Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

Close up and personal with the penguins of Antarctica

The giant, ice-covered landmass at the bottom of our earth may be the remotest, coldest, driest environment on earth, but it’s paradise to the penguins of Antarctica. I was fortunate to have an up-close and personal experience with three of the four Antarctic species during my recent expedition cruise. I was quite surprised by how close I was able to get to them. The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators recommend that visitors not approach within 5 meters (about 16.5 feet) of any animals. All passengers on my expedition cruise were required to sign an agreement stating that we would abide by this rule before we were allowed to set foot on the continent. However, the expedition leaders also said that the penguins might approach us…and that was perfectly fine. Read More

After the decline of Moai culture on Easter Island, a new cult emerged that revolved around fertility and the worship of migratory seabirds. As the Moai had represented the idea of ancestor worship, the new Birdman Cult was represented by the Tangatu-mana (birdman), a human body with the head of a bird. The village of Orongo was built exclusively for ceremonial purposes related to the new religion. Perched nearly 1,000 feet above the sea, on the precarious rim of the Rano Kao volcano, Orongo faced three tiny offshore islets where Sooty Terns returned each fall to lay their eggs and fledge their chicks.

Houses at Orongo ceremonial village were built on a narrow ledge of land between the volcano crater and the sea

Houses at Orongo ceremonial village were built on a narrow ledge of land between the volcano crater and the sea

Every September, chiefs of different tribes (or their representatives) swam across the shark-infested channel to the islet of Motu Nui. There they lay in wait for the Sooty Terns, each man hoping to find a tern egg. The first to deliver an unharmed egg to the main tribal house won the Tangatu-mana competition. It was from this ceremony that the Birdman Cult took its name. The new birdman was considered tapu (sacred) and lived in seclusion for the next year. Following his year of sequestration, legend says he was rewarded with a virgin to marry. Read More

The Birdman Cult of Easter Island

For years, friends have raved that Easter Island is the most spiritual place they have ever visited. This speck of land in the eastern Pacific, known to locals as Rapa Nui, had been on my wish list for years. Since childhood I had read about the Moai, enormous statues that the indigenous people carved and raised on platforms near the shoreline. Explorers and visitors alike have always been intrigued by the mystery of Easter Island. Where did the first inhabitants come from? When did they arrive? How did they get there? How and why were the Moai of Easter Island created? And perhaps the most intriguing question of all, how did they move statues that weighed tons without the use of cranes or sophisticated technology?

The most famous Moai of Easter Island, standing on the platform at Tongariki, seen from Rano Raraku quarry

The most famous Moai of Easter Island, standing on the platform at Tongariki, seen from Rano Raraku quarry

Debate continues to rage with regard to many of these questions. Though local legend says the first people arrived on Easter Island sometime between the 8th and 9th centuries, recent archeological evidence points to an arrival during the 13th century. Despite conflicting theories that posit South America as the source of the first settlers, recent DNA testing has confirmed what locals have always insisted: the original inhabitants were from the Marquesas Islands in Polynesia. They likely arrived in dugout canoes, having navigating more than 2,000 miles through uncharted seas until they reached this most remote island in the world. But while some of the many mysteries surrounding Easter Island have been solved, others persist. Read More

Easter Island – One of the Most Spiritual Places on Earth

Salto Grande Waterfall ibn Torres del Paine in Patagonia Chile
The tour guide promised the trail to Salto Grande Waterfall in Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park was easy. “Just a 20 minute walk,” he said. As a casual aside, he advised us to take our jackets, as it “might be a little windy up there.” The first 15 minutes were a breeze. A graveled path led through a field of flower-strewn tall grass, with the famous horns of the Cordillera Paine Massif peeking over the top. A stretch of turquoise river came into view and the thunderous sound of crashing water filled the air.

Excited for my first view of the falls, I crested the final rise and was nearly bowled over by a blast of icy wind. The mountains in the area act as a natural funnel. Wind screams through the river valley, becoming increasingly fierce until it dips down the face of the falls and dissipates into Pehoe Lake. Each step was more difficult than the previous one. Soon I was leaning at Read More

Lago Nordenskjold in Torres del Paine, Chile iridscent mountains and lakes in Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia ChileWhat struck me most about Torres del Paine National Park in the Patagonian region of Chile were the colors. Depending upon the angle of the sun, the mountains of the Cordillera Paine Massif range from the deepest black to pale gray, lavender, and Wedgwood blue. As the sun sets, abundant feldspar in the granite flanks reflect iridescent orange patches. Add snowy peaks and grass covered foothills, and the mountains of Torres del Paine become a veritable rocky rainbow. Even the name of the park is derived from a color. Paine means “blue” in Aonikenk, the language of the original inhabitants.

Late in the afternoon, I took this photo at Lago Nordenskjold viewpoint. The oblique angle of the sun’s rays illuminated the landscape in iridescent colors that seemed almost unworldly. The lakes in the foreground added to Read More

Torres del Paine National Park in Chile is one of the world’s beautiful places. The centerpiece of the park is a branch of the Andes mountain range known as the Cordillera del Paine. Located in the southern Patagonian region of the country, the park’s magnificent scenery includes lakes ranging from ultramarine blue to brilliant turquoise, raging waterfalls, deep green valleys, and vast glaciers that cascade down mountainsides.

best way to see Torres del Paine - viewpoint over Toro Lake in Chile's Torres del Paine National Park

Viewpoint over Toro Lake in Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park

Most awe inspiring are mountains themselves. In geological terms, the Cordillera Massif emerged relatively recently. Thus, rather than being eroded and rounded like much of the Andes, these mountains are jagged and rugged. They began life as underwater sediments that were deposited in layers. Over eons, volcanic activity compressed these sediments into rock and thrust them up, tilting and folding them into bizarre shapes. The lava that welled up from deep within the earth cooled into a grey granitic platform for the multicolored sedimentary bands. The result is a kaleidoscope of colors that changes throughout the day, depending on the angle and direction of the sun. Read More

Torres del Paine National Park in Chile – One of the World’s Beautiful Places