Remote Rapa Iti

January 20, 2003

Bill Tuttle, January 2003

At the far southern reaches of Polynesia, hundreds of miles from its nearest neighbor, lies the very embodiment of the romantic South Pacific -- the island of Rapa. Also called Rapa Iti to distinguish it from Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Rapa is the remnant of a collapsed volcano, its submerged crater forming the island's harbor. Entering this caldera aboard a ship, travelers get a first look at the island's stunning natural beauty. Basaltic spires, projections, and steep ridges, all covered in lush, tropical vegetation, surround the crater rim.

An exploration inland presents further evidence of the splendid variety of this 14-square-mile landmass. Six dramatic peaks soar above the ocean waves, skirted by a low, dense undergrowth of ferns and raspberry bushes resembling thimbleberries. Farther along, coffee trees grown wild form a sort of arboreal tunnel. Other island flowers and plants include guava, taro, casuarina, oleander, geraniums, and Easter lilies. (The number of known plant species on Rapa continues to grow. A 2002 scientific expedition to the island catalogued 11 new plants, as well as two more unseen since the 1930s.) At the top of the ridge, the view is spectacular, affording a view of the entire caldera.

Even though the island's size precludes the presence of large indigenous mammals, a large number of goats and wild cattle, food for the human population, may be found grazing on the mountainsides. The birdlife is plentiful however, with black-winged and storm petrels wheeling in the skies and nesting in the fern forests on Rapa's western edge. White fairy terns; red-tailed tropicbirds; Rapa fruit doves; black, brown, and blue-gray noddies; and wandering tattlers also compose part of the avian display.

In centuries past, humans more densely populated Rapa. In 1791 George Vancouver, the first European to land on the island, found approximately 1,500 people living on the island. Warfare among these people may have been fairly common, as Vancouver noted the existence of 28 forts, strategically situated on the ridges at an elevation of 1,500 feet. Palisade walls, masonry, and terraces surrounded each fort, and the current theory is that Rapa's inhabitants lived on the ridges and descended to the lowlands daily to tend their crops. In case of attack, they would flee to the nearest fort, which also had stored food and a water spring, for sanctuary. The ruins of these Polynesian fortresses, or pas, continue to overlook the bay.

Today, about 500 people, mostly fishers and farmers, live in small villages on the island. Rapa's small size, lack of development, and isolation combine to ensure the villagers lead a peaceful existence far from the frenzied pace of the modern world. The people of Rapa are well known for their music and dances. The latter follows in the Polynesian grain of telling stories through dance, and the music often blends traditional songs with church songs introduced by missionaries. Recordings by an island group have introduced a worldwide audience to this genre

Haciendas of the Ecuadorian Highlands

January 19, 2003 | Tags: Americas

Passengers on our Galapagos My Way expeditions may precede their adventures in the Enchanted Isles with a new eight-day exploration of the Ecuadorian Highlands. Lia Oprea, who makes Ecuador her home for part of the year, will lead the pre-voyage extension.

During our weeklong foray into Ecuador's Sierras, we'll have a chance to visit its haciendas, once-private estates, as my friend Juan and I did when we recently visited Hacienda La Cienega, a luxuriously restored 17th-century manor set along the Andean cordillera.

The history of the haciendas is well told by looking at their origins, architecture, and the line of visitors that graced the floors of these intriguing homes. Spaniards settling Ecuador were given vast land grants in return for their services to the Crown. The new landowners chose the altiplano, or Andean highlands, for its fertile soil and year-round springlike climate on which to build their grand estates. These haciendas reflected the elegant European architecture of the period. A magnificent main house enclosed fountain gardens, and each estate possessed its own, often ornate, family chapel on the grounds. In the past few decades, many of these haciendas have been restored to their original splendor and have opened their doors to guests.

Juan and I experienced this firsthand after a day of hiking in Cotopaxi National Park. After a delicious meal of local trout, we enjoyed a glass of wine in the drawing room of Hacienda La Cienega and speculated that the great explorer Alexander von Humboldt had likely sat in front of this same fire during his visit to La Cienega in 1802. Humboldt had come to study Cotopaxi's volcanic activity, and he was enthralled with the unique alpine flora of the paramo, the high plains that stretch from north of Quito down past Cuenca.

On our hike earlier in the day we came to understand why so many others have revered the valleys of these mountains. Fifty years before Humboldt's visit, Charles-Marie de La Condamine, leader of the French Geodesic Mission, first entered the fertile Quito valley via the Pichincha Volcano alpine pass. He noted with amazement the mild climate, budding flowers, and fruit-laden orchards, and compared the area to the most beautiful provinces of his native France.

Throughout history the verdant vistas and unique geology of Ecuador have also inspired artists. The 19th-century painter Frederic Church was a guest of the Chiriboga family at their Hacienda Cusin, nestled in a small valley outside of Otavalo at the base of the Mojanda and Imbabura Volcanoes. The area fascinated Church, and he captured the magical light and lush flora of the dramatic landscape in his painting The Heart of the Andes.

Today, Hacienda Cusin's lovingly restored 40-acre estate includes a country-manor-style main house with an excellent gourmet restaurant, flowered courtyards, and guest cottages, as well as a monastery and cloisters complete with a tower and parapets.

I hope you'll join me as I lead the Zegrahm Expeditions exploration Haciendas of the Ecuadorian Highlands. We'll discover Ecuador's altiplano, from the sweeping paramo of Cotopaxi National Park to the colorful indigenous villages and markets of the Otavalo region, and stay in style at these luxurious estates with their rich cultural history and fine art, just as adventurers did centuries ago. Please contact Patrick Kirby in our office for more information.

South Africa My Way

January 19, 2003 | Tags: Africa

Nadia Eckhardt, January 2003

Selecting South Africa My Way as my Insider's Choice can hardly be surprising. After all, I designed the itinerary and will lead this expedition through my native land. My national pride notwithstanding, I have a number of reasons for touting South Africa's virtues as an adventure travel destination.

South Africa has been called a "world in one country," and during our travels I shall show you why it deserves that appellation. We begin in my home city, Cape Town. In addition to striking architecture and a cosmopolitan flair, the Cape is home to wondrous scenic beauty and an array of wildlife. We plan to stop at Boulders Beach to meet inquisitive jackass penguins; the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve and its baboons, ostriches, and cormorants; and Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, where a resident horticulturist guides us among unique African flora. Visits to Robben Island and the District Six Museum illustrate the apartheid era, while a tour of the South Africa Museum offers a wide view of the nation's history.

We depart Cape Town for ten days exploring the coast and interior of the country. Our expedition coincides with the annual southern right whale migration near Hermanus, on the south coast, and on the west coast, wildflowers will be in bloom. Mid to late September is also the optimum game-viewing time. We've exclusively reserved the Lion Sands River Lodge located in Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve. We have excellent chances to see zebra, elephants, lion, leopards, as well as Cape fox, gemsbok, and aardwolf.

Venturing into Swaziland, Africa's smallest country, we shall learn about Swazi life in a traditional village and have the opportunity to spy endangered black and white rhinos. The 10,000-year-old rock paintings at Bushman's Kloof are another cultural highlight. These remarkable paintings record the lives and exploits of the San tribe and compose the world's largest open-air art gallery.

First-time visitors to southern Africa should begin their explorations with our optional Namibia fly-in safari pre-extension. Aboard privately chartered light aircraft, we'll experience the dune fields at Soussusvlei, the Skeleton Coast, and Etosha National Park - one of the region's greatest wildlife reserves.

Christopher Hines will be joining us as naturalist and guide. Born in Zimbabwe, educated in South Africa, and a longtime resident of Namibia, Chris is well versed in wildlife, botany, and regional culture and history. His knowledge and interests make him the ideal person to help me present my homeland to you.

From historic Zululand to multicultural Durban; from surf-pounded coasts to the Cederberg Mountains; from whales to Cape buffalo - South Africa is a nearly inexhaustible treasure-trove; come with me next September to see for yourself why it's my favorite place on earth.

Pitcairn and Bering: A Tale of Two Islands

January 19, 2003 | Tags: Asia, Europe

Bill Tuttle, January 2003

The sea captains and sailors, naturalists, and cartographers who explored the Pacific Ocean left their indelible marks in the annals of world discovery. Motivated by a thirst for knowledge, dreams of conquest, or desire for wealth, they greatly enlarged our knowledge of nature and the physical world, and their exploits, triumphs, and tragedies resonate even today.

Two remote islands - Pitcairn in the south and Bering in the north - occupy unique places in the chronicle of the Pacific, one for its role in a world-famous insurrection, the other because it laid the foundation for studying the geography and wildlife of the North Pacific. Zegrahm passengers will relive the adventures when they land on each island during separate voyages this year.

Tiny Pitcairn Island is one of the most isolated inhabited islands in the world. The story of Pitcairn's founders has fired the imagination of the world for more than two hundred years, resulting in novels and films. While the name Pitcairn may evoke only incomprehension, the mutiny on the Bounty is instantly recognized.

On 28 April 1789 a group of sailors led by Fletcher Christian seized control of HMS Bounty. Seeking to escape the inevitable British punishment, Christian and eight mutineers, along with 12 women (whom they took as wives) and six men from Tahiti, settled Pitcairn, a volcanic island first sighted in 1767. Every Eden has its serpents, however, and all the Tahitian men and nearly all the mutineers died when the Tahitians revolted. Other mutineers died from alcohol, internecine violence, and disease until only John Adams remained. Under his stewardship, peace returned, and the surviving 10 women and 23 children persevered. Today, Pitcairn remains isolated and rarely visited, inhabited by roughly 60 direct descendants of the Bounty mutineers. (To read more on the South Pacific, click here.)

More than 60 years earlier, and thousands of miles north of Pitcairn, Danish sea captain Vitus Bering undertook two voyages of geopolitical and scientific significance. Tsar Peter the Great commissioned Bering to explore the Siberian Far East and Alaska, to determine if Asia and America were separate continents, and to map the American west coast. During his explorations Bering discovered the southern route around Kamchatka; founded the town of Petropavlosk; built two ships, the St. Peter and St. Paul; and sighted the Alaskan mainland.

Returning to Russia, the St. Peter wrecked on an uninhabited island Bering. He, along with almost half the crew, died of scurvy and was interred on the island. Although Bering perished, his explorations had a lasting and profound impact on the exploration and settlement of the Russian Far East and the west coast of North America - the sea, strait, and island named for him reflecting his importance.

Remote Rapa Iti

January 19, 2003 | Tags: Oceania

Bill Tuttle, January 2003

At the far southern reaches of Polynesia, hundreds of miles from its nearest neighbor, lies the very embodiment of the romantic South Pacific -- the island of Rapa. Also called Rapa Iti to distinguish it from Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Rapa is the remnant of a collapsed volcano, its submerged crater forming the island's harbor. Entering this caldera aboard a ship, travelers get a first look at the island's stunning natural beauty. Basaltic spires, projections, and steep ridges, all covered in lush, tropical vegetation, surround the crater rim.

An exploration inland presents further evidence of the splendid variety of this 14-square-mile landmass. Six dramatic peaks soar above the ocean waves, skirted by a low, dense undergrowth of ferns and raspberry bushes resembling thimbleberries. Farther along, coffee trees grown wild form a sort of arboreal tunnel. Other island flowers and plants include guava, taro, casuarina, oleander, geraniums, and Easter lilies. (The number of known plant species on Rapa continues to grow. A 2002 scientific expedition to the island catalogued 11 new plants, as well as two more unseen since the 1930s.) At the top of the ridge, the view is spectacular, affording a view of the entire caldera.

Even though the island's size precludes the presence of large indigenous mammals, a large number of goats and wild cattle, food for the human population, may be found grazing on the mountainsides. The birdlife is plentiful however, with black-winged and storm petrels wheeling in the skies and nesting in the fern forests on Rapa's western edge. White fairy terns; red-tailed tropicbirds; Rapa fruit doves; black, brown, and blue-gray noddies; and wandering tattlers also compose part of the avian display.

In centuries past, humans more densely populated Rapa. In 1791 George Vancouver, the first European to land on the island, found approximately 1,500 people living on the island. Warfare among these people may have been fairly common, as Vancouver noted the existence of 28 forts, strategically situated on the ridges at an elevation of 1,500 feet. Palisade walls, masonry, and terraces surrounded each fort, and the current theory is that Rapa's inhabitants lived on the ridges and descended to the lowlands daily to tend their crops. In case of attack, they would flee to the nearest fort, which also had stored food and a water spring, for sanctuary. The ruins of these Polynesian fortresses, or pas, continue to overlook the bay.

Today, about 500 people, mostly fishers and farmers, live in small villages on the island. Rapa's small size, lack of development, and isolation combine to ensure the villagers lead a peaceful existence far from the frenzied pace of the modern world. The people of Rapa are well known for their music and dances. The latter follows in the Polynesian grain of telling stories through dance, and the music often blends traditional songs with church songs introduced by missionaries. Recordings by an island group have introduced a worldwide audience to this genre