Three Days with the Kuna Yala in Panama’s San Blas Islands

Children of Playon Chico, Ukupseni

Three Kuna women waited for the plane in the rudimentary airport as I arrived to Playon Chico, a small indigenous village in Panama’s San Blas Islands. Each woman was dressed traditionally with a gold ring through their septum and dawning a bright red headscarf, colorful blouse and an explosion of colorful beads on their wrists and legs. The tallest of the three came half way to my torso and they spoke in hushed tones using Kuna and not the Spanish I’d grown used to in my 16 day stay in Central America. Several crabs scurried between their feet and a pair of white ibis flew lazily overhead. A man with a machete walked down the runway towards the three walled airport as children chased a soccer ball in the opposite direction. It was a different world that the frenetic Panama City from whence I’d come.

Local Guna woman in traditional clothing

I pulled out my phone to check in with my wife, but had no reception. The three women boarded the plane which took off over from the mainland over their tiny island connected to the airport by a footbridge. I patted my back pocket realizing quickly that my passport was still on the plane which seconds later, disappeared over the Caribbean Sea. “My passport is on that plane,” I said to Domi, a Kuna gentleman who was there to take me to Yandup Island, a local ecolodge, went minutes away by boat and run entirely by Kuna. I’d hoped to go to Yandup to relax, a goal which was thwarted by my own carelessness.

San Blas Islands

“Come to my village,” said Domi, in broken English. “I help you…”

Three days later, after an incredible trip and thanks to Domi, I got my passport back. Here are some of the beautiful people and incredible places I got to see along the way.  Hope you enjoy!

Wild Icons OK: Conservation Stories Rhinos

I got to produce a series of ten mini documentaries highlighting endangered species and conservation efforts in Oklahoma and worldwide at the Oklahoma City Zoo for OETA, our local PBS affiliate.  It was an incredible learning experience getting to interview the talented and passionate individuals who have dedicated their lives to conservation and these beautiful animals. Beyond grateful to have been a part of it. They will air on several PBS affiliates across several states through October alongside the documentary RARE which tells the story of famed National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore and his effort to photograph every species of animal in captivity to raise awareness. Here is the first one.

RARE: a look at endangered wildlife at the Oklahoma City Zoo

For years, I felt like I had my foot in two boats. On one hand, I’d find myself in Los Angeles working on incredible television shows with great writers where I made lifelong friends. When I was blessed with the opportunity to start travel writing, even though I had no experience doing that type of work, it was an opportunity that I had to explore.

For years, I’d find myself working on a television show on the CBS lot, heading to the airport on a Thursday night, catching a red eye to another country, spending a weekend in a jungle only to take a cab from the airport back to CBS on Monday morning. It was an exhausting but profound experience for me… I thought to myself, eventually these two worlds MUST collide and finally in the last month, I’ve got a taste of what it might be like if they did.

I’ve been hired by OETA, the local PBS affiliate to produce and direct a series of mini-documentaries to be aired in conjunction with a larger documentary on famed  National Geographicwildlife photographer Joel Sartore. Sartore has made it his life’s work to photography every wildlife species living in captivity. He is absolutely brilliant and his passion for wildlife is infectious and inspiring.

My mini documentaries highlight different endangered species, the zoo staff that love them and conservation partners for the Oklahoma City Zoo. I’ve met some of the most passionate, dedicated people imaginable through this process and gotten to spend time with, photograph, video and engage with some of the most tremendous endangered species on the planet. It has been a true joy. These photos are from my experience at thus far on the project. Hope you enjoy them. It has been an experience I’ll always treasure.

Cam the tiger

 

Elephant and new mother.

 

Toba, a fifty year old Orangutan at the Oklahoma City Zoo.

 

A grizzly keeping cool on a summer day.

 

This plough share tortoise was seized in Hong Kong before it was put onto the black market. There are less than 200 in the world.

 

I got to feed this beautiful giraffe by hand.

 

American Flamingos

 

Indian Rhino enjoying a lettuce lunch

 

Silverback gorilla

 

Fitness in OKC: A on note from the author on the dangers of eating too many cheeseburgers

Fitness in the 405

This month, I’ve written an extensive feature about fitness opportunities in Oklahoma City. Buried in the end of the article, is a “note from the author” that I am particularly pleased with, as it is a true telling of what happens when you eat like an utter slob for a year and then see a picture of yourself on Christmas morning and have a mini breakdown because you are shaped like an egg, you’re buying new pants at Target because your good pants don’t fit and get exhausted tying your shoes… Thought I would share the sentiment here on my blog as well. Please check out the whole, in addition to the note from the author here.

Here’s how it happened.

Last year, I did a story on destination dining in the towns surrounding Oklahoma City. The research involved eating some of the finest and fattiest cheeseburgers, French fries, fried chicken, fried okra, chicken fried steaks, pasta, tacos, brisket, ribs, pie, fried pie and every other delicious artery-clogging, night-sweat-inducing delectable that the Sooner State had to offer. So enjoyable was the gluttonous, sodium- and sugar-packed expedition that even after the story’s publication, what I now ruefully refer to as “The Year of the Cheeseburger” continued. “I’m just enjoying myself,” I’d think in some far-flung, neon-lit burger shack, before popping another onion ring or 12 into my mouth. “The food in Oklahoma is really good … [slurp of soda] What’s this place got for dessert?”

Six months later, I found myself in the lobby of Edmond’s popular fitness class Orange Theory, talking with one of their cheerful instructors. “How can we help you?” he asked enthusiastically. My sweatpants cinched at my waistline like a noose. I was out of breath for no reason and where once there was hair, I feared that I’d soon be growing French fries.

“I’ve been eating …” I said. He simply nodded, giving me space to continue. “… A lot.”

The trainer put a sympathetic hand on my shoulder and assured me that they’d get me back in shape. If I could savagely chomp my way across the state, then so, too, could I hike, bike, run, row, spin and stretch my way back into my old sweatpants – and more importantly, to a state of health suitable for a man a year shy of 40.  I don’t recall much about my first Orange Theory class; only that at some point, I’m fairly sure I “saw the light.” After the class was out, it took quite a while to formulate words. I was on my way. “The Year of the Cheeseburger” had come to an end.

For two months, I took on fitness classes and outdoor activities across the metro. And like our dive-iest restaurants, each has something that makes it special. The Pilates chairs at Beyond Fitness worked my core so intensely that for two days, my lower torso ceased to function. At Western Boxing Gym, I learned that there is great catharsis in punching a heavy bag, but punching a heavy bag for an hour makes you feel like you’ve been punched. At Cycle Bar, I learned that if you push yourself hard enough, you won’t even notice Justin Bieber playing through the sound system, and at Orange Theory, if you make yourself uncomfortable as they encourage you to do, eventually you will be able to fit into your old sweatpants. I learned that outdoor activities in Oklahoma, such as kayaking, stand up paddle boarding and hiking, are a lot more fun if you can do them without wheezing. And most importantly, I learned that nothing tastes better after a Saturday morning workout than a cheeseburger and a beer. Especially since you’ve earned it.

An Adventure to The Galapagos with International Expeditions

I got to spend two weeks in March as well as my 39th birthday in the Galapagos Islands with International Expeditions. Experiencing the wildlife and sparse volcanic terrain of the Galapagos offers a glimpse as to what the world might be like if humans had never set foot on it. Birds, equal parts enormous and awkward waddling about, tortoise the size of (small) cars and unimaginable marine life make for tremendous wildlife encounters and crossing the earth’s midpoint at the equator was certainly a celebratory experience. Read more about my experiences in the Galapagos at vagabondish.com and about the extra-ordinary International Expeditions here at themanual.com. 

 

Enjoy the photos below. More articles are to come.

Frigatebirds in the Galapagos

sea lions at sunset

Blue Footed Boobie

Giant Tortoise

playful sea lion

Sombrero Chino

Golden Rays

sunset in the Galapagos