Stuck in Colon

When I wrote about my trip to Florida, I promised that I would post some manatee pics as soon as I got them from C. So here they are! Aren’t they cute?!

I’m sitting in a little coffee shop in Colon. I just finished thoroughly cleaning the spa (it’s a constant battle against mold down here) and now I have some free time to relax and run a few errands (like buying some healthy breakfast foods). We just finished our first trip from Costa Rica to Panama. It went smoothly and we saw quite a few good wildlife sightings. Lots of monkeys (capuchins’ and howler’s), but the most exciting sighting was of a tayra, which I spotted on Barro Colorado Island in Gatun Lake (in the middle of the Panama Canal). Our guide had never seen one in the wild and she’s been living and working on the island for 8 years! A tayra, as I learned, is in the weasel family, but it has longer legs and are larger than most weasels. If our guide hadn’t told us what it was, I would have guessed it was a panther because it was big, had a long tail, and was jet black! Very cool.

Image from

I also used C’s underwater camera at Granito de Oro, a small island that we visit in Panama’s Coiba National Park. Here are some of the images I took. The don’t nearly do the real thing justice though…

Since our last trip started on a Tuesday, we now have four lay days in Colon in order to get back on a Saturday to Saturday schedule. Colon, as I have mentioned before, is not a nice city. I’m not sure what I’m going to do for the next few days, but I’m sure I can find some things to keep me busy!

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?

Back to the Boat and Back to Blogging

Ok, I know, it’s been awhile since I last posted a blog entry – about three months, actually – and I’m very sorry about that. In the meantime, though, I have been doing some traveling, but mostly enjoying being home in Vermont before my next big voyage. Which starts in approximately 8 hours. I’ll try to catch up on my whereabouts and achievements a bit, at least as much as I can remember!

After I returned from my 15 day Baltic Sea extravaganza way back in September, I flew straight to Indiana to visit my boyfriend, C, and his parents who live in Bloomington. As you know, I love exploring new places, and Indiana was new territory so I was very excited to see what it has to offer. We went to the annual Lotus Festival, a world music and arts celebration that draws artists from all over the world. We saw several great bands including gypsy singers from Dikanda, Nordic fiddle-driven performers from Frigg, the Chinese-inspired Orchid Ensemble, and my favorite, witty singer and songwriter Abigail Washburn. We also witnessed an ethereal performance by an Australian performing arts group aptly called Strange Fruit. Three women dressed in brassy Victorian dresses stood a top tall poles and “danced” together by using their weight to bend the poles back and forth in wide, sweeping arcs. While the poles were swaying, they would twist their bodies and spin in dizzying circles high above our heads. It was dark out and the women were illuminated by bright lights, making them look like they were suspended in the air. It was beautiful and rather eerie at the same time.

C and I also took an afternoon to go horseback riding at a nearby stable. We lucked out with a beautiful day and even though there were two other riders who weren’t as experienced (the poor girl started screaming when her horse broke into a trot), our guide let us canter on the flat straightaways. I miss having horses around, so it was great to get back on one again. The next day was beautiful as well, so C and I loaded up the canoe in the back of his dad’s truck and drove to a small lake (I’m forgetting the name) and paddled around for several hours. The wildlife didn’t compare to Alaska, but we did see some ducks and turtles sunbathing on fallen logs. My visit with C and his family seemed to fly by and before I knew it, it was time to get back on a plane (my 11th in the span of two months!). Indiana is a nice state, if somewhat flatter than Vermont, but I have to say the weather is more my style!

Back in VT, I had three months before I needed to be back on the boat in Costa Rica. I had previously worked at a amazing local health food store – Healthy Living – and they were kind enough to hire me for a short period of time (probably because that time incorporated Thanksgiving and Christmas, two of their busiest holidays). Anyway, I met some great people, ate some good food, and probably spent as much as I had earned. Part of that “pocket money” went to a short three-day trip to Florida to meet C and swim with some ugly-but-adorable manatees. When I was flying home from Indiana, I volunteered to get bumped in Detroit (aka the worst airport ever). As a reward, I got a $400 dollar flight voucher, which paid for my round-trip flight to Florida as well as C’s flight back to Vermont with me.

When I landed at the Fort Meyer’s airport, C was there with a rental car and we sped north toward Crystal River, home of several hundred manatees. Manatees are endangered species and there are only 3,000 4,000 left in the United States, almost all of them in Florida.  We rented a Jon boat, wetsuits, and snorkeling gear from a local tour operator and slowly motored out in search of the slow-moving water mammals. The whole manatee protective area in Crystal River is rather strange because there are houses lining the shore and private boats clogging the narrow waterways. If we want to save the manatees I think we can afford to offer them a bit more in terms of protection. In any case, C and I dropped the anchor at the entrance of a protected spring and jumped in the chilly water in search of some manatees. Underwater, the small lagoon was beautiful. The underground spring, full of minerals, made the water turquoise blue and the sun’s rays penetrated the surface, making the water sparkle. In the middle of the lagoon was a baby manatee, suspended in the water as he dozed. After spending some time watching him float to the surface for a breath and then sink back down to the sandy floor, we swam back out to our small boat and went in search of more animals. There were so many concentrated in such a small area that we could see them swim past as we motored by. We found a few more spots to swim with the manatees before I got too cold to jump in anymore. We returned the boat, loaded up the car and continued north to Juniper Springs.

(Sorry for the lack of manatee pictures. I have yet to get them from C, but I’ll post them as soon as I do!)

Juniper Springs is another beautiful natural spring, protected in Florida’s Ocala National Forest. We found a place to stay (in The Village, no less, an enormous retirement home community where there are doctor’s offices on every block) and the next day we set out to explore the Ocala National Forest. C had researched out a 4-hour canoe paddle at Juniper Springs, so we parked the car and rented a canoe from a very sweet German park ranger. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was surprised at how narrow and shallow the canoe trail was. It was beautiful: clear water, low hanging vines, dense forest. A perfect place for alligators. Not far in, we saw some baby racoons and their mother and then we heard a huge crashing straight ahead. We both caught a fleeting glimpse of a black bear madly scrambling down a tree and then disappearing into the underbrush. It may not be Alaska, but there are still black bears! We also saw two alligators basking in the sun and a ton of turtles soaking up the warmth. A small green tree frog also caught a ride with us for a few hundred feet. He jumped onto the side of our canoe and stayed there, stuck, until it was his stop.

The Juniper Springs run is 7-miles in length, and typically takes between 4 and 6 hours to finish. We took our time paddling around fallen trees, under low branches, and poking into nooks and crannies. There are no signs, but it’s pretty hard to get lost. At the end we were met by another park ranger who drove us back to the Juniper Springs visitor center. We walked around the campground a bit, C went swimming in the fresh water spring, and then it started to rain, so we returned to our car and headed back to The Village.

For our final full day in Florida, we went for a nice hike (Florida hikes don’t involve much elevation gain) in Colt Creek State Park. To get there we drove our little black shiny Jetta through some pretty rough terrain. We also passed far too many hunting camps than I would have liked to see. I wouldn’t say that we were lost (thanks to my handy iPhone), but we definitely took some back roads. Colt Creek is a nice park with walking trails and a small lake. We also found out that it’s home to wild boars. At least that’s what we think they were. We heard loud snorting and stamping off to the side of the trail in some thick underbrush and we didn’t stop to check it out. I’ve heard that wild boars can be pretty nasty and I didn’t want to stop see if that’s true.

So that was our Florida trip and then we boarded a plane bound for Vermont. C had never been to New England, so I was excited to show him around! I’ll continue my catch up in another post tomorrow. Merry x-mas everyone!