Vast, Beautiful, & Wild

Asia is the world’s largest and most populous continent, encompassing China and India, the world’s two largest countries population-wise. Well over 4 billion of the world’s 7 billion people[1] live in Asia and most of the fastest growing countries and cities can be found here.

From the vast frozen stretches of Siberia to the steamy jungles of Borneo and the dramatic peaks of theHimalayas in the northern part of the Indian sub-continent or the vast deserts of the Arabian Peninsula, Asia is a diverse region that defies categorisation. Modern cities like Tokyo, Shanghai and Singapore herald a growingly urban landscape, but this move towards modernisation is negotiated with the desire to maintain cultural tradition.

 

Geography

The Asian land mass is huge and with almost 45 million square kilometres it covers around 30% of the world’s land area (just under 9% of the total surface of the planet). This section focuses on the area most travellers know as Asia, not the Middle East and Europe, which many geographers consider part of greater Asia or the Eurasian continent. The Asian land mass goes from the frozen dry Arctic in Siberia to the lush and wet jungles of Indonesia andMalaysia. Most of Northern Asia is plains and steppe that gave birth to many amazing empires like the Mongolian Empire. Between North and Central Asia are the Gobi and Taklaman deserts, the latter bordering the Tibetan Highplains. Central Asia is a series of high mountain ranges like the Himalayas, Tianshan and the Hindu Kush with deep depressions that stab way below sea level, making for some very remote cultures and people.

Further south are mountains covered with dense jungles, home to fascinating peoples that live along side wild elephants, tigers and rhinos, although not always in a good way given the extinction of the Java and Bali tiger. Kanha and Bandhavgarh National Parks in India are two of the best parks to see the great Bengal tiger in the world. Asia’s geography gives birth to some of the most densely populated places on earth and some places that see a person once every few hundred years. The diversity on this land mass allows any traveller to find what they want.

 

Subregions

Central Asia Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan
East Asia China (including Hong Kong, Macau and Tibet), Japan, Mongolia, North Korea,South Korea, Taiwan
North Asia Russia
South Asia Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives Republic, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka
Southeast Asia Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore,Thailand, Timor-Leste, Vietnam
West Asia (Main article: Middle East) Bahrain, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia,State of Palestine, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Yemen

France: A History Lesson

[two-column]The early traces of human life in France date back by tens of thousands of year, as evident through archaeological finds including the Lascaux cave paintings and the stone alignments of Carnac. Known as Gaul, it came under Roman power, initially annexed in the southern part of the country and eventually under the lead of Julius Caesar, Gaul fell into Roman hands. The Celtic culture was gradually displaced by Gallo-Roman culture. However, by the 3rd century AD, the Goths and later the Huns asserted their presence. After the fall of the Roman Empire the Franks moved in and settled throughout Gaul. The collapse of the Roman Empire marked the start of a period of instability and invasions in Gaul. Both the Frankish dynasties of the Merovingians (486-751) and the Carolingians (751-987) ruled the country for over 500 years, but failed to bring stability, leaving the country divided into smaller kingdoms.

By the 12th century, the monarchy was becoming increasingly dominant. During the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) between England and France, the country was devastated from war damages, frequent famines and ravaging plagues. The renewal of power in France was soon followed with the invasion of Italy, and in this period, the ideals of Italian Renaissance spread to France. This marked the beginning of early modern France. France was embroiled in war once again, this time over religion. When the turmoil eventually subsided, the country entered a new period of exceptional power and influence, with the King having absolute power.

A period of stability enabled intellectual engagements in France, drawing it into the era of Enlightenment. Philosophers, through their ideas, challenged the aristocratic power that was increasingly unpopular for the excessive spending by the royals and decadent living in Versailles while the rest of the country struggled through financial hardship. It eventually triggered the French Revolution in 1789, culminating in the execution of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie-Antoinette.[/two-column]

[two-column last=”yes”]The period of transition and self-rule did not last long. In 1799, Napoleon staged a coup and declared himself Emperor Napoleon I. He extended his empire by going to war with other countries, conquering most of western Europe. The invasion of Russia however became his downfall war and for a short period the French monarchy was restored. The restored monarchy was relatively short-lived as a Napoleonic clan mounted their comeback in 1848 and Napoleon’s nephew came to power. He subsequently crowned himself as emperor and named himself Napoleon III. His reign ended with the French-German war of 1870-1871 in which France lost the Alsace region to Prussia.

In the decade before World War I, the Belle Époque (Beautiful Era) took place and pushed forward a new height in cultural innovations and artistic transformations. The movement of Art Nouveau reached its peak in this period. France was drawn into World War I, when Germany invaded the country in an attempt to get access to the north sea. The trench war lasted until 1918 in mainly the north of France, and Belgium. During World War II, France was partly occupied by Germany and partly under the regime of the collaborating regime of Vichy France. France was finally liberated with help by allied forces in 1944, which started the liberation on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.

After the war France was one of the founding members of European Economic Community (EEC) which eventually evolved into the European Union (EU), it introduced the Euro in 2002.[/two-column]

More Than Just Pirates

The Caribbean offers some of the finest sites in the world for scuba diving and snorkeling. The usually crystal clear warm water offers those travelers with an interest in the underwater world endless opportunities.

The Caribbean extends in a broad arc of over 4000 km from the Bahamas in the north to Guyana and Suriname in the south. For the underwater adventurer, the Caribbean includes coral reefs, large and small sand barriers, mangroves, lagoons, and river estuaries in which to dive. Dive sites offer stretches of reef teeming with tropical fish and walls that drop from six to 6000 metres, wrecks and caves to explore, coral-clad pinnacles and underwater fumaroles that bubble volcanic gases, thousands of tropical fish and marine mammals such as sharks and dolphins.

Why Choose Caribeean

  • Head a little further inland and you’ll discover interesting historical cities and mountainous areas.
  • Many of the 7,000 or more islands form a huge arch around the Caribbean Sea, making it a natural borderline.

The Caribbean caters well for scuba divers. There are dive-shops on most of the islands and it is perfectly possible to try the sport out for the first time while you are there. You do not need to be trained in advance or to go on a specific scuba diving holiday. With the PADI ‘resort course’ that is available in most islands, it is quite possible to get underwater within a day–it consists of safety instruction and a tester in a pool followed by a guided open-water dive on the reef.

The Geography

The Caribbean is the area which includes the Caribbean Sea, which is located to the southeast of the Gulf of Mexico, and to the north of South America. Many of the 7,000 or more islands form a huge arch around the Caribbean Sea, making it a natural borderline. North of the this line, the Bahamas are also regarded as part of the Caribbean. In the north of the Caribbean you can find the bigger islands, like Cuba, Hispaniola and Puerto Rico. A string of smaller islands runs from Puerto Rico to the mainland of Venezuela. Many of the countries surrounding the Caribbean Sea also have islands in front of their coast. At the center of the sea, you will find only a couple of remote islands, sometimes nothing more than rocks.

North of the this line, the Bahamas are also regarded as part of the Caribbean. In the north of the Caribbean you can find the bigger islands, like Cuba, Hispaniola and Puerto Rico.

Although compared to most other regions/continents in the world there are almost no real big cities, several are worth a visit of their own, most notably Havana. Others are mentioned because of the fact that they (can) act as a gateway to the Caribbean, more than other places.

Famous for Pocket Knives

Beautiful and Majestic

Switzerland is a country as famous for its pocket knives as it is for its chocolate. But to travellers, Swiss fame is largely focused on its Alpine landscape. Beautiful and majestic, many visitors prefer to take in the scenery through activity, rather than mere sightseeing: skiing, hiking, hang-gliding and rafting are only a number of the outstanding opportunities the Alps award.

 

Brief History

The oldest traces of hominid existence in Switzerland date back about 150,000 years. Archeological evidence suggests that hunter-gatherers were already settled in the lowlands north of the Alps in the late Paleolithic period. By the Neolithic period, the area was relatively densely populated. The oldest known farming settlements in Switzerland, which were found at Gächlingen, have been dated to around 5300 BC. Remains of Bronze Age pile dwellings from as early as 3800 BC have been found in the shallow areas of many lakes. Around 1500 BC, Celtic tribes settled in the area. The Raetians lived in the eastern regions, while the west was occupied by the Helvetii.

In 1291, the cantons of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden conspired against the Habsburgs. Their union, the nucleus of the Old Swiss Confederacy, is recorded in the Federal Charter, a document probably written after the fact, in the early 14th century. At the battles of Morgarten in 1315 and Sempach 1386, the Swiss defeated the Habsburg army, allowing the confederacy to continue within the Holy Roman Empire. The Swiss victory in a war against the Swabian League in 1499 amounted to de facto independence from the Holy Roman Empire. In 1506, Pope Julius II engaged the Swiss Guard that continues to serve the papacy to the present day.

During the French Revolutionary Wars, the revolutionary armies boiled eastward, enveloping Switzerland in their battles against Austria. In 1798 Switzerland was completely overrun by the French and became the united Helvetic Republic, effectively abolishing the cantons. The Congress of Vienna of 1815 fully re-established Swiss independence and the European powers agreed to permanently recognise Swiss neutrality (Restoration). At this time, the territory of Switzerland was increased, by the new cantons of Valais, Neuchatel and Geneva.

As a consequence of the civil war, Switzerland adopted a federal constitution in 1848, amending it extensively in 1874 and establishing federal responsibility for defence, trade, and legal matters, leaving all other matters to the cantonal governments. From then, and over much of the 20th century, continuous political, economic, and social improvement has characterized Swiss history.
The major powers respected Switzerland’s neutrality during World War I. During World War II, detailed invasion plans were drawn up by the Germans, but Switzerland was never attacked. Switzerland was able to remain independent through a combination of military deterrence, economic concessions to Germany, and good fortune as larger events during the war delayed an invasion.
In 1963, Switzerland joined the Council of Europe. Women were granted the right to vote only in 1971, and an equal rights amendment was ratified in 1981. Switzerland is not a member state of the EU, but has been (together with Liechtenstein) surrounded by EU territory since the joining of Austria in 1995. In 2005, Switzerland agreed to join the Schengen treaty.

Life In The Galapagos

Most travelers go to the Galapagos Islands in order to experience the wildlife. There is stunning geology and natural features here although the strange and extremely timid animals truly captures people’s attention. Most of the animals here are considered megafauna. Megafuana is an animal being in a small environment devoid of major predators becoming larger, filling a different niche and becoming extremely specialized. The problem that megafauna face is that being extremely specialized they do not adjust to change well. In the past megafuana became extinct because of natural phenomena like volcanic eruptions, cooler periods or warming periods in the planets cycle. Sadly most megafuana in the last hundred years became extinct because of humans or domesticated animals gone feral.

The Galapagos is one of the last places on earth with extensive megafauna. Places like Australia, New Zealand, Crete, North America, Hawaii and countless other little islands used to have extensive megafauna populations. In the Galapagos Islands a traveller can get a glimpse of what the world used to look like before humans came along.

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Introduction

The Galapagos Islands are an archipelago of volcanic islands around the equator, located about 1,000 kilometres west of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean and were made famous by Charles Darwin. It is a heaven for people who wish to be witness of some of the most unusual animals in the world, all to be viewed from up close. It doesn’t come cheap and a tour of 5 days including the return flight from mainland Ecuador will set you back at least a US$ 1,000, but probably more when you want to explore more islands and spend some decent amount of time at this magnificent place.

The environment is fragile on the other hand and recently, the government of Ecuador has announced that less visitors are allowed on the islands at one time and a maximum number is allowed in one year. Also prices for the entry to the National Park are tripled which only adds extra costs. Still, if visited in the right way, it makes for an unforgettable trip!

Hopefully this stops some of the more rampant destructions and corruption that has plagued the Galapagos in the past. As recently as the 1990s the local mafia were trying smuggle animals out of the Galapagos Islands for a profit. Also many Ecuadorians view the islands as their frontier. Therefore many people move to the islands in order to find their fortunes in many different industries some very destructive to the fragile environment of the Galapagos Islands. Over fishing in recent years has been blamed for the reduction in the number of large whale sightings while on cruises.[/two-column]

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Geography

The islands are located on the equator, in the Pacific Ocean and apart from Ecuador the closest islands are 500 kilometres north (Cocos Islands) or almost 2,000 kilometres south (Easter Island). As the Galapagos islands are on the equator, they are located in both the northern and southern hemisphere and with the equator line located exactly on the island of Isla Isabela. From north to south the islands are spread out about 220 kilometres. A nice affect of being located on the equator and at sea level is that a traveller can see every constellation year round while visiting the Galapagos Islands.

The Galapagos Islands include 7,880 square kilometres of land and 45,000 square kilometres of water. The largest of the islands is Isabela Island with about 4588 square kilometers, thus making up half of the total land area. The highest point is located on Isabela as well and Volcan Wolf has an altitude of 1,707 meters above sea level.

The Galapagos Archipelago consists of 16 main islands, 6 smaller islands, and 10 rocks and islets. The islands are located in a volcanic sensitive area and the oldest island is thought to have been formed between 5 and 10 million years ago. The most recent eruption was just back in 2007 and, as a consequence, younger islands like Isabela and Fernandina are still being formed and thus changed as we speak.[/two-column]

 

Wildlife

Galapagos Hawk
  • Islands: Extinct on the islands of Baltra, Daphne, Floreana ,San Cristobal and Seymour
  • Habitat: The interior and coastline of islands
  • Diet: Insects, small rodents, snakes, baby Iguanas, baby turtles and baby birds
  • Danger: Is the only large raptor on the island making it the terror of all small animals

The Caribbean caters well for scuba divers. There are dive-shops on most of the islands and it is perfectly possible to try the sport out for the first time while you are there. You do not need to be trained in advance or to go on a specific scuba diving holiday. With the PADI ‘resort course’ that is available in most islands, it is quite possible to get underwater within a day–it consists of safety instruction and a tester in a pool followed by a guided open-water dive on the reef.

The Future of the Hawk

The Galapagos Hawk is a recent arrival to the islands only coming 300,000 years ago. These birds are known for their fearless nature towards humans and other animals. Like most raptors the females are larger being 55 cm from beak to tail and 120 cm from wing tip to wing tip. These birds hunt in groups at about 50 to 200 feet in the air, with the dominate bird being allowed to eat its fill before the others are allowed to start. Due to the proximity to the equator there is no distinct breeding season and nests are built in low trees or lava wedges and occasionally on the ground itself.

These birds hunt in groups at about 50 to 200 feet in the air, with the dominate bird being allowed to eat its fill before the others are allowed to start.

Sadly the number of these birds has dwindled to only about 150 mating pairs, although there has been a come back in recent years. The closest relative to the Galapagos Hawk is Swainson’s Hawk.