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!


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

Coconut Crazy

I was at the beach the other day, at a place called Caletas just outside of Corcovado National Park, when one of our naturalists walked by with an unopened coconut. I pretty much grabbed him as he passed and asked where he had gotten it. Fresh coconuts are one of my favorite things on earth and now whenever come across one, I’m transported back to Yoga Thailand where we would line up at the juice bar after our morning Ashtanga practice and order a fresh, chilled coconut. Coconut water (what sloshes around into the inner cavity before the coconut is broken open) is extremely high in electrolytes (basically salts that are essential for controlling fluid balance within the body). So after a hard workout and a yoga mat drenched in sweat, a fresh coconut filled with nutritious coconut water was heavenly. But back to Caletas. Miguil, the naturalist, offered me the fresh coconut juice for which I was very grateful. He had one of the Ticos (Costa Rican’s) chop off the top with a machete and then he drained the fresh juice into my empty cup. Yum! After the coconut was drained, he broke open the shell and cut out hunks of coconut flesh for everybody to try. Once again, I reiterate, fresh coconut is one of my favorite things on earth. But it gets a bad rap. There is so much fear in our society about fat, and coconuts are laden with it, particularly the “bad” kind – saturated fat. But I don’t think that it’s necessarily the natural saturated fat (or any unprocessed fat for that matter – think avocados, nuts, etc…) that are the problem. The problem comes from when we process that fat and make it into things like hydrogenated oils and trans fats. That’s when our bodies rebel and treat the unnatural substances as artificially dense forms of energy. The processed fats are what pack on the pounds.

I thought I would do a little research in our small library on board (and some Internet browsing), to see what else fresh coconuts provide for our bodies and health. There has definitely been a coconut health craze in the works for the past few months, and even though I’m always a little skeptical about new health crazes, I think coconuts deserve more (positive) attention than they get.

There are two ways to enjoy a fresh coconut. One is a young, or Thai, coconut that isn’t all the way ripe and the other is a fully mature coconut, or the one that has a brown, hairy outer shell. Young coconuts have a more jelly-like flesh and more water in the center while mature coconuts have a firmer flesh and the water is slightly less sweet. Coconuts are also rich in lauric acid, which is known for being anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, and boosts the immune system. They are high in fiber and surprisingly high in iron, which I wouldn’t have guessed, as well as phosphorus and zinc. If you think about it, like all other nuts and seeds, coconuts have all the nutrients and minerals needed to create an entire new tree or plant. So how can that powerful concoction not be beneficial to your body?

Aside from fresh coconut, the healthy nut can also be consumed when dried (desiccated), as coconut milk, coconut cream, coconut oil, and coconut butter, which is a combination of both oil and meat (my favorite).

Just don’t sit under a coconut tree 🙂

Manuel Antonio National Park DER

15 January, 2012
Manuel Antonio National Park

For the first day of our voyage aboard the National Geographic Sea Lion, what better way to become acquainted with the natural beauty of Costa Rica than by spending the morning in one of its foremost national parks? Manuel Antonio National Park, located just south of the old banana-exporting town of Quepos on the Pacific coast, is a popular destination for Costa Rican nationals and foreigners alike. It is also one of Costa Rica’s smallest national parks. After breakfast we arrived on the sandy beach via Zodiac, ready to set out in search of wildlife and other interesting tropical rainforest species. Our naturalists led several hikes ranging in distance, pace, and interest. There was a photo-specific walk that included instruction on how to take better images, a longer, more strenuous hike that climbed up to a beautiful look-out, and several walks along the “Sloth Valley Trail” that were dedicated to finding and identifying mammals, birds, reptiles, and other wildlife species residing within the park boundaries. Among the species spotted were iguanas, a turtle, several sloths, and a troop of marauding Capuchin, or white-faced, monkeys. Known for its abundant bird-life, we also enjoyed many glimpses of a variety of feathered fauna.

After retuning to the ship for lunch, we had the opportunity to go back to the beach in the afternoon for some swimming, sunbathing, and more wildlife searching, if desired. The water was cool and refreshing and it felt great to unwind in the salty surf!

We picked up anchor in the late afternoon and prepared to sail south toward the remote Osa Peninsula where we will spend the entire day tomorrow in the area’s lush, wild tropical rainforest.

Becky Timbers, Wellness Specialist