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

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Wild Earth Travel in new partnership with Zegrahms

#expeditioncruising .

For nearly 30 years Zegrahm Expeditions have been discovering the world, they live this passion by taking inquisitive explorers to the farthest corners of the globe - on adventures by land and sea that are outside the realm of traditional travel.

Sample itinerary




Wild Earth Travel - the small ship cruising specialists.
View 2018 Small Ship brochure today! 

 

Monday, 4 December 2017

IAATO launches 'One Stop' app for Antarctic field staff and visitors


The launch of the new IAATO Polar Guide: Antarctica app makes it quick and easy for Antarctic staff and visitors to access essential information while in the field.                   

To mark Antarctica Day (1 Dec), the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) has launched a free iOS and Android app for staff guiding visitors in Antarctica that makes it quick and easy for users on-the-go in the field to access essential information, without the need for a phone signal.

IAATO, a member organisation formed in 1991 to advocate and promote the practice of safe and environmentally responsible private-sector travel to the Antarctic, developed the new Polar Guide: Antarctica app to include existing operational procedures and guidelines for wildlife watching, visiting specific sites, being a responsible Antarctic visitor, preventing the introduction of alien species and more. The app is also intended to be a useful resource for anyone visiting or keen to learn more about Antarctica, the Antarctic Treaty and the work being done to preserve the continent's extraordinary landscape and wildlife.

"The new IAATO Polar Guide: Antarctica app is the perfect support tool for IAATO staff in the field." said Lisa Kelley, IAATO Head of Operations. "Users can quickly refer to essential information in order to meet all IAATO and Antarctic Treaty System requirements for safe and ethical operations on and around the white continent.

"Given the importance of the Antarctic Treaty System for IAATO's mission of environmentally responsible travel and as a shining example of peaceful international collaboration, it seemed fitting to launch the app on Antarctica Day, which celebrates the signing of the Antarctic Treaty 58 years ago. "

IAATO members work together to develop, adopt and implement operational standards that mitigate potential environmental impacts.

The app will allow users to stay up to speed with the latest IAATO vessel and International Maritime Organisation (IMO) information for effective yacht and ship operations; and enable them to support Antarctic science and conservation while enhancing their experience in Antarctica by checking out selected citizen science projects.

Lisa added: "Antarctic travel, like other sectors, has changed and grown considerably over the last two decades. Our members are continuously researching new technology to strengthen our policy of safe and responsible travel while always abiding by Antarctic Treaty requirements.

"By using the IAATO Polar Guide: Antarctica App, you can feel confident that you are doing your utmost to protect Antarctica's great wilderness; a cause IAATO members have dedicated themselves to since the organisation's inception."

IAATO Polar Guide:  Antarctica can be downloaded now for iOS and Android.
                                                                        
Issued by the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators.



Virus-free. www.avg.com

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Cuba Small Ship Cruising: Into the ancient Valley of Tobacco

#expeditioncruising

With Intrepid Travel and Peregrine Adventures in Cuba aboard MV Callisto

Benito Camejo Nodarse is a local legend in Cuba's western Pinar del Rio province, the UNESCO World Heritage region renowned as the supposed birthplace of modern tobacco cultivation.

"Date un toque," says Benito in typically charismatic style as he pours us both a shot of local rum, "kill the rat!" - which I take to mean 'hair of the dog' or similar.

I take mine neat like Benito and the clear liquid is surprisingly smooth and soothing, while others prefer a shot of the farm's other product, coffee. Mix the two and you have a 'carajillo' (goddam!)

Tucked away among similar, privately-owned farms of less than 25 acres each, Benito's family have been here in the Vinales Valley for five generations producing the valuable crop first cultivated right here by the Spanish in the 16th century. Modern tobacco is derived from the wild 'cohibo' weed used by the long gone Arawak indian 'belique' (shamans) during ceremonies. 

From that rough leafy plant sprung a most valuable primary product that has become a major contributor to the Cuban economy alongside coffee and sugar.

A few moments earlier, Benito's foreman, Ismael, had shown us the art of hand rolling the cigar into its familiar, leafy tube. Leaves from the mature plant are selected at different times and for different purposes and 'cured' in a thatched barn identical to those used by the early Spaniards. Leaves are hung on horizontal wooden poles for weeks to dry and 'cure'.

For instance, the top leaves are called 'volado' (hot) are harvested first and used as a binder for the cigar's contents. Next, a week or so later, the 'ligero' (light) leaves are plucked and used as the wrapper. Finally, the lower leaves or 'seco' (dry) ones are gathered and used for the filler. These will dictate the final flavour and aroma of the cigar.

Typically 90 percent of Benito's crop is selected for agreed government production under controlled conditions while any remainder is left for him to sell as he wishes. This is typically as 'cleanskin' cigars which come without any certified branding but smoke as well any Cohiba or Monte Cristo for a fraction of the price. Yes, I bought a clutch of 10 for not much more than a buck each.

From the Vinales Valley we continue southwest to meet MV Callisto, waiting for us at the farthest western point of the island, in the Guanahacabibes National Park.

ExpeditionCruising.com is travelling as a guest of Peregrine Adventures and Variety Cruises on the 'Cuba Panorama Cruising' itinerary aboard MV Callisto. See www.peregrineadventures.com/en-au/cuba


Images:
  • Benito welcomes me to his farm as I enjoy one of his products. (RE) 
  • Foreman, Ismael, rolls a cigar in the age-old fashion (RE) 
  • New shoots appear, while in the background is Benito's traditional thatched tobacco 'barn'. (RE) 
  • The karsk outcrops typify the UNESCO-listed landscape and are surrounded by scores of tiny private tobacco farms. (RE)

Cuba Small Ship Cruising: Snapshots of Cuba

#expeditioncruising .

Cuba is one big story and myriad vignettes at the same time. Founded in Spanish colonial 16th century and fought over, argued about, raided, plundered and isolated on and off for the next 500 years, Cuba contains a distinct set of time capsules from every era of its tumultuous evolution.

Here are just a few 'freeze frame' captures from my last week on and around the island while sailing aboard Variety Cruises' MV Callisto with Peregrine Adventures.

Presidio Modelo (RE)

Isla Juventud: (Island of Youth) Just one of the five cavernous, abandoned jail blocks of the Presidio Modelo that once held both Fidel and Raul Castro following their arrest in 1953. The massive 'panopticon' prison is a carbon-copy of the Joliet Prison in Illinois. Construction began in the late 1920s and abandoned in 1959 following the Castro brothers' revolution. Most of the prisoners were political prisoners and quick to embrace the new regime. The island itself sees very few tourists and enjoys a relaxed lifestyle.

Late 1940s Ford Mercury

Pre-1960 US Cars: This magnificent Mercury convertible was parked on the cobbled, UNESCO World Heritage streets of Trinidad de Cuba in the country's south-east. For many years after the embargo, these vehicles were all Cubans had and their preservation was as much by necessity as nostalgia. Of course, most do not look as well kept as this example. The vast majority are pressed into service as ad hoc private taxis and seemed to be held together by magic as they rattle, belch and bounce along Cuba's pot-holed highways.

Cuban relief wood sculptor, Lazaro Niebla

Local artist, Lazaro Niebla: Most of the available Cuban souvenirs are a bland homogeneity of state-produced trinkets that seem to populate every street stall. Relief wood sculptor, Lazaro Niebla (43), is based in Trinidad de Cuba and a refreshing example of home-grown Cuban talent. His sculptures take about two weeks to complete and are carved from salvaged antique cedar windows and shutters. Each work represents an otherwise unremarkable elder of Cuba who he sees as the living heritage of the nation. Niebla has exhibited internationally and his works range in price from $2000-$15,000. www.lazaroniebla.com

Cigar smoking woman in traditional colonial attire (RE)

Old Town, Havana: An unmistakable image of Havana are the ebullient women dressed in bright colonial attire who are delighted to pose for tips. Some solo, some in small groups, some with props like umbrellas, flowers or cigars, these ladies and their male equivalents have become one of the enduring tourism trademarks of the 500-year-old capital and blend harmoniously with the restored buildings around the city's central square.

ExpeditionCruising.com travelled as a guest of Peregrine Adventures and Variety Cruises on the 'Cuba Panorama Cruising' itinerary aboard MV Callisto. See www.peregrineadventures.com/en-au/cuba

From today, we transfer to MSC Opera for a new Caribbean adventure. www.msccruises.com.au

Friday, 24 November 2017

Cuba Small Ship Cruising: Into the ancient Valley of Tobacco

#expeditioncruising

With Intrepid Travel and Peregrine Adventures in Cuba aboard MV Callisto

Benito Camejo Nodarse is a local legend in Cuba's western Pinar del Rio province, the UNESCO World Heritage region renowned as the supposed birthplace of modern tobacco cultivation.

"Date un toque," says Benito in typically charismatic style as he pours us both a shot of local rum, "kill the rat!" - which I take to mean 'hair of the dog' or similar.

I take mine neat like Benito and the clear liquid is surprisingly smooth and soothing, while others prefer a shot of the farm's other product, coffee. Mix the two and you have a 'carajillo' (goddam!)

Tucked away among similar, privately-owned farms of less than 25 acres each, Benito's family have been here in the Vinales Valley for five generations producing the valuable crop first cultivated right here by the Spanish in the 16th century. Modern tobacco is derived from the wild 'cohibo' weed used by the long gone Arawak indian 'belique' (shamans) during ceremonies. 

From that rough leafy plant sprung a most valuable primary product that has become a major contributor to the Cuban economy alongside coffee and sugar.

A few moments earlier, Benito's foreman, Ismael, had shown us the art of hand rolling the cigar into its familiar, leafy tube. Leaves from the mature plant are selected at different times and for different purposes and 'cured' in a thatched barn identical to those used by the early Spaniards. Leaves are hung on horizontal wooden poles for weeks to dry and 'cure'.

For instance, the top leaves are called 'volado' (hot) are harvested first and used as a binder for the cigar's contents. Next, a week or so later, the 'ligero' (light) leaves are plucked and used as the wrapper. Finally, the lower leaves or 'seco' (dry) ones are gathered and used for the filler. These will dictate the final flavour and aroma of the cigar.

Typically 90 percent of Benito's crop is selected for agreed government production under controlled conditions while any remainder is left for him to sell as he wishes. This is typically as 'cleanskin' cigars which come without any certified branding but smoke as well any Cohiba or Monte Cristo for a fraction of the price. Yes, I bought a clutch of 10 for not much more than a buck each.

From the Vinales Valley we continue southwest to meet MV Callisto, waiting for us at the farthest western point of the island, in the Guanahacabibes National Park.

ExpeditionCruising.com is travelling as a guest of Peregrine Adventures and Variety Cruises on the 'Cuba Panorama Cruising' itinerary aboard MV Callisto. See www.peregrineadventures.com/en-au/cuba


Images:
  • Benito welcomes me to his farm as I enjoy one of his products. (RE) 
  • Foreman, Ismael, rolls a cigar in the age-old fashion (RE) 
  • New shoots appear, while in the background is Benito's traditional thatched tobacco 'barn'. (RE) 
  • The karsk outcrops typify the UNESCO-listed landscape and are surrounded by scores of tiny private tobacco farms. (RE)

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Cuba Small Ship Cruising: Viva la Revolution!



With Intrepid Travel and Peregrine Adventures in Cuba aboard MV Callisto

To use the term 'bucket list' is to yield to both superficiality and cliché but, if I were honest, Cuba has been on my 'places to see before you die' list for nearly 20 years.

With the world tumbling headlong into a multinational homogeneity quicker than you can say "would you like fries with that?", it's refreshing to see Cuba retain a staunch individuality that goes against the tide of global blandness. But for how much longer?

Let's remember that Cuba came to a virtual standstill in 1960 after Fidel Castro and his revolutionaries overthrew a corrupt, US mob-backed government and immediately fell victim to a long-standing US trade embargo that continues more-or-less to this day. A glimmer of hope was raised with some relaxation of sanctions by the Obama administration, but quickly slammed shut again by a protectionist Trump. Right now, Cuba is in a sort-of renaissance twilight zone, ready to move forward, but hampered by an unpredictable fog on the road ahead.

Combined with Castro's curious brand of Latino socialism which all but eliminated private enterprise, the freehold property market and capitalism generally, Cuba found itself in a real life time capsule. The populace had security of shelter, education, medical and food, but little or no incentive, nor mechanism beyond that. 

"We have a wonderful heritage in our architecture and culture," says Pedro Vazquez, a noted Cuban architect and urban designer, "but the lack of ownership means little or nothing has been done to maintain it."

Vazquez is referring to the urban sprawl of civic and residential structures all over Havana that portray a confusing mixture of proud colonial revival and sad neglect. Most buildings in the UNESCO World Heritage-listed 'old town' are preserved and maintained by the state and host many thousands of tourists on a regular basis, but not far away are signs of a frail, teetering metropolis. Demolition may be forbidden, but without attention, many ageing structures fall victim to the salt air and elements and simply collapse of their own accord. 

As an unabashed car nerd, my attention is immediately drawn to the mobile motor museum continuously on the move around the streets of Havana. I'm told tens of thousands of pre-1960 US-made cars still rattle and belch around the roads, kept alive by hybrid engine transplants and lashings of body filler. Chevrolet, Ford, Buick, Dodge, De Soto, Lincoln and even extinct brands like Studebaker and Turner can be spotted by the astute car buff. 

One excursion provided as part of our combined Intrepid/Peregrine/Variety itinerary is a ride to 'Finca Vigia', Hemingway's former residence in a pair of well-maintained Chev Impalas operated by local auto-entrepreneur 'Nostalgicar'. Keeping these old girls in such neat trim is a non-stop labour of love as well as a healthy budget few resdident Cubans can afford. Most of these thousands of old cars operate as ad-hoc taxis, supplementing the shortage of reliable public transport and expensive (for locals) official cabs. 

Next, we travel overland from Havana to the bioreserve region and beachside playground of Maria la Gorda in the island's extreme south-west.

ExpeditionCruising.com is travelling as a guest of Peregrine Adventures and Variety Cruises on the 'Cuba Panorama Cruising' itinerary aboard MV Callisto. See www.peregrineadventures.com/en-au/cuba

Images:
  • Women in colourful costumes pose for photographs and tips around the Old Town (RE)
  • Our driver, Oscar, poses with his 1959 Chev Impala. Behind is the 1960 model. (RE)
  • Preserved section of the Old Town shows Havana's colonial glory (RE)
  • Away from the maintained Old Town, the fading facades depict a frail city. (RE)

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Incase Compass Collection - designed with simplicity in mind

The latest range of protective, stylish luggage launched from Incase.
 
The creator of design solutions cantered on protection and mobility, brings you its Compass Collection designed with simplicity in mind. The lightweight, professional range is perfect for those who require protection without the hardships of lugging around bulky alternatives. The Compass Collection offers a faux fur padded compartment, perfect for storing your laptop and quick access pockets for other accessories. 
 
 
Incase Compass Brief 15" (Deep Red)
Incase Compass Backpack (Black)
Incase Compass Duffel (Navy)
 
 
Five different pieces of luggage make up the Compass Collection, all available in Black, Navy, Deep Red and Bronze. The collection is available at Rushfaster and Culture Kings.
 
  • Compass Backpack - $129.95
  • Compass Duffel - $99.95
  • Compass Messenger - $99.95
  • Compass Brief 13" - $79.95
  • Compass Brief 15" - $79.95
 





Monday, 13 November 2017

OOE's 10th Anniversary Circumnavigation of Canada Voyage



#expeditioncruising

Canadian polar cruise specialist, One Ocean Expeditions (OOE), is celebrating its 10th Birthday with the launch of an extraordinary Circumnavigation of Canada, showcasing the nation as it has never been seen before. The tailored cruise allows intrepid travelers to explore Canada's most iconic locations by sea, air and rail, over the course of 57 spectacular days.

Canada's Circumnavigation itinerary offers an unparalleled opportunity to discover the world's second largest country from the Atlantic to the Arctic and Pacific Oceans on board the expedition cruise vessel, Akademik loffe. It also gives passengers the chance to witness the nation's majestic landscapes on board Via Rail's popular train journey travelling across Canada. To complement the experience, OOE's guests will also take in the vibrant cities of Edmonton, Toronto and Montreal en route.

"Exploring Canada from coast to coast is a dream for many Canadians and overseas visitors alike. OOE is offering the chance to become immersed in a truly special travel experience, which will take our guests to the very core of our country's splendour and culture", says Andrew Prossin, One Ocean Expeditions' founder and Managing Director.

This epic OOE voyage combines four consecutive OOE cruises covering close to 60% of Canada's coastline, with the first - Labrador and Torgat Explorer - departing from Louisbourg, Nova Scotia, on 24 July, and travelling northbound to Iqaluit, Nunavut.

The journey continues with the Baffin Island-Jewel of the High Arctic voyage, taking in deep fjords, soaring mountains, immense glacial systems and spectacular wildlife – sometimes even polar bears – en route to Resolute, one of Canada's most northerly outposts.

The High Arctic Explorer cruise then travels through one of the last remaining pristine wilderness regions in the world, followed by the historically-charged Pathways to Franklin itinerary, taking in the Northwest Passage and ending on 1 September in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut.

Each voyage has distinctive characteristics. Visits to National Parks, UNESCO and historic sites, remote fishing and Inuit communities are some of the trip's highlights. In addition to witnessing abundant wildlife over the course of the voyage, guests are treated to daily educational seminars and lectures given by experts in marine science, geology, history, photography, as well as being offered a selection of soft adventure excursions such as zodiac cruises, sea kayaking, hiking and visiting local villages.

Following the cruise, guests fly from Cambridge Bay to Edmonton and on to Vancouver where they board Via Rail's new Prestige Class Service, travelling across the Canadian Rockies to Jasper, with an overnight stay at the quintessential Canadian Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge.

The iconic rail journey leads across the plains and rolling hills to Toronto and an overnight at the Fairmont Royal York. Guests embark on the final leg of the journey in Via Rail's business class service to Montreal and lodge at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth for the voyage's final night before returning to Halifax, Nova Scotia for the completion of the circumnavigation on 17 September.

The 57-day voyage is tailored exclusively for two guests and delivered in an all-inclusive package that will, without doubt, be an enriching experience, leaving long lasting memories. Prices start from US$55,000 per person.

OOE's commitment to education and exploration of Canada is at the forefront of its 10th Anniversary endeavour. To celebrate further One Ocean Expeditions is not only increasing its fleet with the recent acquisition of the RCGS Resolute, a 146-passenger luxury expedition cruise ship, but will also be introducing a series of new voyages to non-polar destinations in Central America and Europe, starting in spring 2019.

For a detailed itinerary of the Circumnavigation of Canada, please visit: http://bit.ly/2zaNhSb

For more information on One Ocean Expeditions' voyages visit: http://bit.ly/2z7P6

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Lindblad to build 'world's foremost expedition vessel'




LINDBLAD EXPEDITIONS HOLDINGS, INC. SIGNS AGREEMENT WITH ULSTEIN VERFT FOR BUILDING OF NEW POLAR VESSEL

World's Foremost Expedition Vessel Will Be the First Polar New Build in the
Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic Fleet

NEW YORK, NY, November 7, 2017 --- Lindblad Expeditions Holdings, Inc. (NASDAQ: LIND; "Lindblad", the "Company"), the global leader of expedition cruises and adventure travel experiences, today announced that it has signed an agreement with Norwegian shipbuilder and ship designer Ulstein to build the world's foremost expedition ship.

The new vessel will be built in Ulsteinvik, Norway and is scheduled for delivery in the first quarter of 2020, with an option for two additional ships to be delivered in subsequent years.

The state-of-the-art polar vessel has been designed as the ultimate expedition platform with a focus on safety and comfort, as well as incorporating innovative sustainability solutions to reduce its environmental impact. A core feature is Ulstein's signature X-BOW®, a distinctive bow that provides fuel efficiency while significantly improving guest comfort in rough seas; and a very high ice class for access deep into polar regions. The ship's expanded fuel and water tanks provide for extended operations in remote areas; while the zero-speed stabilizers will ensure stability underway, whether at zero speed when stopped for wildlife observation, or embarking/disembarking the ship.

"We are incredibly excited to be working with Ulstein and their brilliant team of engineers and designers on this state-of-the-art vessel as we continue expansion of our fleet. It is the next step in the long-term growth of the company, and will be the most extraordinary global expedition ship in the world on a multitude of levels," said Sven Lindblad, President and CEO of Lindblad.

"The launch of this ship will mark the 50th anniversary year of the first-ever purpose-built expedition ship, Lindblad Explorer, which was built by my father, Lars-Eric Lindblad, and will set another important milestone in the company's commitment to deliver expedition travel at its best," added Lindblad

In keeping with the Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic ethos to connect guests with the environment being explored, the ship will be designed to access the outside environment from anywhere on the ship. With 75% of the cabins featuring balconies for private viewing; multiple observation decks inside and outside, and new "observation wings," the surrounding environs will always be accessible. Off-ship exploring will be greatly enhanced with an innovative Zodiac loading system which will allow everyone to get ashore quickly and safely, ensuring quick access to every destination. The ship's complement of expedition tools for exploration will include kayaks, cross-country skis, a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), hydrophones, a video microscope, underwater video cameras, a helicopter landing platform, and more to be announced in the coming months.

The ship will afford gracious comfort and an unparalleled level of service, with the highest comfort class for guests to ensure a quiet and peaceful environment onboard. The 69 spacious guest cabins and suites will include 12 cabins for solo travelers. The spa and fitness area will include treatment rooms, saunas, a fitness room, a relaxation area and yoga room; and there will be two infinity Jacuzzis for the utmost relaxation in pristine environments. Dining offerings include a main restaurant with outstanding views to the surroundings, and an outdoor barbeque and bistro area.

"Our expedition cruises, operated through our alliance with Lindblad Expeditions, have delivered remarkable experiences to our guests for the past 13 years," said Nancy Schumacher, head of Travel and Tour Operations for National Geographic. "The expansion of the Lindblad-National Geographic fleet is truly terrific news, as it allows us to offer these unforgettable trips to even more travelers in the future. We look forward to joining our partner Lindblad Expeditions in celebrating the launch of the latest addition to the Lindblad-National Geographic fleet."

"We are pleased to have been chosen as a partner for this exciting project. Lindblad is an innovative company and a frontrunner in the exploration cruise industry. We look forward to turning this project into reality together with Lindblad and their partners," stated Gunvor Ulstein, CEO at Ulstein Group.

For more information visit us at www.expeditions.com.

For more information visit natgeotv.com or nationalgeographic.com, or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

[watch] Incredible Arctic Odyssey aboard a classic three-masted schooner.

#expeditioncruising .



UPDATE: Special Offer. Partner flies free for a limited time. (made AFTER 30th October and BEFORE 30th November) See details

Relive the glory days of exploration and discovery under sail with this exceptional journey aboard a classic gaff-rigged, three-masted, topsail schooner.

In July next year, the magnificent 56m, 33-berth Rembrandt van Rijn sets sail from Svalbard en route to Greenland over 18 days, with plenty of time to absorb the splendour of the Arctic at the best time of year.



“Our voyage is timed to experience the best of the Arctic, polar bears on Svalbard, hopefully the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) plus the option to experience sled dog mushing on an Icelandic glacier,” says tour leader and award-winning photographer, Ron Hunter of Quest Tours.

"The spectacular Arctic lightshow is on an 11-year cycle and we're about to close this cycle for another decade, so it could be the best chance for many of us to witness this incredible natural phenomenon."


Please don't delay. At time of writing, just ten places were left for this once-in-a-lifetime voyage along the Viking route across the North Atlantic.



While wildlife sightings can never be guaranteed, it is expected to see polar bears, walrus, icebergs, glaciers, seals, muskox, reindeer, orcas, beluga, Inuit culture, birdlife and whales.



Visits to ports include Oslo, Flam, Bergen with fjord train and boat tours, Longyearbyen, Ittoqqortoormiit and Constable Pynt.

Dates: 21st July - 18th August 2018

Duration: 29 days, inc 18 nights onboard "Rembrandt van Rijn" + 8 days Oslo, Flam, Bergen, Longyearbyen, Reykjavik.

Ticket cost is A$13,490 plus airfares (approx. $1,900)

For details including a fully structured itinerary, contact:

Ron or Gabby or the Quest Tours team

P: (02) 6554 7478 M: 0409 466 958 (Ron) E: info@questtours.com.au

Or visit the web page at: http://questtours.com.au/arctic.html

NSW Travel Agent: Licence No: 2TA 10493