Josh Gates

Expedition Unknown – Viking Sunstone – S01E06

imageJosh is back with an all new adventure and this time it’s to investigate the legend surrounding the ability of the Vikings to navigate the seas with nearly pinpoint accuracy hundreds of years before the invention of the magnetic compass. How were they able to travel such vast distances when the sun was hidden from view by the clouds or had disappeared from the horizon? Legend has it that King Olaf used a sunstone, a crystal with mysterious properties that allowed him locate the sun regardless of where it was.

Josh heads off to Alderney to the site where a sunstone was found in a shipwreck. It may be where the actually sunstone of King Olaf was found. It’s not long before Josh is out on the sea to visit the wreck site. They only have a few minutes to look around as the tide is quite vicious. Down at the bottom are the remains of a large boat complete with cannons. There is a lot to see and take in, but time is short and alas, no sunstone.

Of course you can’t go travelling without taking in the local cuisine which appears to be many forms of herring. Oh yeah, and there’s some beer. Five kinds of herring on the same plate seems a touch excessive if you asked me, but the rotting fish dish might be just a little over the top. But you at least have to try these things.

But not to be discouraged, Josh is off to Trondheim, Norway where Olaf set in motion an absolutely fantastic cathedral which is still under construction hundreds of years later. It is said that Olaf’s remains are buried under the church, but because there are so many tombs down there, they have no idea which one is his. Josh heads down to have a look and it’s a massive catacomb with tunnels leading out in all directions. It’s exactly what you’d expect, dark, creepy and loaded with skeletons.

They end up at the crypt where it’s believed Olaf is entombed, but all they can do is pay respects as there is no intention of disturbing any of the bodies. There is also rumor that Olaf’s original sunstone is buried with him. Clearly, they’re not going to get it back.

With that in mind, it’s off to Oslo to actually mine for sunstone. Turns out it’s a form of calcite crystal and there just happens to be a mine Josh can visit. And like all mine’s Josh end up in, this one is scary and full of perils. Josh makes an amazing but utterly frightening descent down. He uses an "elevator" that is a couple hundred years old and then repels down some sheer drops to get to the crystals he’s looking for. And with the gentle tap of the hammer, his guide Christian removes a fine piece of crystal.

Josh takes this to a man named "Guida" who is a master craftsman and can most likely build the Twilight Board and Shadow Stick that are needed in conjunction with the sunstone to help with navigation. These other two pieces help point the way once the sunstone is able to find the sun.

The man is an imposing figure, but his Viking Hall is a amazing and his skills are nothing short of impressive. After getting Josh dressed accordingly and showing off some of the Viking skills such as archery, he sets to work to make the board and stick. Within a few minutes he has both complete and they are exact replicas of the blueprints he was given. And no, there were no mechanical tools used in the making of the board.

They all agree to try out the process and head aboard a replica Viking ship under extremely cloudy conditions. The story goes that the crystal will show 2 images and you turn it so the images line up. You take two readings and the intersection points the way to the sun. From there you take the twilight board and shadow stick which give you an actual direction. Amazingly, they’re able to get a reading and point a direction for North. The pull out a magnetic compass to check their work and the 2 directions are almost identical. Since Josh isn’t know for his maritime skills, we’ll allow for a margin of error.

So how cool is that? Using these simple devices they were able to locate the sun and point themselves in the proper direction. And all of these tools and technologies are hundreds of years old. Sure, it might be a little slower than GPS, but you have to marvel at the use of it. This now proves the stone is not only real, but worked exactly as the legend said it did. The Vikings were able to navigate in a far superior way during that time. Sometimes the simple ways are best.

There you have it, sometimes you can prove a myth. And even if he didn’t the scenery, the food and the people were certainly worth the trip.

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Expedition Unknown – City of Gold – S01E05

imageFor this adventure we are heading out to Peru to look for the Incan Lost City of Gold. Back in 1532 Spanish Conquistadors cut and slashed their way through the Incan empire looking for gold and silver, lead by Francisco Pizarro. He wanted to fill rooms with gold and would stop at nothing to make it a reality. Hearing of his thirst for blood and gold, the Incas disappeared into the mountains and took their precious metals with them. But the question remains, is the City of Gold a myth, nothing more than the stuff of legend or is there really an ancient city out there in the mountains with vast stores of gold?

As with any good adventure you need to hit the market and stock up on supplies. And as with any good market there are some unusual things to try. Josh samples something which looks to be related to the guinea pig. No no, no need to take the meat off the bone and make it look presentable, just cook the rascal whole, leave the head on and eat it with your bare hands. Gadzooks, it looks shocking! Can’t say I would do it.

After the market, Josh meets up with Greg Deyermenjian, who’s been looking for Incan ruins for the past 30 years. He’s documented multiple previously undiscovered sites and firmly believes there are still many more to uncover. Greg has assembled a team and they will follow the ancient footpaths the Incas left behind. These paths extend up into Ecuador and down into Chile, nearly 10,000 miles of roads to follow.

While Greg puts together his team, Josh makes a side trip to the mysterious ruins of Machu Pichu. Unlike other explorations, he takes a luxurious train ride up to the site. It’s a glorious train with catered meals, fine dining and a wonderful observation car. Too bad getting to ruined cities can always be like that. He does however go back to his roots and in the market samples one of the local soups, a spicy blend of meats that includes bull penis.

But that’s not all you can get in the market. In order to scale the mountain and handle the thin air, they need to buy bags of coca leaves. These are the same leaves that make up the chief ingredient of cocaine. It is still used as stimulant and the team is going to need it.

With the team assembled, Josh heads up the mountain in some 4×4’s. The road is treacherous and narrow with severe cliffs off to the side. The journey is slowed by the oncoming rainstorm which forces them to take shelter in a local church. It is rough accommodations, but it has a foosball table and a 12 year old hustler that beats Josh soundly. It’s always so wonderfully strange to see people open up their homes to complete strangers. Ok sure, maybe handfuls of bills trade hands behind the scenes, but let’s not let that shatter the illusion.

They follow the road to the end of the line and then go by foot. Legend says the Incas threw away a lot of their supplies so they could make better progress over the mountains. To support the legend they dig around in Lake Pumacocha and find ancient potatoes from the Incan supplies. It appears they’re on the right path and so they continue up through the heavy jungle and find an ancient set of ruins to spend the night in.

As they continue their progression in the morning, they find rock paintings of llamas that further support the Incas followed this path. As they get ready to make a dangerous river crossing, they accidentally stir up a hornets nest, literally, and get stung on the face, legs and hands. And it’s time to cross the cold waters of the river. A river that nearly sweeps Josh away. These explorations of Incan mountain top ruins are dangerous!

But they are rewarded for their effort and find several Incan buildings that look to be houses or perhaps an outpost of some sort. They are completely overgrown but they are clearly well made structures. They even find a piece of pottery or art in what looks to be a window of one of the buildings. Greg definitely believes this is part of the Incan ruins. They don’t have the right tools or enough supplies so they mark where they are and Greg works to set up a team to head out to the same site later that year.

So no treasure rooms filled with gold, but there are definitely more Incan buildings and ruins out there. And the path they are following is thousands of miles long. If there is a Lost City of Gold, it could easily hide out there in the harsh mountains, covered in moss, trees and roots. So much of that area is unexplored so who knows what’s hiding behind the next ridge. No gold bars this trip, but who knows what the next one will bring.

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Expedition Unknown – World’s 8th Wonder – S01E03

imageFor this episode, Josh is off to find treasure of a different kind. He’s not merely looking for an idol, a cup or even a treasure chest. For this excursion, he’s looking for an entire room. Yes, there was a room called, "The Amber Room" that was part of the castle for Catherine I. It was an awe inspiring, albeit a little gaudy, room covered in Amber, precious stones and gold. And not just some little closet sized thing either, but a massive banquet room. Clearly there are no small rooms in a castle.

Rumor has it, the Nazi’s invaded the Soviet Union and took over the Amber Room. They showed it off to high level officials and used it flaunt the wealth of their empire. When the Allies came to get them in the 1940’s the Nazi’s completely dismantled the room and the contents disappears. Rumor has it the amber and jewels were peeled off the walls, stored in crates, shipped out by train and stored underground in a secret location. Josh is out to see sort of leads he can discover about this missing treasure.

There are several possible locations the treasure could have been taken to. The first is the old German palace itself, which now lies in ruins. Josh heads to Kaliningrad Castle which still has a series of unexplored tunnels underneath where the castle once stood. The castle was leveled during 1945, but it might be possible the treasure is locked underground. After a bit of negotiation, Josh heads down there and has a bit of a look around. There is a lot of area to cover and he’s not even close to being equipped for the job. But while there, he talks to a man in charge of excavating the site and they have already found numerous relics. Nothing along the lines of the Amber Room, but it does show there are artifacts down there.

Next up, Josh is off to Berlin to check into the theory of the crates being shipped off in the middle of the night by train. It appears there were 6 extra railroad cars, but when these cars reached their destination, they were empty. So where did their contents go? Well, that is the question and one theory is they ended up in some bunkers hidden away in a nearby forest. Oh, this sound good, and sinister, and scary.

Josh heads out to the forest and indeed finds some of the very bunkers he was told about. They are overgrown, filled with junk and water, but they could easily hide that which people don’t want to be found. After a bit of a trudge in the murky water, Josh realizes he’s nowhere near equipped to go looking around this unstable area and moves onto the next location.

A CIA informant tells Josh about a letter he found which details four trucks worth of crates that were only transported by night, but have no official description. These unknown items may have been carted off to the tunnels of Deutschneudorf. Without delay, Josh is once again hot on the trail and who do you reckon he meets up with? Why the mayor of Deutschneudorf of course. And not only is he willing to discuss this Amber Room with Josh, he’s hot on the trail of it himself! They mayor has a full blown excavation going on.

The mayor explains that he has documents and tips the crates that contain the contents of the Amber Room are hidden down in the tunnels of an old factory. The factory in question was built on top of some silver mines and it was known to take in shipments by rail. It is believed the crates were taken down a secret entrance and buried deep in the old mine tunnels so it couldn’t be bombed or stolen. Josh heads on down and discovers some amazing chambers and intricate stone work. Clearly this is not your average silver mine. These rooms had some other purpose while under the control of the Nazi’s.

But as Josh, the mayor and the translator push ever forward, they discover the going to be flooded and unstable. They get to a point where perhaps the beams aren’t quite up to the challenge of supporting the weight of the world on their rotting shoulders. It’s a hasty retreat by all back to the surface.

Josh doesn’t come away with the treasure, but it seems like there are at least three plausible locations for where the treasure of the Amber Room may have gone. More work needs to be done in each one to make it safe to explore. But it goes to show that there are plenty of secret locations under ground and that when it comes to treasure and the Nazi’s, those items could be hiding anywhere and until they’re discovered, it’s well worth looking and following up on each clue. Rare artifacts and paintings are showing up all the time, it may just be a matter of time until the crates containing the Amber Room surface in the most unusual of locations.

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Expedition Unknown – Temple of Doom – S01E02

image So the story of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is just a story right? No bearing on any sort of real life events? Well, that may not be entirely true as Josh heads to Cambodia to investigate the lost city of the Khmer Empire and search for a mystical relic that turned King Jayavarman into an unstoppable force. It is believed that King Jayavarman was able to call down the powers of Kali and use those powers to conquer and incinerate those who stood in his way. Sounds pretty impressive! The source of his power? The Linga, similar to the mystical stones we saw in the movie. You basically take the Linga (male) and combine it with the Yoni (female) and then all hell breaks loose.

Like all good adventures, this one starts off with a trip to the market. Josh indulges in some fresh vegetables, fresh fish that won’t stay in the basket and takes a sample of some mutant bugs. Josh also pays a visit to the Cambodia War Museum and has a look back at some of the darker times of the area. It’s quite shocking to see pictures of children, held in chains, posing for their last photograph. Power does strange things to people.

And if that weren’t enough, there is still the grim reality that the land is covered in million of active land mines. Josh pays a visit to a man who personally laid thousands of mines in the area, but is now trying to make amends by going out and defusing as many as he possible can. And just because the mines are small doesn’t mean they aren’t deadly as we see when Josh heads out with the team, discovers a mine and detonates it in a safe clearing. But pay attention to their technique. These guys have the most flimsy bomb suits I’ve ever seen, they handle the mine with their bare hands and just explode it in an open field. That just a bit on the nutty side.

To get an idea of what he’s up against, Josh meets with a few locals and realizes he’s in for a multi-hour 4×4 adventure and then a trek up a mountain that is most likely littered with live land mines. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, what happens when you run out of road? You jump on a make shift train of course. Seems there is plenty of railway lines left behind and the good citizens have built their own transportation using rotting wood, rubber bands and repurposed lawn mower engines. And these vehicles are easy to take apart too, as we see when there is a minor traffic jam on the rails and the villagers simply pick the tram up, move it out of the way of oncoming traffic, reassemble it and go about their journey. To be honest, riding along on that motorized cart looked like wickedly good fun!

Once he reaches his destination it’s time to check one of the natural features of the area which is a cave with a rather indecent looking opening that is home to millions of bats that make a food migration each night as the sun sets. And as if on cue, the bats stream out and darken the sky. While amazing to see from the comfort of distance, that would have been both creepy and skin crawling to be under.

Josh then speaks with one of the locals who is familiar with the lost village and with the suppose power of King Jayavarman. They would prefer to keep the location of the dig and the site a secret since people have been known to steal relics from the site and sell them on the black market. It seems the idea of tomb raiding is very much real and happens all the time.

Going by helicopter and by less than impressive motorcycle, Josh makes his way to the dig where he gets a quick tour of the excavation in progress. While the conditions don’t look ideal, the work and the discovery they’ve made look amazing. At the dig, Josh talks with Pich who takes him to a brand new site they’re working on and shows him a massive Yoni where it is believed rituals took place. Is this the one used by King Jayavarman? Most likely not, but it does prove rituals took place and the power of magic was very real to the people in this area. Amidst the massive thunderstorm that bears down on them while they investigate some caves by torchlight, Pich and Josh make a getaway through the darkness and hold up in Pich’s house for the night. It seems a nice little place powered by a small generator that turns off at 9:15. Lights out Josh, good night!

While Josh didn’t find the Linga and Yoni that could give him ultimate power, he did give us a grand tour of a beautiful country and a wonderful people that live out a simple life. There is plenty evidence out there being uncovered as we speak. Perhaps in another couple of years, when the dig is further along, we will get more chapters of this wild and interesting story. Does this Linga exist? Can it really bring about destruction? Who knows, but people have looked for stranger things haven’t they?

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