Photo of the day (10.14.10)

For many of us, dreaming about travel and planning a trip is a favorite part of a travel process. Those early days of discovering a destination and imagining the delights it may hold, before the reality of long airport security lines, bad hotel rooms, and jet lag spoil the fun, are some of the sweetest. This photo by Flickr user Chris Maki titled “Wanderlust” recalls the immense possibilities a map and a few guidebooks can hold. When traveling on frequent flyer miles, I used to look at places where American Airlines and Marriott hotels intersected (a lot of South America and Western European destinations), and now my inspiration tools include a Turkish Airlines timetable, a stack of inflight magazines, and a Kindle full of Lonely Planet guides.

Have any travel photos to inspire wanderlust? Upload them to our Gadling group on Flickr and we might use one as our Photo of the Day.

Budget Travel helps you plan a nonstop Caribbean getaway

As the northern half of the US starts to get cold and skies turn grey with threats of snow, thoughts naturally begin to turn to weekend getaways to warmer climes. The Caribbean is calling, but when it takes two or more connections to get there from your city, it’s hard to escape for a quick weekend warm-up.

If you don’t know which islands can be reached in one flight from where you live, Budget Travel can help. The magazine has a new online tool that can help make planning a trip to the Caribbean islands a little easier. Their “Nonstop Caribbean” destination finder shows you which islands are accessible via nonstop flight from your city. It also tells you which airlines make the flight and how long the flight lasts. The tool can even help you plan your vacation, with suggestions on which hotels to stay at and what activities to do on the island.

10 apps to download on your iPhone before you travel

I’m actually starting to believe that I’m the only person in the free world who doesn’t yet own an iPhone — and really, it doesn’t make sense. I’m an Apple junkie, and have personally owned only Apple computers and other products since the mid-nineties. Heck, even our television at home is hooked up to a mini-Mac. So why have I clung to my non-Apple phone with such gusto?

This post on Travel Overseas, however, might be the last nail in the coffin: it features 10 great iPod/iPhone applications to download before you take your next trip. The applications include everything from mini-guides to cities around the world, to Near+Now, an application that lists restaurants, bars, clubs and other points of interest close to your current position, to nifty weather reports from your next destination. And the coolest part is that for the most part, they’re free.

Be sure to check the article out. As for me, I’m going to start looking into finally junking my two-year-old cell for an iPhone. It’s time, I think.

Time Magazine’s top travel related websites 2008

Lists are great. Especially website lists that have been selected by a reliable body after combing through the abundant clutter on the world wide web.

Undoubtedly, Time Magazine’s list of 50 top websites is one such great list and here are their travel-related website selections for 2008: (no particular order)

  • Wikitravel & Wikisky: After much contradiction on the value of Wikitravel, it’s interesting to see it on here. Wikisky is new for me; it allows you to Wiki the Universe’s sky!
  • Tripkick: Launched in May 2008, Trip Kick reviews hotel floors and rooms of 250 hotels in 12 US cities, to help you avoid getting a crappy room in a good hotel.
  • Gasbuddy: Particularly useful if you are taking a road-trip in the US or Canada, GasBuddy helps you find the cheapest gas prices in your city.
  • Serious Eats: Is a food blog based on sharing your food enthusiasm with others.
  • MapJack: According to Time, it is an alternative to Google Street View and Live Search Map, with brighter/sharper photos and better navigation tools.
  • Carbon Rally: Specially for those who want to be green, Carbon Rally posts challenges (example: line-drying your laundry for a month) to motivate you to reduce your carbon footprint. (Hmmm…why is this site blocked in Dubai!?)
  • Free Rice: Where you get to learn a word and feed the hungry in exchange, reviewed before on Gadling here.

You can check out the full list of Time Magazine’s top websites for 2008 here.

Dispatch from somewhere in Indonesia: A secret school for orangutans

I’m struggling to make friends here. Miriam, a 9-month-old orangutan orphan who’s learning how to climb a tree, almost scales past her trainer when I approach. For good measure, she starts to cry. Another orangutan signals displeasure by emulating the sound of a Harley barreling toward me. In fact, the only one who tolerates me is 11-year-old Leuser, and not because the 42 air-rifle pellets lodged in his body have mellowed him. He’s also blind.

At any zoo, these surly apes would bomb the aw-isn’t-he-cute exam, but here at the world’s most successful school for rescued orangutans, they’re taught to get back in touch with their wild side. Even playtime is serious business. Passing, say, the test of recognizing a friend (another orangutan) versus a foe (a human logger) could spell life or death for these critically endangered icons of the old world jungle.

Everything happens here with one goal in mind: graduation day, when the shaggy students are set loose into the harsh Sumatran rain forest. But for the students to have a shot at survival, handlers must teach them to avoid humans at all costs, a tough task considering they need to be fed by humans.

And teaching them about the dangers of Homo sapiens means no lines of gawky tourists dangling bananas and posing for pictures. That’s why this center at the far north of Sumatra – one of the main islands of Indonesia – is closed to the public and barely known to outsiders. Even if you made it to the nearby village – where the specialty dish is fruit-bat soup and the humid air is clouded with mosquitoes – this part of Sumatra is definitely not for the faint of heart.

Palm trees line the one-lane road to this village, and in the distance, various plantations – chocolate, banana, papaya – dot the endless green of the hills.

The locals don’t seem to understand why the special training and care given at this school. For instance, keepers will offer the apes a hollowed-out block of wood with honey inside to play with, rather than just chicken and rice, the customary diet of pet orangutans. Turns out, it’s a useful skill for wild orangutans to learn how to scrape honey out of a tree hole.

Another trick to keep the students sharp is to tie up rice sacks with the food inside (they like any sweet fruit). The dim ones will rip the bag open, but the smart ones? They will untie the bag.

But you could say those are elective classes. Most of the orangutans come here either completely spoiled by their former owners – almost all military officers who keep them as illegal pets – or with injuries from clashes with farmers and illegal loggers. The injured receive medical attention, and former pets are quarantined for a few weeks and then transferred into a sprawling system of socialization cages. For the young ones, it may be the first time they’ve seen another of their kind.

During the socialization stage, the residents make friends – and sometimes enemies. Two 30-pound toddlers, Kevin and Irwin, are rolling around some blue oil drums when they decide to fight (it looks more like tickling). Just as quickly, they become bored and begin swinging from ropes attached to the ceiling of their metal cage. The playground bully, Prince, who’s bigger by at least 25 pounds, glares at them, ready to steal their milk when the handlers bring the twice-daily bowls.

Though wild orangutans are usually solitary animals, a landmark 2003 Duke University study revealed that they have culture, the only primates besides chimps with this human characteristic. Even more surprising, they’ve been observed using all sorts of tools to dig for termites, scrounge for honey, and get at the seeds inside the razor-sharp neesia fruit – knowledge passed from ape to ape. After all, it’s unlikely a whole troupe of orangutans simultaneously realized leaves could double as gloves or umbrellas.

If all goes well, the students will soon leave this garden paradise – with its freshwater springs, wood gazebos, and hanging orchids – for the tiger-infested rain forest of Jambi Province. It’ll be a 36-hour drive down the spine of Sumatra to a place even more hidden away.

There, they must pass their final test. Handlers will bring them into the jungle each day and teach them everything else they need to survive: what fruits to eat and where to find them, how to eat ants and build nests, and perhaps how to use a tool or two. The wilder ones may graduate in a couple weeks. Tamer ones could take months or years. And the tamest ones? Well, like human students, they don’t want to get out of bed until noon and will expect food to be handed to them on a plate (and don’t even ask them to build a nest anywhere off the ground).

Regardless of their survival know-how, these orangutans face poor odds. Only 6,500 remain in Sumatra and 50,000 in Borneo, down by half from two decades ago.

Indeed it takes stellar teaching to assure an orangutan takes to the wild. More than 90 orangutans have been released since 2003, when the reintroduction began. And it’s not goodbye after graduation. Field observation of the animals suggests the survival rate may be as high as 80 percent.

As it stands, wild orangutans need all the help they can get. At current rates of growth, illegal logging, mining, and oil palm plantations, could destroy 98 percent of the orangutan’s habitat by 2022, a UN report warned last year. Many conservationists predict the extinction of the orangutan within a decade or two.