$100 Discount on Costa Rica Trips

Toucan in Costa Rica rain forest.
Oxcart in Costa Rica.

We are offering a $100 discount for each person joining our Costa Rica Nature Explorer trips. All you have to do is mention this offer when you phone us and sign up before July 31, 2009. This offer is valid for departures on any day through December 31, 2010.

Costa Rica is a nature lover’s paradise. Unlike most tropical rainforests, where you can only view animals at a distance, in Costa Rica they are right up close. Sloths hang from trees, monkeys scamper through the canopy, basilisks (Jesus Christ lizards) run across the streams (they actually walk on water), and crocodiles sun themselves on river banks.

Did you know that Costa Rica has more species of butterflies than the entire continent of Africa, and more bird species than in all of North America?

The scenery is fantastic—volcanoes, rain forests, cloud forests, mountains and beaches. The country is peaceful, friendly and safe.

Now is the time to plan your Costa Rica vacation and save an extra $100 per person.

(This offer cannot be combined with any other offer.)

People Love Traveling with The California Native

The California Native is grateful to have comments from those who have traveled with us. We like to read about our guest’s experiences and have added this column to share their insights. Here, you can read first-hand from those who made the right choice to travel with The California Native.

Larry & Linda Emerson’s recent trip to the Copper Canyon was a success! Here’s what they had to say:

“We just returned from our 11-day trip to Copper Canyon with Rob Aikins. We wanted to let you know that we thoroughly enjoyed the trip. The overnight accommodations were distinctive and varied. The itinerary was also varied and well thought-out. We packed a lot of wonderful places and activities into a relatively short period of time without ever feeling rushed. And we appreciated the small size of our group and the fact that, much of the time, we were well away from the main tourist track.

“Rob [the guide] was terrific. He worked hard to accommodate everyone’s needs and desires and facilitated the bonding of 8 very different personalities into a cohesive group of travelers. Rob is clearly well-liked and respected by the local folks in all of the communities we visited, and he sweated the details of the trip so that none of us had to. We very much appreciate all the hard work he put into ensuring that we all had a wonderful, memorable trip.”

Larry & Linda Emerson
Bishop, CA

The California Native is Now on Facebook

Here at the The California Native, we are always looking for new ways to connect with our “fans.” We love to share any information we have about our destinations like Mexico’s Copper Canyon, Costa Rica, Yucatan, Peru, Bhutan, Burma and more. Lately we have noticed that more and more people are joining social networking sites to keep abreast of their friends and interest groups.

We are happy to announce that we now have a California Native Page on Facebook, and you can become a fan on our Facebook page. If you are not yet a member of Facebook, you can also join and connect with old friends and make new ones too. You might learn about a trip some old friend took that you are dying to try yourself! Maybe they even posted some great pictures.

You may also have noticed that all of our stories, and this blog itself, are available for sharing on dozens of social networking sites as well as e-mail. Just click on the “share” icons on our website, www.calnative.com, to share a story, or page.

There is also an RSS feed on the top of our blog pages, to allow you to see blog updates, as soon as they are posted, on your Google Home Page or RSS reader.

Of course, you budding travel writers can always post your own story or photos on our blog or Facebook Page.

The California Native Announces Stimulus Package

With the economy being at its lowest point since the Great Depression, our government is trying to give it a jump-start with a number of stimulus packages. We at California Native are announcing our own stimulus package:
In Mexico's Copper Canyon, a young Tarahumara weaver modestly smiles.
We are giving a $100 discount to each person signing up for any of our trips to Mexico’s Copper Canyon. This offer applies to each person that you sign up, and you can join a small group tour or enjoy one of our independent adventures.

To qualify all you have to do is mention this offer at the time you sign up. Hurry, our stimulus package is valid only until April 15, 2009, but you can travel at any time. Yes You Can!

Copper Canyon: Which Direction is Best?

View from the Copper Canyon train as it crosses the Rio Fuerte.
View from the Copper
Canyon train as it crosses
high above the Rio Fuerte.

Guests often ask why we run our Copper Canyon trips from west to east, beginning in El Fuerte and ending in Chihuahua, instead of the opposite direction. The answer is simple: It’s the best way to enjoy the sights!

One of the highlights of touring Copper Canyon is the ride on the Chihuahua al Pacifico Railroad—the famous Copper Canyon train. One of the world’s most scenic train rides, the route climbs from sea level to over 8,000 feet, passing through 86 tunnels and crossing 37 bridges along the way.

The tracks run from Los Mochis to Chihuahua City. Every morning a train is scheduled to leave from Los Mochis at 6:00 a.m. for Chihuahua, while a second train is scheduled to depart Chihuahua for the trip to Los Mochis. Notice that I say scheduled—it is not unusual for either train to lose two to four hours along the way. The two trains travel the same route in opposite directions and pass each other along the way.

The most scenic portion of the train ride is between El Fuerte and Creel. Shortly after leaving El Fuerte Station the train abandons the lowlands of Sinaloa and begins its ascent into the Sierra Madre Mountains. The vegetation changes as the elevation climbs and the views of the mountains, rivers, waterfalls and Tarahumara Indian homesteads are spectacular. At one point the train enters a tunnel, makes a U-turn in the mountain, and exits the tunnel with the canyon on the other side.

The midpoint of the trip is just west of Creel, after crossing the continental divide. After that, the train descends and the track parallels the highway, passing through industrialized farmland until it finally arrives in Chihuahua City.

One of my favorite spots to photograph the train ride is while we are crossing the Rio Fuerte Bridge, the longest bridge on the route. With the morning sun reflecting off the water, it is just gorgeous! The eastbound train crosses this bridge around ten in the morning while the westbound train arrives there approximately eight at night—dark during most times of the year. Starting trips at El Fuerte allows you to see the most scenic portions of the train ride during daylight hours.

In Southeast Asia, the New Year Begins in April

During Songkran, the Southeast Asian New Year, people cruise the street in pickup trucks loaded with kids throwing water.
Chauffeured by their parents, kids
patrol the streets with buckets and
water guns, soaking all in range.

While our year begins on January 1, in Southeast Asia the year begins on April 13.  This is the first day of Songkran, also known as the “Water Festival” and the celebrations last for three days. Songkran celebrates the vernal equinox and is a favorite holiday in Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), Laos and Cambodia.

It’s a time for fun, especially if you’re a kid, and in the villages and towns, people in pickup trucks slowly cruise the streets, their truck beds loaded with kids equipped with buckets of water and “Super Soaker” water guns.  Water is constantly flying and everyone is wet, but nobody minds, since this is the hottest time of the year. In one city I watched the local kids and police fighting it out with squirt guns.

Soaking wet California Native founder, Lee Klein, pedals his rickshaw back into the melee of Songkran's Water Festival.
Soaking wet California Native
founder, Lee Klein, pedals his
rickshaw back into the melee of
Songkran’s Water Festival.

During the time of Songkran, many community events and parades are held, both secular and religious, including the Miss Songkran beauty pageant. It also is a traditional time for family gatherings.

As a tourist, it is a wet but great time to visit.

Costa Rica Rivers Rock for Rafting

For many people, no tour of Costa Rica would be complete without a thrilling rafting trip on one of the country’s beautiful jungle rivers. Costa Rica’s rivers are perfect for both beginners and experienced rafters. With ample annual rainfall, mountainous landscapes, and plenty of road-to-river access, the country prides itself on being a whitewater paradise. To top it off, Costa Rica has warm weather year round.

Your rafting adventure begins when you are met at your hotel in San Jose and driven to the outpost for a delicious breakfast. Then it’s on to the river’s edge where your equipment is issued and adjusted for a proper fit. There, you receive safety instructions and tips for basic paddling strokes. Safety is always at the forefront during any tours hosted by The California Native and the guides are experienced professionals with extensive knowledge of navigation, river rescue, and first aid.Whitewater rafting on Costa Rica tour

The Reventazon River is great for beginners and intermediate rafters. It is also perfect for those curious about the sport who want to experience the sensation of bobbing downstream, through magnificent rainforest, and experiencing the thrill of exciting—but not too scary—whitewater rapids.

For those who want even more adventure, the Pacuare River is your best bet. Chock full of expert-level rapids, the Pacuare is a world-famous run guaranteed to get the pulse pounding. Flowing toward the Atlantic, the 14-mile section winds through the jungle giving you plenty of opportunities to spot parrots, toucans, monkeys, and butterflies. But be sure not to take your eyes off the water for too long, because the Class I – V rapids are best viewed from inside the boat rather than out. If you do become separated from your seat, don’t panic, the guide will be quick to fish you back on board.

For those who can’t get enough, The California Native offers a 2-day option where guests are able to overnight on the Pacuare at a comfortable riverside lodge. There is no better way to relax from a day of paddling than to be lulled by the sounds of river while looking forward to another day of whitewater rapid transit. On the second day, more rapids with names like ‘Two Mountains’ and ‘Cimmaron’ (translated from Spanish as wild) lay downstream ready to challenge you and your crew mates. Back at the outpost, hot showers and a warm lunch await you before you are driven back to San Jose.

So grab your river-runner sandals, join The California Native on a Costa Rica Adventure, and come aboard!

Sun and Snow in Mexico

The question most frequently asked by guests going on trips with The California Native to Mexico’s Copper Canyon or the Yucatan is, “What weather can I can expect?”

Having an idea of what the weather will be makes it much easier to pack. For those going to the Yucatan, packing is easy. Lightweight clothing (preferably from natural fibers), light-colors (they reflect the sun’s rays), and a  wide-brimmed hat (to protect your face and ears from the sun). And, of course, don’t forget your swim-suit!

If you are traveling to Copper Canyon, predicting the weather is a bit more difficult.  Mexico has three climate zones, tropical, temperate and cold, and the Copper Canyon tours traverse all three of them.

Upon arrival in the town of El Fuerte (around sea level), you can expect temps in the 70’s even in January. This changes dramatically as you climb high into the Sierra Madre Mountains to the town of Creel where elevations around 6500 feet can cool the air considerably. Expect frost in the early mornings from mid-October through the middle of March. It may even snow. Dress in layers. Avoid taking bulky overcoats—a comfortable jacket on a couple layers of long sleeves or a sweater should suffice. Don’t forget a pair of gloves. In the winter, if the day is sunny, you can expect the air to be mild (highs in the low 60’s). Don’t get too acclimated to the chillier air because from Creel, an excursion to the town of Batopilas in the bottom of the canyon brings you back to the heat of Mexico. It is a fact that the folks who live in Batopilas only acknowledge three seasons; summer, fall, and spring.

As winter approaches, people in the United States and Canada look to Mexico as a top vacation spot to escape the cold. Providing  respite from the temperatures in the higher latitudes, Mexico has long been a sun-lover’s paradise.  From the splendid heat and humidity of the Yucatan Peninsula, to the coastal climate at the tranquil town of La Paz, Mexico is renown for short sleeves, sandals, and sunscreen. But this time of year is also the perfect time to visit the wonders of Copper Canyon, with its scenery, cultural diversity and wide range of temperatures for everyone to enjoy.

Christmas in Copper Canyon

Christmas in Mexico’s Copper Canyon is a time of sharing and festivities. Nowhere is this more true than at the Hotel Paraiso del Oso. The rustic “Oso Lodge” is located in a beautiful valley just outside the town Cerocahui. All through the year, hotel owners Doug and Ana Maria Rhodes collect donations of gently-used toys and warm clothing and host a special Christmas celebration for the Tarahumara Indian children.

Guests visiting the lodge with The California Native on the 11-day Ultimate Adventure will enjoy a special Christmas Eve known as Noche-bueno (the Good Night). At 4 pm the hotel hosts the annual celebration at the Cerocahui Church. After a delicious dinner, Ana Maria’s serves her famous Christmas punch. Then, those wishing to join the Tarahumara Indians and mestizo community may attend the midnight mass, also known as La Misa del Gallo (Rooster’s Mass). Traditional Tarahumara dancing usually starts an hour or two before the mass, then recommences afterwards to make it an all-night celebration. As an old Spanish saying goes, “Esta noche es Noche-Buena, y no es noche de dormir” (Tonight is the Good Night, and it is not meant for sleeping).

As Christmas morning arrives, the celebration moves back to the Oso Lodge where local Tarahumara join the hotel guests for the piñata party. The native Tarahumara live in isolated ranchitos in the rugged mountains surrounding the hotel. They take turns swinging at the Christmas piñata until it explodes showering candy and small toys to the ground. The hotel is filled with laughter and glee as the children scramble to collect their treasures. Gifts from under the Christmas tree are handed out. As the locals return to their mountain ranchitos, guests with The California Native prepare for a day trip to the Barranca de Urique (Urique Canyon). In the evening after the excursion, guests enjoy a traditional turkey dinner with all the trimmings.

Spaces are still available on this adventure. So, please join us for a very unique Christmas celebration in the beautiful, caring village of Cerocahui. You’ll get to explore the great Copper Canyon area and meet the wonderful people who call it home.

Run With the California Natives

The Tarahumara Indians are purported to be the world’s greatest runners,

Tarahumara runner in Mexico's Copper Canyon
Tarahumara runner in
Mexico’s Copper Canyon

running up and down the rugged canyons of their homeland, in Mexico’s remote Sierra Madre Mountains. The Tarahumara run for transportation and sport, and villages often compete against each other in races which last for several days. The area is commonly known as Copper Canyon, and its unique scenery and cave-dwelling inhabitants make it a favorite destination for active tourists looking to get off the beaten path.

The California Native has been running Copper Canyon tours for more than two decades, but the Tarahumara aren’t the only runners associated with the company. Several members of California Native’s staff are also avid runners.

The company’s founder and president, Lee Klein, began running two weeks before his 61st birthday. He has since competed in eleven marathons and is now training for his 12th.

Lee’s wife, Ellen, who also serves as California Native’s destination scout and researcher, is a race-walker and has completed five marathons, countless half-marathons, 5k and 10k races.

Lori Klein-Del Rosario, Lee’s daughter, who has guided California Native trips for almost twenty years, began running last year and completed her first marathon in June. She is now training for more races and is mentoring new runners.

In addition to running, California Native staff members participate in many other outdoor sports. Laurie Kraft, California Native’s Operations Manager, is an avid swimmer, while Jason Hall, California Native Tour Coordinator, can often be found surfing the waves at Malibu (after all, we are the California Native).

California Native founder, Lee Klein, at Long Beach CA Marathon. California Native scout, Ellen Klein, at Long Beach CA Marathon. California Natives Lori Klein-DelRosario, Ellen Klein, and Lee Klein, at El Segundo CA 5k race.
Lee at Long Beach CA Marathon Ellen at Long Beach CA Marathon Lori, Lee, and Ellen at El Segundo CA 5k race