Insider's Choice: Africa By Air

July 20, 2003

Nearly two thousand years ago, the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder wrote, "There is always something new out of Africa." He could have written those words but yesterday; the continent's vastness holds nearly inexhaustible varieties of landscapes, cultures, and wildlife. No matter how many times one visits Africa, the discoveries are incredibly exciting -- and always different.

This presents a challenge when we design a safari to Africa: how do we best showcase the continent's wonders? Our solution was Africa by Air, a program that spanned the eastern coast of Africa aboard a privately chartered propliner -- a first-ever. We first operated this expedition in 2000; the unanimous, enthusiastic response from the participants proved that we had hit upon the perfect combination of mode of travel and itinerary.

Join us, then, in February 2004 when we explore six countries, from South Africa to Ethiopia, on an air safari that travels nearly the entire length of the Great Rift Valley and includes some of Africa's most impressive wildlife reserves. At Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, we will witness the annual wildebeest and zebra migration. This seemingly endless parade also draws large numbers of predators: leopards, lions, cheetahs, and, lurking in the rivers, crocodiles. Murchison Falls in Uganda is home to Africa's largest population of hippos and six species of primates, and Botswana and Zambia provide additional photo opportunities of antelopes, giraffes, swimming elephants, and hundreds of species of birds.

Africa by Air is also about millions of years of human evolution and history. South Africa's Sterkfontein Caves are one of the continent's finest hominid sites, and Ethiopia's National and Ethnographic museums house "Lucy," the 3.2-million-year-old Australopithecus afarensis skeleton.

Our vintage DC-4 is a destination unto itself. This aircraft recalls a bygone era, and its operational features allow landings at outposts far from civilization. The propliner flies at a less-hurried pace, and lower altitude, than modern jets, so the continent's varied landscapes -- savannas, rain forests, deserts -- unfold as if turning the pages of an exquisite photo album. From the green oasis of the Chobe floodplain to the thunder of Victoria Falls, the world below commands your attention.

Each of our previous African air itineraries has sold out. Please don't miss this opportunity to see Africa at its finest; contact Alicia at our Seattle office to enroll in Africa by Air.

Stepping Stones of the Atlantic: Perspectives From Our Leaders

July 19, 2003 | Tags: Uncategorized

Stepping Stones: An Introduction

by Mike Messick, July 2003

In February 2004 we embark on a far-ranging expedition: Stepping Stones of the Atlantic. Not only a first for us, this two-part voyage from the Falklands to Iberia encompasses a greater variety of ecosystems and wildlife than any of our other programs.

Beginning in the southern polar region, we head across the Atlantic ridge. The islands on this part of the journey -- St. Helena, Tristan da Cunha, and Ascension -- are some of the least-visited places on earth, nearly impossible to get to other than by ship. I have been all over the world, yet I have never landed on any of these shores. The prospect of finally doing so makes this the most exciting part of the itinerary for me.

The length of our expeditions ensures comprehensive explorations of the locations we visit. During our days at sea, our lecturers will present a series of wide-ranging presentations, adding to our knowledge and placing our travels in the proper historical perspective. We'll also feature our popular Digital Photo & Video Workshop.

The rest of the expedition team is as enthusiastic as I am about these departures. In the following articles, a few of them touch on the voyages' aspects that intrigue them.

Two hemispheres, six thousand miles, hundreds of years of history, unmatchable wildlife -- please join me and a stellar assemblage of naturalists and lecturers next year for a true odyssey across the Stepping Stones of the Atlantic.

Birds of the Atlantic

by Peter Harrison, July 2003

Stepping Stones is an expedition that we at Zegrahm have wanted to run for years, and the founders vied spiritedly to be aboard our premiere voyage. As a birder, I could not pass up the opportunity to participate in this hemispheres-spanning journey.

Each destination on our itinerary holds its own unique allure, beginning with the thousands of king penguins and albatross on South Georgia. In the mid-Atlantic are such rare endemics as the Wilkins's finches and the spectacled petrels of Tristan da Cunha. Only a few thousand of the latter are left. Other must-see species include St. Helena plovers, known locally as wirebirds, and Ascension Island frigatebirds. To spy any one of these birds would be worth the trip; the chance to see them all is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

We arrive in Africa at the perfect time of year. Millions of birds will be migrating north, and The Gambia and Morocco are two of the continent's best birding locations. I'm hopeful of seeing Egyptian plovers and vultures, African pied hornbills, and gray-headed bristlebills, among the many hundreds of species in West Africa. Trekking into Morocco's Atlas Mountains brings us into proximity to imperial eagles and lammergeiers, powerful, bone-crushing vultures. On the Canary Islands' Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Lanzarote we go in search of 200 species, among them Cory's shearwaters and Eleanora's falcons.

King penguins to flamingoes, giant petrels to migrating white storks, Cape Verde shearwaters, rarely seen ocean endemics -- it's impossible to overstate the extravagant numbers and varieties of birds, and other wildlife, that make this voyage a naturalist's dream.

The Canaries and Cape Verde: Way Stations of Explorers

by Jack S. Grove, July 2003

In June of 1976, fresh out of college, I made my first trans-Atlantic crossing as a deck hand on a 52-foot sailboat. With my first oceanography courses under my belt, it was exciting to ponder over the nautical charts of the Atlantic while actually sailing across it. The practical maritime experience provided a much better insight of ocean currents and trade winds. With the salt air in my face, my textbook education on whale migrations and the crossings of mariners during the age of sail had much more meaning.

Foremost in my mind were Christopher Columbus and Charles Darwin. Both of these men made landfall on islands along the spine of the Atlantic before setting out on their epic voyages -- Columbus on Gomera in the Canaries, and Darwin on an island in the Cape Verde group.

In her definitive Darwin biography, Charles Darwin Voyaging, Janet Browne describes the importance of Darwin's landfall: "For Darwin... St. Jago was the first place he disembarked -- the first foreign soil he stepped on as a natural history explorer -- and the island carried a special light in his affections for that reason. More than this, it was the place where he began pulling together all his diverse early natural history experiences and took a deliberate step into the world of investigative science. It always glowed in his memory as the site of a philosophical and personal initiation."

During the second leg of Stepping Stones, I will explore with you the islands that played pivotal roles in the history of exploration and our understanding of the natural world.

Exploration and Adventure

by Richard Fagen, July 2003

Although many are reluctant to admit it, the great age of terrestrial exploration is over. No more search for the great southern continent, no more treks into lands where "the white man has not gone before." The airplane, the snowmobile, and GPS now take us where, 100 years ago, men and women walked, mushed dogs, and found their way by sun and stars.

But adventure is alive and well. Now we craft voyages that challenge our minds and bodies by hiking, climbing, swimming, and diving, not because we must, but because our lives are made richer by encounters with lands and peoples very different from those we know.

The relentless search for adventure in our time has generated a thousand stories, true and imaginary: Huck Finn drifting down the Mississippi; Richard Halliburton swimming the Hellespont (shades of Lord Byron!) in 1925; Ben Carlin crossing the Atlantic in an amphibious Jeep in 1950; Peter Jenkins walking 4,800 miles across the United States in the 1970s; and hundreds of amateur climbers attempting Everest in the 1990s.

I've crafted a series of lectures to explore with you our love affair with adventure. It is a story shot through with ambition, greed, craziness, and courage. All our vices and virtues are on parade as, like Huck, we leave behind life's everyday routines in search of the thrills that lie around the next bend in the river.

Islands of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge

by Kevin Clement, July 2003

If the earth has a backbone, surely it is the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. This chain of undersea mountains snakes its way thousands of miles down the centerline of the ocean. Here and there tectonic action and volcanism have heaved up an island. These have been explored, colonized, studied, and wondered at by a variety of cultures. Geology unites, but history divides, the islands of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

We investigate these islands, beginning in the Falklands, known for a vicious war, but also harboring remarkable fauna. From there we cross to South Georgia, its wildlife concentrations unsurpassed anywhere.

In more temperate waters, we visit Gough Island, inhabited only by huge numbers of rare birds and a minuscule number of meteorologists. (Relatively) nearby Tristan da Cunha is perhaps the most isolated inhabited spot on earth. Its 290 people share among them only eight surnames.

St. Helena, Napoleon's final place of exile, is a large island with varied topography, endemic flora, and great scenic beauty. Seven hundred miles north lies Ascension, barren and dry around its base, green and verdant at its volcanic summit. The Cape Verde Islands share Ascension's volcanic origin but not its culture -- this African nation has a world-renowned musical heritage. The Canaries, known for their beach resorts, owe their name to a now-extinct wild dog.

No journey offers more diversity than these along the spine of the world. We savor each island's unique character before sailing to the next isolated outpost in the Atlantic Ocean.

Japan's Remote Southwest Islands

July 19, 2003 | Tags: Asia

Werner Zehnder, July 2003

Map of Okinawa, Japan

In April 2004 our Japan by Sea expedition departs aboard the Clipper Odyssey. In addition to exploring the Inland Sea and Kyushu and Honshu Islands, we travel for the first time to Okinawa and other islands of the Nansei-shoto, or Southwest, group. In the following article, Zegrahm cofounder Werner Zehnder recounts his recent experiences there.

I have always enjoyed traveling in Japan. The serene countryside and gardens; castles and temples with rich, deep histories; and most importantly, the attention to detail and order translated into the architecture reflecting the forces of nature and spirit, the precise, eloquent poetry, the flowing and graceful movements of their artisans, and the delicate sumptuousness of Japanese cuisine, have always held great appeal for me. Yet, until this past April, I had never ventured south of the country's major islands, a journey my wife, Susan, and I undertook to scout locations for next year's voyage.

Lying just above the tropic of Cancer, a few degrees north of Hawaii, Okinawa is quite distant from Japan proper. This isolation means that it and its near neighbors are largely unknown to foreign travelers. We went days without seeing another Western face. What we did see, and will share with you next April, were emerald seas bordering subtropical islands that hold an array of flora, topography, and climate, with a history and culture far removed from mainstream Japan.

Once independent of Japan, the archipelago was known as the Kingdom of Ryuku. Trade with China and Southeast Asia influenced its architecture and dress, and Okinawa developed a unique dialect and distinctive forms of pottery, textiles, and lacquer ware. In addition to viewing everyday life, we will visit the reconstructed Shuri Castle, tour a pottery museum, and enjoy excellent views of marine life at the Churaumi Aquarium. No mere collection of fish tanks, the aquarium has a tank holding 7,500 tons of water and is the first facility to successfully raise whale sharks. These, as well as manta rays and a myriad of other fish, swim above us as we observe them from behind an enormous transparent wall. The experience is akin to walking on the sea floor itself.

It's impossible to discuss Okinawa without mentioning World War II. The island was the site of the only land battles on Japan soil. These were savage affairs, even when judged against the other battles in the Pacific. Over three months, roughly a third of the island's inhabitants, over 100,000 people, were killed, and nearly every structure razed (hence the reconstructed castle). The peace memorial and museum present exhibits detailing the destruction, as well as the hope for a peaceful world. Rows of marble walls are arranged in concentric circles on the museum's grounds. Inscribed on these are the names of the dead, Japanese, Okinawan, American, who perished during the "typhoon of steel." Similar to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D. C., these walls serve as compelling reminders of the human cost of war.

Departing Okinawa we headed north to Amami and Yaku Islands. Our landings here during next spring's expedition will add a natural-history element to our travels, complementing our more-cultural pursuits farther north. On Amami, a mountainous island draped in vegetation and fringed by reefs, we may either explore Japan's northernmost mangrove forest via kayak or, from the vantage of a glass-bottom boat, view a multitude of fish threading among the more than 300 types of coral.

Amami is also the source of Oshima Tsumugi, a form of textiles, its patterns drawn from the shapes of the indigenous sago palm and habu snake. Craftspeople, using a dye that combines tannic acid extracted from yeddo hawthorn trees and iron-rich mud, create kimonos hailed as among the finest in Japan.

Yaku is the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in Japan, and the reason is readily apparent. More than 40 mountains rise from this tiny island. The vast difference in altitude between the shoreline and the heights causes a varying climate, including a rain forest, home to giant cedars and more than 1,000 plant species. Our excursion in this botanist's dream will reveal a lush topography cut by ravines and adorned with waterfalls. Animals here include macaques, monkeys noted for their almost human faces.

Those wishing to further explore this little-known corner of the world should join Mason Florence on our Yaeyama Island pre-extension. Mason has years of experience in the region and accompanied Susan and me on our scouting trip. He will reveal the ways of life and exotic flora and fauna of islands even more remote than Okinawa. If Okinawa sees few Western travelers, the Yaeyamas are almost completely unexplored.

Traveling to Okinawa, Amami, and Yaku was a revelation for me. I thought myself well acquainted with Japan's attractions, yet my time in the southwest archipelago greatly enlarged my knowledge and appreciation of the Land of the Rising Sun. Please join us next April and experience these islands, and their northern neighbors, for yourself.

Insider's Choice: Africa By Air

July 19, 2003 | Tags: Africa

Nearly two thousand years ago, the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder wrote, "There is always something new out of Africa." He could have written those words but yesterday; the continent's vastness holds nearly inexhaustible varieties of landscapes, cultures, and wildlife. No matter how many times one visits Africa, the discoveries are incredibly exciting -- and always different.

This presents a challenge when we design a safari to Africa: how do we best showcase the continent's wonders? Our solution was Africa by Air, a program that spanned the eastern coast of Africa aboard a privately chartered propliner -- a first-ever. We first operated this expedition in 2000; the unanimous, enthusiastic response from the participants proved that we had hit upon the perfect combination of mode of travel and itinerary.

Join us, then, in February 2004 when we explore six countries, from South Africa to Ethiopia, on an air safari that travels nearly the entire length of the Great Rift Valley and includes some of Africa's most impressive wildlife reserves. At Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, we will witness the annual wildebeest and zebra migration. This seemingly endless parade also draws large numbers of predators: leopards, lions, cheetahs, and, lurking in the rivers, crocodiles. Murchison Falls in Uganda is home to Africa's largest population of hippos and six species of primates, and Botswana and Zambia provide additional photo opportunities of antelopes, giraffes, swimming elephants, and hundreds of species of birds.

Africa by Air is also about millions of years of human evolution and history. South Africa's Sterkfontein Caves are one of the continent's finest hominid sites, and Ethiopia's National and Ethnographic museums house "Lucy," the 3.2-million-year-old Australopithecus afarensis skeleton.

Our vintage DC-4 is a destination unto itself. This aircraft recalls a bygone era, and its operational features allow landings at outposts far from civilization. The propliner flies at a less-hurried pace, and lower altitude, than modern jets, so the continent's varied landscapes -- savannas, rain forests, deserts -- unfold as if turning the pages of an exquisite photo album. From the green oasis of the Chobe floodplain to the thunder of Victoria Falls, the world below commands your attention.

Each of our previous African air itineraries has sold out. Please don't miss this opportunity to see Africa at its finest; contact Alicia at our Seattle office to enroll in Africa by Air.

Conrad Field Wins NOAA Award

April 20, 2003

Bill Tuttle, April 2003

As Zegrahm passengers who have traveled with him can attest, Conrad Field has a great passion for the natural world, which he imparts on nature walks, during lectures, and through his artwork. When not accompanying expeditions, Conrad lives in Homer, Alaska, where he works as a program consultant and environmental educator for the Kachemak Bay Learning Center.

To further educate people about coastal and marine environments, and the necessity of preserving them, he also volunteers for community and school organizations -- making presentations, directing classes and training, leading field trips, and providing artwork and scrimshaw for fundraising efforts. In honor of Conrad's work, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently named him Volunteer of the Year when it announced its 2003 Excellence Awards for Coastal and Ocean Resource Management. On 19 March, Conrad accepted the award at a ceremony on Capitol Hill.

In nominating Conrad, Glenn Seaman, reserve manager of Kachemak Bay Research Reserve, cited his 14 years of service, his commitment and dedication, and his exhaustive knowledge of marine resources, calling him, "...an unusually inspiring and gifted educator who instills a strong sense of overall responsibility for resource stewardship to all individuals who have the pleasure of participating in his teachings." Several teachers and environmental leaders echoed Seaman in singing Conrad's praises.

We hope you will join all of us at Zegrahm Expeditions in congratulating Conrad for this prestigious award. Those of you aboard with Conrad on our upcoming Fire & Ice, New Zealand, and Stepping Stones of the Atlantic expeditions will be able to extend your personal congratulations.