December 1, 2013: Running the Amazon from New Source to Sea, Fact Checking Thanksgiving and More

Thanksgiving in the United States is a heavily mythologized holiday: children are taught that Pilgrims and Native Americans sat down and enjoyed a meal of shared bounty. But Amanda Moniz, chef and historian, explains the evolving tradition of the meal, from its creation as a national holiday to the food that we eat. (photo by Bates Littlehales/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

– The first descent of the Amazon, from source to sea, was completed by Piotr Chmielinski and Joe Kane in 1989. But when a new source for the world’s second longest river was discovered years later, it appeared that the title of “first descent” was once again up for grabs. National Geographic Explorer West Hansen tells Boyd that the difficulty didn’t come in the Class V whitewater sections on the Mantaro River (the Amazon’s new headwaters, which make the river 50 miles longer than the original source on the Apurimac River); Hansen says that the most difficult part of the journey was the “final” 3,800 miles. He was held up at gunpoint three times on the descent, but didn’t find trouble from the river’s wildlife. He also says that the wide, flat sections toward the Amazon’s outlet at the Atlantic Ocean, while not as adrenaline-filled as the whitewater areas, “for the entire 111 days, there was not a boring day.” Listen here.

– Jerusalem is a city revered by religions who stand for peace, but has begat unimaginable bloodshed throughout history: it has been conquered 44 times by armies representing one culture or another, transferred from a center of one religion to another 11 times, and it has been totally razed twice. The ancient city is the subject of a new film, Jerusalem the Movie, directed by Daniel Ferguson. Ferguson tells Boyd about his difficulties in getting permission to capture some of the city’s most beautiful neighborhoods and buildings, which are also areas of distrust and conflict between Israeli army and the Palestinian populations who live there. Listen here.

– Global outrage followed the image of Melissa Bachman glowing behind a beautiful, and dead, male lion that she had just killed. Bachman is the host of NBC Sports’ show “Winchester Deadly Passion.” Humane Society International‘s Teresa Telecky discusses the reasons why killing wild male lions for trophies is so disruptive to their survival in Africa. One of the main reasons is that when a male lion is unseated as the head of a pride, all of his cubs will be killed by rival males looking to encourage the pride’s females to mate; when one male is killed, many lions will end up dying. Listen here.

Andrew Evans spends his life visiting the different countries around the world. As National Geographic’s Digital Nomad, he explores the best destinations, and as a result, knows not only where to go, but when to go. Andrew recommends visiting a city during the tourist “off-season,” when the hotels are less full and the locals are more open to engaging with outsiders – like St. Petersburg, Russia in winter. Boyd’s recommendation was to visit Churchill, Manitoba in late October to see the polar bears frolic and feed as the sea ice firms up to let the bears hunt for seals on the Hudson Bay. Both of their recommendations are captured in the new book, Four Seasons of Travel. Listen here.

– The United States Army and Naval Academy have been squaring off and taking aggression out on each other since 1890: Navy won the first football game between the two service academies, 24-0. To celebrate the Thanksgiving weekend, Nat Geo research librarian Maggie Turquman shares trivia about things that happened on “This Weekend in History.” Also on these dates in history, football’s first helmet was pioneered, and Britain swore in their first woman Member of Parliament. Listen here.

Hour 2

– Tigers, the world’s most endangered big cat, are being squeezed out between India’s ever-growing population and the dwindling wild spaces in the subcontinent. And National Geographic photographer Steve Winteseeks to remind people of the beautiful cat’s plight. But with so few remaining in the wild, the shy felines are hard to capture on film. Winter has to set up “camera traps,” to capture them and hope that they walk past his motion-sensors. He has caught a lot of great photos of tigers, documented in his new book, Tigers Forever. Listen here.

– Idealistic people dream of leaving the world a better place than it was when they came into it. But National Geographic Emerging Explorer Ken Banks tells Boyd that without a demonstrated expertise in the area and field by a would-be do-gooder, their time and efforts are likely better spent elsewhere. But in his new book, The Rise of the Reluctant Innovator, he shares stories of people who didn’t seek to create non-profit organizations: their ideas were borne of their immersion in a field, and their genuine understanding of a place that needs help. Ken cites literacy in India and birth rates in Nigeria as examples of problems that people with expertise accidentally solved. Listen here.

–  Thanksgiving in the United States is a heavily mythologized holiday: young children are taught that Pilgrims and Native Americans sat down and enjoyed a meal of shared bounty. But chef and historian Amanda Moniz explains to Boyd that the meal didn’t become a national holiday until the country was mired in the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln sought to buoy his citizens’ beleaguered spirits. Moniz explains why the United States eats what they do on the holiday, from turkey to pumpkin pie. Listen here.

– One of history’s lesser known villains is a former ruler of Central Asia, known as Tamerlane, whose reputation includes stories of pyramids made of the skulls of his enemies. Few original documents exist from this era, and many hard facts about Tamerlane are lost to history, which makes it difficult for National Geographic Fellow Fredrik Hiebert to nail down the truth behind Tamerlane. But over the years, he had seen documents that allude to a palace that should be where a lake now sits. Hiebert located parts of a building at the bottom of the lake and has deduced that this fabled palace is actually a forward operating base to run a war against China. Listen here.

– In this week’s Wild Chronicles segment, Boyd points out that tigers, rhinos and elephants aren’t the only animals to be revered in India. His experiences in Kaziranga National Park include run-ins with cows trying on dresses and chickens crossing roads. Listen here.


Meet the Author
Justin O'Neill produces the weekly radio program National Geographic Weekend with host Boyd Matson. Check it out on on SiriusXM satellite radio (XM channel 133 Sundays at noon), subscribe to the iTunes podcast, or stream it directly to your smartphone with Stitcher Radio.