TRAVELS IN PANAMA: ISLA COIBA, The Largest Island in Central America

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Isla Coiba, the largest island in Central America, is a spectacular paddling destination

I want to kick this blog off with a cool video that I took snorkeling with a sea turtle. What an amazing experience! (If you’re reading this in an email, it looks way better on my website.)

Hello everyone! I’m back in Philadelphia with my family, basking in the afterglow one experiences after months of travel, sharing photos and telling stories of my recent adventures in Panama. One of the most memorable trips this past season was a 4-day/3-night sea kayaking and snorkeling trip to Coiba National Park, located on the Pacific. It is one of my favorite places to explore in Panama. I’ve traveled pretty extensively throughout the country and Coiba is a place that I return to every season. Each visit I discover something new and wonderful. It is a bio-diverse paradise, brimming with life and opportunities for adventure. A must-see if you travel to Panama! A sea kayaking and snorkeling tour is highly recommended, as it is surrounded by one of the largest coral reefs on Americas’ Pacific coast. Plus, it’s pretty cool to say you’ve been to the largest island in Central America (194 sq miles), and the biggest uninhabited island on the whole Pacific coast! Coiba is worthy of quite the accolades.

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White-headed Capuchin Monkey in our campsite, commonly seen on Isla Coiba

 

 


A Fascinating Past: Penal Colony turned Bio-Diverse Paradise

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Located in the Gulf of Chiriquí, Coiba National Park is a marine reserve comprised of 38 islands, including the largest, Isla Coiba, where our kayak and snorkel trip took place. It is actually part of the same underground Coco Ridge mountain chain as the Galápagos Islands. Isla Coiba was established as an offshore penal colony in 1919, under the dictatorships of Omar Torrijos and Manuel Noriega. It housed more than 3,000 political prisoners, known as “Los Desaparecidos” (Missing Persons). It was said that being sent to Coiba was like a death sentence. The last convict was released from the prison in 2005, the same year it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Paddling in the mangroves, Isla Coiba

To give you an idea of the biodiversity that awaits you, Coiba is home to 147 bird species, 760 species of fish, 33 shark species (including the Whale Shark), and 20 species of whales and dolphins, as well as many endangered and vulnerable species (Loggerhead, Leatherback, Hawksbill and Olive Ridley turtles, Tiger Sharks and Crested Eagles). Because it remained untouched and undeveloped for so long endemic species evolved on the island, including the Coiba Island Howler Monkey, the Coiba Island Agouti, and 21 species and subspecies of birds. In fact, Coiba is the only area in Panama where the Scarlet Macaw is found in significant numbers. Check out this lovely article with gorgeous photos of some of the flora and fauna on Coiba, as well as conservation information. Coiba is worth protecting. Check it out!

 

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A spectacular place to snorkel and practice underwater handstands, Isla Coiba


Our Trip: Santa Catalina to Isla Coiba

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My home-girl, Liz, and Captain Kiri, joined us for a day of snorkeling, Isla Coiba

Coiba is about 25 miles (1.5 hour boat ride) from Santa Catalina, a small laid-back beach community in the Veraguas province. I come here every year to visit friends and adventure on the ocean (and sometimes get washing machined in the surf between catching small waves in the whitewash). I take a bus from Albrook Transportation Terminal in Panama City through Santiago to a town called Sona, where there is a bus switch to Santa Catalina. It is worth spending a few days here if you like relaxing by the beach, swimming, surfing (SC hosts international surf competitions, and has great options for beginner to advanced surfers), stand-up paddling, and yoga. Santa Catalina also has a number of Scuba/snorkel businesses, and is where tours to Coiba can be booked. I’m friends with the owner and guides of Fluid Adventures Panama, the sea kayak company in Santa Catalina, and was thrilled to have their help in the trip logistics. It certainly always helps being friends with local tour operators. Kayakers are such friendly folks:)

 

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A gorgeous day for a paddle, Isla Coiba

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Sunset paddle, Isla Coiba

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Los locos kayakistas
Nemesio, me, and Kira, Isla Coiba

My travel companions were Kira, fellow sea kayak guide and la otra chica loca (“the other crazy girl”), who I had the pleasure of adventuring with in Panama the past few months, and Nemesio, who I guide kayak trips with in the San Blas Islands (Guna Yala) on the Caribbean. As a kayaker I must say how amazing it is to go on a kayaking trip with fellow kayakers. We camped on the same beautiful white sand beach for three nights and paddled to different islands and along the coastline during the day. We probably spent more time out of our boats with them tied around our ankles while we snorkeled, as we did sitting in them:)

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Snorkeling is as easy as hopping out of your boat (then you have to get back in), Isla Coiba

 

 

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This photo is not zoomed in. . . I was actually this close to this sea turtle, Isla Coiba

The snorkeling on Coiba is absolutely amazing! My good friend who guides there says it’s like snorkeling in an aquarium, as there is an incredible amount of life to discover under the water (rays, reef sharks, turtles, tropical fish of all colors, sea stars). We were as happy as clams to spend hours each day hopping out of our boats to snorkel. We also took full advantage of the fact that we were guides on vacation and enjoyed lots of relaxation. . . lounging around on white sandy beaches, lounging around in hammocks, lounging around in the tent. . . you get the idea. Actually, I spent more time in the hammock while Kira worked to open coconuts with her bare hands. She was so determined. Good thing she had Nemesio to teach her the ways. This video is pretty hilarious.

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Getting some hammock time in, Isla Coiba

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After lunch siesta, Isla Coiba

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Kira displaying her pride and joy of opening coconuts with her bare hands, Isla Coiba

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Beautiful coastline to discover ~ Great for paddling, Isla Coiba

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Sunset-to-Moonrise paddle, Isla Coiba

Sea kayaking here is spectacular! Contact me if you’re interested in a trip to Coiba. There are lots of options for different types of paddling, and one can often choose a more (or less) conservative path. There are calm and protected bays, beautiful mangroves to explore, lots of small islands to circumnavigate, secluded beaches, and fun areas with rock gardens and swell for the more experienced paddlers. And it’s just so easy to hop out of your boat and snorkel!

 

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Join me on a paddling and snorkeling trip to Isla Coiba

I hope that you have enjoyed this virtual trip to Coiba National Park, and that it has inspired you to visit this gem of a place in the beautiful country of Panama. Until next time, happy and safe adventuring. Thanks for reading!

I leave you in the same way that we left Coiba Island, with dolphins leaping joyously out of the water to our delight. Chao!

 

JOIN ME IN CROATIA IN 2019!

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Paddling in Croatia

Hola! I hope this finds everyone well:) I’m still in Panama, getting ready for the final sea kayaking trip of the season to Guna Yala, on the Caribbean. However, I’m always dreaming of future padding destinations (the list is long!). I’ll spend this summer guiding my 7th season in Prince William Sound, Alaska. . then my sights are set for Croatia in October. I’ll be doing an exploratory trip to plan an amazing itinerary that I am excited to offer in 2019. It will include paddling the gorgeous Zadar Archipelago, with day trips for hiking to the surrounding National Parks, wine-tasting at local vineyards, and city tours with local guides. More updates to come about this exciting trip offering. Please stay tuned and contact me if you are interested.

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Paddling in Croatia

As for now, I’d like to share a wonderful blog post written by the local operator which I will be collaborating with for my upcoming trip. Paddling Croatia in winter! Looks amazing. Please check it out.

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Sea cave exploration, Croatia

 

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Paddling in wintertime, Croatia


Stay tuned for an upcoming blog about a recent 4-day sea kayaking and snorkeling adventure to the beautiful Isla Coiba National Park on the Pacific side. Isla Coiba is a gem of this magnificent country, and any trip to Panama should definitely include a visit here. Here’s a sneak peak from the adventure, which included close encounters with monkeys, sea turtles, and reef sharks, a spectacular sunset paddle, and so much snorkeling right from our kayaks:

Sunset paddle at Isla Coiba, Panama

This Sea Turtle swam directly under our kayaks, Isla Coiba, Panama

A hammock is obligatory, Isla Coiba, Panama

I could have touched this Sea Turtle (I didn’t. . . but I could have!), Isla Coiba, Panama

Isla Coiba is the best place to snorkel in all of Panama. It’s like snorkeling in an aquarium.

Thanks for reading. I hope that you have enjoyed these adventures!

MY TRIP TO SAN BLAS TO CELEBRATE THE GUNA REVOLUTION

Why am I writing about this? Why does it matter?

I’m sharing this with you because the Guna Revolution is a unique celebration of a fascinating culture that YOU can experience for yourself. This is something that you can travel to witness and even participate in. The Guna want people to see their Revolution celebration. It is open to the public and they are very welcoming and eager to share their culture with visitors! In fact, they asked me to tell as many people about it as possible. For those of you who are up for real adventure travel, you will be grateful for the journey. Following is my story from the 93rd Anniversary of the Guna Revolution:

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The traditional Guna dance to celebrate the Revolution, Isla Tigre

I made it back from the Guna Revolution! It was quite the journey to get out to Isla Tigre, which included getting left behind by the only boat of the day to make the long-distance journey. Now I know. . . if you want to go to Isla Tigre, you have to show up with the Guna passengers and NOT when the tourists show up. It was a happy accident however. I spent an extra night on a beautiful island called Nurdup and got to spend more time with this little guy, Cristian, who is the closest thing to a Pokemon that I have ever met. Adorable!

 

Tigre is my favorite community that I’ve been to in Guna Yala (formerly known as San Blas) on the Caribbean side of Panama, which is where I guide kayaking trips. I’m not going to go into too much detail about what the Guna Revolution is because I recently wrote a blog about that, which you can find here. However, in a nutshell, the Guna are an indigenous group of Panama, who fought the Panamanian police, which culminated in a battle in February 1925. The Guna won and gained semi-autonomy. February 25 is a day of grand celebration on some of the communities in Guna Yala, the territory that the Guna inhabit.

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Guna kids celebrating at the beach after their dramatic reenactment of the fight against the Panamanian police, Isla Tigre

The first day that I was there (Feb 24) the youth performed a dramatic reenactment of the fight between the Guna on Isla Tigre and the Panamanian police, who had been pressuring the Guna to cease practicing their traditional way of life. This had been going on for many years, building in intensity for the Guna. I was the only non-Guna there on this day. I was encouraged to sit in the front and had a few eager “interpreters” by my side, who were explaining the events to me.

The following day (Feb 25) was the reenactment performed by the adults. It is an hours-long, fascinating unfolding of the most significant event in “recent” Guna history. I’m extremely impressed with the acting of the Guna, who take this dramatization very seriously. It was actually quite amusing when young Guna kids would cry and run away because they thought that their parents were actually getting beaten up by Panamanian police. Don’t judge me. . . you would have thought it was amusing too! The following photos are of Guna actors and actresses during the reenactment of the fight with the Panamanian police.

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Community members of Isla Tigre watch the reenactment of the fight between the Panamanian police and the Guna

After the impressive reenactment there was traditional Guna dancing and merriment:) All of the actors and actresses held hands in a large circle and took a few moments to remember and to respect what their elders had experienced during this time. It was a very emotional display by the community. The youth on Isla Tigre will certainly not soon forget what their elders went through to enjoy the freedom that they experience today. I was told that this reenactment is obligatory to attend by all community members.

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I hope that you enjoyed reading about my experience during the Guna Revolution, and that you will consider making the journey with me in the future to experience it for yourself. We’ll go kayaking to celebrate:)

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Guna youth actresses relax at the beach after performing in the reenactment, Isla Tigre

 

SUNRISE HIKING IN PANAMA: FROM THE BREAST OF “LA INDIA DORMIDA”

*If you’re getting this blog in an e-mail, it is much prettier to view it on my website.*

Hello everybody! I have so many adventures to share with you! Stay tuned for upcoming blogs about the amazing experience of celebrating the 93rd Anniversary of the Guna Revolution, and a wonderful 4-day sea kayaking and snorkeling adventure to Isla Coiba on the Pacific side of Panama. First, I’d like to share my experience in a lovely mountain town called El Valle de Antón, where I recently spent two days adventuring with my friend, Kira.

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Sunrise over El Valle

The hike: La India Dormida (The Sleeping Indian)

The Legend: Luba, who they called “Flor del Aire”, or “Air Flower” was the daughter of Urraca, the most successful Chief in Panama fighting against the Conquistadores. It was her misfortune to fall in love with one of the Spanish soldiers. Yavari, one of the strongest fighters of her tribe, vied for her affection. When she did not return his love, in despair, he jumped to his death from a mountain top before the Princess’ eyes. In sorrow Princess Flor del Aire left her home and never saw the Spaniard again.
She crossed mountains and valleys bitterly weeping over her fate. Above the beaches of the Caribbean she fell dead looking back at the beloved mountains where she had been born. The mountains were so touched by this sad love story they decided to form the shape of the Princess, and that is how the India Dormida arose.

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Our sunrise view-point on the breast of La India Dormida. Can you see her?

 

El Valle de Antón is only a few hours away from Panama City by bus, which is how I got there. It’s inexpensive and easy to get to from the Albrook Transportation Terminal. This was my second visit to El Valle, and this time around I did one of the “quintessential” El Valle hikes, which is not to be missed if you like gorgeous views. Kira, who is one of my favorite adventure friends, is always up for anything! We had planned to do some hiking, so when I suggested that we wake up at 4:30 AM to watch the sunrise from the top of La India Dormida, she was super excited. I admit that one of the main reasons to wake up so early was to beat the heat of mid-day, which is pretty unbearable hiking weather if you ask me. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. Morning bliss!

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It was super windy from where we watched the glowing ball of orange rise above the mountains to spread a golden light over the town. To our delight, we ended up watching the sunrise from the breast of La India Dormida:) It was definitely one of the most beautifully inspiring sunrises that I’ve ever seen. It made me think how many opportunities we have to experience this amazing (and FREE!) natural phenomenon. Every single day of our lives the sun rises (I certainly do hope), and watching it no matter where you are is a special experience to take in by oneself, or to share with others.

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Kira doing Sun Salutations to greet the day

I hope that you found some inspiration from this sunrise adventure. Please stay tuned for more from my recent travels in Panama. You don’t want to miss a reenactment of the bloody battle that the Guna fought to gain their autonomy in 1925, nor do you want to miss snorkeling with sea turtles and sharks in one of Panama’s most precious national parks, Isla Coiba. Gracias!

 

 

 

¡Viva La Revolución Dule! ~ Celebrate the Guna Revolution with me

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Guna kayak guide, Nemesio, and I pose with a Revolutionary flag on Gardi Sugdup. This year is the 93rd anniversary, so they need to add one more year:)

*If you get this blog in your email, it looks way better if you view it on my website.* Enjoy!

I leave tomorrow morning at 4:30 (yes, in the morning) to go back to Guna Yala! Join me (if not physically, then vicariously by reading this) to celebrate the 93rd anniversary of the greatest event of 20th-century Guna history. ¡Viva La Revolución Dule! Long Live the Guna Revolution! By the way, the Guna are an indigenous group who inhabit the beautiful tropical islands of the Comarca Guna Yala, their semi-autonomous territory in the Caribbean of Panama. There are about 365 islands to explore in the Comarca. This area was formerly known as the San Blas Islands. The Guna are the wonderful people who I guide sea kayaking trips with in the winter months. Check out those trips here.

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Guna Revolutionary flags abound during the entire month of February, Gardi Sugdup

I have spent considerable time in many different Guna communities and my favorite one is a community called Digir, or Isla Tigre. It is one of the more traditional and “tranquilo” communities that I have encountered. I work closely with the people from Digir and have developed strong friendships with many community members. They have enthusiastically taught me an incredible amount about their fascinating culture. I am constantly learning new things from them.

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Adrian teaches me and my friend, Morgan, about Guna culture, Isla Tigre

THE GUNA REVOLUTION (IN A NUTSHELL. . . LET’S SAY, A COCONUT SHELL:)

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It is common to see phrases like this painted on walls in Guna communities ~ “Long Live the Guna Revolution!”

Ninety three years ago on February 25th, 1925 (during Carnival, when the police would be drunk) the Guna launched a rebellion against the Panamanian police, who had taken up residence in their communities. For over a decade, the police had been suppressing many customs they considered uncivilized, including the traditional practice of bathing outdoors, curing rituals, puberty ceremonies, meeting at the gathering house, traditional dance, and women’s dress. By the mid-1920s, police and bureaucrats had pacified about half the islands on the coast. The police had also quashed Guna resistance through jail and guns.  Enough was enough for the Guna! They fought. . . and they won! They continue to celebrate this significant victory.

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“For our Culture, for Religion, for Tradition and Custom – Long Live the Revolution!”

Fast-forward to the present; Many Guna have maintained much of their traditional way of life. Of course, they are also an adaptable people and certain aspects of their culture have changed, enabling them to be active citizens in the modern world. They believe (and I believe too) that a culture can succeed only if it can adapt to a changing world. A culture that tries to stay the same as it was a century ago will struggle to survive.

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A friend’s (Orais) daughter and niece celebrate their puberty ceremony on Isla Tigre

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Traditional Dance (Danza Guna) during the Revolution Celebrations, Isla Tigre

Each year the entire month of February is celebrated, especially on the islands that threw off police rule, such as Digir (Isla Tigre). The Revolution is commemorated with speeches, parades, traditional dances, Revolutionary banners and flags, and dramatizations recreating the events of 1925. Actors portray the abuses of the police, the traditional practices they suppressed, and finally the revolt itself. Through these dramas, the Guna address the continuing threats to their autonomy, as well as the value of traditional ways, currently threatened less by government policy than by changes they themselves are making.

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Revolution dramatization on Isla Tigre

Below is an awesome video of the Guna dancing in revolutionary celebration on Isla Tigre. If you watch closely you will see a flag that resembles a swastika. If you have been to Guna Yala you will have noticed many of these flags. (This is often one of the first things that people notice.) This is NOT a German Nazi symbol! I’m Jewish, so trust me, I wouldn’t be associating with that ideology. This symbol has a completely different meaning to the Guna. The Guna adopted this “well-being” symbol in the early 1900s. This symbol has been used by many different cultures and religions of the world to signify well-being, good luck and good fortune.

And now, because I am a tour guide at heart and extremely passionate about sharing what I have been blessed with, in this case the opportunity to be immersed in Guna culture, I must say that it is well worth it to experience the Guna Revolution in Guna Yala, especially on Isla Tigre! It’s exciting. . . entertaining. . . fun. . . fascinating. . . and like nothing else you will experience in your life. So mark your calendars for February 25th, 2019! Don’t miss it. Contact me for more information, and to come paddle with me in Guna Yala.

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Phil representing with the Revolutionary flag

 

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Guna men ready for the Revolution dramatization on Isla Tigre

While I was doing a bit of research for this blog I came across this YouTube video by Guna musicians. In this video, which features traditional pan flutes and beautiful scenes from Guna Yala, they sing, “For you I’ll fight and die. It’s all that I have. My land is wounded. For you, I’ll give my life,” referring to their islands, their land, their culture.

 

I leave you with ¡Viva La Revolución Dule! Long Live the Guna Revolution! Stay tuned for future blog posts, including one that I will write about my experience over the next 4 days participating in the Guna Revolution. I’m charging my camera, so there should be some great video footage. I’m looking forward to watching the little kids’ version of the Revolution dramatization, which I’ve not seen before.

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Revolutionary Mural on Gardi Sugdup

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Just because I love this photo, Guna Yala

YOGA/KAYAK RETREAT: A Coast-to-Coast Adventure in Panama

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Are jump-shots ever not a great idea? Guna Yala, Panama

Deep breath. Aaaah. I’m back in Panama City with a computer and time, so I can tell you about the awesome Yoga/Kayak Retreat that yoga instructor, Leigh Lubin, and I guided this past Jan 6-14. We’re excited to announce that we’ll be offering this trip again in January 2019. I’ll keep you posted with dates. Contact me if you’d like more info.

 


YOGA RETREAT ~ THE PACIFIC

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Beautiful sunsets every night on the Pacific Coast – 5-minute walk from the yoga retreat

We started our 9-day journey together on the Pacific Coast, with 4 days at a gorgeous Yoga Adventure Retreat, just a 5-minute walk to the beach. Relaxation paradise! It was pretty easy to sink into holiday mode at this lovely place. I mean, we were greeted with ice cold hibiscus tea and there was a hammock pavilion!

 

Leigh guided us in morning and afternoon yoga sessions with her Vitality & Vayus series, which invited us to deepen our yoga practice. She taught and encouraged us to notice how each movement and pose effected us energetically and mentally. A gifted yoga teacher, she created a beautiful balance of uplifting and energetic practices in the mornings, and grounding and calming practices in the evenings. I don’t have too many photos of practicing yoga, as I didn’t want to be behind a camera during practice. I wanted to be doing yoga!

 

 

We also got to play around with stand-up paddle boards. Leigh delighted in practicing her SUP headstands:)

 

Then there was the food. . . delicious! What a delight to come out of morning yoga practice to be greeted with fresh fruit and juice. Buen provecho!

 

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Happy. . . smiling. . . feeling good!


GUNA YALA ~ THE CARIBBEAN

After the yoga retreat, we traveled to Guna Yala for 4 days of tropical paradise; sea kayaking, snorkeling, lounging in hammocks, and immersing ourselves in the fascinating culture of the Guna. Check out a video of this tropical paradise.

 

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Sunset on Nurdup

A little background: I have been kayak guiding in Guna Yala since 2010, and have been in love with the place ever since:) Guna Yala is the semi-autonomous territory of the indigenous Guna of Panama. The tropical coastline stretches 140-miles and borders Colombia. It also comprises about 25 miles of mainland rain forest. We stayed on a tiny island called Nurdup (“Almond Island”, in Guna), and used that as our “basecamp” for day excursions to nearby rivers, mangroves, beaches, and Guna communities.

Click here for a video of our first sunset in Guna Yala. Beautiful.

Check out a cool video of snorkeling. And a kayaking video (this was my first trip with my new Olympus Stylus TG-Tracker camera, so you’ll have to excuse the warped quality of this one).

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Welcome to Nurdup

Here are some highlights:

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A heron passing in front of Guna fishing huts

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Gone snorkeling

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A lobster hiding under Brain Coral

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Paddle to a Guna community. The underwater pipe brings fresh water from the mainland.

Leigh continued with early morning yoga practice on Nurdup, and we were joined by our Guna kayak guide, Nemesio, who entertained the other Guna with his joyful interpretation of the poses. Namaste, Nemesio!

 

We also took our yoga off of the mat and donated many gifts to the Guna, especially art supplies, clothing, and books for the kids. Here is Meghan searching for Waldo with our new Guna friends. Dónde está Waldo? I don’t know why the girl looks so sad in this photo. She was pretty excited about her new Fairy book.

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Dónde está Waldo?

While on Nurdup we learned a lot about the fascinating lives of the Guna, who have fought to maintain their traditional customs. They are enthusiastic to share their culture with us.

  • We heard Guna legends from Nemesio
  • We learned Guna phrases (Nuedi= good, you good? i’m good, we’re all good!)
  • We went mola-shopping and marveled at this incredible craft. The mola is the beautiful hand-sewn panel that is sewn onto the front and back of the women’s blouse. Many Guna women spend much of their day sewing molas. Click here for a video of trying on a mola.
  • We learned about the intricate bead work that the women display on their forearms and calves (called wini, much to our amusement). Here is a video of Denali getting her wini on.
  • We participated in the traditional dance with a youth dance group from a neighboring community. Check out a short video of the dance. Here is a longer one (it starts off a bit slow, but it picks up and is is worth the watch).
  • We went for a ride in one of their small wooden sailboats (called urbipi). Click here for a video of Leigh and Phil going for a sail.

 

 

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“Wini” close-up

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Leigh and Phil go for a ride in an “urbipi”

And, of course, we went kayaking and had loads of fun splashing around in the water. One of the highlights were the post-dance festivities. We enjoyed the Guna Danza so much that we wanted to share with the youth dancers something fun from our group. We invited them to play around in our kayaks. Whoa! I’ve never seen such an enthusiastic reaction (I wish I had it on film). These teenagers (and one adorable 6-year old) leaped out of their seats, shrieking at the tops of their lungs and jumped right into the water with the kayaks. None of them had ever been in a kayak before. However, growing up practically in the water, they did just fine:) Future Guna kayak guides! They even organized themselves into a race. Click here to see the video of the kayak race. Check out this video of a fun, music-filled river paddle (and now I know who Charlie Puth is). Note all the kids we stuffed into the kayaks (that sounds bad, doesn’t it?). We just couldn’t turn them down when they wanted to join us for a paddle.

 

We invited them to return later that evening to join us in a party! Meghan and Denali, two of our participants, had brought all kinds of fun gifts to donate. They even brought glow-sticks, which everyone went crazy for! We used my paddle as a limbo stick and attempted a conga line:) Click here to see a video of our paddle limbo. Of course, the Alaskans put on the country tunes.

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Glow-stick party on Nurdup!


CASCO VIEJO – PANAMA CITY

After departing Guna Yala we made a visit to the Panama Canal and caught a large ship going through the Miraflores Locks. Check out the video. We then had a few hours to roam around Casco Viejo, a scenic part of the city, before an entertaining farewell dinner that included delicious Panamanian food and traditional dances from other areas of Panama. Check out the dancing here.


What a trip! Besides the gorgeous places that we visited, including both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts of Panama and Panama City, what made this trip so exceptional was the people. As a tour guide, it is a gift to be in the company of such open-minded, kind, adventurous, and fun people as Leigh and I had on this trip. Thank you to all of them! You made this trip extremely special.


I leave you with the one of the most adorable Guna kidlets that I have ever seen.

And because I loved this little boy so much, here’s a video of him playing catch. What a little biscuit!

Well, I think that’s enough photos and video links for now. Stay tuned for the next blog about a most wild and crazy kayak trip to Guna Yala with my parents and our friends.


Please follow me on Instagram to check out my photos of traveling and paddling in beautiful places (mostly Panama and Alaska). I love hearing your comments. Contact me for trip information (or just to say hi).

 

LIVE THE DREAM IN 2018: GLAMPING IN ALASKA (& Panama)!

GLAMP IT UP IN 2018! Read on for my favorite glamping gear.

Glamping: the activity of camping with some of the comforts and luxuries of home. 

Okay, glamping may not be quite as cozy as a hotel room in Fairbanks. . . but it still makes you want to jump up and down for joy!

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Jumping up & down for joy in Fairbanks, Alaska

When I talk with people about the trips that I guide in Alaska and Panama, there are those who automatically envision “roughing it in the wilderness” as a miserable experience; cramped tents, sleeping and sitting on the hard ground, instant mashed potatoes every night and plain oatmeal every morning, bugs flying in their face while they’re trying to eat, standing out in the rain, etc. I completely agree with them. That sounds like a horrible way to spend a vacation. Don’t sign me up for that! (However, if this sounds like fun to you I can certainly arrange for it. Although, I’ll be dining on Alaskan salmon while you’re stuffing yourself with those instant mashies.)

However, a trip with me is oh the contrary to the bare bones misery that may have scarred your memory from a Boy or Girl Scouts trip when you were a teenager. If you haven’t done much camping (or it’s been a while), fear not! The advances in glamping equipment have brought camping trips to a whole new level of comfort and ease. A trip does not go by without guests exclaiming to me how surprised they are in the equipment that allows a level of luxury they didn’t think possible on camping trips, especially sea kayaking trips when everything has to fit into the kayaks. Actually, it’s this very fact that we’re packing into kayaks that allows us to bring along such luxuries as the following list. It’s amazing what you can squeeze into a kayak. Tables, chairs, stoves, oh my! I love showing people the wonderful items that I use to enhance their experience. Here are ileneinakayak glamping must-haves. Scroll to bottom for links of the following products.

My Top Ten Glamping Essentials for Alaska

  1. Screen House Shelter – A 4-walled bug-netting structure with a water-resistant ceiling allows us to be protected from pesky insects, without sacrificing the gorgeous view. It’s the living room of the great outdoors. (Shown in photo at top)
  2. Camp chairs – Your butt shall not make contact with the cold or wet ground,  nor shall you struggle to lift yourself from the ground!
  3. Roll-a-Table – One of the greatest glamping innovations; a firm and sturdy table with detachable legs that rolls into a neat bundle with a handle. It only takes about 1 minute to set up and break down.
  4. A kitchen with all the bells and whistles – I don’t skimp on my kitchen, as this is where the magic happens:) I love having a single-burner camp stove (MSR Whisperlite), which boils water very quickly, and a two-burner stove to cook on. I cook with a full set of pots and pans, cooking utensils, plates, bowls, cups, cutlery, cutting boards, sharp knives, sponge, dish soap, and yes, even napkins. There’s not much that I can’t do in this outdoor kitchen. I would not consider a trip in Alaska to be complete without dishing up wild Alaskan seafood.
  5. French Press – To make the finest cup of coffee that you’ll ever enjoy gazing at a glacier.
  6. Thermos – I’m talking about a stainless steel 8-cup thermos, that allows piping hot tea and hot chocolate (and mid-day coffee) to be served up in an instant, 12 hours after I’ve boiled the water. I worship the thermos for dish washing too.  Have you ever tried washing bacon grease from a plate using glacier water? Exasperating!
  7. Self-inflating sleeping pads – A far cry from the thin foam pads of yore. These fill up with air on their own, insulate you from cold ground, as well as provide cushy comfort for a well-deserved sleep after a day of paddling.
  8. Roomy tents – If you come on a trip with a friend or your sweetheart, you’ll get a spacious 4-person tent. Solo? You’ll luxuriate in a 2-person tent. This gives you enough space for you and your gear.
  9. Rain tarps – No, I will not have you standing out in the rain! I bring along a number of different sizes of tarps, and can set them up quickly during lunch and rest breaks. If it rains, I’ll keep you dry out there!
  10. Soft food coolers – These allow me the ability to pack all of my food in an organized fashion. From glass jars of sun-dried tomatoes, kalamata olives, and capers to fresh Prince William Sound prawns and salmon, and cartons of Half-and-Half, these coolers protect what’s inside and keep things cool.

There you have it. . . glamping like a pro in Alaska! Stay dry, stay cozy, stay comfortable, stay well-rested, well-fed, and well-caffeinated in style.

Here’s a few photos of glamping in the Caribbean in Panama. A lot of the trips there involve the addition of a motorized boat that accompanies us, which opens up the glamping possibilities beyond your wildest dreams! Take a look:

Inspired to come glamping with me? Contact me. I’d love to hear from you. What are your favorite glamping essentials?

Links for glamping gear

No, I’m not sponsored by these companies (although I wouldn’t say no to that). These are all items and companies that I have used as an outdoor enthusiast and professional sea kayak guide for many years. There are lots of other great options out there, and I will continue to search for and test out (then inform you about) new products and companies, especially those who can say “Made in USA, and who implement Earth-friendly practices. Please share your knowledge/suggestions in this regard. The following are simply what I trust and recommend.

  1. REI Screen House Shelter
  2. REI Flexlite Camp Chair and Camp Time Roll-a-Stool (Made in USA! Camp Time also sells brand new blemished bargains)
  3. Camp Time Roll-a-Table (Made in USA!)

    I am in love with this!

  4. Glamping kitchen: GSI: Cookware, Stoves, Utensils, Dinnerware, & Camp Furniture, MSR: Tents, Stoves, Cookware, and Water Treatment, and Coleman: Pretty much all things camping (I love this Fold-and-Go Stove)
  5. French press: GSI Portable JavaPress
  6. Thermos: Stanley Stainless Steel Thermoses
  7. Sleeping pads: Therm-a-Rest Sleeping Pads
  8. Tents: Mountain Hardware Tents and MSR Tents
  9. Rain tarps: I use the Mountain Equipment Co-op Scout Tarp for an emergency, lunch, and rest break tarp. It is a Canadian company. The best heavy-duty rain tarp that I ever had the pleasure of using on a 3-week sea kayaking expedition in Haida Gwaii (aka Queen Charlotte Islands, B.C., Canada) is the La Caverne from another Canadian company called Chlorophylle. When I contacted the company wanting to purchase one for myself (Sept 2017), I was told that they were only shipping to Canada. If you can find a Canadian address, this tarp is well worth it! I guess Canada knows their rain tarps, eh?
  10. Soft food coolers: NRS soft food coolers

Here is an article that I enjoyed entitled 10 Must-Haves From Brands That Make the Earth a Better Place.

Thanks for reading. Please share this blog with anyone who might like it. Or maybe you’ve been trying to convince your partner or friends to come camping with you, but haven’t been successful yet. This is the perfect article to nudge them in the direction of glamping enlightenment:) Glamp on!