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Wildlife Viewing

Friday, September 10, 2010

Tanzania Plans to Build a Highway Through the Serengeti

Here are some words of wisdom to the current Tanzanian president, Jakaya Kikwete, who just announced plans to build a highway that will slice right through the southern part of the Serengeti. “Build it and they won’t come,” as in the hundreds of thousands of Europeans and American travelers who make the trek to Tanzania each year to go on safari. Slated to be built in 2012, the 260-mile highway will connect Arusha, near Mount Kilimanjaro, with Musoma on Lake Victoria. The idiotic move will not only disrupt one of the world’s great migrations of some 1.2 million wildebeests traveling north into Kenya’s Masai Mara, but will be an easy way in and out for poachers. Make the wise move, President Kikwete, and find an alternative route.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/10/10 at 02:00 PM
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Friday, November 05, 2010

Say No to SeaWorld

Several years ago, I wrote a story about taking the family on a road trip along the California coast. The trip started in San Diego, where we had the pleasure to “Dine with Shamu” at SeaWorld. My kids were amazed as we had dinner watching an orca whale doing backflips right behind us. So it came as a shock when I recently read that one of my mentors in this travel writing business, Arthur Frommer, wrote, “I am ashamed. I will no longer recommend that tourists patronize the various SeaWorld parks.” In the wake of the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau, Frommer received a letter from PETA’s Debbie Leahy, an expert on captive animal issues. In the letter, Leahy noted that 21 orcas have died in U.S. SeaWorld facilities between 1986 and 2008, and not one from old age. They died from severe trauma, intestinal gangrene, acute hemorrhagic pneumonia, pulmonary abscesses, chronic kidney disease, chronic cardiovascular failure, septicemia, and influenza. She also mentioned that SeaWorld has been responsible for the deaths of numerous dolphins, including three who died last year at SeaWorld Discovery Cove in less than three weeks time.

I’m paid to write travel stories, but some times I’m simply used as a pawn so companies like SeaWorld can make a large profit. I’m reminded of a hotel in Bali that had a spectacular beach. When I learned that the hotel had crushed the coral reef to bring in their sand, I was irate. As I grow older, I get wiser and try to dig deeper so that I’m convinced that what I’m promoting is ethical. Now and again, you make a mistake, but at least I’m not the only travel writer.

I’m leaving for Kenya on Sunday on a 12-day jaunt to pen stories for five publications. Next week, I’ll share those story ideas with you. The following week, I won’t be blogging. As always, thanks for checking in!
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 11/05/10 at 02:00 PM
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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

It’s The People Who Make Africa So Special

Everyone seems to go to Africa on safari. And yes, after spending the past week finding lions poking their manes out of the bush, watching a leopard gnawing on a goat high up a tree, and seeing family after family of giraffes, elephants, and warthogs, I can attest to that exhilarating feeling of wild abandonment. But as cute as those animals are, you have very little connection. It’s the people who make Africa a special place, especially in Kenya. From the high-end safari owner who feels it’s her civic duty to provide a water well, schooling, library, and HIV prevention education to a large slum in Nairobi even though she already employs many Kenyans on her payroll. Or the Maasai villager on the Tanzanian border, who after performing a tribal dance in headgear and dress, asks me if I’m on Facebook. He’ll happily send me pictures of the lions, he notes. Or the insightful safari guide, who received his college education in the States after a California professor visited Kenya and was quickly enamored with his brilliance. I turned him on to the African dance tunes of Deep Forest. Or the General Manager of a resort in the shadows of Mount Kenya, who being from India, taught me a secret of dealing with travel dysentery. Always eat yoghurt the first day of visiting a country, especially in places like India or Mexico, known for their laundry list of stomach ailments. Most of all, there are those smiling faces of young children in Nairobi schools and the Maasai villages. The ones I love to pass out “heart” stickers to. These people are the reason I return to Africa. Sure, I love Simba and Pumba like the rest of us, but it’s to the Kenyan people that I say asante sana for a wonderful trip. Hope to see you again soon!


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 11/23/10 at 01:59 PM
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Friday, December 10, 2010

New Audubon Field Guide Apps

I first met David Bradbury a decade ago when he was playing a version of polo on mountain bikes in Burlington, Vermont. When I later had to write a story for The Boston Globe on hiking Vermont’s tallest peak, Mount Mansfield, I wisely chose David to take me to the summit. Of course, he chose the most challenging route, up the Hell Brook Trail. When he’s not hanging with his wife, Emily, my favorite PR maven in Vermont, or his young children, you can often find him making first tracks down Stowe in the early morning hours. So when I heard that David is on the board of a Vermont company called Green Mountain Digital, creating nature-based apps for Audubon Field Guides, I knew the product had to be good. So far, they have 30 apps categorized by geographic region (Texas, Florida, New England, etc…) and type of critter (birds, insects, butterflies, fish).  I checked out the Audubon Birds New England app and found the photographs and songs of the 370 birds to be of the highest quality. Just launched is the ORVIS Fly-Fishing Guide, with casting tips and detailed knot tying videos. The apps can be viewed on any iPhone, Google Droid, iPod Touch, or iPad. Makes for a nice Christmas gift.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/10/10 at 02:00 PM
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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Top 5 Travels of 2010, Visiting the Maasai at Shompole, Kenya

When visiting another country and booking a room, I always seek out local travel writers or outfitters who know every decent hotel in their country and have a basis for comparison. I’m not going to spend thousands of dollars, only to leave the important decision of where to stay to some stranger commenting on TripAdvisor. More than likely, it’s his first time in this country and it’s all bliss. But I know Africa too well and realize there are hotels that cater primarily to large tour companies from Asia and Europe, delivering the Disneyesque version of being on safari. So I asked Jane and Felix Pinto, owners of the Nairobi-based Micato Safaris, known for their boutique, small group outings, to find me the real thing, an authentic travel experience in the bush. They pointed the way to Shompole.

Less than an hour flight from Nairobi, you land in a grassy valley that feels like you’re in the middle of nowhere. Giraffes and warthogs greet you, along with Maasai villagers dressed in their colorful garb. You look around and find no signs of civilization except for rocky outcroppings that look like rooms nestled into the hillside. On closer inspection, these rooms, less than a dozen, are suites with their own private plunge pools. There are no walls. You’re simply immersed in nature, sleeping in king-sized bed under a mosquito net. You awake to the sounds of tropical birds and the sights of baboons walking across the valley floor.

During the day, Maasai villagers take you on nature walks to show you the natural remedies they use to cure their ailments. I’m sure pharmaceutical companies have sent teams to visit the Maasai to hopefully recreate these cures in pill form at a much more exorbitant price. We also were guests in their small homes and took bush drives to spot lions, Cape buffalo, and pink flamingoes that stand in the shallow waters of Lake Natron, the volcanic slopes of Tanzania seen in the distance. Unlike the Masai Mara, there are no other Jeeps taking people on drives, because there are no other travelers within a 50-mile radius! One night at twilight, the local villagers performed a dance with Mount Shompole looming in the background. Unlike hokey Hawaiian luau dancers that I’m used to seeing, this felt genuine. See for yourself.

Watch the video below, or if you do not see it view it on YouTube.


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/05/11 at 02:00 PM
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Friday, January 21, 2011

Cape Ann Winter Birding Weekend

As many bird watchers will tell you, some of the best birding happens in the height of winter. North of Boston, Cape Ann is known for its exciting collection of winter seabirds, including loons, grebes, gannets, sea ducks, and the region’s signature winter bird, the harlequin winter duck. The Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce has teamed up with Mass Audubon to present a Winter Birding Weekend February 4-6, led by local naturalists. There will also be an opportunity to venture out on a wWhale watch boat to spot humpback, fin, and minke whales along with white-sided dolphins, harbor porpoises, and gray seals. The event will be held at the Elks Club at Bass Rocks and costs $25 per person (12 and under free), $45 per person for the boat ride.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/21/11 at 02:00 PM
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Monday, January 31, 2011

Not a Good Time to Be a Rhino in South Africa

South Africa officials said 333 rhinos were poached in 2010, nearly three times as many that were lost in 2009. Another five rhinos were killed in the first several weeks of 2011. The increased demand for the rhino horn as a cure for impotence in Asian countries or as a ceremonial dagger in Middle Eastern countries has fueled the latest killings. In neighboring Zimbabwe, another seven rhinos have been murdered in the past month. This is not some random shooting by locals. Zimbabwean park rangers said the poaching is so sophisticated now that the villains are using helicopters and light aircraft to land, get their treasured horn, and fly away. They are well organized and funded by big money syndicates. Equipped with night vision goggles and a slew of artillery, this new breed of poacher will be hard to stop. Expect the 21,000 rhinos in South Africa, the most of any country, to dwindle quickly if the government can’t provide the resources to do battle with these criminals.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/31/11 at 02:00 PM
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Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Bird Watching in Costa Rica

Just as divers think of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef as that ultimate diving locale, bird watchers flock to Costa Rica. In a small country the size of West Virginia, you can find more than 850 species of birdlife. Take the entire United States and combine it with Canada and you won’t come up with that many birds. And we’re not talking ordinary birds in Costa Rica like the backyard sparrow, but spectacular toucans, scarlet macaws, quetzals, 50 types of hummingbirds, and tall storks. The great multitude of birdlife in Costa Rica stems from its diverse terrain sandwiched into a sliver of Central American terrain. Within a relatively short driving distance, you can be atop 12,000 foot peaks or down at sea level on the Pacific coast, immersed in the dense rainforest or slicing through the hazy cloud forest. Sendero Tranquillo in the Cloud Forest, La Selva Biological Station, and Carara National Park are great places to start.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/02/11 at 02:00 PM
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Thursday, February 03, 2011

Spotting Bald Eagles in Red Wing, Minnesota

An hour’s drive south of Minneapolis on the Mississippi River, Red Wing, Minnesota is best known for its restored century-old Sheldon Theatre and the 1875 St. James Hotel.  National Geographic Traveler magazine recently named it the 23rd most historic destination in the world. Come winter, folks come to Red Wing to spot a bald eagle. Hundreds of eagles gather along the riverfront to search for fish and other small prey. Each weekend from February 19th through March 13th, naturalists will be on hand at Red Wing’s Covill Park to provide scopes and binoculars and answer questions about eagle behavior and the recovery of America’s most famous bird.

 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/03/11 at 02:00 PM
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Thursday, March 03, 2011

The Caves and Monkeys of Barbados

The allure of Barbados has always been the stretch of soft white sand on the west coast that serves as a welcome mat for the warm aquamarine waters of the Caribbean Sea. Yet, it’s the ecological wonders in the northern and eastern section of the island that make Barbados an intriguing island destination. At Harrison’s Cave, you hop on a tram that slowly ambles into the dark corridor of limestone coral. The 100-foot high Great Hall is teeming with stalagmites and stalactites, the color of a creamsicle. Even more impressive is the crystal-like formations found in the Rotunda above pools of rushing water. Next stop is the Barbados Wildlife Reserve, home to green monkeys that were first brought to the island as pets of slave traders in the mid-17th century. The monkeys tend to be shy, so you have to be still. There are also flamingos and pelicans drinking from the shallow ponds, toucans that blurt “hello” from inside an aviary, and peacocks who squawk at the slow moving red-footed tortoise. You finish with a swim on one of those blissful beaches.


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/03/11 at 02:00 PM
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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Watching the Spring Migration of Birds

It’s hard to focus on writing this morning, grabbing my binoculars every five minutes to view the red-tailed hawks flying by my window. They love to rest on the branches of the tall oak trees outside my third floor office. I love this time of year, when my feathered friends start to return north and their cacophony of voices wake me up at sunrise. It’s too early to spot my beloved warblers as they cruise the Atlantic Flyway to their summer retreats. I’ll be heading to Mount Auburn Cemetery, a favorite haunt of Boston birders in mid-April, to spot those beauties. Last spring, I pointed out a website, Westport Osprey, that was tracking the flight of ospreys as they were making their way north. So far in 2011, Hudson left his winter home of Venezuela and is already back in his nest on the Westport River in southeastern Massachusetts. As of March 15, Sanford was still hanging out in the Bahamas ordering another rum punch at the swim-up bar. Stay tuned to Westport Osprey to track his flight.  And make a plan to visit Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary, run by Mass Audubon, to find the nesting Westport osprey, bald eagles, piping plovers and other shore birds.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/23/11 at 01:00 PM
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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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