Galapagos

May 23, 2012

Top Five Spots for Teens and Older

The 'kids' bonding in Tanzania

Want to know what’s hot for you and your teenagers and graduates? Here are some great ideas for you to consider while trying to keep everyone happy.

1) Panama. Now, we don’t CALL this a teen trip, but really older kids are perfect for this adventure. With excitement like zip lines and white water rafting it has adrenaline pumping action. And with the engineering marvel of the canal, and the cultural attraction of the Embera tribe there is plenty of sophistication for your kids, and you too! Our guides will engage your family, and you’ll go home with memories you never dreamt of.

2) Costa Rica. This stands by as our most popular family adventure, and the benefit of having older, more tolerant kids is your ability to head to the remote region of Corcovado National Park. It’s far away, out there, and oh so worth it to get to. Surfing, hiking, snorkeling

3) Tanzania. A safari is a sedentary adventure by nature but our Active Safari takes every opportunity for you to stretch your legs and challenge your pre-conceptions. Bike at Gibbs Farm, enjoy walks and village visits at our exclusive private nature refuge, and hike partway up Mount Meru to overnight in a hut before hiking back down the next day. Interspersed with world class wildlife viewing, this adventure will stay with you forever. (And if this isn’t enough you could always think about a trek up Mount Kilimanjaro…….)

4) Peru. You don’t need to fight the crowds on the famed Inca Trail hike into Machu Picchu in order to appreciate all of the wonders Peru has to offer. In fact, we beseech you to NOT join that rat race. Come try some undiscovered trails, and enjoy world class hiking and gorgeous landscapes on trails where you may not see any other people, short of local farmers and their llamas. A Peru Trek can be the way to reassess your life while your older children begin to define their own lives. Prefer the comforts of a hotel? It’s easy to avoid the camping and still enjoy daily explorations. Let the energetic, able bodied kids do the hiking, and you can simply sit and contemplate the beautiful landscape. Want top of the line? Try our Smithsonian Peru Adventure, including Lake Titicaca.

5) Galapagos! Whether you opt for a stint on a luxury catamaran or a unique opportunity to sleep in the islands themselves, the snorkeling, biking, and kayaking in the Galapagos is fabulous. Never just a beach vacation, this is a sophisticated exploration to challenge your mind. Did you know there is wildlife here you just won’t find anywhere else in the world? Come visit these volcanic islands for the chance to think differently.

6) You know me, it’s hard to stop myself. Last summer I went with my kids (18, 22, 25) to Thailand and we had the best time ever. Culture, cities, villages, hiking, zip lines, rafting, elephants, Buddhism, food, massage, wow. A fabulously exotic place that is so warm and welcoming, you might never want to leave.



February 26, 2012

Top Five Destinations for your Graduate. And You.

Who's bold enough to try grasshopper?

Many popular destinations are just plain fun for a young child, but can be revisited – or seen for the first time – with very different eyes once your child is out of high school. Here are our picks for the most sophisticated and exciting places to visit, or visit again, with your graduate.

5) Alaska. It’s pristine, and so different from the rest of the continental USA. And it’s changing so fast, there may well be species, habitats and glaciers that will be disappearing in the future. Take your graduate to explore up close, with plenty of physical activities to challenge you both while you all learn about how climate change is affecting this part of the country.

4) Galapagos. On select dates we offer families with older kids the opportunity to explore the islands from a 16 passenger catamaran. Or, if you prefer, you can join our MultiSport Adventure with real beach camping and up close experiences with those frigate birds, seal ions, and blue footed boobies. In both options you’ll also have the chance to learn something about rock climbing, early Incan ruins, and the delightful culture of mainland Ecuador.

3) Peru. Whether you like to camp in remote mountains with no one but your camp crew nearby, or you prefer, thank you very much, to sleep in a comfortable hotel…Peru offers mystery and culture you can dive into, and breathtaking scenery to explore. Both versions, the Trek and the Land of the Ancient Inca offer great hiking and plenty of time to contemplate the wonders of Machu Picchu.

2) Turkey. Whether you choose a photographic journey, our Secrets of Turkey, or the special Smithsonian Adventure, Turkey is full of inviting people, scenery, and culture. Oh, and the food! Turkey is an adventure of history and art, Roman ruins, miraculous landscape, and the smooth Mediterranean. So much more than just a vacation!

1) Thailand With a fascinating culture, gorgeous temples, and a philosophy that invites conversation…. plus verdant forest to hike, retired elephants to care for, and rivers to raft…. here is an adventure to change your life forever.

0) It’s hard to stop when I’m on a roll.. how about Morocco? Wander the souks, watch a snake charmer, trek in the High Atlas Mountains, and ride a camel on the beach… Practice your Arabic as well as your French, and tantalize your taste buds in this exotic land of couscous and fragrant tagines.

The truth is, any one of our destinations can be sophisticated and enriching for your older kids, and for you too! Our expert guides are ready to talk up to your level, and challenge you to take home in your heart a piece of their country. Come join the like minded and similar aged families traveling with us in 2012 and beyond.



February 8, 2012

A Turtle by Any Other Name…

Galapagos Tortoise photo by MFawcett

Thanks to our alumni Katie Pickard Fawcett for sharing her post about the great turtles of the world….she writes a lovely blog!

In art, literature, and mythology the words “tortoise” and “turtle” are often used interchangeably, though turtle refers to an aquatic creature while a tortoise is the slow-moving land dweller. The Galapagos giant tortoise can weigh more than 600 pounds and survive for a year without food or water. The big guys can live to be more than 150 years old. They’re vegetarian and they take life slow and easy. Perhaps that’s the secret.

I used to see the Galapagos giants in their dusty enclosures at the zoo and figured they were doing okay with plenty of water and food and didn’t need much space. Most of the time they looked like big stones scattered about in the sun. You could stand forever waiting for one of them to stick out his head and take a step or two. Then we went to the Galapagos Islands and hiked in the Santa Cruz highlands where the tortoises roam free. They get out and about where they have the space to do so and, although these tortoises can live without water for long periods, they also enjoy a leisurely soak when a water source is readily available.

Most of the low-lying islands in the Galapagos chain are flat, dusty, and dry, but Santa Cruz has six different vegetation zones. The highlands, where the tortoises live, are lush and green. These moist forests are speckled with ponds and marshes. Passion flowers and the poison apples of the manchineel grow along the trails. Some of the huge ponds are covered with red pond weed.

It’s hot and humid here, the forests are filled with bird calls, and the air is filled with the wet earth scent of a rainforest. The trip from the town of Puerto Ayora took us about 30 minutes on a recycled school bus with no air conditioning, but it was worth it to see one after another of these enormous fellows go lumbering by, crossing our paths. I know many animals in the wild are not as healthy as those kept captive and some don’t live as long as their caged kin, but there’s something about freedom that’s way more appealing.

Turtle/Tortoise Trivia:

1) Several Native American tribes believed that the earth rested on the back of a giant turtle.

2) The Chinese once believed that turtles were sacred; the Burmese thought them to be divine and kept them in tanks in pagodas. Temples devoted to turtles can still be found in Asia.

3) In The Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck used the tortoise as a symbol of the tenacity of the “Okies” traveling west for a better life. For D.H. Lawrence the turtle was sometimes a symbol of aloneness and indifference.

4) Turtles figure prominently in Early Egyptian art and were used for medicinal purposes. Ancient Egyptians believed that turtles had a special knowledge of medicinal herbs and other remedies.

5) The Romans associated turtles with the god Mercury. One of Mercury’s first acts as an infant was to kill a turtle and turn its shell into a lyre.

6) Some early Christians considered them “heretical” animals that chose to live in filth and scum.

7) The tortoise appears in Hindu writings as a famous sage. One of the chief dieties, Vishnu, was believed to have descended to earth in the form of a tortoise to help the other gods stir the oceans in the search for the essence of immortality.

8) One of the most famous fables, of course, is the story of the tortoise and the hare.

9) Tortoise tales occur in many African nations and the tortoise is often portrayed as a cunning hero, a greedy intemperate creature.

10) Giant marine turtles, especially green turtles, played a major role in the settlement of the New World. They could be kept aboard ship for months without being fed and became a major food source for sailors on long voyages. The Galapagos tortoise, for example, was a food staple for New England whaling ships that spent several years at a time in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

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January 9, 2012

Top Five Reasons to go to the Galapagos (aka ECUADOR!)

Happiness in Ecuador

Funny, none of these particular reasons have to do with the Galapagos Islands. For years we’ve fielded calls from families wanting to go to the Galapagos. Yes, it is a really cool place to go. Do you want to spend your whole vacation in the islands? No. Why? Because mainland Ecuador has so much to offer – and you are flying through there anyway . Don’t miss out on what most of our families say is the very best part of their adventure! Why?

1) If you buzz right through to get to the islands you’re wasting no-value travel time and overnights to your precious vacation schedule. Stop and smell the roses – literally! Ecuador is one of the world’s biggest exporter of roses. See rose plantations and orchid gardens en your way to some real adventure. Don’t worry, we aren’t going to drag you through museums.

2) Did you know some of the world’s coolest rock climbing is right here in mainland Ecuador? We have an expert climber who has prepared a really cool beginner spot – just for us – for you to try your hand at rock climbing. Are you experienced in this sport? We have an option to knock your socks off.

3) While you are investing in your family memories you may also be interested in showing your kids how meaningful it can be to give back to the world. We’ve partnered with a school full of gleeful children – and a school in need of support from those of us who have something to give. Come visit and start up a game of soccer with these great kids! We’re building a play ground and delivering supplies to the classroom – you can help!

4) Villages, markets, artisans, cobblestone streets, country lanes… the local people of Ecuador are some of the most hospitable people you will ever meet. The opportunity to learn about their traditions and crafts is a highlight of our family adventure in Ecuador.

5) SURPRISE! This is the best part. No one expects it, almost everyone loves it best of all. Mainland Ecuador is full of opportunities for horseback riding, hiking, tasting great food, learning a new craft, and meeting interesting people. But we don’t want to tell you everything you might see and do…come be surprised in Ecuador. We’ll add you to our long list of families who found the adventure of a lifetime in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.



January 3, 2012

Five Fabulous Family Multi-Sport Adventures

Surf's Up!

When we talk about Multi Sport Adventures we mean something active with plenty of variety. This helps kids – and parents and grandparents too – to try new activities, learn new skills – and maybe discover a new passion to pursue. What have our kids loved best for lots of action to compliment the cultural and wildlife opportunities? In alphabetical order….

1) Baja. A true adventurer’s paradise, Baja is ideal for hiking, horseback riding, surfing, snorkeling, kayaking. Get out there with our expert instructors for some exciting action, then replace those calories with some awesome Mexican food.

2) Belize. Mayan ruins for climbing, river caves for tubing (sometimes scary for the younger set!), barrier reef for snorkeling and diving. Paradise!

3) Costa Rica. Not boring! Rainforest, beaches, volcanoes and monkeys. Rafting, zip lines, kayaking, canyoning, SUP (know what that is??), surfing. You can try just about everything here, and meet some of the nicest people ever.

4) Galapagos. Between the highlands of mainland Ecuador and the volcanic Galapagos Islands your family can try horseback riding, hiking, kayaking, biking, snorkeling – and real camping for a couple of nights too! Seeing that Southern hemisphere sky from your beach front campsite is about as awe-inspiring as it gets.

5) Panama. The canal, of course, and the great story that goes with it. But also a fascinating native culture to learn about. Then rafting, zip lines, awesome snorkeling and pristine beaches, birds and wildlife galore, biking … and the thrill of going someplace not many have been before. Come discover Panama!!



November 28, 2011

Meet an Ethologist Turned Photographer

Madison, WI by Stewart Halperin

Stewart Halperin is the renowned photographer co-leading our Galapagos: Vision and Evolution adventure June 15, 2012. Since you might not know what an ethologist is, or why one would become a photographer, we thought a casual Q&A would be fun.

Stewart, where are you from?

I was born in New Jersey but moved to St. Louis for the University over four decades ago. During that time I have lived out of the country in various places, such as Cambridge, England for study, and Tanzania for working with Jane Goodall in the early 1960s with the chimpanzees.

How long have you been traveling?

My first trip abroad was when I was 18 off to Europe on a shoestring! I have not stopped traveling since. Over 6 continents, and 95 countries later, my passion and interest in seeing the world seems to grow. From the canals of Venice to the plains of the Serengeti, I love the visual diversity and variety of this world. My mentor Ernst Haas coined the phrase–and it is true for me and many photographers–”we dream with open eyes” and moving about the globe just keeps on feeding the most interesting dreams.

How did you get started in photography?

While in college in the 1960s I casually took photos, but it was not until I started my graduate training in Ethology (animal and human behavior) that I became more serious about my images, starting at the Delta Regional Primate Center in Louisiana, then off to Gombe Stream in Tanzania, under the guidance of Dr. Jane Goodall. There I had the very important ingredients for becoming a photographer: unlimited time to watch, observe and see the patterns of light and behavior all played out in a Garden of Eden type setting. It was a glorious training camp!!

The second major influence in a more formal way was working with the photographic master Ernst Haas. Haas was considered by many the father of color photography. We spent 8 years together before his untimely death in the early 1980s. His influence on composition and the boldness of use of color formed my approach to photography.

What is your favorite part of the job?

Each assignment, each trip is a unique chance to see something different. I never get bored. It is like getting to be a perpetual graduate student, approaching different subject each day, week and year. I get to see places I would have only dreamed about. Just in the past 12 months my work has taken me to Tanzania, Australia, New Zealand, Nepal, India, Uganda and Italy… How lucky am I?? Mostly importantly I have become humbled by seeing the world, and understanding the incredible things we have to learn from people and places beyond our own world.

What excites you most about this upcoming trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos?

As a one-time biologist and ethologist, the Galapagos is the Mecca for understanding diversity and the beauty of Nature. To do this trip with my dear friend Richard Wrangham is a dream come true… Richard’s understanding and insights to the animal kingdom around us will be an incredible treat for the group as well as for me.

What is your favorite food?

I am a world traveler and a world eater—from Indian food to Mexican, I love it all, although Italian food certainly I never get tired of! Even here in St. Louis it is not unusual for me in one week to have Vietnamese, Chinese and Middle Eastern food.

Do you have children or pets?

I have one daughter, Rebecca, who is a world traveler in her own right. She works in New York City as a therapist and her travels have probably added to her exceptional empathy for her patients. We have always had dogs, but right now we are between dogs—our beloved Sabrina and Gabriela passed on in the last few months, and we waiting for the next ones to come into our lives.



December 1, 2010

If you waited for a Bargain, This is a Dream Come True

Galapagos Wonder

A Galapagos Wonder - the Blue Footed Booby

PLEASE NOTE: THIS IS AN OLD POST FROM DECEMBER 2010!

Due to unexpected circumstances a large family had to cancel their holiday adventure – very sad!

Now we have room for the Galapagos December 25 – January 2 2010. – so exciting!

We are offering this to you at almost 50% off full fare. Wowie!!

Even with international flights, your total cost will still be a significant savings

Adults $2990, Age 12 – 17 $2890, Child under 12 $2690

Call 800-262-6255 and you’ll be snorkeling with sea lions in just a few weeks



October 24, 2010

Want a Unique Family Galapagos Exploration?

Swooping birds

Sharks and Iguanas

Usually a trip to the Galapagos involves a stay on a boat with daily excursions to shore to hike, swim, snorkel and discover the amazing wildlife that lives there. We have that option, of course … but if you are REALLY adventurous and like to be on the cutting edge – if you understand relinquishing some luxuries gains you unique opportunities, then we have something special for you.

Families returning this spring and summer say this was the best trip ever. I was lucky enough to go myself and thought it was incredible. Do you like remote, quiet, off the beaten path, no crowds, something very few have seen and done before?

ME TOO!

As you know this is a more challenging adventure to arrange, and still ensure your family is cared for in a special way while you are exploring the hidden spots. How do we do it? You can expect our very best guides who not only know Ecuador and the Galapagos in and out, but can handle all of your needs along the way. Then we charter excellent crewed boats to cruise you out to the best snorkel sites, and places where you can do special things like swim with sea lions (they love to play and blow bubbles in your face!). Our camp crew – there are two nights in a tent on a remote sandy beach – does all the work for you, and also cooks up delicious meals to satisfy your palate. You just show up and enjoy the scenery. Wake up to Frigate birds and Blue Footed Boobies swooping overhead, sea lion pups rolling in the surf, finches flitting through tall grasses… peace and quiet, and breathtaking sunsets are yours for the taking.

Kayaking up close to the wildlife, biking down sandy paths (watch out for the wild tortoises!), exploring lava tubes, watching sturdy iguanas piled on the rocks…… how about snorkeling with whales and sharks, penguins and rays? All of this is possible, depending on who is out and about on any given day.

Then, when you go home to a more ordinary life, what do you think your dinner conversation might be like?



April 27, 2010

Life in Motion – Without Turning Green

Turkish gulet

Several of our Thomson Family Adventures involve time on boats, or in vans on mountain roads… Ah yes, just this first sentence makes me feel queasy. And indeed we spend a lot of time chatting with families about how to combat the effects of motion.

I’ve been plagued by motion sickness my whole life. When I was a little girl the 15 minute drive to ballet lessons left me so green I couldn’t participate in the class I’d looked forward to all week. Products like Dramamine provided some relief, but mostly because I’d be passed out cold as a side effect. Over the years I learned some coping techniques – sleeping, meditation, avoidance – all of which did nothing to help me join in on the things I wanted to do. Does this sound like familiar?

Lucky for me and my traveling heart, I found a formula and a solution that works for me. Boats, cars, planes – now I am fearless, and use those little bags only for writing notes (not – you know). Maybe it can work for you too. There are three important components to this fix:

1) Stock up on Bonine, an over the counter, non drowsy anti-motion sickness medication. I’ve also found the generic drug store chain versions just as effective; look for the non drowsy label. It’s a small chewable tablet and you only need to take it once a day!

2) Take this little miracle tablet well before you step foot on a boat or car. One thing I know for sure is as soon as I begin to feel poorly there is no going back to feeling terrific. Nip it in the bud! If you’re heading out early in the morning, you might even begin taking it the night before.

3) Keep taking it once a day for as long as you are on that boat, or facing bumpy car rides. Don’t stop because you feel good! In fact you may be feeling good because of the drug. It is true you may also get your sea legs after a few days on a boat, but do you want to take the chance of ruining your good time??

Following these simple steps have allowed me to sail on small boats for days on end, and even enjoy long, bumpy, winding car rides to interesting places all while staying alert. Well, except for nap time which is mandatory on a vacation, right?

Bonine or its generic version is inexpensive, simple to use, and transformed my life. Your results (and side effects) could be different so try it out for yourselves before deciding if this is your solution too. Happy sailing!