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!

 

 

 

HAPPY HOLIDAYS, PANAMA-STYLE!

This year I’ll be celebrating the upcoming holiday in Philadelphia. In fact, my family has already celebrated the 8 crazy nights of Hannukah. However, this year I’m thinking fondly of the many Christmases and New Years that I’ve celebrated with friends and clients while on sea kayaking trips in Guna Yala (San Blas), Panama.

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Christmas tree, Guna-style

It’s a wonderfully unique and fun experience to us northerners to celebrate Xmas amongst palm trees, white sand beaches, and turquoise waters. I, for one, welcome the change from puffy down jackets and thermal underwear, to flip flops and bathing suits!

One of my favorite things to do as a child during Xmas was pile into the car with my brother and parents and drive around the neighborhood, admiring all of the Xmas lights and decorations. I’ve been enjoying this pastime the past few weeks.

While in Panama last year, prior to guiding my first kayak trip of the season, friends (Jared and Suzannah) and I were delighted to stumble upon a plaza in Panama City a block from our hostel. Lit up by thousands of lights and decorations, there were hundreds of families smiling and laughing together, with kids running around hyped up on sugar and holiday cheer. Suzannah and I may have also been hyped up. . . I forced her into a Xmas photo shoot, while Jared stood by in amusement.Oh, what fun!

Christmas on the Caribbean Islands of Guna Yala, also known as the San Blas Islands, albeit not as electrified as in the city, is none the less joyfully festive, with an added touch of colorful beach art decorations. My favorite are the soda cans cut into flowers and crafted into trees.

And then there’s the festivities we enjoy during the sea kayaking trips that span Xmas and New Years; the food, the drink, the fireworks, the bonfires, the dancing, the singing, and the merry-making! The Guna are a fun bunch, who enjoy a good celebration!

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Too much Xmas cheer for this one:)

So if you want a change of scenery next Christmas or New Year, and want to put presents under a palm tree and set off fireworks from a remote tropical island, let’s make it happen! Contact me for more information.

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From Ileneinakayak and the wonderful crew of Guna and Panamanians who help make the magic happen, have yourself a merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and adventurous New Year. Stay tuned for more on my blog.

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Peace to you this holiday season and New Year

The above mural is one of hundreds crafted by Michelle, the lovely owner (and yoga instructor) of La Buena Vida; hotel, restaurant, gift shop, and yoga studio (one of my favorite places to do yoga) in Santa Catalina, on the pacific side of Panama. Check them out here.

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Merry Christmas. . . Panama-style:)

NOLS WILDERNESS FIRST RESPONDER, AT YOUR SERVICE

Before I launch into who and what NOLS is. . . enjoy some photos of friends, clients, and me over the years (they go as far back as 2008, when I was but a wee one) in beautiful and remote places, partaking in what my mom would consider dangerous activities. Ok, she would think only some of them were dangerous. Now when you look at these, I want you to imagine “What could possibly go wrong?” (Absolutely nothing went wrong in any of these, by the way. . . except for one of them. More on that later. But I still want you to imagine, just to get in the mood for this blog;)

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Haines, Alaska

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Misdup, Guna Yala, Caribbean, Panama

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Some island, Guna Yala, Caribbean, Panama

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Aaron, bless his heart, Skaha, Penticton, British Columbia, Canada

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Somewhere snowy in British Columbia, Canada

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Underneath the Root Glacier, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska

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Misdup, Guna Yala, Caribbean, Panama

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Some island, Guna Yala, Caribbean, Panama

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Misdup, Guna Yala, Caribbean, Panama

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Columbia Bay, Prince William Sound, Alaska

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Lago Serrano, Patagonia, Chile

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Somewhere icy in British Columbia, Canada

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Rio Serrano, Patagonia, Chile

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Worthington Glacier, Valdez, Alaska

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Somewhere snowy in British Columbia, Canada

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Somewhere rocky in Canada or the U.S.

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Quadra Island, British Columbia, Canada

If you’re like my mom (or grandma) you’re probably feeling a bit nervous looking at some of these photos, even though I already assured you that nothing went wrong in any of them (except for that one. . more on that later). But if you are feeling nervous, that’s good! That means you followed directions and thought “What could possibly go wrong?” The truth is that any number of things could have gone awry in any of these photos. Some of them involved awfully sharp objects. . . some mighty long falls. . . some coooold water. But another truth is that there’s a lot of fun to be had in amazing and remote (or not so remote, nor so amazing) places. I’m not gonna stop doing this stuff! However, there are many ways that I, as a professional guide, can commit to mitigate the risks and consequences if something were to go awry. One of these ways is to educate myself in the wonderful ways of wilderness medical training.

And now there’s this:

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What ya got goin’ on there, Naomi? Victoria, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada

Now for a little background: NOLS stands for National Outdoor Leadership School. Founded in Wyoming in 1965, it is a global nonprofit wilderness school that educates students around the world in leadership, wilderness skills, and risk management. You can participate in courses anywhere from 6 days Canyoneering in Utah, to 135 days in Patagonia. Rock climbing, sailing, backpacking, ski touring, sea kayaking, mountaineering, ice climbing. . . the list goes on.

(Don’t worry. I haven’t forgotten to get back to that one photo.)

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This is not an ad, even though it sure does look like one

I participated in a 3-month NOLS Semester Program in 2008 in Patagonia, Chile. Prior to embarking on consecutive month-long remote mountaineering and sea kayaking expeditions, we started off with a ten-day (80-hour) Wilderness First Responder (WFR) Course to learn the best practices for responding to medical situations (and emergencies) in a wilderness setting. For most of that program, we were more than a days travel to definitive care (and that would be if the horses could gallop!). A WFR course teaches students invaluable skills in how to prevent, determine, and take care of almost any medical situation “in the field” with the limited resources available (think of you with a med kit the size of a loaf of bread, ski poles, ice axes, and sleeping bags in lieu of a hospital filled with doctors, unlimited medical supplies, crutches, and a hospital bed). I’ll never forget the lesson on how to relieve testicular torsion. Unfortunately, no photo available. Yikes!

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Me on my NOLS course, Somewhere in Patagonia, Chile

I also learned in my WFR course how to make good decisions regarding evacuations and group/risk management. In a wilderness setting I’m dealing with a lot more than simply a client with a belly ache. I’m dealing with the rest of the group, inclement weather, difficult terrain to accomplish a safe evacuation, spotty or non-existent communication with the “outside” world, and limited resources. Questions that WFR course instructors have drilled into my head are 1) Can this person stay on the trip, or do they need to be evacuated? 2) If they need to be evacuated, how and how quickly? I can’t just dial 911 (on my cell that has no service) and wait ten minutes for an ambulance with a team of medical professionals to whisk away my client who is complaining of abdominal pain. I am taught to become a detective to try to solve a medical mystery. However, more importantly, I know that it’s not necessarily essential that I figure out precisely what the cause of the mystery abdominal pain is, but I do need to make a decision and act on it. KC needs to go asap! I need to wrap her in a sleeping bag so she stays warm, keep talking to her to provide comfort and to monitor her, and use my satellite device to contact the office to get a helicopter here right now, as well as make sure that the rest of my group is warm, safe, and not freaking out. (This scenario is a true story, by the way. My co-guide, KC, got evacuated via helicopter from Columbia Bay on the last day of a 5-day sea kayaking trip in Prince William Sound, Alaska. From the moment she first approached me complaining of severe abdominal pain, to the moment that she landed at the hospital in Valdez, about 1.5 hours had passed. Not bad. Plus she got a heli ride over the largest tidewater glacier in the Sound out of it. She was fine, by the way.)

Here is a link to a DeLorme Satellite Communication device, similar to the one that I take on every trip. This is what saved us after it became clear that my VHF radio communication wasn’t going to do the trick. I highly recommend one of these communication devices. It could save your life, or the life of someone who you care about.

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My friend, Naomi, checks my pulse during my first WFR Recert. course in Victoria, B.C., Canada

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Naomi practicing building splints during our WFR Recert. course in Victoria, B.C., Canada (ex-boyfriends can come in handy)

 

Now that I’ve been guiding professionally since 2010, and have dealt with medical situations, as well as evacuations, I see the value in fostering these decision-making skills. I know that it’s negligent of me to walk away after giving someone a cup of water whose breathing is labored and who is the color of a lobster, sitting directly underneath a bunch of coconuts on a tropical island. I’m a WFR! And along with that comes the responsibility to treat this person to the best of my ability. You never know who (and in what condition) you are going to come across out there.

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The splint that earned me my first WFR Recert., Victoria, B.C., Canada

 

To keep up with my skills and to continue honing them, as well as to keep my WFR certification current, I take a NOLS Wilderness Medicine Recertification course (3-day, 24-hour) every two years. These courses are scenario-based, which is the best way to get as much practice as possible responding to medical situations. This past October I completed my 4th course in Salt Lake City, Utah. These courses, often in beautiful locations, are challenging, fun, and a great way to meet others working as outdoor professionals. I highly recommend them. In fact, being a WFR is a requirement for a lot of jobs in the outdoor industry. Even if you don’t work in the outdoor industry, but you spend time in the outdoors (or not even), I still recommend taking a Wilderness Medicine course, or First Aid. There are varying levels of courses, depending on how far you want to take your training.

So get out there and get educated. Visit NOLS and NOLS Wilderness Medicine to learn more and to find courses, as well as for resources to assemble your own adventure medical kit (very important!). NOLS has a lot of other great activities and environmental initiatives going on as well, so check ’em out!

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Lenticular Clouds on my NOLS course, Somewhere in Patagonia, Chile

To all of you Ileneinakayak prospective clients, rest (and paddle) assured that I, your guide, will be up-to-date with my wilderness medical training.

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Keepin’ it safe! Canadian Rockies, Alberta, Canada

 

Here are some photos from the NOLS Wilderness Medicine website to give you more of an idea of the fun that awaits you on these courses.

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My official NOLS WFR Seal of Approval

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My official Alaskan Seals of Approval

Oh yea, I almost forgot! The one photo at the beginning of this blog where something actually did go awry is the one with. . . . actually, you have to write in the blog comments which photo you think it is and what you think happened. I’ll mail the winner something cool! Good luck:)

 

INSPIRATION FOR A CARIBBEAN WINTER HOLIDAY

Hi there! I’m getting amped up for another tropical season of paddling and adventuring in the Caribbean of Panama. To get you excited I’m here to inspire you with some scenes that will have you feeling a warm sea breeze on your sun-kissed skin. Close your eyes and you’ll hear the soothing sounds of palm fronds shaking in the breeze, and small waves lapping against the shore. Imagine sun-warmed white sand between your toes. Look around and you’ll see colorful hammocks swaying underneath bunches of Coconuts, while kayaks wait to take you on an adventure. Enjoy!

There are still spaces available on an upcoming Yoga/Sea Kayak/SUP/Snorkel Adventure Retreat January 6 – 14, 2018. More info can be found here.

Contact me for more information on how to create the trip-of-a-lifetime in Alaska and Panama. Thanks for checking in! Stay tuned for more on my blog.

HOLIDAY WITH A GREATER PURPOSE: 4 fun ways to enhance your vacation with good deeds!

First, a quick udate from me: Hello from Vermont! I’ve settled into my November annual three weeks of house/pet-sitting in the lovely Green Mountain State. This is a time for me to slow down a bit after a busy guiding season in Alaska. Late fall is when I finally get to spend an extended amount of quality time with my family in Philadelphia (and eat lots of Asian food, which Philly is exceptional!), as well as take the time to make plans and set future goals for myself. It is also the time of year when I amp up my cider, apple, maple, and woodstove game! Bring it on, New England!

With the recent horrific attack in New York City , as well as other tragedies playing out locally and globally, my reaction is to bring more joy and happiness into the world, as well as to seek out others doing good things. Yes, there are a lot of horrible things going on, and those are not to be ignored, however it’s important to acknowledge that there are also a lot of wonderful and positive things going on that you can be a part of. It’s more important than ever to be good to one another, and to show each other love, compassion, and kindness. Let positive acts be your fuel to counter the negative ones.

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Jared and his crew of Guna boys, sharing the love of kayaking

One great way to do good things for others is to incorporate acts of kindness and compassion into your vacation. Maybe you are someone who wants to do good things for others, yet finds it difficult to find the time during your hectic daily life. It might even be difficult to do good things for yourself! Welcome: vacation! This is a great opportunity to do good! You finally have the energy and the time for yourself and for others.

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Lovely day for a paddle in Guna Yala. Do something good for yourself, as well as others!

The kayak trips that I run in Guna Yala, on the Caribbean of Panama, are a wonderful opportunity to travel with a greater purpose. Donations are always welcome and well-received. Opportunities for home-stays and volunteering abound. And of course each trip uses local Guna guides. We try to buy as much seafood from Guna fishermen as possible, as well as experience much of their fascinating culture and crafts. Check these trip options out here. Or maybe a Yoga/Sea Kayak Retreat is more your thing. Check out this 9-day all-inclusive trip January 6-14, 2018, that explores both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts of Panama. Click here for a detailed itinerary. Contact me with questions or if you’d like to book a trip. Read on.

Here are 4 ways to enhance your vacation by adding an element of good deeds.

1) Donations

Look around you. . . you probably have more than a few things to spare that others might find useful or even life-saving (i.e. medical supplies, shoes, or warm clothing if you’re traveling somewhere cold). I read something (I wish that I could remember, so I’m paraphrasing) that said “If you can afford to drink a beverage other than water, you have the means to give.” This might sound a bit extreme, and I’m not saying to stop drinking your tea and coffee. However, these words inspire me and made me realize how many material things I have that are not essential to my survival, such as that box of Chai tea that I love so much. Maybe next time I’m looking at all the Chai tea options, I’ll opt to spend that money on some art supplies for children instead.

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A sweet Guna girl wearing her new dress, made by donation from a group of kayakers

Collecting things to donate is fun, easy, and potentially free (no need to go out and buy things). It’s also a win-win situation; You clear out things that you don’t really need, and those you’re donating to benefit by getting things that can enhance their lives. It’s also a great way to have a positive interaction with locals. Here’s an idea: Next time you go on vacation, throw a party and have everyone bring a few items that will serve the people where you’re traveling. (Maybe don’t bring a bag of winter jackets to the Caribbean. . . but clothing for warm weather will certainly be useful.)

 

 

 

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A school in Ecuador that I helped donate supplies to, 2004 (I’m wearing my Jerry Garcia t-shirt on the left)

Donation ideas:

  • Clothing (in decent condition and appropriate for the climate)
  • Medical supplies (good condition, appropriate for the environment, and that the people fully understand how to use the supplies, as this could potentially be harmful)
  • Books (in their language and yours, lots of photos are great, do the people want to learn English?)
  • Art and School supplies (notebooks, paper, writing and coloring supplies, stickers, markers, folders, beads)
  • Games (appropriate for the age level, and the environment. i.e. As it’s quite windy in Guna Yala, and the kids love them, I always bring down a bunch of kites. Guna also love cards, dominoes and dice:)
  • Kitchen/bathroom supplies (appropriate for the environment. i.e. I get requests for graters from Guna women to use to grate fresh coconut for coconut rice – so delicious!)
  • Other useful items (appropriate for the lives of the people where you’re traveling. Some ideas: eyeglasses, sewing kits, fishing supplies (the Guna love it when I bring them different kinds of fishing hooks and line, as fishing is very important to Guna livelihoods), life vests, headlamps (I find these to be useful for everyone!), certain electronics, etc. . .)
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Young Guna artists at work on their masterpieces, after my friend, Suzannah, donated the supplies. They were so excited!

The photos below are from a group of 11 women, and my co-trip leader, Dave, who were part of a 4-day sea kayaking trip in Guna Yala earlier in 2017. These women collected bags of clothing to donate to Guna families, as well as sewing kits and eyeglasses for Guna women to use to sew their gorgeous molas. Check out a blog about this amazing trip and more on compassionate tourism here.

If you’re not with an organized group, it’s pretty easy (with the internet these days) to find schools, community centers, and other organizations to make donations. I love shopping at thrift stores, so whenever I go thrifting I always buy a few extra items and books to bring with me to Panama. And because I go back to some of the same Guna communities each year, it’s fun to see Guna walking around in clothing that my family and I have donated:) There’s a Guna man walking around with my dad’s neon pink Philadelphia Folk Festival t-shirt!

2) Home-stay and/or Volunteer

There are many ways to find opportunities like home-stays and volunteering while traveling. Home-stays are an excellent way to immerse yourself in another culture (this is a main reason why we travel, right?!), share your own culture, learn/practice a different language, and benefit a family financially, as home-stays usually cost money. I recommend the mighty Google machine. It’s actually overwhelming how many wonderful organizations there are that allow you to combine good deeds while traveling, whether this is the focus of your trip or not. Make sure to have good communication with the organization, so ensure a successful and positive experience! Keep in mind, it doesn’t need to take up your entire travel itinerary. It’s also important to do something good for yourself that fulfills you, like a kayak trip (hint, hint). Don’t feel bad about laying in a hammock on a beach. . . it is your well-earned vacation, after all! So, whether it’s dedicating two weeks to help build a school in a rural area, or spending an afternoon playing with kids at an orphanage, everyone benefits.

Personal story: Ten years ago I was traveling in Ecuador and wanted to find a home-stay that also included volunteering. The first organization that came up on Google was a women’s group of artists called Las Colibris (The Hummingbirds) that were making art from natural materials that the women would harvest. I thought I would stay a week, and ended up staying for 6 weeks because I loved it so much! I lived with a family, ate all of my meals with them, and helped them in their workshop everyday. I recall my home-stay mom telling me how much the income from this organization was helping her and her family. It also gave her a sense of independence, as she was making a living for herself, and not relying solely on her husband for money. Unfortunately, I could not find an active website for this organization anymore. Following are photos from that trip.

3) Tourism,Crafts and Food

In some places, especially remote and small communities, tourism and selling crafts and food might be the main source of income for families. Include in your travel plans activities that use local guides. Eat local food. Buy local crafts. Find out about local festivals and holidays. Check out a traditional dance or music performance. You’ll have a blast while learning about the area and making new friends and connections. And what better way to bring home a reminder of your wonderful holiday than to buy a hand-made craft from your travels!

4) Teach, Share, Learn, Play and Smile

I know, I cheated and combined five things. Basically, #4 is to enrich the lives of others by giving your time and having positive interactions. Just have fun! Share laughter and smiles. Get silly and play games! If you’re on a bike trip, kayak trip, climbing trip, fishing trip, whatever it may be, invite the locals to check out your gear and give it a try. Just keep them safe! You might plant the seed for a local to get the training they need to become a tour guide. Better yet, if you have the resources you might get inspired to start your own organization to teach locals the skills they need to guide/offer a certain activity/craft, or offer them something else they need, such as solar panels or language skills. The Guna always take to kayaking quickly, and it brings a lot of joy for them to play around in the kayaks. Smiles and laughter all around is a wonderful thing! Plus, I’m secretly training the young ones to be future sea kayak guides:)

Below are two of my closest Guna buddies, brothers Hectoriano and Ertaliano, who took to kayaking quickly. I’m hoping future Guna kayak guides!

I hope that this blog will inspire you to incorporate some element from my list for your future travels. Share your ideas with me! Have a wonderful day, and remember to be good to one another, and show each other love, compassion, and kindness. Let positive acts be your fuel to counter the negative ones. 

PACK YOUR BAGS. PANAMA IS WHERE IT’S AT! (part 1)

Guides

Kayak guides celebrating another season

Hi there! It’s been a while. The end of my 6th season sea kayak guiding in Alaska sadly came to an end a few weeks ago. What an amazing season filled with adventure, wonderful clients, and exciting camping trips. The other kayak guides are all off to start new and exciting chapters of their lives. Whether staying in Valdez to enjoy backcountry skiing and ice climbing, which Valdez is a world class destination, or venturing off to Idaho, California, Utah, New Zealand, or Central and South America, we all share a tight bond formed in Prince William Sound.

 

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Dalton and I topping out in City of Rocks, Idaho

As for me: Since I’ve left Alaska I have been road tripping with a fellow kayak guide through Washington, Idaho and Utah, mostly rock climbing (Leavenworth, WA and City of Rocks, ID) and hotspringing (Idaho is amazing for this!). I am currently in Park City, Utah, recertifying my Wilderness First Responder (medical training). As much as I love sea kayaking, the shoulder season sure is fun, when I get to experience other places and activities!

PANAMA, HERE I COME!

I’m getting excited for the upcoming paddling season in Panama. There is still space on an all-inclusive 9-day sea kayak and yoga retreat. This is a wonderful opportunity for people of all experience levels to escape to warm, tropical sea breezes and to do something healthy and nourishing to welcome 2018! This trip explores both Caribbean and Pacific coasts and also includes touring a scenic area of Panama City, stand-up paddling, snorkeling, and a visit to the famous Panama Canal. Contact me for more information (but hurry, as it’s right around the corner and space is limited!).

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Here are some scenes that await you in Panama!

WANT TO EXPERIENCE MORE OF PANAMA?

I figured that most people who join this trip will travel from pretty far away and will want to extend their stay in Panama, which is an incredible and diverse country that has a variety of unique and beautiful areas with fun activities to check out. I’ve been going to Panama since 2010, and each visit I discover new places that I love, as well as make annual trips to my favorite spots, where I’ve developed close connections with the people there. Here are a few of my favorite discoveries. (It was hard to choose just a few.)


GET YOUR CITY FIX: PANAMA CITY

Most likely you’ll fly into Tocumen International Airport, and it’s worth it to spend a couple of days exploring this modern and colorful city, located right on the Pacific Coast.

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Panama City

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Fishing boats at the Mercado del Mariscos

The yoga/sea kayak retreat does include some of the best-to-do in Panama City, including a visit to the famous Panama Canal and museum, as well as an overnight and farewell dinner in Casco Viejo (a charming “Old City” on the waterfront, also where the President resides). More time spent in this area offers visits to historical sites, churches, museums, theaters, beautiful plazas, galleries, and some of the best options to dine on Panamanian cuisine and to shop for traditional crafts from all over Panama. There are many colorful craft markets to enjoy. One of my favorite spots is the Mercado Del Mariscos (Seafood Market), where you can eat as much fresh seafood as you like, while you watch fishing boats bring in the fresh catch-of-the-day, while Pelicans dive all over the place. I like to sample the different kinds of ceviche. This is extremely popular for both tourists and Panamanians.

I have spent hours strolling along the Cinta Costera, a long path right along the coast, which is very popular among Panamanians to spend time with their families, as well as a popular biking, jogging, and exercising strip. The Cinta, as it is often referred, will take you all the way to the Amador Causeway, a narrow land-bridge, built with rocks excavated during the construction of the Panama Canal, that connects the continent with four islands next to the Pacific Ocean entrance to the Canal. Here you will find lots of restaurants, shops, and the Biomuseo, the Biodiversity Museum (the colorful building in the bottom left photo).

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Amador Causeway

 

If you’d like to take in great views of the city, as well as get exercise and see wildlife without leaving the city, head to the Parque Metropolitano, which is an unspoilt tract of tropical rainforest that is home to more than two hundred species of birds and mammals, including Geoffroy’s tamarin monkeys, white-tailed deer, sloths and agoutis.

Beautiful vista in El Parque Metropolitano


HEAD TO THE MOUNTAINS: SANTA FE

If cool mountain air, more solitude, and adventure is your style, head to Santa Fe in the province of Veraguas, about 5 hours from Panama City. I love this small mountain town and make a trip here each year. Some of the activities here are swimming, rafting or tubing down one of the many unspoiled rivers (lots of waterfalls!), horseback riding, hiking through virgin rain forest as far as the Caribbean coast, birding, and visiting organic (coffee, flowers, and produce) farms and orchid gardens.

Whenever I’m in Santa Fe I love to stay at Hostal La Qhia, a beautiful mountain retreat, which offers tranquil respite from the bustle of the city. This is a great place to launch local adventures and you will find lots of information (and maps) there about what to do in the area. You can conveniently arrange tours here as well. The above photos are from my last visit (Dec ’16) with my good friends, Jared and Suzannite. We hiked through a beautiful mountainous landscape to an organic farm, where we sampled delicious and fresh food and coffee, as well as hired a local guide to take us to gorgeous waterfalls.

We also discovered the most amazing Cambodian food that I’ve ever eaten at Anachoreo Cambodian Restaurant, which also offers lodging. We were so delighted to discover such authentic food so far away from Cambodia, that we ate there two nights in a row!


REMOTE BEACHES, TRADITION, ADVENTURE & CONSERVATION: AZUERO PENINSULA

The Azuero Peninsula, which many Panamanians proudly refer to as the “heartland” of their country, was a new discovery for me, filled with many unexpected and memorable experiences. This area is extremely rich in tradition, folklore, farming, and partying! That’s right, you will find town-wide parties every weekend (probably multiple parties a week if you’re really gung-ho!) with traditional live music and all-night dancing. Not to mention sampling Panama’s Seco Herrerano, something of which they are also very proud of. Seco is a white spirit distilled from sugarcane. We became friends with a family who invited us to a couple of these parties. Talk about dancing all night! My friends and I were also the only non-Panamanians at these parties. . . I’m talkin’ authentic Panamanian partying!

Traditional Panamanian music

Heading south my friends Jeff, Jared, and I took multiple buses down the western coast of the Azuero Peninsula, an area of great beauty (and remoteness in many parts). We stayed at a lovely locally-owned place in the small beach town of Malena called Hostal Iguana Verde. Upon our arrival the hostal owner, Anna, invited us to join her to liberate dozens of newborn sea turtles to Mama Mar (Mother Sea). What an experience! Anna is part of a group of local conservationists who strive to increase the survival rate of these sea turtles. You can easily get involved in a project like this. Visit the Facebook page for Marine Turtle Conservation Panama for info on how to get involved. It feels good to help out such a worthy cause while you’re on vacation! Plus, these sea turtles are ridiculously adorable.

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Go little buddy, go!

From Malena it is a short ride to another, more developed beach town called Mariato, which offers a variety of accommodations and activities, especially surfing. Anna told us it was possible to walk along the beach from Mariato back to Malena, so we enjoyed an afternoon sampling food and beer (some of the best fried fish I’ve ever had, and patacones) to fuel up for a gorgeous sunset beach hike.


GET REMOTE: CERRO HOYA NATIONAL PARK

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The boys get loaded in with the pigs, Las Flores

Continue farther down the peninsula if you really want to get remote adventure! I had read about an infrequently visited National Park called Cerro Hoya. You’ve got to make sure you catch the sometimes only once-a-day bus to a tiny end-of-the-road town called Las Flores. (There are more populated and accessible routes and towns on the eastern side of the Azuero Peninsula.) Created in 1984, this 80,450-acre national park contains some of the last remaining primary forest on the Azuero Peninsula. Until recently, the park was extremely difficult to reach and only explored by intrepid travelers. We got off the bus and immediately met a friendly pig farmer named Rueben, and his son, Ruebencito, who loaded Jeff and Jared into the back of their truck with the pigs (to my extreme delight and amusement – they made me sit comfortably in the front, the pig-free seating). We were welcomed into their home by Rueben’s wife, Celmira, where we stayed for a few days and enjoyed river walks, traditional food, and becoming part of their family.

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Las Flores, Azuero Peninsula

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The pig farmer, our guide, and new friend, Rueben

It would be hard to write here how to be in touch with Rueben and his wonderful family, who are very interested in tourism and acting as local hosts and guides to those adventurous travelers who wish to get an authentic and off-the-beaten-path experience. Contact me for more information. It was well worth the travel and planning to get to this beautiful and remote part of Panama. Jared and I have a plan to return to Las Flores and buy a few pigs for a giant pig roast for the whole town! You’re invited:)


I know I said I’d only highlight just a few places in Panama, but as I write this I still have more places that I’m itching to write about. I will be continuing my “Panama Is Where It’s At” series. So look forward to more about Panama, as well as Alaska (because Alaska is where it’s at also!).

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Columbia Bay, Prince William Sound, Alaska


I will sign off by saying that of all the places in Panama that I have visited, Guna Yala (San Blas Islands) remains my all-time favorite place. This is where I guide sea kayak tours in the winter and this is where the sea kayak portion of the aforementioned retreat will be held. This is why: It is one of the most spectacular places for sea kayaking. The Guna are my favorite people. It’s as simple as that. Click here for more info on Guna Yala.

Thank you for reading. I hope you are inspired to join me January 6 – 14, 2018, and that you visit more of the beautiful country of Panama. Stay tuned for more blog posts. You can also follow Ileneinakayak on Instagram and Facebook.

 

 

 

 

MILLENNIALS EXPLORE ALASKA BY KAYAK

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Frolicking in front of Shoup Glacier

The title of this blog might sound like the newest action-packed (with some romance, of course) film coming to a theater near you. I hope you won’t be let down that it is about three different three-day sea kayaking trips that I had the pleasure of guiding here in Prince William Sound, Alaska. Yes, the trips were action-packed and yes, some of the clients probably enjoyed some romance. I’m here to share some of the highlights from these great trips.

This three-day sea kayaking trip starts and finishes in beautiful Valdez, which offers a glorious coastline to paddle. What makes this trip so wonderful? Old-growth forest, rushing waterfalls, colorful wildflowers, juicy Blueberries and Salmonberries to eat, Bald Eagles diving for jumping salmon, serene bays, snow-capped peaks, adorable Sea Otters and curious Harbor Seals, and the holy grail of exploring the magnificently blue and alive Shoup Glacier.

Look at all of those millennials having such a good time! I’m a millennial myself, so it was really fun (and entertaining. . . I mean, we understood the same social references, and could quote the same movies!) to share what I love with people around my own age. It was also inspiring to see my cohort getting out in the world and exploring amazing places, such as Prince William Sound, partaking in an adventure they might not have ever done before, such as an overnight sea kayaking trip near a glacier.

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Waking up to new snow on the mountaintops in Shoup Bay

This string of three trips in a row were with 100% millennials. Gosh, I hope that I’m right about that. If not, I’m in trouble. Although it should definitely be taken as a compliment if I thought that people were younger than they actually are:) People often ask me who are the clients who do camping trips with me. “Really, kind of everybody, except for babies and geriatrics. I’m talking really geriatric. . . like 90’s. I’ve had a handful of 12-year-olds who did amazingly well on long paddle days, as well as a 12-year-old who was the only one of us to sleep through a torrential downpour that lasted for 15 minutes in the middle of the night in a hammock. On a few of my trips the strongest group of paddlers were within the ages of 55-75! For those of you who have gone on a trip with me in Guna Yala, and know what a paddling beast Nemesio is (I always tell every single client that if they can even keep up with Nemesio. . not pass him. . simply keep up with him, that they would be the first to do so). And the 75-year-old was the one in the group to paddle the closest to Nemesio for the entire trip. Very impressive. My first day trip of this season I was in the back of a boat with an 89-year-old woman traveling around Alaska for a couple of months by herself. So, my answer to that question of who are my clients is quite varied. However, these three trips definitely tip the clientele in favor of millennials.

One of the coolest perks of a job that takes you to the same places throughout the season is that you get to see the fascinating changes that occur, especially at such a dynamic environment as a glacier. Glaciers are often where the “adventure-packed” part of a trip occurs. We get to witness the ice shifting and changing. (Below photos) The “after” photo on the right was taken a couple of weeks after the “before” photo on the left. Pretty cool.

So millennials: here’s to you. . . (here’s to us) and your young, energetic professionalism that allows you to travel the world and do awesome things, like a three-day sea kayaking adventure with an equally energetic guide!

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Happy Hour on local hand-picked free range glacial ice:)