I’D DIP MY PADDLE IN THAT: Lake Superior Kayaking + 12 Reasons to Visit the Keweenaw Peninsula

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What a good-lookin’ fleet!

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Beauty in nature is found by those who seek it, Lake Superior

When I received an enthusiastic invitation from Keweenaw Adventure Company (pronounced kinda like Kee-wah-naw) to partake in a sea kayaking tour in exchange for writing a blog, I answered an even more enthusiastic “Yes!” (truthfully, it was more like “Yaaaaaasss!”) Wow, I was finally going to dip my paddle in the waters of the famous Lake Superior, the largest of North America’s Great Lakes. This was a pretty big deal for me. And if I had to use one word to describe my experience? Friggin’awesome (that’s one word, right? It is now).

I strive to surround myself with good people in beautiful places doing fun things. Let me tell ya. . . Keweenaw folks are good people in a beautiful place doing fun things:) The take-away message here is Keweenaw Adventure Company is amazing. Copper Harbor is amazing. Lake Superior is amazing. Sea kayaking on Lake Superior in Copper Harbor with Keweenaw Adventure Company is amazing.


Keweenaw Adventure Company Highlights

Guided sea kayaking day trips, overnight camping and kayaking trips to Isle Royale National Park, kayaking lessons and rentals, mountain biking tours and rentals, vacation rentals, shuttles, retail shop, and more. Visit their website.KAC logo- 25th finalThey also offer Group Adventures (youth groups, scouts, camps, staff retreats, and yoga/wellness retreats). Any group of 8 or more receives a 15% Group Discount. The more the merrier! They also have a great adventure blog. Check out A Kayaking Yoga Routine, from Keweenaw staffer and Michiganer (artist, musician, and yogi), Lena Wilson, the first person who I met upon my arrival to the Keweenaw Peninsula. She graciously served as my personal tour guide during our drive, regaling me with fun Michigan facts, and making the necessary visit to the renowned Jampot, where I purchased some truly divine gifts for my parents. . . and myself. Industrious monks from this Byzantine Catholic Monastery make jams, jellies, preserves, and impossible-to-resist baked goods and fruitcakes using the finest local, regional, and organic ingredients. They offer a surprisingly large selection of baked goods soaked in liquor. I guess they know what sells:) A must-stop if you’re driving the Scenic Highway M26!

 

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Rule #1: Look good. My guide, Matt, perfecting his hair before our first paddle on Lake Superior together

Let’s take a closer look at what makes this place unique, shall we? Fun facts: Copper Harbor is the northernmost town in Michigan, located on the Keweenaw Peninsula, which juts into Lake Superior. The Keweenaw Peninsula is the largest and northernmost county in Michigan, and the least populated. It is believed that “Keweenaw” is a Native American word that means “portage or place where portage is made”. Copper Harbor, the name alluding to its’ former role of shipping copper mined from local deposits during the mid-19th century, is the farthest away you can get from an Interstate Highway in the lower 48. How cool! Lake Superior is generally considered the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area (31,700 square miles), which is 10% of the earth’s fresh surface water. Fed by over 200 rivers and containing 2,900 cubic miles of water, it is the third-largest freshwater lake by volume in the world, and the largest by volume in North America. With 2,726 miles of shoreline to explore (including over 400 islands), it is also the cleanest and the clearest of the Great Lakes (underwater visibility averages 27 feet, and can reach 100 feet!). One more fun fact, which blows my mind: Waves of over 40 ft. in height have been recorded on Lake Superior (all the more reason to hire an experienced guide)! Don’t worry, the good folks at Keweenaw Adventure Company wouldn’t dare take you out in those conditions.

Keep it local! Copper Harbor has no chain businesses. None. Zero. If you’re looking for a picturesque place with an off-the-beaten-path local vibe that offers fun adventures for the whole family, lovely accommodations, great restaurants, brewpubs, and artisan shops, you’ve arrived (scroll down for my top finds). This place is on point! With a year-round population of 80 that swells to a few hundred in the summer months, Copper Harbor offers a unique escape into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a place renowned for breathtaking wilderness and intriguing local culture. I need to go back to delve deeper into what makes a Yooper a Yooper (someone born and raised, or accepted as a transplant to the Upper Peninsula), because Yoopers sure are proud of who they are and where they come from!

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View of Copper Harbor from the Brockway Mountain Overlook. (C) Keweenaw Adventure Co.


Keweenaw Adventure Company Offers Multi-Day Sea Kayaking Trips to Isle Royale National Park

Copper Harbor is known as the gateway to Isle Royale National Park, which is the largest island in Lake Superior at an impressive 207 square miles, and one of only 2 of the nation’s island national parks. Apparently, Yellowstone National Park receives more visitors in a single day than Isle Royale does in an entire season! Unfortunately, I didn’t get to paddle here (frowny face), so I’m already scheming a trip for the future. From what I’ve heard Isle Royale offers some of the best wilderness kayaking in Michigan. I’ve pored over enough photos to confirm this claim. Who wouldn’t want to kayak past some of the oldest exposed rock in the world! No vehicles are allowed on the island, so hiking and boating are the only options to explore the more than 150 miles of shoreline, numerous barrier islands, and fjord-like bays. These are best explored in a sea kayak with a local guide. The island is teeming with flora and fauna; eagles, loons, many species of birds and waterfowl, as well as wolves, moose, and otters.

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This will be me someday paddling at Isle Royale, (C) Keweenaw Adventure Co.


Good Times in Copper Harbor

Now that I’ve regaled you with fun facts about the location, here’s a run-down of what I actually did during my 4 days of fun in Copper Harbor. Because if you’re going to trek all the way out to this small town, you might as well stay a while and go local; sample the best of nature and adventure with the various tours offered by Keweenaw Adventure Company, and hit up some of these other spots too!

  1. Acquainted myself with the wonderful staff of Keweenaw Adventure Company, met my guide, checked out the kayaks and gear, and settled into my cozy and private accommodations at the Chalet Adventure Lodge, next to the company shop. They offer seasonal and different styles of cozy accommodations (cabin, house, cottage, chalet) in Copper Harbor. Fully furnished and equipped, I thoroughly enjoyed my stay here.
  2. Went sea kayaking on Lake Superior. I chose the Bare Bluffs day tour, enticed by sea stacks and sea caves. Although sunny, it was a bit blustery, so Matt and I turned back a tad early before the waves could build up too much. I loved the interesting shoreline and did get to see a few sea caves and the sea stack in the distance. Part of what made the trip so great was getting to know yet another quirky kayak guide:) Luckily, guides always have calm paddling spots up their sleeves, so we explored a serene slough, beautified by the reflection of vibrant fall foliage, as I described sea kayaking in Alaska to Matt. As an avid sea kayaker and guide I could immediately see the truth in everything that I’d heard of paddling on Lake Superior; it’s a gorgeous world-class paddling destination. It offers kayaking for all abilities, from flat and glassy, to big waves that only the most experienced “storm chaser” paddlers seek. . . and everything in between.

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    Sea Stack on the Bare Bluffs Day Tour, (C) Keweenaw Adventure Co.

  3.  Enjoyed an afternoon of hiking on the Copper Harbor Trail System. Due to guiding commitments in Alaska, my trip to Michigan took place in October, a lovely time of year to enjoy vibrant fall colors. (I got to enjoy 3 falls; Alaska, Michigan, and Philadelphia.) On my way to the trailhead I passed a lovely community garden surrounded by apple trees. I hiked for miles, undisturbed and at peace (I hardly saw anybody else, except for a few mountain bikers).
  4. Learned about mountain biking in Copper Harbor, the “Moab of the Midwest”. The Copper Harbor Trail System, which boasts over 40 miles of marked and mapped trails is designated for hiking and mountain biking. I had no idea that Copper Harbor is such a hotspot for singletrack mountain biking! Apparently it’s some of the most unique, scenic, and thrilling mountain biking in Upper Michigan. The area won the prestigious “Silver Level Ride Center” designation from the IMBA (International Mountain Bicycling Association), and has an ever-growing community of biking enthusiasts who dedicate thousands of cumulative hours each season to maintain and create trails, as well as promote eco-tourism to the area. Keweenaw Adventure Company is a major supporter of the Copper Harbor Trails Club, which is now recognized as a “model club” on both the regional and national level. In fact, the owner of the Keweenaw Adventure Company, Sam Raymond (avid mountain biker), helped to formally establish the Trails Club, and has personally dedicated 1000s of sweaty hours to building trails. Good people doing cool things. Next time I visit I’m going to do some mountain biking with one of their guides!
  5. Did yoga in the forest. I don’t normally photograph myself doing yoga. In fact, it would never occur to me to document such a thing. However, for the purpose of this blog, here you go:) Beautiful and peaceful places abound in this area for exercise, yoga, and healthy living in general. The air is fresh, crowds are easily avoidable, and nature-based activities pervade the community. Besides, visitors from more populous areas may have a slightly different notion as to what defines a crowd.
  6. Caught a gorgeous sunset from Brockway Mountain. Wow! This was a highlight, and a short drive from town. The scenic road is 10 miles long, with many pull-offs to take in the views. At the top you’ll be rewarded with a 360° view of Lake Superior, the surrounding woodlands, and inland lakes. At 735 feet above the lake, you can see Isle Royale about 50 miles away. Next visit I want to catch a sunrise here.
  7. Ate a Lake Superior Whitefish sandwich at the Mariner North restaurant. Visiting a new place always includes indulging my taste buds in the local fare, as well as learning about the food heritage of the area. Lake Superior is home to about 88 species of fish, including carp and varieties of trout, salmon, and perch. I’ve heard they’re all delicious! Fish from the lake are rich in omega-3 fatty acids because the lake is very cold and deep. Hundreds of years ago the Ojibwe and Chippewa Indians hunted Lake Superior trout, whitefish, and sturgeon from birch bark canoes using nets crafted from willow bark. European settlers began to arrive and commercial fishing was born as a result in 1820. Due to the usual culprits of pollution, over-fishing, and introduction of invasive species, trout and whitefish numbers severely declined and by the 1950’s the heyday of this commercial fishery was over. Currently, there are strict regulations to limit commercial fishing in Lake Superior.

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    Damn that was a tasty Whitefish sandwich at the Mariner North

  8. Introduced a new friend to packrafting at Hunter’s Point Park. For those who have sat in a packraft, it’s a pretty tight ride. But I only had one raft and we needed it just for a short crossing to a small island. It was in the name of exploration! Hunter’s Point Park is a beautiful area with a few trails that follow the shoreline of Lake Superior. Great for birding, as well as abundant flora (wildflowers, mushrooms, lichen, mosses, and cedars, hardwoods, and pines). The geological formations are especially unique here. The basalt in this area is the oldest rock on earth. Consider a visit here like a window to the past.
  9. Took a stroll on the Cathedral Grove Trail at Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary, which is home to the oldest stands of virgin White Pine trees in Michigan. Owned and cared for by the Michigan Nature Association, the sanctuary has two short and easy trails that feature pines that are more than 100 feet tall and 200 years old. There are also Maple, Birch, and Cedar trees. I was there in the fall and got to see a bounty of mushrooms in many shapes and colors. In the summer and spring you can see many rare fern species, as well as orchids and other delicate woodland plants.
  10. Grooved to the juke box at Zik’s Bar with the endearing couple who own and operate Keweenaw Adventure Company (Sam and Shelby). Is it sacrilegious to have spent even a few hours in Michigan without drinking beer? I think so. I’m guilty. I just don’t like beer. However, I did drink wine at this fine local establishment. This is the place to be if you want to check out the Copper Harbor nightlife, while being immersed in local history, as the walls are covered with photos and memorabilia depicting local lore. Copper Harbor has at least one microbrewery called Brickside Brewery, which I did not visit. Next time.

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    Zik’s Bar, (C) Zik’s Bar

  11. Coffee and fresh muffins from Jamsen’s Fish Market and Bakery. Local, delicious, and right on the waterfront:)

  12. Received an unexpected farewell gift of homemade jams from front yard blueberries and raspberries. I got a ride from a new friend to the airport, and when we stopped at her house to check the tire pressure, her landlord handed me two large jars of homemade jam! It was such a moving gesture. That sealed the deal. . .I’m going back for more:)
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    Copper Harbor Trail System


    Even though I’m a sea kayaker who went to Copper Harbor to go sea kayaking on Lake Superior, I came away with far more experiences. It was an unexpected whirlwind of meeting some of the most warm-hearted people I’d ever met. I made new friends and connected with people on a level that made me feel like I was visiting old friends. I discovered an adventure company that strives to keep things local, human, and sustainable.

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Agate Harbor Day Trip, (C) Keweenaw Adventure Co.


Parting Shot. . .

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Spreading a bit of Alaska Glacial Facial love to new friends, Matt and Gabbey. Cheers!


I sincerely hope that you enjoyed reading this special blog as much as I enjoyed reliving the fond memories as I wrote it. Check out my other paddling-related blogs about Panama, Alaska, and Croatia. Follow me on Instagram


Don’t forget to check out my website for upcoming summer sea kayaking trips in Alaska and Croatia. . . or if you’re one to plan well in advance, in Panama for next “winter” season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FROM ONE “YAKKER” TO ANOTHER

Greetings and happy holidays from sunny Panama! It’s been a while since I’ve posted a blog. I’ve been relishing the heat in Panama for nearly a month and have enjoyed many sea kayaking trips already. One in Guna Yala (aka San Blas) on the Caribbean and most recently a trip to Isla Coiba National Park on the Pacific.

 

Keep your eyes out for upcoming blogs about travel and kayaking in Panama, as well as sea kayaking trips in Croatia and Alaska! For now I’d love to share with you an interview that I had the pleasure of conducting over cyberspace with a fellow kayaker and nature-lover. His name is Donald Yackel, and although I haven’t had the pleasure of paddling with him personally (maybe some day!), his passion and respect for kayaking, water and the natural environment are evident in his book The Idling Bulldozer and Other Paddling Adventures. Check it out here. My curiosity was piqued by someone who loves paddling so much that he wrote a book about his adventures! Even more so when I read in his bio that “along the way he built a sailboat and a kayak, before learning that his great, great, grandfather was a boat builder too, who built boats and barges for the Erie Canal.” Pretty cool, eh? Without further ado I present to you Don Yackel.

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Don on Lake George, New York


1) What’s your first memory in a kayak?

I have an old memory of riding in a neighbor’s Klepper folding
kayak that had been converted to sail. That was a long time ago when I
was about six. My first real experience with kayaking came in 1995
when, on a lark, Lisa and I registered for a three day wilderness
kayaking trip off the coast of Maine. We had never been in a kayak
before. We paddled from Castine, camping on two different offshore
islands before ending our trip in Bar Harbor. Our group consisted of an
older couple of experienced paddlers and our guide. We paddled 21
foot fiberglass Wilderness Systems tandem cockpit boats. They were
big, stable and very heavy. We were obviously novice paddlers, only
using our arms and chest muscles on those 10 and 15 mile passages on
the ocean. We hurt a lot, but we loved it and the whole experience. We
haven’t been interested in another type of boat since.

2) What is it about kayaking that keeps you coming back for more? How
long do you plan to continue kayaking for?

I love the feeling of wilderness and the experience of living in the
outdoors, of having to accommodate nature’s many moods both benign
and difficult, with everything in between. I love the way a kayak
connects you to the water, the way it becomes a part of your body when
you paddle. I love the close connection with wildlife, a connection that is
usually impossible in bigger, noisier, less maneuverable craft. I’ll be
seventy-six in February. I recently completed a 15 day trip to Mexico,
ten of those days paddling along the wild shore of the Baja peninsula
between Loreto and La Paz. It was a wonderful experience, and will be
featured in my next book. I had no problems paddling long distances,
sometimes in very rough conditions, so I guess I’ll keep paddling and camping until I no longer can. I have paddled on trips with a handful of
people, men and women, in their eighties, so that’s my goal.

Don on a spoil island in the Indian River Lagoon, Florida

Don on the Indian River Lagoon, Florida

4) How do you think your life would be different if you hadn’t found a
passion for kayaking?

Well, I’ve always had a passion for the water and boats. I explain this a
little in my book The Idling Bulldozer, noting that I was born under the
water sign, Aquarius. I go into this in much greater detail in the opening
chapter of my next book. So, if it wasn’t kayaking, it would probably be
something else like sailing or canoeing. Kayaking however has inspired
me to write about my experiences, to create a website (www.yackman.com)
where I can share my adventures on the water, and the people I meet
there. I have maintained the site for over ten years now. Many of the
stories in my current book are based on postings on the site.

5) What inspires you to write about your kayaking adventures?

I seem to have a need to tell (retell, summarize, etc.) the story of my
adventures. I don’t do too many day paddles anymore, preferring longer
multi-day trips as the way to experience wilderness and the closeness to
nature that I seek. Sometimes I think I need to tell the story of these
trips so that I understand them better, so that I come to terms with what
ever happened or whoever I met and paddled with. In the end, I write for
myself, because I can never be sure that anyone will ever read my
stories. But on some level it doesn’t matter, because years after the
event, I can re-read the stories and relive the experiences again and
again.

Arbuckle Creek, Florida

Arbuckle Creek, Florida

6) What is your most memorable “oh shit!” or “that was close!” moment in
a kayak?

That’s a great question, one that’s fun to contemplate. My “oh shit”
moments are mostly connected to inconvenience. Like the time I got
into camp on an isolated island in an Adirondack Mountain lake at the
start of a three day trip, only to find that I had left my dry shoes behind,
leaving only my wet neoprene booties (They never dry out. I got rid of
them long ago), or my bare feet to hike in. Or the several times I’ve
started a long trip only to find that my expensive air mattress was
leaking, leaving me to re-inflate the thing several times each night or
sleep on what ever surface was available (at least one of these incidents
was mentioned in my book).
My “that was close” moments have come mostly while paddling in heavy
weather on big lakes or salt water. More than once I’ve come close to
taking a swim in rough conditions, only to be saved by a timely brace, a
hip snap, luck, or a combination of these. The most memorable of these
events came on the sea off the Florida Keys, in the winding narrows of
the Sagunay Fjord in Quebec, and most recently, in six foot breaking
waves on the Sea of Cortez in Mexico. But my favorite “oh shit, that was
close” moment came when a beluga whale quietly surfaced just out-of-sight
behind my left shoulder and exhaled. I believe I actually said, “Oh shit!
That was close!”.

7) Where would you kayak if you were given the option for a trip
anywhere in the world? Why?

Well, the trip that had been on my bucket list for some time was the
paddle from Loreto to La Paz in the Sea of Cortez, along Baja, California
in Mexico, that I completed last April. Lisa and I had base camp paddled
from Espiritu Santo Island fourteen years ago and I had been coveting
this trip ever since. I never thought I’d get back there, but Lisa gave me
the trip for my 75th birthday. It was a wonderful gift. That being said, I suppose I’m always looking forward to my next trip. I paddle the Perdido
River that rises in Florida and enters the Gulf of Mexico in Alabama in
March. I’m also investigating trips in Cuba and Portugal. I don’t know
just which trip will develop, but they both sound like interesting
adventures. I guess I’d be open to paddling anywhere in the world.
However, I don’t really want to paddle in Greenland or Iceland. The
paddling looks intriguing, but it’s just too cold for this Florida boy.

St. Sebastian River

St. Sebastian River, Florida

8) If you had to be stuck in a tandem kayak with anyone (dead or alive)
for a 20-mile crossing, who would it be? Why?

Well, I suppose I should come up with someone famous, Teddy Roosevelt
for instance. But while Teddy might be interesting, my guess is that he
might be a little overbearing. Besides, my experience on a long paddle,
especially in a tandem, is that there isn’t much time for “getting to know
you”. You need to paddle, communicate about what you’re doing, and
maintain a consistent paddling rhythm. This speaks more to experience
and compatibility than to exploring new relationships. That being said,
I’d first choose my wife Lisa. Even though tandems have been derisively
called “divorce boats”, we have always been able to establish and
maintain a good paddling pattern in a tandem. If the pace were relaxed
enough and we could take breaks, she could probably do it, but 20 miles
is a lot of distance for her.
My second choice would be my buddy, Bruce Romanchak. Bruce and I
have completed more trips together than I can count. Our paddling
pace, rhythm, and stamina are similar. However, we have never paddled
in a tandem boat before, and since Bruce does better when he is in
charge (or thinks he is), he would have to occupy the rear cockpit unless
I could convince him to switch off from time to time. Of course, if given
the choice, I’d really rather paddle my own boat.

9) Could please share more about the story of your great, great
grandfather who was also a boat builder?

John Vermilyea (the boat builder) was one of a long line of Vermilyeas
connected to my mother’s side of the family. The original Vermilyea,
Johannas, immigrated to New Amsterdam (now Manhattan) in 1662.
While it’s not clear in the information I have, John Vermilyea may have
been the grandson of William Vermilyea, a Revolutionary War soldier
who died at an advanced age in 1851.
John (the boat builder) was born in 1830 in the town of Mohawk on the
Mohawk River in New York State, about half way between Cohoes, near
Albany, and Oneida Lake. He died one month shy of his eighty-seventh
birthday in Lenox, NY. Lenox is along the route of the Original (1817-
1825) and widened (1835-1862) Erie Canal, and is very near the
southeast end of Oneida Lake. His death certificate lists his occupation
as “boat builder”. My sister who researched all of this said he built
“boats” a.k.a. barges for the Erie Canal and lived, at least for some time,
on Oneida Lake.
My connection to John is through my love of the water and boats, the
many summers I spent on Oneida lake, my travels on the Erie/Barge
Canal, and the fact that I have also been a boat builder, building both a
small sailboat and a beautiful wood/fiberglass kayak. Though I can only
know him through the few official documents my sister collected, I still
wonder if there is something in the genes; a love of the outdoors, of
water, and boating, that we share.


I hope that you have enjoyed meeting Don Yackel as much as I have. It’s always fun to learn about the adventures of fellow paddlers who respect and seek inspiration from nature. Maybe it has inspired you to write about your own experiences.

 

 

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!

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!