Greetings from the Indian Ocean! We’ve been cruising from Mumbai down the west coast of India and tonight will sail for Trivandrum. The Taj Hotel in Mumbai was a great first place to stay, dramatically posed by the famous ‘Gateway to India’ where we took small boats to the legendary island of Elephanta to see the striking rock-cut temple of Shiva. With its many-columned cave sanctuary and colossal triple-faced head of Shiva carved in the living rock of the temple’s walls, this was an incredible site. The west coast has been marvelous; Goa was resplendent with palms and Portuguese churches from the colonial period. Mangalore and Cochin, too, had long contacts with the Portuguese and there were many Catholic churches and schools there as well. We even visited a cashew factory…fascinating! We saw a giant stone statue of a Jain saint at one monument, poised high on a hill. The Chinese-style fishing nets in Cochin were a highlight with their arching, elegant frames reaching to the sky along the shorelines. Our textile experts on board have helped with shopping for the beautiful textiles of India. Today, off on river boats to explore Cochin’s famous canals!
It’s not every day that one has the opportunity to wander through the deserted ruins of an ancient city in the company of the archaeologist who brought the treasures of the area to light, but this was our privilege today. Hector Williams has spent over a decade of summers carefully uncovering the historic site of Anamurium, which dates from the 4th century BC. Its favorable location, protected from prevailing winter winds and less than 50 miles from Cyprus, attracted settlers throughout the Roman, Byzantine, and later Medieval periods. Hector’s informed commentary helped to recreate the complex and varied human history that spanned these millennia. The first autumn rains of the previous night added crispness to our morning visit, with the songs of rock nut-hatches and blue rock thrushes ringing around the ruined city.
The modern town of Anamur, named after its ancient predecessor, is also home to the picturesque fortress-castle of Mamure Kalesi. First constructed by the Cilician Kings of Armenia, the castle was utilized by successive conquerors, including both the Crusaders and the Ottomans. A quick stroll along the top of its crenellated walls, which plunge directly into the Mediterranean Sea, gave some insights into its impregnable nature and strategic importance of the fortress in earlier times.
With the first rays of the sun bathing the landscape, we found ourselves nosing the Clipper Odyssey into one of the most secluded, breathtakingly beautiful bays on Turkey’s Turquoise Coast. The dramatic limestone peaks of the Taurus range formed the backdrop for our exploration of the tiny village of Kas and its most famous historic edifice, the Hellenistic Theater of Antiphellus.
But this morning it was natural, rather than human, history on my mind, for this remote coastline is home to one of the world’s most elusive mammals, the Mediterranean monk seal. Once widely distributed from the Black Sea to the Atlantic coast of West Africa, this animal has undergone a catastrophic decline across its range, as a result of causes as diverse as direct persecution by fishermen for poaching fish from their nets and lines, to disturbance of their breeding beaches by coastal development. The remnant population, now estimated at under 500 individuals, is divided into two main areas: the deserted, Saharan coast of Mauritania, and the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean region of Greece and Turkey in which we now found ourselves. As I carefully scanned the quiet waters of the bay, I secretly hoped that we would be so lucky…
During the time of the ancient Greeks, the seals formed small colonies on rocky coasts, the males wooing their consorts with high-pitched, bird-like songs that gave rise to the myth of the sirens, luring sailors to their deaths. Nowadays, they use mostly inaccessible sea caves for pupping and we carefully scanned the nooks and crannies of the convoluted coast as we sailed into the bay. Suddenly, a head broke the surface of the inky water, and my heart stopped - but close inspection revealed the chunky head and hooked profile of a loggerhead turtle, a species that still nests in good numbers along these coasts. And sadly, that was as close as we ever came to seeing the rarest of all pinnipeds, despite careful searches around Kas and adjacent areas. We can only hope that the admirable effort of the Turkish government yields results in the ongoing protection of this charismatic creature.
"The three great elemental sounds in nature are the sound of rain, the sound of the wind in a primeval wood, and the sound of the ocean on a beach. I have heard them all, and of these three most elemental voices, that of the ocean is the most awesome, beautiful, and varied."
~ Henry Beston
I know not when Beston wrote this, nor do I know anything of his legacy; however, I admire his appreciation of the sounds of nature. A man who recognizes the significance of the voices of the wild and describes them as "awesome," is a man after my own heart. As I write this entry with no access to Google, I am certain that Mr. Beston had never experienced the sounds of a king penguin colony or a beach adorned with thousands of breeding and birthing southern elephant seals ... for had he witnessed this marvel of nature, he surely would have written that the most awesome sound is that of the cacophony of bull elephant seals, overflowing with testosterone, bellowing amidst a harem of females giving birth, juxtaposed with the pulsating sounds of the Southern Ocean breaking on a pebbled sub-Antarctic shore. If I could speak with Henry Beston today, I would argue that this is indeed the most awesome, beautiful, and varied sound in nature.
The circumnavigation of South Georgia Island is complete, our fourth in the two decades since Zegrahm Expeditions was formed. The expedition is not over, but South Georgia lays in our wake. The Sea Spirt is headed WNW returning to the Falklands for another few days of adventure. The other night we enjoyed a celebration onboard in a turbulent sea, with much to celebrate: the circumnavigation, Halloween, and 21 years of adventure travel, not to mention the joy of sharing this expedition with three of my best friends: Shirley Metz, Peter Harrison, and Mike Messick.
To share such an amazing place as South Georgia with exuberant travelers aboard a comfortable ship, and to walk in the footsteps of Sir Ernest Shackleton, is to experience life to its fullest. There is no way to put into words the nature of this experience, nor adequately describe the feeling shared by all onboard. Perhaps the closest term is that used by Henry Beston ... these days have been among the "most awesome" that anyone can imagine.
Bound for the Falkland Islands.
Being from South Africa, I never dreamed I would come to another part of the continent and be so blown away. Within five minutes of landing, every one of my senses was hit, and for the next four days we journeyed through incredible markets and villages, having one of the most diverse cultural experiences ever.
Visiting the Tuareg in their natural desert environment, sitting in a caravan tent eating a traditional mishui lamb lunch, and finally making it to infamous Timbuktu was just the start of our adventure in Mali. Getting to see the largest mud mosque in the world, together with the huge Monday Market that surrounds the structure, made the town of Djenné another highlight. Our visit to Dogon Country revealed the amazing architecture that blends into these towering rocky cliffs, similar to the Grand Canyon, with villages nestled at the base that run for over 200 miles. Once we were in the remote Dogon villages among the unique slender thatched mud huts, we experienced a culture that is hard to imagine, defined by diviners reading fox tracks and incredibly skilled dancers with an amazing variety of masks.
It’s been a truly remarkable experience, completely safe, and not to be missed. I hope you join us on our next trip to Mali, an extension of our Senegal to Spain expedition departing in April, 2012.