Sunday, January 29, 2017

First Look at Ushuai, Argentina

  After six straight weeks of leading adventure trips in Hawaii I was ready to head out for an adventure of my own. I was headed farther south than I had ever been before, to the tip of the South American continent, Argentina. Here awaited the southern-most city in the world, the fabled wilderness of Patagonia, the bottom of the Andes Mountains, and of course a little steak and wine.

Mimosas and on my way
Buenos Aires from above
  First things first. I needed to scoop up my girlfriend in Buenos Aries after a winter storm rerouted her from Vermont. I flew United on miles, 30K each way, and luckily had a first class lounge pass leftover from my United credit card. There is nothing quite like kicking back in a airport lounge and drinking mimosas during a layover. And pretty cool having your girlfriend waiting for you at baggage claim 8,500 miles from where you started.

Neighborhood vibe in Buenos Aires
Entrance to Solar Soler B&B
    We had an overnight in the capital city which gave us just enough time to check out our bed and breakfast called Solar Soler Bed and Breakfast, grab some food, change some money, and snag some sleep. The hotel was cute, the owners very helpful, and the location was really what nailed it down for us. It was in the trendy neighborhood of Palermo, with lots of restaurants but quiet enough. It reminded me a bit of parts of New York. After getting a birds-eye view from the plane the next day the area looked even more like New York. The exchange rate was around 16 Argentinian Pesos to 1 USD, and you got a better rate for bigger bills like $100's. It was a little hard to find the money exchanger since banks wouldn't do it and the ATM's at the airport were all out of money. So finally I got directions, jumped on a subway for 3 stops, and still walked right by the place several times because there was no sign at all, just an unmarked door. Finally getting the right door I was buzzed in by someone peaking out through the window blinds and into a dark waiting room where I took a number. Then I was buzzed in through another door where a very nice man happily exchanged my dollars to pesos.

Fitting in with the locals in Ushuaia
  After a typical Argentinian breakfast of cereal, bread, and spreads, Heidi and I jumped on a 'slightly' delayed plane to the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia. Located just above the 55th parallel, Ushuaia is the capital of the Tierra del Fuego district of Argentina and the jumping off point for boats heading down to the Antarctica peninsula. I imagine many people just fly into Ushuaia to get on one of the boats heading to Antarctica and miss all of the adventures around the area. There are glaciers, incredible hiking, boat cruises through the Beagle Canal, and the Tierra del Fuego National Park. Heidi and I plan to get around to doing all of these during our time here.

Ushuaia, Argentina
  Finding inexpensive lodging here was difficult so we settled on a couple of beds in a 6 bed dorm room style hostel called Torre al Sur. It is a bit cramped but makes it easy to get around town. As always when I go to a new place I like to get out and walk around to get my bearings. The rain seems to come and go so far which leaves some very dramatic skies for pictures. The town itself has a rundown but cute ski town kind of feel to it. It seems like every restaurant is a pizza place, which is pretty cool, and there are several micro-brewed beers in the area to go with the famous Argentinian wine.

Ushuaia Waterfront and shipwreck

I am looking forward to the Argentinian adventures to come. Stay tuned for glaciers, hikes, and wildlife from Ushuaia.

Ushuaia: View from the Water

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Baby Humpback Breach and Tail Slap

   A month ago I posted about seeing the first baby humpback whale this winter season here in Hawaii. Since then I have spotted many more mom and calf pairs around the island of Maui. It is pretty amazing to think that these mother whales swim all the way here from Alaska, pregnant, then give birth to a baby the size of a small pickup truck, go on to feed it gallons of fat rich milk every day, all while not eating anything herself. With all of this effort the moms are putting into the calves it is nice to see plump, healthy, well fed calves jumping and playing.

 Whenever I see baby humpbacks breaching or slapping their tails, I wonder if they are just learning the moves needed for communication once they get older, or if it really just for fun. We came across this baby whale and watched it breach over and over. Finally when it stopped breaching it just changed behavior and started tail slapping over and over. Mom was always nearby and I could just picture the baby saying, "look at me mom, look at how good I'm doing."

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Hawaii by Adventure Cruise Ship

Early Morning whale watch on the skiffs
Manta Ray Night Dive in Kona
Humpback surface behavior
Safari Explorer
For the past six years UnCruise Adventures has been operating a small cruise ship between the islands of Molokai, Lana'i, Maui and the Big Island. With a maximum of 36 guests, the 145ft, luxurious Safari Explorer provides a unique way to experience Hawaii. With no ferries in the Hawaiian Islands other than between Maui and Lanai, everyone is forced to fly between islands. Sailing on the safari explorer is about the only way to wake up in a new Hawaiian island without being on a huge cruise ship. 

Small ship adventure cruising the Hawaiian Islands with UnCruise

  For the past two years I have had the privilege of being the expedition leader onboard the Safari Explorer. I get to share my passion for the Hawaiian islands with people from all over the world. We carry out toys around with us, think kayaks, SUP's, snorkel gear and small boats. We swim with manta rays on the big island, whale watch in the Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, hike on Lana'i, and immerse into Hawaiian culture on Molokai. We cross the infamous Alenuihaha Channel every week, and discover small differences between the islands both above and below the water.

Pilot Whale Mom and Calf
Pantropical Spotted Dolphin
Longnose butterfly fish black morph
  On a good week we might see five or six marine mammals, different species of deep ocean sea birds like brown boobies or black footed albatross, and swim with one of the only reptiles native to the Hawaiian islands, the Green Sea Turtle. The islands are so isolated, 2400 miles from the nearest large landmass, which means that many of the species we come across are endemic to Hawaii. All of these adventures off the boat make the fun times onboard more like the icing on the cake. Plush accommodations, five star dining with a Hawaiian flare, educational presentations, an open bar,  and back deck swim calls are just a few of the ways that we treat guests to the best vacation of their lives. At least that is always my hope.

  Over the years working as a guide, naturalist, and marine biologist I have amassed many pictures of Hawaii's unique environments and wildlife. If you are interested check them out here at

Snorkeling in clear tropical water

Bowriding dolphins
Snorkeling with sea turtles

Sea Turtle snorkel in Maui

Humpback Whale breach

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Hiking the Lahaina Pali Trail: Maui

Nearing the top of the Lahaina Pali Trail
Hiking up from Ukemehame
   There are not too many hikes on the dry side of Maui between Lahaina and Kihei. The only option is a dry, rocky climb up the Pali cliffs towards the line of windmills. This is called the Lahaina Pali trail. It is a 1,600ft climb up from sea level with no shade but beautiful panoramas of Maalaea Bay and the central valley. There are two entrances to the hike, one just across from the shops at Maalaea Harbor and the other across from Ukumehame Beach Park. If you only have one car and plan to go up to the windmills and back I would suggest starting at the Ukumehame entrance. Both ways are exposed to the sun with little shade so hiking early in the morning or later in the afternoon is usually the way to go. However you do occasionally get some cloud cover which makes the hike doable all day.

  This was my third time up the Lahaina Pali trail and every time I have done it differently. I had hiked up and down from Maalaea, all the way from Ukumehame, and this time up and down from Ukumehame. My friends Ben and Kim and I decided to tackle this hike midday only because there was a gale blowing in from the northeast. While this made balancing on various rocks a bit difficult it did keep the temperature bearable. It was a 'hold on to your hat' kinda hike.

Looking like Fiji after a wet December
Waia Lailai in Fiji
  What really blew me away though was not the wind, but how beautiful and lush the area looked after a very rainy December. There were parts of the trail with a sea of green grass blowing in the wind with huge rocks being hit with the afternoon sun and white capped water beyond. It reminded me of another island scene I've seen on a hike in Fiji. Usually this part of Maui is very dry, brown, yellow, and dusty. Winter time can bring in rains to the dry sides of the Hawaiian Islands making this a great time for photos on the Pali hike.

Kaheawa Wind Farm and Haleakala
Pumped to be at the top, in my slippaz
  Winter also means a chance to see whales on your hike. Just make sure you keep an eye on the shifting rocks that you are stepping on so you don't turn an ankle. The whales are notorious for distracting new hikers and drivers on the island during the winter months. With a bit of sure footing you will make up the 2.5 miles to the Kaheawa Wind Farm that will channel your inner Don Quixote. Massive GE build wind turbines line the ridge line here. Some people claim them to be an eye sore but for me living on this isolated island in the middle of the ocean I feel that we can use all the renewable energy we can get.

  From 1,600ft up the view of the central valley and the massive Haleakala volcano open up into beautiful panorama vistas. Catching this hike in the late afternoon setting sun is your best bet for dramatic photos.

  While the Lahaina Pali Trail is about your only hiking option on this side of the island, Maui has an immense amount of hikes in just about every environment you can think of. For the very adventurous there are the 'Big Three' hikes on the about those here. If you are looking for some back country hiking on the wet, rainforesty side of Maui check out the private hiking options here.

14% of the island's energy needs met
One of many stunning panoramas on the Lahaina Pali Trail

Friday, January 20, 2017

Cultural Immersion in Molokai's Halawa Valley

View from above Halawa Valley, Molokai
    Molokai is the least traveled to of the main Hawaiian Islands not including Ni'ihau which is private and forbidden, and Kaho'olawe which is also forbidden due to unexploded ordinances. There are no chain restaurants and no chain hotels on Molokai. In fact there is only one hotel at all now a days. It takes a certain kind of adventurous, off-the-beaten path traveler to make their own way over to Molokai. Usually it is to see the historic leper colony where citizens of the kingdom of Hawaii were sent to whittle away their days on a peninsula surrounded on three sides by crashing north shore surf and the other by 3,000ft sea cliffs. Molokai is also home to one of the largest sandy beaches in the state of Hawaii on its west end. However the real hidden gem lies in its people.

Taro Patches
  Molokai has been dubbed 'the friendly isle' by those who have spent time there. A high percentage of the 8,000 or so residents have native Hawaiian running through their bones. And a percentage of those still live the traditional Hawaiian life; growing taro, hunting and fishing, and practicing the native culture and language. It is one of these families that we introduce to our guests every week here aboard the Safari Explorer.

the Honi
Greg, Philip, Justin, and Kana (L-R)
    Philip Solitario and his son Greg live in Halawa Valley. This lush valley on the Northeast corner of the island was once a thriving community, 5,000 people strong. A school, store, and a bustling agricultural economy thrived here until April 1, 1946 when a towering wall of water wiped it all away. The tsunami traveled nearly 2 miles into the valley, destroying crops and homes, but luckily taking no ones life. The decision to move out of the family and nearer to the cities came easy after this tragedy. However one of these original descendants, who stood on the cliff watching wave after wave destroy his valley, has returned to replant and remember. Philip, or Pops as he is known around the island, has a family mantra, that the Hawaiian culture should be sacred, not secret. And that is lucky for us.

Braving the Mo'oUla Falls
   There is something primitive and special about descending in a place with no cell reception, where people still communicate by blowing conch shells, and who greet each other with the traditional 'honi', where two people touch foreheads, noses, and breath in, thus sharing the breath of life. It is a greeting not so different than the Eskimos and the Maoris. It is also the same greeting that the early missionaries refused to do, and in refusing to share the breath of life the were dubbed 'ha oles', or 'no breath.' This is where the term haoles comes from, which today is used to describe any western looking person.

    After going through protocol and learning about the history of the valley we talk story with Pops and hear about life growing up in the valley, being born in the valley, and that fateful day when the tsunami hit. We hear about him leaving the valley to join the navy, about meeting the love of his life, and about the difficulty of finding a successor to keep his knowledge and culture alive. Halawa was one of the few pockets where Hawaiian was still spoken. Although here there are T,B, Y, and V in the alphabet....all letters not used by missionaries to transcribe the language in the mid 1800's. In this valley people still believe in 'nana ike kumu,' which means 'go to the source.' When you want to learn about the language you go to someone who still speaks the language, when you want to remember your roots, you learn all you can from your elders. It seems to be something that today's world forgets to do quite often.

Greg pounding taro into poi
  Pops laughs, and cries as he remembers all the times that his stories cover. Greg brings in some taro roots, freshly picked and pounds them into poi using materials handed down through the generations in his family. The adventurous ones tackle a five mile roundtrip hike through boot sucking mud and past ancient temples to dive into the refreshing pond below Mo'oUla Falls. And the 70 year old jungle continues to take back the valley, except for the small portion still worked by Pops and Greg. It is an experience in Hawaii that very few people will ever get a chance to have. Going to Halawa is not going to the 'show', it is taking you right to the source. Nana ike kumu.

  If you can't make it to Molokai and Halawa Valley for yourself, check out an amazing film that was just made about Philip Solitario's life and the future of the valley, called Sons of Halawa.

  The next best thing to stepping foot on the island is to fly over it in a helicopter, Jurassic Park style. Check out my favorite flight here.