Monday, February 21, 2011

Kayaking in the Elkhorn Slough

One of my favorite memories from my first trip to Big Sur when I was 6-years-old was kayaking in Monterey with the sea otters. My whole family went and my sister and I fought over who got to be in the kayak with my dad because we thought he would be the better paddler. After a fun couple of hours we headed back to the beach and my sister and mom rowed back in safe and sound. My dad thought it would be a good idea to catch a wave back in and we flipped our kayak and I have forever made fun of him for it. Luckily this time we had no capsizing! There are a few different areas in Monterey to see the endangered sea otters and I suggest doing a little research before you go so you get the most out of your experience. I decided that the Elkhorn Slough area would be best and found a great company that offers photo excursions marketed as "We Paddle; You Photo." This was great for me because I was able to photograph the whole time and not have to worry about paddling or capsizing. I was paired with a really nice instructor who was a photographer as well- but was not pushy about how I should photograph, which happens a lot when a photographer is an instructor on an excursion like that and I HATE IT! He just got me to the right spots and knew the right angles and lighting to get the perfect shot. The company is called the Kayak Connection and I highly recommend them for photographers or just tourists looking to see some cool wildlife. The slough is a great spot for otters, seals, sea lions, and thousands of birds. However the sea otter is usually the main attraction. Historically the number of sea otters ranged in the hundred thousands possibly even over a million, but due to the fur trade numbers plummeted to below 2000 in the early 1990's. The species is slowly recovering and there are now an estimated 2,800 southern sea otters off the coast of California and another 70,000 northern sea otters off the coast of Alaska, Washington and Canada. There are also about 15,000 living in Russia and a very small number (less than 12) living in Japan. The sea otter is considered endangered by the IUCN. To learn more and see how you can help check out Friends of the Sea Otter.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Soaring with the Condors

While in Big Sur I was hoping for a spotting of the critically endangered California Condor, but I never imagined I would be so lucky as to see nine of them soaring through the sky.  The condor is the largest North American Land Bird and has the largest wingspan which can grow to over 9 feet long.  The bird population dripped drastically in the 20th Century due to poaching, lead poisoning and habitat destruction and were forced to the brink of extinction.  Luckily in 1987 the government created a plan to capture the 22 remaining wild birds and placed them in breeding programs in the San Diego and Los Angeles Zoos.  Starting in 1991 the birds have been slowly reintroduced to the wild and as of November 2010 there are 381 known living condors, 192 of them are in the wild.  They are considered one of the world's rarest birds so it was very exciting to get to see them in their natural habitat.  I had called ahead and tried to plan an excursion with the Ventana Wildlife Society, but they were closed for the holiday.  Luckily I ran into a scientist from the society tracking condors at my hotel and we got to chat for a bit and she took me to a park where they like to hang out and by total chance as we drove up 9 of them were soaring around above us.  I hope to go back and get to spend more time with them (and with a more powerful lens).   All of the condors are tagged for tracking and if you get a clear picture of the tag you can go online and learn about the bird on VWS's website.  I watched #94 for a while and got some good shots while she flew low and learned from the website that she is almost 8 years old, was hatched in San Diego, and goes by the name Late Bloomer!   For more information on the condor and to learn how you can help this critically endangered species check out the VWS.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Seal with a Big Schnoz

On the way from Los Angeles to Big Sur many people make a stop in San Simeon at the famous Hearst Castle, but unfortunately many people drive right by the Piedras Blancas rookery just a few miles away. The rookery is home to the Northern Elephant Seal and is one of the best places to spot them on the Pacific Coast. The Elephant Seal was nearly hunted to extinction, but has rebounded very well. The males are very strange looking creatures- they are gigantic and have gigantic proboscis' that resemble an elephant's trunk (hence their name). They actually reminded me a lot of the proboscis monkeys I saw in Borneo. In the winter and early spring they mate and breed in the rookery so you can see a lot of activity. The males fight regularly by bashing their bodies against each other and biting each others necks and torsos, which you can watch in the below video:

The males also make a really loud honking sound to stake their territory which you can listen to in the below video:

For more information on the Elephant Seals of the Central Coast visit the Friends of the Elephant Seals.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Back to California

Returning from a 5-month trip around the world is a very strange thing.  I definitely went through a few weeks of reverse culture shock readjusting to life back in America.  I traveled on an around-the-world ticket so I stopped off to visit my parents and friends in Los Angeles for a few weeks before returning to New York City.  I landed from Tokyo early in the morning and I had an overwhelming sensation of what do I do now?  I figured I should be practical so the first thing I did was go to Whole Foods and buy groceries for the house.  I love grocery shopping and I love Whole Foods, but it was very strange walking the aisles looking at all the people and feeling very distant from them.  Since returning I've talked to others who have done big trips to off-the-beaten-track type of places and they all agree that there is a weird feeling of separation when you return because you have seen so many strange things that it feels impossible to relate again to people who haven't had those experiences.  Fortunately those feelings faded away and I actually was able to slip back into my normal life relatively easy.  Certain things even two months later still surprise me- like waiters and cab drivers speaking English (although it is New York so a lot of the cabbies don't speak English and I feel like I'm back on my trip).

I missed Hannukah while I was away, but made it home in time for Christmas and New Year's.  Now as a Jew Christmas doesn't much matter to me, except for the fact that I love the decorations and holiday themed drinks at Coffee Bean.  After a few bad New Year's in Los Angeles my family decided it was nicer to do low key celebrations out of town so this year we decided to drive up the coast in Big Sur, California.  I've lived in Cali my whole life, but have never done the drive up the coast so it was a lot of fun and incredibly beautiful!  Unfortunately this was during the horrible storms we got this year in December/January so the weather wasn't great, but we got a few days of sunshine and beautiful coastal views.  For those of you non-Californians who don't know the central coast, it is made up of incredible mountains and cliffs that meet the pacific ocean for jaw-dropping views.  There are plenty of fun places to stop at on the way like Santa Barbra, the Madonna Inn in San Louis Obispo, and Hearst Castle and the Elephant Seals in San Simeon.  Depending on the road conditions, how many stops you make and how fast you drive it takes about 6 hours to get from Los Angeles to Big Sur.  Monterey and Carmel are also just about 40 minutes farther up the coast from Big Sur.  The trip was great- we ate amazing local organic foods at the many amazing restaurants in the area like Aubergine in Carmel, Sierra Mar at the Post Ranch Inn, and the Restaurant at the Ventana Inn which is where we stayed.  I went whale watching, kayaking with the sea otters, spotted 9 critically endangered California Condors and had cozy time curling up in front my room's fire place.  Stay tuned this week as I post more pictures and stories from the trip!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Goodbye to Borneo, Goodbye to my trip

33 Flights
35 Hotels
2 Trains
1 boat
4 Cases of Bronchitis
3 Cases of Stomach Flu
1 Hospital Visit
105 Malaria Pills
17 Endangered Species Photographed
1 Amazing Trip

My Life Check List: Circle the Globe

Chaucer once said, “All good things must come to an end,” and no matter how much I tried to live in the moment and mentally slow down time my trip has come to an end. Now for those of you have been following along with me on my entire trip you are probably laughing at me saying “good” because of all the mishaps I had on my trip. But in the end it was better than good, it was monumentally, amazingly, eye opening-ly, life changing-ly, spectacularly, meaningful. This trip has forever changed the way I will view the world and more importantly myself. I was ready to say goodbye to Borneo, goodbye to the bugs, goodbye to the heat, goodbye to living out of a hotel, but saying goodbye to the trip itself was overwhelmingly emotional and it will take me another five months to fully cope with being back home. Hopefully this trip just represents the beginning of my adventures as I barely scratched the surface of all the places I long to see and all the animals I wish to help. Many have asked me what now? Now I work on getting more amazing people like you to look at my pictures and try to inspire them to care about these animals and the future of our planet.

Thank you to everyone I met on this journey- all the volunteers at the various sanctuaries, my tour guides, and new friends I met in the most random of places- thanks to all of you, you really made this experience special. Thanks to all of my friends and family who let me write cranky emails to them when I had horrible days and for writing back making me feel like I wasn’t so far away from home after all. And a big thank you to my parents without whom I never would have had the courage or ability to take this trip. Thank you for bailing me out when I was stuck in a cockroach filled windowless basement in India and sorry for nearly giving you heart attacks when I wrote you emails of my misadventures. And last, but most certainly not least I want to thank all of my loyal readers for following me and sticking with me through everything I’ve been through. I’ve really enjoyed all the emails I’ve received from you guys sharing your tips on what to see and your thoughts on my experiences. I really do love hearing from you and hope you keep enjoying my blog.

If you missed out on some of my posts or want to go back and see certain ones again you can click on Places I’ve Been at the top of the page and click a destination to see all my posts from there. You can also checkout my interactive grid of some of my favorite posts from the journey, click on the image to go to the corresponding story. Even though my trip is over, my new life is just beginning and I promise there will be plenty more interesting photographs and crazy stories coming your way in the future so stay tuned…


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