Yesterday Burt and I saw a new dentist and a new dermatologist. We needed regular checkups. Even though we are insured in the US it is cheaper and easier to schedule these things here in Mexico. On the downside teeth cleaning is not as rigorous or vigorous. If you read teeth cleaning research you might conclude it’s all overblown anyway. There are some scientists that say teeth cleaning (at least the frequency) is unproven as a preventative to gum disease. After poking around and spending about 15 minutes polishing my teeth the new dentist announce two of my crowns needed to be replaced. No x-rays, no inquiry about the history of these two crowns. I politely asked if I could wait until next season. We’re running low on time and cash and I wanted time to ask my dentist in the US if he thought it was time to replace them, too. At first the dentist was willing to wait. These crowns are 25 years old and have been a literal and figurative sore spot for most of those years. I work very diligently to keep the area free of food. My dentist (and several I’ve seen along the way) always took a wait and see approach. Many of the dentists and hygienists have commented that it’s the finest crown they’ve ever seen. Great crown in a bad situation. We got a quarter of a century with the wait and see attitude. I wanted time to consult and see if there were changes that dictated removal. I tried to make it clear that I didn’t doubt the dentist. We were speaking easily in English and Spanish. Sadly the dentist took umbrage. She became more rigid and tried to scare me when I reiterated that I would come back next season for her to take another look. I smiled, shrugged, and left.
Now I have to see another dentist. I’m going to make an appointment in the US with the clinic that installed this masterpiece of dentition. Maybe it is time. Maybe the dentist saw some scary changes. Too bad she felt the need to try and coerce me with fear rather than explain and listen. This could have happened anywhere.
Burt and I both loved the dermatologist. She took a lit magnifying glass to every dark spot on my skin. It was a long process. She declared them all fine for now. Then she suggested a minor tune up of my face. For $5 a piece she removed three funny skin changes on my face (clogged glands). Afterwards she declared Burt has perfect skin despite his utter failure to apply sunscreen. This could only happen in Mexico. We’ll be seeing her next year.
In between the dentist and the dermatologist we visited Baja California Sur’s second most prolific bird spot: The La Paz sewage treatment lagoons. Burt and I have a running joke about all the shit holes he takes me to visit. Usually they are fun places but ugly. I finally beat him at his own game. I took him to an actual shit hole. We saw many amazing birds including four new species. If we’d had time to sit we’d have seen even more. There were scads little birds flitting in the green bushes that we couldn’t quite get an eyeball on. We’ll be back here, too.
It’s been an action packed week. Tuesday we took on a new student. She’s a smart one. SaraGay wants to learn to play Pinochle so she can play with my dad. We had a lunch and dinner date on the same day so we could start training her on the rules of the game. Two-handed Pinochle is a two phased game and is more complicated than the four-handed version. Like all games there are some rules that seem silly but you have to learn them. The Pinochle deck is also weird. It has 48 cards numbering 9 through the ace, 2 sets of each suit. The cards rank in an unusual order as well. The 10 out ranks all cards but the aces. It’s a lot to remember. Baby steps.
Last Wednesday we took five kids to see the movie Patrimonio in Todos Santos. I thought it was a big success but the next day none of the kids that went to the movies showed up for our regular English class and the day following not a single kid showed up for art class. I started to wonder if all the kids were in trouble for going to a controversial movie with us. Or maybe they were in trouble for being out so late. I really was full of anxiety. Maybe we had overstepped. Maybe we were colonizing? Emperialist gringos brain washing young children on the dangers of unfettered development and government corruption. I was so worried I asked my neighbor Abril if she had heard anything. She hadn’t. She and Rafa advised me that it was probably a cultural issue. The kids are afraid to tell me they can’t come because they don’t want to disappoint me so they just don’t come and I wind up disappointed that they didn’t tell me they couldn’t come.
Then Tuesday they all showed up for class and then the following afternoon Vikki texted me and asked if I could take them to see the movie again. This time it was scheduled for 8:00 PM on a school night. I was delighted that the movie was so well received that a new group and one second timer wanted to go. We were out until nearly 10:00. Burt and I were ready for bed but the kids were just getting revved up. Operation pro-environment is underway.
This morning I woke up and thought, “those kids have to go to school, but I don’t”, and I skipped yoga. What a relief to sleep in. I took the Olvis on a three miler around the edges town while Burt played tennis.
Sunday morning walk with our neighborhood acrophobic was nearly cut short. Burt and I had forgotten our friend was afraid of high, cliffy spaces and nearly ruined his day. Burt and he turned around for a safe beach walk and I went up the hill with Olive. The TuVus came to say hello to us. Olive reeks of fetid mud so maybe they wanted to make sure we weren’t dead.I’m still a few checklists away from 15 with photos so I grabbed these shots for the eBird competition.
I think the birds are starting to talk to me. Yesterday a roadrunner met me in the exact same spot he met me last week. Yesterady, as I walked along the edge of a dry playa I pish pish pished to see who was in scrub. Pishing causes some birds to move about and lets you see where they are. A roadrunner leapt up and landed on a solitary cardon cactus and sang to me. There was a roardrunner on this very same cactus a week ago. I’d never heard a roadrunner speak before yesterday. Immediately I knew why the roadrunner is in the cuckoo family. We made a date for next Saturday.
I am continuing on with my attempts to win high end binoculars from eBird.org by entering their monthly birding challenges. In the name of citizen science eBird has a challenge every month and also for the. This year’s contest requires at least one complete bird list for every day of the year. I don’t have to bird every day but I have to submit at least 365 lists during the year. I am at well over 100 and it’s only March so that shouldn’t be a problem. There’s also a drawing for binoculars for people that complete every monthly challenge of the year. And there’s a pair of binoculars given away every month for the monthly contest. Last month’s contest was easy shmeezy. The contest was designed to get people birding and reporting to eBird so I had to share at least 15 checklists. Burt was my main companion and recipient of the shared checklists. Even with both of us completing the challenge we still did not win.
This month’s contest is a real pain. I have to submit at least 15 checklists with media attached. That means I have to include photos or sound recordings of the actual birds on that day’s list. Not all the birds but at least one from the list. No historic photos allowed. That day, that list. Since I usually bird by phone using the eBird app I considered just submitting a bunch of terrible phone shots of birds in shrubs and palm trees. You have to rate your photos so I would just rate them all poor. But then I started thinking it would be my kind of luck to win the drawing with a bunch of shoddy photos. How embarrassing would that be? Fuzzy photos of feathery blobs from too far away. I couldn’t do it. Instead I’m birding from bed. It’s a lot easier than heading out with phone, binoculars, and camera with telephoto lens.
Our feeding station is just outside our window. I can sit in bed and make a list and take some photos without breaking a sweat or dropping my tools. If I win I’m still going to be embarrassed but at least my pictures are pretty good quality. Today a turkey vulture (feeling sorry for me) flew by in the little triangle of sky I can see. The bird on bird action has been hot and heavy these last few days. Longer light and warmer weather have cued up the hormones of desire and the doves are jumping each other. They are so quick I can’t get a picture.That’s kind of embarrassing for them and me.
Yesterday I tried to buy bird food but our local tienda only had chicken scratch. It’s not very popular with the birds. They spend a lot of time kicking it out of the feeders looking for their favorite morsels. I could be in trouble.
Today is the International Day of the Woman. In Mexico it’s a real day. I’d never heard of the day of the woman before coming here but I like it. A big shout out to all you women trying to make the world a better place.
Yesterday Burt and I took a handful of our kids and Vikki to see a locally made documentary called Patrimonio. All the world over the love of money is destroying culture and the environment. The gap between the haves and have nots is widening. This story is as old as history. Sometimes the Davids of the world fight back. Sometimes they win. I’ll be first in line to say it’s not always easy to tell who is on the good side. Here in Baja California Sur there is a fight between a fisherman’s cooperative and real estate developers. Some claim nobody is good in this story. I’ll grant it’s complicated but I believe it’s obvious what is good and what is evil.
This story has a cast of characters that includes the governor of Colorado, CSU, yoga teachers, artists (and that’s the bad guys) and a lawyer, fishermen, local residents. The Tres Santos development was conceived as a holistic, natural down to earth, farm to table kinda woowoo goodness place to live. The company hired a bunch of hippies to sell their green washing life of harmony BS and then proceeded to bribe, bulldoze and intimidate their way across the beach. They stole water from the municipality and held sales meetings in NJ to convince people they were building a nirvana in the desert. For a year our so I vowed to not have an opinion. This isn’t my land. Mexicans should decide for themselves what to protect and what to develop. Then the Tres Santos people started selling this idea of living in touch with nature while destroying one of the few tracts of mangroves on this side of the southern peninsula. They destroyed the fishermen’s launching area and plowed up one of the few homes of Belding’s Yellowthroat, an endangered bird. I started developing an opinion. Tres Santos had plenty of space to build in an environmentally sensitive manner. They chose not to in direct violation of Mexican law and prudence.
The fishermen and their lawyer tried to negotiate. They hired a lawyer. When requests for meetings and negotiations were ignored they blockaded the road to the site. This was a peaceful blockade. Other supporters started working social media. There were parades. There were protests at government offices. It was all met with stonewalling or intimidation. People were threatened with arrest. Others were beaten. Still the fishermen and their community supporters resisted. Meanwhile it was all being filmed. In real time the fight was documented. I started developing more opinions.
Last year in a desperate act of intimidation the resistance’s lawyer and a client were arrested under false pretenses. They were held without bail for over three months. This did not play out well for Tres Santos. I think they made a gross miscalculation. My opinions about whether or not this company had anyone’s best interests at heart were long since gone but now I knew they would stop at nothing to get what they wanted.
It’s all in this movie called Patrimonio. The older kids from our English class were mesmerized watching their neighbors stand up to armed federales and incompetent government officials. Afterwards they asked me to introduce them to the star of the film, John Moreno. I don’t know Mr. Moreno but on their behalf I asked him to come meet my kids and he was happy to do it. At dinner afterward the kids quoted Mr. Moreno: The law is my sword and my rights are my shield. I am so pleased I took them to see this film. I hope someday you can see it too. Someday one of these kids might remember that line when they need to stand up and fight.
Last week 17 kids showed up to our neighborhood kid collective. SEVENTEEN. For the love if Pete, what are we supposed to do with 17 kids aged 3 to 16? Coincidentally this was the same day my Spanish teacher and friend Ivonne came out to help. She brought books and crayons and experience. Ivonne quickly split the group into two groups by age. I had the oldest kids. We read Green Eggs and Ham by Doctor Seuss. Another coincidence was we had just been working on the phrase I am… when Sam, I am showed up. So we did it in a boat and with a goat and we ate Green Eggs and Ham. Another tidbit of weirdness, Green Eggs and Ham was the first book I recall given to me as a gift. My kindergarten teacher gave it to me as a going away present the day we moved.
That night I had a bit of a panic attack. We don’t have enough chairs. I don’t know how to teach English. There are too many kids eager for something to do. I calmed down. Then yesterday only seven kids showed up. And those seven came at two different times. Getting these kids here on time is a real challenge. Nobody is sending them. They just wander up when they realize it’s Tuesday afternoon. So one group was 45 minutes early and another group was 10 minutes late. They didn’t even over lap. I was still in the shower when the first group arrived. Burt played some songs while I dried and dressed. We played Concentration with a deck of cards after a few minutes of I ams….
This weekend we played our usual Bridge and birded saturday. On Sunday we were docents on the annual Palapa Society Historic Home Tour. Burt and I spent the morning hosting visitors into a home on the tour. We had a few facts but mostly it was a lot of I don’t knows. Our assigned house wasn’t even a home. It currently serves as a partially restored place for special events. It’s for sale. The home property originally occupied an entire city block but that was all subdivided a long time ago. When, you ask? Nobody knows. Nobody even knows when the house was originally built by Don Dominguez, sugar baron. Records are scarce. Todos Santos was a Spanish mission town. The missions were abandoned after the Mexican War for Independence. Records disappeared with them. Then there was a resurgence of people in the area with the sugar business in the late 1800s. Then came the Revolution and records went to pieces again. Then the sugar industry collapsed when the aquifer dried up. Todos Santos was a ghost town again. Records were lost. Again. It looks like we haven’t learned from the first water crisis. Todos Santos is having its fourth big boom and there’s still not much water. I wonder if farmers or big developers will prevail or if it will all blow away one more time.
So here’s a little something you might never have heard of, the oil bird. When I think oil bird I always think of oiled birds, those black creatures accidentally trapped in spilled oil. Happily, oil birds are not oiled birds though the origins of their name are just as grim. Oil birds are a nocturnal, fruit eating bird of South America. They are the only bird in their family. That means there are no other birds like the oil bird. These unique avians live together in large groups inside of caves or cave-like formations. The oil birds use echolocation and smell to find fruit in the dark. They can fly nearly 120 miles away from their cave each night in search of food.
Burt and I heard about the oil bird cave in Ecuador and despite it being an hour drive from where we were I told him we had to go. I knew just enough to know that you must pilgrimage to the oil bird roost. We’d never see one just wandering around. Their nocturnal lifestyle and jungle habitat make them very hard to see. Burt had never heard of this creature. I told him I’d spotted some posts about it from friends that had been to Trinidad and seen them there. So off we went to visit La Cueva de los Tayos.
If you google cueva de los tayos you’ll find a bunch of stories about a famous cave, aliens, astronauts, Native Americans, and expeditions. That’s a different cave. If I ever go there, I’ll share that story. Here”s ours.
We found the Cueve de los Tayos well signed on the side of the highway 45, northeast of Baeza. Already that morning we’d hiked to a waterfall in the rain and we were thoroughly wet. We pulled into the roadside parking area and found a pair of city visitors and a guide. Our guide advised us that we were about to embark on a steep, muddy walk with a thigh deep river crossing. We were going to get wet. I replied we were already wet so let’s go. Our guide did not lie. It was a steep and muddy descent into the upper elevations of the Amazonian jungle. As we carefully made our way down slippery stones and mushy logs I pondered my lack of knowledge on the Amazon. Here I was in the actual jungle, in the Amazon watershed for the first time in my life and I was completely uninformed. Were there army ants? poisonous frogs? venomous snakes? I felt a slight taste of panic rising. Would I return home covered in leeches? Tropical diseases I hadn’t prepared for began to run through my head. Yellow fever, cholera, malaria. Wow. This was a fun way to pass a hike where the biggest risk was probably breaking my ankle. I talked myself off the ledge and reasoned that we were still too high for any tropical nightmares. But were we?
Eventually we reached the river. Going down is hard work because the body is fighting gravity and trying to use it at the same time. It’s much easier to fall while trying to stay in balance. Climbing is easier mechanically but much harder on the cardiac and respiratory systems. I was concerned I would not be up to the up hill climb. I put all these worries aside and followed my guide across the river. The thigh deep water was only to our knees. Burt’s and my knees. The guide and our Ecuadoran companions were nearly hip deep in the flow. This was a serious mini-expedition. I asked the guide if there was an easier way in and he said no. If you want to see these birds you’ve got to suck it up and do the work.
We followed the river up stream just a few hundred more feet. The greenery covered walls of the canyon closed together over our heads and we entered the nave of a natural cathedral. This wasn’t an actual cave but a tight spot in the canyon where light couldn’t reach. It was more like a tunnel. Light peaked in from the far side. Our guide urged us to keep quiet as we walked deeper into the darkened enclosure. Just over head a pair of big eyed birds gazed down. One at a time we each went in and stood. Birds called in a cat-like scream from all around and flew back and forth from shelf to shelf. It was magic. There was a lot of action and the birds were very loud. Nocturnal doesn’t mean they are all asleep all day long. They eat at night but they do other birdy things during the day. These birds seemed to be gossiping.
Eventually we turned back and made our way up and out. It was a nice slow pace and not difficult. I think it took about 30 minutes to go bottom to top. On our way up I asked about snakes and our guide said they aren’t found at that elevation. I can also report I contracted no tropical diseases and did not find any leeches.
Oil birds got their name because oil birds feed their chicks so much that they become super fat and eventually weigh more than the parent birds. These chicks were a rich source of food and easy to catch. These plump chickies were eaten and also boiled up for oil. Check out THIS funny write up on the oil bird.
Some days the ennui of modern life takes hold. The weeks of visiting and traveling are over. Here we are in Mexico for a couple of stationary months. No visitors planned. No big ideas looming. This morning I woke up just kind of down. A why am I here? kind of day. The kids all failed to show up to English class a few days ago. Possibly they stayed home because Thursday was the start of a holiday weekend. Or because Vikki suffered an injury and couldn’t rally the troops. Or maybe, word hadn’t made it around we were back in town. We’ll never know. I felt the funk creeping in that day.
There’s all kinds of problems in the world. Here we have the usual neglect and abuse of little ones. Right now we’ve got a neighborhood flasher harassing the kids. I have some ideas of what I’d like to do to the guy and his equipment but I’m leaving it to others. It wouldn’t be prudent to say more here. If I write a book the details will be in there. Ask me about it if you see me. Also, just down the hill from us is a camp of migrant workers. Rumors are the kids don’t even speak Spanish and that they are hunting grasshoppers for their meals. The neighbors are collecting clothes, food, and blankets to help ease the suffering.
Then there’s Vikki. She fell and severely hurt her knee. That means no work and no money while she recuperates. Of course we’re all helping out there. There’s also another friend with aggressive breast cancer. She’s just 40. The news is not optimistic. Sometimes it seems like death and loss are all we know. Suffering is all around.
And then there’s me. My suffering is caused by feeling powerless to help. We throw some money here and there. Give a blanket and some toys. Try to keep the kids busy so they don’t wander around town looking for attention. And I just find myself wondering is it doing any good? any good at all? I really don’t know. But these are the only ideas I have right now.
On the up side, here’s a little glimpse into the hard as hell life of Luz Maria. She is one tough broad. Luz Maria is the mother of our friend Elsi. Everyone calls her (and all women her age) Mama. I first met mama ten years ago. That was before her husband died. Luz Maria mostly keeps to the traditional ways. She dresses as she always has in a wool skirt, embroidered blouse, coral and gold jewelry. She also always sports the multi-purpose shawl. The shawl keeps her warm or shades her head or serves as a carry-all. Sometimes she wears a hoodie. Now, she has a pair of readers. Luz Maria is in her late sixties and probably hasn’t read a label in 20 years. She needed help threading needles. All fine work required a younger set of eyes. Now she can see a little better. We brought a pack of readers for the family. Both mamas, and Luis Fabian and Elsi now have reading glasses to help read bills, labels, and homework assignments.
While we were visiting in Peguche we took a walk to Luz Maria’s home. Luz Maria and I connected over our shared love of animals. She credits my good wishes to her laboring cow with the safe delivery of the heifer’s first calf last fall. I was honored when the calf was named Susan. My only namesake and she’s gonna spend her life making babies and milk until she’s slaughtered. That’s a thought to shake the doldrums.
Luz Maria toured us around her fields and her old home. The cows were tied out and grazing in separate locations. Our journey took us through fields of corn and beans and across muddy roads and deep puddles. At an elevation of nearly 10,000′ I could hardly keep up with Luz Maria for the length of our hour long walk. One stretch of the journey found us balance beaming along a three foot high concrete wall. That woman can move in a pair of rubber boots. Our chore was done when we walked the cow and calf back to the security of the house yard for the night.
Luz Maria grew up in a dirt floored stick hut. She speaks kichwa. Her Spanish is about as good as my Spanish. She glows with light. I’m going to try and remember her and her smile and her cows.
After the Galapagos excursion we spent some time on the Ecuador mainland. Before visiting our long time friends in Peguche we spent a couple days at an Ecolodge in the Amazon basin. This was a friend of a friend kind of thing where we visited a place hoping to check it out as an option for other people. It worked out okay but staffing was weird and people seemed distracted and we didn’t get consistent service so rather than provide a review I will leave out the details of where we went. It was a kind of place where when the boss was around everything was okay but when the boss was gone we were treated like intruders. Here, for once, I am applying the adage of it’s better to say nothing if you don’t have good to say.
At the jungle local we did stumble across a handful of exotic birds. There was a sunbittern. Check out this link for an eyeful of this spectacular and hard to find bird. The sunbittern’s open wings resemble two giant red eyes. This defensive tactic seems to prove dragons once roamed the earth. I can’t think of any currently alive animal with eyes so big or so red. Then I saw the flying penis of the south: Cock of the rock. It might seem hard to miss a parrot sized, flame-orange, flying penis, but these birds can also be hard to see. They are shy and keep to dense foliage. In fact, Burt missed the one that flew over my head. It was a lucky and brief but easily made identification for me. Kudos to whoever named this bird.
There was also a shimmer or bouquet of hummingbirds. Ecuador is home to over 100 species of hummingbirds. So many hummingbirds live in the South America that they aren’t even called hummingbirds. They have names like train-bearer, sylph, woodstar, thornbill and sun angel. These names, while lovely, made it hard to identify the birds using the guide book. I had no idea if I what I was trying to find. Here’s one to check out: the booted racket tail. That’s a little bird with a lot of gadgets. We saw this raquet-dragging wee thingy flying around in its Uggs. It sure was cute.
After the ecolodge we drove up and over the Andean divide and north to Peguche. On our way we tried to spot some Andean condors but had no luck. The back road through the national park required permission to use and we didn’t have permission. This was a spur of the moment idea. Sometimes you win sometimes you lose. This day we lost. If you plan on visiting the national parks of Ecuador check them out on line first. Some of them require permits to enter. Others are open and free.
The Lema family was right where we left them in November but this time we were arriving at the end of a week of festival. School was out and there was time for everyone to play together. Burt and I rented a car just so we could carry everyone around and that’s what we did. After a long stint as a successful business man selling Ecuadorna crafts in the US and Europe Fabian’s economic trends are in a down turn. He was evicted from the US a while ago for selling sweaters and playing music when his visa only allowed him to play music. He and other members of his family were regulars at the Helena Christmas fair in the Capitol Hill Mall for many years. Because of this loss of his way of life Fabian’s family only has a pickup truck. Since 6 people cannot get around safely in a small pickup we brought a car to the party.
With our car we were able to drive an hour and a half away to a hot spring with everyone. We spent a morning soaking and swimming because it was Shadé’s birthday and that’s what she wanted to do. We also drove over to the raptor center and watched the free fling raptor show and we spent a morning driving north to a pretty lake for a lakeside tilapia lunch.
On another day we spent some time with Elsi at the Poncho Plaza watching her work her sales magic on the locals. She sold three parkas while we watched. It was an arduous process of back and forth but every person that expressed an interest left with a coat. The negotiations were all done in the local kichwa language, except the pricing. The prices were back and forth in Spanish. Nobody would tell me why but they laughed when I noticed.
Trip report from the singing and swinging group on the Letty. Susan and Burt, Susan and Bill, Amy and Edwin, Sue and Clay, Brian, and Fiona, and Robert. From this point on: Susan is Susan Mittelstadt. Susana is Susan Roth, Sue is Sue. There’s a full list of birds seen at the end.
2/4/18: The very first moments of our very first day looked like we might have a long week ahead of us. It all begin well enough with a fish dinner followed by Amy’s birthday cake at Puembo Birding Gardens. Then things went bad. Susan woke up with an intense version of tourista at 2 AM. With only 5 hours to go before the bus to the airport arrived some tough calls needed to be made. Pondering the hospital or disturbing a guest, Susan and Burt chose the guest. Edwin has been Susan’s intermittent primary care provider of 35 years and the two share a long tradition of medical care in remote locales. Susan swallowed her pride and gratefully accepted a shot of anti-nausea drug. She also despaired over the idea of dragging some noro-virus like disease onto airplanes and a ship with a group ready to enjoy the Galapagos Islands. Edwin assured her that if she kept her hands clean she would not infect the group. So she made up her mind to get herself to the Galapagos and recover en route. At seven she was able to leave the room and found the group rallied and taking over leadership roles. Burt was managing Susan. Susana was gathering people, luggage and keeping track of time. The bus was late. Twenty minutes after the scheduled pick up time the bus was spotted passing by a block away. Our hostess was excitedly trying to direct the driver by phone but it was not working. Ultimately Bill saved the day and ran down the bus on foot. Run, Bill, run! We arrived at the airport with only a little time to spare but EcoVenturas was ready and swept us though all the preliminaries with alacrity. Susan was wheeled about in a wheelchair. Sue and Clay joined us at the airport. We all made the flight. Way to go team. Roberto joined the group at the stopover in Guayaquil.
We arrived in San Cristobal on schedule and were ferried to the boat. The Naturalist Journey’s group met 6 new friends and we seamlessly merged into one group of friendly and excited participants. Susan passed out the species checklists and shared the extras with the other couples. We had our boarding briefing and then enjoyed the first of a continuous string of fine meals. After lunch there was a practice emergency drill. Susan slept through it but reports were it went well. We are all pleased there was no need to find out who or who not might have been paying attention.
The afternoon was the first snorkeling of the trip. Burt helped the newbies figure out the mask and snorkel and generally relax in the water. Fiona saw her first sea turtle. Highlights of the outing were the Pacific Green Sea Turtle, the blue-footed Booby, sea lions, great and magnificent frigate birds. That night an exhausted group headed to bed early. No music was played.
2/5/18: By the first morning aboard we were all under the Galapagos’ magic spell and the bad omens of the day before were forgotten. We started with a wet landing at Cerro Brujo and a beach walk. Our Ecoventura guides Cecibel and Giancarlo set us free to explore a lovely stretch of soft sandy shoreline. We walked in sight of Leon Dormido (or Kicker Rock). There we saw our first marine iguanas and lava lizards. The San Cristobal mockingbird, a warbler finch, and the velvety gray lava gull were also spotted. Elliot’s storm petrels danced on the water behind the Letty, too.
The late morning was spent snorkeling nearby. Words fail, mainly because I have no idea what we saw. The snorkeling never failed to impress.
After lunch we did a hike at Punta Pitt. Begging blue-footed booby babies. Dancing blue-footed boobies. Egg sitting blue-footed boobies. Blue-footed boobies are looking good at Punta Pitt. A marine iguana took a run at Susan and she leapt and screamed to the delight of everyone in her group. Susan swears she was not scared only startled by the love stuck reptile.
Highlights of the day: All three species of boobies (red-footed, blue-footed, and Nazca) were seen. We also enjoyed close up swoops of the nocturnal swallowtail gull and the red-billed tropic bird. Fiona is bitten by the bird listing craze and it is revealed that her SO is an eBird administrator. Fiona spots a pair of American Oystercatchers.
2/6/18: Day three found us walking at Punta Suarez on Espaniola and sea kayaking, snorkeling, and hiking along Gardener Bay. It was a jam packed day. On our hike we saw our only waved albatross. It was dead but nobody seemed to mind. Giancarlo explained that the largely unfilled niche of carrion eaters in the Islands was why skeletons and mummified remains were so plentiful. On the live side we saw more Nazca boobies, a snake, and sea lions and marine iguanas. The marine iguanas are especially colorful and active this time of year. Our boating expedition was a delight. Calm seas, clear water, balmy temperatures. What else could you ask for? Susan and Fiona went out together while Burt boated with Brian. Roberto did the SUP and all the other couples were paired with their mates. Nobody was thrown overboard.
During the snorkel we saw a massive ball of creole fish. A shimmering blue delight.
That night Susan ate her first solid food and the instruments and singers came together and got the trip groove going. Brian, Burt, Susan, Fiona, and Roberto got down. The Capitan danced with Sue to Love Potion #9 while Claudia drove the ship. Edwin wins the award for knowing all the words to all the songs.
The day’s highlights: Galapagos mockingbird, Espaniola warbler finch, wandering tattler, a yellow-crowned night heron, creole fish, marine iguanas.
2/7/18: On our fourth day we were getting the hang of this expedition. Our ship was anchored just off Floreana. Cecibel had us getting up early to avoid the heat. The early wake up call had the added benefit of avoiding other groups. We’ve hardly crossed paths with other visitors on any day. Despite our good natured grumbles about the 6 AM alarms we are happy. That Cecibel is a smart one. On this day we visited Post Office bay and learned the history of the area. Following a centuries old tradition we took the time to sort through the mail and find some post cards to hand deliver. We left our own cards behind with the hope someone would bring them to us someday.
Before the visit to the post office, we took a walk to the turtle beach and saw fresh tracks of a Pacific green sea turtle. She was swimming away from her nest as we arrived. On our return walk we stopped and watched American flamingos in the pond just behind the dunes. Joining the flamingoes were a whimbrel, a sanderling, some lava herons, white-cheeked pintails, and a black-necked stilt. The day’s bird list was very long and varied.
That afternoon there was more snorkeling and in the evening lots of fun music with Fiona singing Crazy and Danny Boy. The requests started pouring in and the whole group was singing along now. Brian wowed us with some Sligo solos and joined in on the pop tunes, too.
2/8/18: On this day we left the wilderness behind and visited the inhabited island of Santa Cruz. First up was a stop at Los Gemelos, the twin giant sink holes in the lava on the side of the highway. At this volcanic formation half our group saw the elusive woodpecker finch. The rest of us enjoyed hearing about seeing the woodpecker finch. Afterwards we bussed up to El Chayote Farm to see the giant Galapagos tortoises. The seasonal rains were late this year and so the vegetation wasn’t very deep or thick. While a dry wet season isn’t good news for all creatures it makes for prime tortoise viewing. We saw many fine creatures and they were in the mood for love. Tortoise humping is not as sexy as it sounds nor is it a high action event but it is very fun to see. We saw many Galapagos finches here and started checking off some of Darwin’s famous species. We walked through a beautiful and long lava tunnel. There were common gallinules, smooth billed-anis, a whimbrel and some cattle egrets in the ranch surroundings.
That afternoon we took a tour of the Darwin Center. Giancarlo and Cecibel explained the captive breeding program and the accidental finds of George in the wild and Diego in a zoo. We saw Diego, father of hundreds, in his compound with several lovely ladies. We also saw the remains of George, father of none, hermetically sealed in a glass case. George was the last of his kind so it’s appropriate he has a place where we can forever contemplate the loss of a species.
Afterwards we had free time in town. There was shopping to do and Ecuavoli to watch. That Ecuavoli is a high stakes game. Three on three for several hundred dollars a match. The Carnival parade with a band and the local beauty queens came by just as we headed back to the Letty for the evening.
2/9/18: On this day we visited one of the most spectacular scenes in the world, Bartolome. We took a boardwalk across a lava landscape to a view of Pinnacle rock. It was a stout hike but we all made it without distress. Again we were grateful to Cecibel for an early start. We had the island to ourselves and the dark lava was already heating up at 7:30. Our guides explained the geology of the area while we walked. Tuff was discussed at length. We saw some lovely lava cactus starting the process of vegetating the islet. At the viewing deck you can see the isle nipped in with bays on opposing shores and Pinnacle rock in the center of it all. Afterwards some of us snorkeled. Again, the snorkeling was worth the effort of donning all that gear. White tipped sharks lurked in shallow crevasse just below us. The lava landscape continued into the seascape. On our way back from the swim we passed the base of Pinnacle rock and spotted a Galapagos penguin. Fiona, on board, was watching the pangas and took note of our stop and saw the penguin from the Letty with her binoculars. Impressive skills of observation.
That afternoon we took a panga ride into the Black Turtle Mangroves on Isla Santa Cruz. Right away we happened upon a multi-species feeding frenzy. Sardines were running and everything else was chasing them. Frigates slid down in lazy arcs to just dip the tip of their bills in and flick out a fish. Pelicans and blue-footed boobies plunged deep from up high. Herons lined the shore and stabbed at passersby. Meanwhile bigger fish swam behind the schools and created vortexes of disturbed water.
We traveled deeper into the mangroves and found a hawksbill sea turtle and both white and black tipped sharks. Then we found one of the most delightful creatures to see from a boat, juvenile hammerhead sharks. We had stumbled into the recently discovered hammerhead shark nursery. There were clumps of five or more in several locations. Our guide, Giancarlo, had never seen so many baby hammerheads in one location. Hammerheads at this size look like a fun pet. This is such a recent discovery that it only made the news the week we returned.
More music and more singers let lose in public that night. Roberto slayed Dylan’s Another Cup of Coffee. Brian showed he’s got the chops to improvise on anything we throw at him.
2/10/18: The penultimate day. The previous day was one boggling scene or creature after another. On our last full day in the islands we had the time to look around and think about all the beauty we had taken in. First we took a long walk at South Plaza. We saw a hybrid of a land/sea iguana at the entry to the island. This streak faced animal is neither one nor the other. It isn’t even known if it can propagate. We also observed courtship between swallowtail gulls, a nursing sea lion and pup, some wrestling lava lizards, and some interspecies interactions between land and sea iguanas. I guess they have to interact if they occasionally produce hybrids.
We watched the shearwaters and swallowtail gulls soaring off the cliffs. A hatchling in a cliff side nest below us was fed by a parent. Half the group watched sharks eat a seal. It was reported to be a gory slow death.
That afternoon we snorkeled and hiked at North Seymour. Our hike was full of frigates in all stages of reproduction from courtship to eggs to hatchlings to juveniles. There were shrub climbing land lizards, too. There were also many blue-footed boobies. We saw two male boobies vying for the attention of a lone female. All that foot wagging and sky pointing and she seemed unimpressed. We enjoyed the show.
Our last night of tunes was full of group singing. The crew joined us for some well known numbers in both English and Spanish. Cielito Lindo, Besame Mucho, Quizas…
2/11/18: We spent our morning hanging in internet cafes and passing the time before our flight back to reality. Here’s the complete bird list.