From National Geographic Travelers' Intelligent Travel blog: 

Film: Road to Kurdistan

The long history of the Kurdish people reveals a tangled web of geography, covering large swaths of the modern-day Middle East. Kurds have cultivated a rich tradition despite the rise and fall of governments and changing boundary lines, as theirs is a culture without a clear home.  Director Persheng Sadegh-Vaziri brings that tradition into sharp relief with her film Road to Kurdistan, debuting this week at National Geographic’s All Roads Film Festival. In the film, the director examines the relationship between Iraqi and Iranian Kurdistan after the fall of Saddam Hussein and the subsequent opening of the Iraqi border. [More...]

Strange Planet: Oddball Festivals and Competitions

The inevitable fate we face post-travel is trying to answer that well-meaning yet story-squashing query from friends and co-workers—“How was it?” Why settle for a blanket answer when you could tell tales of your shin-kicking, toilet seat-throwing, cheese-rolling good time? Thanks to The Jetpacker’s list of quirky (and possibly hazardous) competitions from around the world you can do just that, and fit some absurd athletic feats into your next itinerary. [More...]

Rim to Rim: Hiking the Grand Canyon

Hitting rock bottom is generally not a gratifying experience. But when I reached the Colorado River at the base of the Grand Canyon after two days of hiking, I was elated: Less than one percent of all visitors to the Grand Canyon ever see more than its rim. I set down my pack and felt as though I had made it to the moon. Then I promptly fell asleep on a picnic table with my boots on. [More...]

Rim to Rim: Setting Out

The North Kaibab Trail is the only maintained trail from the North Rim. Over its 14.2 miles to canyon bottom the trail switchbacks through every ecosystem that exists between Canada and Mexico, climbing down through firs, aspens, red limestone, and desert plants. As we set out, I quickly ran out of adjectives. [More...]

Rim to Rim: A Solitary Trek

It is impossible to get lost on the North Kaibab Trail. Besides the occasional yucca plant, the trail is the only straight line in the landscape. In the August heat, it was a solitary trek: We encountered other hikers once every three hours, making it feel as though we were in a world made solely for us. [More...] 

Rim to Rim: Wandering Off the Trail

I was scared to explore beyond the boundaries of the North Kaibab trail. I’ve rock-scrambled all my life, but in this hugest of places I didn’t trust my own instincts. I didn’t want to test the illusion that the path was secure: Leaving the trail meant admitting that the same dangers existed on the trail that existed on either side of it. It meant that our safety depended solely on our own common sense, experience, and joint sense of danger. Part of me wanted to simply follow the trail and arrive at a known destination. [More...]

Rim to Rim: A Photographic Folly

I took the lens cap off the camera and spun slowly in a circle, taking in the canyon floor, the walls, the buttes, the sky, trying to cover every angle and crevice. I dropped the camera to my chest. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t get it. I felt exhausted from trying to cram a mile of land and sky into a 35mm lens. By trying to capture everything I’d blended it all together and lost specificity. [More...]

From the Pop Omnivore blog:

"Soul Surfer": What the Movie Doesn't Tell You About Shark Attacks

The new movie Soul Surfer tells the story of Bethany Hamilton, a competitive surfer whose steady rise to pro took an astonishing turn in 2003 when a shark bit off her left arm. Despite the loss, Hamilton went on to win the NSSA National Championships in 2005.

Though Hamilton’s tenacity is the centerpiece of the film, the plot is set in motion by her encounter with a 14-foot tiger shark while waiting for a wave on the morning of October 31, 2003. The shark makes two appearances: once as a gray blur during the encounter, and again as a pair of jaws that matches the bite on Hamilton’s surfboard.

Despite the great surfing footage, we couldn’t help wondering about shark attacks and their aftermath. To find out, we talked with Marie Levine, executive director of the Shark Research Institute. Here's what we learned.

Joi Ito / Flickr

Shark attacks are uncommon.

In the United States you are twice as likely to be killed by a bolt of lightning than to be attacked by a shark. Worldwide, there are about 70 to 100 shark attacks a year, though the number could be higher. Some shark encounters are not reported. Many shark encounters occur because sharks troll for food on the shore-side of sandbars or between them, spots where surfers and bathers also tend to congregate.

Sharks don’t have hands.

This may seem very obvious, but in explaining why sharks shouldn’t be demonized for biting humans, Levine notes: “All animals explore their environments. Sharks use their mouths to do so where we might use our hands.” Unable to swim backward, some sharks might attack out of fear when they meet a foreign object.

Hunting a shark suspected of involvement in an encounter isn’t wise.

1) You probably won’t catch it. After Bethany Hamilton’s shark encounter, two fishermen heard reports of a tiger shark around the North Shore of the island of Kauai and decided to hunt it. Their motive, according to an article published November 14, 2003 in The Garden Island, was to “protect surfers, fishermen and beachgoers on the North Shore.” The fishermen hauled in a 13-foot, six-inch tiger shark. There was nothing in its stomach except for shark they’d used as bait. Since a tiger shark can travel as far as 10 miles in a day at normal cruising speed, poetic justice would have been nearly impossible to achieve. 2) Even killing one shark adds to the strain on an already endangered population. “Sharks are critical for maintaining the balance of the marine ecosystem,” says Levine. Citing the east coast of the United States as a prime example, Levine explains that where populations of large sharks have declined, the animals they feed off, like rays and skates, have seen marked population growth. In turn, these sea creatures have decimated oysters, clams, and scallops, and strained the bivalve industry, putting people out of work.

Shark surfers in Hawaii have a lot of rules to follow.

Though some shark fishing is allowed, certain species are protected. Furthermore, the state has the most stringent rules on shark finning, in which a shark is captured, its fin removed, and then the animal is returned to the ocean. Hawaii has banned the killing of sharks for their fins (commonly used to make shark fin soup) and the possession of shark fins.

-Margaret J. Krauss