Iguazu Falls: Water, Water Everywhere

Iguazu Falls, It’s South America’s biggest and most spectacular water park.  On the border of Brazil and Argentina, it’s been voted one of the seven wonders of the modern world.  Because it twists and turns and bends for almost two miles the falls seem as if they most me the biggest in the world.  And by the numbers, 275 different falls, which make up this dramatic panorama, it is the biggest.  It has less average water flow than Niagara, but it’s greater than Victoria Falls.

Around every bend there is a new perspective to be had causing you to ooh and aah again and again.  But one view not to be missed is the one from a boat at the bottom of the falls.  However don’t stare at this one with you mouth open in wonder or you might drown as the falls come tumbling down all around you, and on you.

Looking for the Beat

I went to the home of musician Giba Conceicao in Salvador, Brazil to get a percussion lesson so I could more fully join in the festivities of Carnival this year.  What I got was yet another lesson in humility.  Because it seems as if everyone is beating a drum or shaking a rattle or simply shaking their body to the beat of the Samba at carnival time, I thought with some help from Giba I would soon be able to blend right in to the rhythm of the locals.

Giba gave me a quick demonstration of what sounds could be made on several of his different percussion instruments so I could get an idea of which ones I might want to try.  Let me admit up front that for me they were all harder to play than they looked.  I began the session thinking, “Really how hard can it be to just shake a rattle or beat a drum with one stick or with your hands.  These are like the first instruments ever played by humans.  Surely I can match musical chops with my Neanderthal ancestors.”  Wrong.  Or at least wrong if Neanderthals ever mastered the Samba.

The Samba is the driving force of Carnival, but it soon became apparent that I should not be allowed behind the wheel of the Samba car.  I need to use a designated driver.  Or if I can’t resist the music and insist on shaking something, then it is essential I get fully into the spirit of Carnival and wear one of the elaborate masks.  With a mask there is always plausible deniability.

I tell the story of Carnival in Brazil and my attempts to learn the rhythm of the Samba this week on my radio show National Geographic Weekend, but this video has some of the highlights of my musical adventure in Brazil.

Dirt Bikes, Dirty Underwear, & Lyle Lovett

Does this strike you as a good idea, going on an adventure riding dirt bikes in Patagonia when you’ve never been on a dirt bike in your life?  I know, I know, but back in the 90’s when given the chance to do just that, I jumped at it.  Of course what really made it tempting was the cast of characters I would be riding with on the trip.  The two main riders were singer Lyle Lovett and off-road racing legend Malcolm Smith.

With Lyle and I being fellow Texans I was envisioning a kid of buddy film, sort of a, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” on dirt bikes.  Lyle had a lot of experience on dirt bikes, even racing them as a kid, I of course had none, although for several years in California I had owned and ridden street bikes.  I was about to find out there is a difference.

I also relearned another lesson, one my mother had attempted to instill in me from the beginning.  She would always, “Never leave the house wearing dirty underwear, because you might get in a accident and have to go to the hospital where they will see you’re wearing dirty underwear.  I don’t know why that was such a major concern for moms back in the day, but most of my friends were given the same lecture by their mothers as well.

When I arrived in Chile for the trip, my luggage did not.   For two days while we hung out in Santiago I had to wear the same clothes I’d worn on the plane ride, including the same underwear.  My wife located my luggage and arranged to have the bags meet me in Patagonia on the day we were beginning the ride.  That meant I got my dirt bike gear in time to put in on before we got on the bikes, but I didn’t have time to find or change my underwear.  It should have been a warning.

Sure enough five hours into what was to be a seven day ride, I hi a big rock buried in the sand, flipped the bike, and when I put my arm down to break the fall, dislocated my elbow.  The pain was so intense I though I must have broken a few bones as well.  Holding my arm to steady my dislocated elbow I climbed in the back of a pickup for a five hour bumpy ride to the hospital where they reset the elbow, put the arm in a cast, and the next day I got on a plane back to the States.  The rest of the group went on with the dream trip.

It all just proves mom was right about what happens when you wear dirty underwear.  I tell the story of what happened this week on my radio show, “National Geographic Weekend.”   Here’s a part of the original story about our bike trip in Patagonia that we filmed for my show at the time, “National Geographic Explorer.”

Amazon Monkey Lady

Can you speak monkey?  Well if you hang out with them long enough you’re bound to pick up a few words.  After more than thirty years in the Amazon, Dr. Sara Bennett can talk some monkey, which, with a little encouragement on my part, she demonstrated for me one sweltering morning on Mocagua Island in the Colombian Amazon.  One wooly monkey in particular also had a lot to say to Sara.  I’m sure what he was saying was the same thing most of the monkeys on this island adjacent to Amacayacu National Park probably say to her, “Thank you.  Thank you for saving us and for starting the rescue center that takes in orphaned and captive monkeys in this part of the Amazon.

Dr. Sara Bennett got a grant from National Geographic to study trees when she first went to the Amazon, but she soon fell in love with the creatures that live in the trees, and began working with local tribes helping them understand the importance of altering their hunting and fishing practices so they would be more sustainable.  On Mocagua Island which is shared by four different tribes she got them to agree to stop the hunting of wooly monkeys which were in danger of being wiped out.  It was here that she also helped establish Maikuchiga, a small non-profit that operates a rescue center for orphaned animals.

Most of the rescued animals are monkeys that were in either in captivity or were orphaned after hunters killed their mothers.  Sara now uses the rescued monkeys as educational ambassadors.  This video shows Sara and some of her rescued monkeys jumping in her arms and climbing on her head.   It also shows some of the monkeys trying to help me with the filming.

Peru comes to Peru

One of my favorite countries to visit is Peru.  It has the obvious appeal of spectacular landscapes set in the Andes, and the rich cultural heritage of the Inca empire, but what really makes the place special is its people.  You can get a sense of their spirit in this short documentary featuring a group of Peruvians who take a bus trip to Peru, Nebraska.  It’s an entertaining cultural exchange program.