FRESNO — Californians who visualize themselves as repressed Indiana Joneses or those who just want an unusual vacation need look no further than the University of California.
The university offers adventurous treks to such places as Beijing, the Fiji Islands or the Kahamega Forest in Kenya.
Although the trips aren't cheap, they offer more than just the usual sightseeing and are at least partially tax-deductible.
If an applicant has the time, the inclination and the money, the university will offer him or her a chance to join its scientists as they study the lost civilization of the ancient Mayas in Belize or search for fossils from the dawn of the age of dinosaurs in Arizona.
Or how about scuba-diving off the Fiji Islands and Vanuatu to study sponges of the South Pacific, or going to China to study the art of the Beijing opera?
Active Team Members
It's all there and plenty more under the university's Research Expedition Program.
People from all walks of life, trained and untrained, can sign up as full-fledged members of university-sponsored expeditions to the far reaches of the globe in search of knowledge.
Upon acceptance, applicants become active members of a university field team on the expedition of their choice, although it won't be a guided tour. Team members are expected to contribute a fair share of the work involved in the research project.
Costs for the expeditions vary from a low of $825 for a 15-day stay in Arizona to a high of $1,875 for a 13-day project in China.
Those signing up for the China trip will accompany Professor Kathleen Bick of UCLA to Beijing for her ongoing study of the Beijing opera, the ancient art form that still flourishes today. Team members will be expected to interview people in many aspects of the opera productions and do other research.
At the other end of the scale is an expedition to Arizona's Petrified Forest National Park to help Howard Schorn and Michael Greenwald of UC Berkeley collect and document dinosaur fossils.
The university offers a wide variety of other sojourns, including treks to Australia to study the dime-size crabs known as "sand bubblers"; Corsica to study the prenatal care habits of Mediterranean fish; Venezuela to study floral ecology; the Virgin Islands to study tropical flowers; Tanzania to study Africa's vanishing woodlands, or England to study the British response to AIDS.
Some of the other trips listed in the university's brochure include journeys to Ireland to study dance and folklore; to Western Polynesia to study grave art; to West Germany to study mesolithic hunters of Federsee Lake, or to Sardinia to study the prehistoric Nuraghi towers.
If foreign trips are too rich for the applicant's pocketbook, the program offers expeditions to San Diego to study prehistoric man and the sea; Alaska to study the Eskimo culture; the Channel Islands in California to study archeology, or Oregon to study the silverspot butterfly.
Because fees paid by individuals joining the expeditions are considered donations to the university, travelers get a tax break, said Mark Aydelotte, a University of California spokesman in Fresno.
Travel Not Covered
"The (tax-free) contribution covers meals, shared lodging during the expedition, ground transportation during the project, camping and field gear, research equipment and any preparatory materials," Aydelotte said.
The only hitch is that the contribution does not cover travel to and from the site where the expedition begins.
He said applicants are also responsible for obtaining their own passports, visas and inoculations and for any medical treatment or emergency evacuation expenses during the expedition.
Aydelotte said that despite costs, sometimes rough living conditions and even a little danger involved, the program has become popular with quite a few Californians and even people from other states.
"We find a lot of people join the expeditions on their vacation time just for something different to do," he said.