IE Blog

If you missed last week's webinar featuring an in-depth look at IE's new Bali tour and Indonesia cruise, here is your chance to get the scoop directly from Director of Program Development Bill Robison. Few places evoke the same lush, exotic imagery as the islands of Nussa Tenggara from Bali to Komodo. The beauty of the islands is legendary, their biodiversity astounding, and the rich tapestry of their cultures helps make International Expeditions’ new Indonesia adventures unforgettable.

As the sun sets over the Western skies of the Upper Amazonian rainforest, something quite magical occurs. The sky may be a glorious riot of colors which gradually give way to darkness. Darkness, like many people have never seen as there are no city lights to obscure the sky and very soon after dark it is obvious there are a trillion stars in the sky. Amazingly, constellations that may be most familiar to us are not apparent. Not only because we are now just south of the Equator, so the constellations of the southern hemisphere are quite different, but also because there are so many stars, it is considerably more difficult to distinguish constellations. Darkness is what it is supposed to be like…DARK!

Along with darkness comes a changing of the guard. The day time chorus of birds, the whistles of tamarins and the rhythmic cadence of cicadas gradually cease as these creatures go to roost. There is a very brief period of time when the rainforest is almost silent. This certainly does not last long and soon the first katydids begin calling and from emergent vegetation come the amazing buzz, whistles, cacks, trills, snores and croaks of a tremendous number of frogs. Incredibly, there are more species of frogs in the Amazon area of Iquitos than there are in all of North America. If a strange sound is heard, you can say it is a frog and in all probability you would be correct. This nocturnal serenade can only be appreciated “in person” during an excursion as part of IE's Amazon cruise. It is extremely difficult to describe the amazing diversity of sounds that are emitted from the darkness of the Amazon.

As if this is not enough, there are a few other sounds that typify the rainforest. The strange screeching of the world’s only nocturnal monkey…the owl monkey; the almost human like scream of the bamboo rat; and the eerie call of the potoo. The potoo is not an owl but instead they are a member of the Frogmouth family of birds. Their preferred perch is at the top of a broken off tree where they appear like an extension of the tree. In the beam of a spotlight, the eyes of the potoo appear like bright red embers. Almost crocodilian like in reflective shine but crocodiles do not climb up into the trees and potoos do not sit in the water, so the location of the eye-shine is very important in identifying the brilliant red embers in the shine of a light.

These then are just a few of the many sounds of the nocturnal serenade you'll find during our Amazonian rainforest tour. The best way to experience this is by excursion boat into one of the smaller tributaries feeding the mighty Amazon. From the safety of the small boat and entirely new world will open before your eyes and EARS!  

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.

Having traveled on multiple IE adventures, I know that our guests are a truly savvy group with a wealth of advice on everything from navigating security to finding the perfect luggage. On the IE Facebook page we asked our travelers this question: 

What is your best tip for first-time adventure/expedition travelers?

Here is some of the best advice. And don't forget to weigh-in with your adventure travel tips in the comments section below.

Keep an open mind. The less you expect something to be a certain way the better the experience...this is especially true when traveling to Asia for the first time...or even the second, third or fourth :) Go with the flow of the native people. "When in Rome..." - Shannon W.

Email copies of all of your hotel & transportation itenerary and invoices AS WELL as the photo page of your passport to your self. In addition, carry two sets of copies of these with your on your journey. When asked for identification by local officials, present the copies instead of the originals first. Bureaucrats commonly loose or steal identity documents.. A valid U.S. passport can be worth thousands on the black market.- John L.

Pack light and follow locals you can trust. - John M.

Be flexible. William D.

Read about where you are going, copy all documents, have an open mind with few expectations, pack lightly, relax and enjoy. - Jackie R.

December 06, 2013

The Cuban Parrot: Guest Poetry

Travel to Cuba impacts everyone differently, and many IE guests have found themselves moved to poetry! A guest on our people-to-people Cuba travel program wrote a dozen poems about his experience—all are accounts of Cuba seen through the eyes of birds. James Blackburn's poetry includes stars of Cuba's endemic bird species: the Cuban trogon, the limkin, the Cuban tody and the smooth-billed ani.

The Cuban Parrot
By James Blackburn

In the mountains
North of Trinidad Cuba
Drinking mountain coffee.

The parrots assemble in the tallest tree
First two, then four, then ten
And then ten to twenty more,
All talking at the same time,
The turquoise blue wings and red neck
Standing in sharp contrast
To the green canopy.

As the coffee moves through my mind,
I see the parrots departing in pairs
And I look at my wife Garland
And see how we have flown through life –
A parrot pair moving together
From tree to tree,
Cackling and laughing,
Loving each other along the way.

The parrots move on and my cup is empty
And I feel the loss of connection
That comes from a cup of coffee
And a flock of screaming parrots
In the mountains
North of Trinidad Cuba
With my girl.


Click here to learn more about Cuba's endemic birdlife

The Galapagos hawk is an endemic raptor (bird of prey) and is the only diurnal endemic raptor on the islands. There are two other raptors, both of which are nocturnal owl species, the short-eared owl and the barn owl. The Galapagos hawk is a fairly large raptor very similar in size to the red-tailed hawk of North America. Like the red-tailed hawk, the Galapagos hawk is a buteo (broad-winged) hawk that relies on its sharp, powerful talons to capture prey. They prey on lava lizards, young marine iguanas, snakes, young birds and unlike many raptors, will scavenge on the remains of dead birds, sea lions and they will also feed on sea lion afterbirth. Galapagos hawks have a very unique method of nesting and breeding that allows them far greater success in raising young. A female will mate with as many as three or four males and all of the males will assist in caring for young. This method is called cooperative polyandry. Polyandry is not unique to Galapagos hawks, and other familiar polyandrous birds include spotted sandpipers, phalaropes and jacanas.

As with many raptors, female Galapagos hawks are larger than males. This allows females to take larger prey and thus a greater variety of species can be taken to feed hungry chicks. This species is one of the rarest raptors on Earth with less than 1,000 individuals on the islands. They can be observed, however, on all of the larger islands during your Galapagos Islands cruise. Young birds are somewhat cream-colored on the breast with bold streaking. Adult birds become almost chocolate in color by three years of age. Raptors are always a joy to observe and due to the openness of the habitats on the islands, the Galapagos hawks are very easily observed, sometimes for long periods of time.

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.

Winding through isolated villages and pristine landscapes, rivers provide the main highway — and only way to access — some of Earth’s most fascinating lands. For 2014, International Expeditions is expanding our travel options on the legendary waters of the Peruvian Amazon and Papua New Guinea’s Sepik River. IE will offer two Amazon River cruise options aboard the newly launched La Estrella Amazonica and a small-group Papua New Guinea tour using the nine-cabin Sepik Spirit as a base for excursions.

Travelers are responding to the lure of the river in record numbers. According to a 2013 Boston Globe report, river cruising is one of the fastest growing segments in the travel market, showing annual double-digit growth for more than a decade.

Hailed as the #1 river for travelers by CNN, the Amazon River plays host to more than 1,300 species of birds, an abundance of primates and even pink river dolphins. The riverbanks and surrounding rainforest are also home to Yagua Indians and other river cultures. IE has offered Upper Amazon tours for 34 years, and recently unveiled a new custom-designed riverboat. La Estrella Amazonica offers amenities and “extras” found on no other boat in the region. Highlighting the riverboat are private balconies for every cabin, multimedia lecture room, fitness center, Hobie kayaks, a nightly reception with complimentary wine and beer, and the Amazon’s largest observation deck — more than 1,000 square feet. IE guests can choose between two distinct Amazon cruises. The 10-day Amazon Voyage pairs a seven-night cruise into the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve with time touring colonial Lima and the frontier city of Iquitos. IE’s new 7-day Amazon Riverboat & Lodge option combines three nights on the river with overnights at Ceiba Tops Lodge and in Lima.

From a base at the boutique floating hotel and former riverboat Sepik Spirit, IE guests delve into the traditional beliefs and rituals of the Sepik River. Guided excursions on the 15-day Papua New Guinea tour include meeting the Huli “wig men,” crocodile people and other tribes; visiting village spirit houses filled with ornate carvings depicting each village’s history; and observing birdlife such as cassowaries, lorikeets and birds of paradise. Travelers also spend two days at the famed Mount Hagen Sing-Sing.

Kristin Day, IE's Director of Travel Agent Sales, reports in after a week on our Amazon River cruise.

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to travel to the Amazon as a new employee with International Expeditions to experience our flagship program and to check-out IE’s new riverboat while it was being built. So I was especially excited to join one of La Estrella Amazonica’s inaugural Amazon cruises!

IE travelers are always thrilled to be exploring the Amazon, but the enthusiasm about seeing the new boat for the first time was palpable. Of maybe they just knew how excited I was to finally see La Estrella Amazonica in the water! Our first glimpse of the riverboat was magical as we approached at sunset. I honestly don’t think that — having only seen the renderings in our brochure — anyone expected the riverboat to be as gorgeous as it is…we even took a group photo before boarding the first time!

Other IE staff had always told me that writing a true daily itinerary for the Amazon Voyage was difficult — if not impossible — because of the huge fluctuations in water levels throughout the year and because we allow our guides the flexibility to take advantage of local conditions. Having traveled to the Amazon now during both high and low water seasons, I understand the difficulty! The water can rise as much as 40 feet, changing the landscape and prompting entire villages to relocate. You honestly can't imagine the differences and seeing the cliffs created by the land being moved and carved by the river. During low water season we had a nice hike around Ranger Station #2. In high-water we took the skiff all the way to the top step! Each day in the Amazon is a new adventure with our day’s schedule adjusted to make the most of wildlife sightings, local festivities and changing seasons, but there is a pattern too. Guests enjoy twice daily excursions to view wildlife, frequent village visits, nighttime wildlife excursions, hiking and even kayaking.

All of our guides are so knowledgeable and even create a little “friendly competition” to see who observes the most species during the cruise. At the end of the voyage, each team presented a slide show of their best photos — a showdown highlighting guest and guide photos.Highlighting our sightings were FOUR highly endangered giant river otters and capybaras, which I didn’t see on my previous trip.

November 06, 2013

Tiger Sightings in India!

Guests on this week's India tour have not only had the privilege of experiencing Diwali but have seen SEVEN tigers! While at Kanha National Park, IE's small group observed a mother with four sub-adult cubs for more than 30 minutes. The next day (November 5), the evening safari was capped off by watching two tigers on the prowl! Diwali, the festival of lights, was celebrated earlier this week by India's Hindus, Jains and Sikhs. The word Diwali comes from the Sanskrit deepavali, which means a row of lights.

October 31, 2013

Beware of Vampire Bats?

Each night they emerge from caves, tree hollows and abandoned buildings to fill the skies of Mexico and Central and South America, drinking half of their body weight in blood. But are vampire bats really that scary?

Like the legendary monster for which they were named, vampire bats do survive on the blood of cows, pigs, horses and birds, and though rare, they do occasionally bite humans. But unlike Bram Stoker’s famed villain, vampire bats don’t actually suck blood from their victims. Instead, using specialized teeth, they make a small cut and lap up blood with their tongues. Other adaptations which facilitate this unusual feeding habit include the ability to walk, run and jump. Vampire bats even have a thumb! And all of these adaptations are critical to the survival of the bats, which can only go two nights without feeding.

There are actually three different types of vampire bats: Desmodus rotundus — the most common variety, Diaemus youngi and Diphylla ecaudata.


Thank you to Amazon cruise guest Elissa Leibowitz Poma of WWF for allowing us to publish her article.

Tulio Ahuanari Sima remembers the size of the paiche his fisherman grandfather used to bring home after a day on the river: The tasty and dense Amazonian fish could grow to 11 feet and was so heavy that two or three men were needed to carry just one. A single fish fed several families.

As he grew up, Ahuanari said he started observing smaller and smaller fish—sometimes by several feet. “I was worried,” Ahuanari said. “I wanted to know what was causing this.”

The desire to protect a fish so important to his community—a species once drastically overfished in the Amazon Basin—inspired the 30 year old to get involved in conservation. Today, he is the head of Ranger Station No. 2 in the largest protected area in Peru. The small, shy man commands a team of three and oversees volunteers from villages and towns in and around the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, which WWF supported when it was founded in 1982. (Travelers on WWF’s Amazon Voyage have the pleasure of visiting the ranger station during the expedition.)

Ahuanari studied tourism and natural history. Three years after landing a much-coveted job at the reserve, he was promoted to station leader.

“It was an important opportunity to work here and learn about the reserve,” he said during a brief meeting at the station headquarters—an unusual Japanese-style edifice built by 1970s researchers who traveled along the Pacaya River to examine the very topic that inspired Ahuanari’s career.

Ahuanari and his team live in the building for weeks at a time, monitoring howler monkey populations by day and caimans at night, among other wildlife censuses. They collect yellow-spotted water turtle eggs and relocate them to the beaches near the station, so they can be protected as they hatch.

And Ahuanari patrols the Pacaya River and its tributaries for poachers. At 5 million acres, it’s a lot of territory for just four men to cover, so the military assists. Residents of the 208 communities in and around the reserve do, too; in exchange they’re allowed to fish in sustainable quantities. This will ensure flourishing populations of fish for the sake of the rivers and, perhaps one day, for Ahuanari’s grandchildren, too.

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