Month: April 2015

Wine loosens up at Beneduce Vineyards

I’m no wine connoisseur, but I’ve definitely made an effort to visit local wineries, whether I’m in San Gimignano or Seneca Lake for the weekend.

This has been especially true for the wineries that are in my New Jersey backyard, including Four Sisters Winery in Belvidere, Cape May Winery in Cape May and Amalthea Cellars in the Atco section of Waterford Township.

However, one thing I have noticed is that in the United States, wine isn’t for kids. I’m usually the youngest person at American wineries and one of the few more than happy to take home the $14.99 bottle.

This doesn’t come as a real shock. In America, wine isn’t a part of our daily lives. Instead, we sip it at white-tablecloth dinners under chandeliers.

Jenna Intersimone Photography

Jenna Intersimone Photography

However, Beneduce Vineyards in the Pittstown section of Alexandria Township is working to quash that notion with as much ferocity as they squash a barrel of grapes.

“We have a very unpretentious view of wine and we brought that down-to-earth attitude to the winery with our design,” said Mike Beneduce Jr., who owns the winery with his father, Mike Beneduce Sr., and sister, Justen Hiles.

When you enter the winery’s production, aging and tasting center, housed inside a 7,000-square-foot barn on the rolling green hills of Hunterdon County, the entirety of the once-mysterious winemaking process is before you. Through an aged door from an old English church, you are greeted by a tasting bar fashioned from a counter top that was formerly housed inside a 19th-century English storefront.

The open-kitchen concept of the winery allows visitors to interact and understand winemaking, rather than keep it shrouded in secret.

Photo Courtesy of Beneduce Winery

Photo Courtesy of Beneduce Vineyards

“It’s really just fermented grapes, and we wanted people to see that,” said Beneduce.

For $5, visitors can taste five current wines and take home a wine glass or they can add a meat and cheese pairing for a $10 tasting, no reservations are needed. Seating is available at the tasting bar inside the barn or outside on the heated stone patio.

On-site wine experts talk visitors through each wine, and at the end of the tasting, the winery hands over keys to a golf cart so they can cruise the vineyards either with a wine expert or by themselves. It’s no surprise that during a busy summer or fall weekend, the winery can receive 500 visitors.

There’s a reason why Beneduce has never seen wine as something reserved for first-class gatherings — he was making it long before he had set foot in a suit.

Photo Courtesy of Beneduce Winery

Photo Courtesy of Beneduce Vineyards

“We have been making wine in our basement since I was 2 or 3 years old,” he said. “I have photos of myself in diapers wearing purple-stained pants.”

Before Beneduce was making wine in his basement with his parents as a child, his ancestors had been doing the same since they emigrated from Italy in the 1900s, making him a fourth-generation grower. As a result, it was only natural for him to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in viticulture and enology tailored to cool-climate grape growing and winemaking from Cornell University in 2010.

The family also owns Great Swamp Greenhouses in Gillette, and when they grew to their capacity in 2000, they purchased the 50-acre property that is now the winery, to supplement their landscape stock. Then, they decided to give winemaking a try and the facility opened in July 2012. It now houses 16 acres of grapevines, with expansions in mind.

“Since we are growers, it was natural for us to say, ‘Hey, can we grow grapes here?’ Now, our biggest problem is that we are selling the wine faster than we can make it,” said Beneduce.

Photo Courtesy of Beneduce Winery

Photo Courtesy of Beneduce Vineyards

Beneduce Vineyards focuses on premium wines that tend to be dry, European styles that work well with food, so no sweet or fruit wines. Beneduce said that this is because he was always taught that drinking wine should be paired with food, and he makes his wines to reflect that.

Due to the well-drained soil and south-facing slopes with sufficient sunlight exposure, the winery makes cool-climate aromatic varieties such as whites, including Chardonnay, Riesling and Gewürztraminer, and reds, including Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and an Austrian red named Blaufränkisch. Bottles range from $14.99 to $48.99.

Once Beneduce realized that the growing area in Austria was identical to that of Central Jersey, he had solved the matchmaking mystery.

“Even though some of the wines we decided on were not grapes that other local wineries had been focusing on, I was convinced that they would work here,” he said.

Photo Courtesy of Beneduce Winery

Photo Courtesy of Beneduce Vineyards

When Beneduce makes these kinds of decisions for the winery, he does so knowing that he is in this for the long haul.

“Being that I am only 26 years old, I have a bigger picture in mind knowing that I will be farming this land for 40 or 50 years from now,” he said. “In everything we do, we think about how this is affecting the soil, water and our customers, and asking ourselves if this is economically viable.”

Beneduce said that this gives him a very different perspective than other wineries where owners are changing every few years.

Beneduce Vineyards has pulled in quite a few awards in their short time of operation, including two gold medals from the 2014 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition and four silver medals at the 2015 Finger Lakes International Competition, as well as kind words from Stuart Pigott, acclaimed British wine critic, who called Beneduce a “Riesling star in the making.”

Jenna Intersimone Photography

Jenna Intersimone Photography

Although Beneduce is grateful for the recognition, he said, “I would rather have my customers appreciate my wine rather than a white-coated lab judge.”

So what keeps Beneduce in the wine business? He likes the connection between the land and creating something tangible from the land.

“When people come out here and listen to live music at our farm while drinking wine made from our farm,” he said. “It really connects people to the land and goes full circle.”

Beneduce Vineyards

Where: 1 Jeremiah Lane, Pittstown

Cost: $5 for a tasting of five current wines or can additional meat and cheese pairing for a $10 tasting. Both include a wine glass and a golf-cart trip around the vineyards. No reservations necessary.

Contact: 908-996-3823 or beneducewinery.com

See and save the whales for Earth Day

Written for MyCentralJersey.com and DailyRecord.com

When we travel for pleasure, we do it for ourselves. We choose to head out for a little fun and relaxation, a time when we can finally indulge.

But what if you could enjoy yourself in travel while helping the environment, too?

With Earth Day on April 22, it wouldn’t hurt for all of us to give a second thought to ecotourism, or engaging in travel that also helps to conserve the environment and sustain the well-being of locals.

There are countless ways that you can help your favorite getaways while also using your vacation days, such as eating at locally owned restaurants or visiting a local institution that supports a cause.

Right at home in New Jersey, one way that you can spot whales and dolphins while also helping to save them is to hop on a whale watch tour at the Cape May Whale Watch & Research Center.

The whales that Center passengers most often spot are Humpback whales since they are the most active breachers and create a large splash when they do so. (Photo: Courtesy of the Cape May Whale Watch & Research Center)

The whales that Center passengers most often spot are Humpback whales since they are the most active breachers and create a large splash when they do so.
(Photo: Courtesy of the Cape May Whale Watch & Research Center)

Founded in 1987, the Center brings passengers to the sea to spot well-hidden creatures as well as research them and promote awareness of their protection as well as their environment’s.

The Clean Ocean Initiative was started by the Center, which establishes that any time a person on the vessel spots marine debris, staff get their nets out and try to retrieve it. Balloons, such as from birthday parties, are a major marine debris culprit.

“By the end of the season, we have five or six industrial-sized trash bags full of balloons that we pulled from the water. We really try to get our passengers to take this message home with them — balloons and beach trash often end up in the sea and can harm marine life,” said Matt Remuzzi, captain and research coordinator at the Center.

To help whales and other marine life at home, people can pick up trash that they see at the beach, especially discarded fishing gear in which a whale can get entangled.

A typical trip includes a captain, several naturalists or marine biologists, who lead discussion, as well as several undergraduate students who are keeping watch with binoculars alongside the guests to spot whales as well as marine debris.

The American Star is the Cape May Whale Watch’s 90-foot long boat that can hold 150 passengers and is set up for non-obtrusive yet up-close viewing of whales and dolphins. (Photo: Courtesy of the Cape May Whale Watch & Research Center)

The American Star is the Cape May Whale Watch’s 90-foot long boat that can hold 150 passengers and is set up for non-obtrusive yet up-close viewing of whales and dolphins. (Photo: Courtesy of the Cape May Whale Watch & Research Center)

“We tell our passengers to look for anything out of the ordinary and point it out to a crew member since we are looking for whales, sharks, dolphins and oceanic sunfish,” said Remuzzi.

The whales that Center passengers most often spot are humpback whales since they are the most active breachers and create a large splash when they do so. Passengers also look for a whale’s 15- to 20-foot blow spout, which Remuzzi said is how the Center spots whales 99 percent of the time.

Remuzzi said that visitors rougly have a 68 percent chance of seeing a whale during their time onboard the American Star, a 90-foot-long boat that can hold 150 passengers and is set up for nonobtrusive yet up-close viewing of whales and dolphins. Visitors have a 99 percent chance of seeing any sort of marine mammal.

The Center’s season runs from April, when whales begin to migrate north, to November, when whales return south. The best time to see a whale varies on the season, depending on factors such as the amount of food present at a certain time.

Last year, which was one the best seasons, the Center visitors spotted 93 whales, which is about a sighting every day.

The best time to see a whale varies on the season depending on factors such as the amount of food present at a certain time. (Photo: Courtesy of the Cape May Whale Watch & Research Center)

The best time to see a whale varies on the season depending on factors such as the amount of food present at a certain time. (Photo: Courtesy of the Cape May Whale Watch & Research Center)

Since the Center also looks for dolphins and porpoises, they have a “marine mammal guarantee” which gives visitors that don’t get to see any marine mammals a free ticket that never expires for another whale watch tour.

Four trips are held per day: a dolphin watch cruise at 10 a.m. for $20 to $30 a person; a whale and dolphin watch cruise at 10 a.m. for $20 to $35 a person; a whales, birds and dolphins cruise at 1 p.m. for $25 to $40 a person; and a sunset dolphin watch at 6 p.m. for $20 to $30 a person. Guests are recommended to make their reservations as soon as possible.

Since the Center is viewing marine mammals, they also take part in opportunistic research on their feeding, migration and breeding habits. Plus, after having been provided with equipment to photograph whales’ flukes, which all have distinctive patterns, they have been helping the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society to catalogue local whales with photos, data and GPS coordinates. They have also created their own catalogue for local bottlenose dolphins.

“The catalogue provides a framework to better study these mammals,” said Remuzzi.

The Center also voluntarily participates in the Whale SENSE program, which trains and tests the Center’s captains and naturalists on current marine mammal laws and how to view the animals responsibly. By explaining the regulations to passengers and posting them on their vessel, they help to pass the word on how we can all view marine mammals responsibly, whether touring with the Center or on a private boat.

Founded in 1987, the Center brings passengers to the sea to spot well-hidden creatures as well as research them and promote awareness of their protection as well as their environment’s. (Photo: Courtesy of the Cape May Whale Watch & Research Center)

Founded in 1987, the Center brings passengers to the sea to spot well-hidden creatures as well as research them and promote awareness of their protection as well as their environment’s. (Photo: Courtesy of the Cape May Whale Watch & Research Center)

By constantly monitoring the waters, the Center also helps to protect whales from recreational boaters who may not be familiar with whale viewing regulations. Once while viewing a whale, Remuzzi said that the Center saw a personal vessel strike a whale. Since they take photographs on all of their trips, they were able to provide photos and report the vessel and the incident to Whale SENSE.

Vessels must stay at least 500 yards from a Baleen whale and 100 yards away from a right whale, an endangered specie.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, if there’s a whale, we are going to be right next to it, so we can help protect them in this way,” said Remuzzi. “Many recreational boaters don’t even know the guidelines, so we kind of spread the word. Our passengers take that home with them to know what the guidelines are.”

To help whales and other marine life at home, people can pick up trash that they see at the beach, especially discarded fishing gear which a whale can get entangled in. (Photo: Courtesy of the Cape May Whale Watch & Research Center)

To help whales and other marine life at home, people can pick up trash that they see at the beach, especially discarded fishing gear which a whale can get entangled in. (Photo: Courtesy of the Cape May Whale Watch & Research Center)

 

CAPE MAY WHALE WATCH & RESEARCH CENTER

Contact: 888-531-0055 or capemaywhalewatch.com

Address: 1121 Route 109 (Utsch’s Marina), Cape May

Season: April through November

Cost: Kids 12 and under from $20 to $25, adults from $30 to $40

Tours: Range from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and from two- to three-hour trips

See the world from 14K feet through skydiving

Study abroad students swear by skydiving.

When I studied abroad in Florence, Italy in 2012, one of the big trips, among heading to the Amalfi Coast in Italy and Oktoberfest in Munich, was to venture to Interlaken, Switzerland, to jump out of a plane and get a bird’s-eye view of the Swiss Alps.

There were many students I knew who chose to take the mid-air plunge and the first thing they said upon their landing was, “I need to do that again.”

“Those who are interested in trying new things and pushing new boundaries are ideal candidates for sky diving,” said Chuck Owen, owner of Skydive Jersey. (Photo: Courtesy of Skydive Jersey)

“Those who are interested in trying new things and pushing new boundaries are ideal candidates for sky diving,” said Chuck Owen, owner of Skydive Jersey. (Photo: Courtesy of Skydive Jersey)

Still, I couldn’t bring myself to defy a human’s natural fears and hop out of a plane at 120 miles per hour.

Today, I wonder if I made the right decision. Well, I still have the chance to plummet through the air, as do you, right at home thanks to Skydive Jersey, a Pittstown skydiving facility catered to beginner sky divers.

The establishment just celebrated the beginning of its fifth season, as it sends off 3,500 first-time skydivers per year from the first weekend in April to the last weekend in October.

All Skydive Jersey instructors are trained under the standards set by the United States Parachute Association. (Photo: Courtesy of Skydive Jersey)

All Skydive Jersey instructors are trained under the standards set by the United States Parachute Association. (Photo: Courtesy of Skydive Jersey)

“Many people who run sky diving establishments do it for experienced divers, but we do it for the first-timers,” said Chuck Owen, owner of the facility who has been on more than 10,000 skydives.

The safest and easiest way for beginners to skydive is tandem diving, where a “student” diver is paired with an instructor for the entirety of the jump. This only requires less than an hour of training for students and allows them to simply enjoy the experience since they can rely on the instructors, who, at Skydive Jersey, have all been on more than 500 jumps and are trained by the standards set by the United States Parachute Association.

With this in mind, can a beginner sky diver simply enjoy the experience? Is skydiving, an extreme sport, really safe?

Chuck Owen, owner of Skydive Jersey, said that no one gets in the plane and is completely fearless. (Photo: Courtesy of Skydive Jersey)

Chuck Owen, owner of Skydive Jersey, said that no one gets in the plane and is completely fearless. (Photo: Courtesy of Skydive Jersey)

According to the United States Parachute Association, out of 3.2 million American jumps last year, there were 24 accidents, which means that you have a 0.00075 percent chance of being in a skydiving accident. To equal your risk of dying in a car accident in a single year, you would need to skydive 17 times.

Owen said that on top of that, experienced jumpers going it alone are much more likely to be in an accident over beginner skydivers since they may want to push the limits of their skills.

“No matter how intimidated a person is when they first arrive, no one has ever landed and not had a smile on their face and been ecstatic,” Owen said. “It’s a very transformative experience that you just conquered this major feat. The expression on their face is priceless.”

“No matter how intimidated a person is when they first arrive, no one has ever landed and not had a smile on their face and been ecstatic,” said Chuck Owen, owner of Skydive Jersey. (Photo: Courtesy of Skydive Jersey)

“No matter how intimidated a person is when they first arrive, no one has ever landed and not had a smile on their face and been ecstatic,” said Chuck Owen, owner of Skydive Jersey. (Photo: Courtesy of Skydive Jersey)

When students express fear after arriving at Skydive Jersey, Owen said his team calmly talks them through it and explains that skydiving isn’t what they think. Contrary to what most non-skydivers believe, there is no roller coaster stomach drop. Instead, free fall, said Owen, feels like a gentle float.

“No one gets in the airplane and is completely fearless,” Owen said. “Once you’re out in free fall, you realize it wasn’t so bad.” Then, he said, there’s usually “a ‘wow’ and then speechlessness.”

Diving students at Skydive Jersey range in age from 18 to 95, but generally, they are between 18 and 45 year old. Students must be at least 18-years-olds and height-weight proportionate; men must be less than 230 pounds and women must be less than 215 pounds.

At Skydive Jersey, the exit altitude is 14,000 feet. (Photo: Courtesy of Skydive Jersey)

At Skydive Jersey, the exit altitude is 14,000 feet. (Photo: Courtesy of Skydive Jersey)

“Those who are interested in trying new things and pushing new boundaries are ideal candidates for sky diving,” Owen said.

After training, students take a 20-minute plane ride over the Delaware River Valley as it climbs to 14,000 feet. Once at exit altitude, students are attached to their instructor’s harness and the door will be opened. Then, the 50 seconds of freefall at 120 miles per hour begins before the parachute is deployed and student-and-instructor drift down to the ground at 20 miles per hour for 10 minutes into a gentle landing.

It’s the idyllic landscape that skydivers get to enjoy from their view in the sky that also makes Skydive Jersey an ideal spot for thrill-seekers to get their fix. Skydivers will spot the Delaware River, Spruce Run Lake, Round Valley Lake as well as the Manhattan and Philadelphia skylines.

Chuck Owen, owner of Skydive Jersey, said that skydiving is a very transformative experience. (Photo: Courtesy of Skydive Jersey)

Chuck Owen, owner of Skydive Jersey, said that skydiving is a very transformative experience. (Photo: Courtesy of Skydive Jersey)

“Hunterdon County is incredibly beautiful,” Owen said. “I was blown away at how untouched it is the first time I took off.”

Plus, Skydive Jersey is situated at Alexandria Field, a peaceful and historic airport tucked away in the countryside that has been in the same family since the 1940’s.

Groups should plan to spend a full day at Skydive Jersey for weekend dives and a half a day for weekday dives, which can also be affected by the size of the party, weather delays and unexpected plane maintenance.

After the experience is over, Owen said there is usually a “’wow,’ and then speechlessness.” (Photo: Courtesy of Skydive Jersey)

After the experience is over, Owen said there is usually a “’wow,’ and then speechlessness.” (Photo: Courtesy of Skydive Jersey)

Weather delays are very common for sky dives — about one in three dives will be rescheduled, which Skydive Jersey gives priority to versus new bookings.

Owen said, “Some people smile, some laugh, some scream, but everyone comes back to Earth glad that they took the plunge.”

 

SKYDIVE JERSEY

Where: 70 Airport Rd. in Pittstown

Contact: reservations@skydivejersey.com or 866-669-3020

Website: skydivejersey.com

Cost: $195 per person for one to three people and $185 per person for 4+ people

Qualifications: 18 or older and men must be less than 230 pounds and women must be less than 215 pounds

Season: First weekend in April to last weekend in October

Hours: Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

See the world and make extra cash as a home-based travel agent

Written for MyCentralJersey.com and DailyRecord.com

You got laid off from your job.

Your car’s transmission went.

Your kid’s college tuition is due.

In times of economic hardship, the first thing to go is travel. However, if you’re struggling to make ends meet, there is one way to bring in extra cash and keep your travel bug satisfied — become a part-time home-based travel agent.

Frank Hryszkanich, founder of the Association of Home-Based Travel Agents and Travel, Ports and Voyages LLC, a home-based travel agency headquartered in East Brunswick, said home-based travel agents have the best of both worlds.

“When you’re a home-based agent, you can learn about better travel choices while making commission, plus you can save money for your own travel,” he said.

Disney Cruises recently visited the Association of Home-Based Travel Agents to give a seminar on what they can offer to clients. (Photo: Gannett NJ File Photo)

Disney Cruises recently visited the Association of Home-Based Travel Agents to give a seminar on what they can offer to clients. (Photo: Gannett NJ File Photo)

Hryszkanich said that becoming a home-based travel agent is also ideal for someone who is retiring or who wants to see the world.

“There are still a lot of magical places left in the world and this is a great way to see them via leisure travel and business travel,” he said.

Janet Cargulia, a home-based travel agent who works with Travel, Ports and Voyages LLC, said she enjoys her career because of the creativity, freedom and flexibility involved.

“You can do this job in your pajamas or you can meet with clients and have Italian wine dinners,” she said.

Many home-based travel agents are in the business for extra income, a hobby or to get competitive travel rates for friends and family. About 10 to 15 percent of home-based travel agents work in the field full time, while the majority are part time. Full-time employees make, on average, about $15,000 to $30,000 a year, depending on how much business they bring in, because it is commission-based. Agents in the Association of Home-Based Travel Agents range from 29 years old to 79.

SeaWorld recently visited the Association of Home-Based Travel Agents to give a seminar on what they can offer to clients. (Photo: Gannett NJ File Photo)

SeaWorld recently visited the Association of Home-Based Travel Agents to give a seminar on what they can offer to clients. (Photo: Gannett NJ File Photo)

Part-time workers’ weekly hours vary greatly. Hryszkanich said that his 215 agents, who are independent contractors, make from a few hundred dollars a year to one who makes $70,000 working full time.

At Hryszkanich’s home-based travel agency, agents take home 70 percent of their commission and the agency takes 30 percent. This rate can generally range from 30 percent to zero percent, depending on the agency and how much help they provide the agent.

There are no credentials required to become a home-based travel agent, but there also aren’t any real educational facilities for those looking for more instruction besides books and webinars. To get started, home-based travel agents usually join an agency and use their credentials, or they start their own, which Hryszkanich said is a lengthy process.

Cargulia has about 350 clients but started out much more modestly.

“I started out very small because I really wanted to know how to do this. It doesn’t happen overnight, so you shouldn’t get discouraged. It’s on-the-job training,” she said.

Depending on the attending suppliers, about 25 to 75 agents head to the monthly travel seminars per session. (Photo: Courtesy of Frank Hryszkanich)

Depending on the attending suppliers, about 25 to 75 agents head to the monthly travel seminars per session. (Photo: Courtesy of Frank Hryszkanich)

Seven years ago, Hryszkanich was a home-based travel agent working for an agency. His agency would bring travel suppliers, such as cruise lines and resorts, in to speak to the agents to educate them on their programs, but he said it was very difficult to ask questions as well as gain training.

“The agency was all about sell, sell, sell, and I wanted to do something totally different which would be more fun and social,” he said. “Plus I wanted to learn and have a good time.”

So Hryszkanich started his own agency.

“Many home-based travel agents don’t know their product, but I didn’t want my agents to just say, ‘I’m a travel agent’ and that’s it,” he said. “My goal is training, training and more training. I want you to sell these programs and be able to say, ‘Oh, this is fantastic’ and know what a bargain is when you see it.”

This also led Hryszkanich to start an association, which includes 300 to 350 agents, some who work for his agency and some who could be classified as competitors. There is no membership fee for new agents, just a $25 fee for which several employees train agents in a three-hour one-on-one.

About four to five suppliers visit the Association of Home-Based Travel Agents at their monthly seminars. (Photo: Courtesy of Frank Hryszkanich)

About four to five suppliers visit the Association of Home-Based Travel Agents at their monthly seminars. (Photo: Courtesy of Frank Hryszkanich)

Hryszkanich said that he started the association because he wanted to get something else from the suppliers because his agents were doing so much business with them.

“I retired at 55,” he said. “I’m here for socializing, not for the money. However, I also don’t work for thank yous anymore. Since we are selling a lot, we can get upgrades such as bottles of wine, discounts or other amenities.”

One of the biggest benefits in joining the association is the monthly travel seminars, which occur every second Tuesday of the month at the East Grand Buffet, 6 Edgeboro Road #15 in East Brunswick.

Generally, about four to five suppliers come and speak to 25 to 75 agents, each for about 30 minutes, while agents eat dinner for $13 a person. Agents are welcome to bring guests as long as they are over 18. Webinars are also available for those unable to attend.

“No one is selling to you — you are there to learn their product,” Hryszkanich said.

The association also offers several other special events, such as a bus trip to Philadelphia on May 16. (Photo: Gannett NJ File Photo)

The association also offers several other special events, such as a bus trip to Philadelphia on May 16. (Photo: Gannett NJ File Photo)

Some of the past speaking suppliers have been Royal Caribbean Cruises, Disney Cruises, United Vacations, AmaWaterways River Cruises, Blue Sky Tours, SeaWorld and Universal Studios.

“Suppliers are very anxious to come and speak to us because they can’t come to the home-based travel agents’ homes, but here is a venue for them to go to. By coming into a restaurant, they can meet a whole bunch of agents at once,” Hryszkanich said.

The association also offers several other special events, such as a bus trip to Philadelphia on May 16, which, for $50, will include dinner, a historic tour, a trip to the 9th Street Italian Market Festival and tours of Philadelphia’s Chinatown, Rocky Steps and Reading Terminal Market.

Although the Internet has changed the work of travel agents, Hryszkanich firmly believes that travel agents will always have a place in the travel industry.

“We like to say that the Internet is for looking and travel agents are for booking,” he said. “Are you going to put $15,000 on your credit card to go somewhere you’re not really sure about? It’s daunting with all of the travel sites out there. People are getting information online, but they want to go to a person for their questions.”

For more information on the Association of Home-Based Travel Agents or Travel, Ports and Voyages LLC, you can contact Frank Hryszkanich at 732-251-1775 or FrankH@TPVP.com.

Virus that makes people ‘bend over in pain’ keeps travelers at home

Written for MyCentralJersey.com and DailyRecord.com

Some New Jersey travelers are concerned about chikungunya, a mosquito-borne illness that means “bent over in pain” in the African Makonde language, a rather fitting name.

With symptoms that can persist for years in 5 to 10 percent of cases, chikungunya brings about debilitating joint pain and swelling, muscle pain, rash, headache, fever, vomiting and diarrhea. Most people make a full recovery, but unknown factors can bring the illness to linger, typical of similar diseases.

“These parasitic diseases might not kill you, but they make you want to die,” said Tadhgh Rainey, Hunterdon County Mosquito and Vector Control director.

The disease is ravaging the Caribbean, having affected 24 Caribbean nations and possibly more than 850,000 people worldwide. With almost 2,500 cases reported in the U.S. in 2014 and 68 American cases already reported this year to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it’s becoming a cause for concern for some Americans, too.

“If I were traveling, I would certainly take some precautions,” Rainey said. “We have no immunity whatsoever, so you’re going to get it if you get bit by a mosquito with chikungunya.”

Asian Tiger Mosquitoes, which carry chikungunya, are found in New Jersey. (MyCentralJersey.com file photo)

Asian Tiger Mosquitoes, which carry chikungunya, are found in New Jersey.
(MyCentralJersey.com file photo)

Artie Londrigan, of the Iselin section of Woodbridge, said that as a frequent traveler, he would be “be a little wary and would probably avoid the area based on the fact that there doesn’t seem to be any preventive medicine or vaccine to treat it.” He also said that several of his friends who enjoy travel are avoiding the Caribbean because of the outbreak.

The explosion of chikungunya in the Caribbean is because of local transmission of the illness, which means that mosquitoes in the area have been infected with it and are spreading it to people. For the first time, local transmission of chikungunya also is being reported in the Americas. So does this mean that besides avoiding the Caribbean, Americans should also avoid traveling throughout their home country?

“Unless you’re traveling to Florida right now, New Jerseyans shouldn’t really be concerned about contracting chikungunya from within the United States,” said Scott Crans, senior program coordinator of entomology in the Center For Vector Biology at Rutgers University. “Even if you’re going to Florida now, the chances are pretty low. If you’re in an area that has reported chikungunya, as long as you’re wearing repellant, you’re minimizing your risk.”

Londrigan said that he doesn’t worry about contracting chikungunya in New Jersey, although he does have some concerns about Florida.

The only way to prevent chikungunya is to prevent mosquito bites, which can be done by wearing long sleeves and using repellant. Several countries are also fumigating areas with high mosquito populations. (MyCentralJersey.com File Photo)

The only way to prevent chikungunya is to prevent mosquito bites, which can be done by wearing long sleeves and using repellant. Several countries are also fumigating areas with high mosquito populations. (MyCentralJersey.com File Photo)

The only locally transmitted cases of chikungunya reported since January 2014 — which amounts to 11 — have been from Florida, while all other American cases, including the 185 from New Jersey as of March 27, were a result of people being bitten by infected mosquitoes while in other countries.

The possibility of a major outbreak is fairly reliant on the possibility of local transmission, making New Jersey one of the states with the lowest risk because we have only one of the two types of mosquitoes that can transmit the virus. Chikungunya is transmitted by the Yellow Fever Mosquito and the Asian Tiger Mosquito, the latter of which is found in New Jersey.

“I would say that there is a slim-to-none chance of it being locally transmitted. I would be surprised if we get a case like that,” Rainey said. “All of the pieces of the puzzle would need to come together. It could happen in an area where a particular population are at a high risk, such as a group of people who travel together to the Caribbean each year.”

There are some challenges with the Asian Tiger Mosquito, however. As Crans explained, this mosquito has adapted to the human environment and frequently uses pools, children’s toys and even backyard tarps collecting rainwater as larval habitats. Also, they like more heavily populated areas, such as New Jersey.

Asian Tiger Mosquitoes have adapted to the human environment and frequently use our pools, children’s toys and even backyard tarps collecting rainwater as larval habitats. (MyCentralJersey.com file photo)

Asian Tiger Mosquitoes have adapted to the human environment and frequently use our pools, children’s toys and even backyard tarps collecting rainwater as larval habitats. (MyCentralJersey.com file photo)

Although the risk of local transmission is low, Crans foresees chikungunya expanding further before it will be under control, but its growth in New Jersey is still up in the air based on a few factors.

“One big assumption is that if a strain comes here, it will be the same as the one in the Caribbean, but that’s never a guarantee. Those strains will show up in N.J. and then that will be the end of it, but a new strain would be different,” Rainey said. “Some strains do very well with Asian Tiger Mosquitoes, yet the current one does not. If the strain changes, then that could change everything.”

Generally, more South Jersey counties have a higher risk because they have a larger Asian Tiger Mosquito population, while Warren and Sussex counties have the lowest risk.

Regardless of the low risk, New Jersey is preparing itself through its county-managed mosquito operations, which do daily baseline surveillance of local mosquitoes starting at the end of April. They then take samples and send them to the state lab for testing. The idea is to find infected mosquitoes before they can make an impact.

Rainey urged that although cases exist, there is a lot of protection in New Jersey and people shouldn’t be afraid to play with their kids outside.

“Go about your lives,” he said. “We will tell you if something is wrong.”

Crans urged that people need to take personal responsibility to protect themselves.

Chikungunya is ravaging the Caribbean, having affected 24 Caribbean nations and possibly more than 850,000 people worldwide. (MyCentralJersey.com photo)

Chikungunya is ravaging the Caribbean, having affected 24 Caribbean nations and possibly more than 850,000 people worldwide. (MyCentralJersey.com photo)

“Go through your backyards and reduce larval habitats, and while you’re out, if you’re comfortable, use repellants appropriately and don’t be afraid to protect yourself, especially if you’re doing a lot of traveling,” he said.

Some travelers who may be more likely to contract chikungunya are those who have arthritis, serious underlying medical conditions, people older than 65, pregnant women, long-term travelers and those planning to spend a lot of time outdoors or staying in rooms without window screens or air conditioning.

Several vaccines are in the developmental stage, but none are in the licensing stage.

“Usually in these types of illnesses, there’s a big push for a vaccine right away and vaccine development, which is driven by economics,” Rainey said. “As the virus takes off, there will be a lot of efforts and then if it doesn’t take off, the vaccine will die on the vine. There are some human cases in Florida and Texas but not enough for a pharmaceutical company to spend $200 million on a vaccine that may not work.”

The only way to prevent chikungunya is simply to prevent mosquito bites, which can be done by wearing long sleeves and using repellant.

“Outbreaks like this do a couple good things,” Rainey said. “They alert people that mosquitoes are a problem — these viruses can whip up in a hurry and cause a lot of issues. It’s a good lesson to make sure that we have our infrastructure in place, mosquito surveillance and control and public education. There’s nothing like being prepared.”

 

HOW TO PREVENT CHIKUNGUNYA

  • Wear insect repellant
  • Wear long sleeves
  • Clean pools regularly
  • Dump rainwater out of children’s toys and backyard tarps
  • Avoid traveling to the Caribbean and possibly Florida

Some travelers who may be more likely to contract chikungunya are those who have arthritis, serious underlying medical conditions, people older than 65, pregnant women, long-term travelers and those planning to spend a lot of time outdoors or staying in rooms without window screens or air conditioning.