Friday, 15 December 2017

From aboard NG Quest in Costa Rica: Hippy love birds in the Jungle

#expeditioncruising #LindbladExpeditions .



It's a beautiful hippy love story that began in Germany in 1969. Trudy and Ron were footloose and fancy-free when they met in Cold War Hamburg and fell in love. They hooked up and travelled to Australia where they were married before heading back home to the US.

With the Vietnam War going sour for the US, the pair decided to head to South America but only got as far as Costa Rica before their old van broke down and the money ran out. Long story short, they bought some beachfront land on the Golfo Dulce in 1974, set up a cocoa and banana farm, built a new house, had two children and stayed in Costa Rica ever since.

When a blight wiped out much of Costa Rica's cocoa trees in the '80s, the pair shifted to tourism and today at Casa Orquideas, we're visiting a beautifully manicured and maintained miniature botanical garden alive with birds and bursting with colourful exotic blooms.

“Lindblad first came here almost by accident about 20 years ago,” Trudy tells me, “and I hope they keep coming, but the upkeep is starting to wear us down.”

With the children gone, Ron and Trudy have put the 70 acres of Casa Orquideas on the market, so if you are looking for your own slice of tropical paradise, Trudy would welcome your offer.

These images were obtained in about an hour just sitting and watching the birds come to the feeding station. I would have ticked a few new species off my list if I'd had one. I'll let my birder friends have some fun spotting the species before I add captions.










Thursday, 14 December 2017

From aboard National Geographic Quest in Costa Rica: Osa Peninsula

#expeditioncruising #LindbladExpeditions .

Lindblad Expeditions organic safari on the Osa Peninsula 


Landing at Playa Blanca (RE)

If ever I needed a refresher in just what expedition cruising was all about, my first day with Lindblad in Costa Rica was all it took.

A glorious tropical morning among 'pinch me' scenery was just the start as we landed on a picnic-ready beach at Playa Blanca on Costa Rica's remote Osa Peninsula. Guests split into groups, each heading to their chosen excursion where we would visit families who owned and operated subsistence-level farms, each with their own specialities.

The trio of mocking macaws (RE)

There would be time for two excursions either side of a BBQ lunch under a huge tree that played host to a trio of Scarlett Macaws. The three brilliant parrots sat high and aloof cavorting and preening among the branches, looking down on the curious, clumsy mammals with an air of comic disdain.

My first exploration was to the sugar cane farm of Johnny Rodriguez, whose family had been cultivating and harvesting the sweet, bamboo-like product for some 50 years. His 95-year-old father-in-law, Carmine, still sprightly, was busy helpingout too. Johnny was proud as punch with his 100yo 'trapiche', set up to crush the long juicy stems while his horse hauled the heavy beam attached to the old grinder.

Johnny squeezes the sugar cane in the ancient method (RE)

While the family farms several root and fruit crops, the sugar cane is the long-standing tradition. Here the 100 per cent organic product is processed into molasses plugs called 'tapa de dulce' through a boiling and purification process with their own wood-fired stove and hand-made mahogany moulds. We see the whole process from whoa-to-go, each stage eliciting a satisfying smile from Johnny. His wife Naomi meanwhile is busy mixing up a sweet concoction of molasses, nuts, coconut and milk powder while the children look on in delight.

After lunch and a mocking from the three macaws, we are treated to a short cultural display from young schoolchildren in traditional costume before setting off for our second installment.

A twirl after lunch from local schoolkids (RE)

Here I chose the Finca Kobo cocoa farm for reasons that don't need explaining, but was delighted to discover far more than the humble chocolate beans on offer. Our guide, Juan-Luis, delighted in walking us through a tiny section of his 50ha farm that grows some 85 different varieties of fruits, spices, herbs and vegetables. And not your average greengrocer selection either. We ogled such exotic crops as custard apple, noni, cinnamon, turmeric, jackfruit, star apple and several varieties of citrus and guava.

“The noni is full of anti-oxidants and vitamin C,” says Juan-Luis as he slices the pungent fruit with his Vitorinox, “the taste is not nearly as bad as the smell.”

And he's not kidding. The innocent looking fruit has an aroma something like a mix of ripe blue cheese and eau de laundry basket. We think of the many health benefits that outweigh the unfortunate perfume as we consume the slices through clenched lips.

Conquering the alien jackfruit (Calin Laine)

Next, a ripe jackfruit the size of a rugby ball is plucked from a relieved branch. With the outer texture of a sun-ripened iguana, the husk is spilt open to reveal innards that could have come from a Ridley Scott movie. Slimy, glutinous tentacles conceal marble-sized seeds and despite its alien, anemone-like appearance, is so delicious, our greedy hands clutch at the flesh like delinquent vultures.

We did eventually get to the cocoa process and learned the dirty secrets of the big confectionery companies who strip out the best stuff (like the pure cocoa butter) and leave us with a mere hint of sugar-inundated chocolate wrapped in shiny paper and marketing hype. Suck on that for a moment.

All jokes aside, the family-owned, community attractions here on the Osa Peninsula are an enlightening example of how tourism can resist the temptation to become a mass-market commodity and maintain sustainable, eco-friendly operations that are a joy to experience. For more information about the local tourism initiative, see www.caminosdeosa.com

For more information about travel on any of Lindblad Expeditions – National Geographic vessels, see www.expeditions.com


Tuesday, 12 December 2017

One Ocean celebrates 10th Anniversary

#expeditioncruising .


As winter releases its grip on the Antarctic, the sea ice begins to recede and marine wildlife returns to the region, leading expedition cruise operator, One Ocean Expeditions (OOE), celebrates its 10th year of transporting intrepid travellers to the ‘White Continent’.

The beginning of the Antarctic season is the optimum time to view wildlife in the Southern Hemisphere as many species return from warmer climes. The waters are rich with marine life, bringing humpbacks, orcas and minke whales to feed on abundant schools of krill. Penguins head back to rookeries in the thousands as the mating season begins. Weddell and leopard seals become playful and hungry, feeding on the fresh ocean delicacies brought by the new season. It’s an ideal time for keen photographers to take picture perfect shots of plentiful marine wildlife!

It’s also the time of year when many scientific research stations re-open on the Antarctic Peninsula. OOE supports and facilitates world-leading oceanographic and marine mammal research. The organisation – which puts education, polar exploration and science at the forefront of its values - provides more than 120 days per year of ship time for accredited science projects.

Carefully selected research partners travel alongside guests on OOE polar cruises, conducting relevant and meaningful research projects while on-board. Amongst them, renowned scientists and academics include Dr Ari Friedlaender, a university professor and leading marine mammal researcher involved in a ground-breaking whale feeding study. Ron Naveen, Founder of Oceanites, is also a regular on board, conducting important penguin behaviour and census research work, and supporting innovative climate change and polar environment studies.

“At One Ocean Expeditions, we are committed to supporting on-going scientific research, as well as offering our guests and staff the opportunity to meet and interact with acclaimed experts in the intimate setting of our expedition vessels”, says Aaron Lawton, Operations Director at One Ocean Expeditions.

Expedition cruising to the Antarctic is the ultimate experience, not only for scientists, amateur and professional photographers, but for families and intrepid travellers who have adventure at heart or a deep appreciation of the environment, ocean and wildlife. OOE’s 10-night 'Christmas in Antarctica’ voyage is certainly one to add to the Bucket List! Price starts at USD9, 195 per person sharing a triple cabin.

Other options include the 10-night ‘Antarctic Marine Mammal’ voyage and the 10-night ‘Antarctic Peninsula Adventure’ voyage in March 2018, when guests will have the opportunity to witness leading scientists conducting and explaining their research. Their investigations will provide vital information on the feeding patterns, social habits and the role that wildlife, especially whales, play in the Antarctic ecosystem.

OOE’S 2017/18 Antarctic expedition cruises start from USD$11,295 for a 10-night voyage in a private twin cabin on one of the company’s fleet of premium ice-strengthened ships. Included in the price is on board accommodation, all meals, room amenities, daily zodiac excursions, expedition gear package and educational seminars and lectures led by expert staff and renowned guest speakers.

For more information on One Ocean Expeditions’ Antarctic voyages visit: https://www.oneoceanexpeditions.com/dates-and-rates




NG Quest: Panama Canal Transit and Barro Colorado Island

#expeditioncruising .

From aboard NG Quest in Panama

Prof Meg Crofoot from Uni of California chats with Lindblad guests

Expedition leader, Margrit, was justifiably pleased with herself when we scored a daylight transit slot through the Pedro Miguel Locks on the Caribbean end of the canal. Small, low priority vessels like NG Quest often find themselves waiting until well after sundown for a spot.

But we weren't heading straight through just yet. Lindblad Expeditions have, through friendly back channels, managed to obtain a landing permit at Barro Colorado Island. What was once just another hilltop in the valley, it became a 1560 hectare island as the massive Gatun Lake was created during the flooding of the canal more than a century ago.

Wildlife sought refuge on the outcrop as the waters rose and as a result, created a natural refuge for the animals that once inhabited the now submerged jungle floor. It became a formal nature reserve in 1923. In the 1960s, the Smithsonian Institute arrived and established their tropical research station which now hosts more than 200 scientists and researchers who work year round on various projects.

Part of the Smithsonian's Tropical Research Institute

During our walk through the jungle we came upon Prof. Margaret 'Meg' Crofoot from the University of California (Davis) and her small team who were engaged in a study of primate interaction.

“There are some interesting behaviours among the troupes of Capuchin monkeys who live here,” Prof Meg explains as we rest along the steamy path, “the distinct communities sometimes socialise and at other times clash. We're studying the factors that might influence group decision making.”

A bit further along we find Roland Kays from the University of South Carolina who is here studying mammals. He is about to release a kinkajou sporting a new GPS collar. The animal is about the size of a cat and waits timidly inside the cage for its release. With the serene face of a possum, it also reminds me of the cute cuscus we found in PNG. With the trap door open the little guy gingerly sneaks out and makes his way into the undergrowth without any sense of urgency.

A shy kinkajou is released with a new GPS collar

As we complete our circuit of the jungle trek, our attention is drawn to frequent crashing and thrashing from within the undergrowth as little agouti (cat-sized rodents) forage in the leaf litter and noisy monkeys of some sort cavort up in the canopy. Birds sing constantly and we manage to catch sight of a vivid Rufous Motmot as well as a bold green and red Slaty-tailed Trogon which are endemic to the region.
Slaty-tailed Trogon (M)

Soaked to the skin even after this mild exertion in the steamy jungle, we make our way back to NG Quest to complete our transit as an escort to Windstar's Star Breeze through the Miraflores Locks and into the Pacific.

For more information about travel on any of Lindblad Expeditions – National Geographic vessels, see www.expeditions.com


Monday, 11 December 2017

PONANT 2019 Sub Antarctic islands

#expeditioncruising

A photographer's wish-list of bird and marine wildlife



Explore the UNESCO World Heritage Sub Antarctic Islands of New Zealand & Australia with PONANT

A voyage to the Sub Antarctic Islands provides the perfect opportunity for bird watchers, wildlife photographers and nature lovers to observe in close-up the extraordinary density and variety of bird and marine life found on and around this scattering of remote islands lying to the south of New Zealand and Australia.

Strict restrictions on annual visitor numbers to the Sub Antarctic Islands apply, resulting in a mere trickle of tourists - a small fraction compared to the numbers of visitors to the Galapagos and even less than the numbers who scale Mt Everest each year. Protected by their remoteness these islands of impeccable natural beauty are breeding grounds for vast colonies of penguins and giant petrels, and home to pods of orcas, fur seals and sea lions.

"There are few places I have ever encountered in my 20 years of remote area travels that impress as much as the Subs" says Expedition Leader Mick Fogg, veteran of over 300 expeditions (including over 20 just to the Sub Antarctic islands). "Isolation is the main attraction here, a protected realm where wildlife abounds. Whether it be the welcoming committee of thousands of penguins when we alight from our Zodiacs onto a black volcanic sand beach, or a swelling disturbance in the water that marks the emergence of an orca, savour the moment, for we will be right in the thick of things."

Last year, Nathalie Michel and Margot Sib, the photographic team onboard, captured a series of exceptional wildlife images which are currently available to view at https://au.ponant.com/subantarctic-islands-gallery/  

"These photographs brilliantly capture examples of what we encountered last time and will surely whet the appetite of anyone interested in joining us onboard Le Laperouse for her inaugural Sub Antarctic voyage in February 2019."

"To be launched in mid 2018, this purpose-built small luxury expedition ship with just 92 suites and staterooms all with balconies, will provide an exceptional 'base camp' for daily activities as we explore these remarkable islands in the company of the rest of our specialist Expedition Team," continued Mick. "This is an extraordinary voyage where every fiord and island we visit is UNESCO World Heritage classified. No wonder the 2018 expedition sold out some time ago, so I recommend quick action to secure space on this February 2019 Le Laperouse voyage."

Sub Antarctic expedition overview:
16 nights Sub Antarctic Islands voyage departs Dunedin 23 February 2019 bound for the famous Milford, Doubtful and Dusky Sounds and then on to The Snares and Auckland Islands and Australia's own Macquarie Island. This expedition includes Campbell, Antipodes and Bounty Islands en-route returning to Dunedin.

Macquarie and New Zealand Sub Antarctic Islands expedition

Comprehensive voyage details are available at:

https://au.ponant.com/cruises/pacific-and-oceania-macquarie-and-the-new-zealand-subantarctic-islands-expedition-r230219-5

23 February 2019 to 11 March 2019 - Dunedin - Dunedin  

LE LAPEROUSE, 17 days / 16 nights. 25% Ponant Bonus.

From A$13,300pp* in Deluxe Stateroom with balcony

*Ponant Bonus fare in AUD per person, based on a double occupancy, including port taxes, yield managed, correct at time of writing – 16/11/17. Refer to au.ponant.com for T&Cs.

Fare includes accommodation onboard as booked, all meals onboard, selected wines, beers and spirits, Open Bar, 24 hour room service, Zodiac exploration and shore excursions, boot hire, lectures and presentations.

Please note: This is a limited offer.

INFORMATION & RESERVATIONS

To receive a copy of the PONANT Expedition brochure with complete details of this and 64 other expedition voyages, or for more information, please contact your travel agent or PONANT directly in Australia: 1300 737 178 or 612 8459 5000 / or in New Zealand: 0800 44 32 62

Or email reservations.aus@ponant.com to request your copy of Luxury Expeditions.

Further information available on the website:  au.ponant.com

Cruise the Mekong River with World Expeditions – and take the kids for free!

#expeditioncruising

Take the kids for free on the family trip of a lifetime along the mighty Mekong River, from Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam to the Cambodian town of Siem Reap, home of Angkor Wat, next July or October school holidays.

World Expeditions is offering a second cabin for two kids aged under 18 at no extra cost, when you book one cabin for two paying adults, at $3,290 per person. Price includes 7 nights aboard a luxury river cruiser and all meals.

The Mekong Explorer River Cruise Family Deal is valid on departures on 7 July, 4 August, 6 October and 20 October 2018 trips only and is strictly limited to availability.

More information at www.worldexpeditions.com or call 1300 720 000.

 

First glimpse: National Geographic Quest in Panama

#expeditioncruising .

From aboard National Geographic Quest in Panama


(c) Lindblad Expeditions
First Impressions

It's always with some excitement that I get to sail aboard a brand new ship and especially when that ship is the first new build in Lindblad's history and the only purpose-built expedition ship designed and built from scratch in the USA thus far. I say 'thus far', because Quest will be joined by a sister vessel, Venture, in June 2018. The pair will supplement the stalwart and much-loved vessels, Sea Bird and Sea Lion operating Alaska, Sea of Cortez and Latin America itineraries. (Editor's Note: I had previously understood the Sea Lion and Sea Bird would be retired, but have since been advised they will stay on fleet.)

My first impression is that of a ship built expressly to purpose. Lindblad's 50 years of expedition cruising has certainly provided plenty of insight into what's needed in an expedition ship. NG Quest is unpretentious and sturdy, even utilitarian in design and appearance. Forget gleaming, mirrored salons, chandeliers and abstract canvas art. Instead we have a relaxing and versatile lounge designed for the dual purpose of lectures and AV screenings as well as refreshments, bar and library. Walls throughout are decorated with giant National Geographic images of stunning wildlife and vistas.

The 50 twin cabins are easily spacious enough for two and come in five categories across three decks, one of which includes private balconies. There are no TVs or minibars, but every category has a writing desk and ample storage. Help yourself beverages, tea, coffee and snacks are always available in the lounge.

Dining is in the single-sitting, bistro-style area at the stern (just below the sundeck) and serves both buffet and plated menus depending on the occasion. Food is healthy, fresh and nutritious served in modest portions. Lots of fruits and vegetables, baked and grilled lean meats with plenty of colour in the salad bar. Sorry, but I haven't found the all-you-can-eat pizza bar and hamburger stand yet – and I hope I don't.

Versatile lounge and bar (RE)

Great effort has gone into making this ship comfortable and practical for expedition itineraries. The transom or 'fantail' is located at the stern just above the water line and makes for hassle-free access to the Zodiacs, something many ships in today's global fleet still have trouble with.

Also aboard are double and single kayaks, stand-up paddle boards and snorkelling kit for all. At time of writing, there is no provision for scuba diving, but I will keep asking. For healthy types there is a small gym and LEXspa treatment salon. A small 'Global Gallery' boutique/gift shop also stocks quality clothing and souvenirs.

NG Quest at anchor in Gatun Lake, Panama (RE)

Lindblad-National Geographic have always taken seriously the concept of 'low impact' travel. It pleases me to see every opportunity to minimise waste has been taken. Obvious things many cruise lines only pay lip service to like refillable bathroom gels, no drinking straws and tough stainless water bottles filled (and refilled) from double-filtered taps and very minimal use of plastics. Hand-wash and sanitisation stations are in all public spaces.

It's an exciting time generally for expedition and adventure cruising around the world and it's great to see a pioneering brand like Lindblad preparing for the onslaught by strengthening their core values and not succumbing to flashy distractions.

For more information about travel on any of Lindblad Expeditions – National Geographic vessels, see www.expeditions.com