Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Friday, December 18, 2015



We here at the DUNER BLOG wanted to finish off the year 2015 on a positive note. So we looked all over the world to find a heartwarming story. We finally found a uplifting item from the remote Pacific nation of Micronesia. As you read this blog, OPERATION CHRISTMAS DROP is already in full force. Spirited members of the US Air Force have temporarily converted their cargo into Santa's sleighs. Next, they fly to distant islands...slow down...and finally parachute down gifts to the folks below. Ten years ago, the Australian Air Force joined the mission. But this year... Japan will officially take part as well!

Here's how it all started: Back in 1952, an American Weather Reconnaissance Squadron was flying a mission along the Equator. They passed over Pohnpei, a member of the Federated States of Micronesia. When they flew over the atoll of Kapingamarangi, they noticed dozens of islanders waving and smiling at them on the beaches below. Since it was December, the airman gathered up some fun items on board, attached a parachute, and dropped them to the delight of all. Over the decades, the feel-good activity became an annual event. In fact, it's the longest running humanitarian airlift in the world!

Let's look at a specific example: Fais Island. It's small: Only one square mile. The 200 people who live there belong to the Yap Nation State within the Federated States of Micronesia. Their calendar is marked for the exact date and time when the Air Force C-130 cargo plane flies overhead. It slows to 130 knots and then descends to 300 feet above. Finally, a carefully choreographed team waits for the precise time to push the boxes out of the back. "You do feel a kinship with these folks when you see them on the ground waving," explained USAF Commander Doug DeLeMater.

Each year, the Air Force adds a new item to the box. This year, soccer balls will be included with the usual: Canned food, fishing nets, books, clothing, school supplies, rice, powdered milk and water. All toll, over 50,000 pounds of supplies will be distributed to 56 separate islands in Micronesia. (These are numbers Santa would be impressed with!) The airmen who get assigned the duty use it as training for future humanitarian and military air-drops, most notably in Afghanistan and Somalia.

Adding Japan makes the news item even more touching. Of course...in the world of geopolitical strategy...the US added Japan as a message to the overbearing Chinese Navy to stay out of Micronesia. But in today's already chaotic world, we here at the DUNER BLOG are viewing the additions to OPERATION CHRISTMAS DROP as purely humanitarian in aim. Now if only we could get to one of these remote South Pacific Islands in time for Christmas...

Wishing you and yours a Happiest of Holidays! Cheers. DUNER

Friday, December 11, 2015



Nothing gets readers of the DUNER BLOG more excited than a buried treasure. So...when a 300 year old Spanish galleon still laden with billions of dollars worth of gold, silver, gems and jewelry was discovered off the Colombian coast....our inbox was jam packed. Let's get started!

Who discovered the ship? Jim, Toronto.
Believe it or not, it seems the Royal Galleon de San Jose was discovered by the president of Colombia, Juan Miguel Santos. "We have found the San Jose galleon!" the proud politician tweeted. While it's hard to believe the 64-year-old diplomat donning scuba gear, the actual facts on exactly who deserves credit are unclear. In fact, a Colombian government spokesman refused to state even the precise location. Only that is was "off the coast from Cartagena."

Why was so much loot on one ship? Julius, Nairobi. 
When Commodore Charles Wagner sank the San Juan in June of 1708, Europe was engulfed in the most complex conflict ever: The War of Spanish Succession. Desperate to crush Louis XIV, English warships relentlessly sacked all warships loyal to him and ally Philip of Anjou. Unfortunately, storming flagship galleons is always hit and miss. This time, the booty sank into a treacherous coral reef. Only 11 of the 600 sailors on board survived.

Does the treasure belong to Spain or Colombia? Karin, Essen.
Finance Minister José Manuel García-Margallo issued a clear statement on Monday, declaring the San Jose galleon to be Spanish property. He cited a UN Convention that stipulated: "ownership belongs to the state where the ship was flagged." The San Jose flew the flag of Castille. Meanwhile, the Colombian government is making plans to construct a museum in the booming tourist destination of Cartagena to display the wares. Currently, representatives from both nations are in negotiations. We here at the DUNER BLOG predict a lengthy legal battle.

What's the deal with the US firm? Candace, Miami.
It's hard to believe something as enormous as a Royal Flagship Galleon could remain unnoticed for three centuries. So we do give big credence to the claims from the sea salvage company Sea Search Armada (SSA). They first found the wreck in 1981 as part of the organized search of all possible shorelines where shipwrecks can be found. They negotiated with Bogota: If the remains are ever excavated, SSA would receive 35% of the profit. Unfortunately, the 1980's meant that Cocaine Chaos would engulf Colombia. A new government took control and nullified all claims of the previous regime.

Doesn't this treasure belong to EVERYONE? Dimitry, Omsk
That's exactly how the UN feels, Dimitry! A spokesperson clearly explained that the 'remains of the San Jose fall under the definition of an Underwater Cultural Heritage Site." The body would love to see the whole world take part in what president Santos feels is "the greatest and biggest discoveries of submerged patrimony of all time." He's not exaggerating. Records from Spain show that this one ship might have been laden with the most money of any ship EVER!!!

Friday, December 4, 2015



This week's blog comes to us from the bottom of the world: Antarctica! Earlier this week, a Boeing 757 jet became the first commercial airliner EVER to land on the seventh continent. It was no easy task. See, you can't build an asphalt runway on permafrost. So a special 'Blue Ice' strip was carved out of the frozen surface. Then a special Loftleidir Icelandic Airways plane was specially altered. Finally, the experienced crew pulled off the landing. Truly a travel milestone! However...you're probably asking yourself...Why would anyone want to go to the South Pole in the first place? Well, here are Five Reasons:

 #1. Bragging Rights. Most globe-trekkers like to boast about the places they have been. First, they list the continents. Usually Africa and Australia are the tough ones. But Antarctica? Aside from crazy cruise ships...who occasionally have good enough weather to reach the coastline...the only way to set foot on the distant land is through the ALE (Antarctica Logistics & Expeditions) Company. This adventure tour agency takes about 2,000 people annually for trips waaay down under. As a 50% partner in the 757 aircraft landing, ALE is hoping for a wave of 'Bucket Listers' to sign up soon.

#2. Penguins. You've seen them in your favorite documentary and in the lovable DreamsWorks cartoon...but penguins are even better in the wild. Apparently, the shorelines of the entire continent are teaming with the enormous birds. In fact, the Audubon Society estimates there are 3.79 million of them living in Antarctica. Try to spot all 17 species. The easiest are to find are the Emperor, Adelie and Royal penguins. But maybe you'll spot a Rock-hopper or a Chin-strapper! When you do, be sure to talk in a deep, Morgan Freeman voice.

#3. Icebergs. Globetrotters also like to brag about the various types of terrain they have traversed. But let's face it: Deserts, tropics, savanna...even glaciers...are easy to reach. They don't move! But icebergs are different. They float around the South Seas, clocking in at 10 knots per hour. They come in unexpected colors (green!) and in all sorts of shapes and sizes.

#4. Museums.  Believe it or not, there are not one...but two...museums in Antarctica. The first one is on the Russian base. It's not easily accessible, as ALE doesn't have access to the Novolazarevskaya Base. However, the Fort Lockroy Museum is located on the Peninsula and can be reached by sea. In addition to interesting exhibits about the successful...and failed...Antarctic expeditions, it also houses the only Post Office on the continent. Unfortunately, we cannot find the proper address.

#5. Bars. If humans are going to colonize, they are going to bring booze and build taverns. Numerous makeshift pubs have been constructed on the research bases...but these are a little too much like 'The Swamp' on M*A*S*H. Nope, a savvy traveler like you will head directly to Vernadsky's. Back in 1996, some prime timber was shipped the the remote base to build a pier. Instead, the Ukrainians constructed a beautiful bar. Sip some homemade vodka and peruse the many old photos on the wall. Best yet: Since Antarctica is under no one's governmental jurisdiction, no laws apply!