Conservation victory: Serengeti highway plans cancelled

Serengeti
Plans to build a paved, two-lane highway through the Serengeti National Park have been canceled.

The road, which was supposed to bring better access to Lake Victoria, will possibly be rerouted further south to avoid having an impact on the Serengeti’s rich wildlife.

There’s already a gravel road across the park, but paving it would have attracted much more traffic and probably fencing. The U.S. government expressed concern, as did UNESCO, after a study showed the project would affect the annual migration of millions of animals that’s one of the wonders of the natural world.

This is a rare victory of common sense over unbridled “development.” It’s also an example of how being eco-friendly can be good for the economy. Tourism generates a major part of Tanzania’s income, and there’s no way a road cutting through the nation’s most valuable natural resource wouldn’t have had a negative impact.

[Photo courtesy D. Gordon E. Robertson]

Rwanda looks to its history to get over its past

RwandaSadly, when people think of Rwanda they tend to think only of the 1994 genocide, yet Rwanda has a rich history and heritage.

Now the government is developing its museums and historical sites to encourage cultural tourism. Sites like Nyanza Palace, shown here, will get special attention. Other attractions include dance troupes and even something called the Inyambo dance, performed by trained cows!

Rwanda has been inhabited for at least ten thousand years. Around the 15th century AD, several kingdoms cropped up with distinctive artistic styles. Several good Rwandan museums showcase this heritage.

Rwanda has become increasingly popular with adventure travelers and safari groups. It’s working to preserve its environment to help its rebounding population of mountain gorillas as well as other species.

This new move towards cultural and historical tourism appears to be emphasizing a common past in order to erase longstanding ethnic divisions. Hopefully this new project will get the international community to see more to Rwandan history than its tragic recent past.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Volunteers needed to excavate Lawrence of Arabia’s battles

Lawrence of ArabiaA team of British archaeologists working in Jordan is tracing the military campaign of Lawrence of Arabia, and they need your help.

T.E. Lawrence was an English archaeologist turned soldier who capture the public imagination during World War One when he helped the Arabs rebel against the Ottoman Empire. After its disastrous defeat at Gallipoli at the hands of the Ottomans, the British Empire needed some good news from the Middle Eastern front.

The ten-year project started in 2006 and has already studied Ottoman fortifications, the Hijaz Railway (a favorite target of the Arab rebels), and an Arab army base. Besides traditional archaeology, the team is also recording oral histories of communities living near the battlefields. While all veterans of the campaign are dead, Arab culture is very much an oral one and many war stories have been passed down.

The project, run by the University of Bristol, is looking for volunteers for this year. Volunteers will work from November 14-28 in southern Jordan. The cost for participating is a hefty £2,450 ($4,017) but that includes airfare, food, and a three-star hotel.

For more information, check out the project’s website and blog.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Space tourism celebrates tenth anniversary

space tourism, Dennis Tito
Space tourism
is ten years old this week. On 28 April 2001 millionaire Dennis Tito became the first person to go into space as a tourist and not an astronaut or scientist.

In an interview with BBC today he talked about how thrilled he was and called his eight days being in orbit “paradise.”

While space tourism is the ultimate in high-cost adventure travel–only seven people have done it so far and Tito is said to have paid $20 million for the privilege–private companies are hoping to make it more widely available. They also want to make it more comfortable. Tito was crammed “elbow to elbow” in a Russian capsule after NASA refused to put him on one of the Space Shuttles. Not that he cared at the time. Check out this video of Dennis Tito’s arrival at the International Space Station. The guy’s euphoric!

A number of private companies are looking into commercial space travel. The most serious contender is Virgin Galactic, which has already built a spaceport and put their spaceship Enterprise through a test flight. The company hopes to push an orbital trip down to $200,000, just one percent of what Tito paid. Who knows? Maybe good old free-market competition will push the price even lower than that.

Even more ambitious is Excalibur Almaz, a company based in the Isle of Man that has bought some Russian space capsules that they’re refurbishing. They boast that they’ll offer trips around the Moon by 2015.

Best of luck folks, but I won’t be looking for a Lonely Planet Outer Space in the bookstores anytime soon.

[Photo courtesy NASA]

%Poll-63218%

Ten (more) random observations about Ethiopia

Ethiopia, Harar

When writing last year’s Ethiopia travel series, I collected twelve random observations about Ethiopia. These were interesting bits of information that didn’t fit in any of my articles. While writing my Harar travel series, I collected ten more.

1. The standard traveler’s money belt that hangs from your neck and is tucked under your shirt is very amusing to Ethiopians because Oromo women wear them. You’ll often see them digging them out in the market to get change. The above photo shows them being made.

2. The banknotes smell spicy. This is because Ethiopians eat with their hands and then handle money in order to pay for their meal. A few years of this treatment makes Ethiopian money smell like a spice stall in the market. Crisp, odorless banknotes fresh from the bank don’t seem real!

3. The currency is called birr, which means “silver.” Before coins became common, people used more practical objects as currency, such as bullets and slabs of salt.

4. Ethiopians have a unique dance called the uuzkista in which you jiggle your shoulders back and forth. Check out the video to see how it’s done.

5. I noticed that many crosses people wear are all the same bright green color. I wondered about this until one night I was walking down a dark street with an Ethiopian friend and noticed her cross was glowing in the dark. Soon I was seeing glowing Crucifixions everywhere.

6. Since most streets lack lighting, many cell phones come equipped with a mini flashlight.

7. To get a waiter’s attention, snap your fingers or clap your hands. What’s rude in one culture is normal in another. I saw a guy get kicked out of a restaurant in New York for doing this because in the West it’s the ultimate in low-class boorishness. Here in Ethiopia it’s completely acceptable, but it took me a long time before I could bring myself to clap at a waiter.

8. There’s a shortage of postcards in Ethiopia. Ethiopians aren’t in the habit of sending postcards and the fledgling tourism industry hasn’t printed many. Some entrepreneurs have taken matters into their own hands. In Gondar a local photographer wanders around the castles selling images he’s taken. It isn’t a proper postcard, but the post office accepts them.

9. When Ethiopians shake hands, they bump each other’s shoulder. If your hand is dirty because you’ve been eating, keep your hand closed and your arm straight down to signal that you can’t shake hands. Instead the other person grabs the forearm and does the shoulder bump. If both people’s hands are dirty, you touch forearms and still do the shoulder bump. Don’t forget the shoulder bump!

10. Farmers often carry water in gourds. Now some entrepreneur has come up with the modern equivalent-plastic gourds in bright colors! Some fashionable farmers are carrying these instead of bothering to prepare their own natural gourds.

This wraps up my series Harar, Ethiopia: Two months in Africa’s city of Saints. Thanks for joining me on my adventure through the Horn of Africa!