Nepal is a little known, but truly exotic place to visit. Sharing borders with India and Tibet, its Himalayan mountain range is home to 8 of the 14 highest mountains in the world. Chitwan National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is an extensive nature preserve found on the southern border of Nepal, adjacent to India's Valmiki Tiger Reserve. Chitwan has 450 species of birds within its confines. The Red Junglefowl is the ancestor of the domestic chicken. It was first domesticated five thousand years ago in Asia, then introduced around the world.
One of the most cartoonish-looking birds is the Oriental Pied Hornbill, which resembles a Disney creation. In addition to being a fruit-eater, they eat reptiles, insects and young birds.
The conservation status of the sloth bear is vulnerable because of poaching and loss of habitat. Contrary to their name, they aren't slow and can outrun a person. Unlike their western cousins, they are insect eaters, primarily termites and ants. Because of that they have a long snout and no upper incisors better adapted to sucking up the insects.
Great One-horned Rhinos are very prehistoric looking, similar to an armored tank, and males can weigh up to 3 tons.
A very rare creature, the gharial is a form of crocodile that eats only fish and has to take that in head first. There are only 200 in the wild along the rivers in southern Nepal but there is preserve that is breeding them and re-introducing them into the wild.
One of the best places for bird watching in the winter is Sanibel Island, accessible by a causeway from Ft. Myers, FL. The J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, though only a 4 mile drive, is replete with wintering waterfowl: egrets, herons, cormorants, pelicans, spoonbills, among others. The refuge is part of the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the United States, according to its website.
"Ding" Darling was an early Florida conservationist who helped block the sale of environmentally valuable land to developers on Sanibel. He urged President Harry S. Truman to sign an Executive Order creating the Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge in 1945. It was renamed in 1967 in honor of Darling. The refuge covers about 6,400 acres with over 245 species of birds found there.
Occasionally one is lucky enough to see several species gathering together to fish for the small minnows in the mangroves. Here there are Snowy Egrets, Great White Egret, mature and immature White Ibis.
Tri-colored Herons are frequently seen, usually more solitary than the egrets.
Another loner is the Yellow-Crowned Night Heron, typically seen late in the day.
White Pelicans gather to preen and rest. The Brown Pelican is a year-round resident of Florida but the Whites migrate from the North from October to March.
Above the fray the Osprey circles, looking for fish, before diving down and catching its prey in its sharp talons and flying to a nearby tree to eat his lunch.
Greece is still bewitching with its bright whitewashed buildings glowing on the shores of the blue Aegean Sea. The history that goes back thousands of years is prevalent no matter where you go. Of course, the Parthenon may be the most famous of its ruins, begun in 434 BC at the order of Pericles as a temple to the goddess Athena. Overlooking the city of Athens, it stands as a constant reminder that very intelligent, cosmopolitan people preceded the modern day inhabitants.
A more modern but influential edifice is the Arkadi Monastery on the Greek island of Crete. It was built 800 years ago and has served as a center of education and manuscript copying over the years.
The magic of ruins like the Theater at Delphi still touches the visitor with the imagination to picture the 5000 toga clad citizens who regularly enjoyed performances in the fourth century B.C. on this hillside. There were close to 90 such theaters in ancient Greece. People watched plays, poetry recitals and choral processions. It was a social, political and religious center.
Chile is an immensely long country: 3000 miles down the lower spine of South America. It's the most southern section, Patagonia, which also encompasses part of Argentina, which is referred to as The End of the World. It is truly one of the most remote, thinly populated places on earth. The Chilean gateway is Punta Arenas, a small city but Patagonia's most important one. The ships cruising through the Strait of Magellan depart from there. Magdalena Island is the home to over 65,000 breeding pairs of Magellanic penguins, also called Jackass penguins. They stay from October to March to breed and raise their young.
Chile is home to about 2000 glaciers. One of the most impressive was in Condor Fjord. The blue ice is said to be over 500 years old. A young Andean condor settled on the rocks. Their massive wingspan can reach over 10 feet and is considered the largest flying bird on earth.
In contrast to some of the stark landscape are the bonsai-like trees found on the low mountains bordering Occasion Sound.
The ever-present snow-capped Andes, glaciers and icebergs convince you that you are much closer to the South Pole than the Equator. Ushuaia, Argentina, the capital of Tierra Fuego in Patagonia is the southernmost city in the world and is only about 700 miles from Antarctica. Patagonia has a wealth of natural treasures worth taking the time to explore.
Argentina is the eighth largest country in the world and encompasses quite an array of terrains and climates: seven different regions. On a recent trip to the Pampas, which lies in the central part of the country, Cordoba was the first stop for a three-day dove shooting experience. The area has a 20-30 million dove population (depending on with whom you talk) and has attracted shooters for many years. One of the side benefits of a shoot is the chance to see literally hundreds of hawks and eagles that hang around to finish off the fallen prey at the end of the shooting. The Black Chested Buzzard Eagle was one of the largest. The predators would circle the area or perch in trees and patiently wait until the shooters took a break or finished. Hawks were just waiting for a chance to swoop down. Not much real work was involved for them in these fields.
Buenos Aires was the next stop. A bustling Colonial city of around three million, its heart is a 16th century plaza but much of the architecture reflects the 19th century French and Italian influence. La Boca is one of the city's 48 barrios, with a heavy Italian flavor. The brightly painted houses in Caminito and the tango clubs draw many tourists.
The Recoleta Cemetery was dedicated in 1822 and is truly a "city of the dead", with amazing nineteenth and twentieth century funerary art and architecture. One of the country's most famous people known internationally, Eva Peron, is buried there.
One fascinating feature of the city is the extensive graffiti found in so many places that there are guided tours for seeing the most outstanding selections.
A couple of hours by plane from Buenos Aires is the most outstanding water feature on this planet: Iguazu Falls on the border of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. There are 275 falls stretching over a 2 mile area. It is truly one of the most breathing-taking sights in the world. When Eleanor Roosevelt first saw it she exclaimed, "Poor Niagara!"
Zambia doesn't have as many tourists as some of the better known African countries, such as Tanzania and Kenya. But need make no apologies to the other game rich nations. Elephants abound and having the opportunity to watch them in family units and in large herds gives one insight into the intelligence of these behemoths Having watched two females with a young elephant for 15 minutes, imagine our surprise when a tiny baby elephant stood up after napping on the ground, unnoticed. After nursing its fill, it lay back down below its mother and went back to sleep. Often elephants take a dust bath immediately after bathing in a lake. We were told that helps minimize the insects that bother them.
The Luangwa Valley is home to a large population of leopards. Note how well camouflaged they are in the bush. The female leopard in the field had successfully moved one of her cubs to a wooded area but when she returned for the other, some vehicles spooked her. The young one came down his tree but when his mother failed to pick him up he scampered back for safety. It was a couple of hours later before the mother felt it was safe enough to retrieve and move him.
Lion kills are never pretty but they are necessary to the life of the pride. We followed fourteen lionesses on the hunt one night. Suddenly the cry of their victim, an antelope called a puku, rang out. When we arrived at the scene a dozen lions were already feasting on the fallen prey. This was their first kill of the evening, but probably not the last as it wasn't enough to satisfy the hunger of all.
Few places call up a greater sense of the exotic than Zanzibar. And it doesn't disappoint. Governmentally, the Tanzanian archipelago is semi-autonomous. Its main industries are spices, raffia and tourism. 99% of the population is Muslim and the architecture of Stone Town, a World Heritage site, is distinctly Arabic. Hearing the call to prayer five times a day and being surrounded by women in colorful attire add to the sense of intrigue in the narrow passageways.
Another attraction is the presence of the endangered Zanzibar Red Colobus Monkey, found only on the archipelago. Visitors to Jozani National Park, which has about 10 square miles of protected habitat, have the rare opportunity to observe these fascinating creatures. One oddity is their lack of an opposable thumb, relative to other primates. To compensate, their four fingers are long and can form a strong hook so that they can climb easily. Another unusual feature is their inability to eat ripe fruit. They eat young leaves, seeds, flowers and unripe fruit but their stomachs can't digest the sugar in mature fruit. It is believed that only 1600 to 3000 of these monkeys still exist.
Although everyone coming to Africa wants to tick off the Big Five: the Cape Buffalo, Rhino, Elephant, Lion & Leopard, there are fascinating smaller creatures to observe and take delight in. Bat-Eared Foxes are usually nocturnal, but occasionally you get lucky and see a pair of them lolling in the short grasses of the plains of Tanzania. Primarily they eat insects, small birds and eggs that they discover.
The wart hogs are pretty sturdy fellows, but this one may have realized he took the wrong turn when he looked over to see the male cheetah eyeing him.
There are many exotic birds, especially predators. The Long-Crested Eagle is a small eagle that feeds on rodents.
It is still exciting to see the large herds of elephants making their away across the Serengeti. It's amazing how quietly they can do this, considering an adult may weigh 11,000-13,000 lbs. each.
So many beautiful sunsets punctuate the end of the days in Tanzania.
Tanzania has never disappointed me. With its abundant wildlife there is always something exciting to look forward to. My most recent trip was no exception. The opportunity to observe the three big cats, lions, leopard & cheetah living their lives is always a thrill. Cheetahs are incredibly graceful as they move. They are sprinters and can get up to 60 mph for short distances. They are best equipped to run in open plains areas. They must kill and eat their prey quickly because they are no match for a pack of hyenas or a pride of lions, both of which will steal the kill away when given the opportunity.
Lions are communal animals. Typically the females do the hunting and the males protect the territory. Males do hunt and have to if they're traveling only with other males, but it is harder for them to hide from prey because of their size and big manes. Usually 4-12 females will band together with their cubs and raise them together. In this group, four lionesses were lactating and three cubs move together to nurse from three of the four. It is a bit unusual to see lions climb trees so it was a particular treat to see this lioness climb and perch like a leopard.
Leopards protect their kill by carrying up a tree so that other predators are less likely to be able to get to it. Their neck and shoulders are quite strong and they are able to pull game that weighs as much as they do into the tree. Cheetahs and lions hunt a lot in the day time, but leopards usually wait until dark. As they are solitary hunters it makes it somewhat easier for them to avoid some of their predators.
Prague, Czech Republic has been called the Paris of Eastern Europe and is the fifth most visited European city after London, Paris, Istanbul and Rome. It was founded 1100 years ago on the banks of the Vltava River which is spanned by many bridges. The most famous is the Charles Bridge, begun in the latter half of the 14h century and joins two historic quarters: Stare Mesto and Mala Strana.
Prague is also a city of churches. The Gothic façade of the Church of Our Lady of Tyn was completed in the second half of the fifteenth century. A beautiful example of Baroque Bohemian architecture is the Church of St. Nicholas in Mala Strana.
It is a powerful experience to walk through the Old Jewish Cemetery, dating back to the 15th century. Because of government restrictions at the time, Jews couldn't be buried anywhere else so graves were dug deep enough that 12 people could be buried vertically with each headstone put in front of the last.
A little over 100 miles from Prague is the picturesque medieval town of Cesky Krumlov, also situated on the Vltava River. Colorful buildings frame the Old Square where locals gather.