As stupendous as the Galapagos was it paled in comparison to our reunion with our Ecuadoran family. Burt has known the Lemas for twenty years and I have known them for twelve. They have visited us in Montana and we have stayed with them in Ecuador. It has been ten years since we’ve seen each other. Tighter U.S. visa restrictions shut down the Lema family music and festival touring business. They’ve spent the last ten years redeveloping from Ecuador. Burt and I were thrilled to finally see them again.
We spent four days touring the area near their home and we took a side trip over to a jungle with friends. I caught three trout from a trout farm pond. The men were skunked. I accompanied Elsi on her work. We taught Fabian to use binoculars. And we FINALLY played music together again. This time we played with FAbian’s 15 year old daughter Quetzali on the fiddle. Ten years ago this was only a dream and now she’s standing up playing tunes on her own. We played American fiddle tune, Andina folk, and Christmas carols.
Christmas starts early in Ecuador but the Lema’s delayed putting up their tree so we could help. They say it was an honor. I suspect it was so they could take advantage of our long legs. Ten years ago Quetzi crowned our tree at our house. This year I crowned their tree in their house. No joke. It was an honor they waited for us.
The gathering is always fun. This family takes us in as their own and treated us like long lost children. We were fed and bejeweled and begged to return. More on them later.
The mama of Elsi had a gravid cow while we were there. She was very worried about this first time mother. Our last day visiting I visited the cow. Two hours later she delivered a female calf. As the supposed last person she saw I was deemed to have brought good luck. That was jueves (Thursday). All jueves cows are named Julieta or Julio. Welcome Julieta Susana to be called Susi.
Our fifteen hour cruise through rough waters took us to Genovesa Island. Genovesa Island is shaped like partially eclipsed sun. The island is the tip of a defunct volcano barely peaking above sea level with a water filled crater. The Letty and four other ships were at anchor when we awoke. Access to sites in the Galapagos National Park are strictly regulated. Each ship was assigned this destination over a year ago. Throughout the day the 100 or so people scattered throughout the vessels would take their turns visiting the island and its surrounding waters. Our agenda included two walks, a snorkel, and a sea kayak. First up was a dry boat landing at the Prince Phillip steps for a morning walk.
The names of the archipelago features were originally in English when the first map of the area was made by the buccaneer Ambrose Crowley. In 1684 Crowley honored his fellow pirates and British royalty or noblemen. These names were in use at the time of Charles Darwin’s renowned voyage on the HMS Beagle and so became authoritative as the Beagle produced navigational charts of their expedition. Eventually Ecuador took possession of the islands and chose to rename most prominent locales in honor of the 1492 expedition of Christopher Columbus. Genovesa Island is in honor of Genoa, Columbus’s home town. Prince Philip steps are in honor of Isabela’s husband, the Columbus expedition’s patron.
Prince Philip has a mighty memorable feature names after him. The walls of the crater are very steep lava. There’s hardly a break and one small beach. We’d be making a wet landing at the beach that afternoon but this morning our panga driver pushed the nose of the our shuttle up against the cliff and one by one we disembarked onto a narrow break in the cliff. Steep, irregular steps led up to the bird filled island body. Our line of eager visitors was immediately held up by a nesting swallowtail gull. There was no way to pass without violating the 6 foot rule. Welcome to the Galapagos. The wildlife has no fear. Our guide pushed ahead and lead us past. The gull did not flinch. A thousand people must pass every week.
Up on top we had our first in depth interpretive tour. The highlight was a Galapagos Mockingbird killing a giant centipede. Our group stopped and watched the mockingbird whip the centipede over and over again on the rocks. Satisfied the centipede was no longer a threat the bird ate the centipede’s brain and only its brain and flew away. The centipede’s legs were still moving. Our guides and Howard had never seen this behavior and has never seen a centipede of this size in the islands. Day one and we were already making history.
Next up was a heap of red-footed boobies in all stages of the reproductive cycle. We saw nesting, hatchlings, juveniles all at the same time. Our guide said it was unusual for the red-footed booby to have a mishmash of breeding at one time. The guide speculated climate change was triggering profound changes in currents and food and bird habits.
The swallowtail gulls were all around, too. These birds are the only nocturnal gulls in the world. Their eyes are rimmed in bright red trim that resembles plastic. Nobody knows for sure what the eye makeup does. At night we could see their ghostly shapes following our ship and diving for churned up squid or jellyfish.
After the walk we returned to the ship for lunch. Our afternoon was filled with another walk at Darwin Beach and a kayak and snorkel. More glorious wildlife above and below the seas and too much food. Food was always plentiful and delicious. There’s no snacking on the islands which initially caused me concern. I like to eat on a walk. The return from excursions was always met with fruit, snacks, and juice so I had no need to worry. My friend Pat told me it would be okay and she was right.
That afternoon we headed out to sea for another big overnight crossing.
Back in 1989 I was a senior studying civil engineering. That was nearly thirty years ago. Back then Georgia Tech did not differentiate between environmental and civil engineering. These days of aging infrastructure meeting climate change makes me think there was a reason to keep the two disciplines wedded.
So there I was surrounded by people (men mostly) eager to build. I wanted to protect the environment. I struggled through structures and design and transportation and concrete and steel classes. Finally as a senior I was free to take classes about water and waste and remediation. The most memorable class I took was an over arching class about society and the environment. Our professor said (1989) the time is now to reverse course on our emissions of greenhouse gasses. He despaired that the political will would never be there. He was right. Many think it is too late for mitigation. Our only hope is adaptation.
I left EPA after twenty years of trying to do the right thing. I saw politics beat science on all issues over and over again. Lead, fracking, asbestos, global warming. I became disheartened. Jaded. I was keenly aware of the role industry plays in twisting data and writing our rules. I had to leave.
So today I’ve surprised myself. I’m taking a course on how to communicate about climate change and what we can do. I’ve decided my knowledge in building and materials and roads and bridges might come in handy as we try to decide how to survive.
Please join me in thinking about what we can do. Our survival depends on it. Food shortages, water wars, mass migrations. It’s about to get a lot hotter and I’m not talking about the weather.
Fact for today: Eunice Foote first hypothesized about CO2’s effect on our atmosphere in the 1850s. She was correct.
I saw my doctor today. Blood was drawn for the hemochromatosis check and we scheduled a barium upper GI lookey loo for Friday. Meanwhile I am to continue taking prilosec. No news to report. I did re-throw out my back again this morning playing tennis. What a nuisance.
Mimi, after a few days of hand feeding chicken and canned cat food in bed, has rallied again. She even got a little feisty this morning. We had a tummy rub wrestling match. As usual, Mimi was victorious.
Our agenda for the remainder of the building season is quite diverse both geographically and project type. After the family, friend, medical visits here we will head back to Alpine, OR for the eclipse and some more decking. Then to Templeton, CA for a house remodel. Eventually we head to Portal, Mexico, and the Galapagos. Time is flying.
We’ve been back stateside for almost a month and I am finally done recounting our journey. The trip home was arduous. It began with a header off a flight of stairs by me. I was carrying Burt’s guitar and bidding farewell to Matt and I missed a step. I went head first and threw Burt’s guitar. I landed on my right knee and mangled two fingers. It was very dramatic. Adrenaline carried me through the airport. The next day everything hurt but I thought I had escaped serious injury. The finger swelling was gone in a week but now I am not so sure if I didn’t hurt myself. I have lingering hip pain but it seems to be getting better. I am not certain if it’s a serious injury or not. Time will tell.
Our first job back was building some camping platforms in Oregon. The few hours of kneeling really irritated my hip. That job is done and now I am leading a life of writerly sloth. Burt is transforming a garage into a painter’s studio. I take daily walks with the dogs. The easy walking and no kneeling might be allowing my hip to heal. We are parked in Baja friends’ driveway in Seattle.
It’s almost time to do taxes. I have no excuse now that the travel blog is done.
One day while we were walking I tried to buy some local sweets. A shop employee asked me what I was looking for and I asked for the local specialty. I used Spanish without thought. The next thing I knew I was chatting with an Italian. I was thrilled and told her I had no idea Italian would be easy to understand. Then she told me were speaking Spanish. Uh. Duh.
We left Amalfi via the scenic shore side road. This two lane highway snaked around the cliffs of Amalfi and was packed with drivers. My bother did a great job of staying calm and being assertive enough to get the job done. The scenery is fun but I passed the time watching the faces of the oncoming drivers. A lot is revealed behind the wheel in a high stress situation. I wondered about the professional drivers here. They would need a rare combination of bravado and calm to do the job every day, all day. This LINK shows a spectacular but not common event. One guide book said the road is super safe because every one is so scared they pay better attention. I couldn’t find data on the actual number of crashes. In general Italy is known for its horrible drivers and dangerous roads so maybe Amalfi doesn’t stand out.
So now we are back in Rome. It wasn’t planned but that’s where we wound up. There’s lots more to see so let’s go.
The day after my pleasant birthday hike was blocked out for a family adventure. Parental prerogative was invoked and all humans of all ages were forced to leave their beds and be in the car at 8 AM for an excursion to Vesuvius and Pompeii. This is no small feat for any group. Throw in teenagers with zero interest and a patriarch that had already been to said sights and there is substantial inertia to overcome. Somehow the objective of reaching the vehicle at the designated hour was achieved. There must have been a talking to somewhere.
Spain, Italy, Mexico. In my experience all are lacking effective signage. Are Americans abnormal in our use of large, readable signs? Or have I picked places to visit where traveling under a cloud of anxiety is part of the romance? Everybody reading this blog has heard of Vesuvius and Pompeii. Italy wants you to visit Vesuvius and Pompeii. You’d think they’d make them easier to find and make sure Google Maps has them in the right place. An inter-generational family of 8 with 6 so-called smart phones had 3 1/2 different ideas on how to arrive at Pompeii. I finally asserted my version after reading two travel blogs and a wikipedia post on the fly while monitoring our progress on the GPS. From the backseat. Unsurprisingly we had to turn around once and retrace our steps when we found ourselves in a back alley.
Somewhere in here car sickness was taking hold. Most of the Zazzalis are susceptible to the merest shaking of their equilibrium. Are you surprised? Here we were crammed in a long narrow van hip to elbow, heads swaying, staring at tiny glowing maps of bad information traveling a mountain road. The shouted instructions and debate were accompanied by low end moaning from several locations. We arrived intact and gurgling to more mental troubles. Our hosts had a team of people to keep us from proceeding to where the maps indicated parking could be found. We were waved off but uniformed of where to go. No sense having an explanatory sign. More wandering. Another turn around. Finally a passenger leaning over the wall in agony.
Eventually we figured out the system to get to the Vesuvius crater. I write it here in case some other lost traveler is quickly googling “Where is Vesuvius parking lot” while brother, father, nephew, niece, sister in law, other brother, husband all offer opinions or lip or, in case of husband, gentle support.
Get to the mountain road that leads to the Vesuvius National Park. Google will get you there. Follow the road. When the team of arm wavers stops you and directs you down a side road grab the closest spot you can find. Walk back to the arm wavers and give them 2 Euros each to catch a shuttle up to the next obstacle. Wait for shuttle. Try not to leave half your group. We did thinking we were being efficient. We didn’t see them for two hours. Ride the shuttle and get dumped off at a building with no bathrooms and no explanatory signs. There is a sign but it doesn’t tell you how to get there.
Deep breathe. I pee behind the building. Half of Europe has peed behind this building. Wait for the rest of the family. Someone in our media-grupa figures out we buy entry tickets at this building. There are no signs and the ticket box was down a long hallway and around a bend. No signs. I’m not saying no signs in English. I’m saying no signs. Well. There were signs. They just didn’t explain how to get anywhere.
We watch two more shuttle busses come up up from the parking area. No family. In the meantime enormous tour buses are driving past us and going up, up, up. We try to get on one. We are on a different system of touring Vesuvius. A man in a chauffeured Jaguar goes by. Eventually we realize we have bought the cheap shuttle and nobody is coming to get us. It is time to walk. We abandon the remaining family because we figure they are sitting with the car sick human. After 15 minutes of uphill walking on a road with enormous tour buses passing by we reach the gated entry to the park. Good thing we managed to buy our entry tickets down below. If we hadn’t figured out that nonsense we’d be adding another 2 km of walking to our expedition. Or someone would have while I waited for them to go and get me a ticket because you cannot buy a ticket at the actual entry to the park.
So now, finally, we are obviously and happily walking up Vesuvius. It is a volcano. It an active volcano. Vesuvius is the volcano that buried Pompeii. I know all this prior to arrival. There are no interpretive signs. I learned nothing about Vesuvius or its geologic or human history at Vesuvius. Still it was a thrill. I have never climbed an active volcano. We found a steam vent and tried to pick out a view of Pompeii. We oohed and aahed over the views. We left dad halfway up resting at the souvenir shack with most of the rest of the crowds. They say most people don’t even reach the crater. It’s a half hour walk from the gate. Matt and Burt and I made it all the way to the top and found Jaguar man and his illegal drone. Boy do those things piss me off. Loud. In the view shed. Potentially injurious to me and certainly an invasion of my space. Just as Burt pulled me back from shoving the drone pilot into the crater (I thought this was the only honorable thing to do) the officials yelled at him to land his illegal aircraft. That’s when Burt and I actually joined in the social shaming. I yelled ANNOYING and Burt yelled ASSHOLE. Classic pile on. The rich man was accustomed to the dirty masses heaping scorn and did not even notice us. It was fun for us but not fulfilling. The guy deserved a ticket or at least the sacrifice of his footage. There were signs saying drones were prohibited.
Finally my brother and SIL arrived. We intersected near the top. They had walked the entire way because they thought we had. While dealing with logistics for their immediate family they did not see us get on the bus that took us halfway. Oh well. They’re fitter than us.
In conclusion. Vesuvius is a fun landmark but study up in advance if you want to know why or how to get there.
Out of sorts and with now specific agenda we walked to the Plaza Mayor. This massive central plaza in Madrid was just how I remembered it. As a kid I thought what? why? Big boring brick lined square. Pretty much thought the same this time. There were some lame cutouts of matadors and flamenco dancers to stand behind. There was a tinsel covered dancing dog. Two actually. There was a statue. I read and learned that a lot of government hearings and trials and such happened here in the past. Now it is bus tour central and tourist shops. Pretty boring.
We left. I found a chocolate and churro shop. This was a mood booster. Spanish churros are less sweet than Mexican churros. Fortified we walked to the Royal Palace and the adjacent cathedral. The Royal Palace is the official residence of the Spanish Royal family but they don’t live there. We skipped the tour and opted to explore the cathedral. A guy was playing accordion out front. Besame Mucho and Quizas are the most popular songs in Spain and Italy. We heard them everywhere. Next up the Almudena Cathedral.