Small Boat Cruising with BLOUNT to Belize and Guatamala

Birding as we Cruise up the Rio Dulce into Guatemala.

Birding as we Cruise up the Rio Dulce into Guatemala.

Just finishing up a fun travel feature regarding our cruise with Blount Small Ship Adventures to Guatemala and Belize. Get a quick visual preview of our cruise along the Barrier Reef off Belize, and up the Rio Dulce into the heart of Mayan country in Guatemala by visiting  our photo collection at http://greatriver.smugmug.com/Travel/Cruising-Belize-Barrier-Reef/

See ALL our travel features at www.greatriver.com/waterwaycruises

 

 

The Story of Albert D.J. Cashier

Albert DJ Cashier

Albert DJ Cashier

One of the more unusual stories from the Siege of Vicksburg came from the 95th Illinois Regiment. This regiment had a reputation as a particularly fierce group of fighters. Only 58% of the regiment had survived the previous Battle of Shiloh. Among those at Vicksburg was one they called “the fiercest of the fierce” — Albert D.J. Cashier.

When injured in a car accident in 1913, Albert (on right in photograph) refused medical help unless the doctor refused to reveal his secret… that Albert was a woman. Inevitably, the secret leaked out and a movement began to have Cashier’s name stricken from the Vicksburg monument. But in 1915, representatives of the regiment met in Chicago and signed a communication to the Illinois governor requesting that if any name was stricken from the regimental listing, then EVERY name must be stricken. Albert’s name is still listed to this day.

One knowledgeable researcher suspects that “Albert” was once engaged to a man named Albert in Ireland. When he was killed in an uprising, she committed herself to carrying on his life by following through on his dream to come to the United States. She dressed as a man, stowed away on a ship, and enrolled in the war using Albert’s name. At least 600 women are documented to have fought as men in the Civil WGRFF IV cover 033005ar.

Insight excerpt from the Siege of Vicksburg, p. 78, Vol 4 of DISCOVER! America’s Great River Road by Pat Middleton. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

 

 

Links for Following the “Healing the Water” Walk

Track exactly where the group is today…

LIVE GPS tracking: (copy & Paste into browser)http://share.findmespot.com/shared/faces/viewspots.jsp?glId=0mPHV4igHadEVfpSyKWhmaoe1egzqco2g

Schedule for the Walk (save this as a possible route for walking the entire length of the Mississippi River. This schedule presumes walking 25-30 miles per day.

https://word.office.live.com/wv/WordView.aspx?FBsrc=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fdownload%2Ffile_preview.php%3Fid%3D551090901588065%26time%3D1363819016%26metadata&access_token=1381570422%3AAVLBnSAg3R0QABSDzNAoBkEMMGiYBGyCeSFq1LXn4bIgtw&title=Mississippi+River+Water+Walk+Updated+3.12.doc

The group also has a FACEBOOK page.

Tundra Swans Make Spring 2013 Debut, Brownsville, MN

I spent some time searching out information on the Ojibwa “Healing the River” walk yesterday. Thought it might interest others, so I’ve included my links in the next entry. Contemplating their walk prompted me to have a look at the charts and plan my own walk along the river. I chose to walk a mile above and below the Brownsville, Minnesota, birding overlook… and was rewarded by seeing several large flights of TUNDRA SWANS land directly opposite the overlook!!

They are not just at the overlook, however, but there seems to be a cluster just beyond several small islands just north of the overlook. They were not in the water, but standing or sleeping in the snow beside any open water…so look carefully!

Also abundant eagles, diving ducks, a pileated woodpecker! Walking along sparkling, open water when it is still cold and snowy is the next best thing to spring!!

Eagles, Eagles

Eagles on ice

With the river well frozen in most spots, January becomes and ideal time for American Bald Eagle watching on the Upper Mississippi River. Best spots for viewing are generally at the open water just below each of the Dams between Lake Pepin and St. Louis. But eagles will be found in trees, certain farm fields, and clustered–often in dozens or even hundreds–at any bit of ice where there is open water.

This week end, 1-25-2013, in Clarksville Missouri is Eagle Days an educational program hosted by the Missouri Department of Conservation. On Tuesday I counted 59 eagles from the Visitor Center in Clarksville. Clarksville was the first hosting site for the Eagle Days program starting back in ;the early 80′s when there were no nesting pairs in the state. Now there are between 100 to 200 nest in the state of Missouri. I hope everyone gets a chance to come see the eagles.

UPCOMING 2013 FESTIVALS:   Prairie du Chien, WI,  February 23.

Find more about EAGLES on the MISSISSIPPI by Search our Birding Categories, to the right, or by searching greatriver.com.

 

Fascinating Cargo–What is it??

Fascinating CargoMy American Queen friends from the early November Upper Mississippi River cruise will recognize this heavy piece of tubular, yellow striped cargo. We first saw it on a single barge being pushed down the Mississippi River south of La Crosse, WI.

Had no idea then what it was… still have no idea, but I recently saw it again!! …being towed by a tug down the East Coast of Florida off St. Lucie County. Would love to hear from someone what it is. It is exceptionally unusual to have seen it on the Upper Mississippi, and amazing to me that I have now seen it a second time. Anyone have any idea at all??

Sandhill Cranes, Pelicans and Mastodons!

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Nature’s alarm clock is back on! By 7 a.m. the calls of geese and cranes fill the marsh. Our next waterfowl alert will be the return of the White Pelican.

The pelicans normally follow the melting ice on the river, devouring the fish kill as they move north. Please post your on the comment pages of our Ramblin’ On Blog below!

Spring topics abound in the archives of Greatriver.com… Click HERE for www.greatriver.com birding archives or here for BIRDING archives from our RAMBLIN’ ON Blog.  To find a vast array of articles related specifically to Eagles, or Cranes, or other subjects, use our SEARCH engines!

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Though rains and snow were both sparse this year, Spring always means a heightened interest in flood conditions along the Mississippi River.  Use our search engine to find interactive flood maps.

Record warmth has also prompted a number of media mentions pertaining to the ICE AGE and past GLACIAL patterns. We’ve done a number of feature stories about past ice ages and the formation of the Mississippi River. Find them here….

Ice Age Armadillos, The Clovis Connection.The Kimmswick, Missouri, mastodon www.greatriver.com/mastodon.htm

Glacial Lakes and Rivers form the Mississippi River Valley:

Read more about the effects of the Ice Age on the Mississippi River and the people who live along it today!  …greatriver.com/Ice_Age/glacier.htm
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So Much Has Changed!!

Ice fishermenWhat a difference two weeks can make! River is frozen. Swans long gone. Ice Fishermen abound. Eagles will be searching out open areas in the ice field. And while you may see local fishermen out on the ice… BEWARE. River ice cannot be trusted, even from day to day. River currents EAT ice.

A fisherman friend relayed that he used a special truck for ice fishing… the top had been removed so that if he fell through the ice, he could immediately push off and head for the hole.

Well, it happened that he DID fall through, and he immediately swam to the surface break. Current is obviously a great enemy, but hypothermia strikes in minutes.

He found himself sitting on the edge of the fragile ice edge, kicking his feet in the water. He had to logically think, “this is not normal. I SHOULD be freezing to death.”

So he pulled his body up and ran for the highway where he had his “road truck” parked. He made it to the truck, started out onto Hwy 35. He did reach the highway… and stopped right in the path of traffic.

Another driver stopped behind him, realized something must be wrong, and found Harold hypothermic behind the wheel of his truck.

Cruising with Quasar Expeditions on the Galapagos EVOLUTION

WATERWAY CRUISE REPORT
Colored letters indicate a link to more information



Let me say right up front that not since the old Delta Queen Steamboat Company (with whom I did at least 40 cruises as guest lecturer) have I felt such loyalty to a cruise operator.  Quasar Expeditions, like the Delta Queen Steamboat Company, operates on passion… not for their business, but for Ecuador and the Galapagos, and for their GUESTS.


For most of us, the biggest puzzle pieces in putting together a Galapagos cruise are… “Who shall I travel with, and, when should I go?”

Once we discovered the 32-passenger Galapagos EVOLUTION and Quasar Expeditions, it was clear sailing… especially in hind-sight…everything about this cruise and our eventual visit to the Andes highlands turned out to be immensely satisfying!

December to May is considered to be prime time, weather-wise, for visiting the Galapagos islands.  Our May visit featured rich, green plant-life and fair skies. Every bird species, from finch to Albatross, lizard to seal lion seemed to be nesting, mating, and feeding with abandon. But, honestly, most species in the Galapagos are opportunistic when it comes to reproduction… one month is as good as another for attracting a mate and raising a brood.

WHO to travel with is another matter.

A rule of thumb, is that smaller vessels rate better access to islands in the Galapagos. But we didn’t really want to risk chartering a small sailing boat with minimal amenities and an unknown operator. So we had an eye out for a slightly larger vessel, with a luxury tradition. With 32-passengers, a sleek classic yacht design, a modern, informative web-site, and luxury ratings for meals and accommodations, the EVOLUTION seemed to be our vessel.

Quasar Expeditions is one of the oldest cruise operators in the Galapagos. The family has offered cruises of the Galapagos since the 1980s and offered us trouble-free travel planning… both cruise passengers had the advantage of knowledgeable and passionate naturalists, excellent food, and superb access to the islands. Quasar also organized our week-long land tour in the Andes highlands around Quito… Our driver and English-speaking guide took a personal interest in our satisfaction from the moment they picked us up at the airport to the moment they waved us off the Tarmac.

While Quasar Expeditions is an Ecuadoran company, every contact we had was with an English speaking individual.  From website to office staff, the company is positioned specifically to deal with English-speaking populations.

“The understanding that we are an English-speaking company makes it easier for us to
garner the finest crew, naturalists, and to meet the expectations of an English-speaking clientel,” I was told. “Plus, we don’t just want you to come and enjoy the islands, we want you to leave the EVOLUTION with a new cadre of FRIENDS. That just happens more easily if everyone speaks the same language.”

Aboard the EVOLUTION

Alex was our preferred naturalist… mainly because of his love of the islands, and because of his 20 years of experience! But for those whose personal perspective is that this was a “vacation” and no “mandatory learning” was allowed, we had a second naturalist whose main focus was “learn a little” and have a great time! Every Galapagos naturalist today is professionally trained to interpret and protect this unique natural heritage.

On my first open ocean snorkeling excursion, I panicked and clung to the ladder.

“Alex,” I urged, “don’t wait for me. I’ll just hang here for a while.”

“I don’t go anywhere unless you decide to come with me, or get back in the boat,” he explained. “I don’t leave you in the water alone.” I felt absolutely safe with Alex from that point forward.

Snorkeling, panga rides, and kayaking were all available options for daily water-based activities. Snorkeling was by far the most popular… Turtles, white-tipped sharks, swimming with sea lions, and even “circling-up” when visited by several hammerhead sharks provided highlites on our EVOLUTION cruise. Oh yes, and we were joined by a pod of leaping dolphins during one of many memorable panga excursions!

“I really could not believe it was ME out there snorkeling with Hammerhead sharks!” one Minnesota passenger exalted.   And sea turtles were ABUNDANT in the clear waters!
 

Twice each day, the naturalists led us ashore for an island hike. An afternoon nap was mandatory, so that everyone had the energy to do the really important stuff… like hiking among the booby’s and iguanas, and magnificent Frigate Birds.

The AMAZING thing is  that these creatures truly have no fear of humans!! It was as if we had entered into the Garden of Eden.

 

While it is not necessary to  be   a student athlete to visit the Galapagos Islands, for the first time on any cruise, we found ourselves to be among the older visitors, rather than the younger!

It IS necessary to be able to hike for a mile or two… some of it over rocky lava surfaces, or up and down short steep slopes.

“Wet landings” are common, so be prepared to swing your legs over the side of a rubber panga!

I did bring two pieces of “gear” that I found incredibly useful…trekking poles that could be unscrewed to fit in a small carry-on suitcase, and lightweight Salomon’s “Amphibian” style hiking shoes with webbing. The trekking poles worked great when we were on lava rocks.

 

 

The specialized water/hiking shoes were great for wet landings. The webbing meant shoes dried quickly. The hiking soles stuck like glue to wet rock and afforded comfortable cushioning for the rest of the hike.

Casual dress is definitely the order of the day for this cruise.

The Dining Room of the EVOLUTION offered hot coffee at all hours, cookies, tea, and water or Sodas. Our hotel manager prided himself on serving excellent meals, with fully dressed tables at every meal. Seafood, meats, and vegetables often with an Ecuadoran flavor greeted us at every meal.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for me,” he commented. “I really put everything I have into our meals and presentation.”

For my part, I often chose some of the more casual tables on deck, overlooking the bays and coves of the islands! Birding was excellent, even from the boat. Frigate birds often lined up on the various overhead lines of the vessel.

 Life on board the EVOLUTION was easy. Our cabins were immaculately clean. In seven days, I never once crossed paths with our housekeepers!

 

 

 

 

 

 

… the large hot tub , and the lounge were popular gathering spots.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you for following our series on cruising the Galapagos Islands!….  But there is more to Ecuador than the Galapagos. 


 

You may decide to add on a visit to the Andes highlands, or the Amazon Jungle. Please check back for a review of our land tour in the highlands.

Meantime, my best advice is to consider planning now for your Galapagos tour…

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The American Queen returns to American Rivers

Now here is some REALLY GOOD NEWS!

The largest steamboat in the world was recently purchased by The Great American Steamboat Company  based in Memphis, Tenn., and it will return to America’s rivers next year.

The steamboat, which is 419 feet long and 90 feet high, holds 436 passengers was purchased for $15.5 million. It was launched in 1995 at a cost of over $65 million, but has been laid up in Beaumont, Texas since 2008, after the Majestic America Line decided to discontinue its cruise business.


“Our plans with it are to restore the service and return it back to its historical roots,” Greg Brown, executive vice-president of the Great American Steamboat Company, said.

“For two years we’ve been working on purchasing the American Queen, so this is the product of a couple years worth of work.” Brown said the American Queen will travel the “greatest hits routes” it used to travel, as well as some of the popular routes once traveled by the Mississippi and Delta Queens. He said itinerary for the American Queen will depend on the season, and it will travel the Mississippi River and many of its surrounding tributaries.

“We have it in the plans to get on the Ohio River for the Kentucky Derby season,” Brown said. “I think we’re a couple weeks away from having a firm schedule and brochure.”

Getting the American Queen up and running is expected to create more than 250 jobs, with 160 of those employees working on the steamboat at all times. Before starting out on cruises, Brown said the American Queen will undergo a $5 million renovation project. He said “she’s in very good condition,” but needs a new coat of paint, some machinery work, new dishes and bath towels, among other things.

Hurrah! for the Great American Steamboat Company. Hurrah! for America Rivers. :-)

“Toots,” the original RIVERLORIAN for the Delta Queen Steamboat Company has written a memoir of the last cruise of the American Queen. Click link to visit.

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