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.


New Seven Wonders of Natural World revealed amidst controversy

The Amazon is one of the new seven wonders of the natural worldAfter four years of hype and fanfare, the new seven wonders of the natural world were unveiled last Friday, honoring some of the most amazing landscapes on the planet. But as the competition drew to a close, dark clouds of controversy formed, casting a shadow over the entire affair.

The selection process for the new seven wonders began back in 2007, when 440 natural wonders, from 220 countries, were first submitted for consideration. Over the course of several rounds of voting and judging, that number was eventually reduced to 28 finalist. The seven winners were selected from that list following months of online voting.

According to the preliminary results, the new seven wonders include the following: the Amazon Rainforest (South America); Halong Bay (Vietnam); Iguazu Falls (Argentina/Brazil), Jeju Island (South Korea); Komodo National Park (Indonesia); Puerto Princesa Subterranean River (Philippines) and Table Mountain (South Africa).

The organizers behind the new seven wonders are quick to note that this list is for the provisional winners, as they are currently conducting a recount of the votes to ensure that the correct wonders have been named. The results are now being independently verified and they expect to confirm the winners in early 2012.

On the eve of the announcement of those winners, disturbing stories began to emerge about how organizers were attempting to collect millions of dollars from the nations that were home to the finalists. When the search for the new wonders first began more than four years ago, countries were required to pay a $199 entry fee, but as the selection process narrowed the candidates, some countries were asked to pay large sums of cash to aid in a world-wide marketing campaign. The Indonesian government claimed, for example, that the organizers wanted $10 million to cover licensing fees and an additional $47 million to host the official closing ceremony. Earlier, the Maldives withdrew from the competition altogether when costs to participate spiraled upwards towards $500,000.For their part, organizers of the new seven wonders competition say that their branding efforts were optional, and that allegations of charging exorbitant prices are completely “baseless.” They also refused to discuss exactly how much individual countries were charged for taking part in the branding campaign, but did acknowledge that the fees varied by nation.

Considering that the entire “new seven” idea was the brainchild of an international marketing firm, it should come as no surprise that it was seen as a way to make some money. Critics have pointed out however, that the firm should have secured financial backing prior to announcing the campaign four years ago, thus avoiding any attempts to seek funds from the countries involved.

Which brings up another issue with the whole competition. Since the organizers also don’t disclose voting numbers, we have to take it on faith that they are reporting the correct winners. After all, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that a country that paid the large fees would receive some kind of preferential treatment over those that bulked at them. I suppose the independent verification system is suppose to keep everything on the up-and-up, but there is no denying that there were some strange decisions made along the way.

Those issues aside, what are your feeling on the list of the new seven wonders of the natural world? Did we end up with some good selections or are there others sites that were more worth of inclusion

Bolivian president vetoes Amazon road

Bolivia votes down plan to build Amazon road. Bolivian President Evo Morales signed a law on Tuesday that forbids the construction of a new road through the Amazon Rainforest. The road was seen as a threat to the ecosystem of one of Bolivia’s more popular national parks and a tribe of indigenous people that live there.

The new road was to be funded by Brazil and would have been approximately 177 km (109 miles) in length. But the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of Bolivia, and a number of environmental groups spoke, out against the plans, and as a result, Bolivia’s Legislative Assembly created a law halting construction on the project. The road would have passed through the Isiboro Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory, but Morales’ signature ensures that will never happen.

This story is similar to the plans to build a road across the Serengeti in Tanzania, which drew heavy criticism from conservationists and scientists alike. The government in that country said the route was necessary to promote economic development, but it was also seen as a major threat to the wildlife as well. Eventually the plans were abandoned in order to leave the Serengeti’s ecosystem intact, but unlike Bolivia, it took months for the Tanzanian government to change their plans.

The road through the Amazon would have likely brought an economic boost to Bolivia as well, and that country could sure use one. But the government there recognized the value of their natural resources and didn’t want to do anything to put those resources, or their people in danger. As a result, they made the hard, but correct, choice to resist the easy money in favor of protecting their environment for the future.

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.