Kayaker Attempting Amazon River Speed Record

The Amazon RiverThis past Saturday, Texas native West Hansen set off on what is sure to be an epic adventure in South America. The avid paddler from Austin launched his attempt to set a new speed record for kayaking the length of the Amazon River, a waterway that runs more than 4400 miles (7081 kilometers) in length. The entire expedition is expected to last several months.

Hansen began his journey on Mount Mismi, a snow-capped peak located in a remote section of the Peruvian Andes. The 18,363-foot (5597-meter) mountain has been identified as the most distant source of the Amazon with the Rio Apurimac, one of the prime tributaries for the river, beginning on its slopes. As it rushes down the mountain, the water picks up speed and power, creating dangerous Class V and VI+ rapids. West will need to successfully navigate those treacherous waters in the early days of the expedition.

Reading the early updates on Hansen’s Amazon Express website, it seems that low water flow at the headwaters have made it tough going over the first few days. At times there hasn’t been enough water to even paddle, forcing him to portage around certain sections. Carrying gear and a kayak through lush rainforests isn’t easy either, which only serves to cause further delays.

The relative calm won’t last long, however, and the volume of water will most definitely pick up. Before he reaches the slower, more tranquil waters of the Amazon itself, West will have to run the dreaded Acobamba Abyss, a 40-mile (64-kilometer) stretch of river that is amongst the most difficult whitewater on the planet. The section flows through a towering slot canyon that once paddlers enter, there is no escape or turning back. He’ll have to successfully navigate Class V+ rapids on a river of no return, relying on his skills as a paddler to successfully make it out the other side.

That will simply be the start of what promises to be quite an adventure for Hansen and his support crew. He doesn’t offer up a definitive estimate of how long it will take to complete the journey, which will pass through both Peru and Brazil on its way to the Atlantic Ocean. Regular updates should provide plenty of insights into his progress, however, and it should be fun see what he discovers along the way.

Explore the Amazon with Google Street View

The Amazon River, now available on Google Street ViewYesterday, in honor of World Forest Day, Google rolled out a new addition to their popular Street View application. The Internet search giant updated the service with imagery and data from the Amazon River, giving would-be explorers the opportunity to travel along that famous waterway without ever leaving the comfort of their own home.

According to the official Google Blog members of the Street View team from both the U.S. and Brazil traveled to the Amazon Basin back in August in order to collect the thousands of images necessary for its inclusion into the system. That team worked closely with the Amazonas Sustainable Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to environmental conservation in the Amazon and the improvement of the quality of life for those living there. All told, they collected more than 50,000 still images, which were digitally stitched together to create the 360-degree panoramic views that are the hallmark of Street View.

The Amazon River is truly one of the great natural wonders of our planet. It stretches for more than 6400 kilometers (4000 miles) in length and at its widest points it can be as much as 48 kilometers (30 miles) in width. It is so massive in scope that it is estimated that approximately 1/6 of the world’s fresh water is contained in this one river alone making it the lifeblood of the Amazon Rainforest that surrounds it. That dense forest is home to thousands of species of plants and animals, many of which are found nowhere else on Earth.

I had the unique opportunity to visit the Amazon a few years back and found it to be a spectacular destination. The dense forests, diverse wildlife and miles of water are amazing to behold. Most travelers will never have the opportunity to visit the place for themselves, however, which makes the river’s inclusion in Street View all the better.


Underground river discovered beneath the Amazon

The massive river has been discovered beneath the AmazonA massive underground river has been discovered beneath the Amazon Rainforest that is actually larger than the famous waterway that meanders through the jungle above. Researchers say that the new river –dubbed Rio Hamza after the leader of the team that found it– is located 2.5 miles beneath the surface and is many times wider than the Amazon River itself.

Both the Amazon and Hamza can trace their origins back to the Andes Mountains, flowing west-to-east from there. Each is also more than 3700 miles length and both eventually empty into the Atlantic Ocean along the coast of Brazil. But while the Amazon can reach an impressive 60 miles across at its widest point, the Hamza ranges from 125 to nearly 250 miles in width, making it far more massive than its cousin on the surface. The Amazon bests it in speed however, moving at a rate of up to five meters per second, while the Hamza creeps along at less than one millimeter per hour.

The discovery was made by a group of Brazilian scientists who studied 241 deep wells that were drilled, and later abandoned, by an oil company. The team recorded changes in temperature at various depths of those wells to help locate and measure the massive river. Their findings were first revealed at a meeting of the Brazilian Geophysical Society last week.

The team now hopes to continue their studies of the Hamza and hope to have a better understanding of its size and scope in the next few years.

Vote for the new Seven Wonders of Nature

New Seven Wonder of NatureA few years back there was an organized effort to select a New Seven Wonders of the World, which resulted in a list of seven amazing places that joined the Great Pyramids on a modern list of spectacular destinations. Now, a similar effort is being made to select a New Seven Wonders of Nature as well.

The process began not long after naming the New Seven Wonders, with more than 440 locations, in 200 countries being nominated. That list was eventually whittled down to 77 locations for the second round of voting, which resulted in 28 finalists which are now being considered.

Amongst the finalist are such iconic places as The Amazon Rainforest in South America, the Grand Canyon in the U.S., and Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Those locations are well known and are likely to earn a spot on the list, although there are a few destinations that are just as spectacular, but are lesser known to the genearl public. Those places include Milford Sound in New Zealand, the Mud Volcanoes of Azerbaijan, and Jeju Island in Korea.

The organizers of the competition have made it easy to cast your votes for the New Seven Wonders of Nature, but just in case you need a little help, they’ve created a video showing you just how to make your selections. Voting will continue in 2011, with the officiall annoucement expected to come on November 11. (11/11/11)

If I were pressed to make my choices, my Seven Wonders would include The Amazon, The Great Barrier Reef, The Galapagos Islands, The Grand Canyon, Kilimanjaro, Angel Falls, and Jeju Island. What are yours picks?

Top ten cities to visit in 2011, according to Lonely Planet

Another decade is about to bite the dust, but the savvy travelers at Lonely Planet have given us a jump start on the hot list for 2011. They’ve just announced their picks for the world’s best cities to visit next year, and while you’ll find some of the usual suspects (New York, which will debut the National September 11 Memorial on the 10th anniversary of the attacks), there are also some surprises. The great news? About half of these places are easy on the budget once you get there. Some list-makers, below:

Tangier, Morocco
Once derided as dirty and dangerous, this port city at the crossroads of Europe and Africa has undergone a major renovation and clean-up. A thriving arts, food, and shopping scene are drawing visitors.

Iquitos
, Peru
A major Amazonian trading port formerly known for its raucous nightlife, general mayhem, riverside shanties, and rubber-boom barons, Iquitos has gotten a major upgrade. Accessible only by air or boat, the city still has a rocking after-hours scene, but it’s also a “cultural hub” providing a “sultry slice of Amazon life.”

Delhi, India
The 2010 Commonwealth Games got the city into shape, there’s a “futuristic” Metro (who knew?) and 2011 marks the city’s 100th anniversary. Be prepared for lots of celebrations.

Not as wallet-friendly, but absolutely stunning:

Wellington, New Zealand
Nicknamed the “coolest little capital in the world,” this laidback, far southern North Island city has it all: a hopping food and wine scene, boutiques and galleries featuring NZ’s hottest designers and artists, a serious arts and culture scene that includes the world-famous Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, and accommodations ranging from high-end hotel and styley boutique sleeps, to funky hostels and guesthouses. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy miles of hiking trails, city parks, hilly streets, and golden beaches.

What cities are on your personal 2011 must-visit list?

[Photo credits:Tangier, Flickr user Lumumo; Wellington, Flickr user 111 Emergency]