Sunday, June 16, 2019

From UnCruise to Silversea

Wilderness Discoverer next to Silver Muse in Kethickan
Putting it into perspective

The Expedition Team
   I recently accepted a job as expedition leader with Silversea, an ultra luxury mid size cruise ship company. With close to 1,000 destinations visited by their fleet around the world and new challenges in store I was eager to set out on this new adventure. However, I was also quite sad to be parting ways with UnCruise, who I've had so many great experiences with over the last 4+ years. Luckily some of my uncruise crew mates are coming along for the ride as well.
View of the top deck

Silver Muse in Tracy Arm Fjord
Docked in Haines, Alaska
  My first rotation with silversea starts in Tokyo, Japan and ends in Vancouver, Canada. It will encompass four voyages. The first being a transoceanic trip from Tokyo to Seward, Alaska. I flew out to meet the ship in Tokyo where for the first time ever I was greeted by an agent before even going thru customs with my name on a sign. He whisked me through customs and sent me right to the hotel. Apparently cruise companies fly their staff around the world on these special tickets called 'seamans fares'. These are very reduced rates that you need a special booking agent to get, but it also means that you aren't allowed to come early and a local agent must make sure you get from airport to hotel to ship. I suppose in the past they may have had a problem with defectors? The last time I was in Japan outside of an airport was when I lived here from 2003-2005. Driving through Tokyo, past Odaiba towards the waiting Silver Muse brought back a lot of memories from that time in my life.

  But make it to the ship we did, and you should have seen all of our eyes. This was a big ship. During the interviews we had heard mostly about the expedition ships in the fleet that top out at around 240 passengers. This was a big ship. I came to find out that the Muse can handle close to 600 guests with around 400 crew. My surprise continued when we got onto the ship and found out that no one really knew what we did, because there had never been expedition staff onboard this style of Silversea ship before. I quickly found out that what my and my team of 9 expedition members were there to do was to figure out and implement a brand new program that had never been done before at this company.

  Its going to be a wild ride. We have a very nice floating home to house us as we hopefully rise to the challenge. Luckily the team is solid, I've worked with about half of them before, and the rest of the staff are delightful.


Thursday, April 4, 2019

Saying Farewell: Hawaii UnCruise

Looking Back on the last 4 years with UnCruise Hawaii

Crew bonding at the erupting volcano
Humpback whale tail action
No Boat, No Problem
2019 Crew w/Danny and Anna Akaka
  It has been a heck of a ride running as Expedition Leader aboard the UnCruise vessel Safari Explorer on their Hawaiian Islands adventure cruise these past four years. I have been able to work with some wonderful people, meet some amazing locals, and give so many guests the trip of a lifetime. I have been able to see new wildlife that I had never seen before, and I was able to finally step foot onto the island of Molokai, and experience the 'Friendly Isle' at its best.
2019 Crew, my last day

Monk seal snorkel, 5 Sisters Lana'i
This made the cover of the Brochure
   The trips are seven days filled with snorkeling, whale watching, kayaking, hiking, cultural immersions, wining and dining (for the guests), and educational presentations. It is truly adventure luxury at its finest and a very unique way to see the Hawaiian Islands. Not many people ever get to the islands of Lanai and Molokai. We would do both every week. We would also cross the infamous Alenuihaha Channel every week. While it is no Drake Passage or Cape Horn, there is a reason no one else does this crossing with any regularity.

Halawa Valley, Molokai
Greg pounding poi, Molokai
 Breaching humpback whales, bowriding dolphins, nighttime manta rays, and swimming with sea turtles was the norm. Beaked whales, whale sharks, roughtooth dolphins, pilot whales, false killer whales, pygmy killer whales, oceanic white tip sharks, hammerhead sharks, monk seals, and black footed albatross were some of the rarities.

The Dillons: Backwall Molokini

  There are too many highlights to write down but here are a few that come to mind. Swimming with 40 hammerheads, pilot whales, oceanic white tips, and an albatross with Captain Zodiac adventures. Also letting our blind passenger drive the zodiac with Mitch and Collin at top speed an a flat calm day offshore Kona. Seeing an aerial collision of two humpback whales who were fighting over a female. The Dillon Family Christmas trip pictured above. Skurfing pre whale season, jumping off the top deck, Molokai Pizza parties, a New Years Eve beer, levitating out of my bunk crossing the Alenuihaha, stealthy surf sessions to Honolua Bay, cruising the 3000ft sea cliffs on Molokai's North shore, the list of baby names, the whale shark birthday drawing, crew Movie nights, seeing my baby in Lahaina, and making the trip seem smooth when the boat was not there....twice.

the rare Black Morph of
the Longnose Butterflyfish

 I don't know how many fish presentations, photography talks, whale presentations, star talks, shark talks, next adventures, and slideshows I did but it felt great giving them. It seemed like I was able to make the experience a little more immersive for many of the guests. I mean who else would get them as excited about seeing the lauwiliwilinukunukuoi'oi'ele'ele....or the black longnose butterflyfish?
2017-2018 Crew
Aerial Collision
  Every year the crew that I was privileged to work with would blow me away with how professional and genuine they are. I could look at pictures of crew from each year and think about fun experiences with every single person.
One of my favorite shots
Kyle, Amanda, and Hannah
basking in the sunset
  While I am pretty bummed that I am not planning on going back to the Safari Explorer next winter, it will always hold a dear place in my heart. Thanks for all the wonderful memories everyone!
Frogfish at Mala Pier
2017-18 Crew

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Manta night snorkel, Kona

Kayaking at the blowhole, Lana'i
Sweetheart Rock: Pu'u Pe'e

Uncle Polipo, or 'Pops', welcoming us into Halawa Valley with
the traditional blowing of the Pu.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Swimming with a Black Footed Albatross

  At first we thought we were seeing a tall dorsal fin sticking out above the surface of the ocean. There is any number of cetacean that it could belong to, from beaked whales to false killer whales to offshore dolphin species. The Big Island of Hawaii is one of premier destinations for cetacean experts to encounter and study these rarely seen creatures. However, as we got closer we realized it was something even rarer. It was a huge dark bird floating on the water. Our captain Colin shouted, 'Black Footed Albatross.'

   All but 2.5% of the black footed albatross (Phoebastria nigripes) population resides in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. Every once in a while we spot them flying offshore. They are immediately recognizable with their 7.2ft wingspan. I had spotted a couple over the last two weeks but I was very surprised to see one resting on the water. I was even more surprised at what happened next.

   I slipped on my snorkel gear and grabbed my little olympus tough camera and entered the water. The albatross seemed to be just as interested in me as I was in it. At one point it tried to peck the camera in my hand. I was glad to have a snorkel mask on covering my eyes. This bird was huge! And so beautiful close up. I spent about five minutes in the water with the albatross looking right back at me. This is a moment that I imagine few people have ever had.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Ancient Hawaiian Traditions in Halawa Valley

Ancient fish pond
Looking down at Halawa Valley
   Molokai is known as the Friendly Isle, and for its large population of native Hawaiians. It is a place of no chain restaurants, high rises, or stop lights. Ancient fish ponds dot the coastline, tucked in behind the largest barrier reef in Hawaii. If one follows the state highway until it dead ends at the Northeast corner of the island you will find a hidden world of ancient Hawaii hiding away from the hustle of the rest of the state. This hidden gem is called Halawa Valley.

Uncle Polipo
Greg blowing the Pu
   Halawa Valley is blessed with copious rain, a protected bay, an idyllic stream, and up to nine waterfalls cascading down the back of the valley. The valley was once a bustling farming community, but this all changed when a tsunami washed 1.7 miles up the valley on April 1st, 1946. It is moving hearing the story of that fateful day from someone who was there, watching and listening to the destruction from the hillside. Philip Solitario is the oldest living descendent born and raised in the valley who is still living in the valley. Tears well up in his eyes as he recounts that story, but it is only one of many stories that he holds and shares about this valley that his family has called home for 50 generations.

Welcome chant to Halawa
  Today Philip, who everyone refers to as Uncle Polipo or simply "Pops", is the cultural practitioner of the valley. He and his son Greg teach visitors and Hawaiians alike the ways of their anscestors. Switching out modern day cell phones for traditional 'shell'-phones, Uncle Polipo and Greg blow the Pu, or conch to begin the ancient protocol of asking permission to enter the valley. The sound of the shell echoes off the steep walls of the valley and immediately takes you back to a time long past.

Greg and Pops doing the Honi
  After the Oli chant and giving of gifts, we all participate in the traditional Hawaiian greeting called the 'Honi.' It means 'to kiss' in Hawaiian but it involves no lips. The honi is done by pressing your forehead and nose together and breathing in. Through this process it is believed that you share "Ha", the breath of life and are no longer strangers.

Where the stream meets the ocean
Halawa bay and beach
  I've learned a great many things from Pops and Greg that transcend all cultures and religions. One of these lessons is known in Hawaiian as 'Nana ike Kumu.' This means 'Go to the Source.' In Halawa valley this means learning about your history and where you come from by learning from your elders...not books written by outsiders. Elders are their most prized possessions for the knowledge they hold. Luckily Greg believe firmly in this and made the decision to move back to the valley from Oahu to continue the legacy and learn all he can from his dad before he is gone.

Pops, Me, and Greg
 The Solitario family believes the Hawaiian culture should be sacred, not secret, which is quite lucky for us who want to soak up and learn more about the real Hawaii. It has been amazing visiting this beautiful place over the last four years. I have grown close to Pops and Greg and hope I continue to see them thrive in the future. I really admire what they are doing and have been glad to expose so many people to this through these UnCruise Hawaii trips.