Posts Tagged ‘Lindblad’

We Leave the Galapagos, With Killer Whales As An Escort

November 23rd, 2008 at 1:25 am (AST) by Jake Richter

Our week in the Galapagos Islands went by almost too quickly. Every day seemed like it was the best day yet, and then the next day would be even better.

Along the way we’ve experienced marine iguanas grazing on algae underwater, a pod of over a hundred dolphins bow riding with the National Geographic Polaris (our home for the week), a baby Galapagos penguin being fed by its mother, snorkeled with white tip sharks, witnessed the mating rituals of blue footed boobies, and seen all sorts of other amazing acts and existence of nature. And perhaps the most amazing thing was how close we could get to the wildlife – the birds, sea lions, lizards, and iguanas cared not a whit that we were nearby. Made us feel part of nature as opposed to interlopers.

But yesterday (Friday), our last day of exploration, was definitely beyond expectation as a ship-wide call went out on the public address system that a pod of orcas (killer whales) had been sited nearby and that anyone who wanted a closer look had to be in the reception area within 5 minutes. I roused Linda and Krystyana from a mid-afternoon nap and we all made it down to the Zodiac launching point at Reception just in time. Bas was just not able to wake up enough to come along, sadly.

We spent the next twenty minutes in a Zodiac chasing orcas as they fed on a seal and a green turtle. It was a small pod – only three whales, but enough to keep us completely captivated. And thanks to the scraps their feeding left behind we had the added bonus of a huge flock of frigate birds chasing the pod to help tell us where the orcas were at any time.

A killer whale (orca) grabbed our attention off the coast of Santiago, Galapagos

A killer whale (orca) grabbed our attention off the coast of Santiago, Galapagos

We ended the day with an hour and half walk around part of Santiago island, learning more about fur seals (which are actually a species of sea lion), geology, lava tubes, and marine iguanas, ending the exploration with the best sunset of the week long trip.

This morning (Saturday), we parted ways with Lindblad’s Polaris and all the great memories of the trip, the excellent service we received while on board, and the phenomenal depth of knowledge of all the naturalists whom we had the pleasure to go on expeditions with. We took with us the nearly 4,000 pictures we shot during the past week (sorted down to about 1,000 that we think are pretty good but still need to tag and label).

Jake studies up on Peru, sharing a bench with a Galapagos resident

Jake studies up on Peru, sharing a bench with a Galapagos resident

We are now in Lima, Peru, departing early in the morning for Cuzco, and then the Sacred Valley of the Incas for a couple of days before making our way to overnight at Machu Picchu.

 

A Taste of Brittany and Normandy – Saint Malo and Mont Saint-Michel

May 17th, 2008 at 3:48 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

On Saturday night (May 10th), after two days at see, we approached the walled city of Saint Malo, France. It was after sunset as Lindblad’s National Geographic Endeavour neared the lock that would let us into the protection (and higher water level) of the harbor of Saint Malo. We cleared the lock a bit after 10pm, and moored alongside the city close to 11pm.

A lighthouse island as we approach Saint Malo at night
A lighthouse island as we approach Saint Malo at night

There was quite a crowd of locals watching our arrival, apparently because vessels the size of the Endeavour were not particularly common in the harbor.

The National Geographic Endeavour moves out of the lock into the harbor at Saint Malo at night
The National Geographic Endeavour moves out of the lock into the harbor at Saint Malo at night

As we needed to sort through our photos for a composite slide show for the following night, and because we were pretty tired, we opted to stay ashore instead of pursue the nightlife, but heard from others that went that the town was hopping. It was a long weekend in France, and many visitors were in Saint Malo taking advantage of their time off and the nice weather at the time.

Saint Malo at Night
Saint Malo at Night

In the morning, after having to cope with a problematic and chilly lack of hot water for our showers, we were ushered back onto large motor coaches, and driven to Mont St. Michel, about an hour or so away. For those not familiar with Mont Saint-Michel, it is the place where the abbey on top of a rocky island which was made famous by previously only being accessible at low tide. However, at some point in the past, the government built a causeway from the mainland to the island, and now it is accessible pretty much all the time. And there are plans to replace the causeway with a bridge to resolve a major siltation issue.

However, that change does not preempt the fact that the abbey is a stunning piece of architecture, and only in part because of its altitude and precipitous position high atop the mount. Due to various “owners”, fires, wars, etc., the abbey blends gothic and baroque styles, for example. One other thing that we found interesting was that as a result of revolution in France in the late 1700s against the nobility, and as an perceived collaborator the Catholic Church, all of the friezes and statues which feature Jesus were defaced as revolutionaries expressed their resentment against the Church in physical ways.

Mont St. Michel looms overhead
Mont St. Michel looms overhead

Mont Saint-Michel, at low tide, is surrounded by miles of wet sand, some of which can act as quicksand. When the tide rushes in, all 14 meters of it (about 45 feet – one of the highest tides in the world) at its extreme, it can sweep away most anything in its way, as it rises very rapidly, and has been the cause of many deaths of livestock and humans alike. Tides are worst during the full moon and the new moon.

It’s about a 20 minute walk up to the abbey from the bottom where all the tour buses park, and further yet from the areas where cars need to park (an area which incidentally is under water during the highest tides). Little shops, cafes, and museums line the medieval walls along the path on the way up to the abbey summit. Our tour guide, Virginie, gave us the history of Mont Saint-Michel, little of which I could hear because I was always playing catch-up with the group because I was taking photos, but let me just point you to the Wikipedia entry on the subject here.

Krystyana, Linda, and Bas on the terrace near the top of Mont Saint-Michel, France
Krystyana, Linda, and Bas on the terrace near the top of Mont Saint-Michel, France

One thing I do remember was that there were three levels in the abbey in terms of common rooms, with the clerics being on the top level, visiting nobility on the middle level, and commoner petitioners in the bottom level. This was allegedly done to remind the nobility of their place before the Church, and commoners of their position relative to both the nobility and clergy.

After we finished our tour, our guide told us we had ten minutes to get to the buses, even though it was at least a 15 minute hike down (more when one considered the crowds clogging the narrow road down). We ignored the deadline a little bit by stopping at a creperie for an assortment of crepes (chestnut cream, apricot jam, banana and chocolate, and hazelnut and chocolate), which we ate on the bus while waiting for everyone else to show up.

As we ended up leaving Mont St. Michel almost an hour late, we had to also forgo the scenic coastal ride back to Saint Malo, and instead took the highway back. During the bus ride I call our concierge service and secured a late lunch reservation at L’Ankerage, a small seafood restaurant situated along the busy rampart wall on the south side of the town. The meal we had was quite good, and the shellfish platter I ordered was chock full of assorted shellfish, including a large crab, whelks, shrimp, langoustines, cockle shells, and more.

Linda and Krystyana examine Jake's lunch of shellfish in St. Malo
Linda and Krystyana examine Jake’s lunch of shellfish in St. Malo

We waddled away from lunch for a walk around the rest of the ramparts, and then caught a Zodiac back to the Endeavour, which had left the dock a few hours earlier due to the tidal situation.

A man in St. Malo befriends a seagull
A man in St. Malo befriends a seagull

There was a presentation that evening by Massimo Bassamo, the National Geographic photographer we had on board, followed by the Captain’s Farewell Cocktail party (best quote “CPA means Captiain Pays All”, referring to drinks from the bar). We also had our farewell dinner, which was pretty reasonable. I didn’t enjoy much of the evening though because I was stewing about how little time we had had in Mont Saint-Michel, something that was a repeat of most of the other land-based excursions during our Lindblad trip – basically large buses, large groups, and being rushed, just like on a large cattle boat cruise ship (which also costs maybe half of what a Lindblad trip does based on our experience last Fall).

I therefore found myself working for several hours on a letter to Lindblad management about how we felt the trip had not met our expectations, which in turn were based on their marketing materials and discussions with repeat Lindblad clients. I sent the letter in the following morning, and apparently was not the only one, as Sven Lindblad, the current owner of Lindblad Expeditions sent out a mass e-mail apologizing to everyone about the shortcomings of the trip, and a few days later offered either a cash refund for what worked out to about 25% of the fees paid for us, or a certificate in the value of about 50% of the trip fees to be applied towards a future trip with Lindblad. This refund was offered to every passenger on the trip, and I must say that we are very impressed with how quickly Lindblad admitted they had fallen short, and how quickly they came up with what appears to be a pretty reasonable financial apology for those shortcomings.

We’ll be reviewing other Lindblad trip options to see whether or not we go for the cash refund or the credit certificate. Certainly we have heard nothing but good about Lindblad with respect to natural history expeditions they make to places like the Galapagos or Antarctica.

 

Spending Time At Sea

May 13th, 2008 at 5:34 am (AST) by Jake Richter

After we left Coruna on Friday, we set “sail” (the National Geographic Endeavour is a motor-powered vessel with no masts, but it still “sails”) for St. Malo, France, two days and hundreds of miles away.

So as to ensure that we would not be too bored while spending a couple days at sea, a number of lectures and events were planned on board, and we participated in all of them, including:

– Several in-depth presentations about the HMS Victory, the ship upon which Admiral Nelson died during the battle of Trafalgar in October, 1805. Our presenters were Peter Goodwin and his wife Katy. Peter is the curator of the HMS Victory, and we had a chance to get a private tour conducted by Peter when we landed in Portsmouth yesterday. We learned a lot about naval warfare with sailing vessels and Nelson.

– Wine tasting featuring Spanish Rioja wines.

Our table was littered with wine glasses after the Rioja tasting
Our table was littered with wine glasses after the Rioja tasting

– A National Geographic GeoBee – a competitive quiz featuring questions about world geography and culture. The Traveling Richters tied for third place, meaning we all got GeoBee medals.

We tied for third place in the GeoBee aboard the National Geographic Endeavour
We tied for third place in the GeoBee aboard the National Geographic Endeavour

– Madeira tasting featuring three different Madeira wines.

The three Madeira wines we tasted at the Madeira tasting
The three Madeira wines we tasted at the Madeira tasting

– A nice presentation on the Basque culture and Basque whalers given by one of the naturalist staff members, Sean. Introduced the suggestion that the Basque people might be more direct genetic descendants from Cro Magnon man, and also pointed out that the Basque whalers were early visitors to North America, much like the Vikings were, although neither established permanent settlements.

– A lecture about bird species found in the areas we had visited and would be visiting.

– A discussion of the geology of the world as it relates to plate tectonics. The key takeaway point for us was that the “seven continents” we’ve all learned about are a fallacy when it comes to real geology, as there are actually about 25 various tectonically derived continents of various sizes (including a mini-continent which Italy is part of). The seven continents we’ve been taught are merely a human interpretation based on large land masses surrounded by water, with no actual regard for how things connect geologically.

– A photo slide show by a half dozen participants (including Krystyana and myself).

We also had a nice Philippines themed dinner during the time at sea.

One of the staff carves meat off a roasted suckling pig
One of the staff carves meat off a roasted suckling pig

All told, we were kept pretty busy between ports.

 

New Posts From Lindblad About Our Trip

May 10th, 2008 at 6:09 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

The Lindblad staff have posted two new daily reports on their site about the visit of the ship we are on, the National Geographic Endeavour, to two other ports of call:

May 6 – Lisbon, Portugal
May 7 – Porto, Portugal

 

Official Daily Reports from Lindblad’s National Geographic Endeavour

May 7th, 2008 at 5:13 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

Looks like the official daily expedition reports prepared by the staff of the ship we’re on, Lindblad’s National Geographic Endeavour, are slowly starting to trickle onto Lindblad’s web site.

You can look at them here. Make sure to click the date of the entry to read the complete report for that day. There are presently three days posted:

We’ll post our own entry here on The Traveling Richters for today’s nice visit to Porto, Portugal in the next couple of days as we have to get up very early in the morning to go see the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela tomorrow, and we’re losing an hour due to a time zone change going from Portugal to Spain (we will be six hours ahead of the U.S. East Coast).

 

Ruins and History in Morocco – Meknes and Volubilis

May 6th, 2008 at 7:06 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

Sunday went as planned. After an early breakfast we were loaded onto the buses we had been using for the past couple of days, along with our luggage, and taken to the Moroccan city of Meknez (also spelled Meknes), which was about a two and a half hour bus ride.

Meknes was originally built by Moroccan Sultan Moulay Ismael in the 18th century in an effort to create a place that would be analogous to Versailles. Meknes’ building consumed huge resources, with stones and materials taken from other Moroccan cities for its buildings.

Nowadays, Meknes is just another Moroccan city, albeit one with a rich history. Much of the original Meknes no longer exists, as it had been built with wood, but we visited the granaries and stables, as well as several gates and the mausoleum of Moulay Ismael. The granaries were rather impressive in terms of their size, but only the corner stone columns of the stables remain, so other than the sheer size of the stables (which could hold over a thousand horses), there was not much left to see. The mausoleum also serves as a place of prayer, and we were privileged to be allowed in to see it (after taking off our shoes).

As time was limited, because we needed to get to the ship Sunday evening, we didn’t see much else of Meknes other than a couple of gates into the old medina before heading to the ruins of the Roman city of Volubilis, about 30 minutes away. I am not sure if Meknes was just not meeting expectations based on the comparison made to Versailles or rather because our whole visit felt abbreviated and rushed due to time constraints. Not sure we’ll ever find out.

Along the way to Volubilis, we passed the city of Moulay Idriss, which contains the mosque of Moulay Idriss, an Islamic holy place. The city was originally listed as part of the tour, but again due to time limitations we merely drove by after a short stop some distance away to take pictures of the city.

Volubilis was far more extensive than we had expected, and apparently archeologists have been slowly reconstructing parts of the city, including some walls and columns. We had a tour provided by a local guide who was a bit difficult to understand, but we did spend about 90 minutes walking around with him and our fellow bus travelers. Again, we could have easily spent more time exploring other parts of the ruins, but we needed to get to our prearranged lunch at the Hotel Volubilis, up on a hill overlooking the ruins.

Bas stands in the ruins of the Roman city of Volubilis in Morocco
Bas stands in the ruins of the Roman city of Volubilis in Morocco

The view at lunch was great, but service was slow, and again, due to time pressures, we had to rush out as the servers were trying to serve us traditional mint tea at the end of our meal (with no dessert apparently).

It was a long three and a half hour bus ride back to Casablanca where we finally saw our ship, Lindblad’s National Geographic Endeavour – our home for the next eight days. It was a real relief, as we had visions of spending the rest of our tour on tour buses, as we had the last several days – I think we had more bus time than time out of the bus, which was not exactly our idea of the sort of expedition we thought we had signed up for.

Once we entered the ship, we were whisked off to our cabins – understandably smaller than a typical hotel room, but comfortable. We then headed up to the lounge for a glass of champagne, some snacks, and our ship safety drill, followed by an orientation and buffet dinner. Along the way we unpacked our bags completely for the first time in two weeks.

Jake, Krystyana, and Linda during the safety drill on Lindblad's National Geographic Endeavour
Jake, Krystyana, and Linda during the safety drill on Lindblad's National Geographic Endeavour

Our first night’s sleep on board was not as restful as we would have liked, as we needed to acclimate to being on a moving ship, including the rocking motion, the rumbling of the engines, and the resulting creaking in our cabin. But again, it was good to know we were sitting put with our clothes in one place for a while (for the record, our second night was much more restful).