Traveling to Cartagena Colombia was one of the coolest freelance assignments I’ve ever gotten.
The airline whose magazine I wrote for flew me to the historic colonial city (also known as Cartagena de Indias) on their inaugural flight. They arranged for my buddy DeMarco and I (this was the year before I met Mary) to stay at the La Passion Hotel– a gorgeous 18th century Spanish mansion that had recently been renovated– and tour Cartagena with a private guide and driver. And, for the first time in my career, they also hired me to shoot photos for the cover of the magazine (which, coincidentally, is the shot above).
The funny thing is that the lovely model you see, Carolina Sanchez, was not a model at all. The Colombia Tourism Boardhad arranged for a model and for a local fashion designer to provide swimsuits for the photo shoots, which would take place over our 3 days in Cartagena. But the model they selected ultimately balked, saying she couldn’t appear in a swimsuit because it was prohibited by her contract as a Top 10 finalist in the Miss Colombia pageant! So Carolina– a friend of the designer who managed a local hotel owned by her parents– gamely agreed to step in, and we had a blast exploring the city.
SPECIES: Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia or Uncia uncia)
CURRENT RANGE: Mountain Ranges of Central Asia
CURRENT THREATS: Poaching, Loss of Prey, Conflict with local ranchers and shepherds
CONSERVATION STATUS: Endangered
WHERE YOU CAN SEE THEM: The Himalayas, various mountain ranges in China, Russia & Mongolia
What Is It?
Typically living in alpine and subalpine areas anywhere from 10,000-22,000 feet above sea level, Snow Leopardsare a bit smaller than the world’s other big cats, generally weighing 60-120 pounds and measuring just 30-50 inches from the head to the base of the tail. Like feline Hobbits, these beauties are short-legged and stocky, with bodies custom built for the harsh environments in which they dwell. Their fur is thick to protect against the bitter cold; their very long (31-39 inch) tails help maintain balance on rocky mountainous terrain and wrap around their faces like a blanket when they sleep; their paws are wide and have fur on the undersides (like big, hairy snowshoes); their ears are small and rounded to help minimize heat loss; and their nasal cavities are huge to breathe better in thin, cold air. Perhaps most interestingly, the Snow Leopard cannot roar at all, but instead hisses, chuffs, mews, growls and wails.
If I could go back in time, knowing of my life what I know now, I’d spend a lot less time studying the music business and a lot more time learning about archaeology and cultural anthropology.
Even as a child, I was always fascinated by history, nature and culture, reading my grandparents’ huge collection of National Geographic magazines and watching PBS shows like Nova and Nature. I was 12 years old when Raiders of the Lost Ark came out, and often fantasized about myself as an intrepid adventurer a la Indiana Jones. Add in a healthy appetite for books by Rudyard Kipling, Robert Louis Stevenson and Jules Verne, and you have a fairly direct road map of the path that led me to become the man I am today.
When I was 15 and my family moved from inner-city Atlanta to 32 acres of rural forest outside the city, I got my first personal taste of archaeological history. Our land was once part of the Hightower (Etowah) Trail, an ancient road which stretched from Augusta in the east to the mountains of northwest Georgia and served as a major highway for Native Americans. While digging up ground to lay the foundation for our house and barn, we often found Indian arrowheads in impeccable condition– enough to fill several large jars to capacity.
We don’t believe in making New Year’s resolutions, but we do believe in writing down your hopes, dreams and goals for the coming year in order to give yourself a well-defined sense of direction. It’s unlikely that we’ll take quite as many trips as we did last year, because we have some big projects (writing a book, launching bespoke editing and social media consulting services, etc.) we want to tackle. So we’ve chosen our Top 10 Dream Trips for 2013 very carefully in hopes that we’ll have a chance at making many of them become reality this year.
Mary’s Hilarious Freakout During the Polar Plunge in Antarctica
As travelers, there are certain rites of passage associated with destinations around the world, whether it be hiking Asia’s Annapurna Circuit, climbing Africa’s Mt. Kilimanjaro, or diving the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Once completed (or, in some cases, endured), they become badges of honor that intrepid adventurers will one day tell their grandchildren about.
From the moment we found out that Adventure Life was sending us to Antarcticafor a week-long cruise around the South Shetland Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula, one of the first questions on my mind was, “I wonder if we’ll get to do the Polar Plunge?!” Mary, who you may recall has a fear of water and a dislike of cold, did not seem nearly as curious.
Antarctica XXI, the Chilean company that operates the cruise, was intentionally cagey about our Polar Plunge possibilities. Their literature suggested we bring swimsuits in case we stopped on an island with volcano-fed hot springs, which seemed a bit suspicious since I’d never heard of such a thing. It wasn’t until the day before we did the Polar Plunge that we knew it was going to happen. I was clearly gung-ho about taking a dip in the sub-freezing waters, but Mary was decidedly non-committal.
A Weddell Seal Waves at the Ocean Nova From a Nearby Iceberg
The ship was positively buzzing with excitement: Only a dozen or so of the 50+ passengers were crazy enough to take the Polar Plunge, but EVERYONE seemed eager to watch. As we gathered on the bottom deck in our plush bathrobes, the energy in the room built to a fevered pitch, until it felt like a locker room right before a championship game. The guys all had their game faces on, but we were far outnumbered by ladies whose unmasked emotions belied their inner bravery.
One by one we stripped off our robes, stepped up to have a life preserver strapped around our waist, and made like dead men walking towards the ramp that led into waters estimated to be around 28 degrees fahrenheit. Finally it was Mary’s turn, and I knew that her fear of missing out an amazing experience would eventually outweigh her mantra of “I don’t wanna!”
“Really?!?!” she exclaimed nervously as they strapped the cold floatation device around her midsection. But, sensing her fear, everyone began cheering Mary on. “You can do it!” I assured her. Gamely holding the GoPro camera on her face, she stepped towards our New Zealand guide, Ben, and looked around nervously at frigid Antarctic landscape. She made the tragic mistake of dipping her toe into the shockingly cold water, but before she had time to second-guess her decision Ben gave her a 1-2-3 count and she was in the water!
Photos by André Belém, courtesy of Antarctica XXI
Her reaction when they pulled her out, as you’ll see in the video, was absolutely hilarious: Raw, emotional, exhilarated and just plain damn adorable. Mary was the talk of the ship that day, and with good reason. It’s one thing to be bold and brave and do a cannonball that splashes your guides with freezing cold water, but it’s quite another to be scared as hell of something and yet find the gumption within yourself to do it anyway.
It’s just one of the many things that I love about Mary, and it’s also what makes us a perfect team. –Bret Love
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