Saturday, December 18, 2021

Enjoying Work

  Waking up excited about work is a reality for me. I lead expeditions around the world onboard adventure cruise ships and privately to destinations like Hawaii, Alaska, Antarctica, and Africa. Sharing these wild places with excited guests is an extremely rewarding experience. I constantly see the locations, wildlife, and adventures through their I'm seeing it for the first time. I feel very lucky to be in this position and I do not take any of it for granted. I've worked many different jobs that have culminated in being able to excel in this career.... teacher, marine biologist, boat captain, naturalist, whale researcher, photographer, lifeguard, guide. Something I heard once as a young man and took to heart was, "If you do something you love long enough, someone will start to pay you for it."

  It makes the 14 hour days, the bad weather, the unruly guests, and the last minute contingency plans all worth it. Here are a few pictures from the last couple of weeks leading adventures in Hawaii onboard the UnCruise small expedition cruise ship 'Safari Explorer.'

A dolphin leading us out from our anchorage

Me, with Chief Mate Sam and Captain Sean

Pointing out mating octopus to the guest

Me, Staci, Amanda, Cherese, and Wilson

Drive in to Halawa Valley, Molokai

Something is not right here

Leading a kayak at Nanahoa, '5 Sisters, Lanai'

The guests holding my kayak as I scamper into a lava tube

My star talk evening presentation

Consecutive breaching humpback whales

Goofing off with the guests

Showing off a pin cushion sea star

Deep in a lava tube during a hiking adventure on Hualalai Volcano, Big Island

Bow riding spinner dolphins

Searching for critters on the reef at Kealakekua Bay, Big Island
Driving a skiff tour along the lava cliff coastline of Big Island

Every year the crew is slightly different, but always stellar

Birthday snorkel at Shark Fin Rock, Lanai

Sunday, December 5, 2021

UnCruise-ing in Hawaii

 I've made it back out to the islands, leading trips aboard the small, 34 passenger expedition ship Safari Explorer. We came in to the season with a lot still to be put in place, thanks to Covid. Restrictions for bigger cruise ships were also effecting us, although no one who knows our program would consider us in the same class as large cruise ships. We had to shuffle a few things around and come up with a few contingencies but are on the final hours of our first weeklong trip here in Hawaii. 

  We started off on the island of Molokai. Contingencies started early with the DOT and DLNR not allowing us to use their docks. So my guide, Wilson, and I flew to Molokai on a small 12 seater and checked into the one hotel on the island, the Hotel Molokai. In typical UnCruise flexibility we did the first two days of the trip based out of the hotel. Not only did the guests do the typical activities, including a very unique cultural immersion in Halawa Valley, waterfall swimming hike, and a private pa'ina (often mis-labelled a luau), but we also got in a short hike to the aptly named phallic rock and a chance to gaze down from the top of the massive sea cliffs overlooking the old leper colony of Kalaupapa. 

 Then, as a work-around to not being able to conduct cruise ship activities at the dock, we hired a local dive boat to ferry our folks out to the Safari Explorer bright and early on Monday morning. Everyone was quite please to finally get moved in to their cabins, and I was quite pleased to get back to my bunk. We spent the next three days snorkeling, kayaking, whale watching, and skiff touring around Lana'i and Maui. It is still quite early in the whale season here, but we had great luck, spotting 5 different whales.

  On our last night in Maui we secured all loose items on the boat and headed to the Big Island, crossing the infamous Alenuihaha Channel in the process. The guests got pretty lucky this week as the crossing was one of our best. The weather was so cooperative that we even towed our two small boats behind us. More great adventures awaited in the Big Island. We met up with fast zodiacs from Captain Zodiacs, who whisked us away to snorkel Kealakekua Bay. It is perhaps the best snorkeling in the islands. My big sightings were a 5ft white tip reef shark and a tiger snake moray. 

  On the last day we shuttled ashore to a couple of vans owned by Hawaii Forest and Trail. They have access to trails way up on Hualalai Volcanoe, behind closed gates, across private land, that is covered in native Ohia Lehua and Koa Trees. Not to mention incredible lava formations including a massive lava tube that we climbed through. The 6000ft elevation put us smack in the middle of the cloud forest. The native plants and lack of mosquitos meant that the forest was alive with the sounds of native birds like the amakihi and apapane. I've never been to a pristine Hawaiian forest quite like it. I'm very excited to add this adventure to our Hawaii trip. 

  All in all these 30 guests got a heck of a trip. It took a lot of meetings, flexibility, and contingency planning but we did it. Hopefully now the ground work has been laid, the dock situation will return to normal, and having the Safari Explorer in Hawaii all winter will become the new normal...again. 

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Salish Sea Expeditions

Quiet nook from a kayak
Morning Office View
  For the past two weeks I have been leading expedition guiding trips around the San Juan Islands, Deception Pass, and Olympic National Park. The trips are seven days, round trip from Seattle. My base is the beautiful Safari Quest. I like to think of it as the flagship for the UnCruise fleet. She can carry 22 passengers and 10 crew. The crew includes a pastry chef, bartender, steward, hotel manager, executive chef, captain, chief mate, deckhand, engineer, and an expedition leader (that's me). It is an amazing crew and to make things even better we most often have pretty amazing guests. 

Rough skinned newt!
  We only run the Pacific Northwest trips during the shoulder season. The bulk of the summer sailing season is in Southeast Alaska. Due to the pandemic it had been a couple of years since we've run these PNW trips, but we jumped right back into it. The itinerary is very active, with big hikes almost every day. One comment I often hear from the guests is how different the environments are each day. We'll do a hike at sea level one day, then 800 ft the next, then 2000ft next, and finish with a hike at over 5,000ft at Hurricane Ridge. 

Onboard hijinx
    There are lots of opportunities for kayaking and skiff tours. The coastlines are amazing and we do have a chance to see some wildlife, although it isn't quite up to Alaska wildlife activity. Last week we did skiff and kayak with orcas, sea lions, seals, and lots of migrating water birds. We've seen families of river otters playing on the shore, mink scurrying around, and bald eagles soaring overhead. 

Stop and look up I say
  The camaraderie back on board is a huge part of the success of these trips as well. There is always a lot of bonding that goes on as people venture out of their comfort zone to a new part of the world. I give people the opportunity to push their limits a bit with some of the bigger adventures, and taking it easy is always an option as well. I always say if they go home after the trip and tell their friends that they were whale watching, from a hot tub, with a cold drink in their hand, that they've already won best vacation. 

The view inside China Caves
  These are a few pictures from this weeks slideshow. I always put together a slideshow of the trip on the final night. It is a great way to bring the trip together and to experience it all again, all together, one more time. 

An old country road in Stuart Island

'Stairs of doom' claim another on Stuart Island

Views of the San Juans from Jones Island

Hugging an old sentinel in Olympic National Park

Lake Crecent, Olympic National Park

Team extreme on Sucia island

iPhone fun with long exposure

Hamming it up for the guests

epic kayaking at Lopez island

Last view before Canadian waters


Friday, August 27, 2021

Trekking with Gorillas in Rwanda

  How do I describe the magical feeling you get when spending time with a family of mountain gorillas. It is a bit unnerving how human-like their facial expressions and actions are. They let us get, and stay very close, seemingly undeterred at the daily one hour visit from a small group of humans. The trekking groups are limited to six paying tourist, a guide, and a small entourage of porters. A group of armed trackers spend longer with the gorilla family, tracking their movements through the day and noting their nightly nesting places...making them much easier to find the next morning. The experience is pure magic. Knowing that we are the only tourist they will see all day makes the experience, and the cost of a permit, even more special. 

Looking back at Mount Sabyinyo, where we trekked to find the gorillas

  The gorillas living in the Virunga mountains were not even known to the international scientific community until 1902. Since then the gorillas have seen their habitat shrink due to farming practices. They have also experienced poaching due to the desire for gorilla parts on the asian black market. Villagers setting traps in the mountain forest for bushmeat would accidentally capture, injure, and even kill gorillas in the past as well. Volcanoes National Park was created to protect the remaining jungle, and all of the animals within it, especially the gorillas. It is now a recognized UNESCO world heritage site. 

  "In the heart of Central Africa, so high up that you shiver more than you sweat," wrote the eminent primatologist Dian Fossey, "are great, old volcanoes towering almost 15,000 feet, and nearly covered with rich, green rainforest - the Virungas." Fossey's grave is located high up in these same mountains. It is a popular spot to visit for those intrepid enough to spend a half day climbing up to find it. 

  Thanks to the protections in place, the population of mountain gorillas has risen to approximately 1000. Almost two thirds of these reside in the Virunga mountains. These mountains are home to hundreds of bird species and the rare golden monkey as well. So spending a few days here is highly suggested to take in more than just the gorillas. 

    We also took a relaxing boat ride on the nearby twin lakes, Burera and Ruhondo. Imagine our surprise when we approached a large island in the middle of the lake and saw villagers streaming down the steep hillside towards our landing area. As we got closer we could hear singing and see the group of villagers already at the shoreline dancing. It was one of the most emphatic and joyous displays of dancing I had witnessed in Africa. If there hadn't of been a pandemic I would have jumped out of the boat and danced with them.

One of our trackers, leading us to the Sabyinyo family of gorillas

Silverback of the group


Face of a young gorilla

One of my favorite shots of the day, a young gorilla climbing a tree right behind me

Villagers coming down to the shoreline to dance and sing as we arrive