Indigenous peoples of Indonesia and Malaysia named the great Asian ape “orang hutan,” which literally translates to person of the forest. This large, gentle red ape is one of humankind’s closest relatives, sharing nearly 97% of the same DNA.

Orangutans are born with an ability to reason and think.

Orangutans are unique in the ape world that includes gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos. Orangutans are the only apes that come from Asia and the only ones with orange-reddish brown hair. Two separate species of orangutan – the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) and the Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) – still survive and are only found in the wild on those two islands, Sumatra and Borneo.

These primarily arboreal great apes are the largest tree-living mammal in the world. In times past orangutans were not killed because the indigenous peoples believed that the orangutan was simply a person hiding in the trees, trying to avoid having to work or become a slave.

An orangutan’s lifespan is about 35-40 years in the wild, and sometimes reaches into the 50s in captivity. A full-grown orangutan has the strength and power to physically move eight humans. They have the longest childhood dependence on the mother of any animal in the world, because there is so much for a young orangutan to learn in order to survive. They do not reach puberty until about the age of eight. But a female isn’t ready for her own baby until she is a teenager. The babies nurse until they are about six years old. The young males may stay close by their mothers for a few more years.

Orangutan females only give birth about once every eight years – the longest time between births of any mammal on earth, which results in a very low birthrate – just four or five babies in the lifespan of a female. This is why orangutan populations are very slow to recover from disturbance.

But today their world is being burned down at an astounding rate. Orangutans have lost well over 80% of their habitat in the last 20 years, and an estimated one-third of the wild population died during the fires of 1997-98.

At this rate of loss, many experts believe orangutans could be extinct in the wild in as little as 25 years. The main threats to the survival of these intelligent animals are loss of habitat through deforestation, illegal hunting and the Illegal pet trade, which necessitates killing the mother to get at the baby.

As shocking as the rapid loss of rainforests has been over the past few decades, that’s nothing to the amount of land being lost to bulldozing to create massive palm oil plantations. Each such plantation destroys thousands of acres that takes the lives of countless orangutans. Recent headlines reported that workers at one palm oil firm hunted down orangutans while expanding their cash crop production. Meanwhile, governmental mandates, meant to protect the land and the animals, disappear faster than do the trees.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, there are only about 41,000 orangutans left in the forests of Borneo, and fewer than 7,500 in Sumatra. In short, if we chose not to act and act soon to mitigate the main threats to orangutans – palm oil, deforestation, poaching and hunting – wild orangutans will be gone from this earth. And, they are not the only ones we will lose. Countless species from birds to insects to plants and many other mammals will disappear with them.

Can we really afford such a devastating loss?

To explore the world of incredible orangutans, begin here – Indonesia.





Galapagos Islands were first discovered by Europeans in 1535 when Father Tomas Berlanga, the bishop of Panama, sailed for Peru. But his ship was carried by strong currents out to the islands. Three centuries later, Charles Darwin became the first to make a scientific study of the islands.

People have been venturing out there ever since. I doubt Darwin could have imagined the Galapagos Islands of today with dozens of cruises ships plying the waters on a daily basis. These beautiful islands, unique in all the world, are in jeopardy of becoming a mere commodity. Large cruise ships, by their very nature, must focus on getting the most people in and out of the islands in the most efficient way possible.

That does not leave much room for individual exploration or spontaneity. The result is that you can miss a lot. From a ship, for example, you will never even see much less have an opportunity to explore the underwater lava tunnels of Isabela Island. These natural tunnels were created from lava flows that carved out hundreds of arches and tunnels, both above and below the water. The striking geological formations are home to an array of extraordinary creatures such as white-tipped sharks, rays, lava gulls and ruddy turnstones that inhabit this unique environment.

Yet, the still pervasive idea remains that cruising is the only way to see the Galapagos. To that, we say a resounding ‘no’. Not anymore.

There is an alternative – a land-based Galapagos experience that takes you beyond Santa Cruz. Explore and stay on three separate islands: San Cristobal, Isabela, and Santa Cruz, where each day is tailored to what you want to do rather than the more generic mornings on land and afternoons in the water. Dig up yucca roots for lunch, plant an indigenous tree, snorkel around animals only found closer to formations like the Isabela lava tunnels…

There is a handful of outstanding, small sustainable hotels focusing on providing the traveler with a more personal journey with opportunities for customization, better access to more out of the way sites such as the lava tunnels, and better quality guides. You have time to explore more thoroughly than can be provided by ships. For example, on our President’s Pick: Ecuador’s Galapagos & Amazon, guests stay on Isabela Island and explore the island’s marine sanctuary, which encompasses the tunnels, as well as Sierra Negra, a large shield volcano at the southeastern end of the island. One of the most active volcanoes in the Galapagos chain, it last erupted in 2005. You will also be able to take short excursions to other sites.

So the next time you consider a Galapagos Islands adventure, think about a land-based option such as the program noted above. And the best part… we have really limited space for the holidays. Explore the best kept secrets in the Galapagos today. Forget the balcony, bring your exploring shoes.

The Swahili word safari means journey, and the verb for “to travel” in Swahili is kusafiri. Safari became part of the English language at the end of the 1850s thanks to the explorer Richard Francis Burton. In 1836, William Cornwallis Harris led an expedition purely to observe and record wildlife and landscapes. Harris established the safari-style of journey, starting with rising at first light, an energetic day walking, an afternoon rest then ending with a formal dinner and telling stories in the evening over drinks and smokes.

The literary tradition built around safaris was established by writers such as Jules Verne in his first novel Five Weeks in a Balloon published in 1863, and H. Rider Haggard with his first novel, King Solomon’s Mines, published in 1885. Both describe English travelers on safari and the stories were best sellers at the time.

Then came Ernest Hemingway, one of America’s most noted writers about African safaris in both fiction and non-fiction. His books Green Hills of Africa and True at First Light are both set on African safaris. “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” are both stories set on African safaris and were written after Hemingway’s own experience on safari.

The concept of safari has evolved over centuries from science and exploration to business and trade to hunting to today’s sightseeing and conservation focus.

Most people still equate safari only with Africa. But we see another evolution of the safari ideal in places from Ecuador to India and beyond. Tracking tigers in India or jaguars in the jungles of Guatemala; or going underwater for a marine safari in the Galapagos Islands; or setting out to find some of the eight species of penguins that inhabit Antarctica – these explorations are in every sense safaris.

So the next time you hear the word safari – let your mind wander a bit. And If you want to see how far that can take you, explore your personal Travel DNA at

Painting the body and face with natural pigments including clay and ingredients such as berries has been used from our earliest origins across the globe from the Americas to Asia to Africa to the South Pacific. Most, if not all, tribal cultures used this practice for reasons that ran from hunting, to religious ceremonies and festivals, to camouflage or intimidation during times of war. Some warriors were known to enter battle covered only by a loin cloth and paint.  

The earliest make-up came in the form of decorating the face with patterns and shapes, and is common across cultures. Tribal societies who still follow the ancient custom of face painting, choose the colors according to the available raw materials. In ancient times, only primary and locally available colors like red, blue, yellow or white were used.  

Face painting is an important tradition in locations as varied as North America, India and Australia. It is a sacred social act of distinction and a cultural heritage. On special occasions faces of the tribe members are painted to augment one’s appearance and power. For native American Indians, roots, berries and tree barks are most commonly used to make the dyes for face painting. These natural raw materials are ground into a paste and use to make the dye.  

Body painting and face painting have been part of Indian culture since ancient times. Men painted their bodies and faces for camouflage when they went hunting. Face painting is a ritual in Indian villages in their religious festivities, dance and drama. Face painting is very much a part of Indian folk culture and tribal art even today. People are often seen getting their faces painted in different styles during temple festivals and religious events in India.  

Aborigines of Australia inherited specific face-painting designs from their ancestors. The designs are painted on the face and body using ground ochre mixed with water. They are traditionally applied either in stripes or circles. Even the modern paintings of the Central and Western Desert are characterized by these specific designs. Body painting, decoration and personal adornment traditionally carry deep spiritual significance for Australian Aboriginal people. Body painting is carried out within strict conventions related mostly to spiritual matters, although the creative side also plays a role. The particular designs or motifs used by individuals reflect their social position and relationship to their family group and also to particular ancestors, totemic animals and tracts of land. People are not free to change their appearance at will. They must conform to respected patterns. In many situations individuals are completely transformed so that they ‘become’ the spirit ancestor they are portraying in dance.  

One area to explore the continuing traditions of face painting is northern Australia, which remains well off the beaten track. Consider exploring the Aboriginal culture during our 14-day Wild Australia.



“He who works with his hands is a laborer. He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.”    ― Francis of Assisi


For most of us, Labor Day weekend is a time to do anything but labor.  Yet the holiday has an interesting history.

In both the United States and Canada, we celebrate Labor or Labour Day each year in September. The day was first proposed in the 1880s, in an era when the labor movement was being developed to represent workers and to campaign for better working conditions.

In 1882, Matthew Maguire, a machinist, first proposed a Labor Day holiday while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union (CLU) of New York. Some people maintain that it was Peter J. McGuire of the American Federation of Labor who first proposed it in May 1882 after seeing the annual labor festival held in Toronto, Canada.

In Canada, Labour Day can be traced back to December 1872 when a parade was staged in support of the Toronto Typographical Union’s strike for a 58-hour work-week, which eventually became a centerpiece national labor unions in both countries that advocated for the eight-hour-day movement: eight hours for work, eight hours for recreation and eight hours for rest (at that time, the work week was usually seven days). There was enormous public support for the parade and the authorities could no longer deny the important role that trade unions had to play in Canadian society.

In 1887, Oregon became the first state of the United States to make Labor Day an official public holiday. By the time it became an official federal holiday in 1894, 30 U.S. states officially celebrated Labor Day.

In 1908, the first five-day workweek in the United States was instituted by a New England cotton mill to accommodate Jewish workers, who could not work on the Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. In 1926, Henry Ford began shutting down his automotive factories on both Saturday and Sunday. The Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America Union was the first union to demand a five-day workweek and receive it in 1929. The five-day week became uniformly applied in 1940 in the US due to a provision of the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act mandating a maximum 40-hour workweek, with a two-day weekend.

This Labor Day, we celebrate all the ‘artists’ we are fortunate to work with every day. Be safe and have a joyous celebration.

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