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Have you ever driven in a rural area where farmers have set up roadside stands to sell some of their produce directly to the consumers? It seems that whenever you purchase fruits or vegetables from one of these places it always tastes better and fresher. You also assume that it’s also cheaper at the source than at the store where the middleman has added his profit to the price. That was the theory my driver in the Central African Republic was operating on when he stopped to buy this monkey hanging on a post by the highway. I knew bush meat was very popular with many people in Africa, even those now living in big cities, like my driver, I just didn’t realize he was going to buy this monkey until it was hanging on the side mirror of our vehicle. I thought he was only stopping so I could get a picture.
We were only an hour into our 11 hour drive back to Bangui when the monkey was added to our traveling party, which also included 40 lbs. of avacados, 10 lbs. of mangos, and a strange woman who needed a lift to get to the funeral of her mother who had just died. Services for the monkey would apparently be limited to saying “grace” before the evening meal. It was a warm humid day, so to my relief the monkey began the ride hanging outside our vehicle. However a heavy rain started to fall and the driver not wanting his monkey to get soaked put him inside the Landcruiser with the rest of us for the next couple of hours.
Before you start telling me about the horrors of the bush meat trade and how I should have not allowed the driver to buy the monkey, let me say I know the issues and about declining monkey populations in some areas, but I also understand that centuries of cultural traditions can’t be reversed by me screaming and yelling at my driver, especially since he speaks no English and I don’t speak French. So Jocko, yes the driver gave the monkey a name, joined our strange cast of characters making our way through the jungle.
The next morning, through an interpreter I asked the driver how Jocko was. He gave a one word answer, “Delicious”. I replied, “So was my mango.”
I went to the Mall last week, no not that mall, the National Mall and Memorial Parks in Washington D.C, You may not know it but the National Mall is our most visited national park with some twenty-five million visitors a year. My walk took me about five hours and two hundred thirty-five years. The years part was my refresher course in American history. I started at the memorial honoring the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.
My walk took me close enough to the Capitol to almost hear the partisan insults echoing off the walls inside Congress. I walked past all the memorials to various wars in our history. And I walked past the momunents to some of our greatest presidents including two who led the nation in time of war, Lincoln and Roosevelt. Of course Washington was elected president after leading the country in battle before we were even a country. But equally important as his leadership in the Revolutionary War, was his contribution to the establishment of democracy when he voluntarily handed over the reigns of power after two terms as president.
The Jefferson Memorial is beautiful with its neo-classic design, but the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial I think may be my favorite design. It looks the most like America, with wide open spaces, big granite blocks, and large waterfalls. It almost has a feel of a WPA project, appropriately for a president who led the nation through a great depression. But the surprise of my tour was the Lincoln Memorial where for the past ninty years Mother Nature has been adding her own decorating touches to the marble structure. Underneath the memorial is a cavernous space with concrete walls and dirt floors. Tourists haven’t been allowed in here since 9-11, but I got a special tour from park officials and saw hanging from the ceiling or the floor beneath Lincoln hundreds of stalactites. The long thin white geometric formations were created by water dripping through the memorial for almost a century. They make the place look like a starter cave.
Also on some of the support columns are cartoons drawn by the workmen who built the Lincoln Memorial. Of course above this seldom seen part of the monument to out 16th president are his own words from the Gettysburgh address chiseled into the stone work for all to see and remember.
My column for the July-August edition of National Geographic Traveler Magazine will have the full story of my trip to the Mall. And on my radio show, “National Geographic Weekend” on May 14-15 I will be talking about the mall and interviewing Susan Spain, the project executive for the National Mall Plan. She will explain why the park that is the face of America needs a face lift. But equally important is the story that the National Mall is a national park, one that tells the world who we are as a country and how we got here, as well as honoring those who served, fought, and died to protect our liberty. Next time you are in D.C. take a little time to visit the Mall.
Posted in: on Sunday, May 1st, 2011
Usually we have to travel to some remote or exotic locaton to capture good wildlife footage at National Geographic. But for the month of April we simply had to walk out the door of the building and into the courtyard to get all the cute animal pictures we wanted. A mother mallard duck and her ten ducklings set up housekeeping at National Geographic after Ms. Mallard apparently decided she wanted a place with a pool. We have one. So the kids got their first swimming lessons in our decorative pond. Ever attuned to the needs of the animal kingdom, our engineers built a ramp to help the youngsters get in and out of the water.
Well after three weeks of being the center of attention the ducks have opted for more privacy and mom moved the family down the street to a nearby park. I’m on a plane tomorrow to go look for more typically National Geographic animal subjects. I’m headed to the Central African Republic hoping to get video of forest elephants and lowland gorillas.
I’m hopped up on drugs again this week thanks to Nurse Stickum at National Geographic. Before leaving on any trip overseas for National Geographic all of us who work here first stop by the medical office at Geographic. It’s staffed with a full time nurse and a doctor who is on call for special needs. They keep detailed records of all our visits and the various shots and treatments, and medications we have been give over the years. That way we know if it’s time to get another yellow fever vaccination, or polio booster, or whatever shot might be required for the country we are visiting.
Next week I leave for the Central African Republic in the Congo Basin to hopefully see lowland gorillas, and forest elephants. This week I picked up my anti-maliarial pills and got a typhoid booster all of which I discuss on this weeks edition of National Geographic Weekend. This video is from that episode and in it I reveal one of my self-medication secrets.
Mr. and Ms. Easter Bunny were busy little rabbits today putting out baskets of treats for the kids and hiding eggs. Well scratch the eggs. The kids now over twenty-one are no longer interested in coloring eggs and they’re even less interested in searching the yard to find hidden candy treasures and colored hard boiled eggs. So this year Mr. and Ms. Bunny tried a new approach to spark Easter excitement.
We hid a case of beer in the yard, twenty-four bottles placed in bushes, behind rocks, in trees, next to lawn ornaments. Erica is in NYC so Taylor was left to find the bottles on his own. He proved up to the task and gone was his recent reluctance to participate in our Easter festivites.
Ms. Easter Bunny was thrilled to have the family eagerly participating in the holiday fun once again. She understands it’s all about knowing your audience. Find out what they like, what motivates them and then deliver the goods.
HOPE YOU ALSO HAD A FUN EASTER CELEBRATION!
Posted in: on Friday, April 22nd, 2011
The genius engineering geeks toiling in the basement at National Geographic have done it again, creating a new and improved way of taking aerial pictures. The guys who are always making design improvement on the critter cam, our camera system that’s been attacked to all kinds of critters from lions to sharks, have now designed and built a remote operated flying platform to carry small video cameras and still cameras. During our radio show, National Geographic Weekend” we took the “photo chopper ” out for a test flight on our courtyard. The video from the event which I’ve embedded here gives you an idea of what a great new tool it will be for bringing a different perspective to stories at National Geographic.
The ducks are still drawing a lot of attention at National Geographic. But people had better get their pictures soon, because the ducks may not be here much longer. There’s a worry that when the chicks get a little older mom won’t be able to control them and and some might waddle out into the street and get hit by a passing car. Plans are being made to transfer the ducks to a safer home in Rock Creek Park.
I talk about out new feathered friends on this weeks National Geographic Weekend radio show. The above video is from that segment and includes pictures of the ducks. Enjoy their cuteness.
Had lunch with the ducks today. Ms. Mallard and her ten babies have appropriated the National Geographic courtyard as their personal villa. According to some, the mom gave birth to the babies a week ago in a nest across the street. Then, at least one report claims, the family used the crosswalk to march over to the National Geographic headquarters here at 16th and M st. in downtown Washington, D.C. She and the kids are indeed lucky ducks to land at Geographic. Who better to appreciate wildlife, than National Geographic.
We’ve built a ramp to help the youngsters walk down into the pool and back out. We’ve posted signs asking people to give the ducks plenty of room so the mom doesn’t take off and leave the kids. But mainly people just come down and ooh and aah and take pictures and engage in silly baby talk, saying things like, “Oh you little guys are just sooo cute.” It’s almost embarrassing to see the adults who specialize in going to remote parts of the planet to bring back films of exotic creatures rushing out of the building at every opportunity to catch a glimpse of the ducks. This weekend on my radio show, National Geographic Weekend, I even spend some time discussing the ducks, or as we like to think of them, the newest members of the National Geographic Society.
Posted in: on
Who knew there are Rednecks in Vietnam? Saw this chicken on the street in Hanoi and wondered was this bird showing his Communist Party loyalty by exposing the red neck, or were its political affilations more in line with the American Rednecks? Then again, maybe this is some kind of genetic experiment where the head of a turkey has been attached to the body of a chicken.
Turns out it’s none of the above. My speculations are answered this week on my radio show, National Geographic Weekend. In our regular segment, “The News You Need to Know, Even if You Didn’t Know You Needed to Know It,” we discuss the “Transylvanian naked neck chicken” and how it came to be. The featherless neck chicken first arose in northern Romania hundreds of years ago. Although the genetic mutation began in vampire country it was not an adapatation to make the neck easier to bite. The bare neck makes them more resistant to hot weather. To find out more tune into this weekend’s show.
Oh, and that redneck chicken in Vietnam is a relative of the Transylvanian bird.
Posted in: on Friday, April 8th, 2011
story of trekking in Gabon with Mike Fey
Mike Fey doesn’t know the meaning of the word “detour.” That’s one of the first things you learn about Mike if you ever go trekking with him. This week on my radio show “National Geographic Weekend” I share the story of the time I followed Mike through the forests of Gabon looking for elephants and gorillas. We found the elephants but I also found a tiny creature I wasn’t looking for and for that I blame Mike and his insistence on pushing forward come crocs or thigh deep swamps.
In this video of me telling the story I’ve also added some pictures from the journey to show you the swamps we navigated and the elephants we found at the end which made the whole adventure all the more memorable.