Coke Smith Photography & Travelogue

World's Wildest Places II


Natural History of the World’s Wildest Places

Adult Special Interest Course S-N 024

Peninsula College

Winter Quarter, 2005


In spite of the impact of humankind, our planet is still filled with natural and wild places- places where wildlife thrives and where natural beauty and biodiversity is the norm, not the exception.  This course will take students on multiple journeys to some of the world’s wildest places and most culturally significant.  Through photo essays and discussions, students will have the opportunity to “visit” such places Southern Africa , Egypt, Jordan,  Thailand, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Bolivia, Peru and the USA.  Our discussions will center on the flora and fauna and native cultures of the various regions along with up-to-date information on some of the ecological and conservation issues facing these phenomenal areas.  As the instructor it is my fervent hope that students come away with a greater understanding of these issues and an appreciation of the wonders of these wild places.  And even more than that, I hope that my students will come away with a desire to travel to these places and become an active participant in their preservation.



Course Syllabus


Instructor:  A. Coke Smith  

Phone:  (360) 565-0151/1571

Class Dates and Time:  04 January to 08 March 2004, Tuesdays, 3:30PM to 5:30PM



Course Schedule


04 January:  Introductions and course description.

Topic:  South Africa’s Kruger National Park and Blyde River Canyon


The nation of South Africa is blessed with one of the most amazing arrays of plants and animals on the continent of Africa.  Somehow, even with all of the political strife caused by apartheid, this small nation was able to protect some of the last wild places within its borders.  In this lecture we will explore the incredible wildlife that one can see in Kruger National Park and elsewhere as well as the spectacular scenery of Blyde River Canyon, South Africa’s own “grand canyon”.


11 January: Topic:  The Anasazi of the American Four Corners Region            


One of the most mysterious peoples ever to reside in North America would arguably be the Anasazi from the Four Corners region of the United States.    For several hundred years these amazing people made their homes in some of the most inaccessible reaches of the desert southwest.  Spectacular cliff dwellings are all that was once known about the elusive Anasazi.  Now we know considerably more about how they lived their daily lives, but there are still many mysterious aspects of their history and where they went when they left the region.  In this lecture, we will discuss the current schools of thought on the Anasazi people as well as explore some of their more famous ruins.



18 January: Topic:  Spectacular Bolivia


Landlocked Bolivia is perhaps one of the least visited yet most spectacular of all of the incredible nations in South AmericaBolivia, with its two capitals and oceanless navy, has an amazing natural biodiversity and geology.  From the rainforests of the Amazon basin to the high deserts of the altiplano, Bolivia is a naturalist’s paradise.  With ancient culture everywhere, the anthropologist would be at home as well.  In this talk we will focus on the natural and scenic wonders of this tiny nation while also addressing some of the current political problems the Bolivian people are facing.            


25 January: Topic:  The Cham, Sukhothai, Ayuthaya, Angkor Cultures of Southeast Asia       


                        Southeast Asia is without a doubt home to some of the richest of all of the world’s great civilizations.  Cambodia, Viet Nam and Thailand are the current names of what was once a great series of nations stretching back hundreds if not thousands of years.  Angkor Wat is perhaps one of the greatest and largest of any ancient city/temple complexes on the planet.  The Angkor kingdoms over time stretched all the way in to modern day Thailand and Viet Nam and had connections to and contributed in various degrees to the great Sukhothai, Ayuthaya and Cham cultures of the surrounding regions.  In this talk we will focus on the architecture, cultural highlights, connections and transitions between the Cham, Angkor, Sukhothai and Ayuthaya cultures of Southeast Asia


01 February: Topic:  The Hilltribes of the Golden Triangle


                        Unfortunately the Golden Triangle has become a name associated with the opium trade over the past few decades.  But this region has a tremendous amount to offer the avid traveler with respect to incredible natural beauty and wealth of cultures found there.  People have been making their homes in this region for tens of thousands of years.  Some of the modern inhabitants of northern Thailand are living their lives in a way that is not too unlike their ancestors.  Although fairly heavily touristed, the Golden Triangle still has many undiscovered trails for those with the time and initiative.  This evening we will learn about the four major tribal groups in the area as well as some the plants and animals used in daily life.



08 February: Topic:  The Phenomenal Inca and Maya Cultures


Long before Europe “discovered” the Americas, diverse cultures and amazing civilizations were well established.  Two of the greatest of all of the American civilizations were the Mayans and the Inca Indians of Central and South America.  This evening we will visit and discuss some of the more important Mayan sites in meso-America such as Guatemala’s Tikal and Xunantunich in Belize.  We will then journey much further south to explore incredible Machu Picchu and the rich Incan culture situated in Peru’s high Andean cloud forest. 


15 February: Topic:  Safari in East Africa!


The mere mention of the word “safari” invokes a feeling of adventure, hardship and perhaps even a little fear.  This evening you will participate in a safari to one of the wildest places on the planet – East Africa!  We will discuss the wonderful and varied flora and fauna of Tanzania, Kenya and Africa’s jewel-Uganda.  On top of learning about the famous “Big Five”, we see many other animal species in their native habitats.  We will also learn about one of the region’s more famous tribal groups – the Masai.


22 February: Topic:  Ancient Egypt and Jordan


When it comes to ancient civilizations, nothing compares to that of Egypt.  For thousands of years, an amazing culture flourished in the Nile river valley.  We will explore the ruins of this once great culture starting with Abu Simbel in the Sudan region to Luxor, Karnak and the pyramids on the Giza Plateau in the north.  We will discuss some of the historical high points and key people of the Egyptian dynasties.  From Egypt we will venture a few hundred miles to the east to explore another ancient culture that existed toward the later years of the Egyptian reign – that of the Nabataeans.  These mysterious people built and maintained a great hidden city called Petra.  We will explore the ruins and significance of this spectacular city as well as discussing the culture that built it and the possible connections with the Egyptians.


01 March: Topic:  Viet Nam Today!      


The mere mention of the name Viet Nam brings back very powerful memories for most Americans.  For almost twenty years after the fall of Saigon, Americans were not allowed to travel to this beautiful southeast Asian nation.  Two weeks after its opening to America in 1994, we spent several months living and traveling Viet Nam from south to north.  This photo essay will present an up to date picture of what daily life is like for the Vietnamese.  We will visit such amazing places like Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Hue, Hanoi, Halong Bay, the Central Highlands and the rainforests of the north. 


08 March: Topic:  The Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda, Uganda and Zaire         


This evening we will visit one of the most endangered habitats on earth – the African cloud forest.  And we will also be viewing images of one of the most endangered animals on earth – the mountain gorilla.  With numbers ranging from a mere 300-600 left in the wild, the mountain gorilla is facing an uphill battle of survival that many feel might be futile.  This lecture will present current data on the status of the mountain gorillas as well as many details of their natural history and the natural history of the environment in which they live.  I will also discuss anecdotally some of my personal experiences with these wonderful beings.