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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Spotting Puffins at Machias Seal Island, Maine

Near the mouth of the Bay of Fundy, Machias Seal Island is a tiny unspoiled sanctuary for a number of Maine’s most noted marine bird species. You can visit the island via a charter boat operating out of Cutler or Jonesport, Maine. An hour later you disembark onto a small low-lying island. Hundreds of plump birds whiz over your heads searching the waters for breakfast. Some have hooded black heads that look like Batman’s disguise. These are the razorbill auks. Others have eyes the size of a parrot with beaks dotted red, black, and yellow. This is the bird everyone is excited to see, the Atlantic puffin. 

Weather permitting, you can climb atop the seaweed-slick rocks and see puffins two to three feet away. The eastern part of the island is covered with Arctic terns. The razorbill auks might look like superheroes, but it is the aggressive tern that keeps predators like seagulls away from the eggs of all the island’s birds. Paths lead to four blinds where you can set up shop and watch the puffins return to feed their young. 
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/23/10 at 01:00 PM
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Monday, March 22, 2010

Seeing Bald Eagles at Umbagog Lake, New Hampshire

Spring is here and the birds are starting to chirp outside my bedroom window. Soon I’ll be grabbing my binoculars as the yellow warblers make their April and May pilgrimage back north. To celebrate the reawakening of nature, I’m going to devote this week to my favorite bird watching sites in New England.

Nothing quite prepared my wife and me for the extraordinary pair of bald eagles we found nesting on a dead oak tree on Umbagog Lake one spring day. Loons were lounging on the glass waters, their call (the sound of laughter) echoed atop the spruce and fir trees, as we paddled in the calm waters. This vast 7,850-acre lake, whose shores lie half in New Hampshire and half in Maine, is a National Wildlife Area, primarily due to the sight we were about to see. We glided to our right where we found a large nest perched atop the highest branch of a leafless tree. As we drew closer, we spotted the mother guarding her home, her pointed beak sticking out through the maze of twigs. The sight of her mate standing on the branch below was mesmerizing. His white head was cocked in a royal pose, his eyes aware of everything around him, hence the nickname “eagle eye.” We skirted the island for a long time, fascinated by the awesome spectacle, before canoeing back to the put-in.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/22/10 at 01:00 PM
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Friday, March 19, 2010

First Descents

I’m in the midst of writing a feature story on Colorado Adventure for Air Tran’s inflight magazine, covering mountain biking, hiking, and white water kayaking. I just got off the phone with Boulder-based Brad Ludden, a world champion freestyle kayaker who had the chutzpah to kayak down more than 100 rivers that have never been paddled on before. This includes a recent a four-day first descent down a river in Madagascar, where he came very close to losing his best friend in a huge rapid. Now 29, when Brad was 18, he started a charity organization named First Descents that helps empower 18 to 39-year olds who are battling cancer. So far, more than 600 people have done the program which, like Outward Bound, helps folks gain confidence through outdoor adventure like white water kayaking, mountain biking, and rock climbing. The program has succeeded far better than Brad ever imagined, with more than 400 people now on the waiting list. As he mentioned to me, “Mother Nature doesn’t really care if you have cancer or not. We’re all on an even playing field.” All of the adventures are offered for free, thanks to the support of donations by the public at First Descents.

 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/19/10 at 01:00 PM
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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Adventures in Madeira

Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I like to promote small outfitters from each of their respective countries. After all, who knows their region of the world better than a local? That said, I just received an email from Jhonathan Rodrigues, owner of Adventure Kingdom on the island of Madeira. 35 miles long and 13 miles wide, Madeira is best known for its mountainous interior, with Pico Ruivo rising 6100 feet in the center. Cliffs plummet to the sea from towering heights, ravines are cut into rough and hewn terrain to form more than 40 canyons. Indeed, it’s one of the best locales on Earth to go canyoneering. Adventure Kingdom leads guided jaunts to do just that, along with trekking deep into the heart of the island, and, for the less intrepid, walking along the “Levadas,” irrigation channels built hundreds of years ago, now laced with footpaths.

 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/18/10 at 01:00 PM
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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Davis, California, Leading the Way in Cutting Carbon Emissions

Located near Sacramento, Davis, California, is a city of just over 65,000 people that’s perhaps best known as the first city in the country to create bike lines on their streets. Well, yesterday, they just upped the ante by announcing their intent to cut the community’s carbon emissions by up to 50 percent by 2013. Using the tenets of David Gershon’s book, “Low Carbon Diet: A 30-day Program to Lose 5,000 Pounds,” Davis is creating EcoTeams, peer-support groups to help households reduce their emissions. Cool Portland (Oregon), Gershon’s first pilot program, helped reduce carbon emissions of each household by 22 percent or 6,700 pounds. 50 percent seems ambitious, but kudos to Davis and Gershon for giving it a shot!
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/17/10 at 01:00 PM
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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Wild China

I had the good fortune to have lunch last week in Boston with Mei Zhang, founder of Wild China. For more than a decade, the Harvard MBA grad has brought visitors to the remote parts of China, telling me that “over 80 percent of travelers to the country see less than 20 percent of the land mass.” More than likely they get a glimpse of the Great Wall in Beijing, go on a Yangtze River cruise, and, if they have time, see the Terracotta Warriors of Ancient China in Xi’an. But what about that impressive mountain and river scenery found in the backdrop of Zhang Yimou films? To immerse yourself in that otherworldly beauty, you’re going to have to sign up for one of Wild China’s trips. Zhang is keen on taking people to her native Yunnan Province, north of Laos and Burma. Here you’ll find centuries-old Hill Tribes making bricks of tea high up in the mountains and the Tea & Horse Caravan Trail, a southern Silk Route still being used that links southwestern China with Tibet. The trade route will be featured in the May issue of National Geographic, a perfect time to take the weeklong jaunt with Wild China, according to Zhang. She also offers hiking trips on the 19th-centruy French Explorers’ Route, along the Mekong and Salween Rivers, and trekking in the heart of Shangri-La.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/16/10 at 01:00 PM
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Monday, March 15, 2010

The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Dripping Sap

 

Maria von Trapp, the woman who inspired The Sound of Music, is no longer with us, but Trapp Family Lodge is flourishing thanks to new lodging on their spectacular grounds overlooking Stowe and new cross-country ski and mountain biking trails. When it comes to sugaring, however, the von Trapps do it the old fashion way, picking up the sap in buckets with a horse-drawn sleigh and delivering it to the sugarhouse to boil off the water and create Vermont’s “liquid gold.” The 1200 taps produce 300 gallons of syrup annually and the season lasts from mid-March until late April. Join in on the fun each Saturday, when you can cross-country ski, snowshoe, or grab that horse-drawn sleigh to the sugarhouse for a traditional Sugar-on-Snow party. The hot syrup is tossed on the white snow to create a chewy maple taffy, served with donuts and dill pickles.
 

 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/15/10 at 01:00 PM
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Friday, March 12, 2010

US Open Snowboarding Championships at Stratton, Vermont Next Week

Don’t worry if you couldn’t snag those coveted halfpipe and snowboard cross tickets at Whistler. 2010 Olympic medalists Shaun White and Hannah Teter (the only athlete to have a flavor, Maple Blonde, named in her honor by Ben & Jerry’s) are headed back east for the 28th U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships March 15-22. The competition is held once again at Stratton Mountain Resort, the place that put snowboarding on the map. This is where Jake Burton first tried the sport and where a young Lindsey Jacobellis took up boarding after her family’s vacation house caught fire, burning all of the ski equipment.

Cheer them on dude, but don’t just be a spectator. There’s a reason why Ski Magazine has voted Stratton the best terrain parks in the east for the past decade. Little rippers can test their freestyle skills on Burton’s Parkway, a kid-friendly area built with the novice in mind. One step larger than Parkway is Tyrolienne, featuring neophyte table-tops to catch air, and wider, lower rails to start grinding. Once you’ve mastered Tyrolienne, it’s on to Old Smoothie for some phat table tops and rails, much higher off the ground. Easy style it (check out the jumps first) or you’ll be doing some serious face plants.

Shaun White will be performing his signature 1080s (three full rotations) on the new Olympic-sized (22-foot walls) superpipe and advanced terrain park, moved this year to the Sunriser Supertrail on Sun Bowl. You better have confidence bubbling over to try the many humps on that gnarly rollercoaster rail and the mojo to land flips onto the diving board box. Or follow Jacobellis’ cue and sweep along the banked turns and rollers on Lower East Meadow’s boarder cross course. Sick!
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/12/10 at 02:00 PM
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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Active New Zealand

For thirty years, Active New Zealand has offered their signature Rimu trip. They’ve obviously doing something right because National Geographic Adventure called it one of the top 10 trips in the world. The location certainly doesn’t hurt. The two-week jaunt goes around the South Island of New Zealand. Start with a snorkel with the local seal colony at the seaside town of Kaikoura, then choose between three multi-day offerings: backpacking in Nelson Lakes National Park, sea kayaking in the Marlborough Sounds, or a mountain biking journey on the Queen Charlotte Track. The group reunites for a stroll in the Punakaiki Rainforest, before hiking at Franz Josef Glacier, and sea kayaking amidst the fjords of Milford Sound. I’ve been to the last three sites and even though it was close to 20 years ago, I still remember it vividly as some of the most stunning scenery I’ve seen on my travels. There are three upcoming trips in April, early fall in the Southern Hemisphere, so it’s a great time of year to go. Cost is $3399 US per person including guides, all lodging, and food.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/11/10 at 02:00 PM
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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A New Website that Provides Travelers with Peace of Mind

My brother once had his passport stolen in Turkey and was forced to spend the next month in the country before he was handed a new passport and could leave. He ended up having the time of his life and making lifelong friends, but that’s beside the point. A lost or stolen passport can cause a lot of stress. Just ask my wife who lost her passport on a train behind communist lines in the old East Germany. She was booted off the train and, unlike my brother, did not make any lifelong friends. Now entering the travel world is accessMYID.com, a new website that stores all pertinent travel information like a copy of that passport, travel visas, health insurance cards, and necessary prescriptions. Much like my beloved Carbonite backs up my hard drive, this website will store all travel info for a yearly fee that’s as low as twenty bucks a year. That seems like a low price to pay to offset a potential heart attack.

 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/10/10 at 02:00 PM
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photo of Steve Jermanok
Longtime Boston Globe travel writer, Steve Jermanok, dishes out his favorite travel locales and provides topical travel information that comes across his desk.

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