Puppies of the Sea

Photo credit to Mark Gottlieb.

Mark1rays

First, I must offer thanks to Mark, one of the others on my amazing South Pacific adventure last August, for sharing some of his photos with the rest of us. One was this photo of a “receiving line” greeting stingrays eager to check us out (or maybe looking for food). One of them squeezed right in between me & another passenger – sweeping against my arm – that was cool. Note: they kind of feel like wet eggplant. Someone – I don’t remember who – referred to them as big gray puppies of the sea. I’m not in this particular photo; I was with a different group off to the side.

I feel like I’m always apologizing for my frequent absences from my blog, but life does get hectic and other priorities often prevail.

So I’d like to start offering you, those of you who have Instagram accounts at least, some people to follow, not just for pictures of the South Pacific (my most recent vacation), but other destinations frequented by Lindblad Expeditions and others I’ve met on my travels.

Definitely check out:

jaydickmanphoto (Nat Geo photographer & Pulitzer Prize winner)

jackdswenson (Nat Geo photographer)

livingcookiesdream (Chris Cook, naturalist)

adam.cropp (Expedition Leader on my last trip) – he has a thing for drone photography!

Mark may also have an Instagram page, but there are several people with the same name on the site, and I’m not sure which he might be.

I’ll save more for later!

Happy July everyone!!

The Staff of Ra. Oops, um, I mean the Staff of (the) Orion

That’s a Raiders of the Lost Ark joke. (If you’ve ever seen a short woman walking by with her cell phone ringtone blaring the Indiana Jones theme – that was me.)

Anyway, in addition to wonderful crews, Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic is also known for having fantastic and knowledgeable staff members, ranging from from photographers, naturalists, wildlife biologists, cultural specialists, divemasters, etc.

Meeting new ones has been as delightful as the reunions with those I’ve sailed with before, like Christian Moreno Gonzalez, who was a naturalist on my 2015 Baja expedition. staff6This time he was one of the divemasters in charge of the scuba divers so I didn’t see him very often. And Jay Dickman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning National Geographic Photographer who was also on the Baja trip as well as my 2012 Antarctic expedition. I’m actually cheating here a bit because I only encountered Jay in the tiny Rangiroa airport as he was leaving and I was arriving. staff10Funny story: in 2013 as I showed Antarctic photos to my Denver relatives, before I could identify Jay’s photo, they all said “oh, we know him.” Turns out my younger brother was an Eagle Scout with Jay’s youngest son, pictured here.

You’ve already seen a picture of Doug Gualtieri,  one of the naturalists, in a previous post – he rescued my socks from a mischievous puppy. Other naturalists aboard included Tom Ritchie, who’s been with Lindblad for decades. staff9 In fact, he has his own zodiac named after him. Elise Lockton, who spends most of her time in Denali National Park (Alaska), is seen here wearing a leafy headdress given to her by one of the Marquesans.  staff3And this is Ian Strachan, the naturalist who led several of the hikes I went on, including the infamous “march of mud” up and over the island of Fatu Hiva. (We were looking for the Fatu Hiva Monarch, endemic to this island only, but never found one because of the rain.) staff11  It was a hard hike, and the group could’ve made better time without slow poke me, but it was worth it. The vistas, even in the rain and clouds, were gorgeous. In the photo Tim is standing near Ari, a guest, at one of the summits.

Adam Cropp, seen here drying off after our second visit to the grotto on Makatea (in the Tuamotus) was our expedition leader.staff5

Chris Cook, better known as Cookie, was one of our undersea specialists. He was out there snorkeling, scuba diving, etc. He also specialized in keeping the atmosphere light-hearted – he loved making faces. Staff2

Our cultural specialists were Heidy Baumgartner-Lesage, an archaeologist who’s lived and worked in French Polynesia since the 1980’s, also pictured at the grotto. Staff1

Alex Searle Pineda, from Chile, and Tua Pittman, a traditional master navigator from the Cook Islands, were the other cultural specialists. They’re pictured here with Cookie, and one of the guests, Larry Jackson (ever hear of Loudmouth Golf Clothing?) I know the photo is a little dark – I have more photos to share, I promise. And I’ll try to upload my little video clip of Tua doing the Haka. Stay tuned! staff8

 

The Orion crew

One of the joys of traveling on expedition vessels like the National Geographic Orion, is the crew. Because of its small size (the Orion’s total passenger capacity is only 102), you receive more personal interactions with everyone, from the other guests, to the Lindblad staff, to your cabin steward, to the head chef, and even the Captain.

The crew, primarily Filipino, works several months in a row, continuing on from one expedition to another, before enjoying an extended home leave. Many have worked on board the same ships for years, including multiple generations. We had at least two father/son duos, like Teddy “Without” and Teddy “With” (hair, that is). You can probably guess which one was the bald one. Yes, Teddy Without introduces himself by that nickname.

Crew1

The galley crew

While I’ve loved the crew on all my other trips with Lindblad/National Geographic, I think the Orion crew may be my favorite. They created such a joyful atmosphere it was infectious. Then there was “Crew Night” where they put on a musical review show for us. (I got to see the show twice since I was on two back-to-back expeditions). The housekeeping staff danced to “Hands Up” (the 1981 disco hit by Ottawan) and the Galley Crew did “YMCA” for us. Most of the passengers got up and danced too. There were more performers, of course, including Cookie, one of the staffers, who got up and sang in front of a crowd for the first time ever in his life. (We provided lots of encouragement.)

Looking through my crew photos I’ve realized that most of them worked the bar. Hmmm. What does that say about me?

And (the worst omission ever), I have no photo of Teddy Without. What?? How can that be? Not only was he our waiter many nights in the dining room, on Apataki (an atoll in the Tuamotus) he loaned me his flip flops! I had been snorkeling in the lagoon and, when tired, I mistakenly exited the water on the wrong part of the beach. If you’ve never been on a coral atoll, some of those beaches are covered in rough, broken up coral. Talk about pain. My water shoes were several yards away on the other beach, so Teddy Without, seeing me gingerly trying to cross the beach without killing my feet, ran over and offered me his footwear. (Yes, they were too big, but they worked.) What a lifesaver!

Of course, you know what this means. I just have to go back and do this trip again!

Penguins and Paddleboards

When traveling with Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic, there are always a number of daily activities you can choose from. Being ship-based, these include snorkeling, scuba-diving (for certified divers), swimming, kayaking (which I’m pretty bad at), and stand-up paddle-boarding (SUP). This is the first expedition I’d taken since they added SUP as a choice and, never having tried it, you know that I had to when we reached Takume Atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago.

Here’s another of my infamous foot pictures! You might be asking what’s with the small stuffed penguin – I think it’s been a while since #PenguinAboutTown has made an appearance in my blog. Paddleboard3 He’s a King Penguin that was an impulse buy from a little green-roofed gift shop in Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands, on my to Antarctica. He’s since traveled with me to several states, Europe and Africa. (He was quite pleased when he realized his dream of being a #PenguinOfMadagascar.) He’s even found himself in the jaws of a T-Rex skeleton. I didn’t intend for him to be a traveling companion, but on my Baja expedition I discovered a couple from WSU carrying their stuffed Cougar mascot and a young woman from Malaysia carrying a stuffed elephant, all for photo ops. I realized this is a thing, so now #PenguinAboutTown climbs into my camera bag whenever I start packing.

Paddleboard2

You might surmise from my lack of kayaking skill, I wasn’t all that great at SUP either. (I really need to work on more upper body strength.)  One of my very first acts was to have to throw myself off the board backward in a vain attempt to not run over a snorkeler. I was really at the mercy of the winds and currents, and kept ending up going in directions I didn’t want to. (This should sound familiar to Sandy, my Antarctic kayaking partner.) I even ended up stuck on a sand bar. If I remember correctly, it was Expedition Leader Adam Cropp who helped me off that and directed me into a more sheltered area within the lagoon.

Here’s my wonderful friend, Bobbie Prees, Paddleboard_Bobbieutilizing the wiser method of kneeling on the paddle board. I tried that too, but it just wasn’t as fun as falling off, getting wet, climbing back on, repeat. Even my iPhone took a brief dunk in the lagoon while tucked inside my life vest (it survived). The only thing that stayed dry the entire time? The Penguin.

Paddleboard1

 

Sharks and puppies

No, nobody was feeding any puppies (or other cute little baby animals) to sharks. (I was, however, tempted to title this blog posting as “Pippin! Pippin!” to see if anyone picked up on the reference.)

Doug_puppyThis little guy here being held by Doug Gualtieri, a Lindblad naturalist taking a break from his usual work on their Alaska expeditions, was the culprit who tried to run off with my socks that rainy day on the atoll of Fakarava. The girl in the wheelchair is a local resident in the atoll’s main village of Rotoava. The puppy may have belonged to her, but many of the dogs were “community” pets taken care of by everyone.

After my long photo walk with photographer Chris, I luckily happened upon this small stretch of beach where a local man had befriended a couple of nurse sharks. We’d been told we might have a chance to watch him feed the sharks, and possibly pet them as well. So I pulled off my footwear, stuffing my socks into my hiking shoes. Unknown to me, as I waded out into the water to wait for one of the sharks to approach me, the puppy decided my socks made great toys and pulled them out of my shoes. Doug intercepted. (Thanks, Doug, for saving my socks!) And he loves dogs anyway, so he was quite happy to have a puppy to play with.

Alas, the sharks did not like me and wouldn’t approach. (I really wanted to be able to say I had petted a shark. Dang it.) But a couple others in the group did get lucky, including Marc, my drinking buddy. (The middle two bar stools at the bar in the lounge aboard the Nat Geo Orion became “ours.”) I didn’t time my photo right, so you don’t get to see him actually petting the shark – sorry.  Marc_shark

 

Flowers of Fakarava

On our first day at the lovely atoll of Fakarava, some of us went on a photo walk with Nat Geo photographer Chris Ranier. (Interesting fact: Chris was Ansel Adams’ last assistant before he passed away.) Chris’ focus (no pun intended) is in telling the stories of cultures through photography which can include even the tiniest of details in the surrounding environment. He highlighted many things on our walk, from the people, their homes, their brand new trucks and SUVs, their puppies (like the one who tried to run off with my socks – but that’s another story), and their vegetable and flower gardens.

I don’t spend a lot of time taking flower pictures at home, but I always seem to be doing it on vacation. (It helps when you have a professional photographer pointing out particularly photogenic flowers.) These two shots I think may be my favorite. I’m sure Chris told us the name of these flowers (or perhaps it was Tom Ritchie on a later walk), but as usual I can’t find it in my notes. I just think they’re really pretty. Maybe you recognize them? You might notice it was raining that day.

Flower2Flower1

Sneak Preview

I know I’ve been away from my blog for far too long. Sometimes real life really does get in the way.

Enough of excuses. I’d rather show you some vacation photos from my August trip to the South Pacific. It’s the first time that I’ve ever flown west of California, and long overdue.

It wasn’t the typical tourist lounging in Tahiti or Bora Bora (although I do have a hankering to spend a few days in one of those over-the-water bungalows). We boarded the beautiful National Geographic Orion NG_Orionand set sail for the Tuamotus and the more remote Marquesas. Our days were filled with snorkeling, hiking, meeting the locals, history and cultural lessons, and, of course, zodiac rides (the latter which, by the way, are even more fun at high speed while listening to Hans Zimmer’s “The Barbarian Horde” on your iPod).

Just wanted to share a couple photos to start. Speaking of zodiac rides, life jackets were always required, but where on earth do we park all those things while we’re ashore? The handy, portable, trash cans, of course.lifejackets Believe it or not, pretty much everyone I’ve traveled with has at least one of these photos. It may seem to be a rather mundane photo but it is part of a complete story when one is traveling with Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic.

And to give a hint of the unique culture of the Marquesas, here’s a picture of a tiki statue at an ancient religious site. It’s one that’s been moved several times, but it is believed it’s current prone position is the original placement. Behind the tiki is my traveling friend Bobbie. (I think she’s taking a picture of the sign on the other side.) Bobbie_statue

 

 

 

Paella, Paella, Paella!

paellaStella, Stella, Stella!  Oh, oops, wait, that’s from a movie. Never mind. Back to the paella. Spain is a great country for paella. If you like paella, that is. I have to confess I’m not a huge fan, especially since the ones I encountered were mostly seafood versions. And, no, I don’t like seafood…unless it’s in a Japanese restaurant in the form of sushi.

So I had high hopes for this dish, a homemade vegetarian paella, served up by our hosts at La Casa Magica in Villatuerta. While I wasn’t overwhelmed by it, the dish was certainly flavorful, the veggies fresh, and it was quite filling. I selectively dug out the rice and veggies I like most and made a meal out of that, along with the ubiquitous bread that was everywhere with every meal (or so it seemed).

The most enjoyable part of the dinner, as with most evenings, was the company that we enjoyed surrounded by citizens of a variety of nations from as close as France and as far away as Asia. There was Henry and Alba, originally from Venezuela but now residing in Canada, Amy from South Korea, Essa from Finland (Essa seemed to be rather fond of Amy, but it didn’t seem she was reciprocating), and the trio from Killarney in Ireland, among others.

We had already met “Ireland” (as we called them) along the trail thanks to the decorative ribbons on my backpack. Being that I travel most frequently with Lindblad Expeditions, I have a multitude of their blue and yellow ribbons (which they provide to better identify your luggage during group airport transfers) and are – I’m told – based on the flag of Sweden where Lars Eric Lindblad (Sven Olaf’s father) was born. It turns out they’re also the colors of Killarney, Ireland, and “Ireland” wondered if perhaps I hailed from their hometown. Alas, I do not, although I am of Irish descent. (My mother’s family immigrated to the U.S. during the great potato famine in the mid-1800s). While one of her relatives has done a genealogy, I don’t remember most of the details so I can’t say whether we might actually be from Killarney. Too bad I’m not, for the young-ish male third of “Ireland” was quite handsome.

Yes, we really did refer to people by their country (or town). it was easier to remember. And, being a horror writer, it reminded me of the movie “Zombieland” where the characters referred to each other by their hometowns (like Columbus and Tallahassee) lest they become too familiar with and attached to one another. Not that I was expecting the zombie apocalypse to occur while we were on the Camino, but I certainly had ample opportunity to let my mind wander while walking, concocting all sorts of scenarios for future horror stories. Like, what if that paella dish – easily two feet across – had been a zombie’s dream: brain paella. Hmm Hmm Good.

Giving Thanks

It’s cliche to be expressing thanks this time of year, but today – after a busy morning running around followed by a mid-afternoon nap in the big overstuffed chair – I awoke to two cats draped across my lap, purring. And I felt thankful. Thankful for small furry bodies keeping me warm on a rainy day. Thankful for their gazes which tell me that I am their whole world.

So I’d like to thank all the felines who came before who have shared their companionship and love…and their lessons about life and death…with me.

KC

To K.C., my first cat when I was a teenager. He loved to annoy my mother by sleeping on the clean linen and taught me that I would do pretty much anything to save my cat – including climbing out onto a slippery roof to retrieve him. He was the first to teach me that hearts can be broken from many miles away: he’d gone to live with my sister because I wasn’t able to keep him and passed away without me learning about it until later. (That’s my sister in the picture.)

Lovely

To Lovely, who wasn’t even my cat. She wandered into the basement one day while I was doing laundry. Emaciated and weak, she cried for attention. Sucker that I am, I took her to the vet and found that she had cancer. I’d never seen her in the neighborhood before so I can only assume that her owners, discovering her illness, had tossed her out like garbage. So I felt it my duty to give her peace with caring human hands holding her as she passed. It was the wonderful staff at Broadway Pet Hospital who dubbed her Lovely. They didn’t want her to die unnamed or unloved. Only in my life for a few days, I believe it was her task to teach me about death firsthand, preparing me for the time three years later that I would have to let go of Indy, who I had raised from kittenhood.

Indy1To Indy, my first cat as an adult. I found him at a pet store marked down multiple times from $9.99 to $3.99. He was the smartest cat I’ve had, able to open drawers and cupboards, digging out toys that I had hidden away. At night, he lay on my right side. I would drape my arm across his body and he would wrap his tail around my arm. He taught me the true, and sometimes expensive, responsibilities of cat ownership.

marian1To Marian, who taught me that I had enough love for more than one pet at a time. She would sit in my lap while I was on the computer and rub her slobbery face all over my hands while I typed. (Yes, cats can slobber.) And she taught me guilt. The day before she unexpectedly died from a blood clot, I’d been very busy and kept pushing her away, unable to give her the attention she craved. There was no time to apologize to her, only to tell the vet to end her suffering as quickly as possible. I’m sorry Marian.

FluffyTo Fluffy, who I took in as an elderly feline on behalf of an elderly friend who could no longer care for her. She turned out to be sick, so our time together was short, but it was long enough for many laughs, like the times – completely oblivious that there was already a cat sitting on my lap – would climb right on top of that cat (usually Annie).

 

AnnieTo Annie, who taught me that it’s the cats who are in charge. She would sit on the floor halfway in between the couch and the computer desk…and wait. When she felt that I had spent a sufficient amount of time at the computer, she issued her demands: a series of sharp “MOWS” (not meows, mows) until I obeyed her and sat on the couch, so she could sit on my lap. She had deep maternal instincts, helping to raise Turtle and Bender. She was the only cat who missed those who had passed before her, looking for them in their usual hidey spots.

And, of course, to Turtle, who I’ve written of many times before. She taught me that your soul mate is not always the same species as you.

And to Ariel, who I lost last month. She taught me that a single act of kindness can change your entire world.

You can see photos of Turtle and Ariel in earlier blogs.

BoysTo Bender and Paco, thank you for being with me today. What would I do without your head butts and forehead licks, Bender? And your nose rubs, Paco? I hope that I can do whatever is needed to make your lives better. We will always have love in this house.

And lest I forget the people:

Thank you friends and family. Thank you to the childhood friends who found me on Facebook (yeah, Facebook can be a huge sucking waste of time, but I’ve reconnected with many people important to my past. It’s also giving me a chance to learn about my nieces and nephews who grew up halfway across the country and a way to get to know my two sisters-in-law.)

Thanks to the friends who found themselves terrific spouses who I’m lucky to also count as my friends.

Thanks to the friends I’ve made in my world travel with Lindblad Expeditions. I look forward to traveling with you again.

Thanks to all of those friends and relatives who have raised intelligent, outspoken, independent, and interesting children. It gives me hope for the future.

Thanks to those of you who have bought my e-books. I hope that I’ve entertained you.

And many thanks to the ancient Mesopotamians for inventing beer.