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.

 

 

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:

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

 

 

 

 

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!

 

JOIN ME IN CROATIA IN 2019!

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Paddling in Croatia

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

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Paddling in Croatia

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

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Sea cave exploration, Croatia

 

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Paddling in wintertime, Croatia


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

Sunset paddle at Isla Coiba, Panama

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

A hammock is obligatory, Isla Coiba, Panama

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

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

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

MY TRIP TO SAN BLAS TO CELEBRATE THE GUNA REVOLUTION

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

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

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The traditional Guna dance to celebrate the Revolution, Isla Tigre

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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