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December 14, 2014: Survive The Horrors of WWII With the Hero of “Unbroken,” Chase Water Down the Colorado River and More

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 – When...

A stretch of caked mud sits where the Colorado River once ran into Gulf of California. Pete McBride ran the length of the river during a test allowance to let the river run to the sea once again. (photo by Pete McBride /

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!

– When some of the world’s most experienced wall climbers, mountaineers and expedition leaders refer to a particular trip as a “death march,” it’s best not to dismiss the epithet as mere hyperbole. Those were the words Mark Jenkins chose to describe a recent summit attempt of the 19,140 foot Hkakabo Rasi on Myanmar’s border with Tibet. Cory Richards, Hilaree O’Neill, Renan Ozturk and Emily Harrington marched with Jenkins for two weeks hiking through the jungle, “with leeches, spiders, and all sorts of bug bites,” before they even reached base camp. Bad weather reduced the team size for the expedition push, but the threat of spending a night exposed on a wall in freezing temperatures without food, water, or shelter stopped even the smaller expedition team short of the target. Jenkins explains that ultimately, the decision to turn around was easy: “We were fairly convinced that if we even lived through the night, we would have frost bite in our feet so severe that… it would probably require amputations.” More detailed expedition reports can be found on National Geographic’s Adventure Blog.
Sean Brock grew up in rural southwestern Virginia, learning the secrets of that region’s food culture. Since leaving his corner of that state, he has parlayed his love of southern cuisine into a career: the James Beard Award winning head chef also now has a cookbook out, Heritage. Part cookbook, part memoir, Brock explains the secrets of southern comfort food. He and Boyd discuss cornbread (“Cornbread is like a religion in the South. Everyone has their own way of worshipping it.”); cast iron skillets (“Cast iron pans are things that are passed on from generation to generation in the South.”); and the divisive properties of okra (“One thing that freaks people out about okra is the texture… I embrace the slime, I love it.”).
– Many animals have made themselves comfortable in urban areas, like Los Angeles’ cougars and Chicago’s coyotes. But few animals seem to be as ill adapted as the wild boars who have moved in to occupy Berlin’s green spaces. Milena Stillfried is a National Geographic Explorer who studies the city’s porcine population, and explains that they’ve carved a comfortable niche out for themselves, despite being actively hunted in the heart of a major metropolis.
– In March 2014, an unlikely event happened. The United States and Mexican governments agreed to give water from the Colorado River – which is relied heavily upon for agriculture in the arid Sonoran Desert that straddles the southwestern United States and northern Mexico – back to nature. An eight week long test flow to see the natural benefits, as water touched parts of the river system for the first time in decades, flowing all the way to the bottom of the Colorado River Delta, where it meets the Gulf of California. Photographer and river enthsuaist, Pete McBride chased water into Mexico to witness how the river, animals and humans of the area connected with each other. He tells of scary moments on the river hiding from los malditos (“bad guys”), and the beauty of watching the ecosystem come back to life.
– It’s never too early to become a conservationist. That’s the message from educator and National Geographic Emerging Explorer Maritza Morales Casanova, who is working with Mexico’s school system to create a curriculum for the country’s budding nature enthusiasts.
– An angry juvenile delinquent. An Olympic long distance runner who doesn’t get to run. An Air Force bombardier who gets shot down. A prisoner of war. All of these people might have somebody else to blame for the difficulties in their lives, but Louis Zamperini was all of these people at one point in his life, and he never blamed anybody else for his personal difficulties. Zamperini, who is depicted in this Christmas’ Angelina Jolie-directed film “Unbroken,” spoke with Boyd three years ago in an interview that previously ran on National Geographic Weekend. He told Boyd that meditation and memorization kept him sharp during his 47 days at sea in a life raft, but hate consumed him during and after his time in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. Zamperini explained that his wife helped him turn his life around following World War II. Zamperini died in July 2014 at the age of 97, after decades spent as a motivational speaker, a skier, and an octogenarian skateboarder.
– The most visited wilderness area in the United States is in trouble. That’s the memo from Dave and Amy Freeman to Washington, D.C.’s lawmakers as mining companies look to exploit copper and other metals from the ground that compromises the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness’ pristine nature in northern Minnesota. To bring attention to the threat posed to this gem of American conservation, the Freemans paddled 2,000 miles from Minnesota to D.C. to speak with lawmakers. Dave Freeman also speaks of his admiration for Teddy Roosevelt, who is regarded as one of the fathers of American environmentalism, and how he followed in Roosevelt’s footsteps down Brazil’s treacherous Rio Roosevelt, which was then known as the River of Doubt.
– During the communist era, Yugoslavia’s Sarajevo was portrayed to the world as a city in which Muslims, Christians and Jews all lived closely in relative harmony. But following the fall of communism, the peace gave way to open conflict and led to the eventual breakup of the country. National Geographic Young Explorer Cara Eckholm went to Sarajevo to study the architecture, customs and general ethnic makeup of the citizens to try to understand how different the city looks in the 21st Century from its Yugoslavian times.
– National Geographic Emerging Explorer Tierney Thys is a marine biologist because she derives inspiration and energy from studying the world’s oceans. Thys has teamed up with two other Nat Geo Explorers – Tan Le and Nalini Nadkarni. Le developed a technology to study people’s brainwaves while they’re looking at images of different environments (urban, forests, and oceans, for example), while Nadkarni and Thys are working to apply the technology to see if immersion in nature could have therapeutic effects on our brains. Thys calls the project “some of the most exciting explorations we’ve done as a species.”
– In this week’s Wild Chronicles segment, Boyd shares the story of his time in Yugoslavia, covering the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics, and a more recent spin in a car that played a prominent role in a famous bank robbery during Yugoslavia’s communist era.

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Meet the Author

Justin O'Neill
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.