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October 19, 2003 | Tags: Africa
Nadia Eckhardt, October 2003
Always, when touting the merits of traveling in South Africa, I focus on its almost boundless variety -- of landscapes, wildlife, and culture -- often employing the term, "A world in one country."
Though this term may seem an exaggeration, it is entirely apt, something that came home to me recently. Last April I had the pleasure of doing some advance scouting and developing of a brand-new Zegrahm program in South Africa and Namibia. I traveled areas of South Africa, as well as neighboring countries, that even I had not previously explored.
I began my scouting in the Wild Coast, Eastern Cape. This area is well named, being sparsely inhabited, little traveled, and distinguished by rivers and estuaries, mangroves, waterfalls, beaches, and coves. Many years ago, the Wild Coast proved particularly hazardous to maritime traffic; numerous ships wrecked against its rocky shores.
My welcome was much more hospitable. When I was planning my trip, the South African Tourism Board was incredibly helpful and offered me the services of a local guide. Since I had almost no experience along the Wild Coast, I gladly accepted their offer. "Zucks," my Xhosa guide, and his entire family met me at the airport in East London. I knew right away that this warm welcome presaged an extraspecial Eastern Cape experience. With Zucks's knowledge I was able to create the best-possible itinerary showcasing this unique and unspoiled corner of the country. Zucks also taught me a great deal about Xhosa history and their way of life.
I enjoyed similar treatment while scouting the Drakensberg area, St. Lucia, and Hluhluwe and Umfolozi. This is a region I am quite familiar with, and I explained to my hosts that a guide was unnecessary. However, my driver, Thathuka (a very proud Zulu), showed me parts of Kwa-Zulu Natal that I didn't know existed, and I can't wait to share some of these experiences with you. One of the high points came in the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve when we encountered a white rhino, an animal Thathuka had never seen up close. Also, the sight of hippos frolicking in the St. Lucia estuary had him wide-eyed -- further proof that South Africa constantly surprises even its longtime residents.
Two other countries are part of our travels. High in the Drakensbergs we enter Lesotho -- the "Kingdom in the Sky" -- a small nation, home to the Basotho people. Then, in a first for Zegrahm, we spend two days in Mozambique, enjoying its rich birdlife and one of the finest marine environments in southern Africa.
Our wildlife experience would not be complete without visits to Kruger National Park and the Kalahari Desert. We will have exclusive use of lodges in these locations and also in Mozambique, enabling our guides to custom-design our game drives and maximize our opportunities to see the Big Five and other famed African species.
From Cape Town's cosmopolitan ambiance to trackless wilderness, South Africa holds an inexhaustible diversity. You can sample a wide range of its natural and cultural attractions by coming with me as I reveal the Hidden Secrets of South Africa.
October 19, 2003 | Tags: Europe
For thousands of years the Mediterranean was the heart of the Western world. The nations and city-states that rose to prominence, then fell prey to decadence from within or to conquerors from without, left indelible marks on our art, architecture, politics, languages -- indeed, on our very imaginations. And, if civilization was not invented there, it achieved some of its most notable forms in Pharaonic Egypt, ancient Greece and Rome, the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, and during the Renaissance. That one region could be home to such a number of significant cultures is unparalleled, and to travel in the Mediterranean is to come face-to-face with the full sweep and process of human history.
Now, we have created an expedition exploring sites in Egypt, Turkey, Cyprus, and Greece. We call this voyage, which departs 01 April 2004, Crossroads of Empires: Cairo to Crete. I am excited about this departure from both a professional and personal standpoint, as I've watched it take shape during the planning stages, and I'll be aboard to see the end result of our labors.
We'll begin in Cairo, one of the world's great capital cities. Herodotus once wrote of Egypt, "It has more wonders in it than any other country in the world...more works that defy description..." We'll see some of these firsthand, including the Great Pyramid of Giza, the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World that still stands today. The work of millennia unfolds as we explore the Giza plateau and its mortuary complexes and Cairo, a treasure-trove of medieval Islamic architecture. On the Sinai Peninsula, we'll journey overland to the famed Monastery of St. Catherine to see its fabulous library and chapel, which date from the sixth century.
The other destinations on our itinerary hold equally exquisite examples of art, architecture, and archeology. On Cyprus we'll admire the Roman mosaics of Paphos, with their scenes of Apollo and other mythological figures; in Turkey we'll marvel at the astounding tombs at Caunos, Fethiye, and Bodrum, and stroll the boulevards at Ephesus, one of the greatest, and today best-preserved, cities of the ancient world. During our travels, we'll see Venetian-era monuments; Crusader castles; sunken cities; Hellen-istic theaters; Roman amphitheaters; remnants of the Minoan civilization, including the Palace of Knossos, on the island of Crete; and, during a 100-mile transit, the Suez Canal, one of the world's great feats of engineering.
Intriguing destinations are but one of four components needed for a successful expedition. The second element is leaders who do more than merely escort travelers, but who are capable of illuminating the varied aspects of a region. For our program we've brought together two outstanding lecturers who will share the history and culture of the Mediterranean with you. Emily Teeter is an Egyptologist and the curator of Nubian antiquities at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute. Emily has a vast knowledge of Near Eastern civilizations and has been enlightening Zegrahm travelers for many years now. She will also be leading the Luxor and the Valley of the Kings pre-extension, and is eager to share the latest information on its temples and tombs, especially the temple of Ramses III at Medinet Habu, the subject of her current research and publications.
Joining Emily is Jim Delgado, archeologist, historian, and executive director of the Maritime Museum in Vancouver, British Columbia. Jim cohosts a National Geographic International television series and is the author of 30 books. His most recent book, Lost Warships: An Archaeological Tour of War at Sea, touches on the ancient trade routes of the Mediterranean as well as some of its legendary sea battles. Jim is also a compelling speaker who communicates his material with a great deal of wit and insight.
An adventure of this magnitude and leaders of such ability require a vessel of equal merit, the third component of a great expedition. We've exclusively chartered the sailing ship Le Ponant as our conveyance, and we'll travel in the manner of the triremes and galleons of the past, with the sun sparkling on turquoise waters and the wind filling our ship's 16,000 square feet of sail as we head to our next marvelous port of call, Zodiacs at the ready for our explorations. The ship carries only 56 passengers -- the perfect number for our voyage -- with all cabins facing the sea, an open-air restaurant, excellent cuisine, and an experienced and accommodating crew.
We have matched some of the world's great cultural and historic sites with top-notch lecturers and one of the finest expeditionary ships, and now only need a group of curious and adventurous travelers -- the fourth and final requirement for an outstanding voyage. Please join Emily, Jim, and me for an exploration of lands that have been at the crossroads of world events for centuries.
October 19, 2003 | Tags: Oceania
Werner Zehnder, October 2003
When asked to name my favorite part of the world, I invariably single out the islands of Melanesia and Micronesia. These archipelagos, spread across a vast span of the western tropical Pacific, captivated me in the early 1980s when I first encountered them during a voyage aboard the Explorer.
Assuming the duties of Zegrahm CEO meant that I had to sharply curtail my activities in the field in order to plan and oversee our programs from the Seattle office. Of course, as CEO I enjoy certain prerogatives; exercising one of these, I assigned myself the position of expedition leader on the March 2004 The Best of Melanesia and Micronesia departure.
Just what qualities draw me time and again to this region? The shortlist of reasons includes encounters with traditional island peoples; the fantastic craftwork and artifacts created by their artisans and forebears; the lush vegetation of frangipani and palm groves populated by exotic birdlife; protected anchorages and spectacular white-sand beaches dominated by a skyline of active volcanoes; and snorkeling and diving coral grottoes in the company of pelagic fish and iridescent giant clams.
From the first, the Melanesian and Micronesian islanders impressed me with both their hospitality and their adherence to a long-held way of life. Wherever we go, islanders will exuberantly welcome us and share with us their customs. In Papau New Guinea we'll see ritualistic dances that date back centuries, including a nighttime performance of the Baining tribe's fire dance; learn the cultural history of the Kula Ring, a traditional pattern of ceremonial trade relationships binding the islands; and walk among thatched-roof huts for glimpses of everyday island life.
The engines and electronics of the industrialized world have made few inroads in Micronesia. Mariners there still navigate their outrigger canoes by the sun and stars, not by GPS, and people still dress in lava-lavas and grass skirts. The chiefs of Ifalik Atoll are particularly dedicated to preserving their people's cultural integrity: they have banned motor-powered boats from the lagoon, and televisions are likewise forbidden in their village. Before our group will be allowed to land, our expedition team will need to go ashore and sit with the elders to request their permission, observing a time-honored ritual of petition and welcome.
Isolation maintains this state of affairs. These serene islands lie far from the tumult of contemporary life, untroubled by the strife of the world and the frenzied routine of day-to-day existence. Just as they are separated from the outside world, so are they separated from each other by barriers of distance and terrain. Micronesia covers an ocean area larger than the continental United States, but has an actual landmass smaller than that of Rhode Island, and Melanesia's almost-impenetrable reaches kept its human populations divided into small cultural and linguistic communities. Even today, a dearth of airstrips ensures the islands experience minimal contact. On last year's expedition, we landed at the island of Tingwon, the first Westerners to do so in roughly 20 years.
You may think that I would become overly familiar with the islands, having traveled among them so often, but I always make some new discovery. Last year we had the incredible fortune of finding a large group of megapodes, an endangered flightless bird. Such a sighting is incredibly rare -- I had only seen one megapode in all my travels, and on this one island, we were able to photograph 50 of the birds from ten feet!
The megapodes are only one example of a wildlife array that equals the cultural attractions in its variety and numbers. Tropicbirds, sooty terns, black sunbirds, white-bellied sea eagles all perch in the dense foliage or fly overhead. Beneath the waves, 600 species of coral and more than 1,400 species of fish, as well as bottle-nosed dolphins, await divers' and snorkelers' investigations, and a custom-designed glass-bottom boat, newly added by our expedition ship Clipper Odyssey, gives us yet another way to view the undersea world. On Palau we will have the opportunity to snorkel with stingless jellyfish, something that previous passengers have described as "embryonic."
To make sure next year's voyage has its own share of unique finds and experiences, we've assembled an expedition team of people who share my passion for this region, experts in its human and natural history. Whether you are searching for endemic birds with our ornithologist or accompanying our anthropologist into secluded villages, I know you will come to understand just why I prize these islands above any other adventure travel destination.
July 20, 2003
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.
July 20, 2003
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.