IE Blog

Friend of International Expeditions Bret Love, editor of GreenGlobalTravel.com and a finalist for USA Today’s Best Couple Travel Bloggers award, sat down to interview Ana Maria Perez, the Expedition Leader for our people-to-people Cuba tours. Following is an excerpt from his original story.

We were excited to get a chance to speak with one of IE's Expedition Leaders, Ana Maria Perez, about growing up in Cuba, the evolution of Cuban attitudes towards the U.S., the richness of Cuban culture, and the wealth of natural and historical attractions the island nation has to offer.

What are your favorite memories of your childhood in Cuba?

I grew up with my grandma in a small town of eastern Cuba called Chaparra, in the province of Las Tunas. Mom was working in the province capital to support us all. Every time I close my eyes looking for a happy memory to better my day, I remember family gatherings.

On August 18 every year, we would all come to my grandma’s to celebrate her birthday. No matter how old she was turning and how scarce things were, there would always be cake, ensalada fria (a macaroni salad with ham or chicken and pineapple), and bocaditos (little sandwiches). Sometimes a roast pork on a spit if we could afford it. And always music and laughter and gifts. Family is the most important asset to Cubans.


cuba-street-paradeIn what ways has Cuba changed over the years?

Progress is undeniable, although slow. The 21st century Cuba has evolved to a more open and accepting society, partially because of the need to survive and the loosening of restrictions by the government. Cubans don’t see foreigners, especially Americans, as evil anymore. Visitors are welcome and treated like family.

Despite restricted use of the internet, most Cubans find access to information and technology from the rest of the world. Some own 3D TV sets and other “gadgets” that some of us in North America still don’t have. The Cuban community abroad is so huge, and these expats take care of their families on the island with remittances and goodies they bring. The entrepreneurial mindset is rapidly developing, as a result of the government legalizing small private enterprises to some extent. The growing number of paladares (private restaurants) is amazing.

Social discipline is one aspect that needs urgent attention - keeping the streets clean and garbage free, recycling, and doing jobs right without expecting any kind of extra compensation are some of the issues that need to be addressed.


cuban-guest-hugCan you explain how “People-to-People Cuba Travel” is different from a typical vacation?

The People to People way of traveling focuses on human interaction that allows Americans to understand the side of Cuba they don’t completely get, while also allowing Cubans to see the other side of the coin and compare their reality to that of the rest of the world. There are priceless experiences from the trips I have led.

One time, when interacting with students in an arts school in Matanzas after a magnificent spontaneous performance, one of the students dared our group to play something for them. Herm, a teacher and musician traveling with our group, went to the piano and played a classic American song. We were all in awe, silently singing to his music.


You’ve led several IE expeditions to Cuba. What do the American travelers you’ve led seem most surprised by during their time in Cuba?

Americans find it hard to understand how Cubans can be so happy with so little. I think that’s their biggest shock. By the end of the tour, most of our guests have found their own answers.

 

Most people don’t think of Cuba as a nature-lover’s paradise. What can travelers expect to see in places like Topes de Collantes National Park and the Zapata Peninsula’s UNESCO Biosphere Reserve?

Nature is particularly impressive in Cuba. When Cuba comes to mind, most people think of music, cigars, rum and vintage cars. But, as we move away from Havana and the other cities, to the mountainous areas of Topes de Collantes and the Zapata swamps, our guests realize that there’s much more to Cuba.

The beauty and diversity of the bush, the fascinating endemic bird species (including the world’s smallest, the bee hummingbird), and the masterful ways in which our naturalist guides bring it all to life help draw a broader picture.

There’s a lot of history in Valle De Los Ingenios and the city of Trinidad. What makes these places such important UNESCO Heritage Sites?

When we get to Trinidad, it is time to close our eyes and go back in time while our guide tells us the history behind this beautifully preserved colonial town and its cobblestone streets. What Trinidad and the Valle de Los Ingenios meant to Cuba, and to the world economy, as the world’s number one exporter of sugar, and the rich history of its ingenios, give it a special place in the history of humankind. Thus the well-deserved title of Patrimonio de la Humanidad.


cuba-musician-weaverI originally fell in love with Cuba via the country’s rich cultural traditions. Can you talk about the importance of music and art to the Cuban people?

Music and art are essential to every Cuban. Art is thoroughly encouraged by the government. Talent is developed in art schools – any age, any form – for free.

Kids grow up seeing their parents play music and dance and sing to the rhythm while they clean the house, cook, or do laundry. Music, from reggaeton to salsa to classical, is everywhere. You get on an almendron (the old American cars that serve as taxis) and music is playing. A party is not a party without music and dancing!


Some people may be nervous to travel to Cuba because it was off-limits to American for so long. What words of advice would you have for those who are considering a visit?

Open your mind and your heart to Cuba, and you will understand, accept, and inevitably let Cuba captivate you. Life as you know it will not be the same after Cuba. You’ll learn not to take everyday facts for granted, like running water on tap, a shelf full of products in a grocery store, and new shoes every time the old pair is getting uncomfortable. At the same time, you’ll likely get back to work and want to hug your colleagues and play music to spice up your day. You will hopefully become an even better human being, and do even more for our common Mother: Planet Earth.

Read Bret's complete story on GreenGlobalTravel.com.
 

patagonia-elephant-sealThe Southern elephant seal is an animal with an amazing number of accolades: Largest pinniped and deepest diving are just two very impressive records established by these incredible creatures. I have been extremely fortunate to observe Southern elephant seals at many haul sites on International Expeditions' Antarctica and Patagonia tours.

Southern Elephant Seal Quick Facts:

  • There are only two species of elephant seals: northern elephant seal and southern elephant seal. They derive their name from the hemisphere they are found in.
  • Elephant seals were hunted brink of extinction before being declared a protected species during the 19th century.

  • Males elephant seals can sire as many as 500 pups.

The Southern elephant seal is the largest seal, even longer and heavier than the Northern elephant seal and the walrus. Large bulls may reach 7,000 pounds, with the record belonging to a monster elephant seal that was shot on South Georgia Island in 1913. That elephant seal was a massive 22.5 feet in length and weighed 11,000 pounds. These are also the largest of the order carnivora, considerably larger than the polar bear, brown bear, African lion and Bengal tiger. Elephant seals are named for their extremely large nose...almost like a shortened version of an elephant’s trunk. The large nose is proudly only a male characteristic. Males battle each other for breeding rights with a harem of females and the nose is used to produce an incredible array of noises that reverberate in the highly flexible proboscis. Males battle fiercely and the sight of two huge bulls fighting is not soon forgotten. There is often considerable biting and tearing of skin and blubber by the large canine teeth of these huge seals. Virtually all adult bulls carry battle scars from previous year’s dominance fights. I have, unfortunately been on haul beaches where the stench of a big bull that has perished, permeates the air, especially down wind, for quite some distance. Penguin colonies are quite odiferous, but the stench of a decomposing 7,000 pound seal is something that has to be experienced as no words can adequately describe such a smell. Amazingly, live elephant seals will lay right next to a decomposing carcass as if oblivious to the smell of the fallen male.

Southern elephant seals also hold the record for deepest dives for a pinniped and actually, only the sperm whale is known to dive deeper than the elephant seal. The record diving depth is almost 8,000 feet deep, although most dives are less than 2,000 feet in depth. Males dive deeper than females and males may remain submerged for over 1.5 hours. Their dives take them down to their prey which consists of large fish, squid, skates and rays.

At known haul out sights, numbers of Southern elephant seals may be observed lounging on gravel or sandy low lying beaches. While molting (shedding of skin), elephant seals are more susceptible to the cold and thus they do not enter the water during this time. Large patches of skin and fur are shed and the seals almost appear to be diseased when in this condition. Once the new fur and skin is intact, they once again enter the ocean, where they actually spend a majority of their life. On most trips to Patagonia, the observation of a group of Southern elephant seals will certainly be one of the many highlights of a trip. Knowing a little bit of the amazing natural history of these creatures will make one even more greatly admire these giant behemoths of the Southern tip of South America.

 

Naturalist Greg Greer is a favorite among IE travelers, and has gained a reputation for his friendliness and good humor, along with his incomparable knowledge of natural history. Greg's photos and articles have been widely published in books and magazines, including Georgia Outdoor News, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Alabama Outdoor News, Riversedge and Southern Wildlife.
 

Through the generosity of IE guests Kathleen Egan and Eleanor Morpheu, this summer every family and school room in the small village of Cedro Isla, Peru was given a Sawyer point-of-use water filtration system. This was also the first time this village has participated in the Adopt-a-School Program, which IE has long-supported through our involvement with CONAPAC. International Expeditions’ Amazon Cruise Destination Manager Tracey Hinds was on-hand when the materials were delivered to the village.

“The entire village met us upon arrival at the riverbank. Children of all ages had prepared signs and posters and were all lined up to welcome us. If they had had a red carpet, I am sure they would have rolled it out but none the less, we all felt it was there.

“The older boys had prepared some traditional songs and dance and we dressed in hand made costumes. They even had a smaller child dressed as a jaguar mascot! Small kids took our hands and walked with us to the community center where the whole village joined us for the activities. So many, dressed in their Sunday best, performed songs, poems and dances. We took so many pictures and shared with the kids who love to see themselves. That always gets a smile out of the shy ones.

“Representatives of CONAPAC, along with the IE guests, began the task of handing out toys, art supplies and books to each child. Teachers were presented with classroom materials as well as some sports equipment. Local leaders also stepped forward and were given various materials to share with the village. While Peru provides free education, often times the schools and families don't have needed supplies - like notebooks, pencils, rulers and construction paper - that children need to complete lessons.

“Once the school supplies were distributed, (CONAPAC representative) Cynthia began the presentation and instruction of the Sawyer Water Treatment Systems. She explained the procedure and began with a muddy bucket of water taken directly from the river. It was a solid brown color looking a bit like chocolate milk. Soon after she completed the first step of mixing the water and mineral block, you could already begin to see how the water was separating the liquid and solids. While we were waiting the required one hour for the settlement, we turned our attention to some more entertainment by the children and plenty of picture taking.

"While enjoying the entertainment, I noticed a small toddler just learning to pull up and stand. She had on a pretty pink dress and little white shoes. Knowing what was coming next, I thought about the water she may be currently drinking on a regular basis. If it dripped on her dress, it would most likely leave a stain. I imagined what the health benefits might be for her as she grows as well.

“As time elapsed and we focused again on the previously dirty bucket of water, you could hear all commenting on how clear it already looked. As Cynthia turned on the filter however, the water emerged into the lower bucket and all were amazed at the crystal clear water that only an hour ago had been so dark and full of debris. The kids kept getting closer and closer so they could have a good look and as soon as we got the cups ready, the line was already forming, wanting to get a taste of the clean water. Kids and adults alike tasted a sample as well as some IE guests. The kids were more than happy to have a large cup and pass it on to the next but would immediately get in line for seconds. You could see some of the mothers smiling as they discussed the transformation. I can only imagine how excited I would be to know that my child would be getting this wonderfully clean water and to know I would have it in my home for cooking and drinking at my leisure.

“If clean water stopped coming out of my faucet this afternoon, my day would most likely come to a halt right then and there in order to get it fixed. It is funny how something we take for granted every day, something that never crosses our mind, makes such a difference when you don’t have it.  It was an amazing sight to see the transformation of the dark, dirty water turn into something inviting and refreshing just sitting there waiting to quench your thirst. I was both impressed and excited for the community but now, also thirsty.”


To learn more about these projects and how you can support IE's efforts to bring clean water to the Upper Amazon Basin, contact Emily Harley at emily.harley@ietravel.com.
 

kelp goose - claudio vidalAt first glance, it appears that the entire population of Kelp geese is male...but wait, on closer inspection of the rocky shorelines of Patagonia, there is a female kelp goose accompanying every male. The reason for this first glance discrepancy is the sexual dimorphism between males and females of this species. Males are brilliant white, standing out on the black shoreline, while females are brown and aptly camouflaged in the vicinity of a male. What are most apparent on the hen are her yellow legs and feet and white tail.

Kelp geese are very appropriately named as their diet is largely comprised of kelp, which is a form of algae that grows prevalently in tidal zones of Patagonia. During high tide, much of the rocky shoreline is under water and it is at that time that Kelp Geese roost or just relax until the ebbing tide once again exposes food for the geese. Kelp geese nest in fairly close proximity to the ocean and the young of kelp geese as well as all forms of waterfowl are extremely precocial. That is upon hatching, they are able to walk, run (waddle fast) swim and they feed themselves as well. The young, numbering as many as seven goslings follow the parents to the edge of the sea where they amble over rocks, mimicking the adults in feeding on algae. Large rocks can be quite an obstacle for tiny goslings but the birds have very sharp toenails and they can climb rocks quite well. This is a necessity for a bird that needs to survive at the shoreline. The young goslings, however, are extremely vulnerable to the risks of being small. Predation by skuas is a common occurrence and not many of the goslings survive through their first couple of months post hatching. Skuas are a brown colored bird, similar in shape to a large sea gull, but their wings are quite pointed and they are extremely agile flyers. Skuas will take eggs and young birds and they are one of the most feared bird species in the Patagonia region.

After the nesting season, Kelp geese form loose flocks and it is during this time that flocks of around 20 kelp geese can be seen in one area where they feed very amiably during low tide. I take great pleasure in observing these lovely geese and on Patagonia tours through the Straits of Magellan I have seen many hundreds of these geese…lots of white ones and upon close inspection, just as many brown ones.

Photo © Claudio Vidal

Naturalist Greg Greer is a favorite among IE travelers, and has gained a reputation for his friendliness and good humor, along with his incomparable knowledge of natural history. Greg's photos and articles have been widely published in books and magazines, including Georgia Outdoor News, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Alabama Outdoor News, Riversedge and Southern Wildlife.
 

September 22 is World Rhino Day, and wildlife celebrity Joan Embery was good enough to talk to International Expeditions about the current state of elephant and rhino conservation efforts in Africa.

"Being the largest animals on land, elephants are a sight to behold roaming the plains of Africa. I’ll never forget my first trip to Africa after years of handling and caring for elephants at the San Diego Zoo. I was overwhelmed at the sight of these amazing creatures – large herds of females with calves and the immense, lone bulls.

"Having no natural predators and a lifespan of 60 years, it is unthinkable the elephant population has plummeted at the hands of human-induced activities. While once numbering in the millions, elephants now number in the thousands due to poaching, conflict with humans and habitat loss and degradation.

"If you can imagine a majestic animal weighing up to 15,000 pounds but having skin so sensitive it can feel a fly landing, that has a trunk with 40,000 muscles useful for uprooting trees or picking up a blade of grass, one who’s extremely intelligent, social and plays a key role in maintaining the balance of all other species in the community, you have the African elephant. What a tragedy it would be if rather than having actual elephants to celebrate and be in awe of, we have only our imaginations.

elephant-ngorongoro-crater"Like elephants, rhinos too are in serious decline as victims of poaching and habitat loss. Since 1960, the black rhino has been reduced by 97.6%. Rhinos are killed almost exclusively for their horns, which are inaccurately thought to possess medicinal qualities and are revered as a status symbol. The horns are simply keratin – the same material found in your hair and fingernails.  Also like elephants, rhinos are integrally tied to biodiversity – when rhinos are protected, many other species interacting with them and sharing the same habitat are too.

"Since my first trip to Africa I have seen the steady decline of rhino and the need to engage the public for spreading awareness and supporting conservation. Conservation efforts do work! The Southern white rhino would not exist today if not for it.

"Together we as humans can navigate the issues and alter the landscape in a positive direction for both these animals and ourselves."

To find out how you can learn more and make a difference, please visit joanembery.com/Institute

September 16, 2014

The Nuances of Birding

Our friend and expedition leader Greg Greer shares more about his passion for birding, and how he has seen the transformation of a traveler into a true birding enthusiast.

"Oh no...we have a birder on this trip!"

How many times have I heard this over the years? More times than I can count! Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your own interest in birds, I AM A BIRDER! I guess admitting one's addictions is the first step in either a cure or further obsession. Birders are a unique assemblage of people from an amazing assortment of careers. For some people, I think birding is a huge distraction from what may be a very stressful job, a person with a propensity to list things (such as bird checklists), or it can simply be an average student, airline pilot or taxi driver who caught the "birding" bug.

For me, the challenge of looking for a particular species, learning everything you can about it and then being successful in finding the species is a very real high. Probably similar to the high that runners talk about and kayakers describe when shooting down a waterfall, is the high a birder feels when they hit the milestone of 300 birds, 400 birds, 500 birds, 600 birds and 700 birds for North America. There is a tremendous sense of accomplishment, and birders love to meet high goals that they set for themselves. 

What is so wonderful about birding is that a person can look at birds anywhere they happen to find themselves. It often starts out in one’s own backyard or it may have its beginning on a trip. I have been an expedition leader on many International Expeditions nature tours over the years, and I have frequently had guests that found a new sense of excitement while on an international trip - the excitement of birds. The birds that take people by surprise are not the little brown birds nor the big ostriches and often not the mighty birds of prey. The birds that capture a person’s heart are usually birds like lilac-breasted roller in East Africa, cock-of-the rock at Machu Picchu, paradise tanager in the Amazon Basin or a lovely vermillion flycatcher perched on the carapace of a giant tortoise in the Galapagos. These smaller spectacular species are what often provides the “hook” in a person becoming interested in birds. Of course, not everyone goes stark-raving mad over their new found obsession but for some reason birding often becomes quite addictive. There should probably be warnings posted on bird books, in binocular cases etc that the use of those products may cause obsession in a certain percentage of the population and users need to be aware of such precautions before jeopardizing the rest of their life and possibly friends, family, relatives and certainly other travel companions. (Tongue inserted firmly in cheek!)

One thing that I have learned over the years is to never impose my passion on someone else unless they seek your same interest. While on trips, it is very easy to determine who likes birds, who likes flowers, who likes reptiles and who likes everything around them. I love the folks who want to take in everything as they never set themselves up for disappointment.  Some birders, on the other hand, can have an amazing day in the field but because they did not see one particular species, they are disappointed. Thank goodness I am not of that mindset as a day in the field is always a day to treasure...whether you are or are not a birder.

Afterall, a bad day in the field is better than a good day in the office!

Naturalist Greg Greer is a favorite among IE travelers, and has gained a reputation for his friendliness and good humor, along with his incomparable knowledge of natural history. Greg's photos and articles have been widely published in books and magazines, including Georgia Outdoor News, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Alabama Outdoor News, Riversedge and Southern Wildlife.

Arhuaco-weavers-colombia-tourThough they comprise just 3.5% of the population, with around 1.5 million people representing 87 different tribes, the indigenous peoples of Colombia have had a major impact on the history and evolution of the country’s cultural heart. Known in Spanish as pueblos indígenas, these tribes are distributed widely across Colombia’s landscape, from Amazonia and the Andean highlands to the Caribbean and Pacific lowlands.

Archaeological evidence suggests that Colombia had well-established hunter-gatherer cultures by the late Pleistocene era, with the earliest human inhabitants concentrated along the Caribbean coast and the Andes. The cave system of the El Abra archeological site, located just north of Bogota, is considered among the very first human settlements in the Americas, with research conducted in the 1960s uncovering ancient petroglyphs and mastodon bones carbon dated to around 11,400 years BCE.

By the time the Spanish arrived in 1509, Colombia’s Amerindian population numbered between 1.5 and 2 million. Most of them evolved from three main cultural groups — the Quimbayas, who inhabited the western slopes of the Cordillera Central; the Chibchas, who were skilled in farming, mining and metal work; and the war-like Caribes, who ultimately migrated to eastern South America and the Caribbean islands. Their social organization and technological advances varied greatly, from class-divided agricultural chiefdoms to nomadic hunter-gatherers.

Here are a few of the more important Colombian tribal cultures, many of which continue to thrive today:

Arhuaco: With a population of 27,000, these Chichan-speaking people are descendents of the ancient Tairona culture. Concentrated in northern Colombia, they believe the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is the heart of the world, and that the planet’s well being depends on it. Focused on subsistence agriculture, they also make knapsacks– Arhuaca mochila– that have become a cultural symbol for Colombian identity.

Awá: This ancient tribe of around 32,000 inhabits the forests of northern Ecuador and southern Colombia. The Awa Reserve is in the Chocoanos Forest (located in the Tumbes-Chocó-Magdalena) region, which is considered among the most biodiverse places on the planet. Though they were traditionally hunter-gatherers, today they also farm livestock and grow a broad variety of vegetables.

Kogi:  Alternately known as the Cogui or Kágaba (which means “Jaguar” in their language), the Kogi have lived in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta since the Pre-Columbian era. Their population of 20,000 still lives in much the same way their Tairona ancestors did, living in stone and thatch huts, worshiping Aluna (a.k.a. Mother Nature), and viewing the Earth as a living being and humanity as its children.

Muisca: One of the great cultures of the pre-Columbian era, the Muisca civilization occupied around 18,000 square miles in Colombia’s Eastern Range before the Spanish conquest. In 2002 they formed the Great Council of the Muiscan People (which number approximately 10,000 now), and have since remained active defenders of the region’s natural resources as well as the rights of its indigenous peoples.

Nukak- Although their numbers are small (around 500 total), this tribe of nomadic hunter-gatherers from the fringe of the Amazon basin became famous as an “uncontacted people” discovered in the early ‘80s. They’re expert hunters, using blowguns and darts coated with curare manyi, a poison made from various plants. Endangered by disease and guerilla encounters, the Nukak are a focus of indigenous rights campaigns by the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia.

Wayuú: Easily the nation’s largest indigenous tribe, the Wayuú population numbers around 450,000, with nearly a third of them based in northern Colombia (the rest live in northwest Venezuela). Inhabiting the arid La Guajira Peninsula, the matriarchal Wayuú were among the few tribes never successfully subjugated by the Spanish…and not for lack of trying. Their language, wayuunaiki, is related to the Arawak family of language predominant in the Caribbean, and remains in regular usage today. As do many of their traditional cultural elements, from musical rituals and dances such as the Yonna and Majayura to the rancherias-style settlements typically made up of five or six houses.


Bret Love is the co-founder and Editor-In-Chief of Green Global Travel and Green Travel Reviews, and is a passionate advocate for ecotourism, environmental conservation and sustainable living. He’s also a veteran freelance writer whose work has appeared in American Way, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Atlanta Magazine and Rolling Stone.





Dear Traveler,

Every day I hear from our travelers — usually as they’ve just returned from time abroad with International Expeditions. It is gratifying to hear their praise for our guides and itineraries, but it is equally important to listen to their constructive comments as our staff continuously refines our adventures. While I’m fortunate to have experienced the Peruvian Amazon numerous times in my tenure and during the construction of our new riverboat, the benefit of seeing “our” corner of the Amazon through the new eyes of our guests is immeasurable.

Our guests offer such fresh perspectives on the destinations IE explores. So I wanted to share their feelings about two of our most popular programs — Amazon and Cuba.

“Your people aboard the ship were the stars. Johnny and Segundo were simply better than I could have believed. Their expertise is stunning, and the friendly competition between them gave everyone a chuckle!” - Leonard Kolins

While our new riverboat, La Estrella Amazonica, certainly shines, we are proud knowing our naturalist guides continue to be the “stars” of our Amazon cruises.

“I enjoyed the opportunity to really sample Cuba — the country, the scenery, the people. I left feeling like I could finally answer the question — what is Cuba really like?” – Rebecca Shedd

van-amazon-cruise-guestsIE’s people-to-people Cuba tours are an opportunity to experience this cloistered island through the eyes of its people — to penetrate a guarded society in a land most Americans know so little about. Perhaps our free ranging discussions with Cuban naturalists, musicians, artists and ordinary people will even challenge your expectations and assumptions. For 35 years we’ve helped travelers develop a deeper understanding of the world and know first-hand how much it means to form a personal connection to a country and its people.

Because International Expeditions’ travelers are an adventurous group, we’re thrilled to announce we’ve taken your suggestions to heart when planning our new journeys for 2015. While you’ll still find classic favorites like our Galapagos cruises, our expanded lineup includes destinations like Sri Lanka, Colombia and Myanmar, plus additional options for exploring the vast continent of Africa.

Join us this year and see how the experts at International Expeditions can help you see the wonders of our world through new eyes!    

Sincerely,

van-perry-signature

 

Van Perry

President

Camels in the Americas? How crazy is that? Many millions of years ago, camelids (the camel family) were part of the fauna of North America. They existed and gradually evolved from tiny creatures the size of a domestic cat to animals the size of a goat...and eventually even much larger. The camels of North America survived until about 12,000 years ago, when humans crossed the Bering land bridge into North America. In fact, theories suggest that humans were the reason for extinction of these animals in North America. However, before that took place, camelids spread into South America where they still exist today. The llama, alpaca and vicuna are quite familiar animals to many of us, but these species are not nearly as commonly known is the guanaco, found in the extreme southern tip of South America. 

The guanaco is a lovely looking creature with very thick “weather-proofing“ hair of soft brown and white. Guanacos are fairly abundant in Torres del Paine National Park, so you are almost sure to see them suring International Expeditions' Patagonia tours. Guanacos are usually found in small herds and are very alert animals. Herd animals are afforded greater protection from predators by having many more eyes to keep watch on the horizon. The guanaco’s most feared predator is the puma also known as the mountain lion.

Guanacos give birth every other year. This is due to a gestation of almost one year. Baby guanacos are known as chulengos.  They are able to stand very shortly after birth and are then able to walk and run within hours of birth. A few other interesting adaptations allow guanacos to survive in a very windy and rocky region: 

  • Their padded feet that do very little to disturb the landscape and give the animal amazing traction
  • Extremely long eye-lashes protect their eyes from wind and blowing sand and soil
  • Guanacos have the ability to go without water for very long periods of time. In fact, guanacos can derive all of their moisture needs from the vegetation they consume, typical of all camelid species.


I've had the great pleasure of traveling throughout Patagoina many times during my years with International Expeditions.  I always enjoyed observing guanacos as they are not only gorgeous creatures but they truly remind me of place. They are an iconic species of Patagonia, the end of the world at the southern tip of South America.

Naturalist Greg Greer is a favorite among IE travelers, and has gained a reputation for his friendliness and good humor, along with his incomparable knowledge of natural history. Greg's photos and articles have been widely published in books and magazines, including Georgia Outdoor News, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Alabama Outdoor News, Riversedge and Southern Wildlife.
 

Art Director Charlie Boyd shares his favorite memories and photos from his recent Amazon Voyage.

Having recently traveled again to the Amazon, the wonderful people and experiences are still fresh in my mind. I’ve worked for International Expeditions for over 12 years, daily creating materials for our Amazon River cruises. I was very much looking forward to experiencing the Amazon aboard our new riverboat first hand with my wife Pam. It was a little surreal for me at first… meeting the talented guides and crew that I already “knew” from pictures, seeing the beautiful new La Estrella Amazonica, and anticipating the daily activities and wildlife sightings. Soon, I got caught in the daily rhythms of the river and this voyage.

A few standout moments:

Our guides: Escorted by Expedition Leder Angel Cardenas and expert local naturalists Johnny Balarezo and Usiel Vasquez, we traveled over 600 miles on this mighty river. Along the way we spotted seven primate species, 125 bird species, fish, reptiles and amphibians, and met many of the friendly people who live along the Amazon River. Every day was different but equally exciting.

Pink dolphins: As our excursion boats entered the mouth of the Pacaya River, we noticed that there were pink river dolphins everywhere. The water was moving quickly and they were taking advantage of the “open buffet” of fish moving with the swift current. We were able to watch them for about 30 minutes, and take plenty of photos. 

School visit: We stopped in the village of Nueva York for an un-announced visit. Everyone was so happy to see us. It was lunch time and many people came out of the houses to greet us as we walked through the village. A couple invited us in to see what they were cooking. Their fresh fish, cooked over an open fire, looked delicious. We visited the school, and delivered some supplies that IE guests had brought along to Peru. The kids were so full of energy and curiosity — and excitement for the soccer balls, pencils and books we’d brought. The grand prizes were backpacks — one for a boy, and one for a girl. After correctly answering some history and math questions a boy and a girl were each given a new backpack.

My private balcony: A favorite part of the wonderful new La Estrella Amazonica was the private balcony. I spent a lot of time during our daily siesta sitting out there, watching “earth’s greatest wilderness" pass by. Early June was beautiful time to be to be in the Amazon. The water was on it’s way down after the high season and the dark, rich soils were exposed on the riverbank. Planted rice crops were starting to sprout and I saw many birds feeding amongst them… black-necked stilts and large-billed terns, with colorful yellow-headed and oriole blackbirds feeding in the tall grass behind them. Seeing the passing scenery, wildlife and ever-changing cloud formations from my private balcony was something I looked forward to every day.

We made so many friends along the way — from the fishermen we met each day, to the extraordinary crew and amazing band, to the IE guests that we shared our days with. This part of the Amazon is a magical place, and our expedition was truly the “greatest voyage in natural history.”  This great experience lived up to, and surpassed every expectation I had… when do we go back?


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