IE Blog

September 23, 2013

Just Spotted in Madagascar!

It is not often that our experienced naturalist guides come across a sighting that blows them away. So we were shocked to get this update and incredible image from expedition leader Cassiano Zaparoli, who is currently leading IE's Madagascar tour.

"One of the most amazing moments of my work as a photographer and naturalist: an aye-aye face to face, photographed near the town of Maroantsetra, Madagascar. It was the first time our local guide, a man who has wored in tourism for more than 10 years, has seen an aye-aye in the wild!"

Many natives of Madagascar consider the aye-aye an omen of bad luck. For this reason, in years past they often have been killed on sight. Hunting, coupled with habitat destruction, have made the aye-aye critically endangered; however, they are now legally protected.

Here are a few more things you should know about these rare, noctural animals.

  • An aye-aye's bushy tail is actually larger than its body.
  • Aye-ayes spend their lives in trees and avoid coming to earth.
  • The aye-aye taps on trees with its long middle finger and listens for wood-boring insect larvae. That same middle finger is then used to fish bugs and larvae from under tree bark.


 

 

 

Thank you to Kenya & Tanzania safari guest John Christie for submitting this adorable video taken in Amboseli National Park.

"One of the great things about being on an African wildlife safari is the complete lack of fear shown by the animals. This little elephant was eating grass with his mother nearby, perhaps 20 feet away from the 4x4 we were in. Something startled him, but it wasn't a distraction from us. There were so many great opportunities like this! International Expeditions' guides turn off the jeep motors and it's just you, the animals, and the sounds of cameras clicking."

 

Yesterday marked a huge milestone in the history of Galapagos Islands exploration. Thanks to a unique partnership between Google, the Charles Darwin Foudation, Galapagos National Park and Catlin Seaview Survey, one billion registered users of can now visit the islands and dip under the waves of the reserve without having to physically travel there through Google's Street View. All of this is launching this week as the archipelage celebrates the 178th anniversary of Darwin's historic voyage to the islands aboard the Beagle.

 

This innovative partnership makes this extremely fragile ecosystem available for the world to see and explore, leaving no footprint on the islands and enabling anyone (whether school child or millionaire) to see what Charles Darwin saw when he visited. In fact, vistors to the Galapagos Street View site can see even more than the explorer! Darwin only visited four islands and certainly never snorkeled with sea lions/

According to representatives of the Charles Darwin Foundation, plans are already starting for powerful outreach measures to engage visitors who come to this UNESCO World Heritage Site, and to make them part of the solution. It is the first step of a much, much bigger project that will continue for years to come.

If these high definition, 360 degree images only whet your appetite for discovering the archipelago's volcanic landscapes and endemic wildlife, International Expeditions offers 10-day Galapagos Islands cruises year-round.

 

Anyone who has ever wanted to travel to Cuba has envisioned themselves sipping a famed mojito or Cuba libre. After all, what could be more Cuban than rum except for perhaps a cigar. The popularity of rum also means you can find a variety of other umbrella drinks like daiquiris and piña coladas. But the country has so many more libations to explore, including local beer and juices.

Canchanchara: This “official” drink of Trinidad is historically a forerunner of the daiquiri, and was popular among Cuban revolutionaries fighting off the Spanish at the end of the 19th century. Like the mojito, it combines rum and citrus, but it also includes honey, giving the drink a warm sweetness.

Guarapo: Sample this frothy summer classic in the Valle De Los Ingenios — Valley of the Sugar Mills — an UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site where we see the ruined hulls of 19th century sugar estates. The drink is made from fresh-pressed sugar cane juice served over cracked ice.

Beer: Cuba boasts a variety of popular local beers, including lagers like Cristal, Bucanero fuerte and an award-winning pilsner La Tropical Pilsener. And don’t forget, while legal travel to Cuba is rare for Americans, both Canadians and Europeans visit the island extensively so you are sure to find some familiar brews such as Heineken.

Soda: Sure you can sample Cuban cola brands like TropiCola, but be sure to also pick-up unusual flavors offered by Materva, a soda with herbs, and Jupino pineapple soda. Another soda you are sure to run across is Ciego Montero, which comes in naranja (orange), Tu Kola (cola) and limón (lemon-lime).

Coffee: Cuba has been growing coffee since the mid-18th century, and impromptu stops at locally owned cafes are not only a chance to sample some of the delicious brew, but to chat with these Cuban entrepreneurs. You may even spot a familiar face in the chocolate powder sprinkled on you cappuccino!

Water: Don’t drink the tap water! During your Cuba tour International Expeditions will be providing plenty of bottled water plus two drinks your choice of local beer or soft drinks at group lunches and dinners.


 

International Expeditions' Amazon river cruises offer the perfect chance to catch a glimpse of the Emperor tamarin monkeys. These tiny primates were allegedly named for their resemblance to Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany as they have distinctive long, white mustaches. Some also have beards, while other are black-chinned.

Emperor tamarins stand eight to 10 inches tall and have tails a little longer than two feet. They can primarily be spotted around the Northern Amazon Basin in the tropical canopies and open woodlands of the jungles. Some monkeys act very human, but these little guys are much more animalistic, and their large, dewy eyes give them a puppy-like cuteness that may make you want to pick one up and cuddle it. However, emperor tamarins are very territorial. If you or any other perceived threat gets too close, they will sound the warning and shout out high-pitched calls that may not even be audible to humans. This alerts the other monkeys in the family.

Emperor tamarins stick together in groups of up to 15 family members and unrelated monkeys. They even bond with other tamarin species, such as the saddleback tamarin. Unlike the German emperor for whom they are named, emperor tamarins are matriarchal. The oldest female in the group is the leader, even if there are several males in the monkey tribe. When they aren't warding off predators, these tamarins spend their time feeding on fruits and other vegetation, insects and possibly bird eggs. They also take time to look after one another, as mutual grooming plays a major role when it comes to bonding and socializing. Emperor tamarins also exhibit unique behavior during mating season. The older members of the groups are responsible for bringing new life into the family. The two oldest males will pursue the oldest female and once she is pregnant, it will about five months before her offspring are born. Typically tamarins are born in pairs, but sometimes there can be a third baby. Much like how these monkeys groom each other, they also work together to raise the newborn babies.

Keep your eyes on the treetops during your Amazon cruise, as this is where the emperor tamarins prefer to spend their time. They use their tails to assist in swinging quickly through the branches and vines. They are fast though, so if you do get to see one, it might only be for a moment before it swings further away into the trees of the Amazon rainforest.


Photo courtesy: Enrique Castro-Mendívil / Prom Peru

amazon-river-cruise-boatIE'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 kayaking-amazon-riversucceeded 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.

Rick Rosenthal
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 Benson
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. 

Don Cohen
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.

 

August 29, 2013

Green Guide to Tailgating

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.

Greener Grilling

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. 

Ditch Disposables

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.

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