Adorable New Teddy Bear-Cat Creature Discovered in South America

Researchers at the Smithsonian announced the discovery of a new species today, and it’s not the usual flower or insect. Instead, it’s the olinguito, an adorable teddy bear-like mammal that lives in the cloud forests of Ecuador and Colombia. At night, the animal leaps from tree to tree in the forest. And boy, it is ever cute!

Even the researchers seem smitten with the raccoon-sized species, which is the first carnivore species to be discovered in the Western Hemisphere in the past 35 years. “It looks kind of like a fuzzball … kind of like a cross between a teddy bear and a house cat,” said Kristofer Helgen, the Smithsonian’s curator of animals (talk about a dream job).

Most interestingly, researchers who went looking for the new species found it on the very first night they were in South America. They think there are thousands of olinguitos in the forests. But travelers: don’t expect to find one unless camping out in the middle of night is in the cards; these little guys are hard to spot unless you know exactly where to look.

Better Know A Holiday: St. John’s Day (And Eve)

Witch burning on St. John's Day
f_jensen_at_sdr.vinge, Flickr

AKA: Fete Nationale du Quebec (Canada), Kupala Day (Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Poland), Festa Junina (Brazil), Foguera de San Xuan (Brazil), Jaanilaupaev (Estonia), Saint Jonas’ Festival (Lithuania), Jani (Latvia), Dia de Sao Joao (Portugal), Sant Joan (Spain), Johnsmas Foy (Scotland)

When? June 23 (Eve) and 24 (Day)

Public holiday in: Quebec, Canada; Turin, Italy; Catalonia, Spain; Estonia; Latvia; Lithuania; Porto, Portugal

Who died? St. John the Baptist. June 24 is his feast day.

What’s a feast day? Certain Christian traditions, notably Roman Catholic, keep track of which liturgies are given when by way of something called the General Roman Calendar, or Universal Calendar of Saints. Around 60 percent of the days of the Gregorian calendar year are associated with one or more saints, martyrs or holy figures. Even some relics have feast days. The feast day for St. Peter’s chair is on February 22. St. John the Baptist’s feast day falls on June 24.

Interestingly, St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers, lost his feast day back in 1969. A lot of people think St. Christopher was “desanctified,” or lost his sainthood, but in fact he was just stripped of his feast day because there’s no proof he actually existed.

Also interestingly, the patron saint of travelers is also the patron saint of bachelors and bookbinders, among other things.

You were saying about St. John the Baptist… Right.

So why June 24 of all days? That’s when John the Baptist is said to have been born. But more than that, Christianity has a long tradition of co-opting pagan rituals into Christian holidays. It’s a good way to gain converts. Pagan celebrations generally aligned with the turning of the seasons – equinoxes and solstices. And so Christians have major holidays around these dates: Easter near the vernal equinox, Christmas near the winter solstice and Michaelmas, which celebrates Lucifer being cast out from heaven, near the autumnal equinox.That June 24 is close to the summer solstice is certainly not a coincidence. Even if the summer solstice used to be celebrated on a different date (which it was when we used the Julian calendar), the church would have had a significant feast day to coincide with such a major celebration in the northern hemisphere.

Is that why it’s particularly popular in northern Europe? Bingo, mysterious person. St. John’s Day is celebrated all over the world, but the biggest celebrations occur in traditionally Christian nations well above the equator. In strongly Christian countries like Ecuador, where there is little change in sunrise and sunset throughout the year, it’s not such a big deal. But in Tallinn, Estonia, the sun sets at about 10:45 p.m. on the summer solstice and 3:30 p.m. on the winter solstice. St. John’s Day is just an extension of the reverence these places have for the summer solstice.

But isn’t it celebrated in Brazil? Yes, and other places where colonial powers instilled their traditions. Joao Fernandes, an early Portuguese explorer, was particularly devoted to the holiday and took John the Baptist as the patron saint of his exploits at Pernambuco, which is where St. John’s day is celebrated most in Brazil today. Fernandes had canons fire salutes around the camp all day long in celebration. This was in no small part because he shared the same name with the saint.

John the Baptist is also the patron saint of French Canada. And Turin, Italy and Porto, Portugal and numerous other places as well. That’s why Quebec celebrates June 24 as its national day.

Fete Nationale du Quebec
abdallahh, Flickr

Is it celebrated the same everywhere? Not quite, though most celebrations share one thing in common: fire. If there’s one thing everyone does on St. John’s Eve, it’s get rid of their old furniture and spare kindling in a giant bonfire. Or if you’re in Shetland, Scotland, where wood is in short supply, your excess heather and peat.

The city of Poznan in Poland had a unique take on the fire tradition in 2012, when they released 8,000 Chinese lanterns into the sky on St. John’s Night, setting a world record in the process.

Bonfires are more typical and are found everywhere, from prominent mountain peaks to valleys and plains. If you’re a traditional fisherman from Brittany, France…

I’m not. Well, if you were, you’d even light a fire on top of your ship’s mainmast to celebrate with your fishing fleet. Curiously, Breton fisherman are said to have a fear of tailors, another group that John the Baptist patronizes.

Elsewhere, the celebrations have unique local flavor. In Scandinavia, figures of witches are added to the flames because, as on Halloween, demons and evil spirits are said to be able to roam freely this day. Up until the 1700s, the French would incinerate cats by the sackful and chase a flaming cat through the streets, evil incarnate as they were (the cats, not the French… ostensibly).

Latvians eat a special cheese flavored with caraway seeds. Ukrainians eat eggs, dumplings and liquor for dinner. Ukrainians will also symbolically wash themselves with the morning dew after watching the sun rise, as do the Lithuanians.

Girls celebrating Jani in Latvia
Dace Kiršpile, Flickr

The Irish and others will set a wagon wheel on fire and roll it down a hill to symbolize the sun’s decline. With any luck, there’s nothing flammable at the bottom. Many cultures will dress in traditional costumes. Russians douse each other with water in one of the few actual nods to John the Baptist. The Swedes, celebrating their Midsommar festival a few days before St. John’s Day, raise a giant pole that is supposed to imbue the earth with fertile soil.

Sounds phallic. Indeed. In fact, most rites and rituals surrounding the summer solstice have to do with fertility. Many of the cultures celebrating St. John’s incorporate dancing and singing erotic songs into the celebrations, much to the consternation of the Church, I expect. It’s said to be a good time to predict who will be your future spouse, as well.

No need. Well, another common activity is jumping through the flames. It’s said to cleanse and purify the soul. Or you could wear a garland of flowers.

Not really for me, either. Can I just see some photos? Sure. Check out a slideshow of St. John’s Day (and Night) celebrations from around the world below.

Check out more holidays around the world here.

%Slideshow-737%

Learn Spanish With Lonely Planet’s Fluent Road

Learn Spanish Fluent Road
Courtesy of FluentRoad.com

Traveling to Spain or Latin America this summer and want to say more than “Donde esta el bano?” (though, that’s an important one to know)? Lonely Planet has just launched a new online foreign language program, Fluent Road, partnering with Spanish language program Fluenz. The focus is on Spanish for now, but you can choose from dialects from Argentina, “neutral” Latin America, Mexico, or Spain.

Fluent Road is designed for travelers to get the basics before a trip: Spanish for transportation, finding accommodation, ordering food, etc. It’s also a good stepping-stone to a more intensive learning program, and travelers could easily work up to a Fluenz course after completing Fluent Road. What differentiates this from other language learning like Rosetta Stone or Pimsleur is a dissection of the language, showing you how Spanish works and providing explanations, not just rote immersion. Fluenz founder and avid traveler Sonia Gil guides you through obstacles, pronunciation, and practice speaking, writing and reading as a native speaker and “language geek.”

As with all online learning, you can go at your own pace; there are 30 video lessons that can be completed in one to six months. Other useful features include the ability to record yourself to compare pronunciation a native Speaker, and customizable digital flash cards to help practice. You can also contact the teacher and program designer via Twitter.

Take a free 12-hour trial now, subscriptions start from $9 for a month to $30 for six months of access, at www.fluentroad.com.

Celebrity Ship Loses Galapagos Permit Over Frozen Lobster

Galapagos Fishing Boat by Libby Zay, Gadling

The strict environmental regulations of the Galapagos Islands make it one of the most protected places in the world. The islands are so sacred that when you fly in, flight attendants spray the overhead bins in planes to make sure passengers aren’t transporting any non-native insects. So when park authorities discovered Celebrity Cruises was transporting frozen lobster out of season, what they consider to be a violation, they temporarily revoked the company’s permit to cruise through the islands.

In a statement, the cruise line says they were cited “for transportation and storage of 12 kilograms of frozen lobster tails in the Galapagos.” A spokesperson tells USA Today, the cruise line has paperwork to prove the lobster was purchased in the Galapagos from authorized sellers during the lobster season, but the problem is they were in possession of the lobster tail out of season. The Celebrity Xpedition’s June 2 sailing was canceled, and additional sailings could be impacted.

Celebrity is providing full refunds, including airfare, to affected passengers, plus a cruise credit offering 50 percent off a future cruise. The company anticipates their license will be restored shortly, and said they are committed to complying with the rules and regulations of the Galapagos.

[via USA Today]

Ecuador Places Tiny Tourism Ads On Bananas

More and more often, ads are showing up in unlikely places. Soon, grocery store shoppers will find a tiny ad promoting tourism to Ecuador in a curious place: on each of the 24 million tons of bananas that are exported from the country each year.

Skift first broke the news about the new campaign, what the Ministry of Tourism in Ecuador is calling the “Banana Ambassador” program. Workers in Ecuador will affix tiny stickers with the colorful tourism logo and an accompanying QR code on bananas, just the same as other stickers that are placed on the front of the fruit in the past. The idea is that, hopefully, curious breakfast eaters will scan the code and be connected to a promotional video and tourism site, eventually increasing the numbers of tourists to the tiny country.

Although, as Rafat Ali of Skift points out, QR usage in general is low and the program might have little effect on intent to travel, at least now people will be more aware of where their food comes from. Ecuador is the largest exporter of bananas in the world, sending just as many bananas as the next three largest exporters – Costa Rica, Colombia and the Philippines – combined, accounting for 29 percent of the world’s total exported bananas. And in case you’re curious about those pre-export prices, bananas cost about 10 cents each in Ecuador.