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April 15, 2013
Written by Rich Pagen
A lively band with a single-string bass was playing as we walked up the soft black sand beach from the landing on Pentecost Island in Vanuatu. As we continued on a footpath up the hill, a ramshackle tower of sticks and vines came into view, looking like some strange South Pacific modern art sculpture. We found ourselves a place to sit in the shade a short distance from the base of the mysterious tower, and the show began.
Within minutes, scantily-clad men began climbing around the scaffold-like structure, all busily tying and untying, adding sticks and cutting out sticks from the structure. Over the course of the afternoon, men would climb to higher and higher platforms on the tower, have vines carefully tied around their ankles, and then leap fearlessly forward into the air, trusting that the vines would protect them from gravity pulling them at a fatal speed into the ground.
Pentecost Island is the birthplace of the tradition of nanggol, a land diving ceremony to celebrate the arrival of the first yam harvest, and a ritual that has inspired the modern sport of bungee jumping. For each land diver, careful adjustments had to be made both to each vine and to each individual platform, which needs to break at the right moment to soften the fall.
Eventually, only one platform remained, the highest of all. We watched with mouths agape as this final jumper took his leap of faith. The image of spiraling bodies silhouetted against a blue sky will remain etched in our memories forever.
Photos by Jarda Versloot.
April 3, 2013 | Tags: Galapagos Islands, Jack Grove, Las Ilas Encantadas, Ultimate Galapagos
In 2012 Zegrahm cofounder, Jack Grove, led our annual journey to Las Islas Encantadas, Ultimate Galápagos. The trip was spectacular in every way, but Jack made a special connection with one of our passengers—10-year-old Ben Perez.
Ben had an incredible time learning about various marine life and all that the Galápagos Islands have to offer. A few months ago, he even wrote a play that takes place in the archipelago, for the Young Playwrights’ Theater. Out of over 850 entries, Ben’s play is one of 12 that will be acted out in Washington, D.C. on April 22. His play centers around a hero named ‘Jack’ who must save the giant Galápagos tortoises from extinction after a disastrous oil spill.
Jack’s opinion? “Getting to know Ben and having the opportunity to share such an amazing place with this young boy was almost as heart-warming as my return to the islands.”
For more information on our inspiring journey to the Galápagos Islands, click here.
April 1, 2013
We walked along a coastal trail that wound through lush vegetation, while small flocks of singing starlings came and went from the trees. The locals, whose houses were clustered in small groups along the way, were very welcoming and some even accompanied us on the walk, filling us in on what life here is like.
With eclectus parrots occasionally flying overhead, we cut through open woodland before arriving at the steam and sulfur-smell of a hot spring. Some fumaroles gurgled while others shot boiling hot water out of the ground, only to fall back down upon the sparsely vegetated moonlike landscape. A small pile of snail shells sat on the edge of one of the hot pools, left there by locals who had gathered the snails and cooked them directly in the boiling water for a quick meal.
On the hike back down, we were walking along a steaming stream when a group of birds called curl-crested manucodes flew into a nearby tree snag. These large glossy black birds are actually members of the bird-of-paradise family, a specialty of the New Guinea region, and we admired them up close through the spotting scope before resuming our course along the sulfur-smelling stream back down to the beach.
March 25, 2013
To see a tiger requires infinite patience and perseverance, but the sight of your first tiger is one of life’s great moments. They are the essence of power and beauty portrayed in an unhurried, silent walk or a charge towards a herd of chital.
In recent times the tiger has become a symbol of India’s wilderness, a striped ambassador that, sadly, is in serious decline. At the turn of the 19th century, there were thought to be over 40,000 tigers in India alone; by 1972, they numbered just 1,800. According to the latest tiger census report released on February 12, 2008 by the National Tiger Conservation Authority, the current tiger population of India has fallen further (as a result of poaching) and is now within the range of 1,165 to 1,657 individuals. Nevertheless India continues to support more than half of the world’s tiger numbers.
Larger and more powerful than lions, tigers are solitary hunters and rely on their exquisite camouflage to approach prey closely before pouncing. Each tiger has a unique paw print, set of stripes, and facial markings, allowing them to disappear from view in the forest or on the plains, like a phantom. They are hunters of immense and awesome power with the speed and agility to catch a peacock in mid-flight and the strength to bring down a mature gaur (bison). A 330-pound tigress was once seen dragging a one-ton gaur over 50 yards into cover. On average, they kill three times a week.
Fossil evidence suggests that the tiger originated in Siberia and then spread southward. In present times they are equally at home in Himalayan high altitude, cold coniferous forests, and the steaming mangrove swamps of the Sunderbans Delta. Unlike most cats, tigers enjoy water and are good swimmers. Some tigers hunt mostly in the water and feed on fish, sea turtles, and water monitors.
The tigress produces a large litter of up to six blind, helpless kittens, but only two will normally survive. The gestation period is just 110 days and the youngsters can stay with their mother until they are two-and-a-half years of age.
India is to be applauded for its bold initiative in tiger conservation, which began in 1972 with the launch of Project Tiger. Only time will tell if this magnificent predator will once again thrive or sadly, go the way of the dodo.
March 25, 2013 | Tags: asmat villages, best of indonesia, ewer, rich pagen, Zodiac
Written by Rich Pagen.
Our flotilla of Zodiacs sped upriver in the direction of the small Asmat village of Ewer, on the edge of a huge flooded mangrove forest with little change in elevation for miles and miles. The village seemed quiet, but when we looked with binoculars, it became clear that there were hundreds of people lining the shore watching our approach.
Then, without warning, wooden longboats shot out from the shore, paddled by men dressed in straw skirts made from sago palm. Their bodies and faces were decorated in white, and they wore headdresses ornamented with fur and feathers. While they banged their paddles against the sides of their longboats, they came alongside us, with the lead man on each boat leaping onto the front of each of our Zodiacs, all the while gyrating to the rhythm of the chanting.
Soon they led us into the small inlet that hosted their community, and brought us to a rickety pier where we left the Zodiacs behind and headed into the village itself on foot. There was no doubt that we had arrived in the Asmat.