A Travellerspoint blog

Madagascar: Nosy Be: A Day at Nosy Tanikely

November 20, 2013

sunny 92 °F

Up early in the morning, we opted for some easier dives today, given that our last dives for about a year and a half ago in Puerto Rico. At 8am we met up with Louick our dive master and a father-daughter pair of Germans. It was a pleasant 30 min speedboat ride out to Tanikely island, with great views of the local fishing boats.

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This dive site is great refresher because the shallow waters around the picture perfect island are clear and filled with a vast kaleidoscope of colorful corals, starfish, anemones, tiny fish and even crystal clear jelly fish. We also saw several Hawksbill turtles gracefully swimming by us to snack on some algae, too bad the GoPro we had was malfunctioning!

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In between our two dives, we took a barefoot walk up to see the lighthouse and ran into some more lemurs and lizards. You could clearly appreciate to gorgeous reef and shallow waters from up on top. Anther shallow dive with warm water and great fish and we were on our way back to Nosy Be.

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We were both exhausted but not too tired for a few drinks and a lobster lunch! :) It was so cheap to get a whole lobster (about $12 US).

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After, we walked from our lovely bungalow at Hotel Benjamin about 10 minutes from our dive boat and just one block off the main road.

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We mentioned to Benjamin that we would like to rent a scooter…he had a small motorbike ($10/day+fuel) and you know Tony wanted that instead of a scooter! So off we were riding the motorbike north to catch the sunset at the beautiful Hotel Gran Bleu. We grabbed a few sundowners by the pool and talked about how Grand our life can be!

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We carefully made our way back to Baobab and had another gourmet dinner :)

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 11/20/13 05:27 Archived in Madagascar Comments (0)

Madagascar: All the Way to Nosy Be to See a Baobab--FOODIE

November 19, 2013

sunny 90 °F

Ruby was on a mani/pedi mission today. Her hands were starting to look like those of a lemur after all the hiking in the rainforests! We woke up, ate a delicious breakfast of ham and swiss on authentic French baguette and headed straight for the Balneoforme Colbert spa just a few short blocks away from our hotel La Varanague.

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We had enough time for a drink at the hotel while admiring the vintage car collection and hurricane lamps before heading for the airport with Haj our driver. . . everything was running smooth until he pulled over and opened the hood. The next thing we know, he was rebuilding the carburetor with a flat-tipped screw driver and siphoning gas out of the fuel line! Luckily drivers in third world countries also function as mechanics! We finally got the car running and headed for TNR airport.

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At the airport, on our way to Nosy Be which is an island paradise in Northern Madagascar well-known for scuba diving, Tony struck up a conversation with a guy named Chris from South Africa, turns out he has a huge yacht on Nosy Sakatia and invited us over for drinks. Hopefully we’ll be able to squeeze in a visit with him!

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Upon landing in Nosy Be we were greeted with a warm blanket of humidity which we would soon get accustomed to. We hopped in a taxi (approx $20 and 30 min) to take us to the town of Mandirokely to meet up with Erwan, a French expat, and the owner of Scuba Nosy Be. On the way the driver stopped to pick some fresh Ylang-Ylang for Ruby to smell— it is grown here on these crazy crooked looking branches.

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The drive was beautiful and we enjoyed watching the sunset over the city and fields.

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At Scuba Nosy Be. We talked to Erwan about our dive plan for the next few days (it would 68 Euros each for 2 dives and we were planning on doing at least 4)—Ruby told Erwan that a MUST for this trip was to swim with whale sharks! We have been chasing them all around the world and were finally hoping to encounter them here. . .

After that we headed to a place that Erwan described as “a backpacker hotel”. We followed a local Malagasy man carrying our roller bag on his shoulder, down a dirt alley, through a field and into the “local” part of town. When we arrived to our sketchy guesthouse we quickly discovered we are no longer “backpacker” people…the flying beetles, the bars on the windows, and lack of a working ceiling fan were too much to handle. We must have looked like quite a spectacle walking out of the hotel onto a pitch black street with no idea which direction we were going, what the name of the beach was and no grasp of the local languages…somehow we were able to find our way to Hotel Benjamin $45/night in adjacent Ambatoloaka! This hotel is a cute group of gated individual bungalows complete with hammocks, screened windows and working fans, located in an unlit dirt alley just off the main road from town.

Benjamin was certainly a sight for sore eyes, he spoke perfect English and he made our night all better by recommending the Baobab Café for dinner. We had the most delicious and flavorful meal we’d had the whole time we’d been in Madagascar. Many places in Nosy Be have adorable stray cats/kittens walking around, and Baobab café is no exception. At one point, Ruby thought a little kitten walked over her bare foot in flip flops. . . only to realize it was a giant cockroach!? She survived to tell Benjamin about it. . . and he said “that’s the beauty of Madagascar, it is alive”. He went on to tell us that these are “clean” cockroaches, not like the kind in NYC. . .we’re not sure about that but definitely want to believe him!

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We slept well after the long day of travel. . .even the sounds of the party in town going on past three in the morning couldn't keep us up!

Posted by Tony.Ruby 11/19/13 01:24 Archived in Madagascar Comments (0)

Madagascar: Tana: Monday Market with Milne-Edwards-- FOODIE

November 18, 2013

sunny 90 °F

Argh! We had the “continental breakfast” of Madagascar hotels. Which consists of some fruit juice, toast with jam and fresh fruit. Ruby hates the sweetness and no protein! Next time we need to order an “American breakfast” with some eggs and bacon :)

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We would have a long drive all day with a few key stops to get back up to Tana today. We stopped at a local waterfall and then Haj, our driver, took a shortcut down a dirt road through villages and rice fields.

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We were mesmerized by the beautiful colorful clothes of the villagers. It was a Monday Market Day so everyone was dressed in their “Sunday Best” This was an amazing opportunity to compare some of the different tribes in the region— we saw members from the Betsileo tribe (usually wear Fedora type hats) as well as other tribes. Our driver Haj comes from the Merina tribe which actually is the most powerful and several important politicians are Merina.

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There are actually 18 different tribes in Madagascar as you can see depicted on this obelisk that we saw later in Antsirabe.

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On our drive back up the RN7 we could also see how important rice is to the Malagasy people. There were rice terraces for miles and miles. Apparently locals eat rice with every meal of the day!?!

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Our next major stop was the Ialatsara Forest Camp for a nature walk…a long walk! It was another brutally hot day and our guide/camp owner Daniel was like 6’ 8” and taking giant steps. Ruby looked like a chihuahua being dragged down a New York city street in summer! After a long hike up and down hills, though fields and over streams we finally made it to a beautiful lookout point. Luckily there were some pretty sights along the way.

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We continued the hike and spotted a lazy chameleon and kept on going. . .

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At long last— some Milne-Edwards Sifakas! They were jumping through the trees and munching on some vegetation. We didn’t hangout for long though because they quickly jumped out of our line of sight!

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Walking back, Daniel our guide told us that it would be easier to hike over and up the road rather than go back through the hills in the forest. We walked this never-ending hill back to camp and Ruby kept saying “go get the car and I’ll wait for you here on the side of the road”! Meanwhile Tony would keep saying “the car is just around the next corner” knowing it probably was not!

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We got back on the road and spotted some more locals carryings supplies on their long walks along the highway. . .

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We stopped for a unremarkable lunch in Ambositra (home of the wood carvers)— we refused to buy any precious woods here for fear of promoting deforestation which is a huge problem on this beautiful island. It was also a very touristy spot with a dance performance and all the normal cheesy attractions.

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On the long drive, the only thing that kept Ruby from having a total meltdown was a roadside stop for lychees and the thought of those delicious tropical drinks with Madagascar vanilla sticks in Antsirabe! When we finally made it to the Couleur Guest House— the owner Aina remembered us and refused to let us pay for our cocktails even though we wouldn’t be staying another night! How sweet! We will definitely be back and recommend this as a stop on the way to Southern Madagascar :)

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After our unofficial happy hour we explored Antsirabe and watched the ubiquitous pousse-pousses carry locals to their desired destinations. Looks like a great workout!

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After a few more hours of driving through the rain and into the dark we finally arrived at Hotel La Varangue in Tana. We had a great romantic gourmet dinner (La Varangue is one of the best restaurants in Madagascar) and called it a night!

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 11/18/13 05:30 Archived in Madagascar Comments (0)

Madagascar: We’ve Struck GOLD. . . en Bamboo Lemur!

November 17, 2013

sunny 88 °F

This was our second day hiking through Ranomafana National Park. Our original guide Fidy was feeling much better so he would be guiding us though the forest. Apparently he has guided some pretty famous people including authors of books on Madagascar species of flora and fauna.

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Today we were on a quest to see Golden Bamboo Lemurs. . . and we would have to hike much deeper into the jungle to find them.

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These little lemurs are an endangered species and only about 300-1000 individuals remain (depending on what article you're reading). They are so rare that they only live in one particular location on the planet: inside of Ranomafana park in South-Eastern Madagascar. Most of the trails in Ranomafana are well marked and wide but the terrain a little deeper in is steep, the forest is dense and the narrow trails are often slippery. Finally!!!! After a few miles of hiking our spotter located a family of Golden Bamboo Lemurs! It was amazing watching them curl up into little balls and cover their faces with their tails. Of course the two of us were doing our best to balance and not slip down the muddy hillside while still trying to get a good shot! See the shot of Fidy and Ruby surrounded by bamboo below :)

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On our hike we had sightings of all kinds of crazy things! Ruby nearly stepped on a baby Boa Constrictor!!! It was the size of her sneaker! It was just a skinny little black thing on the trail but lucky for the Boa— Tony stopped Ruby mid-step :)

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Along the way we spotted geckos, rare species of birds, and crazy insects too!

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We also got to see a mama Common Brown Lemur and her playful baby hanging out in the trees above our head which we hadn’t seen previously!

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After a short drive back into town we stopped to pick some fresh wild berries off the side of the road! YUM! They were so deliciously sweet and tart, just perfect (and no we didn’t get sick after eating them unwashed).

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Later that afternoon we took a walk around town — our Hotel (Centrest) was super close to the downtown area. We were unsuccessful in finding the local hot springs but did find a nice lookout point and on the way we spotted a lychee tree!

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We always wanted to know what lychees looked like growing in the wild :) Ruby did some bartering and picked up a pound for us to enjoy and make our own “homemade Rum Arrange” Madagascar style back at the hotel.

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We ended the night watching the sunset over the mountains and enjoying the peace and quiet of Ranomafana.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 11/17/13 01:50 Archived in Madagascar Comments (0)

Madagascar: Flora and Ranomafana

November 16, 2013

sunny 83 °F

On the way to Ranomafana we stopped to pickup our guide Fidy who has been a local guide in the lush forests of Ranomafana since 1973! We also picked up our spotter, the spotter is usually a guide in training who runs all over the forest looking for the animals and makes calls back to the guide. When we arrived to the entrance of the park Fidy wasn’t feeling well so he called his wife to be a backup. We were worried that she wouldn’t be as good but she was wonderful. Ranomafana is a lush forest with lots to see and home to ten species of lemurs including the rare Golden Bamboo, Eastern Grey Bamboo and Greater Bamboo lemurs. After hearing about this you know Ruby wouldn’t be happy until we got to see the rare Golden Bamboo Lemur in the wild! We started our walk spotting all kinds of creatures like toads and pretty birds. . .

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It wasn’t long hiking down the trail curving around the dense forest before we met up with the fun little Greater Bamboo Lemurs playing on the ground. Soon after we arrived the lemurs decided it was lunch time and we all quickly moved though to the trees so we could watch them munching on bamboo shoots. They were so cute as they stared back at us watching them with bamboo in their hands.

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This place was not an easy walking trail, it’s crawling under branches, pushing though bushes and going up and down muddy hills just getting to the places where the lemurs are. I know we keep saying this but if you’ve never been out with a guide to see animals in the wild it’s definitely something you should do because it’s just incredible to see animals in their real habitats observing you as you observe them!

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We spotted a whole family of Red-Bellied lemurs. They were taking an afternoon nap high up in the branches. When they finally woke up we got the see the Male species which has a white mask-like coloration around their eyes.

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The Female Red-Bellied Lemurs don’t have mask markings on their face, they look like little black teddy bears.

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On our walk back we saw some Milne-Edwards Sifakas hanging out on a branch and showing off!

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Towards the end of the hike we climbed up to a lookout point and admired the amazing distance we hiked through the trees!

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There were a bunch of gorgeous geckos hanging out on some tables so we couldn’t help but shoot some photos of the brightly colored lizards!

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On the long hike back to the entrance of the park there was a group of young teenagers in matching outfits- it turns out they were famous and filming a music video!

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We went back to the hotel room for a quick shower and rest before heading out for a a night walk. When we went back out that night our driver pulled over on the side of the road along with two other small busses filled with tourists and told us to wait until dark. Our guide walked with us along the road pointing out lizards, plants and bugs.
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We even saw the bizarre looking giraffe-necked weevils which are a famous in Madagascar for their odd appearance!

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They also spread some fresh banana on a tree and soon after dark the mouse lemurs came out to get a taste! They were so cute and their eyes shined bright red when we aimed our flashlight in their direction.

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We thought it was funny that the other tourists buses loaded and left right after they saw a mouse lemur. So it was just us and the mouse lemur…until a python showed up and started hunting the little mouse lemur. The tiny lemur was jumping dangerously close within striking range and we felt like we where watching an episode of National Geographic! Lucky for the little lemur the python got tired of waiting and slipped off into the brush.

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Once again exhausted we arrived back to our hotel Centrest Sejour and called it a night.

Posted by Tony.Ruby 11/16/13 05:44 Archived in Madagascar Comments (2)

Madagascar: Reserve d'Anja and the Ring-Tailed Lemur

November 15, 2013

sunny 90 °F

As we were eating delicious fresh fruits for breakfast we decided that although we had already seen many species of lemurs it would be a shame to visit Madagascar without seeing the famous Maki or Ring-Tailed Lemur in the wild.

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We jumped into our truck and told our driver Haj that there would be a change in the plan today and to take us to Reserve d’Anja. That would be an extra two (yes two) hours past Ranomafana (our original destination for today). We knew this would make it a very long day for him and us but it’s amazing what you can talk a guide into for a little extra money :)

This made today’s scenic drive through the foothills into a tour of southern Madagascar! We passed through small towns with views of workers in the rice fields. This area is much different from the landscapes of central and eastern Madagascar. We watched the transition from mountainous jungles to lush green hills to dry arid deserts.

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We passed many a Zebu along the way. These cattle are essential and are used for transport, a sign of status and wealth and also well known for their excellent meat which is often served at weddings and other important occasions. Haj our driver told us that the French can't get enough of it and it gets exported to France regularly.

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Along the drive we spotted a large chameleon on the road. Haj told us to take it to the reserve so it would be safe. We must have looked so funny going through the towns…a driver, an Indian, an American and a Chameleon all looking out different windows.

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We arrived at Reserve d’Anja and man was it hot! Before we started hiking we took a quick break to eat lunch and set our new pet chameleon free.

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Just minutes into the hike we spotted a troupe of Ring-Tailed lemurs! These guys were extremely curious and came over to check us out, we got to watch these little guys climbing in the trees and over the rocks.

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Our guide took us over to the caves where these lemurs sleep at night for security but since it was daytime there were no lemurs there.

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Finally! Ruby had been looking for this and along the walk we spotted a tree branch covered with pink Flatid Leaf Bugs. Their color is striking and they use it to camouflage. Predators mistake them for flowers so they don’t get eaten.

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The hiking in this area looks amazing so plan for a full day and if you do decide to come to this park but be sure to bring lots of bug spray, sunscreen and lots of water!

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Driving at night in Madagascar is not very safe because it's really dark at night without streetlights (not because you'll get carjacked or anything like that) . . . so with a few hours of light left we started on our way back north to Ranomafana. Along the way we stopped at a Silk Factory and watched how they make silk fabrics using coccoons and the process of boiling them and dying them with natural materials like tree bark, turmeric, and leaves.

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We drove off into the sunset and enjoyed every second of it. After several hours we finally arrived to Ranomafana, checked into our hotel, the Centrest Sejour, just a few minutes down the road from the national park and grabbed some dinner. After this long exhausting day, and another long day of hiking planned for tomorrow, we decided to call it a night pretty early.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 11/15/13 08:11 Archived in Madagascar Comments (1)

Madagascar: Crazy Colorful Chameleons

November 14, 2013

sunny 85 °F

We are heading South today. On the way we stopped in the town of Moramanga to walk around while our driver fixed the flat tire at a local restaurant/grocery/tire store. This little town located between Antananarivo and the East coast was once a cross roads for the slave trade (per our driver) and the name Mora-Manga literally means “Cheap-Mangos” and judging by the fruit stands we would say that this is probably true.

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A short drive up the road we arrived at La Mandraka Nature Farm. This place has an incredible variety of wildlife. They have local Coquerel’s Sifaka lemurs that came jumping through the trees when a worker called to them. These animals are wild yet they had no fear of humans, they were just as curious about us as we were about them. We just couldn't get enough of these beautiful gentle creatures and loved hand feeding them bananas. They have the softest paws and just gently hold your hand as they reach for the banana.

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The striking colored chameleons (some were Parson's Chameleons) were so gorgeous and we got there just in time to watch them eat insects using their lightning fast tongues! We finally had the chance to test our camera’s 8 frames per second but it wan’t as fast as the 20 milliseconds it takes the chameleon to strike!?! It was insane to see that their tongues were as long as their bodies!

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These were some of our faves! You can tell that they are all different colors which is what they use for camouflage! We loved that each of these guys was staring right at us with their eyes that can move independently and turn in all directions! They use these protruding eyes for panoramic sight and can watch an approaching object while simultaneously scanning the rest of the environment. There will be no sneaking up on these guys! :)

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Ruby demonstrated just how small the Pygmy Leaf Chameleon is with a total length of just 28mm!

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They also had the cutest Hedgehog Tenrecs, a boa constrictor and other snakes as well as a crazy looking Leaf-Tailed Gecko.

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There were some crazy insects and tomato frogs too.

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We got on the road and stopped to check out a waterfall and do some roadside shopping! Ruby bought some colorful chameleons handmade out of raffia.

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We stopped for lunch south of Tana in Behenjy at a famous restaurant called Coin du Foie Gras known for its foie gras. With all the French influence in Madagascar it makes perfect sense. Funny thing is we don’t eat foie gras so this was wasted on us and all we asked for was the local lunch…chicken, beans and rice LOL. We could have brought some home for our Californian Foodie friends to eat (where it is outlawed) but didn’t want that jar to break on the rest of our trip!

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In the next town our driver took a turn down a narrow busy ally and into what looked like a recycling center for aluminum. It was actually an aluminum foundry…barefoot men with wood burning fires pouring molten hot aluminum into sand castings. Needles to say we had to buy a few baobab tree art pieces after we saw what hard labor goes into making them!

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Just up the road was another shop, this one making artwork from old aluminum cans and the horns of the zebu (local cow). It’s amazing to see what people do with just the things they have.

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We continue south on Route National 7 through the rice fields to the spa town of Antsirabe. When we arrived at Couleur Guest House we were immediately handed the most amazing welcome drink…cool fresh fruit juice with quality rum and a dried vanilla stick for garnish. YUM! We din’t realize that we would be having a romantic candlelight dinner but in Madagascar there is no such thing as reliable power all the time. Take a flashlight with you at night because you never know when you will need it…but we promise you will use it in Madagascar! When we arrived back to our room Tony decided he would start a fire…adding this survival skill to the list that also includes climbing a coconut tree in Jamaica and fetching water from a camel well in the Danakil :)

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 11/14/13 04:30 Archived in Madagascar Comments (1)

Madagascar: Lemurs in the Trees, on the Ground, on my Head!

November 13, 2013

sunny 80 °F

We woke to the calming sounds of the lush green jungle surrounding our lodge on all sides. We had a simple continental breakfast while sitting enjoying the stunning views. Today we would be going to the Parc National Andasibe- Analamazaotra and were looking forward to seeing some lemurs in the wild!

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After just a short walk into the forest with our guide we met our first wild lemurs. These were the fun little Diademed Sifakas, they are some of the most beautiful with their red eyes and tan/white and grey fur markings. These guys are hams! They were playing on the ground and not at all scared of the small group that had gathered to watch. We stuck around watching these little guys jump through the trees eating greenery until it was just us and the lemurs :)

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It wasn’t until we heard the loud haunting "singing" calls of the Indri-Indri lemur that we decided to move on.  Our guide helped track them though the trees and even pointed out the best spots to get a few photos. They are black and white with bright yellow eyes. Indri-Indris are the largest of all lemurs and have a strong voice that can carry through the forest for up to 3km.
Note: The Indri- Indri is on The World's 25 Most Endangered Primates…the country with the most species on the Endangered Primates list is Madagascar with six species :(

We hope that learning more about these beautiful creatures and the places they live will increase awareness about this serious problem!

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They are fast and not as easy to see because they stay fairly high in the trees during the day. We caught some glimpses of a mom and baby through the branches. Some of them were jumping through the trees, can you believe they can jump up to 30 feet!?
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Our guide pointed out a family of adorable group of common brown lemurs huddled up in a tree. So easy to miss if you weren’t paying attention.

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We also spotted smaller creatures like the Crab Spider and the blue berries and the flies that look like white fur until they mature.

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Then we headed on to a dirt road for about 30-40 minutes to Perinet and the Mantadia park. On the way Haj our driver spotted a cute chameleon on the road so we stopped to rescue him and move him to the side of the road so he wouldn’t get run over (since they move really slowly).

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Perinet was much harder hiking and I think we where the only three people in the park. We had a relaxing brown bag lunch on a lookout platform and enjoyed listening to Indri-Indri calls in the distance. We walked deeper and deeper into the jungle trying to spot lemurs and other wildlife.

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We saw some more Diademed Sifakas hanging out together and kept following the loud sounds of the Black and White-Ruffed Lemurs. We finally spotted them sitting on a branch high above. There’s something so special about seeing animals in the wild and having to hike to earn a few minutes with them before they move on, disappearing into the jungle.

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We had already seen so much and I think we’ve filled up an entire memory card but we have another big stop today…lemur island.

This is a small island with 3 types of lemurs living on it. The first was the Black and White Ruffed Lemur and it greeted Ruby by walking over and jumping on her head.  The next curious species to come by and see who was on their island was the Common Brown Lemur.

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These guys where very playful and some of them even had babies climbing around in the trees with them!

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Ruby unexpectedly picked up a new fur shawl out there!

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The Black and White Ruffed lemurs were also very friendly!

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After a little searching we found the shyest of the locals on the island, the Lesser Eastern Bamboo Lemur. These little gray furred guys are beautiful and so photogenic. If you would like to see lemurs up close we would definitely recommend stopping on the island and having a lemur sit on your head LOL!

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On the drive back our driver surprised us by making a sunset stop at Reserve Vakona Croc farm. This place was insane, there were Non- OSHA approved cable bridges, gorgeous crocs, happier fossas, birds 4’ high fences with signs that say don’t walk down this way or you’ll get eaten…3rd World Safety we suppose :)

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We got to watch the crocs being fed raw meat and loved getting some close ups of their piercing eyes.
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After a day like this we needed some cold beer while enjoying the views from our porch!

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We ended this long day with a Night Walk around Eulophiella! WOW, I don’t think we’ve ever seen so many spiders, geckos or chameleons in our lives! We also got to see the red-eyes of some mouse lemurs reflecting in the trees but they were too high up to get a good shot.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 11/13/13 04:45 Archived in Madagascar Comments (2)

Madagascar: Tana: Coquerel's Sifakas and the Croc Farm

November 12, 2013

sunny 88 °F

Our flight from Kenya to Madagascar was expensive…in fact it was more expensive than our flights to Africa from the New York! We got up brutally early for our ride to the airport…and the direct easy 4 hour flight to Antanarivo aka Tana (the capital of Madagascar). FYI - Be sure to get a multi-entry Kenya visa if you plan on coming back through the country anytime soon!

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We landed in Tana and had no idea what to expect. It was hot and humid but everyone seemed friendly and easy going. Our driver picked us up and drove us up a bumpy dirt road to a place called The Croc Farm just a few miles from the airport.

We sat in the shade and had a local cold THB beer before checking out the animals at the farm. This is a great way to get a taste of Madagascar wildlife before starting the rest of the journey.  

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The highlight for us was getting to hand feed Coquerel’s Sifakas!! You can tell they are extremely intelligent when you look into their eyes. We even saw a mom and baby :)

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They also raise crocs (hence the name) to make into things like shoes/bags there!  We some chewing on rocks! I guess they don’t get fed very much?!
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We also saw radiated tortoises mating, birds, snakes, and tons of chameleons! We felt bad for some of the animals in small cages including a bummed out fossa, the largest predator in Madagascar, no bigger than a dog!) This poor guy was pacing around in circles in his cage.

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After that we switched cars in Tana and checked out the city with it’s gorgeous purple Jacarada trees as we drove through to pick up our driver Haj.

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Then we started heading east. By the way we've already seen two trucks flipped over on the side of the road— word of advice: spend a little more and get a good driver!

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As we drove east to head into the rain forests and up into the mountains we could see fires burning on the hillside all along the way— This is a sign of slash and burn agriculture which is a real problem in Madagascar.

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By the time we arrived at our eco-lodge in the mountains it was pitch black and we ended our night with one more fire...this time on our pineapple and bananas flambé.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 11/12/13 11:24 Archived in Madagascar Tagged animals Comments (0)

Kenya:Nairobi National Park: Birds, Baboons and Baby Animals

November 11, 2013

semi-overcast 75 °F

After Ruby's volunteering in the Masai Mara we were ready to explore Nairobi National Park (which we had skipped on our last trip to Kenya). This is quite possibly the only national park located inside a major city! This reserve is so close that the animals can be photographed with the city in the background! The entrance to the park was about $40 pp and we easily hired a driver and guide for a tour of the park for about $100 total for the day.
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As we drove around we saw some gorgeous baby animals (which of course are Ruby's favorite)!

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We drove around and spotted tons of beautiful birds!

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We went for a walk in the park with an armed guard. . . during that walk we realized that we were only about 100 yards away from 2 sleeping black rhinos! We also saw a huge nile croc and hippo skull :)

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Monkeys galore!

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It was a beautiful day and we saw lots of other cool creatures too. . .like a dik-dik (the world's smallest antelope), a pumba, wildebeest and a huge lizard that looked like a kimodo dragon.
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We had a perfect end to the day with a nice dinner catching up with our friends Doc, Maria and Piety at our fave Indian restaurant in Nairobi (Haandi).

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 11/11/13 05:30 Archived in Kenya Comments (2)

Kenya: South Narok: Practicing Dermatology in the Mara

November 2-10, 2013

sunny 85 °F

Having already been to Africa several times, I couldn't wait to show my good friend Andrea all of the beautiful things that make Africa such a great place to visit (and volunteer)! Thanks to Free the Children, Me to We and Medicis I would get the opportunity! We left New York and hopped on a total of an 18 hour journey and landed in Nairobi just in time to go to bed at the gorgeous Tribe hotel! That next morning we had a chance to visit the Giraffe sanctuary and meet our team before hopping on a small plane that would carry us over the Great Rift Valley and land on a tiny dirt airstrip in the Masai Mara. . . and from there our journey would be begin. We would be spending 10 days seeing dermatology patients in the Masai Mara with a team of 15 other volunteers from the US (a combination of dermatologists, MAs, PAs and even an ER doc).

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Some of the highlights of this 10 day trip included:

1. The stunning vistas which I can never get enough of . . . including rural villages, sunflower farms, grazing animals under big skies and even heart shaped clouds! Do you see the heart or am I the only romantic?
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2. The welcoming and friendly people, especially, the schoolchildren and villagers who would wave their hands furiously as we drove by, singing and dancing on the side of the road to show their appreciation for our visit! The patients were also extremely appreciative and offered shy smiles and held back their laughter as they listened to our funny attempts at speaking Swahili. The local clinic staff was extremely patient, hard-working and motivated to assist us in any way necessary. . even when there were 30 patients waiting for their medications or 100 patients sitting on the lawn waiting to be seen.
Our facilitators Kate, Tobiko and Breanna from Me to We were phenomenal and made sure we had a comfortable, educational and productive experience!
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3. The Way of Life that is so different from our own: much slower and also much more labor intensive. . . we learned this on our morning walks with our Masai warrior guides. We also had a fireside story night where Steven, David and Peter shared quite a bit about their way of living over popcorn! We experienced some of their hardships firsthand when we walked to a village and attempted to carry jerry cans filled with either 25 or 50 lbs of water from the Mara River back to Mama Jane's house the traditional way. . . with a rope tied to the can and balanced across our forehead. Can you believe she makes the trip to collect water 5 times a day?!? Thanks to Free the Children hopefully she will not be doing that for long thanks to the up and coming Clean Water projects. Seeing the transformation of the old school with it's dirt floors and desks made of splintered wood to the newly built school for the children really made me proud to be a part of this project.
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4. The Wildlife: Always beautiful new things to see, every journey we take . . .some faves were the goat who ate my flowers right out of my hand, the zebras we encountered on our morning Masai walk on one of our first days there, the loud group of yellow weavers birds fixing up their nests, a pile of lazy sunning hippos and of course 3 men and a goat on a motorcycle LOL!
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At the end of the trip, we felt very fortunate to have made amazing friends and memories. . . we are already trying to plan our next trip back to the Baraka clinic! That is exactly what I wished for as I tied my ribbon onto this wishing tree. .
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Posted by Tony.Ruby 11/10/13 12:54 Archived in Kenya Tagged animals Comments (4)

USA: Alaska: Top 20 Reasons to Visit Alaska!

(see more details in our other Alaska blog posts)

overcast 65 °F

==Top 20 Reasons to Visit Alaska ==
If you want more details about places to go/things to see, check out our other Alaska blog posts! :)

It’s a place where:

1. Bald eagles are more common than New York City pigeons

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2. You can feel like you’re on National Geographic while you listen to and watch huge chunks of glaciers calve off into the water (see the boat below for scale)

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3. You must be weary of a moose who may try to kick you in the head!

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4. Learn fun facts like Caribou and Reindeer are the same animal (reindeer are domesticated)

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5. The bears are huge and like to eat dandelions when they first wake up from hibernation. . but don’t be fooled, they would definitely eat you—not just make a mess of your garbage like in Jersey!

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6. You can see humpback whales take 3-5 breaths before showing off their tail fluke

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7. Seals lazily float around on ice floes

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8. You can be the low man on the totem pole
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9. Gorgeous blue-eyed husky puppies are training for the Iditarod race not just running around Central Park retrieving balls

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10. Seeing beautiful vistas can become annoying

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11. You can sit in a jacuzzi surrounded by glacier capped mountains

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12. You may see a porcupine, after all, where else are you going to see one?

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13. You can eat King Crab so fresh, you’re practically on the Deadliest Catch!

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14. You might see a lynx yawn!

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15. A friendly man may let you play with his pet ferret (for real)

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16. A mama otter with her baby might come floating right by you

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17. The goats live so high up on the mountains that they look like tiny white dots

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18. It’s almost impossible not to see a porpoise,dolphin, otter or whale every time you look out onto the water

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19. You could get into a staring contest with an owl—and lose!

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20. You can port into cute little towns with less year-round residents than staff on a typical cruiseship

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 6/1/13 15:06 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Canada: Sea Day to Vancouver!

May 31-June 1 2013

overcast 65 °F

If you've never been on a cruise you're probably wondering what do I do on a sea day?

Well, there's lots to do on the ship including explore the art galleries, drink champagne, eat delicious desserts, hit the spa or gym, play boards games, read, gamble, swim, shop, get dolled up for a formal night or just veg out for a day with nowhere to go and nothing you have to do. Cruiseships always try to make sea days fun by adding extra activities like an ice sculpting demos or serving moose chilli (yes, moose) on the deck to draw people out. . . and yes Bullwinkle was delicious! :)

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We love sea days so that we can take a break between port days (which we always fill with a hectic schedule hoping to explore every inch of whatever port we visit)! We save exploring the ship for the sea days.

On this last sea day we saw lots of wildlife as we made our way down to Vancouver, including a whale waving hello with his pectoral fin and more whale tails but most of all we just used it as a chance to slow down and enjoy the day for ourselves. . .the vistas weren't too bad either!

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The ship dropped us off in Vancouver, BC, and even though we've both been there before we couldn't resist a little visit to Stanley Park. We took a local bus to the park and walked around practicing taking photos of everyday things like a log, Canadian geese, a waterfall.

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At the end we just sat and listened to a woman play her (what-we-think was) a guqin or other asian string instrument before lugging our bags to the airport and heading on to our 2nd home--the SF Bay Area.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 5/31/13 15:09 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

USA: Alaska: Low wo-Man on the Ketchikan Totem Pole

May 30, 2013

rain 50 °F

Ketchikan was one of our absolute favorite stops on the cruise; it is the southernmost city in Alaska and unfortunately our last stop before entering Canada tomorrow. Oooooh how we hate the feeling of a vacation coming to an end :( This is a picturesque town with its main street practically built on stilts overlooking the Ketchikan River.

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Meandering through the city we saw a variety of tall totem poles and in fact it has the world's largest collection of standing totem poles. It all sounds pretty great but it’s also one of the rainiest places in Alaska. This place makes Seattle look like sunny LA! I would really like to see this place during the salmon run!

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To stay dry we stepped into the Fish House and had. . You guessed it! Crab for lunch : )

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No trip to Ketchikan would be complete without a ride up the funicular (a hillside elevator/train going up to the Cape Fox Lodge above Ketchikan)-- great views from up there, weather permitting of course! A city bus trip (about 30 min south of Ketchikan) to the Totem Heritage Center is also a must. We had so much fun practicing our photography up there! Ruby really was the low wo-man on the totem pole as you can tell by the pics.

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Of course Ruby couldn’t leave what is known as the "Salmon Capital of the World" without buying a box of Alaskan Salmon for Dr. Shalita.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 5/30/13 15:12 Archived in USA Comments (0)

USA: Juneau we’re going to see some bald eagles! --- FOODIE

May 29, 2013

semi-overcast 68 °F

We arrived in Alaska’s capital and were ready for some action today. . .while walking off the ship we immediately spotted a bald eagle perched on a branch with another one flying overhead. It’s amazing what you can see just sitting on the ship—maybe a bald eagle soaring by or a whale coming up for air.
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You gotta take a boat or a plane because downtown Juneau is nestled at the base of Mount Juneau and is not accessible by roads because of the Juneau ice field. This huge ice mass is the source of about 30 glaciers including the famous Mendenhall Glacier and Lemon Creek Glacier we would get to see today.

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When you get off the boat in Juneau you can see the famous Mount Roberts Tramway and there are stands set up selling everything from helicopter rides to walking tours around town. We decided to go on a whale watching tour and do our own hike around the Mendenhall Glacier admiring it from afar. Don’t do the tour to Mendenhall unless you actually want to put on some crampons and walk on the glacier itself because there’s a cheap bus going from town every hour.

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After a short drive on a city bus we arrived at the Mendenhall glacier visitors center. This place is amazing and a must see if you're in Juneau. We decided to hike over and get a better view of the glacier but before we could even start our hike we spotted a porcupine just hanging-out next to the trail. After I took a few hundred photos of the little guy sleeping we started on our way.

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The hike is flat, smooth and easy with a few good photo spots along the way. If you have time you can take several longer hikes up and around the waterfall. There’s plenty of signs warning you about the bears on the trail but luckily we didn’t encounter any. We did however spot a few mountain goats up high on a cliff! After shooting photos and hiking around this gorgeous location we were ready for some whale watching.

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After boarding a small whale watching boat that would take us through Stephens Passage . We rode around searching for whale spouts in the water and luckily photographed several whales! These creatures are so peaceful despite their immense size. We learned that humpbacks typically take 3-5 breaths before diving down and showing off their tail fluke. We even had a curious sea lion came stick his head out of the water to check us out. Even if you don't see whales; this boat ride would be worth the stunning views with snow topped mountains and Lemon Creek Glacier in the distance.
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  • ***As a tip, we would definitely recommend taking a smaller boat with as few people as possible. You never know where the whales will be or what side of the boat they will appear on so the more room you have to move around—the better! :)

We arrived back to town with a little bit of time to sneak in a FOODIE ALERT. Last season’s Top Chef was filmed in Alaska and the chefs had to cook a crab dish at Tracy’s Crab Shack. Luckily, it was right on the dock and if you are a foodie or just like crab than this is a must stop! After a great lunch with “crab three ways” and a cool beer we were back to our usual dip in the jacuzzi before an amazing crab dinner—and NO, we were not all crabbed out! Lol
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Posted by Tony.Ruby 5/29/13 00:36 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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