New Guinea’s Natural History

New Guinea: Nature and Culture of Earth's Grandest Island by Bruce Beehler and Tim Laman

The Richest Island on Earth

An Interview with Bruce Beehler and Tim Laman

My interview, “New Guinea’s Natural History, “with Bruce Beehler and Tim Laman, is a delight for anyone who is intrigued with travel. Their masterpiece book, “New Guinea: Nature and Culture of Earth’s Grandest Island” leaves no stone unturned. It’s a photographic, historical, and cultural journey through the world’s largest island.

I agreed to read and review this book for several reasons. The spectacular photography immediately grabbed my attention and after reading the contents page, it’s obvious their trek through New Guinea was a labor-intensive project.

Scroll down to read this descriptive interview with world-renown author and New Guinea expert Bruce Beehler and award-winning National Geographic photographer Tim Laman. You’ll journey with them on an unforgettable tour of the natural and cultural wonders of the world’s most awe-inspiring island.

New Guinea’s Natural History highlights key moments of their trip with personal recollections. Bruce and Tim are storytellers.

In this interview, you’ll learn why the world’s largest, highest, and most environmentally complex tropical island is not the best choice for the faint-of-heart or first-time traveler. Scroll down for a wondrous account of the island’s rainforests, indigenous plants, and animals with travel tips, and suggestions. 

Bruce Beehler and Tim Laman join me for an interview in New Guinea's Natural History. New Guinea NGM Birds of Paradise Story by Tim Laman
Rain forest-covered mountains of the Sarawaget range, Huon Peninsula, Papua New Guinea. This is the region of the YUS Conservation Area. Photo by Tim Laman.


Joan: When and how did your love affair with New Guinea begin?

Bruce: In the early 1960s I encountered Tom Gilliard’s Living Birds of the World, which featured a black and white photograph of a displaying Magnificent Riflebird. I was entranced by this bird that was, in essence, an avian “transformer” — quickly converting from a songbird to a piece of ornamental sculpture. Gilliard, a New Guinea bird expert, attended elementary school with my father back in the 1920s. So I heard a lot about Gilliard and birds and New Guinea from my Dad. When I got a chance to apply for a travel fellowship as a senior in college, I applied to spend a year in New Guinea. I arrived in Papua New Guinea in April of 1975 and never looked back.

Male Blue Bird-of-Paradise in New Guinea. Photo by Tim Laman.
Male Blue Bird-of-Paradise (Paradisaea rudolphi) in a fruiting tree. Endangered Species (IUCN Red list: VU). Photo by Tim Laman

Tim: My first trip to Indonesia was in 1987 when I volunteered to be a research assistant in Borneo for a year.  In preparation for that trip, I read Alfred Russell Wallace’s classic “The Malay Archipelago: Land of the Orangutan and the Bird-of-Paradise”, and although I was to spend many years working in Borneo, doing my Ph.D. and a lot of photography there, I had the idea of wanting to travel to New Guinea to see Birds-of-Paradise.  I finally got my chance on a bird-watching trip in 1990.  Following that, I began scheming on ways to get back to New Guinea to seriously photograph this remarkable island and its birdlife.  My proposal to National Geographic magazine was accepted eventually, and in 1994 I began my serious photographic obsession with the Birds-of-Paradise and all the biodiversity of New Guinea.

Joan: How did you meet and what led to your collaboration?

Bruce: I knew Tim because of his work in collaboration with Conservation International, when he was shooting a piece for National Geographic featuring the Raja Ampat Islands of western New Guinea. Then Tim and Ed Scholes did this big field project on birds of paradise, and I advised them on their work. We also traveled to the Foja Mountains together in 2007 and again in 2008, cementing our friendship.

Tim: I knew Bruce by name and reputation, because long before we met and long before I went to the island, I had a copy of his “Birds of New Guinea”.  It was thus a thrill to get to know Bruce during the course of my project on Birds-of-Paradise and even to do fieldwork together in the Foja Mountains as he said, in 2007 and 2008.

Joan: Compiling the information and photos for this book must have been a daunting task, considering the cultural diversity and vast resources available on New Guinea. How did you tackle this job and decide what to include in your book? Did you conduct interviews and/or what resources were available to you?

Bruce: Tim has shot so many images from New Guinea in so many locations, that his library is vast. In addition, I have a large collection of field images based on 35 years visiting New Guinea; these two collections constituted the bulk of the images we used… We also have many friends who have worked in New Guinea, and they supplied the rest. But by far the bulk of the images are from Tim’s trove.

Huon Tree Kangaroo (Dendrolagus matschiei) female and joey peer over branch. Photo by Tim Laman
Huon Tree Kangaroo (Dendrolagus matschiei) female and joey peer over a branch. Endangered species from the Huon Peninsula, Papua New Guinea. Photo by Tim Laman.

Joan: Did you publish “New Guinea: Nature and Culture of Earths Grandest Island” in conjunction with other agencies, organizations, or companies?

Bruce: The book was mainly a partnership between Tim and myself, but my wife Carol did the book design, and Porgera Joint Venture in Papua New Guinea was the main financial sponsor.

Joan: How do you describe New Guinea as a tourist destination? What type of traveler would typically want to visit the island? 

Bruce: New Guinea is not for the faint-of heart; I recommend it be reserved for later in a list of international travel destinations. Those interested in a cushy experience should visit by cruise ship; those interested in seeing the wilder parts should join a bird tour.

Joan: What were a few of the challenges you faced as you were in New Guinea doing your fieldwork? (From a photographic and writer’s standpoint)

Bruce: Over the years, the most memorable challenges include dealing with the relentless itching of chigger bites–some forests are chigger-rich and nearly unlivable because of it; chartering small aircraft and helicopters to fly into uncertain locations also generates all sorts of troubles and safety issues; working on the Indonesian side depends on all sorts of permits that are difficult to obtain; visiting forests in high-rainfall zones is a spirit-dampening experience….

Tim: From a photographic perspective, rain forests are very challenging places to shoot wildlife because animals are hard to find, hard to see, and there never seems to be enough light.  So lots of time and effort is needed to find the right locations and wait in blinds to get the shots.  Teaming up with scientists from various fields on expeditions who are searching for frogs, insects, plants etc., also was very productive in terms of getting help locating subjects to photograph.

Joan: Tell my readers about the crew you brought with you. Who accompanied you on your trips?

Bruce: We could not do our work in the wilds without a team of local village naturalists, who were expert at maintaining a comfortable field camp, keeping the fires burning, and helping us find the birds we were searching for–and their display sites. Stalwart and hard-working and dependable.

Tim:  As Bruce says, our local naturalist guides were the key to success.  Cornell ornithologist Edwin Scholes was also a collaborator for me on most of my 25+ expeditions, and his unparalleled skills at locating display sites of Birds-of-Paradise was a huge asset.

New Guinea Villagers at Payakona Village. Photo by Tim Laman.
Villagers at Payakona Village in a traditional singing ceremony put on as part of a “compensation”. Feathers of multiple species of Birds of Paradise adorn their headdresses, which are family heirlooms. Traditional use of feathers such as this continues in New Guinea. Photo by Tim Laman.

Joan: Overall, what were the reactions of the residents you encountered during your fieldwork?

Bruce: Most villages welcomed us with wonderful hospitality; occasionally, places that had had based experiences with mineral exploration parties were suspicious of us, but eventually came to see us as only eccentric and harmless.

Tim:  True.

Joan: What are two must-see off-the-beaten-track regions on the island you’d recommend to first-time visitors?

Bruce: #1 the Raja Ampat Islands–best reef diving in the world and also wonderful island experiences; #2 Tari Valley–wonderful diversity of birds of paradise and the luxury of Ambua Lodge.

Tim:  I second these recommendations.

A very low tide reveals a coral reef. Photo by Tim Laman. New Guinea's Natural History
A very low tide reveals a coral reef. New Guinea Photo by Tim Laman.

Joan: In terms of environmental disturbances and climate change, how would you describe New Guinea?

Bruce: New Guinea has faced threats from logging and oil palm plantation development, but still there are many undeveloped sectors on the island; climate change is impacting New Guinea just as it is impacting every place on earth, but the main issues relate to changing rainfall regimes that impact local agriculture; in general, New Guinea has suffered less than many tropical regions…

Tim: Yes, New Guinea is still more than 80 percent covered in forest and is the largest block of rainforest in the entire Asia-Pacific region, and third only in the world behind the Amazon and Congo forests.  So it is vitally important as a storehouse of carbon and to be maintained as a forest so as not to exacerbate climate change.

Joan: What were two of the pivotal experiences you encountered during your field trips, i.e. life-changing that caused you to look at life from a different perspective?

Bruce: Visiting the Foja Mountains and being part of a team that came upon dozens and dozens of novel species of plants and animals was life-altering. It showed us that there are still places on earth untouched by humankind. It gave us a special reference for these sorts of “lost worlds”–a sense of the possibility of future discoveries to await the next generation of naturalists.

Tim:  I agree.  Visiting extremely remote areas of New Guinea shows us that the age of exploration is not over, and is an awe-inspiring experience.  There is so much yet to discover about our planet’s biodiversity.

Joan: What travel tips do you have to share with my readers in light of your extensive knowledge or New Guinea’s Natural History and Culture?

Bruce: Here are a few: (1) pack light but be sure to have the essentials: sunscreen, insect repellent, a hat, a camera, binoculars; (2) have the proper malarial meds; (3) Do your homework in advance and be well informed about the places you are to visit–that guarantees a better experience; (4) footwear in critical: good socks and 2 pair of sturdy boots or walking shoes; (5) for rainforest consider taking a pair of Wellington boots–the tall pull-on rubber boots; when worn with two pair of socks (in nylon liner socks and heavier outer pair), these can be the perfect antidote to foot problems in the rainforest.

Tim:  All good ones.  For the photographers, I’ll add:  take lots of batteries and memory cards, and purchase a desiccant like silica gel in large quantities.  At night, place your cameras and lenses in an an airtight case or bag, and dry them out with the silica gel.  This will prevent the mold that loves the humid environment from growing on your lenses and ruining them.

Joan: What are you working on now and do you have plans to work together again?

Bruce:: I am working on a handbook to the birds of North America; I would love to create another beautiful natural history book with Tim!.

Tim:  Yes, I’d love to collaborate with Bruce on another natural history book.  I continue to plan expeditions to New Guinea for photography, filming, and research on Birds-of-Paradise.  There is still so much to learn about them and amazing stories to tell that I hope will help inspire the whole world to learn about and care about the New Guinea region as one of the epicenters of Earth’s biodiversity that remains under-appreciated.  Our current book is I hope a good start toward this goal, but stay tuned for more articles, films, and books in the years to come!

Buy a copy of New Guinea: Nature and Culture of Earth’s Grandest Island directly through Princeton University Press’s website.

Love photography and world travel? Check out this article and photographs by Debashish Dutta.

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Unique Lodges of the World

Unique Lodges of the World

National Geographic Endorsed Lodges

Travel Lodges to Suit Your Every Need

“National Geographic: Unique Lodges of the World” or call +1-312-940-7404

There is travel and there is TRAVEL with extraordinary opportunities for hands-on engagement and exploration. If world-class accommodations, combined with discovery and intimate encounters in lesser-known parts of the world is your idea of a vacation, you will want to get your hands on a copy of “National Geographic: Unique Lodges of the World.”

I can’t make up my mind if I’m more impressed by the guide’s brilliant photography and insightful interpretations or the partnership and mission of National Geographic and the lodge owners. Together, they have teamed up to celebrate nature and cultures and preserve our natural resources, while at the same time, providing a genuine educational environment where children and adults can learn and explore.

Throughout this 123-page guide, you’ll find a page dedicated to each of the 120 select National Geographic endorsed lodges from North America to Austrailia and the Pacific. The lodges were selected because of their commitment to sustainable practices and support for natural and cultural heritage. A full description of the lodge’s history and its contribution to the environment, “About This Lodge” and “Things To Do” bulleted lists, a brief “Why We Love This Lodge” narrative, and details of a complimentary “National Geographic Exclusive Experience” guests are at your fingertips in a clear-cut format.

When you book your trip through Natural Geographic, a portion of the proceeds from all National Geographic Travel programs will be used to help fund other initiatives. If you are looking for a dream trip, travel specialists are available to help you plan each leg of your journey.

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How to Interview Lifestyle

Interviewing Tips with Guest, Mike Stevens

Interviewing Tips with Guest, Mike Stevens

Play/Pause Episode
00:00 / 36:09
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Put Your Phone Down and Listen to this Podcast

How to Interview Someone

Mike Steven describes interviewing as “Shooting the Breeze” and rightly so because if you’re a journalist, travel writer, or author, simply asking questions is not always likely to get you the answers you want or need. In fact, a meaningful conversation goes much farther than a list of obligatory sounding questions. The “Interviewing Tips with Guest, Mike Stevens,” podcast episode takes you through some of the most important techniques and suggestions you’ll need to turn an interview into a fabulous conversation.

In spite of our goal to collect information for the purpose of creating a story, we need to focus our efforts on creating a relaxed environment. Journalists often approach an interview solely as a means to get answers from the respondent but they fail to realize that one-word or one-sentence answers when transcribed to a page, will do little to engage their readers. Strive for a conversation-starter and take it from there.

As for Mike Stevens, if you don’t know him, it’s time you listen to his entrancing voice and often hilarious stories of the people he met as host of “On the Pennsylvania Road.” After handing the reigns to his colleague, Jon Meyer, Mike wasn’t ready to fully retire after more than 35 years as host.

He took up blogging under the title, “Stevens Says” and started a podcast known as “The Slow Lane.” Moreover, Mike is an author, guest speaker, and a contributor to the Saturday morning “Home and Backyard Show,” and in his spare time (I use the word spare loosely), he’s often looking to discover an uncharted town along a Pennsylvania road. Of all the places he has visited, he’s reluctant to name one as his favorite and I suspect the reason is he takes the time to meet and interview the locals. I’m sure he also finds an ice cream shop.

On that note, it’s time to put your phone down and listen intently to the podcast.

Thank you, Mike, for taking the time to join me in the Keystone College recording studio.

And many thanks to Ryan Evans, station manager, for recording and editing this show.

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gardens Lifestyle

A Meditative Journey

A Meditative Journey The Promise within the GardenDr. Kim Grom

“The Promise within the Garden”

Dr. Kim Grom Brings You Closer to the Heart of God

Whenever you feel drained of your peace and tranquility, Dr. Kim Grom’s inspirational guidebook, “The Promise within the Garden: A Meditative Journey into the Heart of God” will help bring you closer to God while you enjoy the beauty of scripture and renderings of old, European gardens.

If you believe God is ever-present in your world, Dr. Grom encourages you to connect with God through the aesthetic and peaceful garden. Nature heals as many of us have come to know this year as we face the challenges, fears, uncertainty, and isolation. Whether you’re struggling daily with heartache over the loss of a parent, as I am, or your world has been turned upside down due to economic turmoil, The Promise within the Garden remains a source of inspiration and hope.

TIP: Use your favorite voice recorder app to record your thoughts and feelings during your next garden tour and then automatically

You, of course, must provide the elbow grease, the plants, and the water, but hostess Earth does the rest! Simply begin with the dirt as your canvas, add your favorite garden plants, and you are on your way to creating a spectacular, living scene. A garden of any sort without the hostess, our Earth, is simply impossible!

Dr. Kim Grom, The Promise within the Garden: A Meditative Journey into the Heart of God.”

The Promise within the Garden
What makes a garden thrive? The Hostess Earth steps in and irons out any imperfections.

Ecclesiastes (NIV) says, “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.”

Ease your way through the dark days in life with a stroll through your garden. If you don’t have your own plot, consider setting aside a sunny corner of your property or find a garden where you can meditate. Bring the beauty of nature into your world for long-lasting relief from your worries.

Dr. Kim Grom is an author and counselor with a Ph.D. in Philosophy/Counseling from Cornerstone University. She owns a bible bookstore and cafe and a counseling center. Her hobbies include gardening, show dogs and breeding, equestrian activities, hiking, swimming, and public speaking.

You can learn more about Dr. Grom at

Speaking of gardens, discover Longwood Gardens and its acres of plants and flowers from around the world.

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Bird-Watching and Ornithology Lifestyle

Northeastern Pennsylvania Birder

The Mystery of the Feathers

The Mystery of the Feathers

by Elizabeth Baumeister

Elizabeth Baumeister is an award-winning journalist, birdwatcher, all-encompassing nature enthusiast, avid reader, crafter, and coffee addict. She resides in Overfield Township, Pennsylvania. All photos by Elizabeth Baumeister.

Join Elizabeth Baumeister, journalist and photographer, for a suspenseful walk along a Northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA) trail as she uncovers the Mystery of the Feathers.

This week’s column by Elizabeth Baumeister, “Northeastern Pennsylvania Birder,” takes you on a spellbinding walk along a local stream. Whether you venture outdoors regularly snapping photos of feathered friends you meet along a walking path or hiking trail; ornithology, also known as birdwatching, continues to grow in popularity. There is no shortage of forests or backyard birdfeeders in (Northeastern Pennsylvania) NEPA. You can find more information or search for a group in your area through the National Audubon Society.

The Mystery of the Feathers by Elizabeth Baumeister
In the distance, a great blue heron makes its way across the rocky creek bed at Lazy Brook Park in Tunkhannock, PA. (Photo by Elizabeth Baumeister)

I was walking alongside the stream at Lazy Brook Park in Tunkhannock a couple of weeks ago when I came upon a murder scene. 

A pool of deep red blood-stained the earth and was surrounded by dozens of bright blue, black and white feathers. A body wasn’t present, but I knew there was no way the victim of such a gruesome attack could have survived.

An initial investigation revealed the victim as park resident, Blue Jay. Although I was unable to identify the murderer, I suspect he or she bears the name of Hawk. One possible witness by the name of Red Squirrel watched me from behind a nearby tree, but he refused to come out and talk (probably for fear of becoming the next victim). After taking some crime scene photographs, there was nothing else I could do. So I continued on my walk, pondering the circle of life.

When I was a little girl, I engaged in all sorts of daydreams — from realistic to radical —  about what I would be when I grew up. Among the more far-fetched of these aspirations was the occupation of detective. 

I devoured mystery books. After exhausting the local library system’s selection of “Nancy Drew” novels, I moved on to the “Hardy Boys” books. From there, I read the “Mandy” series and every other children’s mystery book I could get my hands on.

Birdwatching in NEPA
A female belted kingfisher perches on a downed tree branch over the creek at Lazy Brook Park in Tunkhannock, PA. (Photo by Elizabeth Baumeister)

I eventually settled on the career path of journalism. But in a way, those childhood daydreams of detective work are realized in one of my favorite hobbies: birdwatching. 

And I’m not just talking about the mess left behind by a hawk during its lunch break on a recent summer afternoon. Birdwatching — whether in one’s backyard or in the field — is full of detective work. For example, to identify a bird species, consider a wide range of questions and clues: 

  • How big or small is the bird?
  • What shapes are its wings and body? 
  • What size, shape and color are its beak or bill?
  • What colors are its feathers, legs and feet?
  • Does it have any distinct or unusual markings?
  • Where and at what time of year did you see it?
  • Was it with other birds, or was it alone?
  • What type of habitat was it in? 
  • Did it display any unusual behavior? 
  • If you saw it fly, what did its flight pattern look like? 
  • If you saw it indulge in a meal, what did it eat? 

Any of these questions can turn out to be important clues in distinguishing one species from another.

For me, birding isn’t just a hobby. It’s an adventure. And the most thrilling part is seeing and identifying a species for the first time and adding it to my life list (a birder’s means of tracking all the bird species he or she has seen in his or her lifetime).

I am writing this guest blog series for the purpose of sharing that adventure with readers from Northeastern Pennsylvania and beyond. I hope you’ll join me as I solve mysteries, learn new ornithological facts and explore birding hot spots in the region, surrounding regions and sometimes outside the state.

Happy Birding!

Leave a comment on my Facebook page. Start a discussion. Ask a question.

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Florida destinations Lifestyle

A Journey Across The Overseas Highway

"A Journey Across The Overseas Highway"

Papa Dobles, Key Lime Pie, Papa Hemingway, and Key Lime Seafood Penne

What You’ll Find in Islamorada: The Fishing Capital of the World

Everything, Everywhere, Travel Writer Guest Series Marcella Nardi
By Dr. Joe Leonardi

Warning: “A Journey Across The Overseas Highway” spells out food descriptions that might provoke you to immediately book a trip to Islamorada.

This week, I welcome Dr. Joe Leonardi, a Chiropractor from Kingston, Pennsylvania, and the author of several books in the Historical and Realistic Fiction genres. Joe is a one-time candidate for congress, an educator, and his greatest pride, a non-combat United States Navy veteran.

Islamorada in the Florida Keys
Dr. Joe Leonardi is a Pennsylvania chiropractor with a love for travel. The Florida Keys rank high on his list of favorite Florida destinations. But there’s more…the Key Lime Pie, Key Lime Penne Pasta and other food selections every Florida traveler must experience.

Begin Your Journey to Islamorada

A jolt as the wheels touch down. The roar of engines as they go into reverse. The jetliner slows and taxis to the jetway. The flight captain announces for us to remain seated until the plane comes to a complete stop. I don’t think I’ve heard a more useless announcement because as we are rolling along, people spring from their seats and unlatch overhead compartments as if they can exit before the doors open.

We sit and chuckle at the hurried crowd. When those around us have finally moved away, we get up. I reach above and grab two simple duffels and we are last out the door.

One step across the metal threshold and the heavy, hot, close Miami air greets us with a welcoming hug. It feels good as it penetrates old bones that have been enduring a Northeast Pennsylvania winter.

We are not at our eventual destination, and because overpacking is not a necessity, we skip the throngs at the baggage carousel and head straight to the car rental place. Being a preferred member allows a straight shot to the garage. My old friend, whose name I do not know, who is here on each of my trips greets me with a broad smile and tips his hat to you.

Beaches in Islamorada in The Florida Keys
Florida has beaches that draw millions of visitors each year. While you’re in the Florida Keys, there’s a restaurant Joe ranks high on his list of favorite places to eat. Scroll down to read more about “Marker 88” and the BEST Key Lime Pie in the continental United States.

“Your car is ready.” He hands me the key, and we shake hands.

The top is already down. He knows me too well. We exit down an angled ramp and find our way to Florida’s Turnpike. Of course, as I have done on each of my ventures to the sunshine state, I have forgotten sunglasses. It isn’t long before we arrive at the same convenience store where I have purchased at least a dozen pairs of dark lenses to protect my eyes. I get you a pair, even though you were smart enough to take yours.  I always marvel that this is the only store I have ever been to which is on the left side of a highway.

Sunglasses – check.
Shirts changed to lightly colored tank tops – check.
Sunscreen applied – check.

A couple of bananas and a few bottles of water now occupy the back seat and we are ready to continue south. You see my friends, this installment is not about the destination, but about the journey. A journey along one of the most scenic roads one can ever drive and an interesting stop or two along the way.

But before we begin, we take a moment to just sit in the car taking in the warmth and sunshine. Scanning the radio for a Latin music station, we must set the proper Miami mood. Once I find one, the driving beat of Gloria Estefan Turns The Beat Around, so I turn the key and let the plugs spark fuel to fire, set my foot heavy upon the accelerator and roar back onto the turnpike.

Wind whipping.
Music blaring.
Sun beating.

I smile and joke, “Toto, we aren’t in frozen Pennsylvania any longer.”

We were not on the road for half an hour when I suggest we make a stop at roadside attraction I have often wanted to visit, but never before made the time. You are game. I put the Coral Castle in my phone’s GPS and after a couple of turns, we are on The Dixie Highway pulling up to the limestone structure.

Walking along the outside, my hand rubs the rough structure. It has weathered much in its nearly century of standing. Admittance is paid, and once inside, we are mesmerized by the tale of how a lone, slight man, with no advanced tools, nor anyone’s assistance, built this monument to a love who broke his heart. Every part of the structure is made from the limestone he magically moved and crafted. Chairs, a bed, stairs, and sculptures all the same coral. We are informed there are many myths as to how this solitary person put together this magnificent structure.

“He had an unrivaled working of physics, so much so, he was able to perfectly balance the heavy, revolving door that keeps the outside world from entering, but can be spun upon its axis with little nothing more than a solitary finger.”

It is fascinating, and while I would like to know more, I don’t think I will bother to research any of the truth behind it. After witnessing this man-made wonder, it is much more fun to believe the myths of its creation than try and find out what may be the truth. Who knows, perhaps the truth is not out there.

Before heading out I crack open a bottle of water which has warmed considerably in the Florida sun. A banana hits the spot and gives much-needed potassium before we head back on the road south.

A quick jaunt by Florida City and the end of the peninsula is near. The turnpike has melded into US 1 and much of the surrounding area is desolate, but the ocean is in view and we are crossing a bridge that is elevating above the water. Beneath us the sea is calm and tranquil, as we crest the top, the first of the Florida Keys, Key Largo, welcomes us and our journey upon The Overseas Highway. There is where it begins.

Here traffic slows as the small town is overflowing with tourists. This is a big area for diving. One day we must make a stop, but today our stomachs are growling so I keep on the road. Islamorada is but a mere 15 miles, but traffic is heavy, so it may take another 30 or so minutes to reach a favored spot for a late lunch.

A sign welcomes us to Islamorada and lets us know we are now in “The Fishing Capital of The World.”  At this time of day, the traffic is now light, most are out experiencing deep sea fishing, and the usual lunch hours have ended. I see Lion’s Lair, a specialty swimwear and intimate apparel business that has managed to take hundreds of my hard-earned dollars over the years for travel companions. Today we have no need, but it is a tell-tale sign that our eating destination is less than a few minutes away.

Or sooner. I have been to the “Marker 88” restaurant more than a dozen times, and yet, each time, the entrance sneaks up on me. I hit the brakes hard, downshift and make a sudden ninety-degree angle right turn onto the long driveway. My empty and rumbling stomach leaps into my throat and then settles quickly as it knows what to soon expect.

The car comes to a rest. The lingering smell of asbestos tickles the nose but does nothing to deter appetites. This is the best time to come. The lunch crowd is gone and there isn’t a soul in the place. Well, there is one soul in the place.

“Joe, is that you? I was just thinking it is time for one of your visits.”

It still amazes me; the people I see a handful of times a year know me better than many back home.

“Hi Lori, too cold up north.”

She smiles, “I know. When are you just going to up and move down here?”

I give her the same answer as always. “Soon.”

“Well, you know the routine, you have the place to yourself. I will bring out your Papa Dobles and menus.”

As we walk through the restaurant, we head out back to the beautiful body of water where the Gulf of Mexico forms the Florida Bay. Glider-style tables dot the sea. Lowering our bulk into one causes the metal to groan as it gently sways as we settle in.

The sea air is fresh and cooler and less humid than the air that greeted us at the airport. The beach is one of the few natural ones in the Keys. Most of the beaches require sand to be shipped in for the tourists to sun themselves.

Alongside a refreshing Papa Dobles is an appetizer of sweet potato fries. The deep orange potato, fried to a crisp texture, covered in salt, is giving off an enticing aroma.  We take a fry and gingerly bite into it.  It snaps as teeth break the surface.  The inside releases a small burst of hot steam warning us to blow on it before our next bite.

As we peruse the menu, the sun drifts from directly overhead and takes a temporary spot over the bay. In a few short hours, people will line all points west to watch her dazzling display of beauty as she sets beneath the ocean.

As we finish the fries, fresh Papa Dobles appear in front of us as well as plates of Key Lime Seafood Penne that we didn’t order, but Lori knew that was what we were getting. Honestly, what could be more Florida Keys than freshly caught lobster, shrimp, and blue crab mixed with penne pasta in a key lime-Tabasco butter sauce.

The savory scent of melted butter mixes with the tart tang bouquet of key lime. The heat from Tabasco opens our nasal passages in such a way that the fragrance overwhelms.  After another deep breath, we dig right in.  The sweet, tender lobsters melt in our mouths.  Not wanting to miss even the slightest morsel, both fork and spoon are a necessity.  We take a quick look around and we are still the only ones in the place. so bowls are lifted, brought to mouths, and with slurping sounds, we finish off the remaining sauce. Butter streaks our chins as the delicious broth passes our lips.

As our plates are cleared, a walk along a pier that juts out over the bay is a must. Standing out over the sea, the water is crystal clear. Various sea life is visible moving about. Not too far off, what appears to be a nurse shark taking a break from the ocean floor, is sunning him, or her, self. The sun’s light reflects at us at such an odd angle, we squint until the dorsal fin drops beneath the surface.

Dessert is the next order of the day, and there is no reason to ask what we are having. As we retake our seats, set on the table is truly the best Key Lime Pie in all The Keys, if not the world. This pie is more than simply a key lime filling atop some type of crust, no — atop this filling, made with freshly squeezed key lime juice, are several inches of snow-white meringue. The fluffy topping has a sugary coat beckoning us to plunge in our forks. As the tines pass through the filling and break the graham crust, the scent of that fresh key lime juice escapes its confinement. We raise a portion to our mouths; the sweet but tart bouquet tickles our noses causing us to immediately place the decedent dessert into our mouths. We allow it to sit on our tongues, the intense flavors reawaken our appetites. Slowly chewing, a loud pleasurable moan is all the expression necessary. 

I order up a pitcher of Papa Dobles. Lori asks if we are staying next door. I nod my head yes. She tells me I can leave the car in the lot; she takes my keys and will put the top up and tells me she will have them for me at breakfast.

The drink of Papa Hemingway continues to relax as much as the warm breeze blowing in off the ocean.

Our next installment will take us the rest of the way down The Overseas Highway where we will explore the Southernmost Point in the Continental United States.

Short Story Scribe by Joe Leonardi
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A Journey Across The Overseas Highway is one of many travel stories created for the Everything, Everywhere, Travel Guest series, a weekly feature that shines a light on travelers from around the world and all walks of life. Here’s a companion story you’ll love by Neil Patel, a digital marketing icon.

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Adventure Travel Lifestyle

Yvon Chouinard: Falconry to Fishing

Patagonia Founder: Challenging People, Business, and the World

“Some Stories: Lessons From The Edge of Business And Sport”

A Book Review

Yvon Chouinard: Falconry to Fishing highlights a lifetime of stories and adventure.

Who is Yvon Chouinard?

He’s well known for challenging people, business, and the world to achieve sustainability on Earth.

Chouinard is the provocative and innovative Patagonia founder whose humor and storytelling skills in “Some Stories: YVON CHOUINARD: LESSONS FROM THE EDGE OF BUSINESS AND SPORT” will captivate you. And hopefully, as you read his stories, he’ll get your wheels turning and you’ll reconsider how you’re living your own life. Expect to be motivated to step out of your world and look for ways you can do your part.

It’s never too late to join forces with Chouinard and his Patagonia team. Consider the great strides we’ll make if we follow his lead and take time to appreciate nature and then find a way to do something positive for our environment and our world. From cover-to-cover, you’ll find we can all play an integral role in environmental activism.

Through his stories, Chouinard demystifies the evolution of Patagonia, a company he founded in 1973 in Ventura, CA. Patagonia is known worldwide for its outdoor clothing and gear for the silent sports: climbing, surfing, skiing, snowboarding, fly fishing, and trail running. But it has been his commitment to conservation and preservation that sets

He utilizes each of the 452 pages to set the record straight about what motivated him to fastidiously craft his company based on an urgency to save our planet from further destruction. It’s not a coincidence that Chouinard chose to not only document his treks around the world but that he created gear that supports an adventurer’s lifestyle.

Yvon Chouinard: Some Stories
Photo courtesy of Yvon Chouinard: Patagonia

“The Golden Age of a sport is when the most innovation in technique and equipment occurs, and I’ve been fortunate to have lived and participated in the Golden Age of many an outdoor sport.”

Preface to Yvon Chouinard: “Some Stories”

If you share Chouinard’s appreciation for nature and zest for exploration, you’ll be captivated by his anecdotal descriptions of climbing some of the world’s most challenging mountains. They’re also symbolic of his thoughts and philosophies.

“I’ve found that I get a lot of creative satisfaction from breaking the rules in sport and business. Plus, it’s a lot easier than conforming and, in the end, leads to better stories.”

Preface to Yvon Chouinard: “Some Stories”

At the end of Some Stories, Chouinard reminds us of Patagonia’s Mission Statement.

“We begin with the premise that all life on Earth is facing a critical time, during which survivability will be the issue that increasingly dominates public concern.”Where survivability is not the issue, the quality of human experience of life may be, as well as the decline in health of the natural world as reflected in the loss of biodiversity, cultural diversity, and planet’s life support systems.”

Yvon Chouinard: “We’re in business to save our home planet. Our Values”

As a fly angler, every moment I spend in the water serves as a reminder how fortunate we are to have abundant outdoor resources at our fingertips. Without a doubt, it’s our job to not only reap the benefits but do our part to protect and preserve.

You can purchase a copy of Some Stories: Yvon Chouinard LESSONS FROM THE EDGE OF BUSINESS AND SPORT directly from Patagonia.

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Indian Architecture Rooted in History

Indian Architecture with an Islamic influenceRooted in History

Preserve Your Own Treasures for Future Generations

Everything, Everywhere, Travel Writer Guest Series Marcella Nardi

Travel Tips: What to See

An Interview with Architect, Jayashree Shamanna

Jayashree Shamanna and I met when our oldest sons became friends and as time went by, we developed a close friendship. I knew her story, “Indian Architecture Rooted in History,” would be an instant hit with my readers based on her love for travel and architecture and her strong sense of ethics in her personal life and career.

Similarly, her goal is to design buildings that connect people and society – to create spaces that are innovative, inclusive, and inviting.

Before we jump into my interview with Jayashree, here’s a sample of what you’ll find as you scroll down the page.

In all of my work, I have sought to be true to the sensitivity of the building designs and to the needs of the clients while integrating it all within the community setting. 

Jayashree Shamanna, Architect

A full bio follows our interview.

Indian Architecture Rooted in History

Tell me about your life growing up in India and how your Indian heritage has paved the way for your fascination with architecture.

I was born and brought up in Bangalore, India. I come from a typical south-Indian middle-income family. What made my family a bit different is that they had a more liberal mindset than most traditional Indian families. As a girl, I was encouraged to be independent, to think for myself, and to focus on building a career for myself. It was outside the norms of how girls and women were often treated in India in the early 1970s. My parents were both highly educated and they inculcated the love of reading and education and travel in me from the onset.

Indian architecture is tied in inextricably to the culture and religions of the country. Many of my travels with my family were to temples and places that embodied the culture and the society we lived in. My earliest memory of this was in the 11th century Belur temple, which our family visited every summer. The main deity at Belur is ChennaKeshava, our family deity. So, trips to Belur were always a combination of religion, ritual, tradition and memories. The temple complex is a tribute to Hoysala architecture and is constructed entirely of soapstone with intricate works of art and sculpture. The temple complex is paved with hand-hewn granite slabs upon which the visitors walk barefoot as is typical at Hindu temples.

One of my earliest memories of Belur is of running on the rough granite slabs of the temple complex with my brother and cousins. It was a combination of play and to avoid the burn from the hot stone on our bare feet. My first lesson in the science of materials came from my father at the temple when he explained to us about how darker materials store more heat than lighter ones and our game then became to identify lighter colored granite to step on. Some of these stones collected drops of water from the rains, which also added to cooling our little feet as we ran across them. The Belur temple complex was my introduction to architecture through science, history, culture and sustainability.

I strongly believe the first step towards sustainability is the preservation of the built environment. In addition to my professional work, I have taught architecture at various colleges and universities, both in India and the US.

Overall, what does India offer in terms of architecture?

Indian architecture has a long and rich history dating back over a thousand years. The buildings and structures are a fascinating study in materiality, craftsmanship and scale. With early origins in wood and brick to skilled construction in stone, traditional Indian architecture is heavily influenced by religion. Over the centuries, influences of invading/colonial cultures and traditions have directed the changes in the language of architecture.

With its 1.2 billion population, India offers diverse architectural styles from the north to south and east to west. The styles of architecture differ from one region to another based on local traditions and religion. Short of a course in architecture, it is quite difficult to explain the nuances of the differences. That being said, I have included a couple of examples of the different styles here.

Indian architecture City Palace: Udaipur, Rajasthan
City Palace: Udaipur, Rajasthan – Islamic Influence
All Photos by Jayashree Shamanna
Nagara Style: Typically found in North and Central India. Emphasis is on verticality with curvilinear beehive-shaped towers.
Galaganatha temple: Pattadakal, Karnataka
Islamic Influence: Agra Fort, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
British Colonial Influence: High Court Bangalore, Karnataka
Neo-Dravidian Style: Vidhana Soudha (Seat of State legislature) Bangalore, Karnataka
Contemporary Architecture: MG Road Metro station. Bangalore, Karnataka
What do you remember about your first experience traveling throughout India and how did that excursion kindle your quest for travel?

India is less than half the geographic size of the US and has 28 states and 8 union territories. Most states have their own languages, cultures, and regional cuisines. There is so much variety and diversity, that traveling through the country from state to state, is both a culinary and a cultural experience like no other. Additionally, geography, climate, and ecology also vary enough to give a traveler a unique experience from one end of the country to another.

Although I can’t really remember my first experience traveling in India, the most distinct memory is of seeing snow for the first time. Bangalore lies in the heart of south India in a typical tropical zone of the country with moderate temperatures all year round.

The summer of my tenth birthday, I had traveled north with my family, to visit an uncle, who lived in a small town at the foothills of the Himalayas. We set up base at his house and traveled further north for a whole day in an old rusty jeep to the state of Jammu and a popular tourist destination called Gulmarg. We arrived late in the day when the sun had set and it was almost bedtime. When I woke up the next morning, I remember seeing bright sunshine and everything outside our hotel room was pristine white. It had snowed overnight and a fresh layer of snow covered the entire landscape. We woke up to strong aromas of coffee and local breakfast delicacies served to us in the midst of this beautiful landscape. After all these years, I still do not have words to describe the feeling I got in seeing all this. The touch of the cold snow, the lightness of the snowflakes, the warmth of the local people and the incredibly fresh food still brings memories of my trip. That was probably one of the defining moments in my desire to travel the world. The potential to experience different cultures, meet diverse people, taste different cuisine, and see the wonders of the world.

As an architect, what type of architecture interests you the most?

We spend our entire lives within buildings. From the moment we are born in a sterile hospital room, to the homes we live in, to the schools we attend, to the buildings we visit during our travels, and the place we rest our heads on finally. Architecture is harmoniously woven into our lives and we never pay attention to it unless it brings us discomfort. I love buildings and spaces that resonate with the users. Buildings and spaces that evoke memories. Materials, textures, and patterns that bring comfort.

Based on your travels, what world landmarks and heritage sites do you recommend to a first-time traveler?

I personally endorse the notion of exploring domestic sites first. Something close to home. The understanding of your own history and culture helps you look at the world through a different lens and helps you appreciate the importance of protecting and preserving your own treasures for future generations. Every country has its contribution to the world landmarks and heritage list. That being said, for a first-time traveler, I would recommend Egypt. Both for the architecture and culture. The scale of the architecture is awe-inspiring, and the food and culture are exceptional.

What tales and stories are hidden within the walls of historic buildings you’ve seen?

Every historic building has stories and memories associated with it. Each one of them reveal something different based on the use and the period of construction. The abandoned buildings of the lace factory in Scranton talk about a thriving industry in a small town in Pennsylvania, the working conditions and a peek into the industrial process that fueled this city. An old sewing factory in the garment district in New York City talks about immigrant women trying to make ends meet, the loss of an industry to globalization, and the draw of loft spaces for the wealthy. Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam talks about grief, the horror and atrocities of the Nazi regime and the young girls resolute drive to survive. Preservation Hall in New Orleans talks about humid summer days, soulful music, and a piece of the history of this country. Finally, my grandparents’ house in Bangalore talks about fond memories, endless summers with my family, books that I read and a yearning for simpler days.

When you’re planning a trip, typically what’s the first thing you want to do when you arrive?

Find a good restaurant and check out the local grocery store.

To what degree is architecture a part of your travel plans?

Whether it is visiting architectural sites or understanding architecture through museums and culture, it certainly forms a huge part of all my travels.

What are a few of the sites you’d like to visit in the future?

My bucket list includes cities and countries and not just sites. St. Petersburg in Russia, Cambodia, Morocco, Japan, to name a few. I would love to walk the El Camino de Santiago to visit the Santiago de Compostela, walk the Hardian’s wall and climb the steps to the big Buddha in Hong Kong.

How can we best design the timeless architecture future generations will visit in years to come?

Architecture is very subjective and is a mindset that needs to be approached with the understanding that what was suitable yesterday may not be relevant tomorrow. I believe good and timeless architecture is one that has permanence, that is adaptable and has a relationship with natural elements.

What makes historic architecture so popular?

Travel is a voyeuristic sport. We all want to see what others are doing or did. We want to explore and experience a piece of the people, places and cultures we visit. Historic places and architecture give us a small peek into someone else’s life, and as humans, we always use that as a scale to evaluate our own lives. It also offers a peek into what was lost, what could have been, and a moment to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.

Why do we visit the same sites over and over?

Comfort, familiarity and memories.

Author BIO

Jayashree Shamanna Architect and Historic Preservation Specialist Indian Architecture Rooted in History
Meet Architect, Jayashree Shamanna. She resides in Northeastern Pennsylvania and specializes in historic preservation, adaptive reuse, and sustainability. Contact Jayashree at for more information about her work and speaking opportunities.

Architect and educator, Jayashree Shamanna, lives in Northeastern Pennsylvania. She earned her architecture degree in Bangalore, India, and her Masters from Texas A&M University with an emphasis on historic preservation. She has more than 25 years of experience as an architect and educator. She has worked on multiple projects in her career as an architect in New York City with an emphasis on adaptive reuse, restorations, and additions to historic structures. 

She has lectured at local community colleges to expand the awareness of architecture, design, and sustainability and she dedicates her free time helping local community-based historical societies in preservation-related projects.

Contact to learn more about her projects and work with historic preservation.

Check out my partner’s offers on my landing page. I currently work hand-in-hand with SiteGround, Orvis, Qatar Airways, Transcribe Wreally, Sunglass Warehouse, and The New York Times to bring you outstanding offers.

Love architecture? The world is full of breathtaking buildings, history, and compelling travel stories. Here’s yet another personal account of what you’ll find in other cities and countries.

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Guest Travel Writers Italian travel stories Italian writers Lifestyle Travel Guest Series Travel guests Travel Stories Writers and authors

A Penchant for Travel

Aragon Castle, Taranto, Italy
Everything, Everywhere, Travel Writer Guest Series Marcella Nardi

Italian Author, Marcella Nardi’s Quest for History and Mystery

Italian writer and traveler, Marcella Nardi, was born in Northern Italy. She currently lives in Seattle, WA. All photos in this Travel Guest interview were submitted by Marcella Nardi.

Above all, Marcella Nardi has a fondness for travel and writing mystery and detective novels. Her novels combine history and mystery into believable and engaging tales.

Similarly, “A Penchant for Travel” is an opportunity for Marcella to highlight her accomplishments while giving essential travel tips every traveler should know before going to Italy.

Marcella was born in Castelfranco Veneto in Northern Italy but she moved to Seattle, WA in 2008 and since then, dedicates herself to teaching Italian, technical translations, and writing novels. Travel, ancient and medieval history, and photography, reading, and construction of historical models are a few of her interests. She also has a Master’s Degree in computer science.

As a lover of detective novels and the middle ages, Marcella won third prize in the 2011 contest “Philobiblon–Premio Letterario Italia Medievale” (Philobiblon–Medieval Italy, literary award). The winning story was one of the six stories that gave birth to her first book, an anthology, “Grata Aura & Altri Gialli Medievali.” The first edition is called “Medioevo in Giallo.”

Marcella Nardi: History, Mystery and Travel
Award-winning Italian author, Marcella Nardi, combines history, mystery and travel as the storyline in her books.

In Italian, “Giallo” means two things: the color yellow and thriller. Between the two World Wars, a large Italian publishing company started to sell thrillers in books dressed with a yellow background cover. Since then, Italians use the word Giallo for Thriller. She translated the anthology into English, under the title “DNA Code & Other mysterious tales from the Middle Ages” a year later. In December 2014, Marcella won first prize for a story set in Gradara in the contest, “Italia Mia” (“My Italy”), organized by the Italian “National Association of the Book, Science and Research.”

History, mystery and travel
Readers find tales from many of Italy’s most cherished landmarks and cities.

Marcella continues to write novels, and since 2013, she has written more than 15 novels. In fact, she has created a detective series of six novels in which the detective resembles Marcella, having almost the same name, looks, and personality.

Legal thriller fans should check out “Morte all’Ombra dello Space Needle” (“Death in the Shadow of the Space Needle”), the first novel in Marcella’s new legal thriller series set in Seattle, WA. Her historical mystery novel, “Joshua e la Confraternita dell’Arca,” has been translated into English as “Joshua and the Brotherhood of the Ark,” and a paranormal novel, an erotic romance, and several short stories.

Marcella Nardi Mystery and History books
You can find a full collection of books by Marcella Nardi on Amazon. See the link below.

Although I’ve never met Marcella, travel and Italian heritage and traditions are a common thread we share. We’ve both mingled our traditional Italian values and culture we’ve grown up with and interfaced them with our love for writing, art, and architecture.

Marcella Nardi and her mother
Although separated from her family in Italy, Marcella, left, looks forward to the day when she can visit her mother and homeland again.
Enjoy our Q & A interview.

What is your primary purpose for traveling? What percentage of your travel is business versus leisure?  

My primary purpose for traveling was/is to know this wonderful planet and to know different cultures.

The percentage? It depends on the time in my life. There was a time in which 40 percent of my traveling was for work and the rest for leisure. It was the first seven years of my job career. After that 90 percent was for pleasure. I was on all seven continents, even in the Antarctica Peninsula.

Travel to Antarctica
Marcella has traveled the world but in the coming months, as soon as travel restrictions are lifted, she’ll plot her course to destinations in Australia and Africa. Shown is an image from her Antarctica adventure.

What are the benefits of travel?

I think the benefits are not just relax from months of working, but mostly is that knowing other places and other cultures opens your mind. You learn there are good and bad things in your country as far as in other countries. So your way to judge changes.

How does travel ignite creativity?

Travel ignites a lot of my creativity. This is due to many reasons. You can get ideas for plots, as I am mostly a writer in the last 10 years. Looking at the behavior of other people and what happens there, can be a good idea for a new novel.

Antarctica Adventures
Learning more about world culture is a driving force for this Italian author.

What are a few experiences you’ve encountered while seeing the world that has had a profound impact on your life?

It’s a difficult question. I’ve traveled a lot. I could say that visiting the ancient Egyptian temples made me understand how for every civilization there is a rise and fall. If we don’t understand this important topic, and the reasons,  we are doomed to fail.

Marcella Nardi

How would you describe Italy to someone who has never visited your country’

Italy is considered, worldwide, the best or one of the best countries on the planet. I think that it is right, not because it is my home country but because of its history. All the invasions we had for more than 2000 years, made Italy a unique place. The architecture is different from the rest of Europe and the Romanesque and Gothic styles are different. Our cuisine and the people are different from the other European countries. We are a big mixture of people from the very north of Europe and from the Middle East and from Asia and Africa. So a trip to Italy is something that everybody should do in their own life. 

What to see in Sienna, Italy
Italy offers architecture, food, and history one won’t find in other European countries, according to Marcella.

Coming from Italy, one of the world’s most breathtaking, scenic, cultural, and romantic travel destinations, what are a few of the cities and experiences you believe travelers are missing if they adhere to only the most-visited tourist sites?

I think that the typical touristic destinations are nice, but there is so much more to visit. Umbria region, in my opinion, is one of the most beautiful areas in Italy. Apulia, too. It’s difficult to answer just in a few phrases to this question.

One of the treasured Gubbio landmarks Marcella photographed during her travels.

Why are the Umbria region and Apulia two of the most beautiful areas in Italy? What makes them so enticing to visit?

They are not the best but they are very interesting.

Umbria is similar to Tuscany, but is cheaper to go there and its history is great, too. Many old famous families from Tuscany invaded Umbria in the past. You see small villages on the top of mountains as in Tuscany. And the food is quite unique. They have their own cheese and meat that are fantastic.

Apulia was the greatest and the biggest ancient Spartan Greek colony, outside ancient Greece. Also, they have a particular kind of stone, for building, that makes the centuries, churches and the castles really different. Then, in many places, the dialects are like Greek. The Romanesque style in Apulia is very different from other places in Italy and Europe.

Aragon Castle, Taranto, Italy

When you visit Italy, what’s the first place you visit? What’s on your must-see list?

I go back to Italy every year. The first place I go to is Taranto, Apulia. My mother is still alive and she lives there. I spend two weeks with her and then I select an Italian area that I never saw, before. I reserve a hotel room in the middle of that area and with my rental car, I visit two places every day. I am discovering the beauty of my Country.  

What are your plans or dreams for the days ahead when we can travel again?

There are many other places I want to see on this beautiful planet. One is Australia and the Great Barrier Reef; then I would like to see Spain and Northern Africa. I already was in Egypt, but never in other places in Africa.

You can contact Marcella through her web site, and her Facebook timeline,

Marcella Nardi Italian author Joshua English translation The story of a man who became the Son of God.

My Books:

English (ebook & paperback):

English and Italian:

All my other books are in Italian. Follow the link below to find all of her books, including a new series, a legal thriller located in Seattle (“Morte all’Ombra dello Space Needle” and “L’architetto dei Labirinti”) and an audio book featuring Marcella as narrator. You can find her books on Amazon in a digital (eBook-Kindle) and paperback unless otherwise noted. Please note the books do not appear in chronological sequence

If you found A Penchant for Travel, an Interview with Marcella Nardi of value and you’re looking for more travel stories, read other selections in the digital guest travel series.

Submit a story or podcast idea for consideration here.

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Africa on My Mind

Jungle State of Mind Debashish Dutta

Into a Land of Dreams

by Debashish Dutta, Natural History Photographer and Writer

Welcome back to Debashish Dutta, a contributor here at His exceptional wildlife photography and moving narratives from his exotic African and Indian exhibitions have drawn readers from around the world. In a time of unprecedented tragedy and suffering throughout the globe, it’s important to note Debashish returned from his East African trip as COVID-19 spread around the globe. “Africa On My Mind” is no exception. I’m particularly honored to publish this exclusive portrait that serves as a reminder of the frailty of life and our natural resources.

Africa On My Mind

My soul lives in the jungle – “Africa On My Mind” reflects my state of mind every second of my life.

Yet life rarely offers one a path to walk which is in line with his / her desired state of mind. You got to build it. And only few are able to. I have just managed to build a wee bit. And I can tell you the experience is one that is difficult to describe. It is simply surreal.

A Dreamland Called Serengeti by Debashish Dutta
Before Debashish Dutta headed to Tanzania to witness the beginning of the Great Migration, he utilized a detailed study of Tanzanian weather patterns as the basis for scheduling his recent exhibition. Shown are Kopjes, a microhabitat for cats – big and small and reptiles. Africa On My Mind photos by Debashish Dutta.

It is never as simple as packing bags and leaving. Much before your physical being travels; your mind must imply the desire to travel and embark on a journey that takes you to your land of dreams. This is what we call dreaming. Per an old rusted maxim – a man without dreams is like a ship without a rudder. I was never short of dreams. They have always propelled me into action – to take decisive steps towards the pursuit of my passion for wildlife and wilderness. That grip on me is ineluctable. Now maybe you will understand why I plan my trips in advance – at least two years! Some folks around me find this funny but I have never tried to explain why because it is difficult to explain that which is intangible! So intense is the passion!

And so, the preparations started for an insightful photography expedition to Tanzania in real earnest. Given all the knowledge and information accumulated over the years; there was absolute clarity on what I wanted to do there. As always, I was clear about working with the sons of the soil and I dialed up my Masai Rafiki. Together we leveraged our collective knowledge and expertise to put together a drool-worthy schedule for Tanzania in March 2020. By February of 2019; the schedule and itinerary for the March 2020 adventure were firmed up on paper. Joining me in the adventure were three good friends who had never been to East Africa before but knew this could be a trip of a lifetime going by the wondrous photos of Africa that they had seen in my portfolio as well as elsewhere. We were heading to Tanzania to witness the beginning of the Great Migration.

Late one night of February 2019; the itinerary was dispatched to my buddies – crisply documented in a template with an even structure and reflective of my approach to work as a banker. Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater, Ndutu Conservation Area, Serengeti National Park, and finally Tarangire National Park was our critical path, and boy, were we excited? The schedule was built on the basis of a detailed study of the Tanzanian weather pattern. Once there, however, we had the first-hand experience of climate change. Rains where everywhere and the vegetation far thicker than they should have been. The animals were confused and the Great Migration seemed to be headed for a delay. My Masai Rafiki expressed his worries over the changes in weather patterns that he had seen over the years growing up in the savannahs of Kenya and Tanzania. Due to the inclement weather and a much longer rainy season; the grasslands were too dense for the carnivores like Cheetahs to run freely and be visible most importantly. There were lions around. We were particularly keen to see them on trees and that is why we had targeted Lake Manyara – famous for its tree-climbing lions. It was amazing to see a whole bunch of them up there.

Macho Man Tree-Climbing Lion Photograph by Debashish Dutta
Africa on My Mind offers a visual journey of Wildlife Photographer Debashish Dutta’s fascination with the animals that inhabit Ngorongoro Crater.

Author Insight

This safari is in line with my jungle trips that I try to do as often as possible. My work is focused on Indian and African wildernesses. It is essential that I continuously upgrade my portfolio and continue my dialog with people on the subject of biodiversity conservation through my photos.

Debashish Dutta

Matters changed for the better as we moved from Lake Manyara to the astonishing UNESCO heritage site called the Ngorongoro Crater. Ngorongoro is an unparalleled natural phenomenon that has to be seen to be believed. It is home to a magnificent array of wildlife and is blessed with remarkable natural beauty. It is a sort of landscape where one should pause and look around to wonder at the beauty nature has blessed planet Earth with. Ngorongoro looked gorgeous in marvellous sunlight and we soaked in every moment while solemnly pledging to be back again soon. At the Ngorongoro, we succeeded in spotting the Ghost of the Ngorongoro – the double-horned African Black Rhino.

While maintaining a safe distance, Debashish and his friends spotted the Ghost of the Ngorongoro – the double-horned African Black Rhino, the smaller of the two African Rhino species, as it browsed the selection of leaves and other vegetation.

From a distance, we watched the glorious animal as he maintained a safe distance from us. Who wants to get close to humans anyway?  We were inching closer to the spot regarded as the sort of congregation ground for the Wildebeests and other herbivores before they embarked on the great migration – a journey herbivores are programmed to undertake from Tanzania to Kenya every year without fail. That spot is known as Ndutu Conservation Area. Ndutu is actually the name of the vegetation that dominates the grasslands there.

Per our assessment, we arrived in the Ndutu Conservation Area at a time when the rains would have left, and the area would have been the hotbed of herbivore – carnivore action thanks to the beginning of the great migration. But that was not to be. The rains were coming down in torrents. The terrain was difficult to negotiate, and the lions were preferring trees to the grasslands. Clearly, the climate change impact was too obvious and visible all around. The animals were confused too. We could hardly spot lions on the ground, but we did find them on trees. It seemed odd initially but not thereafter. The vegetation on the ground with its unusual density was too wet and buzzing with insects – certainly not conducive for a comfortable siesta. Therefore, being up on the trees was the best option.

The thick ground vegetation also resulted in poor visibility and that meant that even with binoculars it was difficult to track carnivores as they moved through the grasslands or lounged around. From a pure photography perspective, Ndutu proved to be unproductive but from a wildlife lover’s perspective; it was a dream come true to simply be in the cradle of one of wildlife’s most important pilgrimage centres. From years of game drives and time spent in jungles; I have come to terms with the ways of nature. No one can control nature and the natural events that occur. They will happen when they have to happen. Nature is supreme.

Cheetah Portrait by Debahish Dutta

We were buzzing with excitement as we headed to Serengeti. For me, personally, Serengeti was, is, and will always be the ultimate dreamland along with few other wilderness hotspots in India and Africa. When I was a kid; I had the great privilege of seeing documentaries by Anglia Productions on such dreamlands and I wondered if one day I would be able to be in the lap of this dreamland and admire its timeless natural bounty. So, there I was standing at one of the gates of Serengeti and gasping at the eternal expanse of spotless greens in front of me and as far as my eyes could see. It took me a while to absorb the truth of my physical presence in the brilliant Serengeti. And it was in Serengeti that we had the best time of the eight nights that we spent in Tanzania. Gorgeous landscapes, terrific birdlife, and lions on kopjes summed up our time in Serengeti. In our hearts and minds, there was not an iota of doubt about our firm intent to return to the Serengeti for a much longer duration.

Africa On My Mind author, Debashish Dutta, is a professional natural history photographer featured in the prestigious Africa Geographic “Photographer of the Year 2020” Contest. His work has been recognized by BBC Earth, Nikon India, and Nikon Asia. Recently, he has been invited to contribute to the UK’s premium digital wildlife magazine called Wild Planet Photomag. His work has been published in America’s numero uno portal on national parks run by Kurt Repanshek. He has been covered extensively by mainstream Indian media and FM radio stations. He is also a full-time corporate leader with over 20 years of core corporate experience across global banks and financial services firms like GE Capital, HSBC, ABN AMRO, Royal Bank of Scotland, Credit Suisse, and State Street. His extensive wildlife portfolios are displayed on his website His Instagram handle is fromdawntodusk_india

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