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EXPLORATIONS – A Lindblad Expeditions Blog


The Seychelles & Beyond, an Expedition of Reconnection

Story and photos by Kristin Hettermann

In a very special journey connecting generations of sustainable tourism, Lindblad Expeditions’ Founder and CEO Sven-Olof Lindblad traveled to the Seychelles in April to join National Geographic Orion on an expedition through this stunning Indian Ocean island nation.

He was greeted in Mahé, the capital of the Seychelles, by Sir James Mancham, the founding President of the Seychelles. Also a longtime friend of Sven’s father, Lars-Eric Lindblad, Sir James has a longstanding history of support for Lindblad Expeditions and was to join the Orion expedition through the Seychelles as a special guest and Global Perspectives guest speaker. Sir James is a notable global personality, in addition to his role in Seychelles politics he is known to be an International Promoter of the Global Forum for Peace, Reconciliation and Prosperity.

The Lindblad name is synonymous with economic development and sustainable tourism in the Seychelles through the early efforts of Sven’s parents, Lars-Eric Lindblad and Sonia Lindblad, historically recognized as pioneers of the Seychelles tourism industry. Lindblad efforts originally came to the Seychelles in the 60’s to open up international tourism through their Lindblad Explorer eco-cruises — long before the Seychelles opened its international airport. At this time, it was evident that the Seychelles needed tourism to vitalize the precarious economy of the country, but there was a genuine focus on it being done without destroying the wildlife or scenic beauty of this pristine paradise.

The Lindblad seal of approval has subsequently been influential in the Seychelles for many decades. Thousands of travelers have been introduced to the Seychelles through Lindblad cruises and also the development of Travel Services Seychelles, which became the top travel agency in the Seychelles in the 70’s and 80’s. The government wanted to recognize this important relationship by officially awarding Sven the high honor of Cultural Ambassador during his recent visit.

“Tourism started in earnest when people ventured beyond their own borders to see cultural and historical sites of interest. This is what the Lindblad Group were doing when they added Seychelles onto their list of “must-visit” destinations decades ago,” said the Seychelles’ Minister of Tourism and Culture Alain St. Ange, emphasizing their sharing of the “tourism through culture” and eco-conscious platforms.

Sven and Sir James left Mahé on April 13 and flew by small plane to Assumption island, part of the Aldabra archipelago, to meet the Orion and over 100 guests who had made the first few days of the expedition from Tanzania across the Indian Ocean. Once coming aboard, Orion cruised the Aldabra atoll and other islands in the Seychelles group before returning to Mahé on April 23.  Travelers enjoyed some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving in the world, impromptu whale watching, nature walks, the magical Valle du Mai (home of the largest coconut in the world, the Coco de Mai) and inspiring talks by National Geographic photographers and the esteemed Sir James.

The visit to Aldabra, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was of particular interest to the group. Uninhabited (with the exception of a small research center) and extremely isolated, Aldabra is the world’s second largest coral atoll and virtually untouched by humans. Known as “one of the wonders of the world,” the atoll is the largest raised coral reef in existence (elevation of 26 feet) and boasts the largest population of the extremely rare giant tortoises (about 100,000 animals). Aldabra also has a large population of the world’s largest terrestrial arthropod, the coconut crab; and hosts the Aldabra rail, the only surviving flightless rail species in the Indian Ocean.

In 1978, Lars-Eric Lindblad, Tony Beamish and Sir James joined forces in an international influence campaign and were instrumental in stopping the Anglo-American decision to turn Aldabra into a military base. Lars-Eric Lindblad covered many aspects of his association with the Seychelles in his story, Passport to Anywhere, which was published in 1983 by Times Book, a division of the New York Times. Included in his expose is background of this influential campaign, where conservation beat politics and now decades later awards the sea to tell the story.

The efforts of a small group of people campaigning to keep Aldabra, and its giant tortoises, preserved and protected eventually resulted in the build-up of the Anglo-US military complex shifting away from the Seychelles and eastwards to the Chagos archipelago. The Seychelles Island Foundation (SIF), a public trust of Seychelles, took over the management and protection of the atoll in 1979, it was declared a Special Nature Reserve in 1981, and became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982.

One of the real highlights of the trip was having Sir James on board as a Global Perspectives guest speaker. Sir James, known as the Founding President of the Seychelles, also lived in exile from the country for 15 years after his opposition staged a coup in 1977. It was during this time in exile that he was invited to travel freely on Lindblad Expeditions, sharing his knowledge and stories with eager travelers. Sir James recalls discovering French Polynesia, Micronesia and Europe with fond memories during these times.

Today the world has become a village. Sven, his mother and Sir James met in New York from various parts of the world for an unlikely reunion in September 2015. Sir James was in New York speaking at a conference on peace and conflict resolution, something that he spends a fair amount of his time doing now around the world. 

Sven reflected on the reunion, “My mother looked at Jimmy when he walked in and said, ‘How long has it been?’ ‘Too long, too long,” he replied and then they went on to tell stories. They had accomplished a lot together in the Seychelles in the 70’s and 80’s. I listened mostly with considerable admiration and realized I might never have experienced the beautiful Seychelles if it were not for the confluence of Sir James and my parents.”

The Galápagos Gang Greets Philadelphia

Worlds collided at the Phillies game this Sunday, as mascots from local schools and pro teams gathered at Citizens Bank Park for the Phillie Phanatic’s birthday celebration.  But the big surprise came when the Phanatic’s friends from afar, the Galápagos Gang, charged onto the field.

Never before seen in south Philly, Bessie, a blue-footed boobie, Sid, a Galápagos sea lion, Iggy, a land iguana, and Calvin, a giant tortoise, all appeared in their Phillies finest for the celebration. Legend has it that the Phanatic came to Philadelphia from the Galápagos Islands 37 years ago. And a few years ago he joined us to revisit his homeland—quite a surprise to our guests aboard National Geographic Endeavour.

The reunited Galápagos Gang did not miss a beat as Bessie, Sid, Calvin and Iggy joined the Phanatic in the stands.  They danced.  They goofed around.  Young fans and families looked on in wonderment, as if they were seeing their favorite players up close.

The Phanatic’s real birthday surprise came when Citizens Bank announced that the Galápagos Gang is taking up residence in south Philly. That’s right, they’re staying! And the citizens of Philadelphia will be hearing more about these creatures of the Galápagos as the season continues.

The celebration culminated with one lucky fan winning our Galápagos expedition to see the islands and their extraordinary creatures for herself. Maybe she’ll find a little Phanatic. It seems stranger things have happened.

By Marc Cappelletti, Director of Expedition Development 

Sven Lindblad Appointed Cultural Ambassador of Seychelles

The Seychelles Ministry of Tourism has appointed Sven-Olof Lindblad, CEO of Lindblad Expeditions, as Cultural Ambassador of Seychelles.  The presentation of the official document of his accreditation was made by Minister Alain St. Ange, responsible for Tourism and Culture, at a dinner held on April 11th in honor of Sven Lindblad at the residence of Sir James Mancham, the founding President of the Republic of Seychelles.

The Lindblad family was integral to tourism development in Seychelles from its inception. Sven’s father, renowned adventure-travel pioneer Lars-Eric Lindblad, brought his expedition ship to Seychelles in the 1960’s, even before the opening of the Seychelles International Airport. A deep friendship and collaboration developed between Lars Eric and Sir James, and together they worked to open up the Seychelles to travelers while ensuring that the magnificent natural riches would be protected.  That collaboration continues today, with Sven Lindblad and the 102-guest National Geographic Orion in the Seychelles for a series of voyages exploring the archipelago.

In making the appointment, Minister Alain St.Ange said, “Tourism started in earnest when people ventured beyond their own borders to see cultural and historical sites of interests. This is what the Lindblad Group were doing when they added Seychelles onto their list of must visit destinations. As we welcome back the Lindblad Group this time through Sven Lindblad, the head of the organization,  we say thank you for your support and for flying our flag high.”

“Seychelles is a tourism destination where its culture has been positioned at the base of its tourism development and it is with this ‘tourism through culture’ tag line that we have the pleasure to appoint you Cultural Ambassador for the Seychelles” he continued.

Sir James Mancham and Sven Lindblad then embarked on National Geographic Orion for an expedition that will explore the Aldabra archipelago—a Seychelles World Heritage Site—and other islands of the Seychelles. Sir James will serve as a Global Perspectives guest speaker on the voyage, where he will share his unique insights and knowledge of the region with the guests.

On Hallowed Ground in Haida Gwaii

Exploring the British Columbian Archipelago’s Most Remote Sacred Site

By Marc Cappelletti

I am walking in the footsteps of chiefs and carvers, warriors and weavers, shamans and slaves; people as connected to the land as the very trees from which they once made their homes.  The ground is soft.  It is sacred.  And it lies at the edge of the world—Haida Gwaii, British Columbia.

We are at the ancient village of SGang Gwaay Llnagaay, formerly known as Nan sdins or Ninstints, on the eastern edge of SGang Gwaay (Anthony Island).  The most remote place in Canada’s most remote archipelago, some 160 miles south-west of Prince Rupert, the environment here is as abundant in natural and cultural resources as it is unforgiving.  So abundant in fact that UNESCO listed SGang Gwaay as a World Heritage Site in 1981, the same year that they cataloged the Serengeti, Great Barrier Reef, and the Old City of Jerusalem and its walls.

Just up from the rocky landing site, we have our first look at the eroding and silvered totem poles that line the shore.  Made from red cedar, and carved to display the crests of their owners—eagles and ravens, bears, beavers and more—the poles have endured for 150 to 200 years or more.  From yards away, without even a clear view, I feel what no photo could ever hope to capture.

“Each pole contained the essential spirit of the individual or family it commemorated,” said famed Haida artist Bill Reid.  “…as well as the spirit of the artist who made it, and by extension, the living essence of the whole people…”

Some poles, known as mortuary poles, were erected to hold the remains of the village’s high ranking chiefs, who at one time looked after hundreds of inhabitants in an area no larger than two square miles.  For the Haida Watchman who live in a small cabin on site and greet visitors, they are showing us the physical and spiritual remains of their ancestors.  Ask them about the poles and their spines straighten.

“These men watched over our people and this land,” one of the watchmen, Ken, himself a carver, says of the chiefs.  “Now we are here to watch over it while they are in the spirit world.”

Barbara Wilson, a Haida educator, resident of Skidegate Village, and cultural interpreter for our voyage, explains further. “It was respectful to put our chiefs up high on the mortuary poles and not to bury them in the ground.  It was the ultimate sign of respect.  And we are honored to have them amidst us, even after their deaths.”

The village site is much more than its totem poles.  Large cedar beams on the mossy forest floor show where longhouses once stood.  Centuries old, they are a reminder that these “islands at the edge of the world” have for so many been the islands around which the world turns.  I snap a photo, knowing it is like taking a shot of a wave and calling it the ocean.

“SGang Gwaay Llnagaay is a special, special place,” Wilson says when I ask what the village means to her.  “It’s…” she pauses and I sense that she wants to pour a lifetime’s worth of emotion into what comes next.  But it’s too much.  She takes a breath.  “…It’s just a really special place.”

There is a reason for her hesitation.  In the mid-19th century the total population of Haida Gwaii was ravaged by an introduced smallpox epidemic and a once a mighty Nation of around 25,000 fell to below 600.  Whatever art, stories and sacred ways of life they had left were stripped by Christian missionaries.  The last of the Haida left SGang Gwaay for good in 1880.  The remains of their chiefs stayed behind.

With damp eyes, we follow a trail away from the village site, through deep, vertically-walled gorges and lush patches of cedar, spruce and alder.  We link up with a second Watchman, Nick, who is the college-aged grandson of a Haida chief.  It is his first day on the job.  He has yet to memorize the information, but he reads with conviction.  After a minute his notepad seems to vanish and I find myself looking in the woods for the spirits he describes, as if they could emerge at any moment.

“When I visit those sites I need time to be by myself,” Wilson says.  “To just sit and think.  And remember the times I’ve been there and heard the beating of the drums.”

She is referring to the drums of her ancestors, which other Haida say they have heard when they are on sacred ground.  Having spent time with Barbara and having seen the indelible link between the Haida and their ancestors I can say this: it is not poetic license.  She has heard the drums.  The drums are real.

We press on, and Haida Gwaii eventually becomes lost to the mist of the Inside Passage.  Still, I feel the soft pull of the forest.  I want to know more of the totem poles and the drums, of struggles and wildness and prideful people.  Like a kid around a campfire, I want to hear more stories.  And I will, someday, I know.  Because even as we stare at Alaska’s soaring glaciers, I see myself walking on hallowed ground again.  I can feel the spirits in the trees.

This voyage was taken with Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic.

Announcing New 2016 European Itineraries on National Geographic Orion

Following the Antarctic season in early 2016, National Geographic Orion will set course for Europe where she will spend spring, summer, and fall on a highly curated series of 22 one-week voyages.

The voyages will provide a unique take on a familiar geography, with innovative itineraries that will explore Portugal, Spain, France, England, Ireland, Holland, Belgium, the Baltic Republics, and Scandinavia.

“A ship like National Geographic Orion depends heavily on past guests, and a vast majority of her past guests have been to the Kimberley and the South Pacific.  We are committed to providing them the most compelling opportunities available on the Orion, and have listened to their feedback for new destinations,” stated Sven Lindblad, Founder & President of Lindblad Expeditions.

The voyages will be led by an extraordinary team with a diverse scope of expertise about the countries being explored covering ancient & modern history, political science, art, viniculture and music, as well as leading active options such as hiking, biking and kayaking. Special speakers will be drawn from the top tiers of journalism, science, and world affairs to add relevant insights as part of the ‘Global Perspectives Speakers’ program, and each voyage will feature a National Geographic photographer. The itineraries have been designed to afford guests the option to take consecutive voyages to discover a range of destinations.

On board dining will continue to be an integral part of the experience and will feature degustation menus by one of Australia’s renowned international chefs, Serge Dansereau, principal of Sydney’s The Bathers’ Pavilion. The cuisine will be influenced with the flavors of the region.

The 102-guest National Geographic Orion’s size and level of comfort will be highly appealing for European travel. The interior is spacious and offers a range of modern public rooms with panoramic views. Her public rooms include a window-lined main lounge, as well as an observation lounge and library at the top of the ship. In addition, a dedicated theatre provides a unique setting for specialist presentations, films or slideshows.

Darwin Returns to Galápagos

A new statue of young Charles Darwin landed on the campus of the Charles Darwin Foundation’s research center on the island of Santa Cruz in Galápagos. Guests on all of our Galápagos expeditions visit the Foundation to tour the grounds and see the important ongoing work, and you can bet that getting your Darwin selfie will become a regular stop on the walk. The Foundation chose to depict a young Darwin, notebook and magnifying glass close at hand, as he looked when he landed on the islands. Ecuadorian sculptor Patricio Ruales (on the right) created the statue over the course of about a year. Renowned Galápagos scientist and life-long Darwin scholar, Godfrey Merlen (left), wrote about the project, Darwin’s Right Hand Man.

Pristine Seas Honored at the Clinton Global Initiative

On Monday in New York former President Bill Clinton announced National Geographic’s plans to expand Pristine Seas, the effort to save the ocean’s last wild places. The Society’s goal is to work with world leaders and governments to protect more than 770,000 square miles of ocean from fishing.

Some forward-thinking world leaders have already made great strides in conserving the ocean, including Palau’s president Tommy Remengesea, Jr. He has collaborated on the effort to protect 193,000 square miles of ocean in his country’s exclusive economic zone, representing 80% of the ocean under Palau’s jurisdiction.

At the close of Monday’s plenary session at the Clinton Global Initiative, President Clinton invited representatives of Pristine Seas on stage to share their story and recognize their commitment. The honorees were Former President of Costa Rica José María Figueres, Lindblad Expeditions President & Founder Sven Lindblad, Co-founder and Former Chairman and CEO of Gateway, Inc Ted Waitt, and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enrique Sala.

Galápagos Mixology

One of the finest ways to immerse yourself in local cultures while traveling is through dining—sampling regional fare and wine: mixing, drinking, and eating with the locals. In Galápagos, where wilderness reigns, we still find ways to mix the local flavors into our dining experience. One night we host an Ecuadorian buffet, complete with a whole roast pig, that our guests often cite on comment cards as their favorite meal of the expedition. And beginning soon, our Galápagos cocktail list will include tastes of the islands. The San Cristobal cocktail is finished with fresh Galápagos guanabana juice; and the Fernandina cocktail is blended with tamarind, a pod-like fruit found in abundance on the cocktail’s namesake island.

The Strange Travels of Tortoise #21

Super Diego, 91 years old, has been a resident at the Charles Darwin Research Station since 1977. He was taken from his homeland on Española Island during the scientific voyage of Allan Hancock aboard his yacht Velero III in 1933. Brought to the San Diego Zoo (hence his name), he became  #21 in their collection of 100 Galápagos tortoises.

In the 1960’s the director of the nascent Charles Darwin Research Station found that the Española tortoises, slaughtered by the thousands by 18th-century whalers, were on the verge of extinction. To save this unique species two males and 12 females, the total number found, were brought to Research Station as a hopeful breeding colony, and a search for extant members of the species was launched.

The one male left of the tortoises from the Velero III expedition was identified as the only remaining source of fresh genes, and was sent to the Darwin Station by the Zoo. He arrived in Galápagos on August 8, 1977, 43 years after he was taken, and has proved to be a potent contributor to the successful breeding program returning his subspecies from the brink of extinction. It is estimated he has sired about 1,700 Española tortoises. Super Diego remains active and healthy.

Want to see Super Diego in person? Join us in Galápagos.

National Geographic Explorer Makes History in Harlingen

On Tuesday the 148-guest National Geographic Explorer once again made history when it became the first passenger vessel to call at Harlingen in the Netherlands. A large crowd of onlookers and the mayor, Roel Sluiter, turned out to watch the ship arrive and greet Captain Ben Lyons. He was presented with a port of call placard to commemorate the first visit by an expedition ship in the medieval port. About two-thirds of our guests chose to enter the town by Zodiac and explore its historic canals, while those who stayed aboard were met by a local news crew. See the footage here (the action starts at about 2:00 with the local pilot coming aboard Explorer).