25 December, 2016

Off to Central America...

Our next major expedition starts next month and is going to be three back to back expeditions with Lindblad - National Geographic, the same outfit which took us to Antarctica 12 months ago. We had such a good time with L-NG, and really appreciated their focus on small groups, quality experiences, conservation, and photography. That last is very important - organised tours which don't have a photography bent are, we fear, prone to rush around too much, and miss the all important lighting conditions at dawn and dusk. We don't want to be on a bus, so to speak, when the light is the best. NG always send photo-professionals on their expeditions, and we like to see their emphasis on being at the right place at the right time, to get those fabulous shots. You've only got to look at a National Geographic magazine to see what we mean.

Each of our expeditions is ship based, but with L-NG's zodiacs, we expect a lot of excursions to land and for snorkelling. Some nights, especially in Cuba, we spend in hotels. The ships are small to very small, with from a total of 44 up to 96 guests on board. The NG-Orion that took us to Antarctica had 102 guests, so these littler guys will be another step down that particular ladder. We think we will enjoy these sub-100 boats!

Our first expedition will be to Cuba, part in Havana, and part on the NG-Panorama II from which we can visit coastal towns and parks, and do some snorkelling, it seems. It seems strange to "do" Cuba by boat, and it wasn't our first choice. Another NG (no Lindblad) expedition to Cuba at about the same time looked very good too, but they couldn't guarantee it would go ahead early enough for us to commit. This expedition will be under the auspices of Barack Obama's people-to-people study tours. As Aussies, we can visit Cuba as normal tourists, but this is an American venture, so we're doing it their way. In the Washington Post, Tom Popper said "the intent [of person-to-person tours] is to not just do tourist activities but to meet Cuban people and to exchange, talk about life in the United States, learn about life in Cuba." We'll see how that pans out. Anyway, the Panorama II is irrestistable, just look at its pic (!), and we're sure to have a good time!
The NG-Panorama II, launched in 2004, is a 50m two-masted sailing ship particularly equipped for itineraries in warm climates.

Next, we'll be on board the 62 passenger NG-Sea Lion for our bucket-list traverse of the Panama Canal and from there to Costa Rica. While waiting for this expedition to start, we'll hang out in Panama City. We've picked a hotel with a good view of the canal, so we hope we can relax on the balcony, some tequila cocktail in hand, and watch a busy parade of ships passing through this iconic waterway. And at the other end, we'll spend a few days in San Jose, Costa Rica, before flying to Ecuador.
The 46m 630 ton NG-Sea Lion built in 1982 was extensively refurbished in 2015.

After a few days in Guayaquil (we've been practicing the pronunciation of this town, the biggest in Ecuador), we'll be picked up again by Lindblad for a charter flight to Baltra or Santa Cruz (we think) on the Galapagos Islands. There we board the 96 guest NG-Endeavour II for an itinerary around these famous islands. From there, we return to Guayaquil then Miami, and back home.
The 72m 2716ton NG-Endeavour II was launched in 2005, renovated in 2016, and is currently devoted to Galapagos expeditions.