Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Lusting for a...jacket?

Scottevest with sleeves and hood removed.
Did you ever have a love affair with a piece of clothing? I did. It was a rain coat I bought to take to Alaska back in 1997. Somehow, after just 12 short years, it died. Started peeling apart at the seams. Time to find a replacement. 

What I loved about it was its light weight, breathability and real waterproofness. Not water-repellant as so many coats advertise. It was waterproof, snow proof, ice proof...well, you get the idea.  

So the search was on.  I looked at many different coats earlier this year while at the Travel Goods Show in Chicago and subsequently at numerous outdoor recreation stores since then. With all the electronic and camera gear I carry, there was only one logical choice as a worthy successor to my old love and that was a new Scottevest RevolutionJacket.

More than just a rain jacket, this also has zip-off sleeves and a hidden and removable hood. I really need a hood for a year-round jacket.  When removed, the sleeves and hood can be stored in one of the many pockets. 

The material is a breathable Teflon coated material with hot melt lamination for the ultimate in water-proofing. With great vapor-permeability, it is suitable for use in all climes, but more on that later.

Scottevest has been known for years as the company that has pockets for everything and yet somehow you can wear their clothes loaded with gear and not look like a walking sack of oranges. Each pocket is engineered to hold various gadgets close to your body without creating large bulges in the jacket fabric.  I don't know how they do it, but they pull it off better than anyone else on the market. 

Shooting flamingos in the salt flats
And did I mention they make pockets for everything? No, seriously, I mean it. The Revolution has 26 pockets plus a personal area network (PAN) system that conceals the wiring for your headphones.  That means your ear buds just stay right in the jacket, ready to be used at any time, or tucked away in their own special slots when you aren't using them.  No more screwed-up cords waiting to be untangled. 

So let's talk about the pockets for a minute. Where I really got a kick out of this coat was going through airport security. On a recent trip to Chile, I visited four different areas of the country and I was on and off planes 10 times in 12 days. 
Before Scottevest, I would carry some things in my coat, some in my shirt pockets and some in my pants pockets.  With the new airport scanners, you can't leave as much as a piece of paper in your shirt or pants. So here's where it starts to get good with the Revolution. Everything, and I mean everything, goes into my jacket.

Interior see-thru pockets let me keep my iPhone on my left and my classic iPod on the right. Both can be played without removing them from their pockets. A pen and pencil fit neatly into a slot pocket parallel to the zipper on one side and a magic marker and highlighter fit in the slot on the opposite side. 

Right below my iPhone, a wide pocket perfectly holds boarding passes and passport. Another see-thru pocket below that holds a driver’s license and flight club membership cards. 
A larger pocket behind those actually holds an iPad or in my case, a netbook computer. How cool is that? Now I can use that second carry-on for my large DSLR camera, since my computer is tucked in my coat and doesn't count when I go past the airline ticket takers.  
Walking my llama in the Atacama desert

Remember me mentioning that the pockets don't bulge? That even goes for the computer/iPad pocket.  It’s almost unperceivable that I'm carrying it. And, the PAN system even extends down into this pocket so if I wanted to listen to music from an iPad, I could do that as well. If you aren't carrying an iPad, it makes a perfect magazine or newspaper pocket.

Inside the coat on the other side is a side-opening pocket for sunglasses, complete with a cleaning cloth on an elastic cord. I'm always getting fingerprints on my glasses as I shoot photographs so the cleaning cloth is always a handy thing to carry.

Right below that I carry my small point and shoot Canon S90 digital camera and extra batteries and memory cards. More times than I can mention, I've been so happy I was carrying a high quality digital camera when the perfect, unexpected photo-op arose.

Moving to the outside of the jacket, there are six more major pockets. Two are high on the chest and I use these for a digital recorder and a notebook, used for impromptu interviews or recording tour guides. 

Down lower, in typical jacket placement there are two more pockets on each side, both with zippers to keep everything inside. Inside the outer pockets, there is another Velcro pocket for loose change on one side and an extendable key holder in the other. The right pocket also has an internal stretch loop that secures a typical bottle of water inside the jacket. I did mention that it held everything didn't I?

A mini blizzard prevented us from climbing Villarica
Two remaining pockets outside can hold snacks, your computer charger, wireless mouse or digital card readers. I used one of these two to store my sleeves and hood when converting this to a vest.

As I mentioned, I hit four different areas of Chile, from the Altaplano high desert in the north all the way down to Pucon in the southern Lake District.  With the sleeves and hood off, it functioned as a vest I could wear comfortably out in the desert, ready for later in the evening when the temperature would drop 40 degrees.

In Valparaiso, the fog hung like a puffy comforter over the entire seafront the night we arrived.  Walking the sidewalks along the break wall, the waves were crashing over the railing, and it was great to have a real waterproof raincoat that protected my electronics inside.

Down south in Pucon, as I rode the ski lift in a mini-blizzard, I was glad that hood was ready to pop-out and keep my hair-challenged head nice and toasty warm.  Chile is a beautiful country and the extremes of its climates gave me a year's worth of testing in just two weeks.

So, did I get over my old love affair and so quickly start a new one?  Well, I can't remember my old coat's name anymore so I guess I did. Scottevest, where have you been all my life? It's great to get to know you. Want to go to Taiwan next month?

iPads help fly your next flight?

iPads have been famous for doing many things, including the seemingly simple task of functioning as an eBook reader.  Well, through a collaboration of the Allied Pilot's Association (APA) and American Airlines, the iPad may now start being responsible for insuring your next safe flight.

Did you ever follow a pilot down the concourse and notice that big rectangular leather catalog case he was carrying?  Ever wonder how many magazines he could stuff in there?  And why does ever single pilot have one of those things? 

Well, it turns out that each pilot is required to carry a flight manual, which consists of pages and pages of paper in an updatable binder.  How much paper? How about 35 pounds of paper. That  represents a whole lot of trees. Each manual consists of flight maps and a whole "how-to" guide to each plane being flown.

Each time there is an update, new pages are printed, they are sent around the world to every pilot and each has to be inserted into their manual.

That's where the APA  and American Airlines got together and brought a little technology to bear. Using iPads, all that paper was digitized and made instantly available to the pilots in a 1-1/2 pound package instead of 35 pounds. These iPads will be known as EFB's or Electronic Flight Bags. Pending final FAA approval, things could get a whole lot lighter in the cockpit. The final testing phase involves Boeing 777 pilots from American Airlines Los Angeles crew base.

The pilots love it because a) they aren't breaking their backs hauling that extra 35 pounds every day for every flight and b) when updates are issued, it's as simple as updating your iTunes library.

American Airlines is happy with the results as well, lowering printing and distribution expenses, as well as reducing fuel consumption by carrying less weight.

The environment wins as thousands of trees won't be cut down.  

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Island bargains - just waiting to be claimed

Put-In-Bay has some late summer travel bargains that are hard to beat and they are available to anyone for the asking.  Download the list of bargains and make your reservations through most of September.  With the leaves getting ready to change, now is beautiful time to make one more trek out onto Lake Erie.

Go for the day or spend the night.  Daylong attractions tickets give you all the highlights plus ferry passage for under $50 per person.  Overnight packages including hotel or B&B along with golf cart rental and ferry passage start at under $100 for a couple. That's a crazy good deal.

Ladies, there's even a special special just for you - a day at the spa, including ferry passage for $60.

All specials are brought to you by the Miller Boat Line, operators of the lowest cost ferry service to Put-In-Bay. Download their list of specials and make your reservations.You can thank me later.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Juma Lodge, in the heart of the Amazon Rainforest

I’ve been told many times that “getting there is half the adventure” but never was it more true than traveling to Juma Lodge in Brazil.  Two airplane trips, two van rides and two speedboat rides were the ticket to get to this jungle accommodation. It was rainy season and the Amazonas jungle was flooded with 15 meters of water, so high speed boats would be the preferred method of transportation, just about everywhere we went.

Amazon River - courtesy www.visitamazonas.am.gov.br
Flying over the equator, getting closer to our first destination of Manaus, Brazil, I watched dozens of high-speed motorboats ply the waters of the Amazon River. From my 10,000 foot perch, it was entertaining to watch the small boats careening left and right through the treetops which now appeared as small islands dotting the flooded jungle.  Watching in awe as these little boats skimmed the surface at top speeds, never slowing down for blind corners; little did I realize that’s what I would be doing in just two short hours.

Landing at Brigadeiro Eduardo Gomes International Airport in Amazonas, I collected my backpack, and met up with my English-speaking guide just outside the customs area. I was one of nine people who would be making the trip to Juma Lodge. After everyone arrived, we proceeded outside to his van and drove to the shipping port where we would catch our first boat.

Haulys Karnopp was to be our guide for the entire trip to and from Juma Lodge. A young Brazilian, he has made a career of learning all he can about the wonders of the Amazon. From plant and insect identification or caiman catching to survival training, it’s his constant quest to learn more and more about the natural wonders of this part of the world.

Typical Amazon water taxi

Arriving at our first boat dock, we discovered that the most common form of conveyance was a water taxi, a long, low-slung metal motor boat, capable of holding probably 16 people on eight bench seats, row-boat style. To get you to your destination post haste, these little boats boasted 75 HP engines. At full throttle, the only speed our boat’s operator knew, we merely skimmed the tops of the white caps as we began to cross the six mile wide confluence of two rivers.

The Rio Negro and the Solimoes meet at Manaus, joining to form the Amazon River, which then flows out to the Atlantic Ocean.  After only a five minute ride, our boat’s captain killed the engine and we started to drift in the area known as “The Meeting of the Waters.”   On one side of the boat was deep, dark black water from the Rio Negro. On the other side was much lighter water from the Solimoes. 

Meeting of the waters - courtesy of www.visitamazonas.am.gov.br
Because of differences in temperature, PH balance, water flow and mineral content, a natural phenomenon occurs and the waters do not mix together. Instead, the two flow side-by-side for five miles downstream before they begin to combine, forming the Amazon River. 

As we sat there adrift, pondering this improbability of nature, we noticed a quickly approaching tree trunk, fully three feet in diameter, mostly submerged and heading right for our starboard side. With no more than five seconds to spare, our captain fired up the engine and we made a quick diversionary maneuver to avoid being broadsided. 

Sitting just 16 inches above the water level, you begin to realize just how wild this river really is, and how most anything could be lurking in your path. At the speeds we were going, had we not noticed this log, we would have certainly launched ourselves completely out of the water upon impact.  Comforting thought. 

Without further incident, we arrived at the other side and after disembarking via an improvised gangplank, we arrived on the southeastern shore. Another van was waiting to take us closer to our destination, passing some interesting giant water lilies, where we took the opportunity to stretch our legs. 

Boarding boat number two where the road ends.
Leaving the paved highway, we followed a dirt road until it dove down an embankment and became submerged for the next quarter mile or so. At this point, our second boat met us to make the final leg of the journey to Juma Lodge. 

Wasting no time, we boarded the boat and set off for our destination. We couldn’t tarry as the sun would be setting in one hour and we couldn’t travel at night. It was to be a sixty minute ride and once we hit open waters, we took off at top speed. 

Just as I had witnessed from the air, we were now that little boat I had watched with fascination, as it slid left and right around blind corners and through dense vegetation. As the boat cornered at high speed, the sides of the boat were literally inches above the river level. This boat was powered by a 115 HP Yamaha outboard and we were wasting no time. 

It was a fantastic way to cover the last leg of the journey. Most of the time, the waters were flat as a mirror and we cruised effortlessly, closer and closer to our destination. As the sun began to set, beautiful shades of blues and pinks in the sky were reflected by the waters. Even the animals seemed to be greeting us as their hoots and howls got louder and more distinct as we slipped further and further into the jungle. 

Almost there, as the sun set over Rio Juma
Just as the sun dipped below the horizon, we completed our 110km trip and pulled up to the Juma Lodge dock in the Autazes Municipality. Grabbing our bags, we walked up to the main reception area. With authentic baba├žu tree leaf thatched roof and screened-in walls, the reception area was ready for us with a celebratory drink and keys to our private cottages. 

Lighted walkways to the cottages
Being built in the area of the jungle that regularly floods each year, each cottage and all the connecting walkways are actually built on stilts – some 15 meters above the ground. As it was rainy season (June) when we arrived, the water level appeared to be only two to three feet below the floorboards. 

In this area of the jungle, the river flows rather slowly, but it was interesting none-the-less to watch various flora and fauna drift past your cottage as though you were on a floating carpet ride.

Checking into my private cottage (#20) at the end of the boardwalk, I opened the door to find a wonderfully spacious accommodation with two beds, a large bath with waterfall shower and an outside deck area complete with table, chairs and a hammock.  My room was one of the four new cottages which actually had hot running water.

Each private cottage has its own deck and hammock.
In order to conserve energy and fuel, 220v power operates in your rooms from 6pm through 9am, and from 11 am until 1pm. You need to plan your battery recharging accordingly. 

An overhead fan, some 12 feet in the air, and a 12 foot long by 4 foot high screened window kept the interior at a very comfortable temperature all day long. This was quite different than the mental image I had of a hot, steamy jungle. While June is hot in Cleveland, it is actually winter in South America, and the temperatures were quite mild. 

A buffet dinner was served in a large hut, centrally located among the private cottages. Each meal consisted of a choice of three or four entrees, usually a beef dish, a fish dish, possibly a pasta and some local specialty. 

Always plenty to eat and drink at the buffet.

Hanging on the walls were pictures of the lodge in each of the four seasons. Where we currently couldn’t see more than a foot or two down from our floor level, during the dry season, we would have been way up in the air on these 15 meter tall posts. 

Haulys set us up for two jungle expeditions the following day. Our first would be a hike through the forest where we had the opportunity to closely interact with Mother Nature.

We learned the difference between Tapebas ants and Bullet ants. The Bullet ants have an extremely vicious bite which produces 20 hours of excruciating pain. The tiny Tapebas on the other hand don’t bite at all and are actually rubbed into the skin as a type of deodorant and mosquito repellant by the locals.

The Goliath Tarantula on the jungle floor
We also got to “play” with a Goliath Tarantula, a spider that doesn’t use a web to catch his prey. With the long hairs on his body, he can actually sense the size and direction his intended victim.  Haulys used a short stick to prod him into coming out of his den and then blocked his retreat with a machete. Photo op time!

No less fascinating than the insects were the infinite variety of trees and plants we passed during our hike. One by one Haulys would identify them and point out their medicinal or cosmetic properties.  While many were used to cure a variety of human ailments, there was even an anti-Viagra plant which supposedly local native women would feed their husbands when they wanted some time off.

Haulys Karnopp, our excellent guide
Other trees were used for communication purposes, reverberating messages for miles through the dense jungle. Yet other trees provided fruits and nuts, construction lumber or sap to be used for medicinal purposes. Not surprisingly, someone long ago figured out the whys and wherefores for just about everything found in the jungle. By traveling with an experienced guide, we learned so much more than we could have ever expected to discover on our own. 

Our afternoon exploration was all done via boat as this time we slowly plied the waters of the igapos (flooded forest) surrounding the camp, in search of the three-toed sloth, toucans and iguanas. Our guides managed to find them all and we snapped away as he positioned the boat for best viewing angles. Beautiful Cataleia orchids could be seen growing wild on twisted trees protruding above the flooded forest. 

Juma Lodge in the middle of the Jungle
Back at the lodge I had the opportunity to review some maps and see just how remote we were. The lodge’s operators were fortunate to obtain a permit to develop a commercial venture this deep in the jungle and they take their responsibility very seriously, doing all they can to protect the environment. 

Providing their own septic system protects the river and they use filtered river water to flush all the toilets. Mineral water is brought in from Manaus whenever they pick up guests and much of their food is sourced locally. All left overs are given to the locals as feed for their livestock and a canoe could be seen each morning showing up to load the food and take it downriver to their homestead.

In addition, Juma Lodge has partnered with the Federal University of the Amazon to train local natives to raise seedlings of native trees, which Juma Lodge purchases and then uses for forest regeneration. Already 3,500 hectares of forest have been replanted. In addition, through another initiative, they are working to help the local native elders preserve the Mura language which is at risk of extinction.

Sunrise viewed from my deck, overlooking the Rio Juma
Whether you choose to come to Juma Lodge for the privacy of an Amazon hideaway or to explore the wonders of a jungle forest, you are sure to come away with a new appreciation for all that Brazil has to offer.  The waterways, the wildlife and the scenery will not disappoint you. It’s impossible to leave without a new appreciation for the diverse wonders of this part of the world.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

PowerSkin doubles your smartphone talk time

Wrapped around my iPhone, the PowerSkin fits perfectly with its low profile, protective silicon case. It’s hard to believe, but this sleek case houses the latest in battery technology, doubling your talk time on the iPhone. 

The PowerSkin couldn’t be easier to use. One slipping motion, like stepping in to a slipper, and your phone is not only protected from drops, but also energized with XPAL powered battery technology. Depending on your particular phone, the PowerSkin will deliver from 4.5 to 8 hours of additional operating time.

Each case comes with a micro USB port for recharging and an on-off button, in case you want to hold off charging your phone until its internal battery has been expended. 

I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the micro USB to standard USB cable is capable of syncing with iTunes.  No need to remove the phone from the PowerSkin, and no more searching around for that special sync cable that came with your iDevice. Simply plug the cable into the PowerSkin and plug the other end of the cord into a USB port on your computer. iTunes pops up and sync starts right away.

The PowerSkin is a pleasure to hold with a non-slip rubber exterior. The case is extremely light weight and it comes in models for iPhone, myTouch, HTC, Samsung Galaxy & Vibrant, Droid, and BlackBerry.  See all available models online at Power-Skin.com or shop for them at Amazon.com, Bestbuy.com and Staples.

Monday, August 22, 2011

No more dropping my iPhone while biking

The new Bracketron all-weather soft case bike mount securely holds your iPhone

Whether your bike travels take you through desert or city, mountains or beach, chances are you are packing your iPhone and using one of the many GPS or other bike apps.  

I hate to admit all the crazy ways I tried to attach my iPhone to my handlebars before I discovered the new Bracketron mount. Bracketron has been making car dashboard mounts for cell phones for years, but just recently introduced this model for the biker. Luckily I never completely dropped my phone, but with this new mount I’ll never have to worry again.

The mount couldn’t be easier to use. First, you unzip the water proof wallet that will house your iPhone or other device. There are multiple thickness cushions included so you can get just the right fit. 

Next, you unscrew the thumb-turn wheel that attaches the bracket to your handlebars. No tools are needed or suggested. After placing the bracket around the handlebar, you simply tighten in place and adjust the angle for comfortable viewing.

At first I was concerned when I saw the plastic, touch-enabled screen that would be covering my iPhone while in the case. I was concerned that I would experience a lot of glare reflected in the bright sunlight. Turns out that I noticed no glare whatsoever, primarily because I had adjusted the angle properly when installing the unit.
The entire unit weighs but a couple ounces and sits very, very firmly on the handlebar, making an excellent enclosure to protect your iPhone from dust, dirt and heaven forbid – rain. 

Hopefully I plan to bike most of the island of Taiwan this fall in connection with the 2011 Taiwan World Cup bike race, and this is one of the few bike accessories that will surely be in my bag for the trip.  Last year the event was rained out due to Typhoon Megi, but hopefully the weather will be better this year. If not, at least my iPhone will be protected.

An itching summer problem solved

If you are like most people, one of the least favorite parts of summer comes wrapped in three-leaf clusters and an itchy reaction – poison ivy.  It’s oh so easy to catch and oh so uncomfortable.

This summer I was introduced to a new product which among its many other uses also works to relieve the poison ivy itch.  Nothing prevents poison ivy, short of avoiding it, but Topricin can quickly come to the rescue to relieve the itching and scratching. 

Applied to the affected area, Topricin almost instantly starts to provide relief. Multiple applications are required each day, but there is no danger of over applying it too often. The cream is odorless, greaseless and won’t stain your clothing.  It’s safe for use by pregnant women and diabetics. 

As close as you can get to an all-purpose cream, it’s also good for bug bites, eczema and sunburn. It can also be used for arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome and sports injuries.  Its blend of many homeopathic ingredients help reduce inflammation, detoxifies, and increase blood flow which helps with healing.

Topricin is available in many stores as well as online at their website.  Presently, if you use the promo code 25off, you will save 25% on anything from their site.
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