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March 2, 2014: Swimming from Cuba to Florida, Buying Camels in Yemen and More

Swedish explorer Mikael Strandberg traveled through Yemen, filming the country that so few westerners travel to. One of his biggest challenges was to find a "good" camel. (photo by James L. Stanfield/National Geographic)
Swedish explorer Mikael Strandberg traveled through Yemen, filming the country that so few westerners travel to. One of his biggest challenges was to find a “good” camel. (photo by James L. Stanfield/National Geographic)

Every week, embark with host Boyd Matson on an exploration of the latest discoveries and interviews with some of the most fascinating people on the planet, on National Geographic Weekend.

Please check listings near you to find the best way to listen to National Geographic Weekend on radio, or listen below!

Hour 1
Diana Nyad, famous for becoming the first person to swim without a shark cage from Cuba to Florida, has had two distinct swimming careers, separated by thirty years. In the first iteration, she sprinted in pools, and eventually set long distance records around Manhattan and from the Bahamas to Florida. The 2014 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year retired when she was thirty and says that she didn’t swim another lap until she reached her 60’s. When she resumed swimming, Nyad said the hardest parts weren’t necessarily her long distance achievements, but having the discipline to get in the pool every day and train when nobody else was watching. 

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Tim Flannery is not a biologist by university degree. He learned his science the old fashioned way — by hopping on a motorbike and riding around Australia, decapitating marsupial roadkill and collecting specimen for study. But his English background makes him a wonderful communicator. The 2007 “Australian of the Year” spent years of study around the South Pacific, studying animals in Australia, New Guinea, and other smaller islands. A collection of his essays is recently published, titled An Explorer’s Notebook: Essays on Life, History and Climate.

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- Intense adventures require intense preparation. Polar explorer Roald Amundsen, famous for making the first expedition to the South Pole, nearly died while training for that expedition in his native Norway’s Hardangervidda mountain plateau. Today, a race retracing Amundsen’s 62 mile training route takes between 24 and 30 hours, unless racers get stuck in their tents due to gale-force winds and snow, like in 2013. Kari Varberg serves as Expedition Amundsen’s founder and race director. She shares some of the hardships that racers expect to endure this weekend.

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- Cougars are on the comeback. The big cats are quietly reclaiming many areas of their parts of their original range. But Mark ElbrochPanthera researcher, message for anybody who encounters a cougar in their neighborhood: “Grab your camera,” because he explains, “it’s very, very, very rare” for a mountain lion to decide they want to try to attack a human. “They’re just huge house cats,” which he says are on the rise through much of their historical range across North America, but he’s quick to clarify that despite their curious nature, he wouldn’t encourage anybody to try to pet one they might encounter. He studies how they interact with wolves in Wyoming.

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David Braun, editor of National Geographic Daily News, shares stories of baboons who know how to dig for water in riverbeds and sponges that can sneeze.

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Hour 2
- A good camel is hard to find. This is Mikael Strandberg‘s message after venturing across Yemen throughout the past year. “Most are not trained, they’re fat, and they’re not used to hard work,” he explains. But once he found a good camel, he ventured across Yemen, which is difficult to navigate, due to Bedouin tribal friction, the society’s conservative nature, and the ever-present danger of an encounter with al Qaeda. He shares his adventures in his upcoming documentary Expedition Yemen.

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- When National Geographic “Adventurers of the Year” settle down, they don’t stop going on adventures, or trying to make the world a better place. If they’re anything like Gregg Treinish, they send adventurers on scientifically fruitful expeditions to collect information needed by researchers. Through his organization, Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation, they’re helping investigate the problem of plastics contaminating the world’s water supplies. But always an adventurer, Treinish says he’s able to use his platform to explore Iceland’s glaciers, Mongolia’s forests, and Botswana’s Okavango Delta.

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- Great Plains Native American tribes used to rely on dogs as their beasts of burden. So when European explorers introduced horses to North America’s original inhabitants, they quickly bonded with the animals that helped them travel, hunt and wage war more effectively. Erika Larsen visited the tribes today to capture the enduring relationship between the Great Plains Indians and their horses. Her photos appear in the March 2014 issue of National Geographic magazine.

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- Earth’s rising temperatures can mean many things: hotter summers, less precipitation in some places and way more in others. But to an industry that relies on cold winters with lots of snow, the ski and snowboard industry could be some of the biggest losers of the warming.  POWDER magazine editor, Porter Fox, writes about how we’re losing days of skiing on either end of the season, which hurt the ski mountains’ profitability, and what they are (and are not) doing to try to make skiing a greener industry. His new book Deep: The Story of Skiing and the Future of Snow is available now.

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 – In this week’s Wild Chronicles segment, Boyd shares the story of a wild camel roundup he went on in Australia. A rancher hoped to ship some of Australia’s 300,000 wild camels back to the Arabian Peninsula in order to make a quick dollar. It didn’t exactly go as planned.

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