Heaven or Hell?

Sewage treatment lagoon.
Sewage treatment lagoon.

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.

White-faced Ibis
White-faced Ibis, stilts, and a coot.
Black-necked stilts
Black-necked stilts
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A little insecurity

SaraGay is learning Pinochle.
SaraGay is learning Pinochle.

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.

 

A late night with some kids.
A late night with some kids. Anahomy, Guillermo, Zania, Mia, Daniela, Maria Jose.
Gray Thrasher, an endemic bird of Baja California Sur.
Gray Thrasher, an endemic bird of Baja California Sur.
Class time
Class time. The kids think I need to work on my lettuce drawing.
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Gratitude

Natures beauty
Natures beauty. Grosbeak checking out the flicker twins.

I am grateful. I really am but at 5:30 AM when I read the prompt I thought “Ugh.” Ugh especially for the what are you grateful for about yourself. On the inside. The idea was to draw and write in our journals about our gratitude. It’s good for you they say. I wish I was grateful for waking up at 5:30. I wish I was grateful to wake up at all. Why do I hate waking up to a life I love? What is that about? I hate waking up. The night demons come in after dark I guess.

An hour and a half later I am still in bed. I drew a disintegrating picture of Elvis that I happened to enjoy while still under the covers. Sharpening my pencils in bed is messy. But what’s a few pencil shavings when you have nightly ants? Mimi stepped on my face a few times. I drew and put that gratitude on a side burner.

Burt is cooking breakfast while I write this. Yesterday I translated at art class and worked as Germani’s personal art facilitator. Germani and VIkki and I walked to class together. Gemrani wanted me to hold her hand on the walk and to help her accomplish her artistic goals. We have an unspoken arrangement. I draw in the major lines and she does the painting. I help with color mixing and general studio management. Germani is five. Her age, genius, or both require a free form approach to paint, water, palettes, paper. Things fly, spill, roll away. Some might say it’s a lack of fine motor skills. I think it’s boundless energy. She benefits from a full time assistant.

It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement. I get lots of drawing practice. She paints. I have little interest in painting. My rusting drawing skills get worked hard. I have to be quick, decisive, and effective. My drawings need to look like the subject but have space for my master’s style of massive and heavy handed paint. I have made some pencil line masterpieces in this practice. Every one has been subsumed into monochromatic paint exercises. My study of La vaca Lola (a ceramic cow) will never be seen again. It’s great ego workout. Or an exercise in non-attachment. I am very grateful for the opportunity to draw for Germani.

Here’s some other things:

Burt, Olive, Elvis, Mimi

Cheese. Chocolate. Birds. Dad. SaraGay. Bridge. Bridge ladies.

me.

Still purring.
Still purring.
Little air under my wings.
A little air under my wings. Germani drew the pear shape. I filled in the stem. She’s adding the shade. She drew her pear sideways but upright. She likes to work from the side.
My rock or my lifeboat depending on my mood.
My rock or my lifeboat depending on my mood.
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Ecuadoran Friends

Shadé and me
Shadé and me

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.

Abuelita, mama de Elsi.
Abuelita, mama de Elsi.
Fabian and his first look at a bird through binocluars.
Fabian and his first look at a bird through binocluars.
Don Luis makes stairs in the jungle.
Don Luis makes stairs in the jungle.
Waterfall crew
Waterfall crew
Waterfall wefie.
Waterfall wefie.
Waterfall bath
Waterfall bath
Fishing for farmed trout.
Fishing for farmed trout.
3 two pounders.
3 two pounders. I caught them all.
Don Luis makes stairs in the jungle.
Don Luis makes stairs in the jungle.
Merchants at Otavalo market. Elsi (left) and aunts and uncle.
Merchants at Otavalo market. Elsi (left) and aunts and uncle.
Aunt sizing my wrist for jewels.
Aunt sizing my wrist for jewels.
Elsi installing my new Otavaleño style bracelet.
Elsi installing my new Otavaleño style bracelet.

Quetzi, Elsi, and me.

Xmas tree.
Xmas tree.
Burt and Quetzi.
Burt and Quetzi.
Elsi shopping for work materials.
Elsi shopping for work materials.
Elsi and Fabian
Elsi and Fabian
Fabian hair.
Fabian hair.
Lema family products.
Lema family products.
More porducts
More porducts
Quatzi plays my mando
Quatzi plays my mando
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Genovesa

Genovesa Island, Galapagos, Ecuador. Map by Ed Madej
Genovesa Island, Galapagos, Ecuador. Map by Ed Madej
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Swallowtail gull nesting on the Prince Phillip Steps.

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.

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Chilly morning start at the northern most island of Genovesa.
Day 1 Galapagos enthusiasm. Trying to stay 6' back but the animals approach.
Day 1 Galapagos enthusiasm. Trying to stay 6′ back but the animals approach.
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Galapagos Mockingbird takes on a giant centipede.
Galapagos centipede 12". Killed by Galapagos Mockingbird.
Galapagos centipede 12″. Killed by Galapagos Mockingbird.
Booby Chick
Booby Chick
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Another booby chick.
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Red-footed Booby, Genovesa Island
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Descending the Prince Phillip Steps, Genovesa Island.
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Swallowtail Gulls nesting on foot path. That’s my foot edge on the right. Bright red eye trim.
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Exit of the crater. The open Pacific is beyond the gap.

Sea kayaking along the wall of the crater.

Panoramic of the crater.
Panoramic of the crater from our ship. Wetsuits hanging on the starboard side. Sea kayak hanging on the port side.

 

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No Internet where we are parked.

Colin and his splinter
Colin and his splinter

We’ve built a bridge and done the laundry and had a few showers. Today I plan to catch up as best I can and play tennis. Here are a few of the very few photos I took this year.

We had a dance class this year.
We had a dance class this year. Locals came.
Congestion.
Congestion. Many people headed home after their last class and before the photo. Next year I’ll do it on the day before camp ends.
Portal prayer flags.
Portal prayer flags.
Workshop
Workshop
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New Endeavor

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.

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In Helena, MT

The studio
The studio

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.

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Back in the USA

The Olvis missed us.
The Olvis missed us.

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.

Elevator shaft and stairs
Elevator shaft and stairs. These are the stairs I fell down in Rome.

 

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