleton, curated by Alexander. An IMAX film and NOVA documentary, both based on Alexander's book, are currently being produced and directed by acclaimed director, George Butler.

South Georgia Island & The Weddell Sea

Ernest Shackleton's epic tale of survival and courage began with dreams of being the first expedition to cross the Antarctic continent. En route, the Endurance became beset in the ice deep within the Weddell Sea and drifted with the pack for ten months before finally being crushed and sunk in November 1915. Shackleton's party sledged lifeboats over the ice toward Paulet Island, eventually taking to the sea, and landing on Elephant Island. After setting up a small camp at nearby Cape Wild, Shackleton and five other men first braved the freezing, stormy ocean in their 22-foot lifeboat, the James Caird, on an 800-mile journey to South Georgia Island. Then, he and two of the men traversed the 6,000-foot mountain range to reach help at Stromness, a whaling station on the opposite side of the island. Once back in South America, the Chilean government gave Shackleton use of a small steel-built steamer, the Yelcho. One hundred and thirty-six days after he left the main group of his party on Elephant Island, Shackleton returned to rescue his men. Not one man perished.

Ernest Shackleton's Leadership

One of the most captivating aspects of the Endurance's story is Shackleton's leadership. He never allowed his crew to become discouraged, even when their ultimate survival seemed next to impossible. Although some argue that the Endurance expedition was a complete failure, the prevailing thought is that it exemplifies one of the greatest triumphs of human will over the awesome force of nature. And at the heart of that triumph is Sir Ernest Shackleton. Perhaps this quote from Sir Raymond Priestley, a member of Shackleton's earlier expedition on the Nimrod, puts it best: "For scientific leadership, give me Scott, for swift and efficient travel give me Amundsen. But when you are in a hopeless situation, when you are seeing no way out, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton."

Unlocking the Secrets of the Kurils

July 20, 1999

Stretching for some 750 miles from Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island, to the toe of Russia's Kamchatka peninsula, the Kuril Islands were until 1990, closed to the outside world. Often shrouded in fog and relentlessly marauded by the forces of wind and sea, these dramatically beautiful islands are mysterious and fascinating.

The first morning out from Kushiro, Japan on our expeditionary voyage we realized that we were in a strange and magical corner of the Pacific Ocean, an area rarely explored. As we steamed along the east side of the Kurils, hundreds of seabirds followed along wheeling and banking just above the water's surface. Countless northern fulmars, Laysan albatrosses and tufted puffins welcomed us to their world. Several pods of orcas were spotted from the ship's deck. Sea lions and sea otters peered at us with great fascination as we sailed. We spotted massive sperm whales as they lolled on the surface. Our numerous Zodiac landings on islands uninhabited by humans for centuries revealed an array of fascinating sights from the remains of aboriginal Ainu villages to glimpses of brown bear and red fox.

Our naturalists pointed out wildflowers with such wonderful names as chocolate lily and alpine azalea. Many opted to hike inland across the tundra amongst the dwarf willows and stone pines while others chose to search for beach treasures such as the Japanese glass balls that had washed ashore. On land, it soon became clear that this was a bird watcher's paradise. Yellow wagtails and long-toed stints flew about the beaches and creek mouths. Siberian rubythroats seemed to sing from every bush, their neon red throats gleaming against the backdrop of snow-covered volcanoes.

These are indeed islands born of fire with steaming sulfur vents, remnants of black lava flows and volcanic peaks rising sharply from the ocean floor. Our shipboard geologists explained the powerful forces at work in the Kurils that continue to shape these ever-changing islands. We were able to see this first-hand as we sailed into a caldera on Shimushir Island's north side formed after the violent eruption of an ancient volcano. The ocean had subsequently worn down the rock walls of the crater and seawater rushed in to form a lake. But this was not any caldera: this was the site of a top-secret Russian submarine base into which no ship flying a foreign flag had ever ventured.

As the morning fog lifted to expose the entrance to this hidden harbor and our Captain deftly guided our expedition vessel, we were awestruck by the fact that we were indeed the first foreigners to venture into this secret spot. We explored the ramshackle buildings at the base that had been abandoned hurriedly after the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. Books and other items were strewn about the buildings as if the residents had only just left. There were identification charts of U.S. warplanes and other remnants of the Cold War. For everyone onboard, it was truly an incredible day on a voyage that we will all never forget.