San Jose

Well, I’m on a plane again. This time, however, I’m not only headed to a new country, but also a new continent! I’ve never been to Ecuador before and this will be the first time I step foot in South America, too. Very exciting. But before I land in Quito and delve into our Ecuadorian adventure, I have to catch up on our last few days in San Jose.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, we spent two nights at Hotel Aranjuez. We both really liked the hotel, which was a renovated old house with a network of corridors and open patios, and the buffet breakfast was delicious. We had a full day in San Jose yesterday, so after taking advantage of the free high-speed WiFi in the morning, we went out to explore the town for a bit. We didn’t have much on our agenda in terms of destinations, but we did have a map that highlighted several points of interest in the area like parks, historic buildings, restaurants, etc… After about half an hour of walking, though, I tripped on the sidewalk and broke my only pair of sandals (that had already been chewed through by an incorrigible Butters and repaired with duct tape). Our casual walk quickly turned into a quest to find new shoes. Luckily we came across a street that literally had shoe stores lining both sides and I found a “ridiculously comfortable” (their words, not mine) pair of Reef sandals.

Ironically, we also passed by the Hemingway Inn. Eight or nine years ago my family took a vacation to Costa Rica and we stayed at the Hemingway Inn for several nights while in San Jose. It was funny that C and I just happened to stumble across it while aimlessly walking about. It brought back memories of my brother drinking his first Pina Colada and me leaving the table because I was so embarrassed for him (sorry Will :))

Before heading back to the hotel, we stopped at a market and picked up some fresh fruit, cheese (for C), and bread for lunch. Then we challenged each other to find our way back to Hotel Aranjuez sans a map. We could consult one another, but couldn’t look at our map. Thanks to a good sense of direction on both sides, we made it back in no time and spent the rest of the afternoon snoozing, enjoying WiFi on demand, and playing a game of Scrabble.

For dinner, we dined at the same place as the night before. Tin Jo – a beautifully adorned Thai, Indian, and Japanese restaurant – was pretty much everything I could ask for. They had a separate vegetarian menu complete with curries, sushi, salads, and sauteed greens from all over Asia. The previous night I ordered a vegetable Thai green curry with coconut milk that was served with brown rice, which was delicious, and last night C and I shared a vegetarian Pad Thai and sauteed bok choy with hearts of palm and shiitake mushrooms. Yum! We also tried the vegetarian spring rolls and pakoras as appetizers. Good thing we’re spending the next week and a half biking and hiking through Ecuador!

Stay tuned for more posts from South America…


The Next Lindblad Model?

Finally! Off the boat at last! It’s been a long two months down here in Costa Rica and Panama on the Sea Lion, but we made it through and now we’re in San Jose relaxing at the endearing Hotel Aranjuez (thanks, mom, for the recommendation). We left the Sea Lion just after lunch yesterday amid the turmoil of a new rotation coming in and an old one on its way out. It was good to see people I haven’t seen for awhile, but I was also ready to start my vacation!

This past week was actually a rather memorable one for me, though, in terms of Lindblad trips. I had a very light work week massage-wise (which I wasn’t sorry about), so I went on a few more outings than I normally do (I can go on any hike or Zodiac cruise I want to when I’m not giving massages, but I typically stay on the ship and work out or catch up on emails). It was a photography-orientated trip, so we had two guest photographers – Ralph Lee Hopkins, a National Geographic photographer, and Richard Maack, a professional freelance photographer from Arizona. The guests ranged from point-and-shooters to semi-professionals with two or more SLR’s strapped around their necks.

Towards the beginning of the week we stopped at a new beach in Coiba National Park that I’d never been to. The landing was difficult – our Zodiac drivers had to bring the Zodiacs in stern first on a rolling wave – so catching the Zodiacs when they came in was exciting and drenching wet. The beach was also home to massive hermit crabs and tide-pools that harbored strange-looking nudibranchs, sea stars, little fish, and snails.

For my last week I also got to lead the horse-back ride at Caletas, just outside of Corcovado National Park. There were about six riders plus myself and we had a nice morning riding along the rainforest trail and out onto the white-sandy beaches as the waves crashed into the rocks.

Later that day I was recruited by our National Geographic photographer – Ralph Lee Hopkins – to do a brochure photo shoot at the base of a waterfall at San Pedrillo. I’d never done a photo shoot before, so I was excited! He had me wear a bright blue top, black carpris and a safari-style hat with a chinstrap. Before taking the brochure photos (for Lindblad’s expedition catalogue, although the photos we took will probably never make the cut), he shot me doing some yoga poses with the waterfall at the background. It was so much fun! Maybe my next career will be a yoga model???

So now here we are, enjoying the expansive breakfast at Hotel Aranjuez, with no plans for the day expect to relax, maybe walk around if we feel motivated, enjoy a nice dinner and perhaps a movie. Tomorrow we board a plane that will take us to Ecuador and our mountain biking/hiking escapade and Galapagos adventure!

The Pearl Islands

It’s Carnival time in Panama, which – for us on a boat – doesn’t mean much except for the fact that the places we usually visit will be over-run by Panamanian families hitting the beach for a good time over next several days. So instead of trying to muscle our way through the crowds to stake out a landing on shore, we’ve made a few adjustments to our itinerary. To me, this is a blessing, because if you read my last entry, you might have gathered that any deviation from our unvarying course from Costa Rica to Panama and back again is more than welcome. This morning we would normally be doing Zodiac cruises at a group of islands called Otoque and Bona (known for their abundant bird life), but instead we visited another group of islands in the Bay of Panama called the Pearl Islands. Also rich in bird life, we did two rounds of Zodiac cruises here and I managed to secure a spot on the last Zodiac on the second round. I’m not a birder, but I enjoyed spending an hour off the boat in the sunshine, bobbing around in a Zodiac. Here are a few pics that I took. We also saw a young frigate bird that had fallen into the water. Despite being a marine bird, frigate birds are pretty much doomed if they get their feathers wet. Their bodies are so light (less than two pounds!), they can’t lift themselves out of the water if they happen to fall in. We came across him struggling to lift off out of the water while exploring one of the islands by Zodiac. Later one of our naturalists went back over to pull him out of the water, dry him off, and send him on his way, tired, but apparently fine.

After the Zodiac cruises, we repositioned the Sea Lion a short ways to a beautiful tiny island called Bartolome. One side of the islands consists of a large sandy beach peppered with broken bits of shell and coral and the other side of the island is formed of fascinating rock formations. I didn’t walk around the island today, but I have in the past and it’s quite beautiful. We spent about an hour and a half at Bartomole before we had to pick up anchor and commence our 205 mile run to Coiba National Park, where we’ll visit some more new places and islands. On the way we spotted a few humpback whales, an army of feeding pelicans, a few dolphins, floating turtles, and eerie underwater waves of red algae.

Galapagos Here We Come!

Good news came in my mailbox today! C and I got a cabin on the National Geographic Endeavor in the Galapagos starting on the 9th of March and ending on the 17th. Wahoo! We’re so excited. I kind of knew that we were going to get a trip, but confirming it made it actually feel real. So… after we’re finished on the boat in Costa Rica (a week and a half to go) we’ll spend a few nights in San Jose and then fly to Quito. The Galapagos trip isn’t the only exciting news though… While looking online for things to do in Ecuador, I stumbled across the site of Arie’s Bike Company. It looks awesome, so we also signed up for a 9 day mountain bike and hiking adventure. Check it out here. We added a day to do some biking and bird-watching in the Mindo area as well as biking into an active volcano. After that trip we head down to Guayaquil to meet the rest of the Lindblad guests headed to the Endeavor and the next day we fly to the Galapagos for 8 days of fun. Can’t wait! C has to fly to Baja to get on the Sea Bird two weeks before I do, so I’m trying to figure out what my plans will be after he leaves… I’m thinking some nice hostel with good hiking, horseback riding, or more mountain biking. Any ideas?

I’ll definitely be blogging about our adventures in Ecuador, so keep checking back!


Coiba DER

Sorry I haven’t been more inspired to post anything else besides DER… But nothing too exciting has happened!

Coiba National Park
7 February, 2012

Today was a beach day. After traveling all night from the Gulf of Panama and around the  Azuero Peninsula, we arrived early at a small gem of an island called Granito de Oro, or Little Grain of Gold. Granito de Oro is a small islet located in Panama’s magnificent Coiba National Park, which is also the third largest marine park in the world, second only to the Great Barrier Reef and the Galapagos. The island consists of a large, white, sandy beach, a few palm trees, some rocky outcroppings, and hundreds, if not thousands, of hermit crabs. We brought ashore some beach chairs, refreshments, flotation noodles, snorkels and masks, and kayaks and prepared for a day of swimming and enjoying the clear, refreshing water of Coiba National Park.

The largest island in the park, also known as Coiba, is unique because in the 1970’s the island was used as one of Panama’s most stringent penal colony complete with several prison camps. Tourists were not allowed to visit the island, so no development in terms of resorts, hotels, or homes were established. As a result, the forests and reefs remained untouched and pristine. When scientists and researchers started doing studies in the areas, they found that there was three times more predators compared to other areas that were not protected. That meant that there was a lot of food and wildlife diversity present to support such high numbers of predators. The government decided to shut down the prison on Coiba and in 2000, 271,000 hectares were established as a National Park, only 51,000 of which is mainland, the rest is marine area.

This morning we had the opportunity to experience the high diversity of marine life and healthy coral reef present in Coiba. Snorkeler’s caught sight of a variety of different fish such as sergeant majors, damselfish, parrot fish, and many more. In the afternoon guests had the option to return to the beach for more snorkeling and swimming or to stretch their legs on the Monkey Trail located across the channel on Coiba Island. There we saw great sightings of the rare lance-tailed manikin and crimson-backed tanager.

We returned to the ship in the late afternoon and after the National Geographic Sea Lion picked up anchor, we continued on our way. We were soon joined by several dolphins who entertained us as the sun set by playing in our wake. Tomorrow we will wake up in Costa Rica!

Becky Timbers, Wellness Specialist

Peach Palm Goodness

One thing that I love about traveling to exotic (and not so exotic) places all over the world, is the discovery of new and exciting, not to mention delicious, foods. I consider myself a pretty strict vegan when I’m home and can cook for myself, but when I’m on the road, I like to keep my options a bit more open for the sake of not stressing about what my next meal will be, but also so I can enjoy the local culture and traditions in the form of authentic cuisine. Some of my favorite food-related memories of my travels have been:

– Fresh coconuts in Thailand (obviously)
– Finding a little vegetarian cafe in the midst of numerous meat-heavy cafes in Gdansk, Poland
– Eating the best tom-kha (green papaya) salad at a vegetarian restaurant in Bangkok
– Having the most delicious coconut ice cream (not vegan) I’ve ever tasted from a small family-owned ice cream shop called La Fuente in La Paz, Baja
– Guiltily enjoying a marzipan delicacy and hot latte at the world-famous Niederegger Cafe in Lubeck, Germany
– Watching the women at my rural home-stay in Kenya make fresh chapatis over an open fire. They were the best chapatis I’ve every had

– Eating a bowl of noodles with my fellow classmates at a small noodle shop in China after spending the day walking around a shopping. By the time   we sat down, we were starving and the noodles tasted absolutely fantastic

– Browsing the open markets of Luang Prabang in Laos and uneasily eyeing things like fried bats, baskets full of freshly caught fish, entire honey combs straight from the tree, various assortments of dried sea-life, and more…

The list could go on and on, but the main point I’m trying to make is that a big part of traveling is enjoying the local cuisine and trying new foods that you never seen or heard about. I can’t say that I would go as far as eating meat, but I wouldn’t be (and haven’t been) above tasting meals and dishes prepared with dairy and eggs, despite the fact that I much prefer to eat a vegan diet. As they say, when in Rome, do as the Romans.

So when I saw a new item on the salad bar a few weeks ago, I was eager to try it. What I saw was a bright orange, walnut-sized vegetable. Or fruit. I couldn’t tell. After confirming with the head steward that I could eat it (it’s vegan), I asked what it was. In English, the fruit is called peach palm and in Spanish it’s known as pejibaye. It kind of looks like half of a pitted apricot, but much brighter orange. Tasting it, the texture reminded me of a very dense egg yolk (or what I remember the texture of an egg yolk to be) and the flavor reminded me of… I’m not sure. Slightly sweet and mild, kind of nutty, and really good! The peach palm fruit grows in clusters on (surprise, surprise), a palm tree, which is also well known for producing heart of palm, another delicious local delicacy. To harvest the fruit, they cut down the ripe clusters from the palm and then boil the fruit in salty water for 1-3 hours. Then they remove the peel and either eat them like that, or process them in cans or jars.

Wanting to know more, I did a little bit of internet research to see if I could find any nutritional value on peach palms. I did, and here’s what I found. Per 100 grams, palm fruit has 164 calories, 2.5 grams of protein, is high in vitamin A as well as vitamin C, and contains a whole lot of fiber. Like most fruits vegetables (if not all), it’s very good for you and tasty! I only hope I can find it when I get back to the states…

Coiba National Park DER

Another Daily Expedition Report from the National Geographic Sea Lion!

24 January, 2012
Coiba National Park

Sun and beach were the prominent themes for today. We spent the entire morning and much of the afternoon swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, and sunbathing on a small island called Granito de Oro in the warm, clear waters of Coiba National Park. The park is one of Panama’s largest national parks and is the third largest marine park in the world, smaller only than the Great Barrier Reef and Galapagos National Park. In addition to being one of Panama’s largest protected areas, Coiba Island – the largest island within the national park – served as a prison many years ago and still houses several penal structures.

We went ashore at Granito de Oro just after breakfast and subsequently spent several hours enjoying its allure. We made available both single and double kayaks for guests to enjoy and the crystal clear water was more than ideal for snorkeling. A few of the varieties of fish that we saw included several species of puffer fish, yellow and black striped sergeant majors, bright blue and green parrot fish, Moorish idols, king angel fish, and even a white-tip reef shark. For those wanting a bit more activity, one of our naturalists led a longer kayak paddle across the channel from Granito de Oro and along the opposite shoreline lined with mangroves.

We returned to the ship for lunch and then had the afternoon to either shuttle back to Granito de Oro for more swimming and snorkeling, or to relax on board with a good book. It was also a busy afternoon for massages! Guests also had the option to stretch their legs on a nature walk along the Monkey Trail. Although there were no monkey sightings, guests heard their calls in the distance. Even more exciting was a glimpse of the unique mating dance of a male lance-tailed manakin, a small black bird with pale blue wings.

Tonight we will leave Panamanian waters and enter into Costa Rica where our voyage and adventures will continue. Tomorrow we visit the beautiful botanical garden of Casa Orquideas.

Becky Timbers, Wellness Specialist