Volvo Ocean Race set to sail extreme waters

Putting sailing prowess and human ability to an exceptional test, the nine-month long Volvo Ocean Race is held every three years and set to take off this October. Called the most important and extreme offshore race in the world, those who take part know this is no pleasure cruise.

“What makes the Volvo Ocean Race so special is that it’s so extreme,” New Zealander Mike Sanderson, 34, told USAToday. “You’re going through the Southern Ocean plowing through waves and around icebergs and there’s snow. Then eight days later you’re coming up the coast of Brazil, and it’s 90 degrees down below and you’re sweltering hot and you can’t cool down.”

The 39,000 nautical mile race starts in Alicante, Spain in October 2011 and concludes in Galway, Ireland, during early July 2012, and will go through some of the world’s most treacherous seas via Cape Town, Abu Dhabi, Sanya, Auckland, around Cape Horn to Itajaí, Miami, Lisbon, and Lorient.

“The sailing you do in the Volvo Ocean Race is unparalleled,” said Australian Justin Clougher, 39, bowman for Pirates of the Caribbean during the 2008-09 race, his second.

Sailing teams of 11 professional crew that include sailors with medical training, sail makers, engineers and members of the media will race day and night, sometimes for more than 20 days at a time on some legs of the adventure. Experiencing extremes in temperatures and living off of only freeze dried food, the race is designed to test the skill and endurance of all on board.

According to the current schedule, the race will make its only North American stop in Miami, Florida about a year from now on May 18, 2012. Gadling was on hand for the 2008-09 race as well as the 2005-06 run and will provide complete coverage of the world’s premier global race and one of the most demanding team sporting events in the world.

This year, the Volvo Ocean Race invites you to keep up with all the current news and information with a variety of social-friendly tools at the OceanRaceGame that feature all relevant information about the race, the game and the players.

Flickr photo by MauritisV

List of World Heritage sites continues to grow

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, also known as UNESCO, has added more sites, including several cultural locations, to its ever expanding World Heritage list. The additions were made this past weekend when the organization concluded the 34th session of the the World Heritage Committee in Sao Paulo, Brazil following more than a week of deliberation.

Amongst the new inductees are the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long-Hanoi in Vietnam; the historic monuments of Dengfeng in China; the archaeological site Sarazm in Tajikistan; the Episcopal city of Albi in France; and a 17th-century canal ring in Amsterdam. Those five sites were lauded for their cultural significance, and their inclusion brought the list up to 904 total sites.

Joining the sites named above were the Bikini Atoll, located in the South Pacific’s Marshall Islands, the Turaif District in Saudi Arabia; Australia’s famous penal colonies; the Jantar Mantar astronomical observation site in India; the Tabriz historic bazaar complex, as well as a shrine in Ardabil, both located in Iran; and the historic villages of Hahoe and Yangdong in South Korea.

Singling out the Bikini Atoll, the Committee said that nuclear tests conducted on the tiny island during the late 1940’s and early 1950’s had a profound effect on the geology and environment of the area. They also noted that the atoll had historical significance by ushering in the dawning of the nuclear age as well.

New sites are generally added to the World Heritage list on a yearly basis, with the locations receiving a measure of prestige and honor for making the cut. In order to remain on the list though, they must be protected and preserved by the country in which they reside. In recent years several sites have been added to the Committee’s “endangered list” with some actually losing their “World Heritage” status due to changes in their condition.

Lets hope these new additions are around for a long time.

[Photo credit: Chinasaur via WikiMedia Commons]

UNESCO ponders new World Heritage sites

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, better known as UNESCO, has announced that it will consider expanding their list of World Heritage Sites when the organization meets in Brazil in a few weeks time. The current list consists of 890 places from around the globe that are considered to have universal appeal for natural or cultural reasons.

There are 41 locations, in 35 countries, up for consideration this year, including first time contenders from Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, and Tajikistan. Kiribati has submitted the Phoenix Islands Protected Area for inclusion on the list, while the Bikini Atoll, a famous nuclear testing zone, represents the Marshall Islands’ hopes for their first World Heritage site. Tajikistan’s spectacular Pamir Mountains could be their first entry as well.

The UNESCO committee will also review the state of 31 of their current sites that have been listed as being in danger. Those sites could be under siege from a number of sources, including environmental concerns, urban development, poor management, increased tourism, wars, or other natural disasters. Last year, Germany’s Elbe Valley was de-listed because a new four-lane bridge was built through the region, while the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary in Oman was dropped because of poor conservation efforts.

The 34th meeting of the World Heritage Committee will take place in Brasilia from July 25 to August 3, with the final rulings on these new locations being decided then.

[Photo credit: Irene2005 via WikiMedia Commons]

Travel Read: Surviving Paradise

If you have any friends who’ve taught English in a foreign country, you’ve heard some sob stories–the trouble of simultaneously dealing with culture shock and a new job, the students who just don’t get it, the adverse conditions at school. . .the list is as long as there are ESL teachers.

Peter Rudiak-Gould
has them all beat.

Right after turning 21, Peter went to spend a year on Ujae, one of the more remote atolls in the remote Pacific nation of the Marshall Islands. This tiny island has a population of 450 people and he could walk around it in less than an hour. He arrived speaking virtually no Marshallese and quickly discovered his students were equally lacking in English.

So how does one teach a class of students when there is no shared language and the culture has no tradition of classroom learning?

Badly, at first. But Peter rallies quickly, and as he adapts to the culture he’s immersed in, we’re right along with him. His ability to learn the island’s subtle and alien language shows a deep intelligence and no small amount of desperation, and he shares some fun linguistic tidbits. For example, the eleven words for coconut, ranging from kwalinni (just beginning to grow on the tree) to uronni (ready to husk and drink) all the way to jokiae (turned into a sapling). There are also 159 coconut-related terms, like emmotmot, the sucking noise you make when you drink green coconuts.

There are the usual traveler-out-of-his-depth stories, some of them hilarious, and all of them teaching something about the culture rather than simply whining about discomfort and lack of modern amenities. Peter’s greatest shock was to find out he wasn’t going to be living on a tropical island paradise. No grass huts, no luxurious food, just concrete shacks, noisy children, and nightly Nintendo marathons courtesy of the local generator.

Braving shark-infested waters and falling coconuts, our hero forges ahead with his teaching. He comes to understand and respect these very different people while not being blind to their flaws, and fear for what would happen to them if sea levels rose just a few inches and ate away their island. Surviving Paradise is more than your typical traveler’s tale–it’s a look at a culture that might literally vanish beneath the waves, and also a look at Peter growing up. Perfect for the traveler or English teacher in your life.

State Department website lists where American travelers have died abroad

The LA Times recently linked to a tool on the US State Department website that allows you to search by date range and country to find out where around the world Americans have died of “non-natural” causes.

The information goes back to 2002. No names or details of the deaths are disclosed, they are only reported as suicide, drowning, drug-related, homicide, disaster, or vehicle, air or maritime accident, and listed according to date. The disclaimer on the site states that the stats may not be entirely accurate however, as they only represent those deaths disclosed to the State Department.

So can this tool tell you where you should or shouldn’t go based on your likelihood of drowning, getting into an accident, or being killed as a tourist there? Not really. Circumstances of the deaths are, of course, not disclosed and there is no distinction between expats or people who have lived in the country for many years and those who are tourists visiting on vacation.

Even countries with high numbers of deaths shouldn’t automatically be crossed off your list. Mexico, for example, lists 126 American deaths in 2009. 36 of those were homicides. Sounds like a big number, but not as big compared to the 2.6 million Americans who fly to Mexico every year. As the LA Times points out, “the odds overwhelmingly suggest that your vacation will be nonfatal.”