KAYAKING THE NORTHERN DALMATIAN COAST OF CROATIA: A Dreamy Destination

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Amazed at our dreamy paddling conditions near Molat, Croatia (Photo: Marko Mrše, Malik Adventures)

I’m back from a brief hiatus; a whirlwind of travel, family, friends, and new experiences this past month. It’s been a while since I’ve done any writing. Here’s what I’ve been up to (instead of writing blogs):

  • Wrapped up my 7th season kayak guiding with Anadyr Adventures in Valdez, Alaska. Woohoo!
  • Went sea kayaking and hiking in Copper Harbor on the Keweenaw Peninsula in Michigan (on lake Superior) for the first time. Get excited for an upcoming blog about what this adventure-filled area has to offer, highlighting the awesome Keweenaw Adventure Company.
  • Enjoyed some family time (and Asian food) in my hometown of Philadelphia
  • Completed a 3-week exploratory trip to Croatia and Slovenia, including sea kayaking off the Northern Dalmatian coast (read on), hosted by Malik Adventures, with whom I am excited to collaborate to offer a Sea Kayaking & Multisport Trip in Croatia this May (will include biking, hiking, probably SUP & Yoga). More on that at the end of this blog.
  • I’m currently watching 3 dogs and 4 cats in Vermont for a few weeks before I thaw out in . . . PANAMA!

On with the show! Croatia and the dreamy Dalmatian Coast

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The northwestern tip of Dugi otok, Northern Dalmatian coast, Croatia

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We spent a few hours relaxing on the limestone rocks, near Molat, Croatia

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Those sunsets!

It’s hard to put into words such a recent experience that has had a profound impact on me. One word: MESMERIZING. (Which, according to the dictionary means hypnotizing, spellbinding, fascinating. . . yes, yes, and yes!) Everything about sea kayaking in the Adriatic Sea mesmerized me. The intricate design of the limestone, the subtle patterns on the water driven by different winds (yes, there are 8 wind words based on the direction from where it’s coming. . How neat is that?!), walking through fields of rosemary, colorful roses outside of every house, the sight of bees pollinating flowers, and those sunsets, oh my god! those sunsets.  They’re in a whole other league of sunsets. Best part: they happened every single night!

 

Our Trip

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Kayaking with good friends, Croatia

After our first couple days exploring Dubrovnik, my friend and I took a 55-minute ferry from Zadar, which is a beautiful city on the Dalmatian coast (worth a visit), to an island called Molat, where we were warmly welcomed by Marko Mrše. Our guide, new friend, and now collaborator for my upcoming Kayak & Multisport trip Croatia, is the founder of Malik Adventures, a wonderful company that offers multi-day and multi-sport (sea kayaking, SUP, yoga, hiking, biking, & even ski touring in the Slovenian Alps) adventures in the Northern Dalmatia archipelago. Marko is a living representation of Malik’s mission: to discover and get inspired by nature, adventure and culture. And that we did! We spent 6 inspiring and adventure-filled days with Marko; 4 on Molat and 2 hiking in Paklenica National Park. *This blog focuses on kayaking in Molat. Stay tuned for my next blog highlighting the incredibly scenic Paklenica N.P. and the mountain hut where we stayed.*

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Sparkly surroundings near Molat, Croatia (Photo: Marko Mrše, Malik Adventures)

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Hiking in Paklenica National Park, Croatia (Photo: Marko Mrše, Malik Adventures)

As a kayak guide I have not too often had the privilege of going on a guided trip as a client. After this experience, I could get used to it:) Truth be told, I wasn’t a full-on client. The purpose of my Croatian journey this past October was to experience the trip so that I can guide here in the future. Marko regaled us with stories of visiting these islands as a child, invoking our curiosity by painting a picture of how these places have changed.  This was not simply a mundane “paddle from A to B, then from B to C” type of trip. This was a full experience, enriched with the fascinating history of the area, the delicious local foods we got to taste, and the self-discovery that accompanies any true adventure. This is the type of destination that you truly feel each trip is unique, offering to guests what they are seeking, even if that is unknown to them.

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Croatia’s spectacular crystalline coastline (Photo: Marko Mrše, Malik Adventures)

 

On Molat we stayed in a lovely apartment owned by a local family (a welcome change from my usual camping and hammocking in Panama and Alaska) and had delicious multi-course meals served to us, using local ingredients for the yummy honeys, jams and fruits at breakfast. Dinner always included a stout aperitif homemade from local herbs. Definitely got the job done of whetting our appetites for the amazing meals showcasing local seafood, such as cuttlefish, squid and octopus (I’ve got a thing for Cephalopods). I must say how impressed I was with this Croatian cuisine, and I have pretty high standards when it comes to local cuisines:) Fun fact: “Molat” comes from the Greek word mellitus, meaning “tastes like honey”, which is also the name of Marko’s wife (& Malik co-owner), Ivana’s line of natural body products (Mellitus) that she was so kind to give us samples of her face cream and lip balm that I am still enjoying. It’s a very fitting name, as honey and honey-scented products are very prominent in Croatia. Bring back those bees!

 

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Falling in love with the Greenland-style paddle and the Croatian coastline, Ist

 

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Fishing boat near Molat, Croatia (Photo: Marko Mrše, Malik Adventures)

What was the coolest paddle, you ask?

No need for me to think about this too hard. Paddling into a submarine cave was definitely a highlight, and something that I can’t say I’ve ever done before. Croatia was part of former Yugoslavia, and there exists fascinating relics all over the place as a nod to the country’s military past, some of which Marko introduced us to. The layout of the islands created strategic hiding places to house submarines, tunnels, bunkers, and barracks. What a cool place to kayak!

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Mesmerized by a submarine cave (Photo: Marko Mrše, Malik Adventures)

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From our bike ride across Molat

In addition to the dreamy kayaking we also worked our legs biking and hiking. It is a magnificent 9km bike ride from one end of the island to the other. From the community of Molat the road takes you through another community called Brgulje, then on to Zapuntel at the other end. I delighted in passing through these small villages, resplendent in color from flowers and gardens. From there we paddled to another island called Ist, where we hiked up to a beautiful white church to earn spectacular views of the surrounding islands.

Inspired to Join me in Croatia?

Croatia is gaining momentum as a destination to experience adventure, culture and nature. It certainly piqued my senses, with its tastes, scents, history, and culture. As you can see from my photos it also offers world-class paddling and hiking. If this blog has enticed you in any way to add Croatia to your “next up” destination, please consider joining my upcoming all-inclusive 9-day trip and experience the magic (and sunsets) of Croatia for yourself. Along with the exciting collaboration with Malik Adventures, I am also thrilled to team up with another exceptional adventure company called Venture Outside in offering this Croatia trip. Contact me! Also find me on Facebook and Instagram @ileneinakayak

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Stay tuned for my next blog highlighting the hiking in Paklenica National Park       (Photo: Marko Mrše, Malik Adventures)

Upcoming Panama Trip Plug:

Before Croatia calls me back, I will be spending the next 5 months guiding kayaking trips on both the Caribbean (in the San Blas Islands, aka Guna Yala) and the Pacific (Isla Coiba National Park) of Panama. For those yoga and kayaking lovers I am excited to join yoga instructor, Leigh Lubin to offer our second annual unique all-inclusive 9-day Yoga/Kayak Retreat that explores both coasts of Panama. Check it out here for more info. I’m biased. . . but it’s an amazing trip that we’re really excited about! We are now extending the following discount:

  • If you sign up with two other people, you get a 50% discount
  • If you sign up with three other people, you only pay $1,000 (an incredible deal!)

Parting Croatia Pics:

TEAMWORK MAKES THE DREAM WORK: 9-day kayaking trip to Columbia Glacier

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Tranquil evening in front of Columbia Glacier

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Day 1 of 9, Unakwik Inlet, Prince William Sound

“Teamwork makes the dreamwork!” Corny? You betcha! However, it’s a fantastic motto to live by on any paddling trip (and life). I can’t imagine this trip without my paddling companions, Evan and Katie, who flew into Valdez for this kayaking adventure. (I guided this trip with Anadyr Adventures.) But first, a little backstory, as this was not our first Alaskan adventure together:) The following photos are from our 2017 trip together.

 

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Katie & Evan exploring the salmon stream in Sawmill Bay, 2017

My luck started last year when I guided Katie and Evan on their first multi-day kayaking trip (a 3-day), in which we fought the wind from Valdez harbor to Shoup Bay (it was a pretty wild first experience, yet they did amazing). We camped right in front of Shoup Glacier, then paddled to the serene Sawmill Bay the following day. Read my blog about that trip here. They discovered how much they love sea kayaking. I hooked ’em! We kept in touch throughout the year and how thrilled was I when Katie wrote with the good news that they wanted to do another LONGER trip with me this season!

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Enjoying Sockeye salmon with a tarragon, lemon & butter garlic sauce, Unakwik Inlet

Paddling to the face of two tidewater glaciers in Prince William Sound was the new goal, which is normally a 7-day trip. To my good fortune, it wasn’t that difficult to convince them to add another 2 days to make this a 9-day expedition. All that I had to do was agree enthusiastically with Katie when she proposed the idea of adding more days. Preparations began (putting together the gear and creating a menu plan) and before we knew it July 5th arrived. We departed in beautiful sunshine. After a few minutes of paddling, we all wished that we had packed tank tops. I think it got into the 70’s. Who woulda thought?

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Home for the first 2 nights, Unakwik Inlet

DAYS 1 – 3

We got dropped off at the mouth of Miner’s Bay, on the east side of Unakwik Inlet, (mid-Prince William Sound, about 40 miles west of Valdez). We spent the first two nights at this gorgeous camp, which allowed us to spend our entire 2nd day at the face of Meares Glacier, where we basked in rays of sunshine.

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Paddling to the face of Meares Glacier, Unakwik Inlet

Holy moly. All that sunshine caused the glacier to become quite active. We witnessed a huge calving! An apartment-sized chunk let loose just as we arrived onto a rock overlook for lunch. After freaking out just a little (it was so amazing), we headed for higher ground, while the rock overlook got splashed from the waves. It’s a good thing that I had anticipated such an event, therefore carried our boats high up the beach.

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Lunch spot, Meares Glacier, Unakwik Inlet

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Katie & Evan enjoying Meares Glacier, Unakwik Inlet

Along with being mesmerized by the glacier and mountains, we saw dozens of Harbor Seals in the water and on top of the ice. The face of the glacier is quite protected for seals to give birth to their pups. I was excited to discover blood on the ice from the birth of a Harbor Seal pup.

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Then we got a wee bit of precipitation. . . DAYS 4 – 6

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A little friend (Black-Tailed Sitka Deer)

No photos actually exist from these few days. NOT because we didn’t have a lot of fun. . . oh, we still maintained a high level of fun and hilarity (boisterous merriment, if you will), however no photos captured these good times. We hunkered down in the beautiful Cedar Bay, nestled on the muskeg surrounded by the tall snow-covered peaks of the Chugach Mountains. It truly was a beautiful spot. . . just a bit on the wet side. Thank goodness for rubber boots:) We hung out in the screen tent, which serves as the kitchen/dining/living room. We played Farkle (a dice game) for hours and hours. . . told stories. . . listened to music. . . ate large amounts of hot food. . . and Katie fell in love with hot water bottles, which I happily made for her to cuddle and sleep with.

On our 6th day the weather improved a bit and we were able to bid farewell to Cedar Bay, our haven in the storm. We made it surprisingly quickly to Fairmount Bay, and set up camp near Granite Point, where we continued to play Farkle while Katie’s love for the hot water bottle blossomed.

DAY 7. . . The magical bump from Captain Scott

With conditions a bit too rough for us kayakers to round Granite Point, we got picked up by Anadyr manager and boat captain, Scott. He brought us a resupply of food, dry tents, and smiles from town. A boat bump later we found ourselves in Columbia Bay, set up to spend our last few days near the face of the largest tidewater glacier in Prince William Sound (cue the dramatic orchestra). . Columbia Glacier.

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Looking down on the face of Columbia Glacier

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Paddling to the face of Columbia Glacier

The sunshine returned. We dried ourselves out and with inflated spirits spent an entire day on an adventure which allowed us one of the most incredible views that any of us had ever seen. No exaggeration here! It was unanimous. With the retreat of Columbia, a new beach provides access to climb above the glacier and to see a large part of the Chugach Icefield. (I feel obliged to encourage people to go with an experienced guide on outings such as this.) Our climbing efforts paid off and we spent hours gazing and contemplating our spectacular view. Of course we took some jumpshots too!

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Speechless above Columbia Glacier. Yes, Evan carried his REI camp chair up there:)

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Katie and I show our excitement, Columbia Glacier (it only took about 6 tries to get this shot)

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Photos can’t do justice to the view that we enjoyed, Columbia Glacier

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Katie & Evan paddling through brash ice back to camp, Columbia Bay

What an incredible adventure! It’s not often that I get to guide such a long trip, and paddle to the face of two tidewater glaciers. In fact, you can read my blog from the only other 9-day trip that I’ve guided with Anadyr here. My blogging skills have certainly improved since 2014:)

As the title of this blog states, I am extremely grateful for the enthusiasm, sense of humor, positive energy, and support of Katie and Evan. We worked as a team to accomplish everything on this trip. Yes, I was the guide. However, we shared the sentiment that we were all in the adventure together, and that supporting each other was important for the success of the trip. Plus, it made it so much more fun. The giggles could be heard from afar, I’m sure:) From packing their own boat, to carrying the kayaks, helping to chop vegetables, and even setting up my tent(!!), Katie and Evan helped create a dream team to make this one of the greatest adventures that any of us has been on. I’m excited for the next one!

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Our last night, 11PM sunset over Columbia Glacier and the Chugach Mountains

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The Farkle Dream Team (Evan, Katie & me), Columbia Bay, 2018

I hope that you enjoyed reading about this 9-day kayaking adventure. More blogs to come from summers in Alaska and winters in Panama. Stay tuned. Feel free to contact me, especially if you’d like to talk about paddling.

PS. We did see two Humpback Whales on this trip (no photos), lots of Harbor Seals, Bald Eagles, and Sea Otters, along with a multitude of birds and ducks. Plus, we had lunch with that adorable Black-Tailed Sitka Deer. That was pretty neat:)

PPS. I also want to make it known that we ate fresh Prince William Sound prawns. . . lots of them, to Evan’s chagrin and Katie’s and my delight!

 

 

FIVE DAYS KAYAKING IN ALASKAN PARADISE

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Hélène and Bruno show off some skin, Prince William Sound

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This Steller Sea Lion shows us who’se the boss of these waters, Glacier Island

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Hélène and Bruno enjoying the ice, Columbia Bay

*This trip itinerary can be found here, and is called Glacier Island to Columbia Glacier Discovery Trip 5-Day*

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This Strawberry, Arugula Walnut Salad dwarfs the face of Columbia Glacier, Alaska

I love traveling. It runs in my family. I love seeing how other people live their lives. I love hearing about other people’s passions and what they find to be beautiful and inspiring in the world. I love hearing what makes others crack up laughing (and delighting that we are all quite similar in this department). I love catching glimpses of people living in different weather conditions, speaking different languages, eating different foods, and dancing to different music.

On this trip I loved hearing about Hélène and Bruno’s perspectives on all of the different cultures and places that they have visited.

For Hélène and Bruno (from France!) our five-day kayak camping trip together was a mini journey within a much larger journey; a journey of a greater scope that has taken them around the world (and not for the first time). Check out their blog (it’s in French) with beautiful photography and trip descriptions (and one day a blog in their own words about our trip). While I am inspired to learn about their year-long around-the-globe trips, what is most inspiring from Hélène and Bruno is the amount of time that they choose to spend in each place, be it country or state.

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Hélène and Bruno discover a waterfall, Heather Bay, Alaska

They rarely touch down for brief visits of a week or two. Much of their journey includes stays of a few months to explore, discover, and experience a place on a deeper level. One of these levels that I am grateful to have shared with them for 5 days is the beauty and wildness of a place. Alaska provides wonders for many visitors who are seeking a deeper (or different kind of) connection with their natural surroundings. Prince William Sound is where I feel this the most. It was a pure joy to see Hélène and Bruno be inspired by the majestic and impressive land- and seascapes, which grabbed hold of all of our attention. I often caught them gazing at the mountains across the sea with a look of awe on their faces. (Most people get this look.)

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Iceberg in Columbia Bay

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Paddling by the Steller Sea Lion haul-out, Glacier Island

 

 

 

 

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Hard to tell that the face of Columbia Glacier is a couple 100 ft. above the surface of the water

I hope that you have been inspired by the travels of Hélène and Bruno, as well as the spectacular Alaskan scenery. Keep traveling, whatever it is that grabs your attention and piques your senses. Share it with the world.

Contact me for information on guided multi-day trips in Alaska and Panama.

THREE SPACES AVAILABLE ON A 9-DAY KAYAKING TRIP THIS JULY 5-13. MEARES GLACIER – COLUMBIA GLACIER, PRINCE WILLIAM SOUND, ALASKA

Follow me on Instagram and Facebook @ileneinakayak. I look forward to hearing from you! Thanks for reading.

Side story: On our 3rd morning, we woke up on one side of a peninsula. As soon as I crossed to the other side of the peninsula (in Heather Bay), I was amazed by this rainbow, which at one point was indeed a TRIPLE rainbow! I ran back to get Hélène and Bruno and we all delighted in this beautiful and surprising sight.

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Hélène joyfully displaying a rainbow, Heather Bay

 

 

 

 

KAYAK CAMPING WITH A 7-DAY VEGAN MENU

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The chefs hard at work on Vegan Burritos

Vegan. Gluten-free. Paleo. Pescatorian. Vegetarian. There’s a lot of dietary preferences and restrictions to consider these days. It can get a little confusing, not to mention overwhelming. Now throw a 7-day camping trip into the mix!

Vegan menu

Someone who is vegan does not eat any animal product whatsoever. No meat. No dairy. Here are some foods that vegans do eat:

  • Legumes (Beans, Lentils, Peas, Peanuts)
  • Vegetables and Fruits Galore
  • Nuts, Nut Butters and Seeds
  • Whole Grains (Barley, Brown Rice, Millet, Bulgur, Buckwheat, Oatmeal, Whole-wheat Bread, Pasta, and Crackers)
  • Hemp, Flax and Chia Seeds
  • Tofu, Tempeh and Other Minimally Processed Meat Substitutes
  • Calcium-Fortified Plant Milks and Yogurts
  • Seaweed
  • Nutritional Yeast
  • Sprouted and Fermented Plant Foods

Whether you’re a guide who has to prepare all of the meals for your vegan guests, or you’re going camping with a vegan friend for the first time, there’s no need to feel overwhelmed with menu-planning. There are many online resources with recipe ideas out there. It’s also easier than ever to find vegan products at grocery stores. Plus, I’ve included a vegan menu for a 7-day camping trip!

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Hearty Bean Salad

The menu link (above and below) is the exact menu that we used on a recent 7-day sea kayak camping trip in Prince William Sound, Alaska. The group consisted of two omnivores (we eat practically everything), one vegetarian, and one vegan. This particular vegan is not fond of the substitutes available, such as vegan cheese, condiment, and meat substitutes. But if you are vegan or have to prepare food for a vegan you might look into these. Some of them are quite delicious! Tofu and tempeh (fermented soybeans) are typical vegan and vegetarian additions, which we did not utilize. There are many meals on the menu that you could easily add these.

Keep in mind accessibility of certain foods due to geographical and seasonal factors (i.e. we weren’t delighting in many tropical fruits that are much easier to find for my trips in Panama).

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Doing the dishes

Omnivore Additions

There were a few meals that I added cheese and salami for myself and the other non-vegan. The vegetarian only added the cheese. You could also add smoked or canned fish if that’s available. It’s extremely easy to accommodate for different preferences while at the same time providing nutritious and filling vegan meals. To get the extra calories that we were getting from adding cheese and salami, the vegan supplemented with extra dried fruit, nuts, and vegan snack bars. Nobody went hungry on this trip!

This menu is for 6 breakfasts, 7 lunches, and 6 dinners, and includes some snack ideas.

Vegan menu

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Beautiful Heather Bay, Prince William Sound

I hope that you have found this helpful. I certainly learned a lot and have many more vegan meal ideas from this recent camping trip. Please share your meal ideas with others. What worked? What didn’t work? There’s no excuse to not eat like royalty out there:) After all, we’re not backpacking!

WHAT A TRIP: 7 Days Paddling from Columbia Glacier to Valdez, Alaska

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7-Day Glacier Island-Columbia Bay-Valdez Itinerary

Map of Itinerary

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Jack, Sarah, Miki, and I proudly sporting our Anadyr Adventures hats!

The Opportunity

When my manager asked me if I had any interest in leading the 7-day kayak camping trip to train the 3 new guides we’d be welcoming this season to Anadyr Adventures (the company that I guide for), I didn’t have to deliberate. I gave an enthusiastic “Yes, of course!” What an amazing opportunity. This trip happens at the start of every season (early May) and teaches the new guides paddling and camping skills, as well as introduces them to all of the areas in northeast Prince William Sound where we guide our clients. In addition, it’s an incredible trip that gets them excited to be working in one of the most spectacular paddling destinations in the world. Let’s begin!

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Tranquility in Shoup Bay at 11 PM, Prince William Sound, Alaska

The Itinerary

Roughly 70 miles this itinerary starts in Irish Cove, in the northwest corner of Glacier Island, and quickly rounds Iceberg Point. It follows the entire coastline of the south side of this rugged and beautiful island, which is a wildlife lovers’ paradise. This is where I had 5 Orcas surface directly underneath our kayaks in a camping trip in 2017. The south side is also where Tufted and Horned Puffins spend their summers, alongside hundreds of Steller Sea Lions at their haul-out. The Sea Lions often accompany us around the island, as they leap and twist around our boats.

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Steller Sea Lion haul-out on Glacier Island, Prince William Sound

After Glacier Island we made the 4-mile crossing to Elf Point, the southeast point of Heather Bay, where we camped for two nights. During the day we paddled the beautiful and serene Heather Bay to get into Columbia Bay, a highlight of this itinerary (and one of our most popular day tours). Columbia Bay is where icebergs float that have broken off (calved) from the face of Columbia Glacier, the largest tidewater glacier in Prince William Sound. This glacier experienced much fame during it’s catastrophic retreat in the 80s and 90s. The glacier has since slowed down this retreat, however it still pumps off lots of interesting ice sculptures for us to marvel at.

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Sunrise at Elf Point, Heather Bay

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An ice-free Columbia Bay

This year brought an interesting surprise. Where was all the ice in Columbia Bay? There was none to be found! Usually this bay is filled with ice for us to paddle around. Apparently, the ice was stuck further up the bay, where it was blocked behind a constriction filled with chunks of sheet ice. It was a shame to not be able to introduce the new guides to paddling around ice on the training trip, however, days later the ice broke out of the constriction and Columbia Bay was once again filled with ice.

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Columbia Bay often looks like this

With 3 nights under our belts we headed east, paddled around Point Freemantle and spent a night in the lovely Sawmill Bay. This is one of my favorite stretches of coastline and we were lucky enough to paddle it during the lowest tide of the month. At a negative tide, the rocks were covered with life and we were delighted with thousands of different kinds of Sea Stars and seaweeds. This is also where Jack got “high-fived” by a Sea Lion. If you come to Valdez, ask him about it:)

The paddle from Sawmill Bay into Shoup Bay goes through the Valdez Narrows and along a coastline filled with glacial waterfalls. We spent our final two nights in the Shoup Lagoon, with a gorgeous view of Shoup Glacier. We paddled up to the face, where we explored and I explained how much the glacier has changed since last season, as well as historically (Shoup has gone through a couple of advance/retreat cycles in recent history). And of course took the obligatory jump shots!

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The face of Shoup Glacier

What Did We Eat?

I have to mention how good we ate out there! One of the points of the training trip is to practice our backcountry cooking skills. Each of us had to provide meals for the group. No one was disappointed or hungry on this trip. Due to dietary preferences we enjoyed a vegan menu (meat and dairy options on the side), which I will write a separate blog about with recipe ideas.

Make It Happen!

I’ve paddled this particular itinerary a few times. It’s a winner:) This is an incredible trip with lots of opportunities to experience wildlife, glaciers, and to be awed by the remote ruggedness and beauty that Prince William Sound has to offer. However, if seven days scares you off or doesn’t fit with your schedule, have no fear. This corner of the Sound has many amazing trips to offer; overnight excursions to Shoup Glacier, or longer trips to Mid-Prince William Sound’s Unakwik Inlet to see Meares Glacier. All that you have to do is check out my other Alaska itineraries and contact me to start planning your trip-of-a-lifetime. See you on the water!

 

SAY HELLO TO YOUR NEW KAYAK INSTRUCTORS IN VALDEZ, ALASKA

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Beautiful day to hit the water in Kachemak Bay, Homer, Alaska

I’m a kayak instructor now!

Along with 4 of my kayak guide work mates, I’ve been sworn in as an official Level 2 ACA (American Canoe Association) sea kayak instructor. Our swearing-in ceremony involved many cold dunks in Kachemak Bay near Homer, Alaska. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of these frigid dunks. Just take my word for it. Brrrr. Good thing I packed enough warm layers to last me a month for our 4-day course. Having 3 sleeping bags helped too:)

The ACA is the leading organization in the U.S. for all things paddle sports. Whether you are looking to get certified as an instructor, or simply want to learn and develop skills (canoe, sea kayak, SUP, raft, white water kayak, surfski, rescue, adaptive paddling), check them out here.

I’d also like to give a special shout-out to Levi Hogan, our wonderful instructor and new paddling friend. Levi and his wife operate Turnagain Kayak (located in Hope, AK), who specialize in outfitting groups for paddling in South Central Alaska, as well as kayak instruction. Levi is a BCU (British Canoe Union) 5 Star Sea Kayak Leader and ACA Level 4 Open Water Coastal Kayak Instructor Trainer. . . he’s kind of a big deal. For those of you who don’t know what the stars or acronyms mean, essentially Levi is a badass kayaker and loves to share his skills and knowledge with others in the courses that he offers. I highly recommend him as an instructor.

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View from our campsite on Right Beach, Kachemak Bay, Homer, Alaska

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Aidan and Jared making lunch on a sunny day, Kachemak Bay, Homer, Alaska

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We only have a little bit of gear. . . Homer, Alaska

Five of us returning guides for Anadyr Adventures (Valdez) piled into a company van and took off on a fun road trip to Homer. It’s impressive that we didn’t end up killing each other in the van. Just kidding (?). We love each other. We spent 4 days with Levi camped at Right Beach in Halibut Cove (Kachemak Bay, less than an hour water taxi from Homer), working on refining paddling skills and teaching each other. Forward, sweep, reverse sweep, draw, sculling draw, low brace recovery, T-rescue, self rescue, towing, scoop rescue, Hand-of-God rescue. . . these are all paddling strokes and skills that we practiced and taught to each other. We also taught each other about paddling topics, such as cold water immersion, communication and signaling devices, weather and tides, and paddle and kayak design. Good stuff!

 

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On the drive to Homer, Alaska

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Black-Legged Kittiwakes fly around Gull Rocks, Kachemak Bay, Homer, Alaska

I’m super excited to practice and teach to others the paddling skills that I’ve been developing over the past decade. As much time as I’ve spent playing and working on the water as a sea kayak guide, it’s great to take the time to slow down and go back to practicing and refining foundational paddling skills, such as the forward stroke. After this course, I feel better equipped to teach the subtleties of these foundational skills to beginner paddlers.

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Gorgeous May sunset over Kachemak Bay, Homer, Alaska

Paddle with certified instructors

. . . Which brings me to Valdez, Alaska. There are two sea kayaking companies in this beautiful coastal town. One is Anadyr Adventures, for which I am going into my 7th guiding season. Anadyr has been in operation since 1989, and is the leading tour operator when it comes to kayaking. In addition to myself, this year Anadyr welcomes back 4 returning guides, of which 3 are returning for their 4th season! That’s pretty impressive. I’m not going to say anything negative about the other kayak company, as we have a friendly and professional relationship. However, they tend to have almost all-new kayak guides each year. This says a lot about Anadyr and the level of experience, commitment, and passion that the guides have. There is a reason that we keep coming back to paddle in Prince William Sound with the same company. Simply put, we love it! For Anadyr guides, especially myself, kayak guiding is a lot more than just a summer job. Paddling is a huge part of our lives. We do it for work. We do it for fun. We talk about it all the time. And most of us are planning on continuing to work towards higher-level kayak skills and instructor certifications. So, come join us. Come paddle with certified kayak instructors in one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places in the world! Check out these amazing kayak camping itineraries for an unforgettable Alaskan adventure. We’ll see you on the water.

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We like to eat good. . . Alaska salmon with a tarragon butter sauce

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!