Wednesday, August 26, 2009

River Spirits

Signs that the wet season in the upper Amazon (starting in Iquitos, Peru) has started are the flooded rivers and luring freshwater dolphins swimming through the trees.

Unlike marine dolphins, botos (Amazon dolphins) have fat foreheads, elongated beaks and neck vertebrae that allow them to bend at up to a 90-degree angle, these facilitate grasping fish from unraveled branches, digging in river mud for crustaceans, and gliding through trees.

The Amazonian folk wisdom describes botos as encantados (enchanted beings who sometimes take on human form, coming out of the river to lead men and women into their magical underwater city.)

Unfortunately, boto population in the Amazon has declined by half over the past seven years. There is an urgent need to establish conservation policies to avoid fishermen hunting botos for bait or killing them accidentally in their gill nets.

To read more

Photograph by Kevin Schafer

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Fog catchers

As in many places in the world, drought in some parts of South America is a big problem.

In Lima, the capital of Peru, rain is very scarce. But thanks to the efforts of biologist Kai Tiedemann, villagers outside of the city center are coaxing water out of the air. The method:
harvesting fog.

I am really impressed to know that fog catchers have been installed in many arid areas where fog is dense. For example, fog catchers in the
Atacama desert (Chile) are converting this dry region to a livable place.

Photo credit

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Golden Fleece

Born well above the tree line, in the extreme high-altitude regions of the South American Andes, vicuñas were considered sacred by the Incas. Only royalty were allowed to wear their precious fleece.
Cousin to the alpaca, the llama and the wild guanaco, the vicuña is the smallest member of the camelid family, it weights around 100 pounds and it is almost never taller than three feet high.

Vicuña's incredibly buttery soft fabric, usually undyed to preserve its softness, makes even cashmere seem harsh. Its fleece is the rarest and costliest natural fiber in the world, because of that, vicuñas were enthusiastically hunted from the time of the Spanish conquistadors through the 1960s, when they were near extinction.

Today, vicuñas are still worshipped as sacred animals by the Aymara Indians of Peru and Bolivia, and thanks to conservation efforts, they have made a strong comeback. It is really nice to see that many designers like italian Loro Piana are using its golden fleece in their winter collections.

This is very good news, with the comeback of vicuñas; people in the Andes will have a sustainable income for years to come.

Cheese Love

I really do not remember how my love for cheese started it but I know that my grandfather had a lot to do with it.

My Grandpa used to have cheese on the table as a snack all the time. Soft and hard, sweet and salty, smelly and aromatic. Cheese has been synonymous with home since my early years.

That’s why I got very excited when I discovered
Goat Song: A Seasonal Life, A Short History of Herding, and the Art of Making Cheese. I am looking forward to reading how author Brad Kessler began his life as a herder -- learning how to care for and breed and birth goats.
Kessler reflects on the history and literature of herding, and how our diet, our alphabet, our religions, poetry, and economy all grew out of a pastoralist milieu among hoofed animals.

To Read more, visit the
Society of Fellows blog.

Happy reading and eating!

Photo credit

Friday, August 21, 2009

The unhappiest day of her life

While reading the Economist today, I was puzzled and saddened by the fact that forced marriages are a long-standing tradition in Afghanistan. Young girls are often used to settle disputes and debts, or raising money.

Do you know that around 60% of Afghan girls are forced to be married before they reach the legal minimum age of 16?

Photographer Stephanie Sinclair has documented some of these stories in a slideshow. What do you think? Please write your comments.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Are we losing our human side?

Yes, I know, everybody is opting for sharing their lives with the world through the net (facebook, tweeter, blogs, etc). But have we stopped to think how technology is affecting our behavior?

I definitely understand the value of social media in business. Listening to customers and establishing conversations with them is very important if we are committed to providing good products and services. But I still would like to believe that we will choose to call a friend instead of just texting, or better yet, we would make time to meet them and have a long chat over a cup of coffee. Yes, it sounds old fashioned, but it keeps us human.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

San Gorgonio, the highest peak in SoCal

Rather than spending another 4th of July at the beach, my husband and I decided to join a group of hikers from the San Diego Hiking Club in a backpacking trip to San Gorgonio in the San Bernardino Mountains.

To avoid preconceptions of any kind, we decided to go with the flow and not research the area. After all, our hike leader, Gloria, had hiked the mountain at least 3 times.

Well, on July 3rd, after a substantial breakfast in a cafe in Escondido, and a root bear break on route 38 (Mentone), we arrived at the Vivian Creek trailhead (at 6,000 feet) at around 11:30 am.

With backpacks loaded with stuff for 3 days (including our bear-proof canister), we started walking on the steep and narrow path towards the campground (Half Way Camp, at about 8,000 feet.) The day was very clear despite the large clouds spotting the deep blue sky. It seemed to be a wonderful setting until we realized that this was one of the most challenging hikes we could have done. It took us 5 hours to cover the 2.5 miles to campground. We arrived exhausted and rushed to set our tents. We needed a nap before dinner!

At 9:00am on July 4th, we left the campground and headed up to San Gorgonio at 11,503 feet. That meant, that we would need to gain 3,500 feet in 6 miles before arriving to the summit!

Knowing the long way ahead, we paced ourselves and tried to enjoy the beautiful views along the way. We were only carrying our day pack with some snacks and water.

It was 2:00 pm when we reached the tree line (at about 11,000 feet). We were almost out of water and the rest of the way was very arid and hot. This was the most difficult part of this trip!

I considered giving up without reaching the summit at least 3 times. The path seemed never ending. All our hiking companions, including a couple in their 70’s had gone ahead of us!

We finally reached the summit at 3:00 pm. This had been the longest hour in our lives! We did it! Could not believe it! Our feet were numb!

The view was breathtaking! A 360º panoramic view of SoCal including the length of Big Bear Lake, and San Jacinto!

At 3:30, we started our way down. Our only goal was to reach the tree line again for shade. We did not have more water! And the next creek to replenish it was at least one hour away….

(to be continued)……

Photo credit: