Your Very Next Step newsletter for February 2012

Your Very Next Step newsletter for February 2012

By Ned Lundquist www.yourverynextstep.com

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” – Lao Tzu

“The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” – St. Augustine

“Your Very Next Step” newsletter, published by Ned Lundquist, is a cooperative community, and everyone is invited, no…encouraged, no…urged to participate. Share your adventures with the network today! Send to lundquist989@cs.com.

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You may note that our website (www.yourverynextstep.com) has received a make-over. Bear with Ned as he learns how to use it.

*** In this issue of Your Very Next Step” newsletter:

*** Ned’s upcoming travel schedule: *** The Lundquist Costa Rican Adventure *** Can I touch your hair? These People will Eat ANYTHING *** Mat Matta and Navy PeeWee Gold travel to Lake Placid *** Paul Hart and The Wildlife of Big Bend *** Brian Kilgallen and Reflections on Gran Canaria

Travel news

*** The Palm Beach, Frederikshavn, Denmark *** Virginia Naturally Website Link to School Environmental Learning Programs

Trail / Outdoor / Conservation volunteer opportunities:

1.) The Colorado Trail 2012 Weeklong Trail Crews 2.) Summer Hatchery Season Host, The Hagerman National Fish Hatchery, Hagerman, ID 3.) Animal Assistant – Wildlife, Woodlands Wildlife Refuge, Inc., Clinton, NJ

*** National Rail-Trail of the month:

Trail of the Month: January 2012 Houston’s Columbia Tap Rail-Trail

*** Travel/Adventure/Outdoors/Conservation employment opportunities:

1.) Outdoor Educator (Part Time), Shangri La Education Department, Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center, Orange, TX 2.) Intern – Environmental Education, Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center, Orange, TX 3.) Instructor Position, High Trails Outdoor Science School, Big Bear City, CA 4.) Wild Turkey Program Coordinator, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, Tallahassee, FL 5.) Governmental Communications Manager, Ducks Unlimited, Inc., Washington, DC 6.) Chief Executive Officer, Ducks Unlimited Canada, Stonewall, Manitoba, Canada

…and much more…and it’s all FREE!!!

*** Do you have a travel adventure to share?

Send me your stories and I’ll post in the “Your Very Next Step” and on the YVNS website (http://www.yourverynextstep.com/).

*** Ned s upcoming travel schedule:

5-8 March San Diego 12-15 March Boston, New London, Newport

*** The Lundquist’s Beach/Jungle/Mountain/Volcano adventure:

*** See last month’s issue where Ned talks with Lisa Cederberg, Travel Consultant with Costa Rican Luxury Vacations (http://www.vacationscostarica.com/, about the upcoming Lundquist family vacation:

Lisa Cederberg Travel Consultant Costa Rican Luxury Vacations “Local Knowledge – Global Service” U.S. Toll Free 800-606-1860 x 1243 – I’m available with very flexible hours. Please call at your convenience! In Costa Rica: 506-2296-7715 * Email: lisacederberg@goduesouth.com (http://www.vacationscostarica.com/):

*** A Our Costa Rican adventures, and some of the reasons I didn’t want to come home.

This is about Mr. Edward and the Lundquist family Vacation, as arranged by Lisa Cederberg at Costa Rican Vacations.

Let’s start this adventure in the dark, early on February 6th at 4:45 a.m. We had arranged for our taxi the evening before. And our taxi showed up on time. But instead of the van we asked for, we got a Prius. Okay, we’ll squeeze in.

At the airport, check in was efficient, but the security line less so.

I was very proud of the fact that I got a great fare on Continental, and even prouder that I was able to upgrade all of us to first class the whole way.

That means we can use the lounge at the Continental gates. Upon presenting my family to the lounge receptionist, she took great delight in turning us away. Yes, as a Mileage Plus Premier Executive flying internationally I could come in, along with one guest. But just because we were flying first class didn’t entitle all of us to use the lounge.

The person who stood with us in the very long line at security came up and offered to “sponsor” the rest of us. “You don’t even know them,” she said. He later came up an apologized. “I don’t think she can tell me who I can bring in as my guest.”

Our flight to Houston was good, and our connection to San Jose tight but manageable, and our flight to San Jose also nice. Both were something a little over three hours. I like flying first class. I don’t like paying ten times as much as a coach ticket because it’s not worth it, but I do like it if I can get it. We arrived around 1400 at San Jose and met at the gate by Karla, who had a sign with our name on it. There were two other ladies who had also booked a CRV vacation that she also was helping. She took us to immigration, baggage claim, customs, and showed me the ATM where I changed some money. The two vagabonds in front of me at the ATM tried a dozen times and never got any cash. We all had to wait very patiently. I tried once and hit the jackpot.

Once outside, another CRV greeter met us, Alberto, and he took us to our van, driven by Hugo. Alberto gave us a CRV tote bag with a water bottle and a hat for us to fight over.

It was now 1500. Hugo gave us each a cool bottle of water and we were off for the mountains. San Jose is the capital. of Costa Rica and a city of 1 million. A quarter of the country’s population lives here. The roads were lined with bougainvillea, orange magnolias and other showy shrubs and trees. San Jose is at 1,000 feet above sea level, and our trip would take us over the continental divide at 6,000 feet.

We were headed to Arenal, one of Costa Rica’s most famous and recently active volcanos. The country has lots of volcanos. Hugo said there are 250 volcanos, of which 10 are active (within 45 miles of San Jose). I later came upon this: There are six active volcanos (counting now dormant Arenal).

http://www.arenal.net/costa-rica-volcanoes.htm

Volcanos are a pretty big deal here.

http://www.govisitcostarica.com/travelInfo/volcanoes.asp

Tourism is the number one industry, followed by technology, agriculture and medical supplies. There are major plants for giant electronics companies. One Intel plant employs 10,000 people making 3 million microchips a year, Hugo says. The Cost Rica labor market is highly qualified and low-cost. Unemployment is about 6%, and 98% of the Costa Ricans can read and write.

There are large nurseries growing what Hugo calls decoration plants. Coffee and sugar cane are big crops. The red soil, burnt fields, the haul cane trucks full of cane, and tall wavy stalks waiting for harvest, all remind us of Hawaii.

Starbucks gets the lion’s share of the Cost Rican coffee crop; with Dole and Del Monte pineapple and Chiquita Bananas also major agricultural players. On our drive we stopped for something to drink and to stretch our legs. I’m glad I followed Hugo’s suggestion and tried the very rich local coffee. Hugo says Costa Rica’s frequent rain at higher elevations provide opportunities for hydropower. The huge man-made Lake Arenal is a major source of hydropower, and large wind turbine generators were also visible in some places up there.

To get to Arenal we had to climb over the continental divide. Here the prevailing winds come from the Caribbean and turn to rain when it arrives here at the higher elevations. In fact, while we were at Arenal we were able to see the top of the volcano only for a brief moment very early in the morning on our last day there.

Upon arriving at the Arenal Monoa resort we were greeted with a cool refreshing drink, and after checking in were taken by van to our rooms, while watching an armadillo scurry out of our way. All of the rooms here are in two bedroom houses, and just about all have a view of the mountain, when visible. We had two adjoining rooms, each with a huge bathroom and very pleasant patio with comfortable chairs.

Our hotel at Arenal:

http://www.arenal.net/hotel/arenal-manoa/ http://www.arenalmanoa.com/hotel.html

We had dinner in the open air restaurant serenaded by the sounds of the jungle. It had been a very long day.

The next morning we enjoyed our breakfast at the restaurant. I had already been up, and made the coffee that came with the room. It was a decent size filter bag that made four full cups of truly excellent coffee. Our major activity for the day was a guided hike up the 1968 Arena lava flow. It got a little steep near the top (you can’t go all the way to the top of the flow), but we all made it. Along the way we saw interesting flora and fauna.

We saw oropendolas, members of the oriole family, but larger. It gets its name not only from its colonies of suspended woven nests in trees, but also the way it swings on branches. We saw them hanging upside down, with yellow tail feathers prominently displayed above him.

http://www.welovecostarica.com/public/220.cfm

It sounds pretty strange:

http://www.naturesongs.com/moor2.wav http://itotd.com/articles/361/the-oropendola/

We also saw Baltimore Orioles. They winter here. We had a nest in our backyard when we lived in Mystic, Connecticut, but I haven’t seen one in years. We live an hour from Baltimore, but have to come to Central America to see one.

We saw white-throated magpies, and chachalacas, the Costa Rican version of a wild turkey.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White-throated_Magpie-Jay

http://bit.ly/yyO7lv

We saw a brown-faced howler monkey (I think that’s what kind it was) alone high in a tree. We knew there had to be others, but didn’t see them.

It had just stopped raining, so the large colony of leaf cutter ants were tucked away…by the many thousands, beneath where we were standing. A single queen lays a thousand eggs a day. Their workers go out and bring back large pieces of leaves that they carry on top. The leaves are delivered to subterranean chambers in the colony where the vegetative material rots and becomes a fungus. It is this fungus, not the leaves themselves, that feeds the ants. Off to the side of the incline we saw the waste dump. You could see some very distinct trails in the grass leading to the colony. Further up the mountain we saw a parade of these ants headed to another unseen colony in the jungle.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leafcutter_ant http://itotd.com/articles/446/leaf-cutter-ants/

After our walk, we went to the fancy Springs Resort and spent some time relaxing in the geothermally warmed pools.

http://www.arenal.net/hotel/the-springs-resort-and-spa/index.html http://springscostarica.com/

We swam up to the bar and enjoyed some tropical beverages. Our competition between bartended definitely produced a winner. Jerry made the very best lava flows! Afterwards we enjoyed dinner at the Springs (and had the famous Costa Rican desert called Tres Leches). Actor Will Smith was staying here, too. He’s in Costa Rica filming “After Earth,” a survival action pic set a thousand years into the future. We saw the area where the film crews had set up a large compound. I wonder if he took time to look at the leaf cutter ants.

http://www.insidecostarica.com/dailynews/2012/february/09/costarica12020905. htm

http://blogamole.tr3s.com/2012/02/03/will-smith-hits-costa-rica-to-film-new- scifi-adventure/

Early the next morning (Feb. 8) were picked up and taken to the Ecoglide zipline on the slope of the volcano. So I know you are thinking about the Geico pig, and yes, the brochure does say “pure adrenaline.”

“The canopy consists of 15 cables and 18 platforms which are divided into three sections that are found mostly in the trees, which are designed to provide our visitors greater contact with nature,” the website says. We were on 12 cables, almost all shrouded in thick morning fog and lush heavy jungle canopy. As an interlude during our journey down the mountain, we rode the “Tarzan Swing.”

http://www.arenalecoglide.com/indexin.html

Here’s me on the Tarzan Swing.

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1528442643995.77257.1022568171&typ e=3#!/photo.php?v=10150679624784603

At Ecoglide we saw a keel billed toucan, and a Strawberry Poison-dart Frog.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keel-billed_Toucan http://www.costaricaexpeditions.com/Gallery/wildlife/picture.php?fignum=7

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strawberry_poison-dart_frog

In the afternoon we went into La Fortuna to have lunch and look around. We had a typical tico meal, but I thought the meat was very tough and underdone. The extent of our shopping is that Barbara got some nail polish remover.

Of note at our hotel, our maid would leave us animals fashioned from towels and blankets, like a sloth or an elephant, complete with flower blossoms for eyes. I have never seen this before. I tried to show here that we appreciated it by getting my sloth to “climb” on the lamp, but it came apart.

On Thursday morning we packed up and our driver met us for the long drive around Lake Arenal and down towards the coast. Not long after leaving the hotel we encountered a car that was stopped in the road and tossing some crumbs to a group of raccoon-like white nosed coati.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White-nosed_coati http://www.nhptv.org/natureworks/coati.htm

One of the things we have acquired in Costa Rica is an appreciation for Tres Leches, a cake soaked in three kinds of milk: evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream, topped with whipped cream. I think there are probably an infinite number of variations to the recipe—just like there is with tiramisu.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tres_leches_cake

Here are a few recipes (don’t think of this as just a Christmas treat):

http://www.ehow.com/how_5736584_make-leches_-_three-milks_-christmas.html

http://ticofood.blogspot.com/2006/08/three-milk-dessert-tres-leches.html

Our journey to the Guanacaste coast took about four hours. We stopped at Tilaran for something to eat. Yes, we had tres leches. From here it was down in elevation, and the jungle opened up into wide, open plains. More volcanos could be seen on our right as we headed for Costa Rica’s second largest city of Liberia. This city has a new terminal at the international airport, which has non-stop service to New York and many other U.S. destinations for people who want to visit the Guanacaste Coast.

We arrived at our hotel, the Cala Luna, in the beach town of Tamarindo (actually our hotel was on Playa Langosta, not Playa Tamarindo). The town is a happening place for surfers. As at the Monoa, we were greeted with a specialty drink of the house, on the house. We met the staff and the dog, then walked the very short distance to our villa. We didn’t have a view of the ocean, but our backyard was beautifully landscaped, which made our private in ground pool look even more spectacular. Our villa was a full sized house, with two large bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living and dining room, and a kitchen. Did I mention that we also had our own pool? We checked out the large pool by the lobby…because it had a bar.

We made a dash into Tamarindo to the small supermarket for some staples, coffee, Diet Pepsi, diet Ginger Ale, cheese, prosciutto, bread, chips, a lime, San Pellegrino. When we returned, the hotel delivered some treats, compliments of the chef. This is something they did each afternoon. That evening we enjoyed dinner in the restaurant. Our next day was fairly relaxing. We had breakfast at the restaurant, and succeeded in fighting off the magpie jays, which were particularly fond of muffins, and especially the paper cups that the muffins came in. We walked down to the beach, which at Playa Langosta featured quite a bit of lava rock, and some very interesting tide pools. I enjoyed just lying in the sand, watch the frigate birds and tracking a hermit crab headed away from the ocean. We went over to the Capitan Suizo Hotel for the Friday night beach barbeque with marimba band and “folkloric” music. The food was good, the entertainment was, well, entertaining. And sitting right on the beach listening to the waves was wonderful. The hotel seemed like a nice place, but I like our Cala Luna much better.

Our Saturday adventure was snorkeling at Playa Flamingo. We wore wetsuits because the water was 68 degrees, but the water was calm and the sky bright. The water was a little bit on the cloudy side, and we didn’t see a lot of fish.

We ventured over to the small town of Santa Rosa that evening for the local festival, highlighted by the Verano Toreado, the Costa Rican bullfight. I have never been to a bullfight before, and have always been a little uneasy about the idea of this bloodsport. But in a Costa Rican bullfight, the bull doesn’t get killed, or even hurt. It does get pretty pissed off, however. So imagine not one matador with some assistants, but 60 or 70 of them, all trying to chase the bull until it’s them getting chased. This event was carried on national TV. After one bull gets tired they bring out another. Most of the time somebody tries to ride the bull out of the gate, and hold on for as long as they can. This is very dangerous, and one guy who was thrown off was then trampled. He was taken off in a stretcher.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&NR=1&v=IJrS-efph1s

Even this can wear on you after a while, so to spice things up they actually bring on two soccer teams who begin a friendly game of futbol. Soon they are joined by a bull, he is equally opposed to both teams, which makes for some sporty play. If that isn’t sport enough, they let out another bull. Two teams, two bulls, one ball.

A little shopping in town to buy a few souvenirs on Sunday, followed by a sunset horseback ride on the beach and up into the forest was fun, but my butt is still sore three weeks later. We did see monkeys and a very large iguana.

We had dinner, and they also packed breakfast for us because we were going to be leaving so early the next morning. I did not want to leave my villa with its own pool.

We were up early and taken to the local Tamarindo Airport for our 0700 flight on NatureAir, a carbon-neutral airline. After bumping a passenger instead of our luggage to meet the weight limit, we flew in a single-engine Cessna Caravan to Tobías Bolaños Airport, the smaller of San Jose’s two airports. It was about an hour flight, leveling off at about 9,500 feet. It was a clear day and the scenery was spectacular. We picked up our bags and our driver, as usual was waiting for Mr. Edward and family. It was a short drive distance wise to the international airport, but, you know, with traffic and all, it was about a 30 minute drive.

The Juan Santamaría International Airport is named after Costa Rica’s national hero Juan Santamaría, a courageous drummer boy who died in 1856 defending his country against forces led by US-American filibuster William Walker. It is Central America’s second busiest airport after Panama City.

At the airport we first had to pay the $28 per person departure tax. We checked our bags, passed through security and went to the VIP lounge since we had a long wait. This lounge did not offer privileges to Continental passengers, so we had to pay to get in. I was okay with that, but the lounge didn’t offer much, and in retrospect was not worth the cost. Our flight to Houston was comfortable, but the aircraft was so new, the flight attendant said, that it didn’t have any kind of entertainment system installed yet.

At Houston we had to go through immigration, and we spent a long, long time waiting as we weaved through the line. Then we had to get our bags, go through customs, and through security again. This offered the opportunity for more delays, only everyone was late for their flights by now and civility was severely curtailed at this point. As it was, we had to streak through the airport to our gate, which was way on the other side of another terminal. Yes, they held the flight for us, and we made it to DC on time, at around 11 p.m.

We had a reasonably long wait for our bags –which I couldn’t figure out at that time of night-grabbed a taxi and got home. Scout was so happy to see us.

*** “Can I touch your hair?” — More from Heather Murphy:

These People will Eat ANYTHING

Lamb, dairy and seafood comprise the majority of the diet for Icelanders. There are some traditional foods that are eaten at seasonal festivals like þorramatur, a festival of local culture and ancient foods.

Hákarl is worthy of particular note. It is putrified, rotten fermented Greenland (basking) shark. Greenland shark will kill you in its fresh state due to high quantities of urea and an oxide combination. To make it edible, it is placed underground on a slight grade, covered with stones and left to rot. Yep. Really. To make it edible.

It was not offered to me during this trip. Chef Gordon Ramsey was unable to keep it down, according to news reports. Chef Anthony Bourdain considered disgusting and terrible.

Had hákarl been offered, I would have declined it with vigor. I am a weak and not terribly daring diner. I had no intention of trying hákarl. I can live with that.

They also eat puffin and other sea birds. It is a matter of practicality and variety, I am sure.

Early in the trip, we had passed a place that advertised pepper steak. The sandwichboard outside had a picture of the entree that would make your mouth water – beef with a peppercorn cream sauce. Near the end of the visit, it was time to find the place again and try it.

When the waitress came to take my order, I ordered the Piparsteak.

Waitress with thick accent: “The foal?”

Me: “What?”

Waitress: “The foal?” (Dragging it out in the hopes that I might understand better.)

Me (in my head): Oh, she said FOAL. Foal! Baby horse? Ugh no!

Me: “No. I want steak from beef.”

She explained that it would cost more but I assured her that I was perfectly okay with that. I do not know if I ate baby horse or steak. What I can say is that it was exceptionally good beef. I hope.

The trip to Iceland was a fantastic respite from the daily grind. I would love to go back. It is a beautiful country and, if your plans permit, I encourage you to add Iceland to your Bucket List!

Happy travels!

Questions or feedback for Heather can be addressed here in YVNS by sending an email to Ned at lundquist989@cs.com. Heather through

*** From Mat Matta:

Ned,

As promised below is a writeup of my trip to Lake Placid for possible inclusion in your Very Next Step newsletter.

Mat

Lake Placid, New York

16 hockey players and their parents headed to Lake Placid, NY, home of the Miracle on Ice, for a Pee Wee hockey tournament in late January. We would be playing teams from Pickering, Ontario, Miami, Fla. and Hamden, Mass. For most of us this was the first trip to this area of New York. The drive from Annapolis was about 9 hours and virtually all interstate so it was pretty easy.

Once we got past Albany the roads were much smaller and the ride into Lake Placid was beautiful though there was a definite lack of snow. A rushing river with high cliff walls was very picturesque. There were plenty of people taking advantage of the mild temperatures to venture out on the marked hiking trails.

The first tip off that this is an Olympics town is the Ski Jumping platforms that rise above the tree line. You’d have to be nuts to jump off those ramps!

Once you get into the town proper there are quaint hotels and shops lining the street. I doubt they have changed much in the last 30 years. The Olympics are still very heavily featured in the town with the Miracle on Ice still being the main draw.

The Hockey complex features the 1932 Olympics rink, the 1980 Olympics rink, now named for famed coach Herb Brooks and a new rink. In addition, there is an Olympics museum that is full of great mementos much of which centers around hockey. Jim Craig’s pads and stick are prominently displayed within a goal from the 1980 Olympics.

Our hotel sat 30 feet or so from Mirror lake which was frozen enough for skating and sledding. The boys spent much of their time on the lake having great time. There was also a town ice toboggan ride but it was not quite ready for action when we were there. The mountain views were spectacular and skiing and Whiteface Mountain was 15 minutes away.

Like I said there was very little snow so snowmobiling was unavailable but the Olympic bobsled facility was up and running with rides available with professional drivers.

We all had a great time. I can only imagine what the area is like in the summer…it must be just as fun.

Oh and by the way Navy PeeWee Gold lost to the Pickering Panthers 2-1 in the finals.

*** From Paul Hart:

Ned: Here’s something for your next newsletter.

Paul Hart San Antonio

The Wildlife of Big Bend

We had an eventful trip to Big Bend National Park last week, my latest visit to this stunning place on the Texas/Mexico border that’s larger than Rhode Island. (Note: Not everything in Texas can be described as bigger than Rhode Island. Some things are bigger than Delaware.) The park’s literally an end-of-the-road place and always worth the long journey. Some maintain it’s three parks:

* The Rio Grande, sandwiched between canyon walls more than a thousand feet high. * The Chisos Mountains, a forested enclave surrounded by desert. * The Chihuahuan Desert with unusual flora and fauna.

What stood out on this trip was the wild fauna, four-legged and otherwise. We had planned hikes in the Chisos but a few days before our arrival a mountain lion attacked a little boy. Oddly, the attack was in the comparatively bustling driveway of the park lodge, not the bushes. The boy’s father fought off the critter with a pocket knife and his son will be fine. But somewhere out there in the forest was a hungry, and wounded, mountain lion so the rangers closed all trails while they searched for the cat.

No problem, we’ll just drive down to the river and hike. Ah, but more unexpected wildlife here. Prior to 9/11, it was customary for park visitors to wade, or ferry across, the Rio Grande to visit the remote village of Boquillas del Carmen, Mexico. Boquilas remains stuck in a late 19th Century time warp. One such junket inspired Robert Earl Keen’s song, Gringo Honeymoon. The feds put a stop to this — but not to Mexican innovation. Souvenir salesmen spread their wares just feet from the river on the U.S. side. If the Border Patrol shows up, Zip!, they scoot across to the other side and safety. Even more creative was “Victor,” a young man sitting on the other side atop a large rock, serenading hikers with Mexican songs. His English was just good enough to point out a can for tips he’d left on our side of El Rio. Multiple signs warn not to deal with these guys, or worse cross the river, or face hefty fines. There are efforts to creat some sort of legal border crossing to bring back this trip unique to any national park.

One night we opted to drive over to Terlingua, Texas, just west of the park and famous for its chili festival held each November. To get in the spirit of the place, I ordered a chili burger at the Starlight Theater, a cinema-turned-saloon/restaurant that’s the center of local nightlife. More wildlife here, the locals are more colorful than the surrounding desert: Think Haight-Ashbury. Photography would be gauche, so we just enjoyed the parade in and out the door while we lingered over several margaritas and Shiners.

*** From Brian Kilgallen:

When I moved to Europe almost a decade ago, I began writing about my travels and adventures to share with absent friends. But as time wore on, I lost the drive to put words on paper. I don’t know why, but the fire had gone out.

I recently met someone who changed that, someone who unknowingly became my muse and source of inspiration. Below is the beginning of what I hope will be a renewed effort to share my experiences with you.

Brian

Reflections on Gran Canaria

If you close your eyes, the wind whipping through the palm trees sounds like ocean waves on the beach. And it’s always windy in the Canary Islands. I had endured a very early morning four and half hour flight to Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, and shortly after noon I was standing at the hotel desk, travel weary and begging for a room with an ocean view on the top floor. I had stayed at that hotel the same time last year and the staff gladly granted my request. So there I was, on the balcony in Playa del Inglés, looking out across the Saharan dunes toward Costa Melonares and listening to the rush of the wind in the palm trees.

Gran Canaria, like its sister islands, lies in the Atlantic off northwest Africa about 100 kilometers from the border of Morocco and Western Sahara, and like the other islands, it was formed by volcanoes that are still active. But what makes this so attractive, particularly during the winter months, is the climate. It’s mostly sunny with year round temperatures in the mid 20s centigrade (70-75 Fahrenheit) during the day and cooler at night. Hence, the perfect winter escape for northern Europeans who want to flee their dark and dreary surroundings even if it’s only for a week or so.

Yes, there are fests in Germany where you can stave off the dank cold by consuming wurst and enormous amounts of alcohol. I had been to such events in past years and reveled with the best of them. But the next morning, it was still cold and dank and my brain hurt. So, Gran Canaria seemed to be a sensible alternative. I was not alone. Playa del Inglés is, in itself, a contradiction. It means “The English Strand,” but over the years the resort has become more like the Teutonic Miami Beach, with German restaurants, butchers, bakeries, and, of course, beer. Today, with the proliferation of Germans, it’s easier to find a Spaniard on the island who speaks deutsch than one who understands English.

I was sitting at the poolside bar after dinner that night, speaking slowly in English and using hand gestures to order a brandy from Bartolo the Bartender who pretended to understand. He scurried back and forth behind the bar, stopped, hesitated and stretched to get a bottle from the top shelf. He poured a generous amount of Carlos III into a snifter and watched for my approval as I took a sip and nodded. It wasn’t Courvoisier, but it would do.

And then she caught my eye.

She was poised and elegant. Fresh and alive. Demur and exciting. Warm and gentle. Her honey-brown hair, soft as moonlight, fell diagonally across her forehead and her smile was infectious and inviting. I found myself lost in her brown eyes. We were at Rick’s Café in Casablanca. She was Ingrid Bergman and I was Humphrey Bogart. I wanted to hear the pianist play “As Time Goes By” and I had a sudden urge to recite that now famous line: “Of all the gin joints in all the world….”

She was Belgian.

“I’m 25,” she said in perfect English.

I was never good at mathematics so it took me a moment to calculate that I was, well let’s say, significantly older. Her life was just beginning and mine was pretty much behind me. But she made it easy for me and the conversation blossomed.

We spent the next few evenings together listening to the poolside entertainment and chatting. One morning we strolled along the dunes, stopped for coffee on the beach and shared some of our inner thoughts. The following day she flew back to Antwerp. She was gone. But the memory of her still lingered.

There are numerous excursions and activities available on Gran Canaria. The world’s largest catamaran, a party boat, is berthed in Puerto Rico. One tour company offers a mini-van trek of the island on perilous, narrow winding roads through the mountains. There’s deep sea fishing and the Yellow Submarine that will give you a close-up view of sunken wrecks.

I decided on a day trip north to the capital, Las Palmas. In the old section of town, I came across a small museum dedicated to Christopher Columbus. It was there I discovered that he had made a pit stop on Gran Canaria during his first transatlantic voyage. As was customary in those days, he presented his papers to the governor of the island. In return, the governor gave him a kiss on both cheeks, a chock to the shoulder and bade him “buen viaje.” I imagine the conversation may have gone something like this.

“Before we say arrivederci, I’m gonna need-a some provisions,” Columbus insisted.

“Of course. Mi casa, su casa.”

“I don’ need-a you house. I need-a food, a-water, sangria….

The governor nodded thoughtfully. “We have fish.”

“Fish we got. Waddaya think. I gotta boat in-a da water. We fish. One-a my boys caught a bigga fish yestaday. Dis a-big,” Columbus said, stretching out both arms. “A beauty. Very tasty. Many bones.”

“We have vegetables and fruit.”

Columbus eyed the governor warily. “Wha’ kinda of veggies? We already gotta zucchini…”

“We have tomatoes, corn, lettuce, spinach…”

“Yo! I’m-a Christopher Columbus not Popeye da Sailor. Okay. We take-a the lot – but not-a the spinach. And toss in a few barrels of sangria…maybe some paella to go.”

“Very well.” Then an expression of deep concern clouded the governor’s eyes. “Tell me,” he asked, “do you expect to find life when you arrive in the New World?

“Maybe…if-a we land on a Saturday night.”

I had heard from a German couple that Mogán was also worth a visit and was easily accessible by local bus. As it was, the journey later in the week took about an hour from my hotel. I wanted to arrive early in the morning when the light was better for photography and the sun was spilling across the bougainvillea plants. I was not disappointed.

Nestled in a natural harbor, the village was a tight cluster of whitewashed houses, apartments, hotels and restaurants set against a backdrop of bare, rugged mountains. Yes, it was a tourist trap. Yes, the prices were unrealistic even for Spain. But the charm and atmosphere made you forget that. I settled on an Irish pub (they are everywhere on the island!) for lunch. I made eye contact with the waiter and he approached with a menu. I looked at his name tag.

“You’re David?” I asked.

“Si, señor.”

“You’re… Mogan David?”

“Si, señor.”

It may have been an Irish pub, but the staff was Spanish as were the food and wine. I ordered a fish sandwich, washed it down with a carafe of Sangre de Toro and paid the man.

The sun was as high as it was going to get in winter, but it was still intense. Time to return to the hotel and the poolside bar. I boarded the bus. “Playa del Inglés,” I said to the driver, offering a ten euro note and a handful of change.

“Four euro fifteen” he grumbled. He ordered me to put the money on the tray. He handed back the ten euro and fished through my hand for the right change, took it and printed out the ticket. It was clear he was not having a good day and, therefore, I should not be having a good day. I guessed he was probably counting the hours until his next siesta.

I found a window seat and then we rattled off on the return trip. Several kilometers later, he pulled up to a bus stop in the middle of nowhere to pick up a lone passenger. Then he stormed out from behind the steering wheel like a mad bull.

“Ticket Control,” he shouted. “Ticket Control. Show me your tickets.” When he got to me, he looked at my receipt. “You only pay one euro twenty.”

“You took my money,” I said.

“Why you only got a ticket for one euro twenty?”

“I don’t know. You took my money and you gave me this ticket.” Standing alone, isolated, at a bus stop in the middle of nowhere gives one time to think and reflect. I was reflecting on how the scenario on the bus might have played out differently if I had simply given the driver the correct change in the first place. There was no shelter, no bench to sit on. So I sat on a large boulder on the side of the road, listened to the sound of the waves crashing on the rocks below and waited for the next bus. I flagged it down when it arrived a half hour later and sat in silence, staring out the window as the coastline slipped by. Then I found myself thinking about her. The Belgian.

I smiled.

*** Here’s the YVNS Travel News for January:

*** Who knew?

The Palm Beach, Frederikshavn, Denmark

57 degrees north

At the moment (2007), we have about 90 palms on the Palm Beach. There are two different types: the flax palm and the phoenix palm.

The Flax Palm (Trachycarpus fortunei)

Our flax palms are now three to four metres tall and they can grow to be up to ten metres tall. The leaves are fan-shaped, and the main stem is covered by brown, threaded remains of old leaves. It is a tough palm which will survive temperatures of almost 20 degrees below zero (Celsius) at the top, while the root needs protection.

The natural habitat of the flax palm is in central and southern China where the palms often grow on slopes.

The Phoenix Palm (Phoenix canariensis)

Our phoenix palms are now three to four metres tall and can grow to be up to 20 metres. The leaves are feather-shaped and they may be as big as five metres long and one metre wide. The first part of the main stem is covered with remains of old leaves, while the second part is smooth. The palms can survive temperatures of about five degrees below zero (Celsius) at the top, but the root needs protection.

The natural habitat for the phoenix palm is the Canary Islands. The fruits are inedible and the palm is not to be mistaken for the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera), which is an African palm.

How does the Palms Survive on the Beach?

The majority of the palms are buried in large basins in the sand. The basins are made from a heavy wire netting through which the palm roots can grow. This way the palms can absorb nutrition directly from the ground one and a half metre below the beach.

The rest of the palms are placed on the beach in large plastic basins. They are watered once a week during the summer.

http://www.palmestranden.dk/index.php?ID=31&lang=en

*** Virginia Naturally Website Link to School Environmental Learning Programs

Visit the Virginia Naturally website now for ideas on nature learning activities. Teachers, there are also ideas for workshops and training available for your continuing education and getting a start on environmental lesson plans for the next semester. http://www.vanaturally.com/

*** Trail/Outdoor/Conservation volunteer opportunities:

1.) The Colorado Trail 2012 Weeklong Trail Crews

Here’s one example:

Backpack-in: Must be fit and acclimated. This self-supported backpack crew will hike in around 6 miles and camp atop Snow Mesa near a small lake. They’ll work in a lovely high-mountain cirque to improve the co-located CT/CDT and remove a large rock in the trail that’s troublesome for equestrians and others. Elevation 12,600 ft. CT Segment 21.

July 14 – 21 Loren Woods (720) 940-8082 12 Volunteers http://www.coloradotrail.org/crewschedule.html

2.) Summer Hatchery Season Host, The Hagerman National Fish Hatchery, Hagerman, ID

The Hagerman National Fish Hatchery is located about 30 miles west of Twin Falls, Idaho at the Thousand Springs Reach of Eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer. Under the Lower Snake River Fish and Wildlife Compensation Plan (LSRCP), over 1.4 million steelhead are produced annually to mitigate for fish and wildlife losses caused by the construction of four dams on the lower Snake River (Lower Granite, Little Goose, Lower Monumental, Ice Harbor). The Hatchery also produces 130,000 Rainbow trout to mitigate for Dworshak Dam in northern Idaho

1 full RV hook-up w/ water and elec.; 1 bedroom apt. fits 4

To get there, look for the Hagerman National Fish Hatchery signs on the Thousand Springs Scenic byway or click Driving Directions for a map. A video tour is available at the Twin Falls Chamber of Commerce.

http://www.fws.gov/hagerman/

3.) Animal Assistant – Wildlife, Woodlands Wildlife Refuge, Inc., Clinton, NJ

ASSISTANT: This is working up close and personal with the animals without actually handling them. You will work closely with other volunteers on your shift to prepare food, bedding and other needs. This position helps a shift run smoothly and allows the handlers to concentrate on feeding and direct care. The time requirement for this position is a minimum of once a week for a 3-4 hour shift.

Thank you so much for your interest in our Volunteer Program! The next step is to visit our website at www.woodlandswildlife.org where you can view our volunteer descriptions and fill out an application. You may download the application and email it to wildlife_rehab@yahoo.com. Please let us know if you would prefer receiving a hard copy of our volunteer opportunities via mail instead, and the application may be mailed or faxed back.

Once we have received your application, we will review it and notify you of the next upcoming Volunteer Orientation. The Volunteer Orientation serves as a general introduction to Woodlands Wildlife Refuge and an information session regarding your duties as a volunteer.

Please call Melissa at 908-730-8300 ext 6 with any questions.

http://www.volunteermatch.org/search/opp399987.jsp

*** National Rail-Trail of the month:

Trail of the Month: February 2012 Wyoming’s Medicine Bow Rail-Trail

The Arapahoe and the Cheyenne. Kit Carson and grizzly bears. Gold diggers and railroad builders. Coal miners and tie hacks. All of these characters have ventured into the Medicine Bow Mountains and left their imprint on the region, and the nation.

You, too, can journey into these scenic and historical mountains—with less effort than earlier visitors—on the Medicine Bow Rail-Trail. This 21-mile gravel pathway offers glimpses of the Old West, and a portal into the New West, as it winds through rugged national forest land in southeastern Wyoming.

But come prepared—this corner of the West may no longer be wild, but it’s far from tame. “It’s more rustic than other rail-trails, but that’s part of its merit,” says Amber Travsky, a board member of Cycle Wyoming, a statewide bicycling advocacy group. The nearest city, Laramie, is 30 miles away, and moose on the trail may outnumber the people using it on any given day. “If you get a flat, you better be able to fix it,” she adds.

If you’re ready for an adventure, though, this unique trail will provide it. Among other attributes, the pathway has a rich history. Although it was completed less than five years ago, the story of the Medicine Bow goes back a century. Or more, if you consider the native people who first roamed and helped name these mountains.

According to local lore, Arapahoe, Cheyenne and other tribes came to this area regularly to conduct ceremonies to ward off disease, and to cut varieties of trees that made strong bows for hunting. Over time, early European settlers melded these historical uses into the moniker ‘Medicine Bow.’

In the early decades of the 19th century, intrepid trappers began to explore the mountains in search of pelts. Among those trappers was Kit Carson, who supposedly spent a summer here and survived a dangerous encounter with grizzly bears by climbing a tree.

The 1860s saw the march of the Union Pacific (UP) railroad west across Wyoming toward its historic meeting with the Central Pacific in Utah, forming the nation’s first transcontinental line. The railroad needed lumber for ties—and the tall, straight lodgepole pines of the Medicine Bow Mountains proved ideal. Men were hired to cut the trees and prepare them for use on the railroad, and camps of these ‘tie hackers’ sprang up in the mountains.

Meanwhile, prospectors scoured the hills and valleys in search of gold. They discovered it outside of present-day Centennial, Wyo., setting off a mining boom in the late 1870s. A second gold rush around the turn of the 20th century prompted a group of entrepreneurs to begin building a spur line off the UP tracks in Laramie west toward Centennial—and the Laramie, Hahns Peak and Pacific (LHP&P) Railroad was born.

By the time the rail line reached Centennial in 1907, the town’s latest mining boom was fading, so the company’s owners turned their sights to black gold. Coal seams near the southern end of the Medicine Bows beckoned, and the LHP&P followed. The rail line turned south through the mountains, reaching appropriately named Coalmont, Colo., in 1911.

For many years, the 111-mile rail line transported coal, timber and livestock to Laramie. By the 1920s, though, the railroad was struggling, and its ownership and name changed several times until it officially became a part of Union Pacific in 1951. It limped along into the 1990s, its last incarnation as a tourist line carrying passengers between Laramie and Walden, Colo. (a small town north of Coalmont). “It wasn’t very successful,” says Mary Sanderson, recreation planner for the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests.

The line was formally abandoned in 1996 and the U.S. Forest Service railbanked the portion that ran through its lands. Nearly a decade of planning, hearings and studies followed, including a mapping exercise in which Sanderson made one of the last trips down the rails in the late 1990s. Her job was to take GPS readings, which she did from a lawn chair in the flatbed of a railroad inspection truck. “I looked like granny from the Beverly Hillbillies, but it was really neat,” she recalls.

Finally, with the backing and encouragement of the Laramie Bicycling Network, Cycle Wyoming and other state and local groups, work started on the pathway in 2005. The rail-trail opened to bikers, hikers, skiers and horseback riders in 2007.

“It’s really special to ride on it—there’s quite a bit to see,” says Sanderson. Among the sights are those that harken back to the history of the area, from the remains of former tie-hacker camps and mining communities, to an old caboose parked along the trail near its northern end. Interpretive signs help elucidate this history. (The Nici Self museum, housed in a restored LHP&P depot in Centennial, a few miles north of the northern trailhead, includes much more local lore.)

But it’s not all about cultural history on the Medicine Bow trail. The area is rich in natural history, too. The trail passes through large stands of lodgepole, spruce, fir and aspen; traverses meadows of grass and sagebrush; crosses numerous streams; and skirts dozens of swamps, bogs, ponds and lakes. Among the creatures you can glimpse along or on the trail are moose, beaver, mule deer, elk, pronghorn, porcupine and black bear. In the warm months, throngs of butterflies flutter through the air, lured by the lupine, penstemon, potentilla and other flowers growing along the trail.

The most prominent of the forest’s inhabitants are creatures you won’t see, but their handiwork is abundantly evident. These are mountain pine beetles, tiny insects that bore into conifers and kill the trees. In the past decade, these pests have spread widely in the forests of southern Wyoming (and elsewhere), reaching epidemic proportions in part because drought has stressed and weakened trees.

“We’ve had a lot of trees dying, and when they die, they become hazards—especially where people are,” says Sanderson. The Forest Service has been diligent about removing infected trees near trailheads, campgrounds, parking lots and along the trail, so there’s no need to worry about being hit by falling timber—but the large expanses of red and gray decaying conifers in the area do mar the otherwise scenic vistas.

Despite the pine beetle challenge—and a few others, including some uninvited and damaging vehicle use—both Sanderson and Travsky emphasize that the Medicine Bow trail has much to offer visitors. “We’ve got a lot of wonderful trails in Wyoming, but the Medicine Bow is both non-motorized and nontechnical, so you can enjoy your surroundings without having to worry about anything else,” says Travsky.

Perhaps more important for those seeking peace and quiet, this remote trail is little used and largely undiscovered. But that may not last long, as Sanderson points out: “Word is getting out that this is a great trail.” http://www.railstotrails.org/news/recurringFeatures/trailMonth/index.html

*** Travel/Adventure/Outdoors/Conservation employment opportunities:

1.) Outdoor Educator (Part Time), Shangri La Education Department, Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center, Orange, TX http://www.shangrilagardens.org/Top-Utility-Nav/Career-Opportunities/Outdoor -Educator–Part-Time-.aspx

2.) Intern – Environmental Education, Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center, Orange, TX http://www.shangrilagardens.org/Top-Utility-Nav/Career-Opportunities/Intern-

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