Archive for the ‘South America’ Category

Book of the Week – The Smithsonian Atlas of the Amazon

Friday, August 5th, 2011

Our book partner, Longitude books, is always searching for new books to inspire and inform your travels.

Smithsonian Atlas of the AmazonThis week’s book is a real stunner—The Smithsonian Atlas of the Amazon, co-authored by Michael Goulding, Ronaldo Barthem, and Efrem Ferreira.

The Amazon River flows from the world’s largest rainforest into the Amazon delta, and to Atlantic Ocean, covering a distance of more than 4,000 miles. With more than 150 maps and 300 photographs, all in striking color, this is the first comprehensive view of the Amazon and its thirteen major tributaries.

Not only that, you’ll learn more from the authors about the black water tributaries, the effect of the Amazon’s freshwater on the ocean, and how deforestation affects this region and its biodiversity.

Intrigued by the Amazon? Click here to learn more about exploring it with us.

The Sacred Valley of the Incas

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

It’s been 100 years since Hiram Bingham came upon Machu Picchu in Peru, and there are still many mysteries to discover among the Andes. Study Leader Dr. Sabine Hyland recently led a group of Smithsonian travelers through Peru. An anthropologist, Dr. Hyland is co-director of a multi-disciplinary project studying the history of the indigenous Chanka people of the central Andes. Here are her impressions from a chance encounter with the local people in the Valley of the Incas.

Travel in the Andes is filled with the unexpected; it is common for travelers to Peru to enjoy chance encounters with local peoples in village fiestas and celebrations. In Smithsonian’s most recent journey to the Andes, one such encounter occurred in the high mountains overlooking the Sacred Valley of the Incas.

A young Peruvian woman. Photo: Deborah Fryer.

A young Peruvian woman. Photo: Deborah Fryer.

The warm sun brightened the hilltops as our bus drove the circuitous route from Cuzco, the ancient capital of the Incas, to the fertile mountain valley where the Inca emperors had built their pleasure palaces. When our driver pulled the bus into an overlook so we could view the adobe houses with red tile roofs and the green fields of corn below, we noticed a local Indian festival near us. Bright pink and purple skirts swirling, Peruvian women danced with male partners around a tree that had been placed in a hole in the ground. Tied to the branches were balloons, candies and gifts.

Before we knew what was happening, the male dancers came up to the women in our group, politely asking us if we wished to join the dance. Soon I found myself dancing rhythmically around the tree with a local Indian man. He then brought me over to the tree and indicated that I was to strike it with an ax, after which I was offered freshly brewed corn beer to drink. The tree toppled to the strokes of the next person to strike it, and after it fell, everyone ran over to partake in the gifts and sweets that were tied to the branches. My dancing partner explained to me that this was the traditional way for the village to celebrate its anniversary, and thanked me for being part of the festivities. As we climbed back into the bus, all of us felt that we had experienced something special, something that brought us closer to the world of the Andes.

Click here for more on exploring Peru with Smithsonian Journeys.

Book of the Week- The Evolution of Jane

Friday, July 15th, 2011

The Evolution of Jane, Cathleen SchineOur book partner, Longitude books is always searching for new books to inspire and inform your travels.

This week, they’ve recommended you escape to The Evolution of Jane by Cathleen Schine. A novel, the book is about a recently divorced 25-year-old woman who takes the search for her own origins all the way to the Galápagos Islands. Part travelogue, part comedy, part commentary, it’s a book worth curling up with this summer.

If you’re ready to write your own ticket to the Galápagos, click here for more on our trips there.

Exploring Patagonia – Five Things

Thursday, April 28th, 2011
The Perito Moreno Glacier. Photo: Allison Dale

The Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia. Photo: Allison Dale

Ever wonder how it is on the other side of the Equator? It might be hot in the Southern Hemisphere, but there’s snow, ice, and glaciers too in Patagonia, where during a heat wave, temperatures  might reach all of 78 degrees Fahrenheit.

1) The explorer Magellan named the region, which includes the southernmost portions of Chile and Argentina, after the native people there. He used the word Patagón, or giant, to describe the group, who were an average height of about 6 feet tall, much taller than the Europeans of the time.

2) Rawson, the capital of the Chubut region of Patagonia, was settled by Welsh immigrants in 1865, as part of an effort by the Argentinian government to attract settlers to areas outside of Buenos Aires. The going was even tougher than they anticipated; the settlers had been told the arid plateau of Chubut was much like lush, green lowland Wales.

3) Humans have inhabited Patagonia since 10,000 BCE, if not longer, and traces of past settlements can be found across the region. One of the best known is the Cueva de las Manos (cave of hands), located in Santa Cruz, Argentina. The cave painters used ink made from hematite, and some archaeologists speculate that the young men stenciled their hands on the cave as part of a tribal rite-of-passage ritual. The cave was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.

4) The Patagonian region of Santa Cruz, in Argentina, is home to a 52-square mile petrified forest. The forest grew 150 million years ago, during the Jurasssic period, and was later buried under volcanic eruptions at the beginning of the Cretaceous Period, when the Andes began formation.

Cave Paintings at the Cueva de las Manos in Santa Cruz, Argentina. Photo: Mariano Cecowski.

Cave Paintings at the Cueva de las Manos in Santa Cruz, Argentina. Photo: Mariano Cecowski.

5) Some of the most famous residents of Patagonia include the Magellanic penguins of Magdalena Island. Situated in the center of the Strait of Magellan, Magdelena Island hosts 60,000 breeding pairs of penguins. Penguins mate for life, going back to the same nest to meet and breed each year.

Need more reasons to travel to Patagonia? Check out Smithsonian’s  Patagonian Explorer tour, where you’ll explore the glaciers, islands, and windswept landscapes of Tierra del Fuego, the Beagle Channel, and more.

Ushuaia, Argentina, the world’s southernmost urban center, is 6,500 miles away from Washington, DC. What’s the furthest you’ve ever been from home? Please share.

On Patagonia

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011
Glaciers of Patagonia - Photo: Allison Dale

Glaciers of Patagonia. Photo: Allison Dale

Veteran Smithsonian Journeys Study Leader Jeff Cole has led over forty of our tours in Latin America since 1992. He has also directed lecture series for the Smithsonian Resident Associate Program here in Washington. Here, Jeff shares his thoughts on a recent cruise around Cape Horn and a visit to Torres del Paine. For more on Jeff, including Q&A and his upcoming tours, click here.

I had seen Cape Horn from ships a number of times in the past, squinting through my binoculars to make out the handful of buildings and monuments. I always wondered what it would be like to step foot on that last little bit of the Americas, and promised myself that one day I would do just that. My hopes were only heightened by documentary films featuring the island (e.g. Captain Irving Johnson’s 1929-30 footage), or the written accounts of mariners, including Darwin and Fitzroy.

When at long last I was able to amble up those 67 stairs from sea level to the island’s top, and stand before the Albatross Monument erected in the memory of sailors who never made it home, I felt a real sense of joy and accomplishment. Now that I’ve done the landing twice, and gotten the t-shirt, I enjoy seeing our Smithsonian Journeys travelers realize their own ambitions, whether to step on Cape Horn, to walk with penguins on Isla Magdalena, or to follow condors circulating overhead in Torres del Paine National Park. Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego, and Cape Horn are magical places, and only a lucky few get to see them. For me, they are a second home.

Ready for the ultimate adventure? Click here for our tours to Patagonia and here for upcoming tours with Jeff Cole.