The richest poor country in the world

It is an island of fabulous beasts and unforgettable vistas.

A place where lemurs howl like car alarms and chameleons the size of your forearm mimic the movement of leaves in the breeze.

The alleys of fat baobab trees and canyons of jagged karst look straight out of the mind of Salvador Dali. The beaches and reefs that rim this island the size of Texas are among the most beautiful in the world. And an exotic mix of African and Asian bloodlines, flavored by French colonization, create a one-of-a-kind culture.

With all this, Madagascar should be a perennial “it” destination — luring backpackers and five-star glampers to explore “The Eighth Continent.”

But Madagascar’s once-abundant resources are now in peril due to disasters both natural and man-made: from political corruption and pestilence to crushing poverty and now, the plague.

Unlike the medieval “Black Death” which was spread by rats carrying infected fleas, this is a rare pneumonic plague that can pass between humans with a single close cough and kill within 24 hours.

At least 33 lives have been taken by this outbreak, alarming officials as it spreads rapidly through the capital and to coastal cities. On October 6, the World Health Organization delivered over a million doses of antibiotics to Madagascar and is appealing to the United States to provide the island with $5.5 million in emergency medical aid.

This is just the latest crisis for a nation defined by hardship, struggle and strife, both before and after declaring independence from France in 1960.

The last few generations have seen coups and assassinations, despotic dictators and failed democracy. Of the more than 20 million residents, only 15% have electricity, and most live on a dollar or two a day.

Aside from the human misery, these conditions have led to one of the greatest environmental disasters in modern times.

The forests that hold some of the most unique life on the planet are shrinking, as desperate people turn the trees into charcoal to burn and sell. In low wetlands, they clear trees to grow rice and in the rainforest, timber mafias poach precious rosewood to fill China’s demand for expensive furniture.

With a government overwhelmed and bogged down with tribal strife, the last protectors of these disappearing places are bands of local guides, determined to convince their neighbors that an endangered lemur is more valuable in the trees than in a pot.

Groups like Association Mitsinjo in the lemur forest of Andasibe try to teach a new generation of Malagasy kids that ecotourism is sustainable while slash-and-burn farming is not.

“As I see it, the current generation will be out of poverty by 2050,” President Hery Rajaonarimampianina told me with a smile during our interview in 2016. “When that happens, the animals and plants will be doubled and tripled. We will have many more tourists who will come here, instead of going somewhere else.”

Considering his country’s needs, it may be the boldest political prediction ever. But the most dependable renewable resource in Madagascar is hope. Turning that hope into action could mean the difference between survival and extinction, for man and beast.

They purchased paradise … then gave it all away

This is the story of the couple who purchased paradise, the neighbors who curse their name and the idea that might save life as we know it.

It’s the story of how a climber who could afford his own mountains and a paddler who could buy her own rivers fell in love, pooled their fortunes and bought 2 million acres worth of fjords, volcanoes, pumas and killer whales.

Then, they pledged to give it all away.

Doug Tompkins and Kristine McDivitt should have fallen in love sooner. But if the timing was late, the setting was perfect.

He was a high school dropout-turned-billionaire; with his gang of fellow thrillseekers nicknamed the Fun Hogs, he lived to climb big rocks and surf big waves. After outfitting his own adventures, he started a company called The North Face.

She was a California girl with a love for the outdoors and a head for numbers. As the right hand of another legendary Fun Hog named Yvon Chouinard, she helped turn his company, Patagonia, into a global brand.

Despite their mutual friends and passions, it took a trip to a remote corner of Patagonia — the rugged and breathtaking region in southern South America — to bring them together. Doug was 50, Kris was 43 and after a whirlwind week together amid the mountains and fjords of southern Chile, she retired as CEO, packed two bags and moved into his off-the-grid cabin. There were no phones or Internet, no friends or family, and the nearest road was an hour away by boat.

But they had each other — and they had Doug’s plane, a tough, single-engine Husky, perfect for landing on short, remote runways.

With both of them passionate about the planet and conservation, Doug and Kris started shopping for land in some of the wildest corners left on Earth. Their mission? To protect the precious parts of the world that their fellow humans were not.

They could afford this because Doug had amassed a fortune. After selling The North Face in 1968, he helped his first wife create the fashion brand Esprit. And as his wealth grew, he built one of the most valuable private art collections in the world.

But even as he reached the top of the design world, Doug wasn’t happy. Every chance he got, he’d flee the boardroom for a fast river or a tall rock in the wilds of South America.

These trips and his voracious appetite for environmental literature led to an almost religious conversion into deep ecology — a belief that unspoiled wilderness is more valuable than any of the minerals or timber that can stripped from it, and that humanity, in its current state, is doomed.

If biodiversity is the best measuring stick for life on Earth, he believed, then there are just too many people consuming too much stuff and not enough planet to keep up. So in 1989, he cashed out hundreds of millions in stock, began selling his art and buying land.

Together, Doug and Kris Tompkins bought enough of Chile and Argentina to hold Rhode Island and Delaware. They let cattle ranches go wild and removed timber operations. They reintroduced wild pumas and jaguars. And they fought the development of an electrical project that would have dammed two of the wildest rivers in Patagonia.

All of which made the locals very suspicious.

Some believed they were going to melt the glaciers and sell the water to China. Another conspiracy theory has them creating a second Israel in the mountains of Chile, to shelter the world’s Jews after World War III.

But the Tompkins’ real plan was equally ambitious. They wanted to protect as much South American biodiversity as they possibly could by creating a network of national parks on par with those in the United States.

In March, Kris Tompkins stood not far from their first cabin and handed over 1 million acres to the people of Chile. President Michele Bachelet vowed to set aside another 9 million adjacent acres, creating a preserve the size of Switzerland and the sixth new national park created by the Tompkins in South America.

But the joyful ceremony was missing the key player in this love story. In December 2015, Doug had joined Yvon Chouinard for a Fun Hog reunion. They were paddling on a huge glacial lake when the weather turned and Doug was tossed into the freezing water. After more than an hour of struggle and frantic efforts to revive him, Doug Tompkins lost his life to the wild land he loved so much.

“When he died, he took the best of me with him, and I kept the best of him with me,” Kris Tompkins told me in the first TV interview after his death. “I carry him around with me in the pocket of my heart. But he left me with so much.”

Two weeks after his passing, Doug was named an honorary citizen of Chile, but tough politics remain. Some lawmakers see the Tompkins’ efforts as some sort of imperial land grab and continue to resist their conservation efforts.

But Kris vows to carry forward her husband’s vision of a human race that can live in harmony with its natural surroundings.

“I study the failed civilizations as a hobby, because I am so confounded by our inability to manage ourselves as a species in a way that prolongs a healthy future,” she said, eyes intense. “You don’t have to have five televisions. You can live differently to ensure that the non-human world stops disappearing at a rate that is incalculable at the moment. See, for me, it’s a moral issue. It is a way of looking at things and saying, ‘Stop. I stop here. For me it’s not OK.'”

‘They still make that?’: Six jobs you (wrongly) thought were extinct

The page is empty.

Your deadline looms.

The cursor blinks.

“Wonder what’s happening on Twitter?”

A precious half hour later, you’re back to the assignment and really laser-focused now, until … PING! You chase a pop-up alert right into Instagram quicksand.

If only there were a machine devoted to writing. Just writing, with no distracting apps or Wi-Fi rabbit holes.

Would you believe me if I told you such a machine exists? It’s called a “typewriter” and it was invented over a century before the smiling poo emoji.

It has — get this — NO SCREEN, yet it makes the most satisfying noises as it hammers your ideas onto actual paper with non-virtual ink.

But I learned to type a lifetime ago (school papers, Beastie Boys lyrics), and I’d assumed these curious objects had gone the way of the dodo.

Then I heard about Gramercy Typewriter.

In a cramped workshop/showroom in the shadow of the Flatiron Building, a father and son are two of the last typewriter caretakers in New York City.

Like the surviving knights of an ancient order, they grab their tools and answer the calls of boomer luddites who just really love the feel of a 1972 IBM Selectric and millennial hipsters craving a break from glass screens.

Which makes me wonder: Are they the last of a breed? Or the beginning of a handmade renaissance?

The “wonder” in “The Wonder List” is both a noun and a verb. As our lives get faster and our planet gets more crowded, I wonder what will become of the wonders of our world. My show is a search for the people and places, cultures and creatures on the brink of massive change.

“The Wonder List: Handmade” — which consists of the video above and the five you’re about to see below — adds professions to the list. I set out to profile the kind of craftsmen and women who have been shoved into niche obsolescence by the tidal wave of globalized mass production. Do they represent a quaint past or a smarter future?

Gallagher Guitars

I wonder … in a digital world, can digits with calluses still compete?

In a corporate world, can a three-man shop still survive?

And in a hurried world, how many customers are willing to wait? And wait. And wait … before they can unwrap something as common as a new guitar?

While a big factory might put 20 man hours into a decent six-string, at this a dusty little workshop in Wartrace, Tennessee, they’ll put in 60.

Gallagher Guitars is a case study in David and Goliath capitalism. But how long can this David survive?

Argosy Books

Let’s say you’re a small business owner. You run a mom and pop shop just trying to keep up with the taxes and the payroll and one day a guy in a suit walks in and offers you $50 million dollars for your building.

In some Manhattan ZIP codes, it’s the kind of thing that happens all the time. And most people say “Yes, please.”

But in one of the last independent book stores in New York, I found three sisters who keep saying “no.”

Hats by Bunn

If you ask someone what they do for a living and they reply “I’m a milliner in Harlem,” there are only a couple possibilities. Either you’ve unwittingly traveled back in time or you are talking to Bunn, the most beloved hatmaker on Upper Broadway.

His creations are seen down at the Pentecostal church each Sunday and on the red carpet occasionally. When it comes to price and profit, his overseas competition will always be able to crush him, but he says there is something about crafting a custom hat for a neighbor that is impossible to measure in profit and loss.

His customers love him. But are there enough to keep going?

Brooklyn Seltzer Boys

By the year 2050, the oceans will hold more plastic than fish.

It’s the kind of sobering stat that might inspire more vigorous recycling, and thanks to an-old-meets-new kind of business in New York, plastic is giving way to etched glass, cast iron and house calls.

Meet the Brooklyn Seltzer Boys and learn how technology can save Old World customs — and why good seltzer should hurt.

Chelsea Miller Knives

Every day, busloads of aspiring young actresses arrive in New York with a dream.

But very, very few of them also bring an anvil. And a forge. And a burning desire to make us rethink the way we live by the way we cut.

Meet the woman who has people on yearlong waiting lists to buy her $800 knives.