Oceania Marina Lacks Stockholm Terminal

Never a second chance to make a first impression.

Deplaning in Stockholm, we move through immigration and customs amazingly quickly. No serious concerns about terrorism here. At the luggage carousel, we meet an Oceania representative collecting luggage for passengers taking a bus tour of Stockholm before boarding the Marina. We tell him we’d just like to go to the passenger terminal and nap in a chair before the ship is ready for boarding, assuming the terminal has any seats. He assures the Marina’s terminal not only offers a comfortable seating area to wait but also a café. Sounds perfect. Little did we know that of all the cruise ships in port, Oceania Marina lacks a Stockholm terminal.

Our 28-mile taxi ride to the terminal may be lengthy we see mostly highways and only a small bit of Sweden. The small bit of Stockholm we view reminds Linda of Stieg Larsson’s famous Millennium series, a best-selling trilogy starting with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. She imagines heroine Lisbeth Salander walking the streets we pass. Her vision of Lisbeth looks like Noomi Rapace, the Swedish actress who starred in the original movie.

Our taxi driver is an interesting man. From Iraq, he says he abandoned Baghdad in 2005 after his two supermarkets were set on fire a second time. He says he has no plans ever to return despite close family still living there. His regular family reunions occur in a European country, never in Iraq.

Arriving at the cruise port, we find the Marina is not at the Vartahamnen 523, the terminal address provided by Oceania. The port section, known as Vartahamnen South, has five quays  but all dedicated to ferry service, including Scandlines. Our driver takes us to the northern port section and soon locates a Holland America ship with a Celebrity vessel docked behind. The Marina is located opposite them, easily identified at a distance by its white smoke stack with a big “O.”

Oceania Marina’s absent Stockholm terminal-why? 

Instead of the promised passenger-friendly cruise terminal, we discover a curiously long column of Oceania passengers just outside the fence gate leading to the ship. When our taxi draws up, several passengers quickly approach our driver to secure a ride to the airport. It’s 8:45 a.m., which seems late for so many people still to be disembarking and without any organized transportation for departure or hotel stays. We grab our luggage, then pay the fare with a credit card. Our cab driver seems filled with new energy, surprised and pleased to pick up a new fare so quickly.

Still early, the temperature is chilly and the overcast sky has the look and feel of rain. We ask the way to the terminal. What terminal building?  There isn’t one for Marina passengers.  Apparently the only terminal is located at the pier opposite us where Celebrity and Holland America ships are berthed.  We’re advised to wait outside the fence gate where, thankfully, is a tiny gift shop with a large wooden deck containing only five plastic chairs, already occupied by other new arrivals waiting to board. We claim an edge of the deck to sit before that space is occupied. The hard deck feels identical to the SAS Premium Plus seats. Since it will be several hours before we can board the Marina, we pass the time people watching and talking to our new shipmates.

I estimate the waiting passenger taxi line at 40 to 50 people.  It doesn’t shorten for more than hour. Taxis, slow in coming, depart sporadically with handfuls of people.  As some leave, more disembark from the Marina to replenish the column. It’s almost 90 minutes for the last person to catch a ride. Never witnessed such an unusual and haphazard disembarkation procedure. Fortunate that for those departing and the swelling numbers waiting to board that the sky still only threatens rain.

Oceania-Stateroom-Bed-1.jpg
After a sleepless SAS flight, this bed is what we seek most.

Oceania cruise staff have no explanation for the lack of a cruise terminal or the lack of any facilities; nor do they seem to care. Their attitude and the situation don’t reflect well on Oceania’s claim to offer a “luxury experience.” Or match our previous Oceania experiences, either. Makes us wonder what to expect once on board. Will it be better or worse?  Can’t believe we’re questioning our wisdom about booking Oceania for this cruise.

Around 11 a.m. a large truck arrives with baggage from the airport. We lug ours over to be added to the bunch. About 20 minutes later, wonderful news! A large canopy is erected at the ship’s gangplank and officials assemble under it so we can begin boarding. As expected, no staterooms ready yet but we learn a full lunch buffet lunch is waiting at the Terrace Café on deck 12. Linda and I agree the Marina’s interior is classy but décor is hardly foremost in our minds. Where are the restrooms?

Terrace Cafe best part of the day

At the Terrace Café, the buffet reassures us how good dining on Oceania can be. Although Linda limits herself to soup and a salad, I graze the hot courses. It will be the next day, when I’m more awake, that I discover I can have a fresh, personally prepared Caesar salad at the salad bar for lunch or dinner. Seated at our table, we have a birds-eye view of those still waiting to board. The weather has changed. Anyone standing outside the canopy waiting to begin the boarding process is standing in a light rain. Strangely, don’t see any umbrellas being passed out. That same thing could have happened to us while waiting on those gift shop stairs, with no shelter waiting anywhere.

Following lunch, we remain at our table to talk with another couple as everyone waits for an announcement that rooms are ready. The couple, from the northeast, was on our SAS flight, also in SAS Premium Plus. We compare note on our experiences. Departing their hometown, they also were sent to TSA’s fast track line, so flying premium class was worth more than we knew. And they didn’t sleep much on the flight, either, due to SAS’ hard seats.  At 1 o’clock, the first rooms are ready for occupancy. They start at the top category: the suites. At 1:30 our concierge category is announced. We’re told later the bulk of the rooms were ready just before 3 p.m.

Our room is just a few decks below the Terrace Café and convenient to elevators, as planned. Our stateroom is impressive. Nice and spacious. A laptop computer with unlimited internet sits at the desk for our use. A bottle of champagne chills in an ice bucket. Our bathroom is expansive, offering both a large tub and a sizeable shower stall. Unexpectedly, we find we have a mini-fridge stocked with an assortment of soft drinks (no charge). And two impressively large bottles of water that will be replaced every day. This is going to be very nice.

Our luggage soon arrives but we leave it unpacked. One more thing to test: the comfort of the bed, which must have been suitable since we fall instantly asleep, only to be jolted awake two hours later by a blaring announcement to prepare for the lifeboat drill. Abruptly, normal shipboard life begins .

Married Middle Name Cruise ID Nightmare

By Linda O’Keefe

Passing through immigration in Stockholm, I can finally relax.  I’ve arrived at our departure port so no more worry about being denied boarding by an airline. My concern? The full name on my passport is different from the full name on both my flight reservations and the Oceania cruise manifest.   This inconsistency is my middle name. It’s partly due to the conflicting ID requirements on the state and federal levels, a situation many married women may encounter when they travel internationally.

My Florida driver license has my maiden name for my middle name. That is due to the marriage license requirements in the county where we were married, which requires the woman must use her maiden name for her middle name.

A woman’s maiden name also is supposed to be on her US passport. But several years ago  when I applied for a passport name change my new passport  was stamped with my middle birth name although it was supposed to have my maiden name.

I’ve had to work around this ID contradiction ever since when it comes to overseas travel.  Men are lucky. They never deal with this problem since their names usually remain the same for life.

Obviously I should have booked the cruise under my “passport name” as I usually do, not my “Florida name.”  As for my flights overseas,  will I even be able to get my tickets?  TSA also will expect my airline tickets to match my passport ID.  Overlooking this mistake until the last-minute is inconceivable.  It puts me in a great panic of whether I will be denied boarding in Orlando or Newark traveling to Europe or on my flights returning from Europe.

Orlando International Airport-1Will I ever get out of here,  Orlando International Airport?

My first call is to our travel agent.  She says she can’t make ticket changes since Oceania issued them.  And Oceania probably can’t make a name change at this point but if  it could the new ticket likely would  come with severe penalties.  Worse, she indicates it’s unlikely I’ll be able to board any flights.  Her suggestion is that I call the different airlines to report my problem and check the TSA website. But there are no guarantees these steps will get me on an airplane.

This is turning into a horror story. I call TSA, encountering a recorded message with more options than toothpaste brands at a grocery store. Eventually I speak with a real person, a woman who asks my name. Then I hear only computer keys clicking. Her next question: “Where are your flights going to?” I reply “Orlando to  La Guardia (incorrect) to Stockholm.” Silence again on the line.  Then, “Mrs. O’Keefe, you are flying United to Newark (she caught my error) and then SAS to Stockholm on August 20 and returning British Airways from Amsterdam to Gatwick and BA Gatwick to Orlando on September 4th.” Now it is my turn to be silent. She knows all this better than I do because of just my name? Glad to know the government can be on top of something as small as this so quickly.

The TSA call is the smartest thing I could have done. The TSA representative is extremely helpful and informative, assuring me this was not a big deal and that it happens all the time. Her advice is to carry my Florida driver license, my social security card and a copy of my Florida marriage license with my passport to show as much ID as possible.

Checking in at Orlando International, a woman at the United counter immediately questions  the middle name differences.  I’m ready, full of explanations and a fistful of documents. The problem quickly disappears when a supervisor is called:  a female supervisor. What luck. She has the same middle name problem and is questioned about it sometimes at OIA—where she works.  We’re part of the same sorority!

I receive boarding passes for both Orlando to Newark and for Newark to Stockholm.  The tickets are stamped with the notation my documents are checked.  Ironically, and happily, my home airport is the only place on our entire trip  where the middle name problem comes up.  I know that now but not on that travel day. I will not stop worrying about be turned back until I board the Oceania Marina.

Once on board, I’m given my official ship ID card–which carries no middle name.  That’s more than convenient. It means I will have no problem in St. Petersburg where I must show my passport and ship ID card each time I leave and return to the ship.

In the 13 or 14 years Tim and I have traveled together internationally, this never was a problem and it came up only now because 4 years ago we were married. Thus, it’s all  his fault!

Tim:  Linda and I both wrote this post together and I am responsible for much of it. I also wrote the last sentence. I am the guilty party who made the reservations using her driver license.  But she should have noticed my mistake  at the time.

Tim & Linda:  A learning experience for us and this silly mistake  won’t be repeated.  All international bookings will carry Linda’s passport name even though it’s technically incorrect, carrying her middle birth name.  Thanks, State Department! 

Oceania Marina Baltic Cruise An Easy Choice

Song and Dance Ensemble of the Russian Army, St. PetersburgSong and Dance Ensemble of the Russian Army, St. Petersburg

It’s been too long since Linda and I cruised (or blogged) so last January we began looking at cruise itineraries. The Oceania Marina 12-day summer Northern Europe Viking Trails itinerary appeals immediately to us but especially to me since it includes three full days in St. Petersburg, Russia. Having visited St. Petersburg twice decades ago, I’m interested to see how much it’s changed since the end of the Soviet era. For whatever reason, Russia is a long-time fascination. My first visit there was is in the 1970’s Soviet era with four more trips over the years.

In addition to St. Petersburg, other interesting Marina stops include out-of-the-way ports in Estonia, Lithuania and Poland along with Helsinki, Copenhagen, a German port convenient to Berlin and ending with an overnight in Amsterdam. Oceania is one of our favorite cruise lines but the price quoted in January seems a bit too high.

Linda and I always are interested in anything new Oceania offers. We have a long history with them, going back to its previous incarnation when it was known as Renaissance Cruises. The first cruise Linda and I ever made together was on one of their 684-passenger “R Ships.” That was in the spring of 2001, just months before Renaissance went under due to the 9/11 Twin Towers attack, when all their ships were stationed in Europe. It was a sad ending to a wonderful cruise line but what happened in the class action suit against Renaissance made us laugh. Would like to meet that judge.

We scan the promotional materials Oceania sends at regular intervals, as new features are added to the Vikings Trails end of season cruise. Now included are free shore excursions for all three days in St. Petersburg ($1,000 value), prepaid gratuities, free unlimited internet in our stateroom and a $300 on-board ship credit to use for whatever we want.

When Oceania offers the option to upgrade round trip air to premium economy for just $198 round trip from Orlando, we’re ready to book. Oceania always includes round trip air in its cruise prices and we’d be crazy not to use it. We’d save $850 if we opted out of Oceania’s air package but the best online economy flight rates for our itinerary would cost two to three times the $850 discount. Premium economy is considerably more.

We decide to treat ourselves to an early wedding anniversary and go concierge class, which allows us first choice of the St. Petersburg tours and early reservations in the Marina’s five specialty restaurants. Unlike most cruise lines, Oceania does not demand an extra charge for its specialty restaurants; only advance reservations required. The Marina is one of Oceania’s new large, almost twice the size of the original “R-Ships” and carrying 1,250 passengers. It will be interesting to see how much of an improvement this new class size is over the smaller vessels.

Klaipeda, Lithuania, located on the mouth of the Dane SeaKlaipedia, Lithuania, located on the Dane River

Oceania books our flights, not our travel agent, and the itinerary is a surprisingly good one. We fly from Orlando to Newark with a layover of under three hours before taking Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) to Stockholm, our departure port. The return flight from Amsterdam takes us to London Gatwick and another short layover with a direct flight back to Orlando. The schedule is fine though we wish we could avoid the United Airlines flight to Newark since it wants $100 for a second bag. Especially since our other carriers, SAS and British Airways, both allow two free bags. We’re extending our trip for several days in Amsterdam after the cruise, so packing at least one extra bag for the two of us is kind of necessary.

When we check in at Orlando International we encounter the usual summer crowds that often increase TSA screening lines to 30 minutes. Unexpectedly, our tickets send us to the TSA fast-track lines, which proceed quickly. This is one of the benefits of premium economy class.

Arriving at Newark, we look forward to boarding the SAS overnight flight to Stockholm. Our only previous premium economy experience was on Air New Zealand from Los Angeles to Auckland and that truly was something special. Premium economy had its own cabin, comfortable space age style seats and meal service better than the business class of some other carriers. Descriptions of SAS Premium Plus appear equally appealing.

The SAS flight begins impressively. During takeoff, SAS allows us to watch the takeoff from different views on our personal TV screens. I watch the takeoff starting from the cockpit view, switch to a rear angle as we lift off the runway and then look straight down at the area we fly over. Very nice touch. The selection of recent American movies is good, too.

Windmill in the NetherlandsWindmill in Holland

But about an hour after takeoff, the SAS Premium Plus experience is not so pleasant. The seat bottom lacks any kind of padding, assuming it ever had any. It’s extremely uncomfortable. Linda says she feels like she’s sitting on a concrete slab. In addition, I find it impossible to maneuver my legs around the large left leg on the seat in front of me. That support blocks almost half of the normally available legroom, leaving no way to stretch my legs, much less place my laptop there without seriously intruding on Linda’s leg space. I’m convinced the design engineers never tested this arrangement in real life conditions.

The evening meal choices are chicken with plain white rice or salmon with plain white rice. They’re just as bland as they sound. The run-of-the-mill airline salad, rice entrée and dessert come clustered together on the usual typical economy tray. This is nothing like SAS’ classy website description: “For dinner, there is a starter, main course (choose between two alternatives) & a good dessert with coffee or tea.” The accompany photos are equally misleading

For the first time ever on a flight, I’m unable to sleep. Normally I can fall asleep on a bus, train and every airline until now. A mild sleeping pill doesn’t block the pain of my lead-lined seat. I read my Kindle until breakfast. Would have liked to have read SAS in-flight magazine but my overhead reading light is out. Stewardess said she would report it. Linda squirms in her seat much of the time. She also is awake most of the night.

Landing in Stockholm, and shuffling like zombies from The Walking Dead, we gladly leave SAS Premium Plus behind. We’re more than ready for our next stop. The Oceania Marina and its usual flavorful welcome aboard lunch buffet.

Dining on the Lindblad Endeavour

food_paella-1
                      Classic Spanish paella with shellfish but no shrimp

Sustainability guides the ship’s dining choices—yum!

Lindblad Expeditions takes its dedication to conservation seriously, extending it even to the Endeavour’s dining room. Although seafood is a staple on the ship’s menus, you’ll never find a shrimp cocktail, fried shrimp or shrimp of any sort on the ship. Lindblad banned shrimp from its kitchens more than a decade ago, in the summer of 2001 as part of its sustainable dining program to help preserve fish stocks world-wide.

Lindblad says it could not find any shrimp suppliers who could prove that their shrimp harvesting methods did not damage the marine environment. One of the serious problem shrimp trawlers create is the “bycatch” of unwanted fish species that end up being killed and disposed of. In addition, in some areas the trawlers may sweep the same section of sea bottom several times a year, which leaves no time for re-growth or recovery of the marine habitat.

Shrimp farming also has serious negative impact because shrimp growers have made their pond water poisonous due to the large amounts of artificial feed, pesticides, chemical additives and antibiotics used for the highest possible production rate. Typically, the ponds are located in coastal areas to provide easy access to new fresh water sources to refill them. Unfortunately, instead of reducing pressure on overharvesting, shrimp aquaculture’s toxic  effluent is blamed for reducing local shrimp and fish populations in some regions

When it comes to the fish served on board the Endeavour and other Lindblad ships, they are species considered not to be over-fished or caught by environmentally destructive practices. Lindblad Expeditions is not being extremist in its sustainability approach. According to Ocean Wise, a Canadian non-profit education and conservation association, an estimated 90-percent of all large, predatory fish have disappeared from the world’s oceans and it states that one recent scientific study predicts a world-wide fisheries collapse by the year 2048.  Obviously, this is a topic that impacts all of us and one we all should be concerned about.

Placing the serious aspects of the Lindblad Endeavour’s menu aside, as you’ll see from the accompanying photos and the week’s menus on accompanying pages, no one starves and there is a serious emphasis flavorful food, although the preparations are not always ones we have every day or perhaps ever have had before. But trying new foods always has been an essential part of travel. The menu emphasizes Ecuadorian cuisine, as you would expect.

Here are some sample signs that are posted to explain unfamiliar dishes:

food montepillo sign-1 food potato patty-1

Here’s how seriously Lindblad Expeditions takes its commitment to cater to the diverse tastes of its passengers.  The photo at the top of this post shows paella served once a week at lunch that definitely would not suit vegetarians.  So, a vegetarian paella is served at the same time. 

This kind of catering is routine on large cruise ships. But the Endeavour carries fewer than100 passengers. Here is a photo of the vegetarian paella served at the same lunch.

food veg paella-1Vegetarian paella, a rice dish from Valencia, Spain

See for yourself what the dining on the Lindblad National Geographic Endeavor is like. You won’t be disappointed, I promise you. If I didn’t like it, I would tell you. But I do wish there was just one time during the week for plain old hamburgers with buns and all the trimmings.  But that may be just me.

Lindblad Endeavour Galapagos Cruise Links

The Galapagos Experience                                        Endeavour Dining
Galapagos Adventure Upcoming                       Sustainable Dining Policy
How Darwin Saved The Galapagos                   Saturday Dining Menus
Galapagos Photo Tips                                                 Sunday Dining Menus
What To Pack For Cruise                                           Monday Dining Menus
Getting to Guayaquil                                                   Tuesday Dining Menus
Las Bachas Shore Landing                                      Wednesday Dining Menus
North Seymour Shore Landing                          Thursday Dining Menus
Fernandina & Isabela Islands                              Friday Finale Menus
Urbina Bay Shore Landing                                      Endeavour Recipes
Life Aboard The Endeavour
More About Life On Board
Puerto Egas Shore Landing
Endeavour’s Floating SPA
Meeting One of World’s Rarest Animals
Puerto Ayoro Walking Tour
Santa Cruz Highlands Tour
Hunting Tortoises in the Santa Cruz Highlands
San Cristobal, Endeavour’s Final Stop

Grazing New Zealand at SKYCITY Auckland – Restaurants & Menus


SKYCITY Restaurants dine by Peter Gordon and The Grill by Sean Connolly both are world-class dining experiences.  See their menus in photos.

NZ Auckland Sky Tower-1   glass of wine-1

At precisely 1076 feet and 1.38 inches (328 m), the Sky Tower is the tallest man-made structure in New Zealand and serves as one of Auckland’s signature attractions. The Sky Tower also marked the location of SKYCITY Auckland, a casino-hotel complex with 25 cafes, restaurants and bars.

This visual menu is from the SKYCITY Grand Hotel’s restaurant called “dine by Peter Gordon.” The word dine certainly deserves to be in all caps at this award-winning restaurant featuring a mix of Asian, Pacific and traditional European cuisine.  This is a true fine dining experience and one not to be rushed.

dine by Peter Gordon Visual Menu

Appetizers (or “entrees” as they’re called in NZ)

tuna-1Seared yellowfin tuna with nori sauce, crispy squid, wakame salad and wasabi jelly

pork belly-1Crispy free-farmed pork belly and smoked mackerel fritter accompanied by lemon,
coriander, bean sprout, cherry tomato, macadamia salad and lime dressing

salad-1Roast Cambridge duck breast accompanied by green beans, caramelized
shallots, smoked eggplant, beetroot relish, pastille of five-spiced confit
duck leg and chestnuts

Main Course

beef-1
7-hour braised Firstlight grass-fed wagyu short rib accompanied by
eggplant, shitake mushroom, salad and toasted almonds

Dessert

dessert-1Valrhona Guanaja 70% chocolate terrine topped by lemongrass ice cream
with pistachio white chocolate mousse, popping candy, manuka honey crisp

The Grill by Sean Connolly Visual Photo Menu

Another excellent restaurant at the SKYCITY Grand Hotel, The Grill by Sean Connolly is more casual than dine but the menu is just as delicious and memorable. The emphasis here is on fresh local foods with the natural flavors allowed to shine through.

Seafood Entrees

seafood platter-1This seafood appetizer for 4 is a meal in itself: Queensland prawns,
Cloudy Bay clams, king crab claws, scampi and oysters. Single servings
also available.

prawns with garlic and pesto-1Queensland prawns with garlic butter and pesto.  We should have stopped
right here.

Main Course

XXX

          There should be a picture above of a 1-1/2 inch dry aged savannah Angus rib        eye on the bone.  I was trying to arrange this great piece of cow into a more
photogenic position but made the mistake of cutting into and tasting the rib eye
while doing this. The results were not pretty or suitable for public viewing.  The rib eye,
however, was magnificent and you have my word –if not my photo—attesting to that.

Lindblad Endeavour Arrives at Puerto Egas

puerto egas beach walk sea lions marine iguana-1

Puerto Egas, where the wildlife offer a warm welcome

Everyone who takes a Galapagos cruise usually has a favorite shore landing. Mine comes unexpectedly almost midway through the trip when Lindblad’s National Geographic Endeavour takes us to Puerto Egas on Isla Santiago (also known as James Island and Isla San Salvador). On our afternoon stop there, everything comes together: the sunlight is gorgeous, we encounter a good variety of birds and mammals and also witness lots of lively animal interaction, including a large bellowing male Galapagos fur seal. Best of all, this is one of the most leisurely walks, without the usual and constant push to keep moving.

Ironically, when Lindblad’s National Geographic Endeavour arrives and anchors off Isla Santiago, there is no hint this will be a special afternoon. Instead, once our Zodiac lands on a narrow rocky beach, the scenery is almost depressing. A dilapidated house sits on a small cliff above where we stand. Then, after we exit the beach and get a better view of the old deserted homestead and its empty, fenced-in fields, the spot seems even more dismal.

There may be 30,000 people living in the Galapagos, but this is the first evidence of human occupation we’ve seen since sailing from Baltra on Saturday morning. This unexpected detritus of human intrusion is an irritating reminder of past efforts to harvest salt here, first between 1928 and 1930, then much later in 1964. Both attempts invariably caused environmental damage by using native and endemic trees for firewood and also introducing new plants and animals. The Puerto Egas name, in fact, refers to the last salt company operation, run by Hector Egas whose venture failed when the price of salt in South America became so cheap that operating in the Galapagos was impractical.

puerto egas ruins-1  puerto egas Remains of old salt trail-1
The jarring reminders of the humans who once lived here

Thankfully, we quickly leave the settlement area and make the short walk across the island’s narrow point to the other side, which is surprisingly different. It’s long black lava coastline that seems to extend endlessly along James Bay, where Charles Darwin’s ship anchored and he explored the interior of Santiago Island. The shore, comprised of an old lava flow that poured into the ocean, has many large inlets and tidal pools created by the erosive force of the rough wave action. One of these inlets, a vertical chute where the water rises and ebbs as waves regularly crash against the rock, carries the appropriate if undignified name of “Darwin’s toilet.”

This lava shoreline is a favorite haunt of fur seals, the smallest of the pinnipeds and creatures we really haven’t encountered closely before. Endemic to the Galápagos Islands, an estimated 40,000 fur seals are spread throughout the islands, apparently much smaller than just a few decades ago. Scientists say the fur seal population was reduced significantly in the 1980s due to the effects of El Nino, which also reduced the local fish populations.

The best known place to see fur seals is Gruta de las Focas, which has a natural bridge above the inlets where fur seals are normally found. They’re present today because, thankfully for us, Galápagos fur seals are the most land-based of all the fur seals, spending at least 30% of their time out of the water. Fortunately, they also do most of their fishing at night since they prefer to spend as many days as possible warming themselves on the lava rocks and only occasionally sunbathing on sandy beaches.

puerto egas american oyster catcher-1American oyster catchers were common place at Puerto Egas

Hopefully, the fur seals will be as prevalent here and throughout the Galapagos in coming years since the current climate change seems to have prompted an ambitious group of Galapagos fur seals to look for better fishing waters in Peru. No one is sure why, perhaps because there are more fish there. This migration happened in 2010 when a group of Galapagos fur seals traveled 900 miles (1,500 km) to the northern waters of Peru and established a colony there, the first recorded instance of Galapagos seals migrating from their homeland. Rising water temperatures have been credited as the motivation but the water still averages warmer in the Galapagos.  Water temperatures off northern Peru have increased from 62F (17C) to 73F (23C) in the past 10 years; Galapagos water temps average 77F (25C). It’s speculated more such colonies might be established in northern Peru. Still think it’s due to better fish populations in Peru and not the water temperature.

Darwin paid scant attention to the fur seals during his visit, perhaps because fur hunters had almost hunted the animals to extinction. On this day fur seals are prominent at Puerto Egas, along with Sally Lightfoot crabs, marine iguanas, American oyster catchers, a Galapagos hawk and more. Two fur seals are in a contest with a sea lion to dislodge the sea lion from its flat rock perch just above the waves. The sea lion ignores the fur seals’ loud noises and aggressive threats, holding its head high with an expression we interpret to mean something like “Well, here goes the neighborhood!”

puerto egas Lava Gull-1Lava gull stalking the Puerto Egas tidal pools

The matter is semi-resolved when one of the fur seals jumps on an adjoining rock and gradually nudges its way into sharing part of the platform. The sea lion refuses to retreat and both animals end up appearing to have reached a compromise for the space. The second fur seal stays in the water, preferring to swim around and keep out of the way. Once the action subsides, we wander away, careful not to trip over or step on the marine iguanas littering the craggy lava surface like washed-up seaweed.

As we walk the shoreline in the direction of the ship, it’s obvious the Puerto Egas tidal pools are attracting the largest variety of birds we’ve ever seen in one location. Even several Darwin finches land in the trees bordering the shoreline only a few yards behind the beach. I lag behind the others for the unusually prime photo ops. It’s what photographers call the “golden” or “magic” hour, very close to sunset, and the colors are amazing. This one afternoon almost makes up for the  cloudy days we’ve had to work around most of the trip.

When I finish photographing the birds in the tidal pools, I catch up with my group and see they are watching a Galapagos hawk dine on a sizable marine iguana. We are perhaps 20 yards from the hawk, which is well aware of our presence but continues to feed while keeping an obvious watch on us. We’ve seen numerous marine iguanas along the coast, more than in most places, and it’s not surprising there would be a natural death the hawk would take advantage of. The hawk carefully watches on us as we photograph/view it.

Puerto Egas Galapagos hawk feeds on marine iguana -1  puerto egas fur seal tidal pools-1
                                           Galapagos hawk feeds on its prize meal; a fur seal pup.

My day’s highlight comes near the end of our walk where we encounter a huge male fur seal with his harem.  The males are supposed to grow no larger than 5 feet (1.5m) in length and weigh no more than about 145 pounds. This fellow not only looks much larger and scarily impressive because he sits on a rock plateau just a few feet above us.

Seen in profile, this huge male should emphasize why the Galapagos fur seal’s scientific name is Arctocephalus galapagoensis, from Greek words meaning “bear headed.” to me, it doesn’t. Although this fur seal does have a short, pointed muzzle, along with a small, button nose and large eyes, the muzzle of most bears I’ve seen are considerably longer and the noses hardly button-size. Think hound dog, instead. But when the male fur seal starts bellowing at one of his concubines, he draws his lips back and flashed sharp, triangular teeth that did make me think of something as deadly as a bear.

puerto egas Male fur seal profile teeth 2-1                                               Male fur sea offering us some advice: “Stay away!”

Dominant male fur seals are enormously protective of their breeding territory, often required to challenge and chase away challengers. This fellow also obviously expends a lot of effort trying to keep his women in line, though he doesn’t seem to have much success. He seems to be loudly coaxing, or whatever—with hands, he might act like a gorilla beating its chest–to impress the only female on the platform with him. She acknowledges his “whatever,” occasionally swaying her head like a boxer in the ring, but eventually just turns and descends to join the other girls below him.

Our guide (a woman) explains, “She’s out to prove she wants more than a one-night stand. He needs to step up his game and romance her.”

It seems absurd that a creature this size and fearsome could ever court (date?) a mate. But male whales do it. Male sharks do it. Male magnificent frigate birds do it (remember those big red sacs?). Male blue-Footed Bobbies do it (by building impressive nests and their dancing). Uh, even human males do it. But instead of impressive nest building, we’ve evolved to offer dinner, a show, a sports event or not even acting in person, just text messaging.

In the Galapagos, you realize a lot about life and love.

Puerto Egas Lindblad EndeavourLindblad’s National Geographic Endeavour off Puerto Egas

Nickelodeon Suites Resort – Let It Snow and SLIME Drop

Nickelodeon Hotel Exterior blog
Entrance to Nickelodeon Suites Resort, Orlando

 How Nickelodeon Suites Resort Celebrates Christmas and New Year’s

Orlando’s Nickelodeon Suites Resort holiday salute begins it holiday celebrations with Let It Snow, held on weekends and select weeknights. The event starts at 6 p.m. with the opening of the Oasis Pool, closed during the day because of the Christmas tree at one end and lighted snow flake decorations hanging next to the pool.

It’s kind of a neat experience to go swimming then, with a blue-white light bathing the pool and snowflakes falling occasionally near the Christmas tree. No danger of getting chilly from the snowflakes: they’re actually bubbles.

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Nick celebrates Christmas with an 84-degree pool

Lasting until 9 p.m., Nick characters such as SpongeBob SquarePants appear several times (along with humans) to dance and pose for pictures. Fire pits near the pool are ready for those hungry for S’mores but don’t make the mistake of waiting in line to use the fire pit unless you’ve already purchased the S’mores ingredients sold at the pool. Yes, it would be nice if they were free but it’s also easy to see how that could get out of hand with a big crowd.

Santa Claus also makes personal appearances either at the Oasis Pool or Studio Nick, based on the daily program everyone receives at hotel check-in.

Around 8:30 the festivities start at Studio Nick with a performance of Celebrate Nickmas, a high energy song and dance show that includes SpongeBob and Dora the Explorer. It’s a good idea to get in line 20 to 30 minutes before the show if you want to sit near the stage. At the end of the show, Santa Claus appears for individual photos with children in front of an elaborate Christmas background. Nick Resort photographers snap everyone’s picture in hopes of selling them but family members are given free reign to take their own. A much appreciated opportunity it is, too.

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Dora the Explorer and friend at Nickmas

But if you want your child to meet Santa, you must make advance reservations, which also assures you seats at the show. Those who show up without reservations are let in on a space available basis but aren’t given a place in line to meet Santa. It’s easy to make a reservation.

New Year’s Eve will be celebrated by Nick Resort’s annual SLIME Drop where 400 gallons of the green sticky goo is dropped on revelers to create what undoubtedly is the messiest pool party anywhere that night. Before the great sliming, the year is ushered out with pool activities including a Dive In Movie, DJ Splash Bash, live entertainment and a Champagne or Slimeade toast.

At the moment, special Nickmas Packages are being offered but not the kind you expect from a hotel. Instead of selling anything, this is a package with room and other discounts. Could be a good deal but also compare the price options on the hotel website and sites like Kayak.com to see the best prices on different rooms.

As you might expect, the New Year’s SLIME Drop experience does cost extra. The party gives a good reason to look green for once on January 1.

To A Weekend at Orlando’s Nickelodeon Suites Resort

Nickelodeon Suites Resort–Orlando’s Best Kids Resort?

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The Lagoon Pool, center of most of the action.

Nickelodeon Suites Resort Impresses Young Theme Park Pro

After spending the weekend at Nickelodeon Suites Resort with our 5-year old granddaughter, I’m convinced the Nick Hotel is probably Orlando’s best resort for youngsters 5-12 years. The almost non-stop daytime activity is well coordinated so there’s always something to look forward to, including frequent appearances by such iconic Nick characters as SpongeBob SquarePants, Dora the Explorer and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And the slides and flumes at the Lagoon Pool water park are ready and waiting throughout the afternoons.

Our granddaughter Harper may be only 5 but she’s a theme park pro. She started visiting Disney World regularly at the age of 2 and has been to all the other major theme parks at least once and frequently more. With that kind of background, we didn’t expect such an enthusiastic reaction when she first enters our suite.

“Look–SpongeBob is painted on the wall!” Harper shrieked happily. “I have a SpongeBob bedroom!” The cartoon art not only makes her excited but it’s also a little overwhelming. Later, when she turns on the TV in her room, the channel is tuned to the Ninja Turtles on Nick TV. She immediately starts imitating their moves, watching intently to copy them perfectly. Harper is in her own happy world.

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To Shake Hands Or Not To Shake?

However, SpongeBob-in-person proves to be a little overwhelming Saturday morning at a special meet and greet with the famous cartoon character. Normally very gregarious, Harper is intimidated when she comes face to face with the famous TV star. It takes a lot of coaxing to have her stand next to the big yellow kitchen sponge to pose for a picture.

A short time later we attend the Nicktoons Cafe character breakfast where SpongeBob and the other Bikini Bottom characters put on a show and then meander among the tables. It’s a harmless dance and hardly aggressive but Harper again finds it all a little overpowering. She’s never been able to spend so much time up close with the characters at Disney or anywhere else.

Even though the Café dining room is full, the characters remain surprisingly accessible for pictures and–thankfully–without the hassle of contending with a resort photographer wanting to sell us a picture. In fact, at all character events, family members are almost always given ample time to take as many photos as they want even when a Nick Hotel photographer is present; it makes the experience a lot more pleasant. (Framed photos start at $16.95 with additional 5×7’s at $10 each. Better prices than some theme parks.)

The buffet’s offerings are complete enough to satisfy even Harper’s finicky food likes. The character buffet ($24 adults, $14 ages 4-12) is impressive, more than I expect: various cheeses, sliced European breakfast meats, trays of pastas, fresh fruit, smoked salmon, tuna fish salad, eggs to order including Eggs Benedict, breakfast burrito, bacon, sausage, corned beef hash, cereals, yogurts, bagels, donut holes, muffins croissants, cherry blintzes and more than I care to write down or remember.

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Slime time at the Lagoon Pool

Afterwards, it’s time to introduce Harper to the Lagoon Pool and its water park rides. Harper attacks the rides with enthusiasm. Although the air temps are only in the high 70’s, the large pool stays a comfortable 84 degrees as does the water flowing through the seven different slides and flumes. The rides start at different levels of a four-story water tower also featuring climbing nets, water jets and a 400-gallon dump tank, which dumps occasionally throughout the day. In the afternoon, during the special Mass Sliming, it pours a lot of slime-colored water on eager bathers ready to turn green.

Slime is a famous Nickelodeon trademark dating back to a 1982 TV show You Can’t Do That On Television. Although sliming opportunities are frequent, you may have to pay a charge to participate. The only times and place we witness sliming is at the Lagoon Pool during special events.

Harper proves she’s over her “fear of characters” on Saturday evening after we walk by the entrance of the Nicktoons Café, which is featuring Ninja Turtles character dining. Linda glances through the door and notices it’s almost empty. “People have left their masks on the tables. If they don’t want one, maybe I can get one.” Why not, it never hurts to ask.

She enters the dining room and asks for a red mask like the one worn by Raphael, Harper’s favorite Ninja turtle. Linda returns with one, reporting, “They couldn’t have been nicer.” The mask is really nothing more than a red strip with eyeholes but exactly like the turtles wear. To Harper, it’s a priceless possession.

As we start to leave, a Ninja in black with red eyes but no mask suddenly appears, ready to pose for photos. We tie the mask on Harper, who  rushes eagerly to meet the Ninja figure.

 Nickelodeon Hotel Ninja-1No fear!

That night, Harper doesn’t wear the mask to bed but sleeps with it clutched beside her. Even for this young theme park pro, something so simple is incredibly special. Like the rest of everything she experienced that weekend.

IF YOU GO

Orlando’s Nickelodeon Suites Hotel, the only one in the world, is a huge property with 777 rooms covering 24 acres. The all-suites hotel includes one to three bedrooms, kitchenettes and TVs in the living room and each bedroom. Our two bedroom SpongeBob suite included a master bedroom with a king bed and a separate kids bedroom (without a door) containing bunk beds. The living room sofa was a pullout, so the room could have accommodated six. The kitchenette had a microwave and mini fridge but no dishes or silverware; bring your own if you intend to make meals during your stay.

Which you might want to do.  Nickelodeon Suites Resort has limited dining options, all housed in the main activity known as The Mall. The Mall definitely could use another restaurant for those who spend all their time at the hotel. Breakfast has the most choices with either a character breakfast at the Nicktoons Café or dining at the breakfast-only Main Buffet ($11.95). The Mall’s food court has a Subway (offers breakfast subs), Cravings which features Starbucks but not much food and Antonio’s Pizza, which also serves burgers, hot dogs and chicken sandwiches. The hotel pools also have their own grill restaurant that  close at 5. Selections are sparse on Saturday evenings when Nicktoons Café offers only character dining; and pizza and burgers do become monotonous. .

The hotel provides transportation to all the major theme parks as part of the $30 daily mandatory resort use fee added on top of the room cost. Although I dislike any resort use fee, it may be worth it this time since it also covers free admission to live shows and entertainment, the two water parks, wireless room internet, unlimited local telephone calls and free parking. Just the parking at some theme park hotels is $17 a day.

To: Nickelodeon Suites Resort Holiday Celebrations

Samana Humpback Whale Watching

Samana Whale Watching-1

Surprising Fact: Dominican Whale Watching Easier and Better Than Alaska.

Riding the top deck of a 45-foot whale watching boat hunting for humpback whales in the Bay of Samana, I keep comparing the Dominican Republic landscape with that of another famous whaling ground: Alaska. From a considerable distance, the Samana coastline appears heavily forested with row after row of terraced trees rising above the shoreline. To me, this unbroken canopy mimics the uninhabited, isolated regions of the far north.

Making comparisons to Alaska is inevitable since whale watching is one of the state’s best-known attractions. Yet the odds of seeing humpbacks are actually better here in the Dominican Republic. The Bay of Samana is one of the whale’s most important breeding and calving grounds, with between 2,000 and 3,000 of the giant mammals migrating here each January.

A naturalist explains over the boat’s crackling loudspeaker that the whales move south for calving season because a newborn humpback—even though it weighs close to a ton–lacks enough fat to survive in the cold waters of the North Atlantic.

The adults stay in the DR’s warm waters until the calves are fit to travel, which begins around the middle to the end of March. From Samana, the humpbacks return to their summer feeding grounds located between North America, Greenland and Iceland.
Samana is central to the whales’ reproductive cycle. Since humpbacks have a gestation period of about a year, the calves now being born in the Bay of Samana are probably the result of the previous season’s mating.

Humpback whale Samana Peninsula Dominican Republic                   Atlantic humpback whales are dark on the top, white underneath.

As the boat narrator points out, the Bay of Samana is only one area of the Dominican Republic where the humpbacks winter but it is the most accessible place for whale watching. He claims that at the moment virtually every humpback whale from the western North Atlantic—whose home waters are from 2,000 to 4,000 distant from Samana–is now lounging somewhere around the Dominican Republic.

This information deeply impresses Nina, a 10-year old Dominican girl seated next to me. Tightly hugging her most important possession, a bright pink knapsack featuring the famous blonde-haired Barbie, Nina is amazed to hear that humpbacks have traveled thousands of miles to have their babies in her homeland.

“Are the baby whales born here Dominicans, too, just like me?” she asks the boat’s narrator.

He has to think about that. “Yes, I guess you could say that,” he answers. “And that means all the humpback whales in our part of the world are Dominicans, too, since they were all born somewhere near the Dominican Republic.”

Nina smiles and hugs her Barbie knapsack tighter. For the moment, she doesn’t seem to care if she even sees a whale today.

The other 60 passengers with her do. We’re all becoming antsy. Normally, whales would be sighted by now, but we have high rolling seas, which makes spotting more difficult. More and more of us are imagining tail flukes and waterspouts in the tossing white froth.

When the first genuine whale spout finally is sighted, there’s no dramatic “Thar she blows,” just a huge collective sigh of relief.

Humpback whale pod exhale spray Samana Peninsula Dominican Republic                               Two humpback whales surface near our boat.

Humpbacks are known as the most playful of all whales, which has me hoping that at least one of the animals will breach, or jump skyward. Although it doesn’t happen this day, a succession of whales entertains us thoroughly as they roll on their sides, wave their flukes, or flip their massive tails skyward when they sound.

Several times we are almost eye to eye with a humpback whale, which is classified only as a medium-sized whale. They grow from 30 to 50 feet in length with the largest weighing as much as 29 tons, or 58,000 pounds. They are almost tiny compared to the blue whale, the largest creature on earth. The largest known blue whale was 110 feet long and weighed 209 tons, or a whopping 418,000 pounds.

But on our 45-foot boat, the humpbacks are goliath enough. As we drift within 20 to 30 yards of a large adult, I’m close enough to start counting the fleshy knobs (called tubercles) on the whale’s massive head, so big it takes up more than a third of a humpback’s body. In the clear water, I can easily distinguish the body color; black on top and white on the bottom.

We end up spending less than an hour of our three-hour trip with the whales but I am well satisfied. I’ve seen more humpbacks in Samana and gotten closer to them than I ever have on several Alaskan trips. And in Samana I do it on a bright sunny day where the wintertime temperature always hovers somewhere in the 80s. I can’t ask for more.

Well, maybe a breach or two. But I’m told later, that almost never happens with humpbacks in Samana. Perhaps because all their energy is concentrated on mating.

 Humpback whale watching boats tourists Samana Peninsula Dominican Republic                     You can choose between large and small whale watching boats.

If you go: Victoria Marine is considered one of Samana’s most reputable whale watching operators. In fact, owner Kim Beddall pioneered whale watching here in 1990. And if you don’t see whales, your next trip is free.

Victoria Marine uses the 55-foot custom whale watching vessel Pura Mia, which carries up to 65 passengers.  A marine mammal specialist narrates and answers questions on every trip.  Narration is done in English and Spanish with interpreters available on board. Dramamine tablets supplied on request. (Yes, the Bay of Samana does get rough sometimes).  Price is US$50 for an adult plus USD$3 Samana sanctuary fee; under 10 US$25.

Their trip schedule makes it obvious the best whale watching is the end of February. From January 15-February 15, tours depart once a day at 10 a.m. From February 16-March 9, the boat leaves at 9 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.  Tours continue to run daily until March 25. The Pura Mia  leaves from the Samana town dock, with pickup for those staying at Cayo Levantado scheduled 30 minutes after the boat departs Samana city, officially known as Santa Barbara de Samana.

Virtually all the large whale watching boats depart the Samana town dock, while smaller and faster craft leave either from there or locations outside the city. A small boat may not be what you want for high seas but on calm days they could be perfect.

Samana has established strict whale watching regulations to prevent boats from crowding the animals. Like all celebrities, humpbacks prefer to be left alone.

Horseback Ride To Samana’s El Limon Waterfall

     El Limon-26-2
Riders on the El Limon waterfall trail in the Sierra Samana mountain range.

Dominican Republic Arrival Has Memorable Start

When a plane lands at an airport and fire trucks quickly begin spraying water over the fuselage, that’s normally a sign of big, big trouble. But that isn’t the case when my JetBlue flight touches down at El Catey International Airport at Samana, in the Dominican Republic.

Instead, as we were advised before landing, streams of water are a traditional way to welcome an airline’s inaugural flight.  I notice they also have a practical purpose: washing off the plane’s windows for its return flight.

This arrival celebration marked the beginning of JetBlue’s direct New York-JFK service to Samana, placing this remote section of the Dominican Republic in much easier reach for visitors from the U.S Northeast and Canada. Our arrival  also made  JetBlue the leading U.S. carrier to the Dominican Republic, with regularly scheduled JetBlue flights arriving at every major destination including  Santo Domingo, Punta Cana, Puerto Plata and La Romana in addition to Samana.

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Our inaugural flight had a special greeting.      El Catey International Airport, Samana

The inaugural shower at the Samana airport is a fitting start to a trip that will include visits to some of Samana’s most popular attractions, including the 130-foot high Falls of El Limon (also known as Salto El Limón and Cascada el Limon).

While it’s possible to reach the falls on foot, it probably would be a lonely, rough and likely a muddy trek. Most people prefer to go by horse, which is an unexpected adventure in itself. In the Samana countryside near the falls are various paradas (literally means “stops”) where small ranchers organize excursions to the falls.

Our chosen ranch is Parada Basilio & Ramona’s,  located in the tiny community of Sendero el Café. We gather in their open air dining room and learn we must pick through an assortment of bike helmets and knee-high rubber boots, considered essential equipment for our ride. The bike helmets are to protect us in case we fall off a horse, an understandable precaution, especially considering the steep inclines and descents we expect to encounter.

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              Ranchers advertise with small signs.             Guide protects saddle from rain.

The boots are a surprise. Turns out our horses will be crossing several swift streams where the water could indeed come close to our knees. It’s been raining on and off so the rivers are swollen.  Good news in one sense since it ensures El Limon waterfall will be at full flow. We’re also given an option of taking a raincoat; I stuff one in my backpack for just is case.

A line of horses waits for us, each one held by a villager who not only will serve as our guide but accompany us for the entire trip. As each of us mounts up, a guide is ready to jog beside the horse and stay glued to his rider for the rest of the trip. This helps ensure there will be no horseplay here with people competing to the top. A good approach considering many of the winding trails are narrow and tight without space for two horses to pass.

And river crossings? There are two in each direction.  Considering that since the age of 12 every horse I ever have ridden wanted to take a roll in the water when I am in the saddle.
But not on this extensive river crossing trip. Having a guide leading with the reins makes these a tranquil crossing.  My horse also seems to understand the occasional urgings and encouragement.  I’m also encouraged enough to risk a camera to record the crossings.   

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    My view of my horse’s crossings.                   Guides make sure it’s a safe crossing.

The bumpy ride to the falls takes about 45 minutes. At trail’s end, we reach a large open-air bar and restaurant with almost a dozen picnic tables. The shelter is crowded with riders from other paradas, some like us ready to make the descent to the pool beneath the falls, others preparing to depart.

With new people constantly coming and going, there is no secure place to leave anything and since your guide will be at your side, don’t expect to find anyone to guard whatever you want to leave behind for your trek to the base of the falls. What you ride off with stays with you for the entire time. Travel light.

Salto El Limón are located at the top of the Sierra Samana mountain range, about a thousand feet above sea level. The waterfalls are opposite us, on the other side of the Limon River. Unfortunately, this day is overcast and a light mist (clouds?) blur their impressive display. On a clear day, just the front yard of the bar would be a great view.

            El Limon-23
         View of El  Limon waterfall in front of the bar/restaurant where rides end.

It’s a walk of several hundred feet down to the pool at the base of the falls. The way down is on a long series of slippery wooden steps with a guard rail for support.  Considering the width at the top, the base of the waterfall is surprisingly narrow so thick plumes of water plunge down into the Limon River from the channel called Arroyo Chico. The rain has turned the river into an uninviting muddy brown, not at all appealing for swimming.

Most of our group continues on, wading the swift waters with a guide at their elbow to reach the opposite bank and make the climb to a second pool better for swimming. Others stay behind to watch two guys dancing atop big rocks being pummeled with water at the base of Arroyo Chico.

When it’s time to make the return climb from the falls, the thousand-foot altitude seems to work against flatlanders who live in low country. There’s a surprising amount of huffing and puffing, especially my own, with occasional rest stops to suck in air. Maybe it’s the steep incline but it feels like we’re higher than a mere 1,000 feet.

Back at the top we meet a large group of Europeans from the Norwegian cruise line Hurtigruten. Their ship is docked in Samana Bay near the provincial capital of Santa Barbara de Samana, the Caribbean’s prime place for viewing humpback whales from mid-January to the end of March.

I finally got to know my guide a little while at the falls. He’s a 14-year old student who is out of school today thanks to a holiday. Instead of taking the day off, he’s here hoping to earn a tip, the only pay he’ll receive for his work. It’s the same situation for all the guides, though none of us knew this in advance. If we had, some of us would be better prepared because these people have worked hard. There will be a lot of furtive borrowing and lending at the end as soon as we dismount.

El Limon-30     El Limon-31
Steep stairway to the falls.                        Base of El  Limon waterfall.

Fortunately, the rains hold off until we make the shelter of the bar. Then we experience an intense but short-lived frog strangler in which the distant falls are almost blotted out. Soon it’s time to mount up and head back. The horses are motivated to return to their pasture; the trip down is 15 minutes shorter than our ascent. And the sun actually comes out briefly to show what a beautiful countryside we are riding through.

Some paradas, unlike Basilio & Ramona’s, use mules instead of horses. Considering the frequent web complaints about mules repeatedly trying to leave the trail and how much harder mules are to handle than a horse, a parada with horses seems definitely preferable.

So is one that serves food. After completing our trip of about 2.5 hours, we’re treated to a truly varied lunch: grilled chicken, spaghetti and tomato sauce, refried beans, rice and a mixed salad of lettuce, tomatoes, onions and fruit. Especially appreciated is that king of beers, Dominican-brewed Presidente.

This has been fun. Now, if that stream of water that started at the airport will just disappear for the rest of my time on the Samana Peninsula.  (It does, as the my next three Samana posts show.)

For more information about things to do in Samana, click here. For Samana cruise port information, click here.
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If You Go To El Limon
Many tourists tend to wait until the afternoon, so mornings are less crowded and avoid the hottest part of the day. Wait too late and you could be riding back in the dark, not a happy prospect.

Bring a backpack with water, a snack and sunscreen. If you plan to swim, wear your suit. For the ride, wear jeans, not shorts. Bring an extra pair of socks because the ones you wear while riding could get wet. A wide brimmed hat works well against the hot sun—and also rain.

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