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?

A Ferry Ride To Remember

In a last minute decision this morning, I decided to chop off my hair. It was getting way too long and unmanageable, so after detoxing in the steam room (which was working this time) and soaking in the hot tub, I made an appointment at the salon for a haircut. Karen helped me flip though magazines and books and we picked out a few cuts I liked. But in the end I basically told the hairdresser that I wanted my hair cut short and left it up to her. After a hour in the chair (which was exactly the amount of time I had – more on that later) I was done. It looks really good – or so I think and so Karen says – and it feels great to have short hair. I remember I cut it way back in high school and didn’t love it so much. I just need to figure out how to hold it back for yoga and other things.

But that was this morning. Right now I’m sitting in the lounge of the Mazatlan Star, listening to Spanish soap operas, and waiting for us to set sail (metaphorically) for La Paz – pretty much a straight shot across the Sea of Cortez. Although not horrible, the Mazatlan Star is a far cry from the manicured lawns and spouting fountains of Pueblo Bonito. It’s a ferry that shuttles across passengers as well as tractor trailers laden with goods headed for the Baja peninsula. I’m the only white girl (actually the only white person) on board and did I mention that it’s a 14 hour journey?

How I got here… Minutes after I had my new haircut (I was signing the hair salon slip on my way out of the glass front doors), Karen, Conrad (a guy from Oregon we met in the hot tub a few days ago. Karen persuaded him to come to the ferry terminal with us in case she needed help finding her way back to the hotel since she was losing her primary navigator), and I were in the car and heading for the ferry. Outside the terminal we said a bittersweet goodbye (no tears, thankfully) and I shouldered my backpack and headed off to meet my ferry – once again traveling on my own. Thanks, Karen, for such a great two weeks!

Back in Baja

So that last bit was written last night on the ferry and now I’m sitting in my favorite restaurant in La Paz, very hungry, very thirsty, and very tired. Here’s how my night went. I was going to forgo getting a cabin to sleep in and hunker down in the lounge instead, but after about 15 minutes of being stared at by the huge Mexican truck drivers, I decided it would be safer (and more comfortable) to get a cabin of my own. It was actually quite nice. My room had three beds, a desk, a sink, and a closet. Unfortunately no toilet. So in order to minimize trips to bathroom during the night, I didn’t drink as much water a I would have wanted. I also didn’t sleep very well. The man in the cabin next to me snored so loud he woke himself up a couple of times. But after banging on the wall with my elbow a few times I think he switched beds because I didn’t hear him any more. I read my book for awhile, ate my grapefruit and almonds for dinner (the only food I brought) and turned out the light. The trip wasn’t bad at all. A little rough in the middle of the night, but nothing worse than what I’m used to. I woke up at 3:30 (not sure why) and dozed until 7 when I got up. I didn’t step off the ferry until 10:30 because they had to unload all the tractor trailers first. Then I hopped in a mini-bus taxi and sped off to La Paz where the Sea Bird was waiting for me in the harbor! First, though, I had to find some food and coffee. So here I sit at La Boheme, my favorite restaurant in town, enjoying the open-aired courtyard, a vegetarian omelet, and an Americano. It’s good to be back in Baja!

If you’re interested in taking the ferry from the mainland to Baja or vice verse, this blog explains it well. I would recommend getting a cabin and bringing food!

Pampered Like Queens

Oh, wow. Now I remember why I chose massage as a profession. Karen and I just received 80 minutes of relaxation heaven and after I felt like I was floating on clouds.

We woke up this morning to a very chilly and extremely windy day. One look (and one toe out the front door) and we decided to spend the day inside. After breakfast we made a quick run to a department store to get a duffel bag so I could send a few things home with Karen and then we lazed around until 3:00 when we headed over to the spa. I can’t describe how beautiful and well-done the spa is here at Pueblo Bonito. You walk in and to the left is the gym filled with weight machines and treadmills. To the right is a wooden walkway bordered on each side with flowing water that leads into the spa reception area. We got there an hour before our treatments (we each chose an 80-minute body scrub and wrap) so we could relax in the hot tubs. The “hot tubs” were located in a big tiled room that consisted of a large hot water pool, a jacuzzi, a steam room (which, unfortunately didn’t work), a rainforest shower that ran from hot water to cold to back again, a mist shower, a shower that sprayed water on you from all directions, a cold water plunge, and a hydro-reflexology path, which was a short walkway of small pebbles and misters. The pools were lit with green lights and there were lounge chairs, towels, and a refreshing iced lemon tea for our enjoyment. After soaking for awhile, we were shown to a waiting room with big comfy couches, cucumber water, dried fruit, and a large screen tv playing a video of beautiful places around the world to a soundtrack of serene music. After about ten minutes our massage therapists met us and showed us to the treatment rooms. First we were scrubbed down with a salt scrub and wiped off with warm towels. Then we were lathered with a body mask cream and wrapped up in plastic for 20 minutes to let the cream work its magic while our therapists did a facial massage. After being unwrapped we were sprayed down, on the table, by a hot Vichy shower – a shower that pours warm water over you while lying on the massage table. The water drains through holes in the table and onto the floor. Then we were warmed up again by a heated blanket and the final step was a body lotion massage and head rub. It was bliss.

To finish off the day we ate dinner – I made a delicious concoction of eggplant, chickpeas, olives, and roasted red peppers – and played a game of scrabble to the melodious voice of Rafael Rodriguez Tovador. He was so good Karen ended up buying three CDs.

Mountain Biking in Mexico

While the majority of the guests at Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay are content with sitting by the pool all day, reading their romance novels and sipping blended cocktails, Karen and I are not. I think yesterday was the first time we laid in the sun (partly because it’s rather chilly here) and that was only for a few hours. I’ve been waking up early and doing yoga and Karen has taken a few morning spinning classes at the beautiful, fully equipped gym. Yesterday we went for a nice walk along the long, deserted beach and watched several Mexican men dive for oysters. I’ve also been able to make a few delicious concoctions in the kitchen. I miss cooking when I’m in the ship! Last night we had gnocchi with homemade pesto, roasted red peppers, broccoli, and chickpeas. It was so yummy! And since we have a blender, I’ve been making fresh smoothies every morning. We went a little overboard on the mangoes at the grocery store, so I’ve only made mango-banana smoothies.

And of course, we’ve gone shopping. Karen likes to shop, and when I’m with her, I get in the mood as well (although I prefer, mostly, to look at things rather than buy them). I did get a blue Mexican long-sleeved poncho lined with fleece, which will be nice to have on the ship in Baja since it’s a lot colder here than I expected. I took Karen to a large open market that sells everything from fruit to chicken feet to handmade clothes to keychains. She (and I) had a blast. On the way back to the hotel (in our little red speedy car), we swerved into a parking lot and entered a jewelry store filled with beautiful handmade silver adornments from the Mexican state of Taxco. We spent an embarrassingly long time there. I ended up buying a pair of turquoise earrings and was tempted to buy a Mexican fire opal ring, which was more than I have ever spent on any piece of jewelry in my entire life. After spending the night thinking about it, I ended up going back the next day and buying it. As a gift to myself. Karen also bought some beautiful things as well.

But the best thing we have done so far in Mexico, was this morning. I had read online about a bike shop in Mazatlan that organizes mountain bike tours outside of town. We stopped by the shop yesterday and met Fernando Kelly Lopez – a short, stocky, 53 year old Mexican bike fanatic with blue eyes. The shop was surprisingly well stocked with bikes, tires, jerseys, sunglasses and pretty much anything else you would need for biking. After telling Fernando we wanted to go mountain biking, we planned on meeting him back there at eight the next morning.

After coffee and a mango-banana parfait, we headed back to his shop. There, Fernando equipped us with full-suspension mountain bikes, helmets, gloves, and a water bottle. By 8:30 we were on our way. Fernando said he built three different single-track trails on his extended family’s land, so that’s where we headed. After an hour of tight twists and turns through the scraggly brush, sandy descents, and short, steeps climbs, Fernando confessed that he hadn’t believed us when we said we were good bikers in the shop yesterday. He changed his mind, though, and avidly insisted that we could do mountain bike races down here in Mexico.

We were out for about three hours, riding single-track and double-track through the Mexican landscape. Only one broken chain and a flat tire – not too bad. It was so much fun and Fernando was a such great guide. By the time we returned to the shop, both Karen and I were tired, hungry, extremely dusty, but thoroughly content. We told Fernando that anytime he wanted to come to Vermont, he would have a place to stay and we’d show him around our network of trails.

Time to lay in the sun. I think we’ve earned it!

Iguanas in the Audiance

Looking out over the ocean, the waves crashing lazily on the sandy beach, I did my Ashtanga practice this morning to a chorus of doves and songbirds. I rolled out my mat before the sun came up and as the day brighten and warmed, I watched as several giant iguanas emerged from the bushes to bask in the warm sun. By the time I finished my sitting series I counted six of them staring at me, their orange and green scales almost glowing in the sunlight.

I’m at Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay in Mazatlan, Mexico. Karen and I left the ship in Colon City, Panama early yesterday morning (5:30 to be exact) and drove an hour and a half to the airport. We had a flight from Panama City to Mexico City, then a short layover and another flight in a small plane to Mazatlan. As we were flying into Mazatlan, the sun was just beginning to set over the Pacific Ocean, turning the water and clouds bright gold. It was beautiful.

In a last minute decision, Karen and I decided to rent a car for the week so we could explore the area and not be confined to the resort (that Nonny and Granda graciously offered us) where we would be staying. Map in hand, we loaded our luggage into the trunk and sped away toward Emerald Bay. The map was straightforward, but I should have known that Mexico is not. I wouldn’t say we got lost, exactly (it’s hard to get lost when the ocean is right in front of you) but we definitely didn’t go the way we were shown on the map. We had our own little private tour of the outskirts of Mazatlan. But, eventually we made it to our destination and stepped into the lobby of Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay. Let me say again, that I am not a resort person. But that said, I have been traveling throughout southeast Asia for two months and sleeping on my massage table for the past four weeks, so I have been looking forward to this for a long time. And it is by far the fanciest place I have ever stayed. There is a gigantic fish tank behind the reception and spouting fountains everywhere. The pools are beautiful and look right out over the ocean. Karen and I were shown to our room, which has its own kitchenette, balcony with lounge chairs, two comfortable queen beds, and a bathroom that is four times the size of my unit on the ship. I was in heaven. We dropped our bags (or rather the porter dropped our bags) and went in search of some dinner. There are thee places to eat in this massive complex and we chose the a la carte bistro. We shared a plate of nachos and chili rellanos, both of which were gigantic (and excellent), so it was good we decided to share. Exhausted, we walked back to our room, checked emails, then fell into bed.

We haven’t made many plans for the week, but I’m sure we’ll find some adventures as well as relaxation time on the beach. Today we need to do some errands, like shop for food so we can cook in our kitchen and I need to figure out how I’m getting to La Paz at the end of the week where I’ll be meeting the Sea Bird.

Bees Without Stingers Still Bite

I found that out a few days ago. We were hiking at a place called Caletas Reserve just outside of Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica. There was a recently fallen tree that had been partially cleared away by the owner of the land, but there was still some brush and debris that we had to trudge through. Apparently a swarm of bees thought it was a nice place to relocate their hive and weren’t too happy when we happened upon them and disturbed their new nest. Despite being stinger-less these bees knew how to latch on to passerby’s and use their tiny little mouths to inflict pain. They swarmed around our group of about ten hikers and crawled into our clothes, hair, shoes, socks, you name it. Luckily we could feel them moving around in said places and dislodge them before they took their first bite. But occasionally we suffered a blow that left a big red welt. Needless to say, we got out of there pretty fast, but we were still pulling them out of each others hair 20 minutes later.

On a happier note, my parents met up with me and the ship yesterday at Manuel Antonio where we spent the morning looking for monkeys and sloths and lounging on the beach. They joined us for lunch back on board then sailed with us from Manuel Antonio to Herradura, where the guests disembarked early this morning. Mom and Dad had to get off last night around 8:30 and find a place to crash. I haven’t seen or heard from them since, so hopefully they found a place. Many of the guests they talked to on board were incredulous about what they were doing – taking a month off to backpack around Costa Rica without any definite plans or itinerary. Although it sounds like my type of vacation, I’ve come to learn over the years that our (meaning the Timbers’ family) idea of a holiday isn’t what most people envision.

So three weeks have come and gone and now I only have one more trip back down to Panama before I head to Mexico for my long-awaited vacation. I’m very excited to have Karen Sweeney come join me on both this weeks voyage and next week in Maztlan. I’m sure I’ll have lots to blog about and many stories to tell!