Back At Sea

I can’t believe it’s March 10th already. It seems like we were in January only a few days ago! That’s what happens, though, when you live on a ship. You lose all concept of time. I do know, however, that in almost three weeks I’ll be going home! The first time since October.

But for now I’m content to sail back and forth between Costa Rica and Panama, stopping at beaches and islands along the way. Earlier this trip we had a humpback whale very close to the ship. Everyone was really excited because we don’t see too many whales down, let alone ones that come up right next to us. That same day one of our naturalists lost count of the number os sea turtles he saw after 100. We’ve also had a few visits from dolphins, either bow-riding or playing in our wake.

I have been very busy this week, too. 22 people wanting a massage (many of them half hour massages thankfully) and only two more days to fit the rest of them in. We’ll be in the Canal, though, so much of our time will be spent on board and I won’t have to worry about scheduling people in between activities. This job isn’t as easy as it sounds (sometimes)!

That’s it for now, time to lead my stretch class!

Birds With Big Mouths

It has been a busy and eventful past few days on board the Sea Lion. After many delays Karen finally made it to Costa Rica on Friday night and met the new incoming group on Saturday at the airport. Then she took a two hour bus ride from San Jose to the ship where we were docked in Herradura. It was great to see her and so far the trip has been amazing! We were supposed to meet Mom and Dad back at Manuel Antonio on Sunday, but they got the times mixed up and arrived on the beach just in time to see us pull anchor and sail away. Que lastima!

It has been fun seeing the animals, wildlife, flora, scenery, etc… through a new set of eyes (Karens). I often overlook the beauty and uniqueness of the places we go to week after week, but having someone I know on board, who has never seen these things is exciting and fulfilling.

I led a great horseback ride along a forest trail just outside of Corcovado National park a few days ago. We wove in and out of the rainforest, moseying along the beach and shoreline until we reached the Rio Claro where the freshwater drains into the sea. I had a pinto colored horse (not sure of her name) and even though all of the horses are gentle and docile, this one liked to run. On the way back I let her fly over the long stretches of sandy beach, arriving on the other side huffing and puffing but still raring to go. Karens horse was a bit slower, but she managed to urge him into a gallop alongside several other mighty steeds.

Yesterday we spent the morning at Casa Orquideas, a botanical garden started 30 years ago by Ron and Trudy McAllister – two expat Americans who moved down here in search of a simpler life. They found it (Casa Orquideas is reached only by boat) and have since turned their property into a tropical paradise filled with plants, trees, fruits, flowers, butterflies, birds, and countless other critters. Needless to say, Karen loved it. Right as we stepped on shore we could hear several scarlet macaws making a racket up in the treetops. Beautiful birds, scarlet macaws have quite an obnoxious call. Think a loud, raspy squawk that drowns out any attempted conversation. Their bright red plumage with gold and blue wings and long tails make them magnificent, however, despite their clamor

Scarlet macaws have only recently been introduced into the area. Although no longer considered endangered, they are still very vulnerable due to habitat destruction and illegal capturing for the pet trade. In Costa Rica they suffered a significant decrease due to hunting, poaching, deforestation, and pesticide use from export banana farmers. A reintroduction program has been successful, but their numbers are nowhere where they used to be 10 years ago.

Scarlet macaws are the national bird of Honduras and range from south-eastern Mexico all the way down to Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil. They live in natural cavities formed in tree trunks and will not build their own nests making them are even more susceptible to deforestation since they are so particular about where they lay their eggs. Scarlet macaws lay between one and three eggs, but usually only one chick survives. If the conditions are good and there is enough food, two chicks might survive a year, then they leave their parents. The birds are mainly vegetarians foraging primarily on nuts, fruits, and seeds and in captivity they have been recorded to live up to 75 years old (although 40 to 50 years is more common). That is if their owner can put up with their unruly squabble.

I Saw A Shark!

A white-tipped reef shark, that is. We spent the morning ashore at Granito de Oro, the cartoon-like island in Coiba marine park off the coast of Panama. I didn’t snorkel here last week, but today I couldn’t wait to get in the crystal clear water. We could practically see the bottom from where the ship was anchored 150 yards from the beach (that’s exaggerating a little bit, but the water was very clear). Anyway, after we sorted the guests out by helping them with their snorkel gear and launching those who wanted to kayak from the beach (one of whom promptly flipped over), I grabbed my mask and fins and waded into the water. Granito de Oro is not a big island. As its name suggests, it’s really just a grain of sand. But the reefs and marine life around the small islet are magnificent and extend many more yards in all directions. I saw countless colorful fish, black spiny sea urchins, coral in all colors, sizes, and textures, and yes, even a white-tipped reef shark! I was swimming around, enjoying the underwater Eden when one of the naturalists, Christian, grabbed my arm and pointed down to the sea floor. Underneath a large coral-encrusted rock I could just make out a long-gray shape. I took a deep breath and dove down to the bottom for a closer look. Sure enough, it was not one, but two reef sharks. After a bit of waiting, one finally left the shelter and swam off toward deeper water. I followed for a ways, swimming at the surface while he was skimming the ocean floor. As his name suggests, the white-tipped reef shark has a little triangle of white at the tip of his tail and dorsal fin. Even when you know they won’t harm you, it’s still eerie to be swimming in the same waters as a shark.

Back on dry land, I was absent-mindedly looking at shells and bits of broken coral on the beach. I saw a nice looking one half-buried in the sand and dug it up. Suddenly it grew legs, I yelped, then dropped it, and it scuttled away! Apparently my “shell” was actually the shell of a rather large sand crab. Fico, another naturalist, got quite a kick out of it. To complete the day, as I stepped out of my office (aka spa) after a massage, I was greeted by a dozen on dolphins jumping in and out of the wake from our boat. Some were leaping five or six feet into the air before plunging back into the water!

Tonight we enter into the Panama Canal and slowly make our way east toward Colon on the Caribbean side. Crazy to think that I’ll be halfway done with this contract! It feels like I just got inboard, but next time we go through the canal, it will be my last. Until March, that is, when I’ll be down here for another four weeks. Why is life so hard?

A Week In Review

Well, I’ve made it through my first week back on the Sea Lion after two months of living on land, enjoying my own schedule, and not practicing massage. I have worked on the ships long enough to know that once you step onboard, you leave reality behind and enter a sort of twilight zone. We live in our own little world. That’s not to say that I didn’t take me a few days to get back into the swing of things. The seas down in Costa Rica and Panama are quite a bit more active than Alaska or Baja, so I’ve been trying to gracefully master my sea legs. It makes giving massage quite interesting, though. Since our Internet access is a little more than unreliable down here, I haven’t been able to write emails or post blogs, so here’s a recap on my first week back on board.

Saturday – After an uneventful New Years Eve in Panama City (I think I went to bed at 9:00), I took a taxi back to the airport to meet the other Lindbald staff and the new guests coming in from Miami. I had very little info, just the arrival time and airline they were flying, but as soon as I walked into the airport, I saw Christian, a naturalist I knew from last year working the ship. It was good to see a familiar face! After the guests landed and the luggage was loaded onto the truck, we boarded the bus and I settled in for the final leg of my journey from Bali to the Sea Lion – an hour drive from Panama City to Colon on the Caribbean side of the Panama Canal. Needless to say, it was a relief to finally unpack my bags.

Sunday – We spent the morning ashore, hiking at Barro Colorado, an island in Gatun Lake, which is located in the Panama Canal. On the walk we spotted howler monkeys, capuchin monkeys, and a red spider monkey as well as agoutis, which are small bunny-like rodents. Since Barro Colorado is a scientific research site, Lindbald is the only cruise company allowed to land there. In the afternoon we sailed through the remainder of the canal and entered the Pacific Ocean.

Monday – This morning we spent several hours on a slice of heaven called Granito de Oro, or Grain of Sand. Imagine a cartoon-like island with several palm trees, a few black slippery rocks, and a sloping golden beach perfect for sunbathing, playing frisbee or launching kayaks. I didn’t go snorkeling, but our underwater videographer caught footage of a Hawksbill sea turtle, a white tipped reef shark, a snake eel, and a variety of tropical fish. I’m definitely getting wet there next week! In the afternoon we had a picnic lunch on the island of Coiba. A national park now, Coiba was once famous because it was home to many of Panamas most dangerous prisoners. The villains were exiled to the island and although there were guards, the prisoners weren’t watched too closely because if any one of them tried to escape, the odds of them getting bit by a poisonous snake was pretty high. We didn’t see any snakes, but the view from the hammocks was pretty spectacular.

Tuesday – One of my favorite activities on the ship is to go on Zodiac rides and this morning we did just that. We were at a group of Panamanian islands (whose names are eluding me right now), but because if the cold upwelling of ocean water that brings along with it a feast of small fish, the islands are densely populated with sea birds. We spent about an hour an a half motoring around the islands, watching frigate birds with their big, red inflated throat pouches, rather homely-looking turkey vultures, pelicans scooping up fish and sea water in their huge pocket mouths, brown footed boobies, and blue footed boobies, which do, indeed, have sky-blue feet.

Wednesday – This morning we visited a tropical paradise called Casa Orquideas. It was create by two expatriate Americans who moved to Costa Rica over 30 years ago and bought a piece of old farm land. Since then they have transformed the area into a botanical garden with fruit trees, tropical flowers in all shapes, sizes, and colors, a vegetable garden, stone walking paths, and benches to sit on a enjoy the surroundings. The floral diversity, of course, attracts many critters, and we saw scarlet macaws, toucans, and many different species of butterflies. A guest even spied a baby Fur-de-Lance, a rather fatal pit viper.

Thursday – Today we went horseback riding in Corcovado National Park. I had to go to supervise the guests, my bosses orders. There were a lot if us – maybe 25 or 30, but on the way out I stayed at the end with the stragglers, so it seemed like there were only a few of us. We rode along the edge of the rainforest, occasionally coming across an expanse of sandy beach with the waves crashing against the jagged rocks. It was beautiful. On the way back, my horse flattened his ears, picked up his gait and we went flying across the deserted beaches at the head of the pack. It reminded me of our family Costa Rica vacation when we went horseback riding on the beach at sunset.

Friday – This morning was spent at the beach, reading, sunbathing, boogie boarding, and playing frisbee – all part of my job description, of course. We were at Manuel Antonio, a beautiful, long, crescent shaped beach surrounded by tropical rainforest. The naturalists took the guests on guided walks in search of monkeys and sloths, while I held down the fort back at our beach camp, calling Zodiac shuttles back to the ship in between dips in the ocean.

You may be asking wether I was actually working this past week, and the answer is that between all these fun activities, I did manage to fit in 19 massages and do a stretch class every morning. After such long days I’ll be looking forward to my week-long break in Mazatlan in three weeks! (Thanks to Nonny and Da!)