Tag Archives: Lindblad/National Geographic

Following in Darwin’s Footsteps: My Adventure in the Galapagos Islands

8 Apr
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A playful Galapagos sea lion. IRT Photo by Rachel Hardy

“We could be standing here 500,000 years ago, and things would look exactly the same,” a fellow traveler commented during my recent Galapagos Islands adventure with Lindblad Expeditions.

I understood the sentiment.

But the Galapagos are all about change — slow, ceaseless adaptation — rather than permanence.

As Charles Darwin observed almost 200 years ago, these adaptations are nowhere more apparent than in the variety of endemic species that call the Galapagos home.

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to get up close and personal with many of these amazing creatures.

Along with 90-odd other guests, I was aboard the newly-refitted National Geographic Endeavour II. A Lindblad team of naturalists, crew and staff ably assisted us.

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Hot and rewarding hike on Española Island. IRT photo

“You are not on a cruise,” said Paula, our expedition leader, immediately setting the tone for the week. “You are on an expedition!”

Some of the more cynical rolled their eyes. But everyone under 18 visibly straightened their backs in excitement.

Though we were surrounded by all the modern conveniences and comforts of a traditional luxury cruise, these small linguistic flourishes helped set the stage for a cerebral and engaging week of discovery.

We guests ranged in age from six to 80. Like me, most were Americans. But there were a few Canadians, as well as a South African, two Guatemalan sisters and a Swede.

We were academics, mailmen, research scientists, poets, lawyers, pastors, salespeople, librettists, administrators of different stripes, journalists and travel advisors (me!).

What was the tie that bound this relatively diverse group of explorers? Mostly, it was a love for animals — and a palpable enthusiasm for experiencing them in the wild.

Indeed, I quickly learned the surest way to bond with fellow travelers was to excitedly point out an animal.

Animals excited all of us. And everyone went to great lengths to share their sightings with as many others as they could.

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A Sally Lightfoot crab walks delicately across the volcanic rocks of Genovesa Island.                    IRT Photo by Rachel Hardy

The naturalists, many of whom are themselves “endemic” to the Islands, had extensive backgrounds in chemistry, geology and biology. And no less than their guests, they were passionate about the natural world. They were eager fonts of knowledge — and never off duty.

In one of our rare “rest times” during the early afternoon, I encountered Lenin, a naturalist. I wildly gestured toward the open ocean, where I could see movement a few hundred yards away.

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A male frigate bird impressively puffs up his gular pouch in an attempt to attract a mate.             IRT Photo by Rachel Hardy.

Handing me his binoculars, he told me they were manta rays, taking turns jumping out of the water.

“We are not certain why they come to the surface like so,” he said. “Some scientists think they are ridding themselves of parasites. Others think they are just enjoying themselves.”

I certainly was enjoying myself. I took advantage of every hiking and snorkeling opportunity I could.

Snorkeling was a vigorous, thrilling experience. Every outing was unique.

Over the course of 15 hour-long deep-water snorkels, I swam with playful sea lion pups, sea turtles and diminutive Galapagos penguins.

I saw white-tipped reef sharks, hammerhead sharks, manta rays the size of breakfast tables, graceful spotted rays and hundreds of species of tropical fish.

Hikes were challenging — largely due to the Galapagos’ unforgiving heat and humidity in March. But they also were rewarding, with each day offering a new island and a new alien landscape to explore.

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A challenging mid-day hike. IRT Photo by Rachel Hardy.

Giant land iguanas, marine iguanas and bird species for which the Galapagos are famous — the Nazca, blue-footed and red-footed booby, to name three — added to the islands’ otherworldly vibe.

The island’s creatures acted as if we didn’t exist, not bothering to move off the trail even when we stepped within inches of them.

Some guests struggled with the most punishing midday hikes. But the vast majority seemed to know what they were in for.

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And the kids on our departure (more than usual, I was told, because it was spring break for many school systems in the U.S.) really enjoyed themselves.

That was thanks in no small part to a pilot program that the National Geographic Society introduced on our trip specifically geared towards young people — and their constant need for stimulation and apparent inability to nap. Their parents, all nappers themselves, seemed thrilled.

The snorkeling and hiking schedule left me little time to sleep in my comfortable cabin. And I had just enough time to enjoy the bountiful meals served in the ship’s dining room.

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One last hike on Genovesa Island. IRT Photo

Other memorable snapshots that underscored the amazingness of the Lindblad operation:

  1. Stargazing with Jean Roche, a naturalist, on the top deck when the moon was still hidden under the horizon. (I can now use the Southern Cross for navigation, if I ever find myself lost in the Southern Hemisphere!);
  2. Enjoying delicious, freshly-squeezed naranjilla juice that was waiting for us as we re-boarded the ship after long outings;
  3. The head waiter, Carlos, greeting every guest by name, three times a day, in the dining room, starting with our very first dinner (he also knew our dietary restrictions by heart);
  4. Crossing the equator on our last night. A slew of us crowded into the “open bridge,” the ship’s navigational heart, to which guests have 24/7 access. (And, Captain Garces, here’s a big “thank you” for always being so friendly and welcoming!)
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Marine iguanas — endemic to the Galapagos Islands — are incredible underwater swimmers, diving to depths of 9 meters. Here, they pile on each other and rest. IRT Photo by Rachel Hardy.

The only glitch — if you could call it that — occurred on our last day, just before our flight to Ecuador’s mainland. A few wayward land iguanas had wandered onto the tarmac, delaying our takeoff.

No one seemed to mind.

After all, we had only a few more hours to enjoy our newfound friends. And Lindblad had seen to it that we were well fed, watered and “WiFi-ed” in the VIP airport lounge.

Three hours later, the iguanas abruptly wandered away.

So off we flew, the Galapagos Islands rapidly shrinking as we rose, until they disappeared completely beneath the cloud cover.

I was already planning my return.

Click here for the second part of my blog about the newly-refitted Endeavour II.

To see our Lindblad Galapagos Islands cruise itinerary, please click here. For more information or to book, contact us at (502) 897-1725, (800) 478-4881; to email us, click here.

(Rachel M. Hardy, travel consultant and marketing associate with The Society of International Railway Travelers, has traveled the world testing out adventures — all the better to advise you!)

What a Week! Chic Italian Hotels, Posh Irish Castles, Cute Polar Bears…and Great Trains!

21 Aug
The Oliviero Restaurant, at the Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea, is famous for its seafood specialties. The hotel enjoys a prime slice of Sicilian real estate.

The Oliviero Restaurant, at the Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea, is famous for its seafood specialties. The hotel is located on a prime spot of Sicilian real estate. Belmond photo by Genius Loci

We’re just back from Virtuoso Travel Week, luxury travel’s biggest pow-wow of the year, hosting almost 5,000 travel professionals from all over the world.

Here are some goodies from our take-home bag, soon to appear on our website. Email me, and I’ll update you as news becomes available.

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    Venice Simplon-Orient-Express‘ “bread-and-butter” route is Venice-Paris-London, and vice-versa. The addition of a week’s worth of fabulous Belmond Italian hotels — there are six — makes for even more memories. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

    ITALY: Our popular “Romantic Italian Holiday” will be even more over-the-top when you upgrade it with Belmond’s “Grand Tour of Italy” package. The package price is starts at 3,780 Euro (currently about $4,300) per couple for seven nights at a minimum of two of Belmond’s iconic Italian properties (there are six in all).

    You have 30 days to complete your hotel stays. Blackout dates apply, but the price includes daily buffet breakfast. (Our agency’s “Bellini Club” status earns guests even more; please call.)

    Add a fanciful train ferry twist if you stay at either of the company’s Sicilian retreats (that’s right; Italian Railways still operates a train ferry to Sicily for the 30-minute “voyage” to the island). Click here to ask for more info.

Japan's Kyushu Seven Stars luxury train includes 12 suites, 2 deluxe suites, a diner and (above) lounge, with bar. By all accounts, the train is a work of art, boasting exquisite woods and fabrics. Kyushu Railway Photo

Japan’s Kyushu Seven Stars luxury train includes 12 suites, 2 deluxe suites, a diner, and lounge (above) with bar. By all accounts, the train is a work of art, boasting exquisite woods and textiles throughout. Kyushu Railway Photo

  • JAPAN: We organized a custom tour that includes the “impossible-to-get-a-ticket-on” Kyushu Seven Stars luxury train.

Kyushu dazzled the luxury train world two years ago when it debuted this artwork on wheels. And the Japanese love it — so much so that it’s almost impossible to get space on the 30-passenger train.

We’re working with a Virtuoso partner in Japan to finalize a deluxe rail tour that will include the Seven-Stars’ four-day trip. We’ve already got the train reserved. November, 2016. Click here to ask for more info and to get on our “first notification” list.

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  • IRELAND: Add an extended stay at magical Ashford Castle, voted last week as Virtuoso’s “Hotel of the Year.” It’s a perfect add-on to the new Belmond Grand Hibernian luxury train or to Lindblad/National Geographic’s 2016 Orion cruises, which will visit Ireland on two trips: June 12-19 or June 19-26. Click here to ask for more info. 
Enjoying a drink in the Royal Scotsman stylish, but very comfortable, bar car. IRT Photo by Eleanor Hardy

Enjoy a drink in stylish comfort in the Royal Scotsman’s bar car. IRT Photo by Eleanor Hardy

  • EUROPE: The good ship Orion’s 2016 Bergen-Glasgow cruise also offers tantalizing add-ons to the Belmond Royal Scotsman, whose Edinburgh terminus is just 30 minutes by train from Glasgow by ScotRail. The Lindblad/National Geographic cruise, dubbed “Norway and Scotland: Fjordlands to the Inner Hebrides,” runs July 17-24 and 24-31. We thought this would be a grand combo. Click here for more info.
  • A polar bear inspects Natural Habitat tour participants (viewing him from the safety of their NH 'Polar Rover' tundra truck. Natural Habitat photo

    A polar bear inspects Natural Habitat tour participants (viewing him from the safety of their NH ‘Polar Rover’ tundra truck.) Natural Habitat photo

    CANADA: Polar bears up close and personal: that’s what you’ll get when you travel with adventure specialist Natural Habitat. There’s convenient VIA Rail Canada service to the tour’s jumping-off point, Winnipeg. The tours run in October and November. We love NatHab, voted “Most Sustainable Tour Company,” at Virtuoso Week. Click here to ask for more info.

  • The National Geographic tour of Switzerland and Italy is a 10-day journey from Zermatt and the Upper Engadin Valley to Italy’s Lake Como featuring two of the IRT Society’s “World’s Top 25 Trains”: the Glacier Express and Bernina Express. National Geographic photo

    EUROPE, ASIA, N. AMERICA: National Geographic specialists accompany luxury rail tours for in-depth explorations. Among the offerings are “Swiss Trains and the Italian Lake District,” “India by Rail Photo Expedition” and “Norway’s Trains & Fjords.” Click here to ask for more info.

  • India's Deccan Odyssey offers the best of both worlds: incredible, close-up vistas of Indian culture and life through the picture windows of a luxurious hotel on wheels, with warm, attentive service, wonderful meals (with local as well as Continental cuisine) and supreme comfort. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

    India’s Deccan Odyssey offers incredible, close-up vistas of Indian culture and life through its large picture windows. Service is warm and attentive. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

    INDIA: Deccan Odyssey luxe train upgrade: luxury travel specialist Cox & Kings now supervises off-board AND on-board services, which is a blessing to the discerning traveler.

Its classic 12-day, 11-night Mumbai-Delhi itinerary includes visits to the monuments of Vadodara, the lakes and palaces of Udaipur, the Taj Mahal in Agra, the tiger reserve at Ranthambore (where tigers are making a comeback) and the Pink City of Jaipur.

A new 11-day, 10-night trip, the “Hidden Treasures of Gujarat,’ includes a search for Asiatic lions in Gir Forest National Park, a visit to Modhera’s Sun Temple and an exclusive tour of one of the country’s best wineries. Click here for more info.

  • The Blue Train grants free passage for children 5 and under, provided they sleep with their parents. Pictured above, a compartment with twin beds. Blue Train photo

    The Blue Train grants free passage for children 5 and under, provided they sleep with their parents. Pictured above, a Blue Train compartment with twin beds. Blue Train photo

    AFRICA: The romantic Blue Train might not seem the most likely venue for kids, but it can be  a financial boon to parents. One child aged five or under can travel free with mom and dad–so long as he/she shares the same compartment (OK, maybe sometimes not so romantic). Children aged 6-12 pay 50% of the rate. Click here for more info.

The above travel suppliers are some of our top Virtuoso partners. See something you’re interested in? Email us, and let us know what trip interests you, when you want to go and who is traveling with you. We’ll respond ASAP!

The Society of IRT is a proud member of Virtuoso, and also of the Belmond Bellini Club. What does this mean for our guests? Call us: 800-478-4881. Our web site:                       http://www.irtsociety.com

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