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As International Expeditions searches for the next great nature travel adventure, Bill Robison, IE Director of Program Development, often has the “difficult” task of scouting a county for the best naturalist guides, hotels and to uncover extraordinary experiences for our guests. Here we get Bill’s impressions and photos as he researches IE’s new Indonesia cruise and Bali tour options.
“Just a few more hours and I'm off to a land of astounding biodiversity and almost as many different cultures as there are islands — Indonesia! For the next two weeks I'll be seeing wild orangutans in Sumatra, sailing the waters from Bali to Komodo, and exploring the lesser-visited and wildlife-rich Bali Barat. I have a world-class expert on the local flora and fauna (including the human cultures) meeting me in Jakarta to lay out plans for offering in-depth natural history and exotic culture programs into this magnificent country.”
“Finally in Jakarta. I had an amazing dinner at Tugu Dapur Babah with our Javanese friends, and tomorrow I'm off to Sumatra to see wild orangutans. I was amazed to hear at dinner that Indonesia is planning many new ports for ships and airport upgrades all over the country — great news for those who want to explore one of the world's most diverse places. I also go the inside information on a few exclusive wildlife experiences and new lodging near existing parks with great nature. So many new places are coming on the radar...it's going to be hard to choose from so many wonders!”
“Back from the wilds of northern Sumatra! Very remote region...and it was worth it. During my Sumatra tour I observed lots of Thomas Leaf monkeys, some long-tailed macaques and the big headliner — orangutans! This little lady and her baby came down to check us out while a little older baby stuck closer to out of arm's reach. I'm no photographer, but I hope you like this photo. I also found some smaller wildlife… I had a few geckos in my room at the ecolodge! These geckos may have ‘barked’ a little, but none of them spoke with an English accent or tried to sell me car insurance. I travel to Bali tomorrow...”
The matamata is truly one of the world’s most unique and bizarre turtles. One look at this species and it's pretty obvious that this turtle is something very different, especially when compared to the North American species that many of us are familiar with.
The matamata attains a large size with big females being up to 16 inches in carapace (shell) length. The turtle is amazingly cryptic and difficult to find. Once found by the naturalist on your Amazon cruise, you'll have to strain your eyes to try and discern the turtle from the detritus (leaf litter) where these turtles typically spend much of their time. Their carapace is well-camouflaged, with three distinctive ridges running lengthwise down the shell. The neck is extremely long yet when with-drawn, it pulls into the shell in a side-ways fashion to allow the long neck and head to be partially protected. The head has a very unique shape -- almost triangular with a long, pointed snout. These turtles typically lay quietly on the bottom in water just deep enough that their long necks and pointed snout reach the surface to breathe without swimming to the surface.
Another astonishing feature is the matamata’s method of feeding. The turtle has a huge mouth, and as an unsuspecting fish swims by, the turtle rapidly lunges forward and opens its mouth to vacuum in copious amounts of water as well as the completely unsuspecting fish. The water is then expelled leaving only the fish in the mouth to be swallowed. To watch a matamata turtle in an aquarium is like watching something alien; the lunge and mouth suction is so rapid it is difficult to detect with the naked eye.
Matamata turtles are often kept in Amazon River villages, where the local riberenos try to sell them to tourists. Baby matamatas are quite adorable and their plastron (belly) is pink and their carapace is a very light tan in color. As with all wildlife, please do not participate in paying to take pictures of captive animals, and certainly do not buy them as they cannot legally be brought back into the United States. Paying to have your picture taken with any animal just encourages this unfortunate behavior by the local people.
Naturalist Greg Greer is a favorite among IE travelers, and has gained a reputation for his friendliness and good humor, along with his incomparable knowledge of natural history, photos and articles have been widely published in books and magazines, including Georgia Outdoor News, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Alabama Outdoor News, Riversedge and Southern Wildlife.
For thousands of years - dating back to the Egyptians - people have found uses for vinegar. The active component that makes vinegar so useful is acetic acid, a byproduct of a bacteria called acetobacter. Most common viengars contain around 5% acetic acid, and of these, white vinegar is both incredibly inexpensive and versatile for greener cleaning, treating scrapes and bruises, and even a weed killer. We've compiled some of our favorite tips for using vinegar around your house.
- Freeze white vinegar in an ice cube tray and add a few cubes to the bottom of your dishwasher just prior to a cycle. This is an ecofriendly cleaning alternative to heavy chemical cleaners!
- Want to speed the healing process? Vinegar can be applied to scrapes and burnes to help alleviate pain, or try it on a cotton ball. When applied to bruises for an hour it is said to speed healing.
- Use a 50/50 mix of vinegar and water in your show to remove soap scum, or spray undiluted on tile to remove mold and mildew.
- Spray vinegar around doors, windows and any other area where you find ants to repel these pests.
- Vinegar can also be sprayed on carpets to prevent staining and odors from pet accidents.
- Combine vinegar and baking soda to create your own scouring cleaner and deodorize your garbage disposal.
- Onion and garlic can cling to your hands, but washing them with vinegar removes the offending odors.
- Take advantage of this natural de-greaser by cleaning with vinegar and then rinsing with cold water.
- Vinegar in your rinse cycle can help remove the "moldy" smell from towels and work-out clothing, whiten whites, reduce static cling, and remove yellow sweat stains.
- Vinegar can even soften cuticles and strengthen nails.
What other green cleaning or ecofriendly beauty tips do you have employing the power of vinegar? Leave us a note in the comment section.
At International Expeditions, we welcome the feedback of our guests and eagerly read post-trip evaluations to see how we can improve. We were honored to receive this note from wildlife expert Ron Magill of Zoo Miami after he returned from lecturing aboard our Amazon River cruise.
“I don’t know where to begin to thank you for the amazing experience you afforded me by allowing me the privilege of participating in the Amazon cruise on the brand new La Estrella Amazonica! From a deadly bushmaster to highly endangered giant river otters and a plethora of wildlife in between, this trip was unforgettable.
“La Estrella Amazonica is indeed the new crown jewel of the Amazon! Everything about her was fantastic and far exceeded my expectations. I was especially blown away with the private bathrooms and the walk-in shower. As a 6’6” individual, I cannot begin to tell you how wonderful it was to actually be able to stand up and shower without having to become a contortionist, and to actually have the shower head above my head and not aimed at my naval! You cannot overrate the importance of a good shower on these types of expeditions when high heat and humidity can take its toll. Then, the private balcony provided such wonderful views of the river and surrounding areas was nothing short of awesome!
“The new lecture room was PERFECT!!! I thoroughly enjoyed giving my presentations there and the setup with the large flat screen monitor and Apple TV system could not have worked any better.
“Add to it the fitness room, gorgeous dining room, a stunning bar with comfortable seating providing surrounding open-air views and you have all the luxuries of a major cruise ship with the exclusive intimacy of a private yacht. It was obvious that a great deal of planning went into this vessel and it has certainly paid off.
“As much as can be said about the new ship, it is still second to what really makes International Expeditions stand out above the rest of the operators in the Amazon – the unbelievable dedicated staff members who, by the end of the adventure, become almost like family members. Enough cannot be said about Dennis, Johnny, Segundo, Cliver and the overwhelmingly attentive crew, The food was beyond delicious (I gained six pounds!) and every time I was out of my room for any length of time, it was made up again – sometimes 3-4 times a day.
“I honestly don’t know what I did to deserve such wonderful treatment, but I want you to know that I appreciate it more than you could ever know. As a little boy growing up in a small apartment in New York City, I could only dream of experiencing such things as this Amazon adventure. I could never than you enough for helping make those dreams come true.
It is not often that our experienced naturalist guides come across a sighting that blows them away. So we were shocked to get this update and incredible image from expedition leader Cassiano Zaparoli, who is currently leading IE's Madagascar tour.
"One of the most amazing moments of my work as a photographer and naturalist: an aye-aye face to face, photographed near the town of Maroantsetra, Madagascar. It was the first time our local guide, a man who has wored in tourism for more than 10 years, has seen an aye-aye in the wild!"
Many natives of Madagascar consider the aye-aye an omen of bad luck. For this reason, in years past they often have been killed on sight. Hunting, coupled with habitat destruction, have made the aye-aye critically endangered; however, they are now legally protected.
Here are a few more things you should know about these rare, noctural animals.
- An aye-aye's bushy tail is actually larger than its body.
- Aye-ayes spend their lives in trees and avoid coming to earth.
- The aye-aye taps on trees with its long middle finger and listens for wood-boring insect larvae. That same middle finger is then used to fish bugs and larvae from under tree bark.
Thank you to Kenya & Tanzania safari guest John Christie for submitting this adorable video taken in Amboseli National Park.
"One of the great things about being on an African wildlife safari is the complete lack of fear shown by the animals. This little elephant was eating grass with his mother nearby, perhaps 20 feet away from the 4x4 we were in. Something startled him, but it wasn't a distraction from us. There were so many great opportunities like this! International Expeditions' guides turn off the jeep motors and it's just you, the animals, and the sounds of cameras clicking."
Yesterday marked a huge milestone in the history of Galapagos Islands exploration. Thanks to a unique partnership between Google, the Charles Darwin Foudation, Galapagos National Park and Catlin Seaview Survey, one billion registered users of can now visit the islands and dip under the waves of the reserve without having to physically travel there through Google's Street View. All of this is launching this week as the archipelage celebrates the 178th anniversary of Darwin's historic voyage to the islands aboard the Beagle.
This innovative partnership makes this extremely fragile ecosystem available for the world to see and explore, leaving no footprint on the islands and enabling anyone (whether school child or millionaire) to see what Charles Darwin saw when he visited. In fact, vistors to the Galapagos Street View site can see even more than the explorer! Darwin only visited four islands and certainly never snorkeled with sea lions/
According to representatives of the Charles Darwin Foundation, plans are already starting for powerful outreach measures to engage visitors who come to this UNESCO World Heritage Site, and to make them part of the solution. It is the first step of a much, much bigger project that will continue for years to come.
If these high definition, 360 degree images only whet your appetite for discovering the archipelago's volcanic landscapes and endemic wildlife, International Expeditions offers 10-day Galapagos Islands cruises year-round.
Anyone who has ever wanted to travel to Cuba has envisioned themselves sipping a famed mojito or Cuba libre. After all, what could be more Cuban than rum except for perhaps a cigar. The popularity of rum also means you can find a variety of other umbrella drinks like daiquiris and piña coladas. But the country has so many more libations to explore, including local beer and juices.
Canchanchara: This “official” drink of Trinidad is historically a forerunner of the daiquiri, and was popular among Cuban revolutionaries fighting off the Spanish at the end of the 19th century. Like the mojito, it combines rum and citrus, but it also includes honey, giving the drink a warm sweetness.
Guarapo: Sample this frothy summer classic in the Valle De Los Ingenios — Valley of the Sugar Mills — an UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site where we see the ruined hulls of 19th century sugar estates. The drink is made from fresh-pressed sugar cane juice served over cracked ice.
Beer: Cuba boasts a variety of popular local beers, including lagers like Cristal, Bucanero fuerte and an award-winning pilsner La Tropical Pilsener. And don’t forget, while legal travel to Cuba is rare for Americans, both Canadians and Europeans visit the island extensively so you are sure to find some familiar brews such as Heineken.
Soda: Sure you can sample Cuban cola brands like TropiCola, but be sure to also pick-up unusual flavors offered by Materva, a soda with herbs, and Jupino pineapple soda. Another soda you are sure to run across is Ciego Montero, which comes in naranja (orange), Tu Kola (cola) and limón (lemon-lime).
Coffee: Cuba has been growing coffee since the mid-18th century, and impromptu stops at locally owned cafes are not only a chance to sample some of the delicious brew, but to chat with these Cuban entrepreneurs. You may even spot a familiar face in the chocolate powder sprinkled on you cappuccino!
Water: Don’t drink the tap water! During your Cuba tour International Expeditions will be providing plenty of bottled water plus two drinks your choice of local beer or soft drinks at group lunches and dinners.
International Expeditions' Amazon river cruises offer the perfect chance to catch a glimpse of the Emperor tamarin monkeys. These tiny primates were allegedly named for their resemblance to Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany as they have distinctive long, white mustaches. Some also have beards, while other are black-chinned.
Emperor tamarins stand eight to 10 inches tall and have tails a little longer than two feet. They can primarily be spotted around the Northern Amazon Basin in the tropical canopies and open woodlands of the jungles. Some monkeys act very human, but these little guys are much more animalistic, and their large, dewy eyes give them a puppy-like cuteness that may make you want to pick one up and cuddle it. However, emperor tamarins are very territorial. If you or any other perceived threat gets too close, they will sound the warning and shout out high-pitched calls that may not even be audible to humans. This alerts the other monkeys in the family.
Emperor tamarins stick together in groups of up to 15 family members and unrelated monkeys. They even bond with other tamarin species, such as the saddleback tamarin. Unlike the German emperor for whom they are named, emperor tamarins are matriarchal. The oldest female in the group is the leader, even if there are several males in the monkey tribe. When they aren't warding off predators, these tamarins spend their time feeding on fruits and other vegetation, insects and possibly bird eggs. They also take time to look after one another, as mutual grooming plays a major role when it comes to bonding and socializing. Emperor tamarins also exhibit unique behavior during mating season. The older members of the groups are responsible for bringing new life into the family. The two oldest males will pursue the oldest female and once she is pregnant, it will about five months before her offspring are born. Typically tamarins are born in pairs, but sometimes there can be a third baby. Much like how these monkeys groom each other, they also work together to raise the newborn babies.
Keep your eyes on the treetops during your Amazon cruise, as this is where the emperor tamarins prefer to spend their time. They use their tails to assist in swinging quickly through the branches and vines. They are fast though, so if you do get to see one, it might only be for a moment before it swings further away into the trees of the Amazon rainforest.
Photo courtesy: Enrique Castro-Mendívil / Prom Peru
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IE's president Van Perry is back from the Amazon and shares his initial impressions of our new riverboat, La Estrella Amazonica, which debuted in August.
"I have just returned from the inaugural voyage on our new Amazon riverboat La Estrella Amazonica, and she has greatly exceeded our expectations in terms of comfort and spaciousness. The bar deck was a wonderful place for relaxing with enough tables and an informal sofa area to read or visit with our fellow travelers. I definitely consumed my share of Pisco Sours, as well as discovered a new Peruvian cocktail called a Camu Camu Sour which I had never sampled before.
"One evening a number of us went up to the observation deck - the largest on the river - and were greeted by an incredible sky that matched my experiences in the open ocean for clarity and grandeur. The dedicated lecture room was a huge hit! This room is not only for lectures, but also provides an air conditioned space to download your pictures during the afternoon siesta time between excursions. Like always, the expedition skiffs were very comfortable and offered terrific flexibility for wildlife viewings with the seating arrangement and well-cushioned seats and backrests. We succeeded in observing over 160 species, and can lay claim to a unique sighting of several giant river otters. Only the second time in 10 years that our naturalists had spotted this species!
"Finally, one of the many highlights was our kayaking trip down one of the black water creeks. I'd not done this on our Amazon River cruise before, and our new tandem Hobie kayaks were excellent. Each of the guests on this optional excursion was begging for more time in the kayaks and another chance to experience the river as a ribernero!
"I look forward to sharing this great new expedition ship with you, and more importantly sharing in your discovery of one of the wonders of the natural world …the Amazon River."
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