Category Archives: Bizzare

25 Tujuan, 26 Juli, 27 Tahun (Bagian Pertama)

25 Tujuan, 26 Juli, 27 Tahun

“Buat apa jalan-jalan di dalam negeri kalau ke luar negeri bisa lebih keren, lebih murah pula?” Ini adalah kalimat yang cukup sering saya dengar. Bukan hanya dari iklan yang dipajang oleh perusahaan tour and travel, tetapi juga dari masyarakat awam di sekitar saya. Terus terang saya juga pernah berpikir begitu, tapi…kalau mau jujur, sebenarnya ungkapan itu aneh. Ibaratnya, tinggal di rumah sendiri lebih mahal daripada di hotel, aneh kan?

Jika saya baru berhenti di keheranan, dan ngomel karena biaya wisata lokal yang kemahalan dibanding ke luar negeri, lain lagi dengan teman saya. Namanya Michael Dyan Kurnianto, akrab disapa ‘Dee’. Perawakannya mungil, namun langkahnya lebar…dan akan terus melebar hingga meninggalkan jejaknya di sekeliling nusantara. Sebelum genap berusia 27 tahun di tanggal 26 Juli 2014, ia sudah mendatangi setidaknya 25 tujuan wisata di dalam negeri. Mulai dari yang lazim diketahui orang lokal dan karena saking murmer-nya bisa berubah jadi seperti ‘kolam dawet’ di musim liburan, hingga yang (sayangnya) sudah jadi milik asing serta susah dimasuki oleh wisatawan lokal, telah ia tembus.

Dia bukan orang tajir, walau bukan juga orang kikir. Sebagai seorang pekerja LSM, gaji besar bukan sesuatu yang familiar baginya. Jadi jangan dibayangkan dia bergelimang harta untuk menjalani hobinya yang lumayan mahal. Lalu bagaimana kisahnya? Mari kita simak obrolan traveler satu ini dengan saya;

Mengenai hobi jalan-jalan, sejak kapan punya hobi jalan dan cita-cita keliling nusantara?

Entah sejak kapan, yang pasti waktu kecil sering rekreasi bersama keluarga ke pantai. Terkadang, kita mudah sekali melupakan potensi lokal. Saya contohnya, pertama melamar pekerjaan maunya langsung yang di luar Surabaya, kalau bisa lebih ‘luar’ lagi lebih bagus. Akhirnya sekarang malah berkarya di sini dan ternyata memang masih banyak potensi lokal yang layak dihargai dan dikembangkan. Soal jalan-jalan juga begitu, saya asli Kediri tapi baru mengunjungi Gunung Kelud setelah melihat foto jepretan teman saya. Ternyata Kelud bisa begitu indah!

cr. Dee
Gunung Kelud dan jalannya yang meliuk-liuk. Foto: Dee

Bagi saya yang terpenting saat jalan-jalan adalah melihat alam. Budaya dan manusia juga menarik, tetapi bagi saya yang paling cantik tetap alam. Terutama alam Indonesia, karena negeri kita ini amatlah cantik! Karena itulah saya mulai mengambil foto-foto. Pertama hasilnya ngasal, tapi makin lama makin serius. Sebelum mengambil foto, saya luangkan waktu sejenak untuk mengagumi apa yang saya lihat. Ternyata kekaguman itulah yang tergambar dalam potret yang saya ambil. Saat melihat foto-foto itu, rasanya seperti mengalami kembali momen perjalanan yang telah saya lalui. Kini, memotret menjadi pekerjaan sampingan saya yang cukup menghasilkan.

Sudah pernah berkunjung ke mana saja?

Karena saya kuliah di Surabaya, jadi awalnya pasti ke sekitar Surabaya, Pantai Kenjeran contohnya. Pantai ini kalau siang memang terlihat kotor dan bau, tapi cobalah mendatanginya di antara pkl. 04.30 – 05.30 pagi. Saksikan matahari terbit dari dermaganya, indah bukan main.

perahu-perahu nelayan di Pantai Kenjeran saat fajar. Foto: Dee
perahu-perahu nelayan di Pantai Kenjeran saat fajar. Foto: Dee

Mangrove, tempat ini panas bukan main. Nyamuknya seram. Tetap aja banyak orang bela-belain foto prewed di sana saking indahnya.

kawasan wisata mangrove Surabaya. Foto: Dee
kawasan wisata mangrove Surabaya. Foto: Dee

JatimPark, BNS, SecretZoo dan area sekitarannya. Saat liburan, ramainya laksana mencoba berenang di dalam lautan manusia. Tapi tempat-tempat ini cukup informatif dan menghibur, terutama saat didatangi bersama teman-teman.

Gunung Bromo. Saya datang ke sana bersama teman-teman dan seorang dosen yang tiba-tiba nimbrung dalam rombongan kami. Bromo adalah salah satu ikon Indonesia yang aslinya bahkan lebih bagus lagi dari foto-fotonya. Setiap tahun, diadakan juga yang namanya Jazz Gunung di sini. Jadi, siapa bilang dengerin konser itu mesti di kota atau di dalam gedung?

Jazz Gunung; Indahnya Jazz Merdunya Gunung kalau kata websitenya....Foto: Dee
Jazz Gunung; Indahnya Jazz Merdunya Gunung kalau kata websitenya….Foto: Dee

Pacitan; Pantai Klayar dan Srau. Pantai Klayar itu pasirnya putih dan banyak karangnya. Menurutku lebih bagus lagi daripada Parangtritis. Lokasinya beberapa kilometer dari Pacitan dan jalan menuju ke sana bisa dicapai dengan mobil maupun motor, tapi medannya lumayan berat, sempit, dan banyak yang rusak. Pantai Srau sedikit lebih dekat ke Pacitan, masih alami dan jarang didatangi orang. Mungkin karena jauh dari pemukiman penduduk dan jalan menuju ke sana berat. Tempat yang bagus untuk melihat matahari terbit, terbenam dan lautan luassss.

Dee di Pantai Klayar. Dijepret oleh teman kantor (yang tidak diberitahukan namanya..hahaha)
Dee di Pantai Klayar. Dijepret oleh teman kantor (yang tidak diberitahukan namanya..hahaha)

Air terjun Madakaripura Probolinggo. Demi menuju ke air terjun utama, harus berbasah-basah dulu karena melewati beberapa air terjun. Nah, di perjalanan itulah justru pemandangannya luar biasa, karena depan dan belakang air terjun semua.

Air Terjun Madakaripura, pemandangan dalam perjalanan menuju air terjun utama. Foto: Dee
Air Terjun Madakaripura, pemandangan dalam perjalanan menuju air terjun utama. Foto: Dee

Jembatan Suramadu. Awal pembangunannya penuh kontroversi, tapi setelah jadi…benar-benar bermanfaat dan membanggakan. Di Jembatan ini orang dilarang berhenti dan foto-foto karena mengganggu lalu lintas dan tidak aman untuk nyawa.

Air terjun Toroan Sampang. Biasanya air terjun jatuhnya ke sungai, atau danau, yang ini langsung ke laut. Beneran, cuma dibatasi oleh batu-batu karang saja. Itu adalah pertama kali saya ke Madura, naik motor bertiga dengan sahabat, kesasar pula. Akibatnya perjalanan jadi panjang dan lamaaaa, bikin pantat pegal! padahal baliknya cepat. Tapi pemandangan di pulau penghasil garam itu ternyata benar-benar…

Air terjun langsung ke laut;Toroan, Sampang. Foto: Dee
Air terjun langsung ke laut;Toroan, Sampang. Foto: Dee

Pantai Kunir. Salah satu pantai alami yang ada di jalur selatan Pacitan. Sama seperti Srau dan Klayar, jalan menuju ke sana sedikit baik. Alias berat dan penunjuk jalan hanya sedikit. Konon orang Pacitan saja belum tentu tahu pasti letaknya di mana.

Pantai Kunir Pacitan. Foto: Dee
Pantai Kunir Pacitan. Foto: Dee

Karimun Jawa. Ini sudah terkenal dan bagi saya, berenang bersama hiu-hiu di sana tidaklah seseram yang saya alami di P. Kanawa saat bertemu dengan pari manta.

Karimun Jawa. Foto: Dee
Karimun Jawa. Foto: Dee

Borobudur, Prambanan. Ini juga jelas sudah terkenal di dalam maupun di luar Indonesia.

Sarangan. Pengalaman yang bikin kaget di sini, pas motret orang, yang dipotret minta duit. Bukan model profesional loh ya, cuma memang waktu itu saya sedang ingin mencoba memotret foto-foto jenis human interest. Mungkin mereka sudah terbiasa dipotret oleh turis asing dan diberi uang, jadi kebiasaan. Soal alamnya, seperti biasa; hijau dan cantikkkk.

Sarangan

Bali. ‘Pulau Dewata’ satu ini bahkan kadang-kadang lebih dikenal daripada Indonesia. Area yang penuh adat dan budaya nan cantik, tapi sayang semuanya dibuat komersil, alias ‘dikit-dikit bayar’. Bukan masalah tidak ingin bayar, tapi kesakralannya jadi tercoret.

Besakih. Dikenal sebagai pusat kegiatan dari seluruh pura yang ada di Pulau Bali. Layaknya tempat ibadah, kerap diadakan upacara keagamaan yang juga terbuka untuk turis, walau bukan berarti kesakralan di sana berkurang. Malah sebenarnya mengesankan saat melihat pluralisme yang ada di sana. Ada bule (orang asing) yang belajar sembahyang (berdoa dengan tata cara Hindu Dharma Bali) dan ada orang lokal yang mau mengajari. Di mata saya, wajah bule itu menunjukkan keseriusan saat melihat pengajarnya. Bukan sekedar ingin tahu, tapi juga memahami. Itu adalah sebuah momen di mana perbedaan bukanlah persoalan. RUKUN.

 

Ketika perbedaan bukan menjadi persoalan. Foto: Dee
Ketika perbedaan bukan menjadi persoalan. Foto: Dee

Menjangan Pulau Menjangan. Masih di sekitar Bali, saya ke sana karena butuh ketenangan dan melihat alam yang cantik. Snorkling melihat terumbu-terumbu karang dan rumput laut bergoyang kiri-kanan, ikan-ikan cantikkkk. Untuk menjangkau bagian bawah laut yang indah itu, pengunjung harus agak ke tengah, tepat sebelum masuk ke palung lautnya yang biruuu, gelappp dan ngeri liatnya. Kalau tidak mau, bagian atasnya juga lumayan;

Pulau Menjangan dan lautan serta kapal kecil pengangkut pengunjung yang mau snorkling. Foto: Dee
Pulau Menjangan dan lautan serta kapal kecil pengangkut pengunjung yang mau snorkling. Foto: Dee

Ranu Kumbolo. Tempat ini adalah jalur yang memang harus dilewati oleh siapapun yang ingin mendaki gunung Semeru. Lokasinya di Lumajang, tepatnya di kaki G. Semeru. Ada lokasi perkemahan di sana dan  Pertama ke sana, tidak sampai ke puncak, karena niatanya memang hanya sampai di Ranu Kumbolo. Selain itu jujur saja stamina saat itu memang kurang memadai. Jadi bertekad untuk kembali lagi suatu saat dan mendaki sampai ke puncak! Pada saat tulisan ini dibuat, Dee juga sedang merayakan ulang tahun dengan mendaki G. Semeru.

Ranu Kumbolo di pagi hari. Foto: Dee
Ranu Kumbolo di pagi hari. Foto: Dee

Arjuno- Welirang  Setelah G. Bromo, Kelud, dan Batur, akhirnya saya mendaki dan mengibarkan bendera merah putih di puncak G. Arjuno- Welirang. Ini gunung pertama dan tersulit yang pernah saya tempuh dengan persiapan fisik minimal. Akibatnya kecapean sampe muntah-muntah di pos terakhir sebelum naik ke Arjuno. Belajar dari pengalaman, sebelum memutuskan naik gunung, minimal harus rutin jogging atau jalan kaki. Berapa jauh? Dikira-kira sendiri berdasar kemampuan. Lebih bagus kalau latihan jalan sambil bawa beban, ataupun membiasakan naik turun tangga daripada menggunakan lift. Niscaya benar-benar bermanfaat.

Suasana fajar di pos perkemahan sebelum menuju puncak Arjuno- Welirang. Foto: Dee
Suasana fajar di pos perkemahan sebelum menuju puncak Arjuno- Welirang. Foto: Dee

Candi Gedong Songo Ungaran. Sebenarnya saya bukan tipe yang terlalu doyan sejarah. Tapi tempat ini asyik, masih di area yang alami, bahkan ada pemandian air panasnya. Jadi sehabis menyusuri 9 candi, di pertengahan jalan ada sumber air panas…segarrr. Walaupun di alam bebas, tapi yah jangan dibayangkan seperti mandi di sungai. Sebagai pemandian campuran, tempat ini dikelola pemerintah. Privasi pengunjung dilindungi oleh tembok.

(Salah satu spot) Candi Gedong Songo di Ungaran. Foto: Dee
(Salah satu spot) Candi Gedong Songo di Ungaran. Foto: Dee

 

Rawa Pening. Saat siang, daerah sekitaran rawa itu dijadikan kawasan komersil yang keramaiannya sudah mirip dengan THR (Taman Hiburan Rakyat) Surabaya. Akibatnya kalau siang memang alamnya jadi tidak terlalu cakep, tapi menariknya justru sore dan pagi hari. Suguhan alam berupa matahari terbenam dan terbit, cakep bukan main dan menenangkan…

Sulawesi, Pantai Donggala. Pengalaman saat pertama kali ke sana, karena berangkat dari Palu, terasa benar jauhnya. Begitu masuk kawasan Donggala yang mau masuk ke area pantai, ada warung-warung yang menjual ikan-ikan segar. Makan di sana dengan lauk ikan segar dan pemandangan yang begitu aduhai karena pasir putih dan air laut biruuuu, apalagi coba yang kurang?

Pantai Donggala Sulawesi . Foto: Dee
Pantai Donggala Sulawesi . Foto: Dee

 

Bersambung ke bagian kedua…

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Kue Ca Kwee dan dendam kesumat rakyat (^.^)/

Kulitnya garing keemasan gurih crispy kriuk kriuk,…

Bagian dalamnya berongga, mengepulkan uap hangat beraroma wijen- kacang yang menguar lembut menggelitik lidah.

Mau dimakan segigit demi segigit, boleh…masih panjang kok.

Mau dimakan sekaligus dengan gigitan besar,…juga boleh…asal mulutnya cukup (^.~).

Perkenalkan Ca Kwee.

Penganan satu ini lazim dimakan pagi-pagi dicampur aneka bubur asin maupun manis.Banyak juga orang yang suka memakannya langsung,enak juga dipertemukan dengan kopi atau teh hangat.

Dikenal dengan banyak nama, tapi mayoritas masyarakat nusantara mengenalnya dengan sebutan ‘ca kwee’, temannya roti goreng yang bentuknya pipih panjang dan cenderung berasa gurih.

Usut punya usut,makanan ini berasal dari negeri tirai bambu, yang lantas dibawa kemari cara pembuatannya oleh masyarakat keturunan Tionghoa yang akhirnya menjadikan Indonesia sebagai tanah airnya.

Ca kwee sukses diterima oleh lidah nusantara, sampai menjadi bagian dari kehidupan sehari-hari yang nyaris tak disadari keberadaannya, apa lagi asal usulnya (>.<)/.

Namun ca kwee punya sejarah, dan kisahnya tidak hanya berlumur minyak kacang dan wijen, ternyata juga ada dendam dalam inti adonannya. Padahal kalau ditangkap dari kesannya, apapun cirinya tak ada yang mencerminkan dendam kesumat… (^.^)/.

Ketertarikan saya terhadap kisah ca kwee bermula dari sebuah kejengkelan.

Saking jengkelnya  saya butuh sesuatu untuk dihajar (jangan tanya apa yang membuat saya jengkel, karena bukan itu yang penting dibahas ..(^.^)/…)

Tapi menghajar sesuatu bisa melukai orang lain dan parahnya, diri sendiri…(T.T).

Jadi, meniru beberapa orang sahabat….saya pilih sesuatu yang paling aman buat dihajar: makanan. Beruntungnya, hari itu saya juga dapat hantaran aneka gorengan dari seorang teman. ..(^0^)/.

Sambil mengunyah penuh semangat (plus dendam), saya tiba-tiba jadi ingin tahu…adakah makanan yang tercipta karena seseorang sedang merasa ‘mangkel’?

Maka bergabunglah kata makanan+dendam di kolom pencarian google pada monitor saya.

Tidak langsung ketemu sesuai harapan, lalu sambil menarik koyak cakwee yang terselip di mulut, iseng-iseng saya ketik kata cakwee, dan…

Inilah yang saya dapatkan,…(^0^)/ .

Siapa sangka, penganan sederhana yang sedang saya aniaya itu berawal dari sebuah tragedi sejarah mengenai Yue Fei,  seorang jenderal legendaris dari dinasti Song di Cina yang terkenal dengan kesetiaan kepada negara dan raja nya.

Musoleum of Yue Fei

cr.photo: Harsono Ng (RABU, 27 JULI 2011 Kolom Kita)

Inilah sekilas cerita mengenai Yue Fei (1103-1141), yang berujung ke ca kwee nantinya (^.~)/.

Yue Fei berasal dari Tangyin di Xiangzhou yang sekarang adalah propinsi Henan. Dia adalah jenderal dari Dinasti Song yang berhasil menghalau  tentara dari suku Jin dari sebelah utara setelah armada pasukan Song berulang kali dikalahkan oleh tentara-tentara Jin tersebut.

Pada waktu lahir, orang tuanya melihat seekor burung yang sedang terbang sehingga dia diberi nama Fei (artinya: terbang). Sewaktu Yue Fei berumur 3 tahun, desa Yunhe, tempat dia dilahirkan mengalami banjir besar. Untuk menolong Yue Fei dan ibunya, sang ayah memasukkan mereka berdua di tempayan besar sambil dipegang, ketika tidak kuat lagi, tempayan itu terlepas dan ia langsung hilang dalam terjangan arus air yang kuat. Sejak itu Yue Fei tidak pernah bertemu ayahnya lagi.

Demi meneruskan hidupnya ibu Yue Fei menenun kain, sementara Yue Fei yang rajin dan cerdas mesti belajar menulis dengan ranting kayu diatas pasir untuk membantu penghematan.

Yue Fei akhirnya diangkat oleh seorang bekas jenderal yang bernama Zhou Dong yang mengajarkan semua ilmunya kepada Yue Fei.

Yue Fei kemudian bergabung dengan tentara. Agar selalu ingat akan moral yang diajarkan, sebelum berangkat ibunya mentato empat huruf di punggungnya dengan kata-kata : Jing Zhong Bao Guo yang artinya setia mengabdi pada negara.

Singkat cerita, Yue Fei yang pandai berhasil memenangkan banyak pertempuran dan mengambil kembali daerah-daerah yang dulu direbut oleh musuh. Melihat kondisi itu perdana menteri yang menerima suap dari musuh khawatir kalau Yue Fei menang terus, rahasia persekongkolannya dengan musuh akan terbongkar. Oleh karena itu, dengan dalih Yue Fei akan merebut tahta dan mengembalikannya kepada kedua kakak kandung raja yang masih ditawan musuh, Qin Kuai, si perdana menteri yang berkhianat, menghasut raja Gao sehingga Yue Fei dipanggil pulang justru di saat ia hampir berhasil merebut kembali ibukota lama kerajaan Song.

Dengan tuduhan berencana memberontak, akhirnya Yue Fei ditangkap, kemudian dibunuh. (T.T)…

Makamnya dalam potret dibawah ini beserta seluruh kompleknya telah diperbaiki beberapa kali sejak dinasti Ming.

Puluhan tahun setelah kematiannya, kasus Yue Fei dibuka kembali oleh raja lain dan sejarah diluruskan kembali. Memang ini juga bisa berupa propaganda pemerintah yang baru berkuasa saat itu untuk mengambil hati rakyat, tapi paling tidak…namanya dibersihkan.

Namun selama beberapa tahun sebelum jatuhnya dinasti Song, dan beberapa puluh tahun sejak Ming baru berdiri, nama Yue Fei berkubang dalam tuduhan yang dilontarkan oleh Qin Kuai padanya.

Selama masa itulah, untuk menyalurkan kemarahannya rakyat membuat patung manusia dari tepung yang diperlakukan se-olah-olah adalah Qin Kuai dan istrinya, adonan itu dipukul-pukul, dibanting-banting, ditarik-tarik, kemudian dibelah dua ditengah dan di goreng sebagai simbol kebencian rakyat terhadap kisah pengkhianatan itu. Mereka namakan benda itu Yu Zha Qin Kuai ( Yu zha artinya goreng dengan minyak), kemudian disingkat menjadi Yu Zha Kwe, sekarang dikenal sebagai Cakue. Saat ini di China sendiri entah kenapa tidak lagi disebut demikian, orang-orang di sana menamai makanan itu yutiao (semacam gorengan panjang).

Dimakam Yue Fei kemudian dibuatkan empat buah patung yaitu Qin Kuai dengan istrinya dan kedua pembantu Qin Kuai yang terlibat di dalam pengkhianatan tersebut.

Inilah patung-patung yang dulu ‘disediakan’ untuk diludahi oleh setiap orang yang lewat, tapi sekarang harusnya tidak lagi karena ada tulisan : “Dilarang meludah”  disamping patung itu…(^0^)…

Lagian kasihan petugas kebersihannya kan, ga ikutan bikin dosa harus ikutan ngepel (T.T).

Kisah Yue Fei Credit to:Harsono Ng. RABU, 27 JULI 2011 Kolom Kita

Jadi selama ini kita-kita yang makan cakue tanpa sadar sebenarnya ikut mengutuk Qin Kuai. (Kalaupun kita tak ikutan membanting, menarik-narik, memotong-motong dan menggorengnya, bagian kita yang paling minimal setidaknya adalah mengunyah mereka dengan baik…(^0^)…)

Namun berkat tindakan sumpah serapah turun temurun ini juga, kita bisa menikmati Cakue yang menyebar hampir di semua tempat yang ada komunitas masyarakat asia-nya.

Sejarah akan mecatat kebaikan-kebaikan dan kejelekan-kejelekan pemimpin-pemimpin. Bahkan jika pihak yang berkuasa merubah catatan itu, ada waktunya sesuatu yang baik akan dikenali dan dikenang oleh banyak orang, sementara hal yang buruk selalu diingat, dikutuk, kalaupun cukup beruntung: terlupakan.

Jadi, sebisa mungkin marilah kita jangan membuat orang lain kelewat jengkel. Apalagi jika orang lain itu jumlahnya banyak bukan main (contoh: rakyat). Kalau sudah kelewat dikenang akan keburukannya, sudah mati sekalipun masih diludahi dan kesalahannya diceritakan berulang kali. Memang sih bisa saja kita berpikir kalau orang mati tidak akan merasakan itu semua, namun yang pasti…kita tak pernah tahu, apa dan berapa yang harus kita bayar jika kita membuat kesalahan yang tidak dimaafkan.

….\(^.^)/…

“S.H.I.T” is not as dirty as you thought!

“What you think is ‘dirty’ may not as dirty as what you imagine in your head.”

Yesterday, a good friend of mine has repeat those same words over and over to me. Thus, I started to try finding any (even the most little) evidence about it.

then…(^.^)…

Look at what I found, even the word ‘SHIT’ actually doesn’t as dirty as I thought. I didn’t even knew if that word is an acronym.

Of course, I didn’t literally browse the internet searching for the word ‘SHIT’, actually I found it by accident. I was searching for the definition of ‘Manure’, and turn out it’s something the farmer use to fertilize the soil…and below the article, I found something more interesting than what I was looking for. In fact, it help me explain my friend’s words…\(^0^)/

here it goes; cr.trackingyourroots

Manure… An interesting fact.
Manure : In the 16th and 17th centuries, everything had to be transported by ship and it was also before the invention of commercial fertilizers, so large shipments of manure were quite common.

It was shipped dry, because in dry form it weighed a lot less than when wet, but once water (at sea) hit it, not only did it become heavier, but the process of fermentation began again, of which a by product is methane gas of course. As the stuff was stored below decks in bundles you can see what could (and did) happen.
…Methane began to build up below decks and the first time someone came below at night with a lantern, BOOOOM!

Several ships were destroyed in this manner before it was determined just what was happening.

After that, the bundles of manure were always stamped with the instruction ‘ Stow high in transit ‘ on them, which meant for the sailors to stow it high enough off the lower decks so that any water that came into the hold would not touch this volatile cargo and start the production of methane.

Thus evolved the term ‘ S.H.I.T ‘ , (Stow High In Transit) which has come down through the centuries and is in use to this very day.

You probably did not know the true history of this word…(>.<)/

The Untold Story of Evolution

To see this story with its related links on the guardian.co.uk site, go to http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/apr/25/evolution-human-history-apes

The untold story of evolution Around six million years ago in Africa, human history began. But how exactly did hairy, tree-dwelling apes, become modern 21st-century people?

Tim Radford Monday April 25 2011 The Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/apr/25/evolution-human-history-apes

Human evolution must be the greatest story never told. It begins in an unknowable past and continues mysteriously for the next five or six million years. Is it a thriller, an epic or a comedy of errors? There is no dust jacket, no title page, no dedication, no acknowledgements. Almost all the text is missing, apart from the occasional phrase, sentence or paragraph, seemingly torn at random from the great six-million-year narrative. If the story of humanity is a single volume, then only the last page survives.

Every so often, scholars find yet another fossilised scrap of the missing narrative, a new character enters, and the plot takes a new twist. Some things are clear: the story began in Africa, between 5m and 7m years ago, with the last common ancestor of two kinds of chimpanzee and of Homo sapiens sapiens. Charles Darwin calculated as much when he began telling the story in The Descent of Man (1871). “We thus learn that man is descended from a hairy, tailed quadruped, probably arboreal in its habits, and an inhabitant of the Old World,” he wrote.

Anthropologists agree on the human-ape connection. The consent is there in the titles of books published in the past 40 years: The Aquatic Ape, The Naked Ape, The Third Chimpanzee, The Talking Ape, Our Inner Ape, The Thinking Ape, The Monkey in the Mirror, The Hunting Apes, The Ape that Spoke and The Artificial Ape. These books are all attempts to work backwards, from what we are now to what we might have been.

The fact that zoologists, anthropologists and paleontologists can write so many books with the word “ape” in the title tells us two things. One is that the evidence is so sparse that people are free to frame a favourite hypothesis about what it was that made humans different. The other is that the human-chimpanzee connection is so clear that there is nowhere else to begin.

First, the family likeness: chimpanzees struggle for status, vocalise, communicate, play politics, use subterfuge, show aggression, reject outsiders, groom and support each other, betray each other and resort to violence or sexual bribery to get their way. Chimpanzees display awareness of self, ability to reason, and a grasp of numbers. Chimpanzees are opportunistic omnivores that also make and use tools for gain, and groups of chimpanzees in the wild have separate traditions, practices and ways of doing things that they pass down the generations. That is, chimpanzees have culture. Chimpanzees and humans have a genetic kinship so close that they share almost 99% of their DNA. The Victorians called them “man-like apes”. Twentieth-century scientists and observers started referring to humans as naked apes. Early in the 21st century, some taxonomists and conservationists began a campaign to change the chimpanzee genus from Pan to Homo, so close are the parallels between the species. But the African chimpanzee is an endangered species, down to perhaps 150,000, while the human population is about to tip seven billion. The implication is that, long ago, the earliest human ancestors also lived in small social groups, and co-operated and competed for the resources of the woodland and the savannah. Why did humans become so different: bipedal, upright, hairless, with limited strength, feeble jaws, bad backs, embarrassingly large heads and brains with a cerebral cortex four times the size of a chimp’s? For decades, the conventional evolutionary lineage was a simple one: shambling simian stands upright, evolves into bipedal hairy brute, then slouching hairy brute with hand axe and finally into hairless human with BlackBerry.

This is the ladder theory of human evolution. It was kicked away long ago. Discoveries in Africa ? a femur here, a fragment of skull there, a pelvis, now and again a partial skeleton, a set of footprints fossilised in ancient volcanic mud ? reveal a picture more of confusion than direction: a flowering of creatures more or less apelike or manlike, some of them possibly direct ancestors, some of them probably cousins along a parallel lineage, all of them trying to make a subsistence living in a very different Africa, millions of years ago.

The fossils turn up in South Africa, East Africa, Ethiopia and even the Sahel. They have generic names such as Sahelanthropus, Ardipithecus, Orrorin, Australopithecus, Paranthropus, and Kenyanthropus, and their remains were unearthed from the dust, stone and mud sediments laid down 3m, 4m and 5m years ago. Two million years ago, creatures that bear the generic name Homo begin to appear in the fossil record: Homo habilis, Homo ergaster, Homo erectus, and with them appear worked stone tools, hand axes, things for chipping and cutting. Hardly any of these early human relics is complete.

Palaeoanthropologists were once fond of saying that the entire human fossil record could be laid out on one table, or packed in a matching set of Gucci luggage, but this is no longer true. What is true is that even 2m years ago, the human lineage begins to look like a bush, with species sprouting in all directions. And then the story starts to get really complicated. At some point, early humans get up and start moving. They spread. They pack their hand axes, leave Africa and start to colonise the Middle East, Europe, and South Asia. And there is more than one migration out of Africa: first Homo erectus or something even more primitive, and then, much later, Homo sapiens. And they continue to differentiate into new species.

At one point in human history, around 40,000 years ago, modern humans must have shared the planet with at least four other human cousins: Homo erectus, the Neanderthals, a strange, small-brained human found only on the island of Flores in Indonesia, affectionately known as the Hobbit; and most recent of all, species X: a separate human genetic lineage identified in 2010 only by DNA extracted from a finger bone found in a Siberian cave. What gave early humans their get-up-and-go? Why did humans develop large brains and long legs? Should the first mobile humans be classed as asylum seekers, driven from their native land by climate change? Or were they economic migrants, on the lookout for better opportunities in wide-open Europe and Asia?

Brains are what biologists call expensive items: the human brain at rest consumes 20% of the daily calorific intake. In other words, brains have to be fed. So a large, greedy brain becomes valuable only if it helps to deliver even more food and greater security. So was the larger brain a genetic mutation that increasingly delivered a selective advantage in the struggle for survival? And how did humans get from thinking about food-gathering strategies to thinking about taxonomy, tax-avoidance and Twitter? The big brain story may have begun in the trees.

Arboreal primates that search over wide areas for food in the canopy seem to know what is good for them: they often ignore easy supplies and go looking for special foods. They seem to have a notion of a balanced diet ? protein-rich leaves and high-calorie fruits and not too much fibre ? and they have been watched deliberately selecting plants with medicinal properties. All this requires a working memory, a mental map of where to go and what to look for.

According to at least one study, the primates that hunt high and low for the quality fare tend to have larger brains than those that do not. Then the human story begins at some point with climate change: in a cooler and more arid continent, once-arboreal creatures had to start exploiting the woodland and savannah. It would clearly be an advantage to stand up and walk on two feet, to see further, to have a hand free to carry an infant. Pair bonding ? love and marriage to non-biologists ? is already an evolutionary feature, and a bipedal male could go further to find food for his family, and carry it back. “Darwin argued that bipedalism freed the hands,” says Chris Stringer, head of human origins at the Natural History Museum [http://www.nhm.ac.uk/” title=”Natural History Museum]. “He was arguing that 150 years ago and it is still there. But there is another view worth considering: it could have begun in the trees. Orangutans, for instance, walk bipedally.” To get to the tastiest forage, orangutans walk along branches, holding on to yet higher branches. So there could have been a long period when early members of the not-yet-human family walked on the ground, and lived in trees. And by this time, brain size had begun to increase.

There are new challenges, new opportunities, new foods to try and new difficulties to overcome. In the past three decades, researchers have floated a number of ideas about how the human story might have developed. Did hominids start to develop bigger brains because they lost most of their body hair? A hairless human with a talent for exuding sweat would be at less risk of overheating; longer legs would enhance the surface-to-volume ratio and keep the brain cool; and as a bonus, ticks, lice and other parasites would have nowhere to hide. Or did hominids become free to develop bigger brains because their jaw muscles began to shrink, allowing the cranium to expand?

Did early humans start to develop even bigger brains because they became increasingly efficient endurance runners that could get to a carcass before the hyenas and vultures, and strip away a nourishing meal of meat, fat and marrow? Did humans begin to stand upright by taking to the water ? and to nourish bigger brains with high-protein deliveries of fish and shellfish? Did humans discover the use of fire millions of years ago, long before the colonisation of Europe? Cooking would make plants both more nourishing and easier to digest; it would dispose of infections and pathogens in meat, and it would deliver greater supplies of energy per mouthful. Teeth, jaws and digestive tracts could shrink, and so brains could get bigger.

Did humans grow bigger brains because the extra neural circuitry was needed to make sense of the demands of social and co-operative life? “I think a lot of our brain is actually mapping relationships, and mind-reading our friends and enemies: what are they doing? You need a lot of processing power to do that well,” says Stringer. “If you are starting to hunt animals, you have to out-think them, and that is driving the growth of more processing power and bigger memory. So I think the social brain and meat-eating was the key to that.” Somehow, out of this million-year-mix of food, fear and hunter-gatherer companionship in Africa, complex language emerged.

The human who could frame the sentence “You wait behind that rock at the end of the ravine and I’ll drive the deer towards you” has demonstrated awareness of cause and effect, of geography, of zoology, of strategy, of co-operation for future mutual advantage. Somewhere in such a sentence there is also the germ of the first play for two actors, the first computer game and the first adventure story. But there are no neat stories to be told of the first departure from the African homeland. Once again, the evidence is fragmentary, sometimes teasingly ambiguous, and capriciously rare. But there is enough to confirm the presence of early human species in Georgia, in Spain, Portugal, Germany and Britain as early as 800,000 years ago, and also in the Middle East and South Asia.

The first migrants could have been pushed out of the country by climate change, or competition for resources, or the desire for somewhere new. They could possibly have made a direct crossing by water from the Horn of Africa to what is now Yemen, or they could have travelled up the Nile Valley and across what is now Gaza into Europe and the Middle East. This fabulous odyssey may not have been intended, it may have just happened. Hunter-gatherers follow game, and when the game disappears, they move on. All these first migrants needed to do was to hug the coast: first up the western shore of the Red Sea, and then down the coast of Arabia. “They just extended in that ribbon of the coast, out of Africa, around Arabia, around the southern Asian coast: at low sea level, they could have got all the way to Java just on the coast. Then they just need to invent boats along the way and they can get to Australia,” says Stringer. “One mile a year and you have gone all the way to Java in 10,000 years.” And in the course of this great adventure, the migrants change.

New species appear, and with them, new behaviour. The Neanderthals become the first to formally bury their dead. And long afterwards, modern humans turn up. Once again, the story begins somewhere in Africa, nobody knows for sure where, and once again, at least 60,000 years ago ? and maybe, on recent enigmatic evidence of stone tools in Arabia, as long as 125,000 years ago ? a new human species begins to leave Africa and spread around the planet, across all of Europe and Asia, and then finally across the arid freezing plains that will in time become the Bering Straits, to Alaska and then the whole of the Americas.

Modern humans are still hunter-gatherers, but around 30,000 years ago there is evidence of sophisticated technologies based on stone and bone and shell. They use needles, decorate with ochre, create works of astonishing art, put on ornaments, and exhibit a sense of religion, the evidence for all these things lies alongside the human fossils. In Europe, these newcomers live alongside the Neanderthals, hunt the same animals, gather the same seeds and fruits. There is recent evidence that somewhere in the European chapter of this story, modern humans and Neanderthals must have interbred, but in all other respects, the Neanderthals seem to be a different species. Long before the end of the last ice age, the Neanderthals and all the other human species that have travelled the same road vanish altogether, leaving the newcomers alone of their kind, and in undisputed possession of the planet.

FOETUS en FOETU: How did that boy end up with his twin growing inside him?

By; Alok Jha

Thursday July 17 2003

The Guardian

It’s the result of an extremely rare condition called foetus in foetu. While the condition is well documented, doctors are unsure how it happens.

This latest, bizarre twin-inside-twin story began when Alamjan Nematilaev, a seven-year-old boy from Kazakhstan, complained that he felt something moving inside him. When doctors operated they found what was described as his “twin”. It had apparently been growing inside him since birth and had part of a head, some hair and even teeth. His mother said she thought it was something to do with the radiation from the Chernobyl disaster, and at the weekend C4 announced that it would film an autopsy of the dead twin to find out if this was indeed true.

Foetus en foetu

Doctors are unsure what might cause the condition. One theory is that foetus in foetu is simply one of  the risks of the embryonic development of twins. Twins arise either because two separate eggs are fertilised by separate sperm or because a single fertilised egg divides into two. The former are known as fraternal twins, the latter identical twins.

“There are various things that can go wrong,” says Andrew Calder, a professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Edinburgh University. Conjoined twins represent the failure of a total separation in identical twins. “The assumption of this foetus in foetu must be that somehow the failure to separate seems to result in one twin being enveloped into the other one,” he adds.

Philippe Jeanty, a specialist in birth defects at the Women’s Health Alliance in Nashville, suggests a mechanism for this enveloping. One of the earliest places that germ cells – which go on to produce the testicles and the ovaries – develop is the yolk sac attached  to the embryo. Rarely, the two yolk sacs of identical twins can end up connecting. If one baby’s heart develops before the other’s, the connection will make blood circulate from the healthy baby into the yolk sac and backwards into the arteries of the less developed baby. That could stop the second baby’s heart developing.

“So now we have a baby that is developing as a parasite of the  healthy baby,” says Jeanty. As the embryo develops further, the yolk sac is normally drawn back into the foetus. In the case of the foetus in foetu, the healthy baby would draw in what is left of its twin with its yolk sac.

As to why the internal twin was reportedly “moving” inside the seven-year-old boy, Jeanty says that, to some extent, the twin can remain alive as long as it has a blood supply, and it may develop a primitive spinal reflex system. If it gets a lot of blood, it can also develop recognisable features. “Some have limbs and fingers.”

This is just one theory though. Lyndon Hill, director of ultrasound at the Magee Women’s hospital in Pittsburgh, says some cases of foetus in foetu could just be a teratoma – a type of tumour containing cells that can form virtually any tissue in the body. When these are removed, they are usually found to contain some fat, skin or teeth.

What experts do agree on is that there is no evidence that foetus in foetu or teratomas are caused by radiation damage. “To say it’s Chernobyl-related, you’d have to find 10 cases in a one-mile area or something,” says Hill. “A much higher prevalence than one single case.”

To see this story with its related links on the guardian.co.uk site, go to http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2003/jul/17/thisweekssciencequestions3