2011 In Review

Looking back on 2011, it seems like I was a pretty busy chica, in terms of traveling at least. 13 countries, 7 states (not including the ones I drove through), and too many airports to count. And now I’m back where I started! 2011 began with a four week contract aboard the NG Sea Lion in Costa Rica and Panama and it ended in the midst of another (albeit longer) contract in the same place. I wanted to do a re-cap blog about all the places I visited and wrote about this year, and share some of my favorite moments.

So to begin, after spending two months in Southeast Asia at the end of 2010, I flew straight to Panama to begin working on the Sea Lion for four weeks. Karen, a good family friend, joined me on board for the last week and then we both flew to Mazatlan, Mexico for a relaxing week at the Emerald Bay Resort, thanks to my grandparent’s timeshare.

I then took a ferry across the Sea of Cortez to La Paz where I embarked the NG Sea Bird for three weeks. Baja will always be one of my favorite places because I have so many fond memories there – swimming with whale sharks, petting baby gray whales, snorkeling with sea lions, and evening BBQ’s on the beach while the sun sets over the desert. After my three week contract, I spent a week in La Paz at Casa Tuscany and explored the small town and surrounding area. I even got to see La Paz from above!

And then I found myself, once again, on a plane to Costa Rica to do another four week contract on the Sea Lion. I have to say that I was getting a bit tired of the Panama Canal and I hadn’t been home for six months, so I was a little antsy to get of the ships for awhile. After that contract, I returned home (Vermont) for a few weeks before setting off to Seattle to begin our Alaska season up north. The cruise from Seattle to Juneau is one of my favorite voyages and it was a nice change of scenery after being in the the tropical rainforest and desert for the past six months. In Petersburg, I got to go flight seeing over the LeConte Glacier, which was incredible.

I returned to Alaska once more for another contract this past summer, and then I flew straight to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to visit my brother while he was doing one of his medical school rotations. Jackson is a pretty cool town and I enjoyed getting outside to do some hiking – Amphitheater is awesome! – and I did some yoga at Inversion Yoga. While in Jackson I found out that I had the opportunity to to a 15 day cruise in the Baltic Sea aboard Lindblad’s NG Explorer. Of course I said yes, but had to scramble to get everything together in time.

After leaving Jackson Hole and taking a bus to Salt Lake City (and enduring a twelve hour layover) I then had to suffer through a 12 hour drive from Detroit to Vermont due to Hurricane Irene’s destructive path. Then I had a week at home, before boarding another plane, this one headed to St. Petersburg, Russia, via New York (where I visited some friends) and Paris. The cruise was amazing. We stopped in nine different countries along the Baltic Sea and got to listen to Mikhail Gorbachev and Lech Walesa give speeches to Lindblad guests.

After disembarking in Copenhagen, I had a long flight to Indiana where I spent a week with C and his family. Then it was back to VT for two months (!) before jetting down to Florida to spend several days with C and to swim with some manatees. C returned home with me for a visit (he’d never been to Vermont), and we took a few days to explore the woods and take a road trip across the border to Montreal and see Cirque du Soleil, something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.

After Christmas and almost four months away from the ships (working, at least), it was time to begin another contract. I flew to Newark where I met C and sat in the airport for 6 hours before finally getting on a plane to San Jose, Costa Rica. And now, just as the New Year arrived, we crossed over from Costa Rica into Panama and will begin transiting the canal tonight. What a year! It feels like such whirlwind when I write it down, but I guess I’m used to being on the road so much because it felt like a normal year. I can’t wait to see what new places I’ll find myself in 2012!

Hope everyone had a good New Years. Feliz ano nuevo!

What are your best travel memories from 2011?

The Longest Day Ever, and then some

As an experienced traveler, I have come to expect long travel days, mindless hours spent in airports, and unavoidable delays. But trying to get back home to Burlington, Vermont from Jackson Hole was one long misadventure. Here is what I experienced:

Saturday, August 27 

4:30 am Woke up to bring my brother to the Jackson Hole airport so he could fly to San Francisco for his next medical rotation

5:45 am Dropped the car off at my brother’s friend’s house and walked 15 minutes, with my luggage, to a gas station to meet the shuttle that would transfer me down to Salt Lake City, Utah for my flight. Due to Hurricane Irene, my original flight that stopped in JFK got cancelled, so now I would be flying out of SLC at 1:00 am. The next morning.

6:30 am We began our 5 hour drive down to Salt Lake City. I tried to stay away and watch the landscape as it passed by, but my eyes just wanted to stay closed so I gave up and listened to Adele with my head cushioned against the side window.

11:30 am We arrived at the Salt Lake City airport where I checked my bag and prepared myself for a 13 hour wait. I ended up catching a bus into the city where I found an outdoor mall (see last post) with Barnes and Noble and a Starbucks. I treated myself to a nice dinner at a sushi bar called the Happy Sumo. I had the vegetarian combo and some steamed vegetables. For those of you who don’t know me, I could eat (veggie) sushi every day and never get sick of it!

Sunday, August 28

12:55 am I headed back to the airport around 8 pm and spent the next few hours lying on the floor of the terminal with a coat sleeve over my eyes. At last it was time to board the plane to Atlanta and as soon as the plane took off, I took my contacts out, closed my eyes, and fell asleep

6:30 am I arrived in Atlanta, Georgia. I only had an hour layover, so I hurried to my next gate

7:25 am My plane departed Atlanta for Detroit

9:20 am I arrived in Detroit, Michigan. This is where it gets good. I get off the plane and look at the monitors to see what gate my flight to Burlington, Vermont will be. Instead of a gate number, it says cancelled. Great, I thought. So I went and stood in line with a number of other people trying to get places that Hurricane Irene ungraciously grazed. After 45 minutes of standing in line, the counter attendant informed me that the next flight available out of Detroit to Burlington would be Wednesday! No way, I thought, but what other options did I have? The woman in front of me mentioned that people were renting cars and driving to wherever they needed to go. A quick Google maps search told me that from Detroit to Burlington would be 13 hours driving time.

11:00ish am I made some phone calls to the car rental agencies and took the free shuttle to the Avis lot. I was prepared to jump in the car and drive the 600+ miles. I called my folks, though, and my dad convinced me to get a hotel for the night and see if I could stand by for a flight to Burlington the next morning. I gave in to reason and returned to the airport.

12:30 pm There was another flight to Burlington at 2:45, so I hung around to see if that one a) was actually going to happen and b) I could get a seat on it. An hour before it was scheduled to take off, just when I thought it might actually happen, they cancelled it. We were all directed, once again, to the customer service desk, where, once again, they informed us that we wouldn’t be able to get a flight to Burlington until Wednesday!

1:30 pm – 4:00 pm 
Not wanting to wait in Detroit for three days, I started asking around to see if anyone wanted to drive with me to Burlington. I recruited three other people. One was a woman (Charlene) who needed to be in Littleton, New Hampshire for a business meeting. Another was a woman (Natalie) from Montreal trying to get back east after a Usana conference in Salt Lake City. And the third was a soldier (James) trying to get back to school in Northfield, Vermont. All seemed like nice and reliable characters who just wanted to get to where they were going. We shook hands, stated our names, and exited the airport (after waiting almost 2 hours to receive our bags – mine never came). We also picked up a fifth person (Stephanie) who was stranded at the baggage claim and had no way to get home. While the other waited for their bags, Charlene and I went to the Avis car rental lot and picked up a shiny new Dodge Ram SUV. Charlene had her boss rent the car on her company’s account and paid for gas on the company’s card, so all we had to was chip in for insurance! It took an additional 45 minutes to fill out the paperwork and then when we were ready to leave, the car battery was dead. Another few minutes of scrambling and were fitted with a new car and on our way

4:30 pm A wrong turn sent us traveling north, but we quickly found our way again with Charlene’s Garmin GPS (supplemented with my iPhone). Since only Charlene and I could drive (only we had the insurance), I got to sit up front the whole way. We passed through Michigan and into Ohio. Then it was Pennsylvania and eventually New York. We stopped for food and gas several times, but pretty much we just kept trucking east.

8:30 pm & on Charlene and I took turns behind the wheel while the other tried to find updates on the storm and flooding conditions in Vermont. Everything that we found online and heard over the news told us it was bad. Really bad. Southern Vermont was getting evacuated and roads were closing left and right. Not what I want to hear after traveling since 4:30 the previous morning. We decided, though, that we would continue on as far as we could get and if we had to stop and get a hotel, we would. But not until we had to. I wanted to get home!

I think we were lucky. The only trouble we came across was somewhere near Albany, New York where we had to take a detour (thank God for the GPS!) and then on Route 22A in Vermont where we had to drive through a giant puddle. That was it. I think we skirted north and west enough to avoid any of the real flooding damage.

Monday, August 29

5:45 am We rolled into the Burlington airport, where we all agreed we would disband. I called my dad to come pick me up, Stephanie called her mom. Natalie waited at the airport for her brother to come in on his plane from Detroit (we were all slightly bitter towards him) and Charlene and James continued on for another 2 hours or so towards Montpelier and Littleton, New Hampshire.

All in all it was a good road trip. I met some interesting and very nice people and I got to see a part of the country that I’d never traveled through before. Would I do it again? Definitely not (unless I had to), but it wasn’t a horrible experience either. When I have long layovers or my travel plans become disrupted, I kind of get into this zone where time doesn’t matter anymore. Whatever happens will happen, and eventually, at some point, it will end and the next adventure will begin.

12 hours in Salt Lake City

Honestly, I can’t say that I’m very impressed. Maybe it’s because I’m exhausted (after waking up at 4:30 this morning and taking a five hour bus ride from Jackson Hole down to Salt Lake City) or maybe because it’s freaking hot here and I’m in jeans and sneakers and have a heavy pack on my shoulders. The first place I found after dropping my bag off at the airport and taking a bus into the city was a sprawling outdoor mall with every retail shop you can imagine and kids playing in a jumping water fountain. Not a good introduction to the city. I found a Starbucks, though, and sipped away my headache with a soy latte. I also did a little research on things to do in Salt Lake City and the #1 attraction, according to Trip Adviser, is the library. I had plenty of time – 12 hours to be exact – before my plane departed at 1:00 am, so I thought I might as well try to find it. I hopped on the Trax, an above-ground train, and went several blocks to where I thought the library was located. After walking a few hundred yards away from the station though, I felt the sweat start to drip down my back and thoughts of the air-conditioned Barnes and Noble back at the mall sounded pretty good. I retraced my steps without finding the library and spent the remainder of my waiting game browsing the shelves.

Once again I have been very bad about updating my adventures and whereabouts. My three week contract in Alaska ended with lots of rain, a massive calving in Tracy Arm, bubble net-feeding humbacks, breaching whales, and a salmon fishing bear who wasn’t very good at fishing. The calving was actually a little frightening. I was out in one of the Zodiacs with a few of the guests and we were viewing the glacier from a safe distance amid floating pieces of ice and harbor seals. But even though we were at a quarter of a mile away, we weren’t prepared for the whole face to come sliding off! I didn’t have my camera out to catch it, but it wouldn’t have done the phenomena justice anyway. After the ice broke off we were faced with a ten foot wave slowly rolling its way towards us. Thank g*d it didn’t break, because then we really would have been in trouble. The only thing we had to worry about was the floating bits and pieces of ice surrounding our Zodiac. Several were quite large and it would not have been good if they rolled over beneath us. We made our retreat from the active glacier swiftly and stealthily, riding out the waves and dodging the ice. I’ll admit that my heart was pumping a little faster than usual. I thought it ironic too, that just a few days earlier the Captain Cook experienced a similar calving and a passenger unfortunately fell and broke her leg. Even though I didn’t get any shots of the calving, our Video Chronicler was out in a Zodiac as well, so he caught the whole even on film and I managed to get a copy of the DVD. It’s just as good on video!

After saying goodbye to the Bird in Sitka, I flew down to Jackson Hole to visit my brother for a week. I’d never been to Wyoming, so I was excited to explore a new place! Jackson is a cool town, a little touristy for me, but lots going on and some great outdoor activities. Will took me up to Amphitheater Lake, a ten mile hike in Grand Teton National Park, the first day I arrived. It was beautiful and the lakes at the top were spectacular, but I found it a little difficult to breath. 9,700 feet was a little high after just being at sea level for a month! I also went white water rafting on the Snake River, mountain biking down the steep and winding Blacks trail (which resulted in two bloody knees and a major cramp in my side), and a 7 mile hike around Jenny Lake, also in the Grand Teton National Park. I set out on the last hike by myself, but met another couple somewhere along the trail and we formed a group of three. The trail was mainly flat except for a steep climb up to Inspiration Point that looked out over the lake. At the top I wondered what inspiration the view sparked and for whom…

Will had to work at the hospital during the day, but I managed to fill in the hours with yoga classes at Inversion and delicious smoothies at Lotus Cafe, my new favorite restaurant. Lots of vegan options and mostly organic! I also spent quite a bit of time making calls on my phone and writing e-mails back and forth to the patient and ever-so-helpful office staff at Lindblad. My first day in Jackson I received an email saying that there was an opening for the Baltic trip on the National Geographic Explorer! Of course I jumped on it (check out the itinerary!), but the problem was getting a Russian visa and flights in two weeks. I got it (mostly) sorted out though, and all I’m waiting for is my passport to arrive in the mailbox! Then I’ll be off to St. Petersburg Russia, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Sweden, Poland, Germany, and Denmark on a 15 day cruise! I can’t wait! And I’ll try my best to keep everyone updated on the things I see and the adventures I come across. Not sure what kind of internet service I’ll have though…

Just curious, if you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?