Save $500 On A Mountain Travel Sobek Galapagos Island Adventure

Mountain Travel Sobek Galapagos Island adventures are $500 off in JanuaryIf you’re like me you’re probably already looking ahead to 2013 and planning your next adventure. If that happens to be the case, and the Galapagos Islands have been a destination that you’ve always dreamed about, then perhaps January is the time to make that dream a reality. That’s when renowned adventure travel company Mountain Travel Sobek is offering a $500 discount on their first two departures of the year.

These two early season excursions are actually quite different from one another. The first, which sets out on January 17, charts a course for the western Galapagos Islands while the other, which gets underway on January 24, heads to the east. Both itineraries are 11-days in length, beginning and ending in Quito, Ecuador, where travelers will spend the first few days soaking up the country’s colonial history while visiting local markets and exploring the cloud forest.

On the third day they’ll catch a short flight to the Galapagos, where they’ll board a yacht that will serve as their home for the remainder of the journey. Over the course of the following week, they’ll have the opportunity to visit beautiful beaches, hike to the top of a volcano and go snorkeling in crystal clear ocean waters. They’ll also witness first hand some of the wildlife that has made the Galapagos so famous, including sea turtles, swimming iguanas, fur seals and blue-footed boobies. For a more detailed look at the itineraries, click here.

The Galapagos remain one of my top destinations that I would still like to visit at some point. I’ve been told that it is a magical experience with amazing animals in a beautiful setting. I’m sure these two excursions will more than live up to that hype and they’ll do so while saving you some cash in the process.

180 Million Rats Targeted For Extinction In The Galapagos Islands

Galapagos Islands rats are slated for extinctionThe Galapagos Islands are considered by many to be one of the top travel destinations in the entire world. Located 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean, the islands are famous for their unique wildlife that isn’t found anywhere else on Earth. Those animals were first observed by Charles Darwin on his famous “Beagle” expedition and inspired him to write “On the Origin of Species” in which he first hypothesized the Theory of Evolution. Today, many travelers make the journey to the Galapagos to see the native birds, seals, reptiles and other unusual creatures, but an invasive species of rats now threatens the native wildlife there. In an effort to protect those animals, the Ecuadorian government has begun taking drastic measures to rid the islands of those rats once and for all.

Yesterday marked the start of the second phase of an anti-rat campaign that hopes to dispose of as many as 180 million rodents by the year 2020. Helicopters dumped more than 22 tons of poisoned bait on one of the smaller islands with the hope that it will kill off a significant portion of the rat population there. In the months ahead, similar operations will take place across the other 18 islands that make up the Galapagos chain, hopefully culling the rats and creating a safer environment for the native species.This invasive species of rats first arrived on the islands aboard the ships of whalers and pirates during the 17th century. As the decades passed they multiplied rapidly and grew into a threat to native birds and reptiles, preying on eggs left in unguarded nests. As the rat population grew to epic proportions, other species have struggled to survive and compete with the rodents, which eat everything in their path.

In order to minimize the impact of the toxic bait on the Galapagos ecosystem, it has been specially designed to attract rats while repelling other animals. The small poison cubes will also disintegrate after about a week, which means there won’t be thousands of them just lying around waiting to be consumed. What happens to it, and the environment, after it disintegrates remains to be seen, but lets hope this isn’t another case of the cure being as bad as the sickness down the line.

[Photo Credit: National Park Service]

Travel Hacking: Best Holiday Gifts For Low-Tech Travelers

I’m an unapologetic Luddite. My colleagues at Gadling will attest to this. The fact that I write for AOL is both cosmic luck and hilarious irony given my initial reluctance to embrace the digital era.

I can’t help it; it’s hereditary. At least, that’s what I tell myself, whenever I watch my dad pecking away on my grandparent’s 1930s Smith-Corona (not a lie), or fumbling with the remote.

It’s unsurprising that when I travel, I try to keep things as low-tech as possible. It’s a matter of both practicality and part of my old school aesthetic that leads me to eschew costly devices and other gadgets. I’m also incapable of figuring out how to use them, so I look at it as less items to get stolen or malfunction.

I know I’m not alone, so I’ve compiled a list of holiday gifts for the die-hard travelers on your list who refuse to change their old-timey ways. Just remember, one of these days, us minimalists are going to be cutting-edge for being retro.

Gift card to an actual bookstore (preferably independently-owned), or travel store.
Yeah, books are heavier to lug than a Kindle or a Nook, but as a writer, I value the written word. So do a lot of people, and one of the joys of traveling for us is exchanging books with fellow vagabonds or trading in at a guesthouse or hostel.

Prepaid international phone card
Cheap, abundant, and a hell of a lot less of a hassle than dealing with Verizon overseas (in my experience). A prepaid international card is easy to purchase, although do note it’s usually less expensive for travelers to purchase cards at their destination. It’s the thought that counts.

Netbook or airbook
I may be tech-challenged, but I’m not crazy. I can’t earn a living if I don’t travel with a computer. My inexpensive little Acer has seen me through a lot of countries and fits neatly into my daypack, along with its accessories. Don’t forget a wireless mouse to go with it.
Waterproof journal
Many travelers keep journals, and some of us who travel occupationally still carry notebooks (I don’t even own a tape recorder). It’s a huge bummer, however, when the inevitable rain, beer, wine, or coffee renders covers soggy or writing illegible. An all-weather notebook is the solution.

Ibex undergarments
I used to work in a mountaineering/ski shop in Telluride, and I swear by Ibex. Their 100% merino wool, American-made boy shorts, long johns/long “janes,” cami’s, sports bras, and adorable, long-sleeve, stripey tops are the ultimate underlayers for cold weather adventures. I road-tested some items on a month-long backpacking trip through Ecuador, from the Amazon Basin to one of the highest active volcanoes on earth. I was able to do laundry exactly twice. Ibex: 1, Stench: 0. Men’s and women’s items available; they also make outerwear.

Travel scarf/shawl/blanket
Many women get cold on airplanes and long, AC-blasted bus rides. Since I backpack, I’ve found several different drapey items in my travels that pull triple duty. Depending upon what part of the world I’m in, I’ll use a soft, alpaca shawl to dress up outfits, as a lap blanket, or an impromptu pillow. In the Andes, I sub a llama wool poncho. In the tropics, it’s a pretty, airy sarong. When I get home, I have a wonderful souvenir.

If you’re buying for someone departing on a trip, any department store will have a wide assortment and price range of pashminas or scarves. Just be sure it’s a dark color, to hide dirt and stains, and that it’s made of soft, preferably natural-fibers, so it won’t absorb odors as readily. The item should be able to withstand sink-washing.

Multi-purpose beauty products
Regardless of gender, everyone loves multi-purpose travel products: more room for souvenirs! I like Josie Maran Argan Oil, which can be used as a lightweight, yet rich, face or body moisturizer, or to condition hair (use just a few drops for soft, gleaming strands). Rosebud salve comes in cute, vintagey tins, smells lovely, and soothes everything from dry lips and cracked heels to flyaways. Many top make-up brands produce multi-use products: I crave Korres Cheek Butter, which is also gorgeous on lips (all available at Sephora).

Lush makes luxe bar soaps that work on body and hair, but perhaps the kindest gift for the female adventure traveler? Inexpensive fragrance that does double duty as perfume and clothes/room freshener. I never leave home without Demeter’s Gin & Tonic Cologne Spray.

[Photo Credit: jurvetson]

Mental Math: Easy Rules Of Thumb For Converting Currency

Being in a new country is full of enough culture shock – trying to remember how many dollars to the krona doesn’t need to be part of it.

After all, constantly whipping out a calculator (well, a cellphone) and spending five minutes trying to figure out if that sandwich is really a good price is a waste of your valuable vacation time.

To make things easier on you, here are some basic rules of thumb to help you guesstimate the exchange rates in a sampling of different countries.

It’s important to note that currencies fluctuate all the time, so these rules of thumb should not be used as actual foundations for financial transactions. They were based off the most recent exchange rates as of midweek on the week of November 5, 2012. If you actually want to know what the exchange rate is for a given country, look it up. And if you want to know again a week later, look it up again.

These rules of thumb are intended to help you quickly do the mental math required to figure out if, yes, that sandwich is a good deal. Or, when you withdraw 400 pesos from the ATM, roughly how much you’re taking out in US dollars.

Disclaimer: this post is admittedly America-centric, but the reality is that’s my perspective as a traveler. I hope this will help others as it’s helped me.

Asia
China: Divide all prices quoted in yuan by about 6 for a dollar estimate.

Japan: Divide all prices quoted in yen by 100 and then tack on about 25% for a dollar estimate.

India: It’s slightly more than 50 rupees to the dollar.

Thailand
: Roughly, divide the prices you see in bahts by about 30 and you’ll get the dollar value.

South Korea: Divide Korean prices by about 1,000 for the USD estimate.

Europe
Eurozone: Add a 25% premium to all the prices you see.

UK: Multiply pound prices by 1.5 and then round up to guesstimate the dollar amount.

Switzerland: Roughly 1-to-1 with the US dollar.

Russia: Divide prices by about 30.

South and Central America
Mexico: Divide the prices you see by 13 for a sense of the USD price.

Guatemala: Divide prices by 8.

Belize: Cut the prices you see in half.

Colombia: This one’s a little tricky. First, divide the Colombian price you see by half. Then divide by 1,000. If you’re lazy and on the go, that’s very rough. For a slightly cleaner conversion, do that and then add back 20%.

Argentina: Divide Argentine prices by about 5.

Ecuador: Trick question. Ecuador uses the USD as its currency, so no conversion needed.

Dominican Republic: Divide prices in the D.R. by 40 for a sense of US equivalents.

Jamaica: Divide prices by 100 and then add back about 10%.

Africa & Mideast
South Africa: Divide prices by a little less than 9 for the US equivalent.

Kenya: Divide by 100, and then add back about 15%.

Morocco: Like for South Africa, divide by a little less than 9.

Israel: Divide by about 4 to estimate the US price.

Turkey: Divide by 2 and then add back 25%.

Egypt: Divide by about 6.

Oceania
Australia: For estimating purposes, roughly 1-to-1.

New Zealand: Take a 20% discount on the prices you see.

[Image credit: Flickr user Images_of_Money]

Correction: A previous version of this article mistakenly said to “divide by half” rather than the correct “divide in half” or “cut in half,” and has been amended.

MRSA, MRSA Me: How To Avoid A Community-Acquired Staph Infection

mrsaIf you’re at all squeamish, just skip the below paragraph. Look away. Look away!

Last Thursday, while a surgeon was lancing my second ginormous skin abscess in six weeks, I found myself thinking, “WTF?” I’d never had an abscess in my life until moving back to Colorado three months ago. In September, I required an emergency room visit, and this time I ran a fever and suffered muscle and joint pain.

I wasn’t truly concerned, however, until my doctor informed me that I have MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus; pronounced “mur-sah“). “I hope it’s not MRSA,” my mother had fretted back in September, when I told her about my first abscess. “How on earth would I get that?” I scoffed. I think I actually snorted before I said it. Payback is a bitch.

Much has been made of MRSA in recent years, with good reason. The over- and improper use of antibiotics has created a super-strain of Staphylococcus aureus that’s the bane of hospitals, in particular. Also at higher risk are the elderly and immunocompromised, although healthy people (presumably, me) can get MRSA, as well. And unfortunately, once you’ve had MRSA, you’re more likely to have future occurrences.

Staph normally lives on human skin and in the nose, but it’s capable of surviving on surfaces from hours to months, depending upon conditions. Untreated, MRSA can be extremely serious, resulting in blood infections; even death. Antibiotics aren’t always successful at treating even regular staph, because they often can’t penetrate deep enough within the tissue to reach an abscess. That’s why incision-and-drainage (I & D) is critical if you have a large abscess.

The fact is, most healthy people aren’t going to get MRSA, because their immune system will prevent it. Repeat: You don’t need to wear a Hazmat suit in public, or stockpile Purell. I’m a firm believer that our society’s anti-bacterial-everything obsession is a leading cause of superbugs like MRSA, and many researchers and members of the medical community agree.

This time of year, however, stress, holiday fun fatigue and travel make our bodies more susceptible to germs, be they the common cold, flu or staph. Additionally, there are two types of MRSA: HA (Hospital-Acquired), and CA (Community-Acquired). Obviously, it’s the latter that affects the general population.purellCA-MRSA can enter body through prolonged skin-on-skin contact (it’s not considered a sexually transmitted disease, however); a cut, nick, scrape or puncture, or via contaminated items like towels, razors, gym equipment or clothing. Although not considered a threat to travelers, per se, crowded conditions on public transit can potentially be a source of infection, particularly if you’re high-risk (MRSA can also be transmitted via coughing if the person’s lungs are infected). Some people are merely carriers of the bacteria, and never suffer symptoms.

I think I’ve become susceptible to MRSA for two reasons. I recently learned that those with eczema (aka, me) are more prone to staph infections, due to breaks in the skin. Since relocating back to Colorado, the dry climate has kickstarted my dormant eczema.

I also have a somewhat overactive immune system, the result of a serious infectious disease I acquired in Ecuador nearly four years ago. So, although it goes against my dirtbag backpacker “a little dirt/roaches/mouse turds/undercooked chicken/filthy hands will make my immune system stronger” credo, I’ve learned to carry a large stash of Purell. I’m also vigilant about hand washing, and wiping down gym equipment. I prepare for long-haul flights by swilling Emergen-C before and after. That’s what made my MRSA diagnosis so surprising.

Now that I’m on the right antibiotics, I’m fine, but I’ve stepped up the precautionary measures. My infectious disease doctor suggested I buy some OTC chlorhexidrine cleanser – Hibiclens is a popular brand – for the shower. I’ve accepted that I need to do laundry even more frequently (gym clothes, for example, should be washed after every wearing if you have MRSA). Bed linens must be changed with monotonous frequency. But, you know what they say: a gallon of Purell is worth not spending a day in the ER.

For information on MRSA symptoms, treatment and prevention, click here.

[Photo credits: staph, Flickr user mollyluise;passenger, Flickr user miss karen]