Dec 042016
 

The holidays are rapidly approaching (yikes), and, if you’re like most of us, you may be struggling with gift ideas for those on your list.  We’re here to help.

We’ve put together a list of some of favorite products and services for Travelers, Photographers, Scuba Divers and Bonaire Lovers.

 

For Travelers & Global Nomads

Swatch Watches– I rarely travel without a Swatch watch.  The affordable price point means that you don’t have to fret about loss or theft.  And the fact that all Swatch watches are waterproof makes them indispensable for ocean lovers. Another plus, many larger airports have a Swatch store, and Swatch offers free battery changes for the life of your watch.  This white one is my new fave.

Amazon Kindle Voyage – This is the new device in my arsenal, and I’m in love.  Where do I begin?  The battery life is incredible.  It lasts for weeks.  The screen is easy to read, easy on the eyes and user-friendly.  And who doesn’t want access to new books at their fingertip?

Elta MD UV Clear Sunscreen, SPF 46 – Whether you are trekking in the Himalayas, Skiing in Taos or sailing the South Pacific, sunscreen is critically important.  I go through bottles of this product.  It has a high level of protection, yet it feels light and will never cause breakouts.

Dakine Split Roller Duffle Bag – My Dakine bag has not had an easy life.  It’s been thrown onto luggage belts in Fiji, rolled through rocks and dirt in the Serengeti and hauled in and out of multiple boats in The Maldives.  Yet it has held up like the workhorse it is.  And type-A neat freaks those who like multiple organizational options will love its many sections and pockets.

Ray-Ban Folding Wayfarers – These classic shades are now made in a cool folding design that fits easily into your pocket or travel bag.

 

For Photographers

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 6 – This is hands-down the most critical element of my photography arsenal.

Gitzo 3532LS Tripod – This sturdy carbon-fiber tripod is also flexible and adaptable.  We love it for outdoor and wildlife photography.

Think Tank Perception Pro Camera Backpack – This backpack went with me to Tanzania, and it was perfect for my safari needs.  Inside it I hauled one SLR body, two point and shoot bodies, two lenses, an underwater housing for my Olympus TG-4, my MacBook Pro and multiple other accessories.

The Underwater Photographer, by Martin Edge – If you want to learn underwater photography or want to perfect your underwater photography, this is without a doubt the book for you.

 

For Scuba Divers

Henderson Lycra Dive Skin – Whether you wear it alone for snorkeling or under a warmer wetsuit for diving, this dive skin is comfortable and well-made.

Reef Fish Identification Book – These fish identification books by Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach have been a crucial part of our library for as long as I can remember.  They are a must-have for every scuba diver.  They are available for the Pacific and Indian oceans as well as the Caribbean and Atlantic.

Scubapro Spectra Mini Mask – My mask of choice.  The low-profile design and smaller size is a great choice for female or smaller divers.

Diver’s Alert Network (DAN) Membership – We faithfully renew our DAN memberships each year.  The benefits are numerous and include dive accident insurance, a subscription to Alert Diver magazine and dive safety education.  Membership is $35 for an individual and $55 for a family.

 

For Bonaire Lovers – Our favorite local Bonairean products & services

Cadushy Rom Rincon – This spiced and artisan-crafted rum is made for sipping.  Get it while you are in Bonaire. It’s not available anywhere else.

Phish Phaktory Bags – These tote bags are made from recycled sails and materials found in underwater cleanup dives on Bonaire.  The bags are cute, sturdy, well-crafted and will last forever.  The owners/artists are super cool and truly care about our environment.

Carrying my Phish Phaktory tote at Bonaire's Carnival

Carrying my Phish Phaktory tote at Bonaire’s Carnival

Flaming Flamingo hot sauces, salt and jams – We love these made-in-Bonaire products.  Our fave is the mango hot sauce (Steve practically drinks it).

A tank card from Dive Friends Bonaire – Give the gift of air!  Dive Friends Bonaire offers a handy tank card for local divers.

Elements Jewelry – Elements dichroic glass pieces made great colorful gifts and souvenirs.

Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire hats and shirts – Help Bonaire’s sea turtles and wear cool gear at the same time.

Coral Restoration Foundation Bonaire Diver Certification Course – We are both PADI certified Coral Restoration Divers.  It’s both fun and important work.  Courses are available at Buddy Dive, Harbour Village and Wannadive.

Cleaning the algae from a tree in the coral nursery

Meredith cleaning the algae from a tree in the coral nursery at Klein Bonaire

Italy in the World, Bonaire – Give a beautiful bottle of Italian wine or a great Prosecco from this boutique and restaurant in Bonaire.  We love the Santero 9-5-8 prosecco for a sunset toast.

An extensive wine selection at Italy in The World, Bonaire

An extensive wine selection at Italy in The World, Bonaire

Latitude 12° Designs Bonaire Necklace – OK, this is my jewelry design company.  I design and create custom jewelry in sterling silver (or the metal of your choice).  My Bonaire Necklace is a great choice for showing your Bonaire love.  But the choice is yours – all pieces are custom made, and the sky is the limit.

The Bonaire necklace in sterling silver

The Bonaire necklace in sterling silver

Custom mermaid necklace in sterling silver

Custom mermaid necklace in sterling silver

Custom, hand made necklace for the ocean lover, by Latitude 12° Designs

Custom, hand made necklace for the ocean lover, by Latitude 12° Designs

custom bracelet set by Latitude 12° Designs

custom bracelet set by Latitude 12° Designs

All of the products mentioned above are products we use and love.  We have purchased each of these products (some over and over), and they were not gifted to us or given to us for promotional purposes.

Nov 272016
 

This summer we had the good fortune to watch a Hawksbill Sea Turtle nest hatch in Bonaire.  We have long been curious about this phenomenon, and luck was on our side that evening.

Hawksbill turtles, like most sea turtles, return to the same beach each year to lay eggs.  The female turtle digs deep into the sand to lay her eggs.  Hawksbill can lay up to 150 eggs in a single nest, after which the incubation lasts for a period of around two months.

Please note:  We happened upon this nest hatching late at night and had no camera gear other than iPhones. Please excuse the quality of the pics.

Hawksbill Turtle Eggs

Hawksbill Turtle Eggs

When the eggs are ready to hatch, the hatchlings dig out of the hole as a group, generally at night.  Once they emerge, they head towards the brightest location they find.  Ideally, this would be the ocean, but in populated areas they often head in the wrong direction.  Hatchlings that fail to find the ocean quickly often die, and only one in a thousand baby sea turtles survives until maturity.

Newly hatched hawksbill turtle. It is being held by an experienced biologist who is gently shielding its eyes from the light to ensure the proper species ID. Once a photo is taken, all light sources must be removed.

Newly hatched hawksbill turtle. It is being held by an experienced biologist who is gently shielding its eyes from the light to ensure the proper species ID. Once this ID photo was taken, all light sources were removed.

Excavating the nest

Excavating the nest

This is where sea turtle conservation groups like Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire (STCB) come into play.  This amazing organization has a mission to ensure that Bonaire’s turtles have a secure future.  Turtle nest monitoring is one of many valuable functions that STCB performs. In Bonaire, there are an average of 75 turtles nests each year.

STCB monitors each known nest in Bonaire and oversees the emerging hatchlings to ensure that as many as possible make it to sea.  Part of this process entails excavating the next to check for survivors and count the eggs.

The nest excavation

The nest excavation

After the excavation is complete and the eggs are counted, the baby turtles are taken to a dark location on the island and carefully placed into the sea.  This gives them the best possible chance to survive their entry into the world.

STCB does incredible work to ensure the health of Bonaire’s sea turtle population.  Please consider supporting this organization so that it can continue to make a difference.

Donate to STCB

Volunteer with STCB

Purchase STCB merchandise on Bonaire

Oct 092016
 

My ears perk up, and my eyes open. It’s 3:00 am in the middle of the Tanzanian bush. Was that a lion roaring outside of our tent? As Steve and I lie sleeping in our cozy bed, the only thing separating us from the wildlife is a layer of canvas fabric.  And yet, this may be the most peaceful sleep I’ve ever experienced.

A symphony of bird songs alerts us that dawn is near. As anyone that knows me can attest, morning is not my time to shine. But I’ve ignored my internal clock, hard-wired as it may be, to greet the day before sunrise. Why? Because I am in equatorial Africa, and this may be the most spectacular sunrise I ever see.

The aroma of freshly brewed Tanzanian coffee wafts through the tent. The air is brisk and cool, despite the fact that we are three degrees south of the equator. We will soon meet David, our safari guide, for a sunrise game drive.  We plan to take full advantage of the golden-hour light that makes photographers swoon.

Sunrise in the Serengeti

We gather our packs and pile into the Land Cruiser. It’s early, and we are still swaddled in layers of fleece and cool-weather gear. The sun peeks over the horizon as we head towards the river in search of wildlife. As we leave the dirt road leading to our lodge, our guide spots a solitary male lion lying in the grass. We pause for a moment to admire his grandeur. Game on.

Serengeti Camp

I’ve never been one who enjoys road trips. I am content to get from point A to point B as quickly and easily as possible. But I was beginning to sense another major change in myself, here in the midst of these vast amber plains. I’d completely lost my focus on “ the destination”, and I was simply enjoying the journey.

Today we are in the northern Serengeti during a natural phenomenon known as The Great Migration of Wildebeest. During The Great Migration, over 1.5 million Wildebeest traverse Tanzania and Kenya, in herds both unbelievably vast and dense. We hope to witness and photograph the holy grail of wildebeest Migration activities – a river crossing.

wildebeest in northern serengeti

We drive down the road, eyes peeled for animal activity. Wildlife spotting has become our sport of choice, and this is The World Cup. To the right, I spot a giant marabou stork – a massive bird 5 feet (150 cm) in stature. Just ahead a herd of gazelles graze in the grass. On our left side, I spy a cape buffalo. So much beauty surrounds me that I don’t know where to look.

gazelle in serengeti

cape buffalo in serengeti

Thirty bumpy minutes later we near the river. Wildebeest and zebra surround its banks, contemplating their upcoming journey across it. I think I can see the anxiety on their faces and in their body movements. They are afraid – afraid of the unknown, afraid of the water, afraid of the crocodiles that lurk in the shadows. I watch as a lone wildebeest dips its foot in the water, and then quickly pulls it out. It only takes one brave wildebeest for a crossing to commence. Once one takes the plunge, they all march forward.

Our radio crackles, a quick conversation in Swahili ensues, and we speed down the rutted road leaving a virtual dust storm in our wake. We pull up to the river to see thousands of wildebeest leaping in. It’s happening! They swim, single file, hoping to reach the safety of the other side. Some struggle, slip on rocks and lose their footing. It brings tears to my eyes thinking that they may not make it. But I continue snapping away, hoping that I can convey the reality of this unreal scene through my Canon lens.

wildebeest in Mara River

Wildebeest Crossing Mara River

Wildebeest in Mara River

A half an hour later I exhale and put down my camera. This crossing is over, and every single wildebeest made it safely across.  I know that this is a fluke of nature, but I am relieved that I didn’t have to witness a crocodile feast. Dripping wet and exhausted, wildebeest lie all around taking a hard-earned rest.

We go on to witness two more river crossings before noon- each one more exciting than the next. Even our seasoned guide, who has become family after ten days together, is surprised by our good fortune.

Satisfied by what we had seen thus far, we decided to head back to our lodge for lunch. But Mother Nature must have decided that the show wasn’t over.  A leopard was waking from its nap just above us in the trees.

leopard leaping

Sep 262016
 

We recently returned from a three week journey through northern Tanzania and Pemba Island in the Zanzibar Archipelago.  This is our travel diary.  We have many photos from our trip, and we will continue to post them in the following weeks.  

A Journey to Tanzania

Our Tanzanian journey began as we touched down at Kilimanjaro airport after a nine hour flight from Amsterdam. We were met by our amazing and tireless guide David Mark Makia (from Access2Tanzania) and taken to Arusha for a short stay.

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We visited three of Tanzania’s sixteen national parks during our safari – Arusha National Park, Tarangire National Park and Serengeti National Park. At 14,763 square kilometers (5,700 square miles), Serengeti is the second largest National Park in Tanzania (second only to Ruaha which is 20,300 square kilometers or 7,838 square miles). We also visited the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here you will find the vast Ngorongoro Crater – a volcanic caldera which is unique due to its dense population of wildlife living amongst human settlements (chiefly the Maasai tribe).

Tarangire Park Sign

Welcome to Serengeti

Steve and me at the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater

Steve and me at the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater

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During our scenic drives through northern Tanzania, we passed the Olduvai Gorge– the cradle of civilization and the site of Mary and Louis Leakey’s renowned archeological work. It is here that the earliest human footprints were found. Olduvai Gorge is located in the area called the Great Rift Valley, which crosses an expanse of East Africa. We were struck by an intense sense of awe and wonder as we traversed this area, as we realized that we are all African at our core.

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The Serengeti is truly the garden of Eden. Serengeti means “endless plain” in the Maasai language of Maa, and it’s easy to see why it was given this name. At first, a simple glimpse at the vast expanse of grassland reveals only flora of green and amber, a few hills and rock formations called kopjes. But once your eyes focus, the wildlife starts to reveal itself. You may spot a lion or pride of lions lying in the grass. If you are lucky, you may spot a leopard draped over a tree branch. Birds abound in every size and hue of the rainbow, with several reaching 1.5m (5 feet) tall . Overseeing the circle of life, eagles and vultures perch in the trees awaiting their turn to feast on a kill (there is a definitive pecking order as it pertains to a carcass). Zebras, antelopes and wildebeest appear all around – at times in great numbers. Elephants, giraffes and buffalo abound. Only a lucky few will catch a glimpse of a cheetah or rhino. We saw both.

A Leopard rests in a tree in Serengeti

A Leopard rests in a tree in Serengeti

The Great Migration of Wildebeest in Northern Serengeti

The Great Migration of Wildebeest in Northern Serengeti

Our guide for the ten day safari was truly a gifted naturalist and communicator. His knowledge of wildlife behavior and habitats appeared innate, although he went to university to study wildlife biology. He revealed himself to be a comedian, and he kept us entertained on the long and often bumpy drives through the parks. On most days, we were in the Land Cruiser for five hours or more, and several of our longer days we were in the truck for ten or twelve hours. Much of this time is spent driving through the reserves/game parks. For instance, our camp in Tarangire National Park was a two hour drive from the main entrance to the park. The drive to the camp is filled with wildlife, so it is quite thrilling.

Steve with our guide David in Ngorongoro Crater

Steve with our guide David in Ngorongoro Crater

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In the parks, we chose to stay in tented camps rather than lodges. We are happy to have made this choice, as the camps allow you to experience the wildlife as if you were part of its delicate ecosystem.

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The camps consist of a small number of large private tents and a central dining and meeting area. They are furnished with comfortable beds, desks, dressers and nice linens. The bathrooms are large and functional and some even have outdoor showers (we showered with elephants at Tarangire). At night, you can hear the lions roaring just outside of your tent – a reminder that you are truly in the wild. Most of the camps employ Maasai warriors as security guards. The Maasai aren’t guarding against mischievous intruders or thieves, rather, they are guarding against lions and other wildlife. In the camps, it is not permitted to walk alone before 6:00 am or after 6:30 pm. A guard must accompany you if you venture outside the tent during darkness. As soon as you unzip the tent or illuminate a flashlight, the Maasai guard was at your side in seconds.

Our Maasai security guard at Lemala Ewanjan Camp in Serengeti

Our Maasai security guard at Lemala Ewanjan Camp in Serengeti

Tented lounge area at Lemala Ewanjan Camp in Serengeti

Tented lounge area at Lemala Ewanjan Camp in Serengeti

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The Maasai are found only in Kenya and Tanzania. They are an autonomous people with a semi-nomadic nature. There are currently around 1.7 million Maasai people, and they live mainly around the game parks. Their livelihood is based on their livestock, and they consume only meat, milk and blood (although some have started to eat grains). Interestingly, they consume no vegetables. We visited a Maasai village in Ngorongoro, and they explained their culture and showed us the inside of a hut and also the school. Despite being a warrior culture, the people are kind and subdued. They have a proud and regal nature.

Maasai Warriors in Ngorongoro

Maasai Warriors in Ngorongoro

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At the end of the 10-day Safari we flew to Pemba Island, just north of Zanzibar in the Zanzibar Archipelago. These islands have been dubbed the Spice Islands, and the aroma of cloves, lemongrass and cinnamon fill the air. Pemba produces 70% of the world’s cloves. Pemba is a lush, verdant and hilly island where fruits and vegetables fall off the trees and vines. It is also known for its excellent diving, and we were able to experience some beautiful reef dives while there.  Pemba and Zanzibar share a Muslim culture, and the people are some of the kindest I have ever met. We were warmly welcomed to the island and treated with the utmost respect.

View from Manta Resort on Pemba Island

View from Manta Resort on Pemba Island

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We would like to thank Karen Stupic at Access2Tanzania for helping us plan and execute this trip of a lifetime. We also wish to thank our tireless guide David Mark Makia, who we now consider a part of our family.

 

Have you been on an African safari? If so, we’d love to hear about your experience.

Aug 172016
 

“The Heat is On”.  That’s my theme song this week.  Today it is 90° F/32° C with 64% humidity.  The bathwater sea is currently a lovely 83° F.

We had a really nice dive at Front Porch with a good friend on Sunday.  We bounced down to the wreck of the tugboat New York.  We expected to find lionfish under the wreck, but they were absent.  Another testament to the dedicated team of hunters we have on the island, which is doing a fantastic job keeping the population down.

Sand Canyon Goby in the rubble at Front Porch

Sand Canyon Goby in the rubble at Front Porch

Peacock Flounder at Front Porch

Peacock Flounder at Front Porch

Honeycomb Cowfish at Front Porch

Honeycomb Cowfish at Front Porch

Squirrelfish at Front Porch

Squirrelfish at Front Porch

Christmas Tree Worms at Front Porch

Christmas Tree Worms at Front Porch

Sailfin Blenny at Front Porch

Sailfin Blenny at Front Porch

Juvenile French Angelfish at Front Porch

Juvenile French Angelfish at Front Porch

I go to the beach almost daily to swim and photograph waves.  Lately I’ve been enthralled by the small things I find near the sea.

Today I was fascinated by this chiton that I found while sitting in the waves.  A chiton is a marine invertebrate that typically lives on rocks near the sea (tidal zone) and feeds on algae.  This particular chiton was about an inch in length (2.54 cm).

Squamous Chiton in Bonaire

Squamous Chiton in Bonaire

This is a Nerite Snail, and it is a common sea snail found in the inner tidal zones.  They are often seen clustered on rocks in full sun.  Like the Chiton above, this species is an algae eater.

sea snail bachelors

Nerite Snail in Bonaire

Nerite Snail in Bonai

And finally, here’s a pic of the wave action I was trying to capture while admiring the chitons and snails.

beach in Bonaire

What have you seen/done/heard in Bonaire this week?