GOLFO DULCE 2011, PART 3: Rub-a-dub-dub, a Toy Boat in the Tub

Caja de Fósforos is Spanish for "matchbox"

Jorge and I wasted no time getting out on the water in our miniture-sized boat, newly named Caja de Fósforos, and that first day had a coming-home feeling. The Gulf was just as I remembered it and I found myself delighting in the familiar landmarks—the emerald peaks of Piedras Blancas National Park, the sirena statue guarding the palm-lined beaches of tiny Playa Blanca, white rolling waves crashing on the rocks near Tamales and, to the south, the mouth of Golfo Dulce, open as though saying something thoughtful and neighborly to the coast of Panáma seen through the haze. My soul instantly reintegrated.

A pod of Pantropical Spotted dolphins stitched past. I was surprised by their disinterest; we could always count on them to swirl about our boat for a bit of play. Why no interest today? Then we noticed that the group was subtly divided into pairs and each pair arched in unison with one large and one small dorsal fin rhythmically breaking the water surface. Mothers with calves.

mermaid statue among the reefs of Playa Blanca

Ah, yes, this study was about seasonal shifts after all, and here was my first inkling that life might be just a little different in Golfo Dulce during the rainy season. We watched Blue crabs that day too— little aquatic crustaceans I hadn’t seen before—kicking around at the surface.

Although storm clouds could be seen in several directions, the rain held its breath over the water and blue skies prevailed. And a few sea turtles lifted their heads to nod our passing. It was a spectacular day of seascapes. 

However, arriving back at the marina in the afternoon, Jorge and I discovered that in our enthusiasm we had made one troubling miscalculation of timing. The tide had dropped and now 500 feet of sand stretched between us and our trailer. A bigger boat could be moored in the deep water. But Caja de Fósforos would sink in a soaking rain so had be hauled out every day. Because our old truck was too weak manage the steep launch ramp, we had used the shoreline for access.

I looked at Jorge hoping he could pull a bit of his rainforest magic.

“Eye-yey-yey,” was all he could muster.

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GOLFO DULCE 2011, PART 2: Another Year, Another Broken Boat

Raya, our boat from 2010, looking very sad indeed

The 50 hp motor we needed to push our 19-foot Raya was on the fritz. The gear box was shot. Having just arrived to discover the fact, I put on my best no-worries-every-problem-has-a-solution smile  and sat with Mike to explore my options—none of them floated any better than my defunct boat, which sat covered in leaf litter, perched on several decaying logs outside the house. 

That night I lay awake, twisting scenarios in my head with no resolution. Even Monday’s 5-hour car trip to plead with the marine mechanic proved fruitless and the stress was starting to feel like army ants in my stomach. All I could do was hold tight to my one last hope: Jorge. 

Jorge. He’s like a jungle Superman. I am always amazed by his calm, usually silent demeanor and ability to solve any problem with whatever meager supplies are on hand. Within minutes of his return home, he had a plan and I remember thinking, Why was I ever in doubt? 

Wednesday found us driving around the pueblo with Jorge congenially asking to borrow items not currently in use. Within an hour he had pieced together a water-worthy ensemble: a boat that would work with the small 15 hp motor at Mike’s and a short trailer to haul it. I couldn’t have been more relieved. 

There was however, one itty-bitty problem. The new boat was, well, itty-bitty. A mere 10-feet long. When the weather mounts, how would we possibly survive the swelling waves in this dinky tugboat?

Shame, shame, I thought, Never look a gift boat in the mouth.

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GOLFO DULCE 2011, PART 1: One Ticket to Paradise

the view from the plane as we approached Golfo Dulce with the Osa Peninsula in the distance

I arrived in Puerto Jiménez, Costa Rica on a perfect Sunday morning after curving down out of the clouds and sweeping over my beloved Golfo Dulce. Stepping onto the tarmac, a twinkle of birdsong rushed from the green forest to greet me and a sweet dampness hung in the air like a tropical welcome sign. I took a deep inhale and let the place soak in through my lungs. Ahhh, Paradise. 

Soon I was back at the office of Osa Conservation (formerly Friends of the Osa), settling my belongings in the back bedroom and relishing the excitement of a project poised at the starting gate. Soon I would be on the water with the regular marine crowd of dolphins and sea turtles, doing my extension survey. 

I hung my mosquito net and took my first cold shower and, when the clock reached a respectable hour for visiting friends, I made my way the few short blocks to see Mike and Jorge. The reunion was long awaited. We had been discussing plans for this rainy season study since October 2010, sharing emails of anticipation. But I found Mike alone. “Where’s Jorge?” I inquired after a giant endless hug. 

“Corcovado,” he said, adding quickly to abate my disappointment, “He’ll be back Tuesday night.”

I was a little bummed. My arrival wasn’t nearly as festive as I’d imagined it would be and by the look on Mike’s face I could tell there was more bad news. He finally got it out, “The boat motor is broken.”

What?? Wait, I’m having déjà vu. A broken boat motor? Didn’t we already do this LAST time? And just like that my happy little universe crumbled into chaos.

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BROOKE’S TRAVEL TIPS: Homemade Instant Oatmeal—Just Add Water

I’m not a big breakfast person but I know it’s an important meal. So when I’m out-of-town, I always try to eat something small but nutritious, especially if I’ll be driving cross-country, working outside or heading into an all-day event.

Instant oatmeal was a childhood favorite but they put a lot of junky preservatives in the store-bought kind and it gets thick and pasty. Turns out you can make a  delicious oatmeal drink—mixed to your own taste—using natural healthful ingredients. It’s fast and easy!

BROOKE’S TRAVEL TIP #5: Prepare some baggies of homemade instant oatmeal for quick easy meals on the road.

I got this recipe from my Costa Rican friend Alberto on a 4-day kayak trip. He camps a lot and makes this delicious oatmeal drink every morning in the field. Individual servings can be put in zip-lock sandwich baggies so you can carry a stash in your tote.

Single serving (mix to taste):

1/4 C fine-ground organic oats (thicker oats will be chewier)

2 Tbsp dry whole milk powder

1-2 tsp raw cane sugar

pinch of sea salt

1 Tbsp ground flaxseed (optional)

pinch of cinnamon (optional)

1 C hot water

Mix dry contents and pour into a mug. Add the hot water and stir. It’s ready to drink! 

I do hope you’ve discovered something new and helpful in this week’s series. If you have some travel tips of your own, please share them with me on Facebook. And as you embark on your summer get-away, here’s wishing you safe and happy travels!

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BROOKE’S TRAVEL TIPS: Register with the Embassy

I went to Kenya many moons ago, when Kenya was safe for tourists. Things have changed. Because of swings in politics and economies, it’s vital that you have access to international travel information when planning a trip abroad.

While certain destinations may be foolhardy to consider, most are generally safe. That said, some of the most beautiful places on Earth come with a bit of risk, requiring you to pragmatically consider your wellbeing.

BROOKE’S TRAVEL TIP #4: Register your international trip with STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program).

The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program is free service, provided by the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs. It is available to any U.S. citizen who is traveling to a foreign nation.

Basically you enter a few details about your upcoming trip and the system registers you with the U.S. embassy or consulate at your destination. The information, which is protected so it can’t be shared without written authorization, will serve you should trouble arise. If you face any emergency off U.S. soil, our government can provide help faster and more effectively. This includes lost or stolen passports, which can happen anywhere.

STEP also sends you automatic updates, travel warnings and alerts that may affect the country you will be visiting. This is especially important when you are heading off to places facing political fluctuations like, for example, Thailand.

I found out about STEP when I was planning my 2007 trip to Guatemala. It was to be my first solo venture into a developing nation and registering my dates, itinerary and emergency contacts—knowing I was “on the radar” so to speak—definitely helped put me at ease. The trip went smoothly, as they usually do, and I never needed any assistance, but I appreciated the insurance and I’ve utilized the service several times since.

Tomorrow is Friday and my last tip will be a recipe for a simple traveler’s breakfast.

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BROOKE’S TRAVEL TIPS: Make a Reusable Packing Checklist

It’s a dash to the airport! Pausing in the driveway, you do a last-minute mental rundown of the stuff  you should have packed. T-shirts—check. Sandals—check. Shampoo, toothbrush, shaver—check, check, check. And off you go!

Only later you discover you’ve forgotten your camera. An umbrella. And the neck pillow for the plane. Dang! There’s just too much to manage!

Today’s tip ensures you pack everything necessary, every time. No matter how long or short, fancy or modest the journey, you will be ready to go before anyone can say, “Remember socks.” 

TRAVEL TIP #3: Make yourself a custom master packing list.

In my computer, I have created a personalized master list of ALL things I might POSSIBLY take on ANY trip. Whenever I am heading out of town, I simply print off a copy and pack whichever items are applicable.

The articles are divided by category. For example, my first category is Documents/Tools/Electronics. The photo to the right shows an excerpt from that section. It’s highly unlikely I would take all those items on any single trip, but by reviewing the options, I am sure to include the things I will need.

My other standard categories are Clothing Items (Shirts/tanks, Sweaters/sweatshirts, Dresses, Pants/shorts, PJ’s, etc.), Toiletries/Medications (Sunscreen/aloe lotion, Vitamins, GSE, Hair dryer, Makeup, etc) and Miscellaneous (TSA bag locks, Backpack/fanny sac, Snacks, Water bottle, etc). I have extra lists with items for going Scuba Diving, Camping or Piloting an Airplane.

One special category I created is called Extra-Light Load. This checklist serves me when I have to travel with naught but the bare essentials.

Whatever time you put into making your own personalized master packing list, it will be readily offset by the time you’ll save packing for future trips. You may even consider laminating a copy and keeping it in a drawer.

Want to take your preparedness a step further? Keep a basic toiletry tote packed, so it’s ready on a moment’s notice.

If you are thinking about traveling to some exotic country, I have a tip that may give you peace of mind. That’s tomorrow…

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BROOKE’S TRAVEL TIPS: Don’t Forget the Grapefruit Seed Extract

There’s nothing worse than getting sick when you’re out of town! Away from home, an upset stomach becomes a ball and chain; the aches and pains of a common cold feel more like the flu. We all know germs lurk in crowded places. But even if you stay off the beaten path, travels expose you to new strains of illness. Do you just take extra Vitamin C and hope for the best?

I once heard a packing expert suggest, “Lay out everything you will need for your trip… then put half back away.” It’s a darn good formula. But there are a few items I simply won’t leave home without. And one of those is GSE.

TRAVEL TIP #2: Take GSE (Grapefruit Seed Extract) at the first sign of a cold.

About 10 years ago a visiting friend gave me a dose of GSE for a tickly nose and throat. By evening the symptoms were gone. Since, it has saved Kevin and me from dozens upon dozens of colds. And we’re not the only ones. Touring in Norway, I supplied this natural remedy  to travel companions who complained of looming colds—four or five people in total. Nobody got sick.

Grapefruit seed extract has anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal properties. It works best at the very first sign of illness. Take some at that moment when you think, “Hmmm, I hope I’m not getting sick,” and you probably won’t.

You can find GSE at almost any heath food or vitamin store, or on Amazon. It comes in two forms: tablets and liquid drops. Each tablet delivers a single dose. Doses can be taken up to three times a day for several days.

The liquid is extremely bitter and must be diluted with water, but it has more uses. I recently talked with a woman whose intestines hate to travel. She takes just a few drops (a mini dose) several times a day when she’s in foreign countries and no longer worries about dining out.

The label also gives directions for using liquid GSE as an oral rinse, throat gargle, facial cleanser, nail treatment, cutting board cleaner and meat/vegetable wash. Talk about an all-in-one product!

GSE may not be a panacea, but it definitely earns its space in my suitcase.

Tomorrow I’ll help you streamline your packing.

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BROOKE’S TRAVEL TIPS: Wear a Wrist Wallet

As I prepare for my July departure to Costa Rica, the floor is a colorful sea of clothes and supplies awaiting the duffle. Perhaps you too are packing for a summer adventure. After all, this is the season for family vacations, visits hither and thither, and once-in-a-lifetime tours to far away lands. 

So this week, I’m offering a special series with  travel tips. Each day I will give you an idea to consider—a suggestion that comes from my own personal experience—which will hopefully make your journey that much better. 

TRAVEL TIP #1: Carry cash, credit cards and ID in a wrist wallet. 

I switched to a wrist wallet a few years ago while traveling alone in a developing nation. It works wonderfully! I never worry for the safety of my money. There are several companies that make them, but the one I use (and love!) is the Sprig’s Banjees Wrist Wallet available at REI in an array of colors. It is convenient, comfortable and inconspicuous—even when it’s not hidden beneath your shirt sleeve, nobody will guess it has money inside.

By the way, if you are traveling abroad, it’s also a good idea to carry a color copy of your passport in your wrist wallet. If the real one somehow disappears, you can use the photocopy to seek help at the embassy.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s tip, which will keep you feeling great on the road.

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2nd Annual Authors for Earth Day Brings Conservation Contributions to Over $10K!

If you have followed me for awhile, you know how much work I have put into creating the national Authors for Earth Day coalition. You may remember when we launched the A4ED website in 2009. You may also remember my 2010 A4ED school visit to Rhodes Jr. High, the first year authors participated across the country. 

Well, in April 2011 we celebrated our 2nd Annual Authors for Earth Day event. This year’s participants were Suzy Kline, who writes the Horrible Harry and Herbie Jones series; Dan Gutman, author of nearly 100 books, including the My Weird School and Baseball Card Adventure series; Marianne Berkes who scribes popular nature books for kids; Conrad Storad, who also has many loved nature and science books; and me.

Every author scheduled a school visit and donated one day’s speaking fee to a non-profit conservation organization, determined by a vote of the students at their school. Together we touched the lives of thousands of children—inspiring and empowering them to make a difference in the world!

My visit was at Cheyenne Traditional School in Scottsdale, AZ and librarian Teresa Spotleson hosted a fantastic 2-day event! I saw all the classes K-8. Everyone had done their research and it was a tight race at the voting polls, but World Wildlife Fund slid into first place at the last minute. I announced the winner on the school news and sent WWF a check for $750.

Through student votes at all our host schools, the coalition brought our total A4ED contributions to $10,350! The other donation recipients this year were: Clearwater Environmental Organization, Greenpeace, Busch Wildlife Sanctuary and the Phoenix Zoo’s Conservation & Science Dept.

I’m grateful for and honored by the accomplishments of my eco-minded colleagues!

Now we want to expand our educational outreach and you can help… What can YOU do?

  • Read our new A4ED Blog where “award-winning children’s authors connect with eco-minded readers”. I think you will especially love Bonnie J. Doerr’s post about why she write eco-adventures for kids.
  • Visit us on Facebook.  Click LIKE. Make a comment. Share a thought.
  • Tell librarians/teachers at your local schools about Authors for Earth Day. We offer excellent environmentally themed lesson plans and ideas for educators, plus details about hosting an A4ED visit.

Thank you for your help and support! Now I must get fully focused on preparations for Costa Rica. My departure is just around the bend. Woo hoo!

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Native Australia: Our First Trip Down Under

Kevin and I recently returned from Australia. During our two-week sojourn, we stayed along the eastern seaboard, first in Sydney, then Cairns, then Melbourne. We visited spectacular nature preserves, including the Daintree Rainforest and Phillip Island. We dove the Great Barrier Reef.

When it comes to nature, Australia is isolated and unique, home to some of the world’s most extraordinary creatures. Its human history is richly connected to land and sea. So, in celebration of Earth Day—today, April 22nd—I’m delighted to share some of my favorite photos from our journey. 

Sleep, little one. Stay crushed against your mother’s side, warm and safe, while we debate your future. (Koala joey at the Koala Conservation Center, Philip Island)

Sounds of the ancients stir my soul, awaken my heart. We are one, they resound, we are one. (An aboriginal didgeridoo player)


Show me your blue tongue, Mr. Skink. I recall the hue, as though you licked the sky. (Blue-tongued skink in the Daintree Rainforest)

Such cheer you bring to the city—filling the air with color and comment! (Scaly-breasted and Rainbow lorikeets in Cairns)

At dusk you rise from the trees, a tempest of scorned angels, yet the sun finds you drooped among the leaves like plump pears. (Flying fox; fruit bat in Sydney)

Oh, rainy day roo, so sullen of eye, do you dream of sun-splashed fields? Tomorrow perhaps. (Kangaroo near Melbourne)

Like me, you are built of blood and bone, shaped for survival, born for freedom. A cage would be the worst cruelty; I pray we never find bars between us. (Sulphur-crested cockatoo in Katoomba nibbling pine cones)

Beloved wombat, surely there is a place for you in this changing world. Please don't slip away while we are digging for solutions. (Common wombat)

Let’s keep working together to protect this beautiful planet. See more Australia images on my website. Happy Earth Day, everyone!

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