Posted By Richard Bangs
You can't drive here; you can't boat here; you can't even walk here... you'd be eaten. We're somewhere in the back end of nowhere, some 300 kilometers from the closest paved road; 1500 kilometers from the nearest Whole Foods. If you cry wolf here, everyone believes you.
It's the third day of a week-long safari. Not in Tanzania, Botswana, Zambia or anywhere in Africa. We're in the sub-Arctic, on Cape Tatnum, Hudson Bay, Manitoba, 57 degrees North Latitude. We're on foot, in knee-high Wellies, sloshing single-file behind our guide, Andy MacPherson, towards a big mother polar bear. The general rule is to halt 50 or more meters from a polar bear. They're master predators, largest land carnivores on the planet, top of the food chain, and are hungry this time of year. They feast on ice-breeding seals in the winter months, hunting from floating bergs on Hudson Bay, "The Cold Ocean." But when the ice breaks in July, sleuths of bears come ashore and wait. There are some berries and birds, and the occasional whale carcass that washes up onto the sand. But mostly the bears live off stored fat reserves and wait for the ice to come back mid-November. It is the longest period of food deprivation of any mammal on earth. Now it's September, when the sun describes a horseshoe around the margins of the sky, and life is beginning to drain from the land. The beasts are, at this time, justifiably famished.
Not many get to see polar bears in the wild. Most who do take a Tundra Buggy tour in Churchill, riding in giant tank-like buses that allow looking down at the melancholy wandering of Ursus maritimus without any chance of attack. Others see the bears from the decks of cruise ships plowing through the Arctic Oceans. But very few ever actually walk among the bears.
Some call Andy "The Polar Bear Whisperer." He doesn't disavow the title, but admits he can't really Dolittle with the bears; rather he has come up with techniques to "keep them off balance." Polar bears are intelligent, curious, and socially complex, he says, though there are several instinctive responses to humans approaching, and each bear has his own contextual personality and reaction. If she deems approaching vehicles, or a walking group, threatening, she might turn and run. Or she might charge. But once a response kicks-in, it is near impossible to stop. So, if kept disoriented, Andy postulates, she won't decide on an action, but will wait for more information.
"Each time we interact with a bear we have the opportunity to add either positive or negative experiences to her toolbox," he softly explains. "And that accumulation of knowledge affects the bear's decision-making process."
We have slowly walked around a long sandbar, being careful to stay downwind of "Pihoqahiaq,"(the ever-wandering one), as the Inuit call her. Her eyesight is supposedly similar to ours, but the ears are much better. And it's very quiet here. The few sounds the polar bear knows include the crack of ice, the whoosh of wind, and the claver of geese. So, the human voice is unfamiliar, and can potentially trigger the wrong behavior.
So, Andy signals us to be quiet. The white giant, though, stands up, and begins to amble in our direction on large, silent feet. Her face is inscrutable, though the eyes say someone is home. She taps the air with her Roman nose, which has, Andy says, a better sense of smell than a bloodhound. I imagine everyone is thinking the same as me...if she attacks, who will be the slowest runner. The bear keeps stepping towards us. The Arctic air suddenly seems hot from the flame of risk. I expect Andy to back up, but instead he steps towards the bear....a face off. Andy has two small rocks in his hand, which he clicks, a sound meant to keep the bear a little off-balance. And Andy speaks to her, a note of mysticism in his voice. "Hi Beautiful. We're just here to say hello. How is your day?" He speaks in a low monotone, which he says sounds like Charlie Brown's teacher to the bear. It is meant to be non-threatening, and mildly confusing. The bear and Andy keep moving closer, and we obediently stay behind, and formally still. I look around to scope an escape route, but there is nothing. We're a kilometer from the taiga forest, which doesn't have a tree worth climbing anyway. On the other side, the second largest bay in the world, named for doomed explorer Henry Hudson, with water deadly cold, and bears are faster swimmers anyway. Behind is a loamy coastline, desolate as the mare on the moon, and polar bears can out run a race horse from a standing start. I recall a bit of advice I heard from a guide years ago on the Seal River: "Most polar bears are left-pawed, so if the beast charges, leap to her right." But I used to be a guide, and know the adage true: "How do you tell if a guide is lying? His lips are moving."
12.3.13 at 8:16 am | You can't drive here; you can't boat here; you. . .
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November 16, 2013 | 4:27 pm
Posted by Lisa Niver Rajna
Palawan has been touted as an up and coming destination on many elite travel lists. Ever since the Underground River was named a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the new seven natural world wonders, tourists began arriving in droves with thirty flights and nearly 1,500 people visiting daily. There are plans in the works for a new airport. All tricycle drivers are trained as English speaking guides and Palawan has implemented an aggressive anti-littering program; the first littering fine is 200pesos, then 500pesos, and a third offense leads to a punishing two months in jail. Keeping the island clean is a priority.
After visiting the famous underground river the first day, we went on a city tour with Amika Tours and Travel to view sights in an around Puerto Princessa. At Binuatan Creations, both George and I took turns on a loom and learned to change individual natural fibers into cloth at the weaving station. After drying fibers like acacia and grass, the fabric is dyed into every color of the rainbow. As with most of this city tour, each stop was also an opportunity for shopping. At Baker’s Hill, we learned about the famous Hopia bread made with ube or mongo, and saw several statue animals in this small “theme” park. We had a quick stop at Mitra Ranch to take in the great views and shoot photos.
The crocodile farm seemed more like a jail with large animals cooped up in small empty pens except for water. The largest crocodile, Senor Croc, is over sixty years old, weighs over six hundred kilos and measures seventeen feet long; he has been a resident for over twenty years. His abode is just past the hatching house. A violent crocodile, Valentino, was captured last year on Valentine’s Day in Southern Palawan and was locked up as he was a danger to society. I learned that saltwater crocs are even more dangerous.
After traveling through the city in the forest, we arrived at Iwahig Minimum Security Prison and penal farm. Many of the inmates work on the farm but a few prisoners work in the shop and are known as the Iwahig Dancing Inmates. The Philippines has a tradition of dancing convicts as in Cebu one Saturday a month, nearly one thousand inmates show off their style dancing in unison to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. I hula hooped while Juris from Cebu, Sandy and Allan from Manila, Dennis from Laoag, Pallet Jr from Laguna and Abraham from Aparri danced around me in a circle to Psy’s song “Gangnam Style.”
Our tour also included a stroll on Bay Walk, an ocean side walkway with food and entertainment at night. The main church across from the Plaza Cuartel hosts a memorial to United States POWs who were burned to death in 1944 by Japanese soldiers. Eleven of the 143 U.S. soldiers escaped and related the horrors of what transpired that fateful day long ago. It is now a lovely park and resting spot for all to share; ironically the park teems with lovers holding hands.
We ended the tour at Noki Noks, a restaurant that claims to serve up the best Halo-Halo in Puerto Princessa; it is renown for the thinly shaved ice and creamy sweet taste. We enjoyed exploring Puerto Princessa and were excited to venture to other segments of the island, a gateway to many enjoyable experiences.
For more detailed information about how to prepare to travel to and within the Philippines, refer to Rissa Gatdula-Lumontad’s book, “Philippines: 100 Travel Tips.” In addition, Ricky Tio at Cebu Holiday Tours can assist travelers with detailed information on where to stay and what to do once in the Philippines.
About the Authors: Lisa Niver Rajna and George Rajna are co-authors of Traveling in Sin and co-founders of We Said Go Travel. They are accomplished writers, speakers and travelers who are members of the Traveler’s Century Club, a unique travel club limited to travelers who have visited one hundred or more countries. They left Los Angeles in July 2012 and are still traveling. Follow their journey!
November 12, 2013 | 4:14 pm
Posted By Kamana Hunter
The rainstorms from the previous day had transformed the climate at the Brandeis-Barin Campus in Simi Valley. The 90 degree heat had become a cool 66 degrees. The air was filled with a scent of early autumn. It made me crave a pumpkin spice coffee.
At American Jewish University's retreat center, we were holding a 4 day Bloodline Healing workshop. People from various backgrounds had come to speak with their ancestors about the historic burdens that they inherited from their families. They were bravely experiencing a new form of Generational Healing that gave them a chance to be free of these burdens.
Dina Bernat-Kunin and Aviva Bernat, two of my Assistant Facilitators, were showing me around the property before dinner time. They had grown up with this camp. In fact, they were the second generation of the Bernat family to call Brandeis-Bardin a spiritual home. It was at their encouragement that we had our four day retreat at this Jewish stronghold established on ancient Chumash land.
“Those beautiful hills make me feel that I am in the middle of the Haray Yerushalayim ( the Jerusalem hills),” Dina said. “I get that feeling of 'I am home'.” The gold shine of sunset highlighted the peaks of the hills.
Dina and Aviva are sisters. Their mother, Gladys (Goldberg) Bernat, attended the Brandeis Camp Institute program with Shlomo Bardin as a young adult in the early 1950's. “I remember Ima (mom) reflecting fondly on the extraordinary Jewish music, dance, and the arts, that was the signature aspect of this amazing Jewish cultural preserve,” Dina shared.
“The way that Brandeis-Bardin serves as a preserve of Jewish culture reminds me of Native American reservations,” I said. “This is my first time on a Jewish Reservation.” We all laughed. For many visitors, this land was the closest thing to Israel in America.
We passed by a living, hollowed out tree that had stones pouring out of its belly. It was very symbolic of the work that was happening in the workshop. Many participants were unburdening heavy grief, shame, and the pain that their families still carried from World War II. The workshop was a rare opportunity for them to connect with the greater emotional body of their family. It was an approach that allowed participants to cleanse the unfinished story of the previous generations using part catharsis and part multicultural ceremony.
The piano in the workshop space had become our Ancestors' Table. This was the place where we asked participants to speak to their deceased kin. It was covered with a colorful table cloth from Hawaii. Candles were set on wooden building blocks. Black and white photos of participants' deceased kin covered the rest of the Ancestors' Table. One by one, people shared their tears, their screams, their longings, and their celebrations.
The Brandeis workshop was a potent reminder that we are still healing from World War II. Time alone was not healing these wounds. In fact, the unexpressed emotions were being passed onto the children and grandchildren who weren't even alive during the war. That's why Bloodline Healing was so important. Cleansing the festering historic hurts gave these courageous individuals the chance to release their chronic anxiety and heaviness that had become normal to their families. But normal was not always healthy.
The fresh air and beauty of the land at Brandeis-Bardin was a welcomed reminder of the joy of life. I smiled at the site of nearby horses feeding. Earlier, I had given those horses my apple. One mare had split the apple with its big teeth and shared half the apple with another mare.
As the workshop came to a close, Dina captured that feeling of awe that our facilitators shared when doing the work. “I was struck by the visible, physical changes in our participants. One person's gait looked more steady, another one had lost that panicked look in their eyes...I even observed that another participant's breathing had changed.” Shy people were claiming their voice and authority. Anxious skeptics had found their hearts. By the end of the workshop, participants were sharing how they felt lighter, elated, and even astounded by what they had discovered about themselves.
I left Brandeis knowing that Bloodline Healing had found a spiritual home. Our team looked forward to the next workshop at these sacred hills.
November 6, 2013 | 7:57 am
Posted by Lisa Niver Rajna
Thank you to the Huffington Post for sharing my story: Why So Many of America's Teachers Are Leaving The Profession
John Owens in his book, Confessions of a Bad Teacher, shares that "America's public school teachers are being loudly and unfairly blamed for the failure of our nation's public schools." As a 2012 nominee for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching and a veteran of public and private schools for the last twenty years, I have to agree but I was glad to hear someone else say it in print.
The vast majority of teachers are working overtime without the tools or budget to manage the plethora of issues inside and outside the classroom. On top of that, administrators who only compound the situation by micromanaging the wrong things make the lives of teachers completely untenable with their lack of support. Most teaching preparation programs including the one Mr. Owens attended do not adequately prepare anyone for life in the classroom.
For many beginning teachers, "It was as though I had just joined the circus as an apprentice clown and was immediately required to juggle plates, bowling pins, butcher's knives, and axes all day long while walking along a tightrope in midair." Teachers make more decisions per hour than any other job including what to do with a student who falls behind, manage students with learning or emotional problems, tailor each lesson every day to up to 125 students or more who are somewhere between illiterate and highly gifted. Sadly some administrators, students and parents instead of partnering with teachers, blame "teachers which is easier than doing a massive system overhaul."
October 10, 2013 | 5:33 pm
Posted by Lisa Niver Rajna
Have you dreamed of long-term international travel in Asia? Considered quitting your job to become a travel blogger and book writer? Want to connect with travel-minded community members?
Festival of the Pacific is a celebration of travel and transformation hosted by PennClubLA, LACOT, Dave’s Travel Corner, Gogobot and We Said Go Travel. The theme, “Living Without Regret: Travel, Love and Success: Make your Dreams a Reality,” is presented by the founders of We Said Go Travel, Penn graduate Lisa Niver Rajna (C’89) and her husband George Rajna, who will give an inside look into their long-term exotic international travel across Asia over the last fifteen months. They will share their travel expertise, read an excerpt from their new memoir, “Traveling in Sin,” and provide information about We Said Go Travel’s writing contest, and upcoming community.
Join us for conversation, drinks and a raffle, at the Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel on October 16, at 7:00 PM.
11461 Sunset Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90049 USA
Join us Oct 23rd for an online webinar on Exotic Burma!
More about our book, Traveling in Sin!
September 17, 2013 | 4:04 am
Posted by Lisa Niver Rajna
FALL 2013 GRATITUDE TRAVEL WRITING CONTEST
Free Entry $1,000usd in CASH PRIZES
Contest will run September 11 through November 28, 2013.
We are looking for an article about a place you are grateful for or a memorable holiday that you shared with a special loved one or a place that is awe inspiring. In Jonah Berger’s book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On he wrote about awe:
Awe is the sense of wonder and amazement that occurs when someone is inspired by great knowledge, beauty, sublimity, or might. It’s the experience of confronting something greater than yourself. Awe encompasses admiration and inspiration and can be evoked by everything from great works of art or music to religious transformations, from breathtaking natural landscapes to human feats of daring and discovery.
Sometimes the place that makes you feel gratitude is in your own backyard, share your special location.
THEME: Gratitude: A Place that inspires Awe
1st Prize - $500usd cash and Travel Writing Road Map ($497usd value)
2nd Prize - $350usd cash and Travel Writing Road Map Self Study
3rd Prize - $150usd cash and Travel Writing Road Map Self Study
Winners will be selected by our judges, Richard Bangs, Tiffany Hawk and the We Said Go Travel Team. Cash prizes will be paid through PayPal in United States Dollars. All winning entries will be promoted on We Said Go Travel.
RULES: Publication is dependent on proper use of English language and grammar, appropriateness of theme topic, and being family friendly (G rated). If your post is written in a language other than English, please also send an English translation. Travelers of all ages and from all countries are encouraged to participate. Each individual may send up to 5 entries that are 500-800 words with 1 photo. Your article must be an original and previously unpublished piece. All posts, which meet the requirements, will appear on WeSaidGoTravel.com.
TO ENTER: Click here!
DEADLINE: Enter by midnight PST on November 28, 2013
JUDGING: Richard Bangs, Tiffany Hawk and the We Said Go Travel Team
Richard Bangs, the father of modern adventure travel, is a pioneer in travel that makes a difference, travel with a purpose. He has spent 30 years as an explorer and communicator, and along the way led first descents of 35 rivers around the globe, he is currently producing and hosting the new PBS series, Richard Bangs: Adventure Without End
Tiffany Hawk, is a former flight attendant and the author of Love Me Anyway, a darkly funny novel about life at 35,000 feet. She has an MFA in creative writing from UC Riverside and her work can be seen in such places as The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, National Geographic Traveler, and NPR’s “All Things Considered.” Join Tiffany Hawk for the complete roadmap to exotic travel writing: Travel Writing Road Map.
August 10, 2013 | 3:10 am
Posted by Lisa Niver Rajna
Hello from Ao Nang, Thailand! Newsletter #31 August 6, 2013
After over two months on Lamai Beach, Koh Samui, we finished editing our memoir, Traveling in Sin, and traveled a bit more of Thailand. We went to Koh Phanghan, Tanote Beach in Koh Tao, Ranong, Little Koh Chang, Krabi and Ao Nang.
One of the best things has been seeing old friends and meeting new ones. We were able to visit with our friends, Taryn and Andrew who we traveled with in Borneo in 2009 and we wrote about in our memoir! Spending time with them in Koh Samui and Koh Tao was great. We look forward to a visit this week with Jeremy who was with us in Fiji when George asked me to go on the first sabbatical and we saw in the Fall in Hua Hin and who was in our wedding!
We appreciate all of you who read our newsletters, articles, website and BOOK! Thank you to everyone for your support of our journey and all our writing. We are participating in travel events in Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Guam, Oahu and Los Angeles! More news about all of them soon! Connect with us on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest , SlideShare, Twitter, and YouTube.
Lisa and George (Click here to sign up for this newsletter. )
More about us at www.WeSaidGoTravel.com
August 2, 2013 | 5:17 am
Posted Amy Sommer
“Traveling in Sin” is a love story and travel memoir rolled in to a single, enjoyable book. Written by George Rajna and Lisa Niver Rajna, the travelers who fell in love while traversing the Far East, the inveterate travelers include 80 beautiful photos from their journey in its pages.
The Rajna story starts in 2007 when the duo, after dating for about six months, travel to Fiji where George shares his lifelong dream to travel the globe for a year and urges a reluctant Lisa to join him. a year later, in 2008, the duo took a leap of faith in the universe and each other and embarked on a journey that from French Polynesia to Mongolia. As their adventures unfold, Niver-Rajna whittles her waistline while upping her confidence and Rajna learns to open his heart to the partner he proposes to toward the end of the trip.
Told through humorous anecdotes and populated with unique characters the couple met in their travels, Niver-Rajna and Rajna tell an exciting tale filled with tears of joy and disaster as they share their love story.