Lindblad Expeditions / National Geographic
EXPLORATIONS – A Lindblad Expeditions Blog

Field Dispatches

Expedition Development Report from Namibia, Africa

By Ralph Hammelbacher
VP of Expedition Development

I’ve been in Namibia, making preparations for our visit in March 2012 aboard National Geographic Explorer, and exploring the towns of Walvis Bay and Swakopmund and their environs has been an exceptional experience. It’s been quite a few years since my last time here, and these places have only become more interesting.

The deserts that flank the Namibian coast offer a variety of exceptional experiences that I’ll try to write about separately, but in this post I want to talk about visiting Mondesa Township, which houses most of Swakopmund’s people. During the colonial era, when Namibia (then called South West Africa) was ruled by South Africa, blacks were not allowed to live in the center of Swakopmund. Instead, the colonial authorities established Mondesa, with separate areas for the different tribes. They built different types of houses, some pretty decent and others not so.

Now that Namibia is independent, anyone is free to live anywhere, of course, but what has happened in Mondesa is that people have become established in their communities and taken pride in their neighborhoods and homes, improving them over the years. So many African townships are afflicted with crime, but Mondesa, while far from perfect, is quite safe (and feels safe). It houses about 32,000 of Swakopmund’s 48,000 people.

A remarkable South African-born woman named Michelle Lewis, who is married to a well-known Namibian athlete, has lived in Mondesa for many years now, and has involved members of the community in showing it to visitors. It’s a tremendous way to gain genuine insight into how people live in an African town, one that we’ll be offering to guests on our voyage.

Guests will be able to walk the streets of Mondesa, stopping to talk with the residents, and to go into the homes of a number of people who make a difference there. One of them is Oma Lina, a lady in her 80s, who is a respected elder and who, without pay, adjudicates disputes in the community. Another is Augusta, who sells traditional herbal medicines.

And then there is Naftaline, a remarkable lady who, feeling driven to help, has taken orphaned children — now numbering 14, ranging in age from 6 to 21 — into her home. She is a true difference-maker in her community. Her efforts have highlighted the need for a proper orphanage, and with help from other concerned people, Naftaline is raising funds to build a proper orphanage in Swakopmund. I was deeply moved, as I know our travelers will be too.

I know that those of our guests who choose to visit this exceptional place will have an experience that they’ll recall for a long time.

Flip Nickin’s “Among Giants” in San Diego

Sometimes the timing just works out. After disembarking National Geographic Sea Bird in Seattle, I headed south to San Diego to catch the opening of National Geographic Photographer Flip Nickin’s “Among Giants” exhibit at the Ordover Gallery at the San Diego Museum of Natural History. The exhibit is part of a nationwide book tour for the release of his new book  “Among Giants.”

In part sponsored by the Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic alliance, Flip’s keynote presentation blew away the hundreds in attendance with life-size images of whales and dolphins projected on the multi-story IMAX screen.

A reception followed, where I was honored to have 6 prints hanging alongside Flip’s legendary work, which filled the hall.

Fellow National Geographic Photographer Paul Nicklen (no relation) also had prints hanging in the exhibit, along with prints by gallery owner Abe Ordover shot on board the Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic fleet of ships. Whale sculptures by Randy Puckett put the exhibit over the top.

The exhibit will run through December 31, 2011 in the Ordover Gallery, in the fourth floor atrium of San Diego Museum of Natural History.

So if the timing works out, be sure and catch this exhibit in San Diego before the end of the year. Safe travels.

Dispatch from the Field by Ralph Lee Hopkins
Director of Expedition Photography
Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic

Soaring Over Peru’s Nazca Lines

As I stepped out onto the tarmac, my stomach twisted violently. Ahead of me the little airplane glinted in the sunlight, and the pilot stood beckoning me towards the cockpit – I’d be riding up front, with him. As I climbed in, my knees knocked into the electronic dashboard, and a paper bag hung ominously within grabbing distance. It was time to fly.

I was in Nazca, Peru, in a four passenger plane about to lift off to view the mysterious Nazca Lines. Created by the Nazca people, who thrived in southern Peru and northern Chile from 200 B.C. through 600 A.D., the Nazca Lines are a series of geoglyphs etched into the sand in one of the driest deserts on earth.

As we flew over the arid landscape, the plane banked sharply from side to side to give us the best views of the shapes scratched into the earth below. Covering an area of more than 200 square miles, the geoglyphs range in size from 80 feet to over 200 feet and represent an array of designs – a trapezoid, spider, monkey, hummingbird, tree, human hands and what looks uncannily like a modern-day astronaut. Due to their vast size, the shapes are only fully recognizable from the sky.

From a vantage point that the Nazca people were never able to use, it’s amazing to see the enormity of the project they undertook. Seeing their designs, still so vivid 2,000 years after they were created, brought the people of Nazca to life for me. I could see them, struggling in the blinding desert sun to create beautiful visions of birds and humanity that will last as long as the earth will let them.

The survival of these designs over time is a testament to the harshness of the atmosphere – no other culture has managed to thrive here and destroy what was once created so artfully – but it’s also a testament to the creativity and values of the lost Nazca people. It is easy to feel their sense of worship for their landscape, even from the sky.

Theories about the origins of the Nazca Lines run the gamut -astrological calendars, irrigation ditches, ceremonial prayer pathways and the infamous landing strips for alien spacecraft are some of the most popular.  Their true nature has always remained a mystery, but scientists are coming closer to understanding their purpose. As National Geographic reports, the answers can be found on the ground, rather than from the sky.

By April Darcy

Flamingos, Up Close and Personal

Check out this New York Times article about flamingos. According to flamingo expert Felicity Arency, “They are the coolest-looking bird in the world.” We see them often on our Galápagos expeditions. They are less regal than you might think. These elegant birds are noisy and sometimes combative. We love them anyway.

Author Richard Louv in the Arctic

Richard Louv, author of The Nature Principle, is in Arctic Svalbard with us aboard National Geographic Explorer. Today he sent us this dispatch that was posted as a Daily Expedition Report about his time in the Hinlopen Strait.

Midnight snow in driving wind and intimate fog. The ship moves through a portion of Hinlopen Strait, which runs about 110 miles northwest to southeast.

On the morning deck, the hardier souls look upward at one of Svalbard’s largest concentrations of nesting seabirds. Here, at Kapp Fanshawe on the high cliffs of Alkefjellet, the sheer walls of dolerite are alive. The climate is high Arctic, snow turning to sleet, ice forming on the beard of the Zodiac driver…

Read the rest of the Daily Expedition Report here.


Is It Still a Trip of a Lifetime If You’re Only 9 Years Old?

This week syndicated columnist Eileen Oginitz, a family travel expert and creator of the site, is aboard National Geographic Explorer cruising the Arctic. She teamed up with Evie, a 9-year-old guest also aboard the ship to file an expedition report on a day that included several polar bear sightings, a walrus and some fantastic photos.

Thinking about sharing the expedition of a lifetime with your kids or grandkids? Read their report to see was Evie had to say.


Paper to Pearls in Galapagos


Paper to Pearls is a grassroots organization that teaches people how to turn old magazine and brochures into beads used for necklaces and bracelets. This eco-chic jewelry achieved extraordinary success in Africa. It provides work for many people and turns what would normally be considered waste into a commodity sold to travelers.

Sarah Acot of Paper to Pearls joined Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic in Galápagos to train locals on how to make these paper pearls. In this video we received the other day, Sarah celebrates with her students following their training sessions by dancing with them to a little Acholi music.

Learn more about Paper to Pearls, see photos from Sarah’s Galápagos expedition, or plan a Galápagos trip of your own.

First Expedition of the Alaska Season

Alaska season is underway, and we’ve received our first Video Expedition Report back from the crew of National Geographic Sea Lion. Our guests visited Sitka a couple days ago taking in the sites at the Sitka National Historical Park. A couple guests from Alaska talk about exploring their home state with Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic.

High Water Season in the Amazon

Amazon River

Every day we read expedition reports coming back from our Galápagos cruises and Alaska cruises, but this dispatch from our Amazon River cruise was too good not to be shared to a wider audience. It’s high-water season in the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve right now, so these small waterways appear and allow our naturalists to go even deeper into the jungle. In this photo, one naturalist clears the path with a machete so they can venture even further upriver. See more photos and read the day’s full expedition report here.

National Geographic’s John Bredar in Galapagos

John Bredar, the filmmaker behind National Geographic’s first scripted feature film, Darwin’s Darkest Hour joined us in the Galápagos Islands to discuss film, nature, the Society and Lindblad Expeditions. Our on board Video Chronicler Rodrigo Moterani spent some time with him on Santa Cruz Island, where he shot this short video.