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IE's president Van Perry is back from the Amazon and shares his initial impressions of our new riverboat, La Estrella Amazonica, which debuted in August.
"I have just returned from the inaugural voyage on our new Amazon riverboat La Estrella Amazonica, and she has greatly exceeded our expectations in terms of comfort and spaciousness. The bar deck was a wonderful place for relaxing with enough tables and an informal sofa area to read or visit with our fellow travelers. I definitely consumed my share of Pisco Sours, as well as discovered a new Peruvian cocktail called a Camu Camu Sour which I had never sampled before.
"One evening a number of us went up to the observation deck - the largest on the river - and were greeted by an incredible sky that matched my experiences in the open ocean for clarity and grandeur. The dedicated lecture room was a huge hit! This room is not only for lectures, but also provides an air conditioned space to download your pictures during the afternoon siesta time between excursions. Like always, the expedition skiffs were very comfortable and offered terrific flexibility for wildlife viewings with the seating arrangement and well-cushioned seats and backrests. We succeeded in observing over 160 species, and can lay claim to a unique sighting of several giant river otters. Only the second time in 10 years that our naturalists had spotted this species!
"Finally, one of the many highlights was our kayaking trip down one of the black water creeks. I'd not done this on our Amazon River cruise before, and our new tandem Hobie kayaks were excellent. Each of the guests on this optional excursion was begging for more time in the kayaks and another chance to experience the river as a ribernero!
"I look forward to sharing this great new expedition ship with you, and more importantly sharing in your discovery of one of the wonders of the natural world …the Amazon River."
If you’re like most of us, you grew up flipping through the pages of magazines and books fascinated by the photography. So it is no surprise that we all want to do a better job at effectively capturing scenes from our adventures. Top photographers advise:
- When photographing birds, try for a natural background without man-made objects
- Often times, wildlife blends into the landscape, so wait to shoot until the animal is outlined against the sky.
- For wildlife photography, use a shallow depth of field for close-ups to blur out background distractions.
- Ask questions from naturalist guides and photographers who are accustomed to shooting in a challenging environment.
International Expeditions has put together an amazing group of nature travel photographers for our photo workshop series that let you develop your photography skills and explore the world’s richest wildlife regions. Under the guidance of renowned instructors and famed photographers, you learn everyday techniques to improve and enhance your wildlife and nature still photography and video. 2013 and 2014 photo workshops are being offered on our Amazon River cruise, Galapagos cruise, Tanzania safari and in Chile.
Axel Fassio - FREE international & in-country air offered on Axel's photo workshop!
A world-traveler since his teens, Axel’s award-winning travel photography is featured regularly in publications like National Geographic, BBC Travel, Lonely Planet, Travel + Leisure and Forbes.
Before filming documentaries such as “Planet Earth” and “Great Migrations,” Rick served on the research staffs at Westinghouse Ocean Research Laboratory and Scripps Institute of Oceanography.
Kai specializes in filming in extreme environments, including under icebergs in the Arctic. In more than a decade of photographing and filming wildlife, Kai has worked on documentaries for National Geographic, Animal Planet, ESPN, the BBC and PBS.
Although Don loved shooting black and white while studying fisheries biology at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, he stepped away from his “first love” for years while building his ophthalmology practice and raising a family. For the past decade, Don has led travel photo workshops world-wide.
Kick-off is finally here and whether you cheer for your alma mater or the local pro team, chances are we all want to ensure our love for football has minimal impact on Mother Earth. And while the greenest tip would be to skip the drive to the stadium and watch at home, here are a few tips to help make your tailgate festivities more ecofriendly.
Rick Griffin of MidlifeRoadTrip.tv sums up greener tailgating this way, “Use real utensils, cook with propane and wear water-soluble face paint!” We think Rick’s on to something.
Although it’s a fossil fuel, propane IS your lowest-impact grilling option as it burns much cleaner than wood or charcoal. Propane also leaves behind less waste, and is a convenient option for cooking next to an RV or on-campus. If you are committed to charcoal, be sure to pick-up a charcoal chimney or electric starter instead of using charcoal starter, which is rich in VOCs (volatile organic compounds.
I’ll be the first to admit that it is tempting to bring along paper plate, cups and napkins, but most of those dining disposables end up as litter or — at best — in the local landfill instead of in a recycling bin. Instead, pick up some lightweight plastic settings. You may even be able to find inexpensive plastic options at your local second-hand store. Bring a spare cooler to store dirty dishes in the trunk until you arrive back home.
Here are a few other great tips:
- Bring organic beer — bonus points if it’s from a local brewery as less gas was spent transporting from a mass producer in another part of the country!
- Use recycled trash bags, making sure to fill each as full as possible
- Be sure to include bags or boxes for recycling glass and aluminum cans
- Don't bring lots of individually wrapped snacks, they create a ton of waste
- Haul off excess fruits and veggies for composting
- Wear vintage game gear — from your closet or found in re-sell shops — rather than buying new every year
What is your favorite tip for living green while you enjoy football?
Reddish brown bordering on maroon in certain light conditions -- wow! "What is that beautiful bird," asks a first time visitor on one of IE's Galapagos Islands cruises. Then a second bird appears, walking slowly, bobbing its head with each stride and...how can it do that? It is walking on the pad of a prickly pear cactus. The naturalist guide arrives and says that is our endemic dove called -- you guessed it -- a Galapagos Dove!
The Galapagos dove is indeed a lovely bird, and they are frequently observed in pairs. At times they approach visitors very closely as they, like many other forms of wildlife in the Galapagos, have little fear of people. In addition to their gorgeous plumage, the Galapagos dove also has bright red feet, a bright blue eye ring and below and to the rear of the eye is a cream colored stripe. These little doves are quite abundant in the lower elevations, thus they are frequently observed by visitors at various landing sites along a typical Galapagos cruise. Galapagos doves tend to feed mainly on seeds with a preference for Opuntia cactus seeds and will also eat the pulp, which most likely provides the birds with moisture due to the lack of fresh water on many of the islands.
During the very early years, prior to tourism and protection of species on the islands, many thousands of Galapagos doves were killed and eaten by sea farers. There is a report by the late Roger Tory Peterson that in 1965, 10 men ate 9,000 doves in three months. (Galapagos Natural History1993, Michael H Jackson)
Nesting can take place any time of the year and appears to coincide with the production of Opuntia seeds, thus it can be at different times of the year from one island to the next. The little doves nest on the ground and typically lay only two eggs. The young, upon growing feathers, are much duller than the adults and do not get their gorgeous feathers until their second year.
Doves are species of birds that are often overlooked by the typical traveler, but I hope that anyone making a journey to the Galapagos will stop and smell the roses. Or, in this case, stop and observe the beautiful little Galapagos doves. They may just change a person’s mind about the appearance of what would be called a "typical" dove.
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, 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.
The Amazon rainforest is one of the most biologically diverse regions of the world, but the delicate balance of the ecosystem is threatened every day by deforestation and industrialization. The ever-changing climate may also present issues when it comes to preserving the rainforests, but indigenous people living in the Amazon are adjusting their practices to accommodate the changes.
Dr. Jan Salick, a researcher from the Missouri Botanical Garden, has been taking expedition cruises to the Amazon to observe and work with the Yanesha, an indigenous tribe living in the Amazon basin region of Peru, for 40 years to learn how they live in the Amazon region without disrupting its delicate ecosystem. She also studied the Tibetan people of Nepal and found many similarities between the cultures.
"Both cultures use traditional knowledge to create, manage and conserve this biodiversity, and both are learning to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change," said Salick. "They have much to learn and to offer the world if we can successfully learn to integrate science and traditional knowledge."
Dr. Salick noted that the Yanesha were instrumental in making the cocona plant more diverse by selecting seeds based on their desired outcome. The cocona fruit takes on the characteristics of the mothering plant, which makes it easy for the Yanesha to discern which plants they want to produce more of. The Rainforest Conservation Fund reports that this fruit can be the size of an apple or small as cranberries. The smaller berry-sized fruits, known as coconillo, are typically sweeter and have softer skins than the cocona grande. Dr. Salick's research suggests the Yanesha have helped the cocona diversify by choosing to plant seeds based on what they enjoyed, which means less desirable fruits were phased out over time.
She also observed how the Yanesha's agricultural practices help to fuel biodiversity. They essentially employ crop rotation, cycling through what plants are grown in which region each year. Dr. Salick suggests this practice promotes biodiversity and long-term sustainability.
Her research may provide a better understanding of how to take what is needed from the Amazon rainforest without disturbing it. Ecotourists can learn more about the challenges of sustaining the rainforests on their Amazon River cruises. Seeing the ecosystem up close can further visitors' understanding of just how important it is to preserve and protect this diverse region.
Emmy and BAFTA award-winner Rick Rosenthal is a distinct blend of biologist, educator and filmmaker who has spent decades filming in some of Earth's wildest waters. Rick is bringing the expertise he's gainied while filming documentaries such as “Planet Earth” and “Great Migrations” for the BBC, Disney Nature, National Geographic and Discovery Channel to IE's October 11 Amazon River cruise.
We sat down with Rick Rosenthal while preparing for his Amazon cruise to find out his best tips for filming wildlife.
- Think like a predator: You are hunting with a camera. A great deal of wildlife film making involves stalking and getting into the right position to get the shot.
- Patience, passion and persistence win the day. It takes days and even weeks to get that special shot.
- Know the location, and figure out in advance the best place to setup with the camera. In case like IE's Amazon River cruise, trust the instincts, advice and knowledge of IE's naturalist guides who are on the river weekly.
- With marine mammals, more often than not, the first encounter is the best.
- When filming in water, either fresh or salt, use a snorkel and limit your use of scuba. Bubbles are disturbing to many aquatic animals. Swim quietly, without splashing and use gear you are comfortable with.
- Work with a tripod when filming on reefs, and on land when using a long lens. This piece of kit also helps in rivers and streams.
- When diving avoid wearing bright colors and don't overload on the gear.
- Leave cell phone and cigarettes behind. It seems obvious, but sudden noises and strong smells will keep the wildlife away.
Make your plans to travel with Rick on IE's October 11 Amazon cruise today by calling 800-234-9620! Want to know more about how Rick films wildlife, including how kayaking helps him get closer to marine life? Check out this video!
You’ve planned and packed and you’re all ready for your expedition, but you may have overlooked one of the key ingredients for successful nature travel: taking the necessary steps to make sure you and your family have a safe and healthy trip. Our friends at MedJetAssist have great travel tips for avoiding common travel ailments.
Motion sickness is an unpleasant problem for many travelers; however, there are some over-the-counter and prescription medications available to help with this. If you wish to combat motion sickness on your own, try the following:
- When traveling by car, try to sit in the front seat and, if you can, avoid reading as it only heightens the feeling of motion sickness.
- When traveling by boat, sit as close to the middle of the vessel as possible and look straight ahead at the horizon (a fixed point that will not move). Today’s high-tech cruise ships are built for comfort, with stabilizers for smooth sailing, and most passengers experience little-to-no motion sickness.
- When flying, try to sit near the wing of the plane, or the side where you are accustomed to driving. Ear-plugs may also help.
It’s very easy to get caught up in the excitement of a vacation and get dehydrated. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration, and don’t wait until you feel thirsty. Avoid caffeinated drinks, which can dehydrate you even more, and limit alcohol.
People who suffer from allergies should take the same precautions on vacation as they do at home. Bring any medications used on a regular basis. It’s a good idea to bring an antihistamine in case of accidental exposure to a substance that triggers an allergic reaction. It may also be helpful to pack your own pillowcase for use in hotels.
The inflammation of the joints that occurs with arthritis may be especially troubling during long trips that restrict movement. Taking frequent breaks to walk around and relieve stiff joints and muscles can make car, plane, and cruise trips more enjoyable. Remember to pack aspirin, anti-inflammatory drugs, or any prescription medications you normally use for arthritis.
There’s nothing more miserable than getting sick while on traveling. For most destinations, the major health risk to travelers is diarrhea, which may be easily avoided. In general, common sense prevails. When in doubt, steer clear of uncooked meat, raw fruits and vegetables and unpasteurized milk products. Drink only bottled water (although the tip of the bottle may be contaminated, so wipe it clean before drinking from it) or water that has been boiled for at least 20 minutes.
Finally, the best thing to keep healthy and happy while on vacation is to purchase a travel assistance membership like MedjetAssist and compliment that with a good travel insurance policy to protect your financial investment. Remember, while some travel insurance policies have limited medical benefits none of them will bring you back to your hospital of choice in your home country like a MedjetAssist membership will. Take trips, not chances. Pack your Medjet Card!
Galapagos cruise guests may have noticed pets roaming the streets of towns like Santa Cruz while visiting. In an effort to reduce the threat that free-roaming pets pose to wildlife of the Galapagos Islands, the International Galapagos Tour Operators Association (IGTOA) has provided the Galapagos Biosecurity Agency with funding to conduct emergency pet sterilizationson Isabela, Floreana, and Santa Cruz.
The emergency funding will pay for two teams of veterinarians from the non-profit Darwin Animal Doctors to conduct the sterilization programs. To date, 79 dogs and 55 cats have been sterilized as a result of the donation, with more sterilizations scheduled on Isabela in the coming weeks.
“Dogs and cats are very successful predators. As such, they put constant pressure on the wildlife and the environment of human-inhabited islands, such as Isabela and Floreana," said Godfrey Merlin, a biologist and conservationist based in the Galapagos Islands. "We must be vigilant in our efforts to control them. Without support from IGTOA and its member companies this important initiative would not have been possible.”
Similar sterilization programs in the past have been successful at reducing dog and cat populations. IGTOA believes educating villagers about the problem is crucial to keeping the problem under control.
As part of the sterilization program, vets will be compiling data on the presence of diseases in the dogs and cats being sterilized, in order to better understand the prevalence and nature of the diseases they carry. A disease of particular interest is canine distemper, which may have the potential to infect endangered Galapagos sea lions and has caused widespread mortality among sea lion populations in central and northern Europe.
The Charles Darwin Foundation estimatesthere over 1,400 invasive species in the Galapagos Islands. Experts have warned that invasive species pose a serious existential threat to many of the endemic species that inhabit the islands.
Since it was founded in 1996, IGTOA and member companies like International Expeditions have supported Galapagos conservation efforts, many of which have been focused on reducing the impact of invasive species.
Since the beginning of the year, International Expeditions guests have been hearing and reading about the new custom-designed riverboat, La Estrella Amazonica, we’re launching for our Amazon River cruises. So much care and attention has gone into this new riverboat, that IE’s own Director of Operations Tara even flew to Peru to hand-select fabrics for the interiors.
"I spent most of the day searching through Lima for just the right fabrics to add that authentic Peruvian feel to the La Estrella Amazonica. I found several pieces, but I visited around 14 different shops to do it. I was drawn to these fabrics in part because of the story. In this tribe, they imbibe a ceremonial drink, then design the fabrics around their visions. So each piece of fabric is distinct, telling its own story. I love that no two beds or cabin will have the same fabric. Plus they are colorful and bright which I like. Some even had fingerprints from the artist. I can't wait to see them in the cabins!"
While traveling to a big city like Havana may give you a chance to sample Cuba’s music and art, journeying outside to the countryside when you travel to Cuba on International Expeditions’ “Complete Cuba” tour gives you a chance to experience the nature of this once-forbidden island. Though there aren't many mammals in Cuba, there are numerous endemic species of birds. One of the most brilliant, both in color and intelligence, is the Cuban parrot, also known as the Cuban Amazon.
The bird's beautiful looks
Though these birds are less common than some others you'll see on your people-to-people Cuba travel program, knowing what they look like will come in handy when pointing your binoculars to the sky. Cuban parrots are large and predominately green, with spots of red around their chin and throat. Their forehead is white, and when their wings are spread, you'll see the feathers on their wing are a vibrant blue. They have a noisy call, so if you heard a loud squeaking, you may want to train your eyes on the treetops nearby.
The bird's lovely lifestyle
Though the bird once flourished on the island of Cuba, it is now restricted to a few areas. The best chance you'll have of seeing them is probably on Zapata Peninsula, where the bird is still common. These colorful birds thrive on berries and fruit, and are known to be quite intelligent. They are excellent imitators, and have even been known to mimic dogs, chickens and other sounds they hear.
The bird's sad story
Unfortunately, several factors have caused this bird to face endangerment. Their beautiful coloring and unique behavior made them popular household pets, and many were trapped and sold illegally. Additionally, housing developments have contributed to a loss of habitat for the Cuban parrot.
The bird's happy ending
Fortunately, Cuban officials and natives treasure the bird, and have thus put protections in place to help the animal thrive once again. Though it's still a work in progress, artificial nests have been put in place in Cuba, and education campaigns about the bird's plight have helped foster respect for these magnificent creatures.