Keynote topic by Wade Davis
Magdalena: River of Dreams
Travelers often become enchanted with the first country that captures their hearts and gives them license to be free. For Wade Davis, it was Colombia. Now in a masterful new book, the bestselling author tells of his travels on the mighty Magdalena, the river that made possible the nation. Both a corridor of commerce and a fountain of culture, the wellspring of Colombian music, literature, poetry and prayer, the Magdalena has served in dark times as the graveyard of the nation. And yet, always, it returns as a river of life. The Magdalena is the story of Colombia.
And that story today tells of a people who have overcome years of conflict precisely because of their character, which is informed by an enduring spirit of place, a deep love of a land that is home to the greatest ecological and geographical diversity on the planet. Only in Colombia can a traveler wash ashore in a coastal desert, follow waterways through wetlands as wide as the sky, ascend narrow tracks through dense tropical forests, and reach in a week Andean valleys as gently verdant as the softest of temperate landscapes. Cities as cultured as any in the Americas were for most of their history linked one to another by trails traveled only by mules.
Over time, the wild and impossible geography found its perfect coefficient in the topography of the Colombian spirit: restive, potent, at times placid and calm, in moments tortured and twisted. Magic becomes the antidote to fear and uncertainty. Reality comes into focus through the lens of the phantasmagoric. Magical realism, celebrated as Colombia’s gift to Latin American literature, is within the country simply journalism. Gabriel García Márquez wrote of what he saw. He was an observer, a practicing journalist for most of his life, who just happened to live in a land where heaven and earth converge on a regular basis to reveal glimpses of the divine.
Keynote topic by Wade Davis
Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest
If the quest for Mount Everest began as a grand imperial gesture, as redemption for an empire of explorers that had lost the race to the Poles, it ended as a mission of regeneration for a country and a people bled white by war. Of the twenty-six British climbers who, on three expeditions (1921-24), walked 400 miles off the map to find and assault the highest mountain on Earth, twenty had seen the worst of the fighting. Six had been severely wounded, two others nearly killed by disease at the Front, one hospitalized twice with shell shock. Four as army surgeons dealt for the duration with the agonies of the dying. Two lost brothers, killed in action. All had endured the slaughter, the coughing of the guns, the bones and barbed wire, the white faces of the dead.
In a monumental work of history and adventure, ten years in the writing, Wade Davis asks not whether George Mallory was the first to reach the summit of Everest, but rather why he kept on climbing on that fateful day. His answer lies in a single phrase uttered by one of the survivors as they retreated from the mountain: ‘The price of life is death.’ Mallory walked on because for him, as for all of his generation, death was but ‘a frail barrier that men crossed, smiling and gallant, every day.’ As climbers they accepted a degree of risk unimaginable before the war. They were not cavalier, but death was no stranger. They had seen so much of it that it had no hold on them. What mattered was how one lived, the moments of being alive. For all of them Everest had become an exalted radiance, a sentinel in the sky, a symbol of hope in a world gone mad.
Keynote topic by Wade Davis
One River: Explorations and Discoveries in the Amazon Rainforest
This lecture, illustrated by archival footage and photographs, follows the life and adventures, the tragedies and discoveries of Richard Evans Schultes, the greatest Amazonian plant explorer of the 20th century. In 1941, having studied the peyote cult of the Kiowa and journeyed into the mountains of Oaxaca to solve the mystery of teonanacatl and ololiuqui, the long lost sacred hallucinogens of the Aztec, Richard Evans Schultes took a leave of absence from Harvard and disappeared into the Northwest Amazon.
Twelve years later he returned from South America having gone places no white man had ever been, mapping uncharted rivers and living among two dozen Indian tribes while collecting 25,000 botanical specimens, including 300 species new to science and over 2000 plants used as medicines, poisons and hallucinogens by the Indians. Author of 10 books and over 496 scientific articles, he has been called by HRH Prince Philip” The Father of Ethnobotany”. The world authority on hallucinogenic plants and rubber, Director Emeritus of the Harvard Botanical Museum, recipient of numerous awards including the Cross of Boyacá, Colombia’s highest decoration, he is a living link to the great natural historians of the 19th century and to a distant era when the rainforests stood immense, inviolable, a green mantle stretching across an entire continent.
This lecture, based on the book, One River: Explorations and Discoveries in the Amazon Rain Forest, is an eloquent and vivid account of Schultes’ explorations, a celebration of the perseverance and wisdom of Indian peoples, and a lament for the terrible rate of destruction of landscape, culture and spirit that time has wrought throughout the Americas.