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

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

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

 


YOGA RETREAT ~ THE PACIFIC

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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Happy. . . smiling. . . feeling good!


GUNA YALA ~ THE CARIBBEAN

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

 

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Sunset on Nurdup

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

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

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

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Welcome to Nurdup

Here are some highlights:

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A heron passing in front of Guna fishing huts

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Gone snorkeling

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A lobster hiding under Brain Coral

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

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

 

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

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Dónde está Waldo?

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

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

 

 

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“Wini” close-up

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

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

 

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

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Glow-stick party on Nurdup!


CASCO VIEJO – PANAMA CITY

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


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


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

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

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


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

 

HAPPY HOLIDAYS, PANAMA-STYLE!

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

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Christmas tree, Guna-style

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

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

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

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

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

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Too much Xmas cheer for this one:)

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

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

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Peace to you this holiday season and New Year

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

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Merry Christmas. . . Panama-style:)

INSPIRATION FOR A CARIBBEAN WINTER HOLIDAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1) Donations

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

Donation ideas:

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

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

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

2) Home-stay and/or Volunteer

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

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

3) Tourism,Crafts and Food

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

4) Teach, Share, Learn, Play and Smile

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

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

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

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

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Kayak guides celebrating another season

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

 

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Dalton and I topping out in City of Rocks, Idaho

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

PANAMA, HERE I COME!

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

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Here are some scenes that await you in Panama!

WANT TO EXPERIENCE MORE OF PANAMA?

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


GET YOUR CITY FIX: PANAMA CITY

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

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Panama City

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Fishing boats at the Mercado del Mariscos

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

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

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Amador Causeway

 

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

Beautiful vista in El Parque Metropolitano


HEAD TO THE MOUNTAINS: SANTA FE

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

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

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


REMOTE BEACHES, TRADITION, ADVENTURE & CONSERVATION: AZUERO PENINSULA

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

Traditional Panamanian music

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

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Go little buddy, go!

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


GET REMOTE: CERRO HOYA NATIONAL PARK

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The boys get loaded in with the pigs, Las Flores

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

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Las Flores, Azuero Peninsula

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

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


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

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Columbia Bay, Prince William Sound, Alaska


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

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

 

 

 

 

TROPICAL PADDLING & YOGA: A MATCH MADE IN PARADISE

MARK YOUR CALENDARS: JANUARY 6 – 14, 2018 CARIBBEAN & PACIFIC OF PANAMA

ALL INCLUSIVE~YOGA~SEA KAYAKING~SUP~SNORKELING~PANAMA CANAL

Book by Sept. 15th for the Early Bird Special! Contact me.

I know, I know. . . summer isn’t over yet! Although, here in Valdez, new snow on the mountaintops greeted us yesterday morning. All the more reason I’ve started daydreaming of colorful hammocks beneath swaying Palm Trees, sipping from coconuts, kayaking in flip flops and a bathing suit, and practicing some nourishing yoga!

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Chillin’ out, relaxin’ all cool. . . on the island of Misdup

September is right around the corner, a time when school starts up again and calendars get filled before you know it. That’s why I’m encouraging you to set aside this week to treat yourself to an adventure in Panama. You might enjoy your fall work days more knowing what you’ve got coming up in January. At least it’ll make the shorter days more tolerable:)

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Treat yourself. . . you deserve it

Not a kayaker? No problem. Been meaning to start doing yoga but wouldn’t know downward-facing dog from warrior pose? No worries. Never left your hometown? Think nothing of it! Newbies and those who are more experienced will find that this trip was created with everyone in mind. After all, there was a time when I sat down in a kayak for the very first time (now I’ve been guiding for 6 years) and did my first downward-facing dog. I will be joined by founder of Yoga Currents, long-time yoga instructor and seasoned kayak guide, Leigh Lubin. We’re here to ensure that everyone who joins us has a spectacular and unforgettable time. It’s time to plan your winter holiday in paradise. What could be better than treating yourself to a nourishing, sunny, tropical get-away? Click here for more info and a detailed trip itinerary.

Why yoga and sea kayaking in Panama together? It’s a match made in tropical heaven. . . they’re perfect for each other. A beautiful retreat on the Pacific side offers tranquility and beauty, an ideal setting to sink in and reap the benefits of a yoga practice. Then we’ll travel to the Caribbean coast, where the San Blas Islands (called Guna Yala) offers us the perfect location for sea kayaking and beach yoga, as this tropical archipelago is comprised of hundreds of palm tree-dotted islands.

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Tropical Paradise, Guna Yala

I’ve been practicing yoga on my own (my active lifestyle of moving every 5 months hasn’t quite allowed for much time in a yoga studio) for only a few years. Like many people, it took me a couple of years to begin to scratch the surface of all of the amazing benefits of yoga, from the physical to the sometimes more subtle emotional and mental ones. Yoga isn’t only something that I love because it feels amazing, but I consider it an important part of my life as a professional kayak guide, a job that is extremely physically demanding. And now that I’ve entered my 30’s it’s become even more important to grow my yoga practice (what I mean is, I ain’t gettin’ any younger!). I spend about half of each year sitting in a kayak, paddling for hours and hours, loading and unloading hundreds of pounds of gear into boats on camping trips, carrying these heavy kayaks and gear up and down docks and beaches, and bending over a lot to assist my guests getting in and out of their kayaks. But I absolutely love what I do and I want to be able to go kayaking when I’m a little old lady, like Ernestina (below left), who thoroughly enjoyed her first time in a kayak! Also noteworthy is the group of 11 women ages 55-75 (right photo), who joined me in the Caribbean for a paddling adventure earlier in 2017. You can bet some of those ladies practice yoga!

Even if a busy day allows for just 10 minutes of stretching, this will have a positive impact on how my body fares as a guide. You’ll be amazed at how good it will make you feel too. It’s important to awaken and enliven the muscles each day, as well as strengthen and lengthen them. I feel stronger and more flexible now than I did as a 20-year old, before I started doing yoga.

Here’s what Leigh has to say about the benefits of yoga, as well as some insight into why practicing yoga for four days prior to going kayaking on our trip will revitalize you and leave you feeling like a better and more open version of yourself:

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Tropical sunset, Guna Yala

Yoga can make the difference between feeling fluid, alive, healthy, connected, and having fun or not. On this retreat we’ll create space in the hips so it’s easier to stay upright in your boat. Tap into your support instead of fighting it! We will strengthen the core and stimulate innate energetic pathways that move supportive energy upwards to sustain you from the inside. We’ll learn to internally float over our pelvis, riding our own inner waves and wind, as we increase shoulder mobility and strength. By the time you get to your kayak you’ll feel stable, fluid, grounded, engaged, and playful. We’ll take those feelings to sea.

During the sea kayaking portion, you’ll enjoy playful white sand beach yoga sessions to stay supple and strong throughout the trip. Yoga and sea kayaking are the perfect opportunities to sink in, revitalize, discover, and connect to yourself and the wonders of the sea!

We’ll also be eating fresh, healthy food on this trip, as well as doing other fun activities, such as standup paddling, snorkeling, hanging with the Guna (the indigenous group who live on the Caribbean islands who I’ve worked with for the past 4 years and who we’ll be visiting), exploring the scenic Casco Viejo (“Old Town”) on the waterfront in Panama City, and visiting the famous Panama Canal. All of these are included in the trip. See you in Panama!

 

Compassionate Tourism: Sharing sewing kits, eyeglasses and so much more in Guna Yala, Panama

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“Loving Hands” mola

My last trip of the season in Guna Yala came as a serendipitous surprise. I wasn’t supposed to be a guide on this trip. However, at the last minute I was called to duty. With paddle in hand I sprung into action! This trip was in collaboration with a wonderful organization called Venture Outside, based in Maine. Check them out. With 11 inspiring women between the ages of 54-73 with varying degrees of experience in a sea kayak, and the tour organizer and fellow sea kayak guide, Dave, we set out for 4 days of Guna Yala fun and adventure. What an inspiring and memorable way to finish off my fourth season sea kayak guiding in tropical paradise.

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Everybody in!

So why compassionate tourism? Stick with me here and I think you’ll understand what I’m getting at. I’m currently reading a book for the second time called “The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret & Science of Happiness,” by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, a Nepalese Tibetan Buddhist master. I’m not a Buddhist, however I just happened to obtain this book in Panama and didn’t have another one to read after I finished it for the first time. He explains, “The Buddhist understanding of compassion is, in some ways, a bit different from the ordinary sense of the word. For Buddhists, compassion doesn’t simply mean feeling sorry for other people. The Tibetan term –nying-jay– implies an utterly direct expansion of the heart. Probably the closest English translation of nying-jay is “love”- but a type of love without attachment or any expectation of getting anything in return. Compassion, in Tibetan terms, is a spontaneous feeling of connection with all living things. What you feel, I feel; what I feel, you feel. There’s no difference between us.”

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Donating clothing to the Guna family on Misdup

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Wearing her brand new dress on Misdup

Now let me share a story from this trip. These 11 women (and one man; let’s not forget Dave) collected enough clothing and shoes to fill two huge suitcases to donate to the Guna, along with a dozen pairs of reading glasses and sewing kits for the women to help with their mola-sewing. Our third and final morning on Misdup (the island we stayed on) we gathered around the Guna family with one of the suitcases and the glasses. It just so happens that Nemesio’s (our lead Guna kayak guide) “day job” is at an eyeglass laboratory in Panama City, so he was able to help the women find the right pair of glasses. He crouched at one of the older woman’s feet with the pile of glasses, and one by one had her try them on. Upon putting on each pair she glanced down at the mola that she was currently working on. After a few pairs that didn’t seem to be quite right a huge grin spread across her face. She threw her arms up into the air and exclaimed “Nuedi!” which means “Good!”, followed by some other words in Guna. The crowd went wild! Cheers and laugher erupted. The joy that spread through us onlookers was almost palpable. I nearly broke down in tears. Later on Nemesio told me that what she had exclaimed afterwards, looking right at him, was “I can see your heart!” Now if that doesn’t pull at your heartstrings. . .

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Showing off her new eyeglasses

So this is what I mean when I say compassionate tourism. Elisabeth, the woman who had brought the glasses and sewing kits, gave me very clear instructions with what to do with the remaining glasses at the end of our trip. “I want the glasses to go to women to help them sew their molas. As a woman who sews and wears glasses this is very important to me.” What Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche had written came to mind, “There’s no difference between us.” Once the group had left Nemesio and I continued on to a community called Nurdup for a visit. Not wanting to disobey Elisabeths’ wishes I distributed the remaining pairs of glasses and sewing kits to the older women on the island. I only wish that they could have been there to see the smiles spread across the faces of the women upon seeing more clearly the beautiful intricate designs they had sewn onto their molas.

Trips with Ileneinakayak are a lot more than sea kayaking excursions to beautiful Caribbean islands. We look within ourselves to discover how much we have to share with other people. The joy we experience from simple acts of giving and sharing become a part of us. They become beautiful memories that inspire us to keep looking, to keep discovering and to keep giving and sharing.

Here are some other highlights from this wonderful trip:

And to finish it off, everybody’s favorite little Guna dancer (he’s 7!)

Last one. . . everybody’s second favorite little dancer (she’s 32!)

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Thanks for reading everybody! Come back for more:)