Luxury is workout facilities on safari

By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox

We go on safari to see nature. Thankfully that does not always mean missing out on exercise.

While on safari safety is a priority. Frequently wild animals, some of them dangerous, roam freely near the luxury lodges where guests stay. They may stroll through the property. This means that in many places staff escorts are required for guests at night and sometimes in the early morning around dawn. At the dozens of properties where I have stayed, with some exceptions, jogging and running were discouraged or not allowed. This makes exercising beyond in-room basic stretching difficult.

The two swimming pools at Singita Ebony were large enough for laps.

The workout room at Lukimbi was open air.

I suspect that many fitness aficionados smile with pleasure on discovering somewhere to safely stretch their legs while in the African bush. Yet running, jogging and exercise in general were difficult or not possible in many of the Big Five properties I have visited, especially in those without electric fences surrounding the property itself. That is why I remember the lodges with a full length swimming pool or a dedicated workout area with particular fondness.

While at Fitzpatrick’s Lodge at Jock Safari Lodge we had access to the Jock exercise room a short drive away.

The open air workout area at Camp Jabulani was covered

While on safari days fly by in a blur of activities, mainly twice daily game drives and sometimes guided walks. Early mornings and three course dinners make finding time to exercise a challenge. For those willing to do so having a pool to swim laps, treadmill, elliptical machine or free weights can be the ultimate luxury. On our  2017 trip to South Africa, several five star safari lodges, Lukimbi Safari Lodge, Fitzpatrick’s Lodge at Jock Safari Lodge (www.jocksafarilodge.com, +27 (0) 13 010 0019, Fax  +27 (0) 86 601 9961, Reservations@jocksafarilodge.com), Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge, Singita Ebony, Simbambili Game Lodge, and Camp Jabulani, had fitness facilities.

The air conditioned exercise room at Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge with a pretty view was a favorite.

The workout room at Jock’s had a rack of dumbbells and a slanted bench

Lukimbi, on the southern end of the well known Kruger National Park, had an open air fitness and treatment room facing the lawn and bush across the Lwakahle River. The pool was visible from the workout room as well. The room housed a workout space with weights station, Running Machine, Cycle, and Step Machine.

I liked the glass wall at the air conditioned Singita Ebony workout room, which was in the same building as the spa.

Earth lodge featured a variety of aerobic machines and a resistance circuit machine.

As a guest at Fitzpatrick’s I had access to the small workout room within the Jock’s Safari Lodge 150 square meter spa building. The sister properties were within a two minute drive. Anelda, our friendly host, kindly drove me over from Fitzpatrick’s to Jock’s. The visit also provided me an opportunity to browse in the curio shop as Fitzpatrick’s was too small for its own shopping space. When I was ready to return I asked the staff person at Jock’s to call her. Within minutes she picked me up. Thanks to the room’s glass wall I enjoyed bush views during my workout. A thirty minute careful jog along the property’s wet pathways (it rained during most of our three night stay) rounded out my morning.

Simbambili had an indoor workout room in the same building as its meeting room.

While this cub could exercise safely in the reserve the humans had to stay indoors.

Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge, one of our favorite properties on that trip, had a dedicated air conditioned 50 square meter (5 meter by 10 meter) workout room in a stand alone building. Some of the workout room’s glass walls faced the bush and a water feature. I especially enjoyed watching the many birds attracted by the water feature in the morning during my workout. The fitness room housed two treadmills (Impulse AC2970), spinning bicycle (Gym Source Tour), water rower (Water Rower Club), Multigym (Impact FIT200 Classic), freestanding bench, Kettle Bells in two kilo increments ranging from four to eight kilos, two Pilates balls, three yoga mats. Amenities include chilled sparkling and still mineral water, Powerade, hand towels, sanitizing spray and paper rolls. I later found out there is an adjoining shower for guests who wish to freshen up.

“The beauty of the location of the gym is such is that it does not impact on the main lodge but is hidden away and also blends into the environment,” said Heath Thompson, lodge manager, via email when asked what makes the gym stand out. “The structure is built with the same concept as that of the main lodge with a natural, organic type structure and the majority of the gym is glass, with views of a waterhole – allowing for uninterrupted views of the bush veld whilst training or exercising. We have often had remarks from our guests who have spotted elephant drinking from the waterhole. The bird life is also phenomenal due to the availability of a water source.”

A fan of bush walks he added, “Whilst this performs the mainstream basis of keeping fit (from all that delicious food of course), there is also the opportunity to go on one of our environmental awareness walking safaris, so whilst this is not traditionally an ‘exercise’ based excursion and the idea behind this is to expose guests to a safari from a different angle and experience the “small stuff” that one generally misses whilst out on a an open vehicle, it does nonetheless necessitate walking (up to 1.5 hours). So whilst gaining a holistic experience of the African bush from a walking perspective, one’s body also benefits from the walking.”

The workout machines at Camp Jabulani were under thatch next to the massage area.

Singita Ebony’s fitness room shared a building with the spa. The air conditioned space had wood floors, a row of machines, and a bush facing glass wall. In addition to our en suite heated private plunge pools (a favorite) Singita Ebony also had two common area swimming pools. Although the water was chilly it was wonderful to have a midday swim to offset the blistering summer heat.

“Singita Ebony Lodge has a very unique bush spa with gym attached,” said Chantelle Maritz, co-manager, Singita Ebony Lodge. “The two rooms at the spa are comfortable and decorated alongside the classic safari look with sliding doors that open. The gym side is a rock wall with large glass windows.”

The 49 square meter (11.3 meter by 4.3 meter) gym was stocked with individual size bottled water and coconut water, towels, television and two showers (shared with spa guests).

As of May 2018 the gym offered the following weights in kilos: 10 to 20 sizes, kettle bells in 4, 8 and 16 kilos, medicine balls in 3 and 5 kilos. There were: foam roller, five floor mats, yoga block, two wellness balls and Technogym equipment: bench, two treadmills, two exercise bicycles, multi-functional trainer, shoulder press machine, chest press machine, cable station, leg extension, and vertical traction machine.

While seeing the animals is still the best part being able to exercise is healthful. 

Camp Jabulani had a steam room and sauna.

Our three-bedroom, three bathroom Zindoga Villa accommodations at Camp Jabulani were so spacious and comfortable I had little need to spend time in the common areas with the exception was the dining room at meal times. The pretty 53 square meter open air workout area, equipped with: Johnson multipurpose machine, static bicycle and Johnson rowing machine, Trojan treadmill, six sets of free weight Trojan dumbbells and Detecto scale, was inviting. There was also a new looking six square meter sauna with a glass wall. Had we spent another night at the property I would have made time to work out; and should we plan a future safari trip to the area Camp Jabulani will be high on my list, among other reasons, for its workout facility. For more South Africa safari properties with workout facilities when we were there see Safari properties that offered exercise facilities among favorites.

Our brief visit to Blyde River Canyon, South Africa

By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox

The Berlin Falls in Mpumalanga, South Africa

On a recent safari trip to South Africa earlier this year we had an opportunity to visit the Blyde River Canyon. One of the owners of the Belgrace Boutique Hotel, who also owned a tour company, invited us to a half day visit of the area as part of our transfer from his hotel to our safari property. Visiting the canyon required us to leave extra early. Our efforts were rewarded as the parking lot at the first of our stops was nearly deserted, except for curio vendors setting up for the day and staff cleaning the public bathrooms.

It was a little hazy, but the view from the God's Windows lookout was breathtaking.

According to SouthAfrica.net, the 29,000 hectare Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve is carved out of red sandstone and is one of South Africa's most remarkable geological features. Salient areas of the "green canyon" we saw were the Three Rondavels or Three Sisters, God's Window and Bourke's Luck Potholes.

Over time the flow of water carved out circular "potholes" in the limestone of the valley.

The river flows rapidly just above the potholes.

The same photo with a long exposure filter to smooth the water (just for fun)

The further along we progressed the more tourists we encountered, including several buses packed with travelers speaking foreign tongues. There were also more curio vendors in make shift structure and later inside a building. In lieu of lunch we snacked on locally produced cashews, macadamia nuts and dried fruits from a plastic container our tour escort brought with him. There were also chilled juices and water.

The Three Rondavels were our final stop as we made our way through the canyon.

The series of attractions were part of the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve

The added attractions were worth the extra effort and time. Although we had few moments to spare for much beyond photos and quick rest stops we enjoyed the sights and the opportunity to see yet another beautiful natural wonder in the vast country full of natural treasures.

Camp Jabulani elephant experience

By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox

Jabulani, the camp's namesake, at The First Meeting in May 2017

On our first visit to Camp Jabulani, a Five Star lodge near South Africa's famed Kruger National Park, in 2008 we met some of the house elephants who had been raised or rescued by humans. After the young Jabulani, born in 1997, was abandoned by his elephant relatives when he became stuck in the mud the owners of the privately owned Big Five Kapama Reserve opened their hearts and their pockets to adopt him. In 2004, they established Camp Jabulani. When a herd of elephants in neighboring Zimbabwe was marked for slaughter they intervened, relocating the herd to their property.

Left to right: Matipedza Tigere, elephant manager, and another staff member at The First Meeting, part of The Camp Jabulani Elephant Experience

A staff member showed us how to feed the pachyderms pellets via the elephant's trunk.

On that visit we met the whole herd, watched the staff tuck them in for the night and, most memorable of all, went elephant back riding. Earlier this year only weeks before our return, Camp Jabulani stopped offering elephant back rides. We wondered how the changes would affect our visit. We need not have worried as we had a comfortable stay and rewarding elephant experience at the luxury lodge.

A closeup look at the elephant's huge molars

“Camp Jabulani is a rather special lodge as it was established with the sole purpose of providing and income to look after Jabulani and a herd of elephants rescued from Zimbabwe in 2002,” Christo Rachmann, general manager, explained. “Currently the cost of looking after our elephants is around R450 000,00 per month. By visiting Camp Jabulani guests are actively contributing to the well-being of these magnificent animals."

A closeup of the elephant's huge eye and very long lashes was surprisingly difficult to photograph.

During our two night in stay in May 2017 we had The Camp Jabulani Elephant Experience. The day we arrived we had The First Meeting, part of The Camp Jabulani Elephant Experience. We spent a few minutes with Jabulani and another even larger young male. Under the watchful eye of Matipedza Tigere, elephant manager, we fed them pellet snacks, touched their skin and took photos. They smelled us with the tip of their trunk, quickly picked the pellets directly from our hands and let us run our hand along their side with surprising calm. Jabulani wrapped his trunk around my waist and dragged me gently yet firmly to one side (it was impossible to hold my position) until the elephant manager intervened.

The elephant manager explained how an elephant's foot carries its heavy body yet makes soft sounding footsteps.

Such nearness could give the false impression that elephants are easy to approach. Many safari trips have taught me that is far from true. I have a deep respect for the gentle giants. The elephants and the elephant manager's relaxed demeanor reassured me as did his instructions. Tigere, a native of Chinhoyi, Zimbabwe, had 18 years of experience, and had a Field Guides Association of Southern Africa (FGASA) Level One Theory rating. He had been at Camp Jabulani since 2008. If he said it was safe to interact with the two huge creatures I believed him.

Because of the rescued elephants unique background the herd developed a positive atypical family structure. The staff explained that there are strong ties between male and female animals, and clearly established matriarchs have assumed responsibility for all infants, their own (five babies were born to the herd), as well as that of new orphans. The babies that have arrived in the last five years were successfully introduced to the herd with minimal human intervention. According to promotional materials, the managers and owners of Camp Jabulani planned to continue to rescue and rehabilitate elephants in need.

The youngest member of the herd was curious about our vehicle when we came to watch them play in the water

The following day at noon we waited for the 15 semi-tame elephants of the house herd to enter the water hole, hoping they would bathe. That was the In Their Element activity, also part of The Camp Jabulani Elephant Experience. We watched from our vehicle and they watched us back, curious. When playful elephants approached our vehicle our guide reversed, avoiding contact. A couple of times he revved the loud engine to make a particularly nosy elephant retreat. When we asked if there was danger he explained that wasn't the case. They were curious about us and wanted to explore. The problem was that if an elephant brushed the new vehicle with its trunk it would damage the paint.

These younger members of the herd wrestled and played while we watched

On the way to their pens for the night, the elephants paraded past our sun downer spot.

We watched the herd feed and interact. A number of elephant handlers sat around on the ground. We waved hello and they waived back. They called the youngest elephant to one side where they fed her a special extra nutritious blend from a bucket. For whatever reason the herd didn't go in the water that afternoon. I didn't mind much. Watching them so calm and playful was enough for me. A few minutes later the handlers rose to their feet, calling the herd away. As we drove back to Camp Jabulani I smiled. Our stay at the luxury property had been a pleasure, and seeing the elephants in close proximity the way we had was one of the main reasons.

At Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge excellent game viewing

By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox

Watching the sun come up with the Southern Pride was one of the highlights of our trip.

On a recent safari trip to South Africa we stayed at Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge and Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge (Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve, Sabi Sand Wildtuin, Mpumalanga, South Africa, lodge +27 13 7355-656, Sabi Sabi head office +27 11 447-7172, www.sabisabi.com, res@sabisabi.com). The two five star properties, members of the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World, were family owned and located within the 6,000 hectare Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve, which is within the Sabi Sand Reserve. It in turn is a Big Five reserve adjacent (without fences) to the famous Kruger National Park. At Bush Lodge we stayed in comfortable and spacious rooms, and we especially enjoyed the game viewing in a private vehicle and spa massage.

Our beds had color coordinated mosquito netting, a change from the customary white netting

Our spacious bathrooms had a bathtub as well as indoor and outdoor showers.

During our visit, Stefan Schoeman, general manager lodges, Sabi Sabi, assisted us with camera related issues with speed and ease. We were glad to have our cameras in good working order since we saw the Big Five at Bush Lodge. On our first of two game drives we saw four of the Big Five. We drove around in an open Toyota LandCruiser in search of wildlife and interesting natural features to observe. We were delighted to have the game vehicle and Francois Rosslee, ranger, and Dollen Nkosi, tracker, to our selves. We have found that private game drives enhance our bush experience. So it was at Bush Lodge. Francois, a friendly man fond of his job, had been our ranger at Earth Lodge, where we had shared the vehicle with two other guests. That facilitated our arrival and check-in at its sister lodge.

The main deck had several lookout points over the dry river

Francois was a Full Trails Guide Level 2 of the Field Guides Association of Southern Africa (FGASA) with six years of experience and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy. Dollen had attained a FGASA Tracker Level 2 and had been with Sabi Sabi for nine years.

Our ranger Francois Rosslee (right) horsing around with Lawrence Mkansi, assistant lodge manager and head ranger

At Bush Lodge we saw the following mammals: buffalo, common duiker, dwarf mongoose, elephants, hippopotamus, kudu, leopard, lion, scrub hare, side-striped jackal, spotted hyena, tree squirrel, vervet monkey, warthog, waterbuck, white rhinoceros; insects: African monarch butterfly, Broad-bordered grass yellow, blue pansy, scarlet tip; trees and shrubs: jackalberry, knobthorn, leadwood, buffalo-thorn, silver cluster-leaf, large-leaved rock fig, greenthorn, and tamboti; and plants: wild cucumber, fannel weed, feather-top chloris, herringbone, and thatching yellow.

We saw or heard the following bird: African fish eagle, African grey hornbill, African scops-owl, bateleur eagle, Burchell's starling, Cape glossy starling, Cape turtle dove, crested barbet, crested francolin, dark-capped bulbul, emerald-spotted wood-dove, fork-tailed drongo, go-away-bird, greater blue-eared glossy starling, green woodhoopoe, magpie shrike, rattling cisticola, redbilled oxpecker, southern yellow-billed hornbill, spotted thick-knee, Swainson's spurfowl, laughing dove, Flappet lark.

One of the lions

Approaching a sighting in progress

The 25 room family friendly property owned by Hilton and Jacqui Loon had two swimming pools, an amply stocked boutique shop (branded clothing, jewelry, coffee table books, art, accessories), Amani Health Spa, and EleFun Children’s Centre. Although the game reserve and lodge opened in 1979, during 2015 and 2016 the public areas and rooms were completely refurbished.

Our rooms had a sitting area, desk and small outdoor patio facing the dry riverbed.

Our 80 square meter well appointed Luxury Suites faced a dry riverbed. They were comfortably furnished (I especially appreciated the large pleasantly firm bed), quiet, cool when it was hot outside and warm when it was cold. Like its sister property it had a number of amenities such as coffee machine, mini refrigerator and perfume scented Charlotte Rhys toiletries as well as thoughtful touches like a convenient location for electric plugs on the desk and pre-stamped postcards.

We had excellent closeup sightings of Cape buffalo, one of the Big Five.

A young kudu male with horns just developing

Stefan Schoeman, general manager, was a gracious host.

Meals were buffet style, with a made to order station, in an open air dining room in the main area. We sat at the table of our choice, where staff took our beverage orders. We enjoyed a delicious dinner, including Lamb neck, grilled meat and venison (gemsbock) in the boma (African open air enclosure).

The pool deck had a view of the river

One of my favorite activities was a massage treatment with Tarren, the spa manager and Francois's girlfriend. Had there been more time I would have explored the spa menu further. The excellent Big Five game viewing and spa treatment made our stay at Bush Lodge special. I would return and recommend it to friends seeking a family and group friendly stay in the Sabi Sand Reserve.

How I carried cameras safely on safari

Article and Photos by Gary Cox

The Tenba Shootout Backpack 32L

Planning camera gear for an extended trip to Africa with location changes every two or three days starts with a solid transport solution. I don't like anyone carrying my equipment, figuring that if someone is going to break stuff, it should be me. For my most recent trip, I chose the Tenba Shootout Backpack 32L (Tenba, 75 Virginia Road, North White Plains, New York 10603, +1 914 347 3300, www.tenba.com, info@tenba.com), and returned home happy with the decision and the performance of the bag. This is not a general purpose pack with some foam dividers stuffed into it, this is a backpack purpose built from the ground up for the photographer on the go.

My backpack has shoulder straps and a padded belt to distribute weight to the hips when worn.

The exterior of the backpack was made from water repellent twill and gray rip stop nylon. The interior compartments were built with rip stop nylon and soft tricot fabric, padded with perforated foam to minimize weight (six pounds empty). The center of the bag is for camera storage and featured water resistant pockets on the panel for storing memory cards and small items. It has full height pockets, one large on the front and one on the side for thin items. The other side has a half height pocket and an opening into the main chamber for quick access to a camera without unzipping the entire bag. There are some small organizing pockets on the front for miscellaneous items.

The padded handle allowed me to carry the load comfortably.

The side pocket gave me access to the main compartment and had a mesh pocket to store small items securely.

Near the handle on the top, there is a solid compartment to store fragile items. During the trip the compartment kept my sunglasses from being crushed. There is also a set of straps and a harness to attach a large tripod on the outside of the bag. A zippered compartment on the bottom holds a waterproof cover that can be pulled up over the bag like a little raincoat to keep it dry. Between the main compartment and the padded back brace and frame, there is a slot for a laptop or tablet. The zippers to the main compartment and front pocket can be locked with a small padlock, not included. The backpack, made in China, came with a small microfiber cloth and memory card wallet.

Opening the front pockets revealed more pockets for small items.

On safari trips to gather data on properties for the Simon and Baker Travel Review, I cannot afford to have any gear sidelined, so redundancy for key items is critical. On one trip, my wide angle lens bumped into the iron plating on the game viewing vehicle and broke. Apparently these are not in high demand for the average traveler in Botswana, and it was several days before I could get a replacement lens. I learned multiple lessons, pad everything during transfers and carry spares. The next challenge is the variety of shooting situations and the volume of photos I take. My go-to lens for general wildlife photography is the Canon 100 to 400 millimeter. It is versatile and a reasonable trade-off between weight and capability. On this trip, I included a 70 to 300 millimeter lens with the backup camera body.

The camera equipment for our trip to Africa

I laid everything out before packing and started to wonder if the pack came in a larger size. Two camera bodies (Canon EOS 7D), two telephoto lenses, two wide angle lenses and a 28 to 130 millimeter for general purpose shooting. Flash, straps, batteries, chargers, memory cards, special purpose filters, macro adapter lens, cleaning supplies and iPad rounded out the final mix. It was a little tight, but everything fit and was well organized thanks to the bag's dividers and pockets, including the handy well at the top for my sunglasses and mp3 player. With this load the backpack weighed over 30 pounds.

The main compartment held most of the camera gear

The fully loaded pack was comfortable to wear and distributed the weight across my shoulders and back. I am not a small guy and the straps had plenty of length, something I often find deficient in camera packs. The handle on the top of the bag was sturdy. The loaded pack rested upright and did not fall over when I set it on the ground. The padded belt could be a little annoying when I placed the bag into a cabinet or closet, but when I wore the backpack it was a godsend for balance and load distribution. 

The Tenba Shootout Backpack 32L is padded and has a built in frame for stability.

The side of the bag has an easy access pocket to pull out a camera, but I never used that feature because my gear was too snug in the pack. I liked that the bag had lots of room for small things. It made it easy to keep organized. I used the pockets inside the main compartment for most of the memory cards and other valuable items. The outer pockets were handy for quick access, and ended up full of things I picked up when changing locations and then tidied away once we had rooms again. The tall side pocket was just right to hold my travel tripod. For the long haul flights I packed it away and only used the side pocket feature when changing properties in country. The zippers had nice easy to grab attachments and none of them became jammed or stuck.

A strap allowed me to attach a tripod to the outside of the backpack.

There were rings to attach external items on the shoulder straps

The bag held up well in extreme and varied conditions. For example, for the first 10 days we had intermittent rain and many opportunities to get muddy. The other three weeks were dry and dusty with a total of 12 property changes on planes, cars, vans and open safari vehicles. Everything inside my bag stayed safely clean and dry the entire time, and backpack arrived home looking new in spite of the opportunities to get muddy and dusty in the field. While pushing the luggage cart to the car in the parking lot at the airport at the end of the trip, the cart jammed solidly into a grating and the camera backpack flew off the top of the pile of bags landing on the parking lot surface. I assumed that a five foot forward flight and a four foot drop onto concrete would mean something was broken, but when I opened it at home, nothing was cracked or damaged. I would not recommend testing the backpack in that way, but it was good to know that when I let my guard down, the bag kept the contents unharmed. The Tenba Shootout Backpack 32L is my new choice for an expedition backpack to keep my gear safe.

Great visibility, fun snorkeling in Providenciales

Great visibility, fun snorkeling in Providenciales

Article and photos by Elena del Valle

caicos-cay-106

The beach at Little Water Cay also known as Iguana Island

Mike and Cheno were our crew

Mike and Cheno were our crew

The day after I arrived in Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos Islands of the British West Indies I received a call from Tanya at Big Blue Unlimited (Leeward Marina, Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands, +1 649 946 5034, fax +1 649 946 5033, info@bigblueunlimited.com), a company owned by Mark Parrish and Philip Shearer that specialized in small groups and eco-tours. I was scheduled for a morning snorkel activity the following day, but the weather was about to change and not in a good way. Tanya had kindly found a spot for me that afternoon if I could make it.

Our boat, Starfish

Our boat, Starfish

With a little help from Jessica at reception at my hotel, the Beach House Turks and Caicos in the Bight, I was able to reschedule my spa treatment. At 12:30 p.m. I climbed aboard the tour company's navy blue van with a towel and biodegradable sunblock (as suggested in my booking confirmation) for the drive to the Big Blue Unlimited office at the Leeward Marina to join eight other travelers on a four hour Caicos Cays Cruise. On our way, we picked up six travelers from Club Med. A couple from another property in the Northwest Point met us at the tour company office.

All the passengers and crew on the boat (except for me)

All the passengers and crew on the boat (except for me)

Within minutes of arriving we were ready. After signing a page long release form on an electronic tablet I joined my fellow travelers on the covered deck of the small office. Cheno and Mike, our crew members, introduced themselves and led us to the Starfish, our nine meter long boat for the afternoon. Mike, from North Caicos, had five years of water sports experience, three and a half with Big Blue Unlimited, and Cheno, a dive master from Atlanta and Grand Turks, had seven years of water sports experience, five of them with Big Blue Unlimited. They were friendly and managed the boat well.

 A sign for the Little Water Cay Nature Reserve

A sign for the Little Water Cay Nature Reserve

One of the male Turks and Caicos rock iguanas we saw

One of the male Turks and Caicos rock iguanas we saw

The Starfish had cushioned seating for three in the shady stern (back of the boat). It could accommodate the remainder of our group in the sunny bow (front of the boat). On our return to the marina everyone moved forward to avoid the water splashing the stern seat. Our first stop was at Little Water Cay, a small island managed by the Turks and Caicos National Trust, where we saw a number of Turks and Caicos rock iguanas close up. A local guide led the nine of use via a wood walkway, sharing insights about the iguanas and the island. From the small dock we looped around a short distance past palm trees, trust markers and signs, and the mostly unafraid reptiles back to our starting point, and to the boat in about 15 minutes.

The sand was powdery white

The sand was powdery white

I liked that the tour company sought to hire local islanders (a number of employees I met elsewhere on the island were foreign nationals), that its staff had received training about marine and coastal ecology, marine life identification, island geography and geology; and that Big Blue followed and promoted eco-tourism principals, as one of the owners explained by email.

The shallow beach was like a swimming pool with white sand and clear water

The shallow beach was like a swimming pool with white sand and clear water

From there we motored across turquoise waters to join other tour boats at Leeward Reef, where we remained about one hour. After we tied up to the reef buoy, Mike and Cheno helped us with snorkels and masks, put anti fogging liquid in the masks, and made sure we were comfortable once in the water. Cheno led three of us snorkeling, watching us every so often to make sure we were all right. He pointed out big fish such as an oversize parrot fish, a large grouper, a barracuda and three reef sharks at varying times. The swells were high and the water cool, but the snorkeling at Leeward Reef, about 12 feet deep, made up for the minor discomfort I felt. One of the other guests had to take over counter medication for seasickness when she returned to the boat.

For snacks there were fruit slices, potato chips, muffins and brownies

For snacks there were fruit slices, potato chips, muffins and brownies

After snorkeling, we went to Fort George Cay, where Mike and Cheno offered us rum punch or water and snacks of Lays potato chips, chocolate brownies, poppy seed muffins, and fresh fruit (cantaloupe and pineapple slices). Mike and Cheno stayed on the boat while the rest of us enjoyed some beach time. A short stroll from where we got off the boat the beach was shallow and the water crystal clear. It was also the warmest water I swam in during my stay in the Turks and Caicos Islands. We spent about an hour there before riding back to the marina. Moments later, we headed back to our respective hotels in the van. I made it back in time for a shower and an early dinner. For the rest of the evening I thought of the excellent visibility and fun snorkeling and beach. By the following morning the wind had picked up and the waves were choppy at the beach. I was thankful for Tanya's call and to have enjoyed the snorkeling activity the previous afternoon.