Pat Owens, Rest in Peace my friend.

Here's a bird for Pat
Here’s a bird for Pat

My friend Pat would have said a prayer for us but now she’s dead and I am left wrestling with my complicated emotions. The last two weeks haven’t been too difficult, no worse than anybody’s share of life’s burdens and much lighter than many, but they were enervating. I knew the financial shock of our taxes would pass quickly and it did. Burt’s hernia required some effort to find a doctor but we did and the surgery was affordable and quickly done. But before he had his surgery I popped out a rib while rolling over in bed and he came down with the flu. I was blinded by the rib pain. I mean literally blind. I could not see. Burt was in bed with a fever and I was pacing the gNash like I’ve seen dying animals pace. I could find no rest. I thought I knew pain. I hope I never know pain like this again. That morning we headed to the ER and I got pain pills. The next day Amir (thank you, Amir) popped my rib back in. Then I got the flu. Then Burt had his surgery and somewhere in here Pat died. And now 8 days post surgery I can almost manage to think clearly enough to share my emotional pain.

For those of you that have been here these last 9 years you may remember Pat as our steadiest comment provider. Until Trump ran for president Pat and I were able to overcome all political and religious differences and meet on the vast common ground of our love of service to others, nature, dessert, and travel. Pat was funny and silly and not-worldly. She wrote letters to prison convicts and made me teeth cleaning appointments when I was in her area. She made lemon bars for Portal Irish Music Week (until Trump). She gathered clothes for my kids. She kept up and she sought out ways to help me and a lot of other people. She loved her lord and Jesus and she showed it in her service to others. She was suspicious of gays, deeply afraid of the border issues (she lived there so I’ll not dispute her), loved going to Mexico to shop at the Pink Store, and said some crazy things that I would alway stry to gently share a different perspective about. In our 7 years of near daily contact we never had a direct disagreement over politics. I knew she was conservative and, well, you know me. There was no reason to talk about things like that. She and I were people of action. Actions speak louder than words.

Pat loved the Gypsy Carpenters. She designated herself our roadie/groupie and made herself a t-shirt. She used to come to all our shows. We played a party at her house once. She needed cheap dental care and I took her to Mexico. It was a good relationship based on common good. Where the fuck did it all go wrong? I wish I knew. I feel like if I could figure this out we could solve the bigger problems.

My first inkling there was a problem was when Pat one day didn’t show up to comment and one day turned into ten days. I had recently written a rare political piece about how grateful I was that the ACA (Obamacare) worked for me. It shows you how regular she was. I noticed in a day that she wasn’t reading my work. I wrote and asked if she was okay. She said yes, but she hated Obama and couldn’t stand to read my blog. I gently told her she was my friend and I though we could still be friends despite not agreeing on politics. Just like always. She came back. For a little while.

Somewhere in here I learned from a friend (also now deceased) that Pat was a committed Trump supporter. I found it hard to believe but remember this was before the elections. I didn’t realize Trump’s sway with evangelicals yet. I decided to ignore the information. I also decided if I felt like saying something political on my blog I would. Pat stopped writing and I didn’t reach out again. Trump was elected and I was so angry I couldn’t bring myself to say anything to her again. Portal Irish Music Week came and went two more times. One time she slyly delivered lemon bars through a mutual friend. The last time there was nothing.

Occasionally our paths would cross, we shared some hikes, we had mutual friends, but he bond was broken. We’d been polarized by external circumstances and neither of us knew how to reach across. Here’s where I am not sure about what is right and what is wrong. What I do know is Pat withdrew from all aspects of the life I knew. Many friends said she changed or no longer participated in the community. Because our relationship was largely virtual I had no way of knowing this. I wonder why? Did she feel mocked, belittled, defensive?

Is it now impossible for me to be friends with people that support Trump? I still think yes, but I wonder if I owe those friends a check in? An I love you? An our past matters to me? Or, as I feel is the case here, I did reach out and she turned away from me so do I make my peace and move on?

I do know this. Pat Owens you were a good friend to me and I will never forget you. I could have used your prayers this week even though you know I don’t believe. I never resented them.

 

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It’s that time of year and it’s a whole new world

Hooded Oriole sipping the aloe nectar.
Hooded Oriole sipping the aloe nectar.

I’m talking taxes. The Gypsy Carpenters just went through their annual tax reporting. As we all knew, know, or will know, the so-called tax reform does not favor the small time business owner. Taxes were confusing before but we knew the system. Now nobody knows the rules, including, it seems, the TurboTax e-filing program. A person of average intelligence should be able to file their own taxes without emotional trauma or fear of misreporting. Filing was difficult before the reform. Today, post-reform, I have no idea what when why or how. It was ugly. We owe so much that retirement looks more profitable. You think I’m kidding? I am not. Looking at you, Mr. Trump. Our main hit was caused by changes to rental income. What once was a legal and reliable loss or net even for us is now income. Substantial income. Also troubling, the TurboTax program is double counting my 1099 income. I can’t get it to take it once with appropriate deductions. It’s either in twice with deductions or in once with no deductions. A person of standard intellect should be able to manage. Tears were not shed but they were there caught in my lashes wanting to break free. I will not cry over you and your assaults on the small business owner Mitch McConnell and friends.

What does any sane person do in this situation? I estimated our taxes due and filed extensions with the feds and the state and sent them a ton of money. And now I put my head in the sand until we return to the US and I can find advice. The way I currently read the tax situation it does not pay to be a part-time entrepreneur.

Meanwhile Burt has a hernia and our livelihood is at stake. A surgical repair is required for him to get back to work. No heavy lifting from now until six or more weeks post surgery. We’re trying to figure out how to schedule the operation and recovery so Burt can get to work as scheduled. At least our Baja house is at a place we can leave it until Burt and our bank accounts recover.

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English class contracts and expands

Digestive system
Digestive system

This kid’s group thing we’ve been doing is full of so many complications I never imagined.  There’s been the usual attendance and attention issues. There’s been petty jealousies and cliquishness. And most recently vandalism to our personal property. Minor vandalism but the kind of thing I just feel powerless to deal with constructively. The other day I discovered someone had drawn a black dot about an 1.5″ across on a painting on our property. The dot is in black marker. I suspect the same marker we use for the white board. I know exactly who was using that marker so I have a pretty solid idea who our culprit is and it is an 11 year old child that has been caught stealing and defacing property in another friend’s home. We’ve been trying to manage this child and help them learn a better way to behave in people’s homes. It’s all easy for me to say until it’s my home that is damaged.

Well I was pretty mad but I knew that would dissipate. Burt and I talked. We were both torn. Neither of us wanted to single out anyone. We remembered all of us did stuff like this and any one of the kids could have done it and might do it still. So we had this plan: We’ll just let the group know what happened and we’ll set a new limits. No unattended wandering on our property and no visits to our friends homes as our guests. The message would be simple. If we can’t trust you in our home then we can’t trust you away from home. That would mean no pools, no art galleries, no restaurants. Maybe peer-pressure would change behaviors. If sufficient time passed without further incident we’d  start venturing out again. We hoped it would be enough stick and carrot. So I had it all planned but I still felt heavy.

Yesterday was class day. I walked down to get the kids. My meeting them at their homes to escort them up to our place has dramatically helped attendance. Scary dogs and no watches made on-time arrival sketchy and it’s an easy fix. They only live two blocks away. My two youngest kids (7 and 8 years old) were ready for me. They announced that the 11 year olds had decided not to come. The rumor is class was boring and they didn’t want to do it anymore. Meanwhile an older girl (post high school) was escorting them for he second time. She was not bored. I told them great. We could have fun just us three. And I was relieved. My problem kids had self selected out. Since we’d made an agreement two weeks ago that regular attendance was a requirement for participation unless they had another activity (not merely boredom) I could cut those kids loose. We’d had a group meeting on goals and logistics and they’d agreed to the terms of participation. No pressure on them or me.  Of course, they can change their mind but I have a feeling guilty hearts are the cause of the boredom. The future is hazy…

So the three of us headed up hill and picked up another regular and discussed what we should do. That’s where I learned Edre is studying to be a paramedic. So we hatched a plan to study the human body in detail and in English. Hence the digestive tract below. Just as class got started several long lost students showed up and I was delighted to have them back. Vikki, their adult escort, has been swamped by work for months and she finally was free enough to bring her daughter and nephews. So instead of class being a hard talk it turned into a nice reunion of new and old students on a new subject. We drew the digestive tract, practiced first aid for bleeding, finding a pulse, and sang some songs. The future is still hazy but class was fun.

Working hard
Working hard
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Spay and Neuter Taxi

This kid signed up his three cats. They were all under a year old.
This kid signed up his three cats. They were all under a year old.

I had no idea my offer to shuttle people and pets to a free spay and neuter clinic would end up with me working to keep a cat breathing as its 9 year old owner looked on. That cat survived and the little boy had no idea it was a close call. I didn’t really know how tenuous it was either. I wound up on the ground next to Matt watching him stimulate the four cats he had in recovery and I saw that one stopped breathing regularly. He showed me how a vigorous rub would start them back breathing. So I lent a hand. Pretty soon it was obvious that only a few people had the nerves to deal with the cats. Me, Matt, and our 9 year old friend. Most people went and petted the dogs. They did not stop breathing.

It was simple enough. Rub the cats every 30 or so seconds and flip them every ten minutes. After an hour the kid’s black kitty was still struggling so I pointed it out to a vet tech. She took the cat and gave it a reversal drug and brought it back to us to keep rubbing.  After another hour of stimulation it woke up. Welcome back, Picachu. Meanwhile there were a few other bigger, sturdier cats we rubbed and flipped, too. All the while looking for aspiration or other signs of distress. It was wearying work. We sat on the ground in a sea of animals. Mexicans and foreigners, owners and friends, all keeping a careful watch over our loved animals. The vets and their technicians toiled on endlessly. Burt helped move dogs and tents and shuttled people and pats to and from.

Eventually a cat was brought to me that stopped breathing and I couldn’t get it started back up. I’d been rubbing and compressing the lungs for about twenty minutes as the cat started and stopped breathing. Then it just stopped and did not restart. So much time is unaccounted for as you rub and compress and you can’t see if it’s working. And then suddenly it does work and the vets are so busy, I didn’t want to call if it wasn’t a problem but then it was a problem. I could see this cat was not getting it going. I called for help. The tech came and took it away and brought it back after some reversal drug. I kept at it and after a couple of hours it was clear she would make it through. Then a cat was brought to us that was not breathing. Matt and the kid rubbed as I watched. Nothing. Matt tried the squeeze of a flat palm to the rib cage to create a vacuum in the lungs. Nothing. I called the vet tech, again. She quickly swooped in and took the cat back to the vets. Five minutes later she caught my eye and gave a quick shake of the head. That cat did not wake up. It’s heart (oh, my heart) had gone into arrhythmia and they couldn’t stop it. Our only comfort was that the cat was not breathing when it was brought to us. Somewhere between the table and our sheet on the ground it ran into trouble. We had been vigilant enough.

Ultimately, 135 and 14 cats were sterilized on a soccer field in Todos Santos yesterday. Many professionals and volunteers came together to take a small bite out of the world’s problems.  People wonder how to connect in this weird world. They comment on how much Burt and I do. I say we do so little and there is so much more. This meaningful day happened because I said, “Anyone need a ride?” and then I had my eyes open and saw where I was needed. I know cats. Cats know me. Offer a ride to your neighbor. You might save a life, you might fail, but you can always help. That 9 year old kid with the three cats got his pets home and came back later that afternoon to help the other cats. That is success that can’t be measured.

Thanks to Matt for trusting a total stranger with the lives of our precious cats. Thanks to the staff of P.E.T.S. and DogPrana for all the work they did. Burt and I were so happy to help. You can donate HERE.

The P.E.T.S. veterinarian team. These are Mexican vets and they do this all over.
The P.E.T.S. veterinarian team. These are Mexican vets and they do this all over.
This is the recovery area. The owners and volunteers kept a close watch on the animals. Small dogs and cats are tricky.
This is the recovery area. The owners and volunteers kept a close watch on the animals. Small dogs and cats are tricky.
Calico and marmalade.
Calico and marmalade. Rub and roll.
These chihuahuas have 3 more siblings. They and their mother were all sterilized.
These chihuahuas have 3 more siblings. They and their mother were all sterilized now.
This is the scariest situation. We had to give firm compressions to keep this cat and another breathing. Here the little boy is feeling its heart beat.
This is the scariest situation. We had to give firm compressions to keep this kitten breathing. Here the little boy is feeling its heart beat.
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The shell is almost done

Bathroom floor
Bathroom floor

The stucco is on, both interior and exterior. The floor is poured with expansion and contraction lines cut. The stairs to the roof are under construction. When they are finished the roof will be sealed and our albañiles will be done. Thursday, tomorrow, we’ll drive to La Paz and order the windows and buy some wood for our front door. Next up are the Gypsy Carpenters or, I should say, the Gypsy Carpenter. I’m semi-retired from that line of work. The elbows, wrists, and hands just can’t do that kind of labor for long. And this job is small. Burt won’t need much help. I’ll hold up some studs or cut a board if he needs me but mostly I’m just going to tell him what I want aesthetically. What do I want? Quién sabe? Hmmmm…There’s no rush. I’m leaning towards wabisabi industrial in lavender and gray with apple green accents.

Life is rebooting into our normal routines. The Todos Santos Bridge club added an open duplicate game on Friday afternoon. Burt and I are very happy. Playing once a week was no way to advance our understanding of the game and our partnership. It was too hard to remember anything in between Mondays. The kids are coming back around now that I walk down to their house and escort them past the very friendly dogs they think are dangerous. The migratory birds are leaving but we’re still birding.

I have two book recommendations for you. It’s rare I read a book with the damn phone addiction and music and bridge and birding and yoga but I’m trying to reinstill the habit. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes and When Breath Becomes Air. Both are about death and they are both great to read and completely different. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes made me want to be an undertaker (again). It’s funny and informative about the death industry. If you don’t feel like reading it let me advise you to avoid embalming at all costs. You don’t want to know. When Breath Becomes Air is the sad and inspiring memoir of a young neurosurgeon as he dies of lung cancer. The takeaway was find what you want to be and be it. And that can change. Adapt. Live. Love. Serve.

Yeraska
Yeraska. Maybe she’s thinking about my interior design.
The stairs to the roof will be here.
The stairs to the roof will be here.
Site
Site
Exterior/interior
Exterior/interior
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Where are we?

Yellow flower
Yellow flower and ant

Burt and I are back at our Mexican home base and all is well. The work on our house continued in our absence and we have nothing to complain about. The weather here is cool and moist. Actual rain fell two days ago and nighttime temperatures are in the 50s. Spring is upon us. La Primavera is typically damp and cool. Yay for spring.

There’s lots going on that I cannot discuss here. Pescadero politics, infrastructure, Bridge. Suffice it to say we are muddling through trying to help where we can. The kids have all but disappeared recently but have no fear we are rounding them up today for a big meeting to discuss our mission statement and goals. A lack of continuity (illness, travel, school) and kid level politics all contributed to the confusion. So today we’ll see what they want. The kids are in charge. We are going to regroup and move forward. Stay tuned.

My totem animal
My totem animal
Hermit crab
Hermit crab
These 3D signs have taken over Latin America and Mexico.
These 3D signs have taken over Latin America and Mexico.
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More details of the trip

Giant tortoise front foot.
Giant tortoise front foot.

There are crazy, rich people doing bad things all through history. It helps sometimes to remember now is no different than any other time. Right now might be closer to home for some of us but corruption and exploitation are a continuous part of human history. From the bible’s first stories (allegory, mind you) to current day news, from the current situation in the U.S. to the Galapagos Islands you can find people lining their own pockets at the expense of others everywhere.

At Egas Port on Santiago Island in the Galápagos there are the remains of a salt production facility.  Internet research reveals only a tamed down version of this story our guides told us. In the 1960s Hector Egas was granted a salt monopoly in Ecuador by his buddy the president. There was no shortage of cheap salt available in Ecuador and it made no sense to mine salt on an island over 600 miles from the mainland and ship it to consumers but the monopoly made that a money making situation. An additional economic plus came from Egas promising his workers land in exchange for work. Out in the islands with nothing to do after work, the workers even made block in their spare time. For free. Because that block was going to be used to build a hotel (where they might work) and their future homes. Meanwhile they mined salt and lived in rough circumstances and received very low pay. They bunked in a barracks. Oh, there was a soccer field. This lasted about two and a half years.

But surprise, surprise. New elections came and Egas’ buddy lost. Egas also lost his salt monopoly and the workers learned that Santiago Island was a national park and there was no land for them. They were out of work, out of luck and they had to go. Today everyone is gone. Only some pilings from the barracks, a commemorative sign and scattered remnants remain. Current day ship workers still use the soccer field, the salt lagoon is a safe home to breeding birds, including flamingos, and there are still blocks visible along the trail. Visitors are not allowed to visit the lagoon but can take a very scenic walk along rocky cliff and grottoes. Notable for our trip were the fur seals and a wee oystercatcher hatchling. Darwin himself spent several weeks on this island while the HMS Beagle sailed off to restock with water. Darwin was constantly afflicted with sea sickness so he leapt at the chance to stay on land for a few weeks.  There’s a feature of surging, roiling water seaside named Darwin’s toilet. No proof on whether or not Darwin found relief there.

Moral of the story: the regular people got screwed, the villain’s family is still prominent, and elections happen. And it’s hard to get to the truth of the history. Googling only came up with superficial stories. Nothing on the exploitation and heartbreak the workers must have felt after spending years working towards a dream of their own home.

Female laza lizard on concrete block.
Female laza lizard on concrete block made by salt mine workers. Puerto Egas on Santiago.
Whale spine
Whale spine with Darwin smiling.
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Trip Report

Galapagos February 2019 Naturalist Journeys, LLC trip with hosts Susan and Burt Mittelstadt. More photos daily as data limits allow.

Group at the Airport in Galápagos
Group at the Airport in Galápagos

Guests: Mariel, Roy, Jill, Maggie, Baird, Janis, Chuck, Mary, Peggy, Bobbie, Julia and Janet.

Before flying to the Galápagos our group of fourteen travelers took an excursion to Antisana National Park to see creatures of the high Andes. Rain was predicted for the afternoon so we got an early start despite some late night arrivals. Despite the predictions it was as clear a day as one could hope in the mountains. Manuel was our knowledgeable guide and Jonaton our expert driver. Our goal was the Andean Condor. At the first pullout it was clear we weren’t at sea level. Despite pounding hearts and fuzzy heads (the elevation all morning was near or over 13,000’) we were all thrilled with instant success. Andean condors were spotted by Maggie at rest on cliffs across the deep canyon. Manuel set up his spotting scope and showed us how to take great photos with our phones and the scope.

The day continued to amaze. Condors were spotted at a total of three locations with one very close flyby. Lunch was a delicious Andean feast. The rain started to come down just as we puled away to head for our hotel. Here’s what else we found that day:

Andean duck
Silvery grebe
Eared dove
White-collared swift
Sparkling violetear
Ecuadorian hillstar
Black-tailed train bearer
Tyrian metaltail
Shining Sunbeam
Giant hummingbird
Slate-colored coot
Andean lapwing
Andean gull
Black-faced ibis
Andean condor
Cinereous harrier
Variable hawk
Black-chested buzzard-eagle
Carunculated caracara
Tawny antpitta
Stout-billed cinclodes
Plain-capped ground-tyrant
Sedge wren (Paramo)
Great thrush
Paramo pipit
Rufous-collared sparrow
Black flowerpiercer
Plumbeous sierra-finch
Plain-colored seed eater.

White-tailed deer
feral dog
Andean rabbit
Alpaca
Feral horse

Andean condor on the Antisana NP sign
Andean condor on the Antisana NP sign
There's a condor in there.
There’s a condor in there. Two.

Galápagos

Day One: Arrival in San Cristobal

We were met at the airport by the brother and sister team of guides, Ivan (I-love) and Karina and four more passengers of our ship the Eric. These two very experienced guides got us to the Eric for lunch and a safety drill and then we were back in out pangas for a visit to the Galapaguera, a tortoise breeding facility on the Island of San Cristobal. At the port we found our first creatures of the Galápagos. There were sea lions, Sally Lightfoot crabs, blue-footed boobies and a green heron. In Galapaguera we saw our first of Darwin’s finches and learned about efforts to restore the archipelago’s land tortoise populations. The highlight bird was our first of two woodpecker finches. We also were introduced to the poison apple tree. The rainy season was well underway and the island was lush with greenery and the air heavy with humidity. Our winter escapees had found a warm refuge. That evening we met the crew and toasted to our great luck to all come together on the fantastic final voyage of the Eric. Our evening meal was the first of many tasty meals. Sleepyheads one and all we hit the racks and motored all night towards Genovesa.

Smooth-billed ani
Galapagos petrel
Frigate (sp)
Blue-footed booby
Brown pelican
Great egret
Cattle egret
Striated heron (Galápagos)
Galápagos flycatcher
San Cristobal Mockingbird
Yellow warbler
Woodpecker finch
Medium ground-finch

Galápagos sea lion
Sally Lightfoot crab

Our first embarkation on the last voyage of the Eric.
Our first embarkation on the last voyage of the Eric.
Our Crew
Our Crew

Day Two: Genovesa, Darwin’s Cove and Prince Philip’s steps.

First activity of the day was a walk at Darwin Bay. Immediately we were met by the archipelago’s famously accessible wildlife. Birds and lizards and fish all seemed to welcome our observations and photographs. Our first marine iguanas were here. After our short walk and talk we donned our gear and hit the water. This group was a happy bunch of snorkelers. Ivan even had a Ring-of-Happiness and individual support for our less experienced participants. After the hour long swim we headed back on ship for snacks and lunch and sea kayaking and paddle boarding. Late that afternoon, after music and a siesta we did a deep water snorkel. Hammerhead sharks and many of their sea companions joined us, including a baleful purple octopus. Back on board to change and then back in the pangas. We climbed the Prince Philip steps to see the vast population of birds that make this remote isle famous. Target bird was the short-eared owl. Bobbies, gulls, frigates, doves, mockingbirds, there were a lot of birds, both species and numbers. As we walked we learned about the Nazca boobies practice of NAV (non-parental visitor aggression) and we watched a juvenile spar with an NAV. The short eared owl has developed a daylight hunting strategy to avoid the Galápagos hawk. It can take birds much bigger than itself and on Genovesa it frequently waits in cracks to ambush incoming storm petrels. We spotted four of these interesting birds on our afternoon walk. One gave quite a show looking as though he might have a pellet to expel. Nothing materialized despite a solid ten minutes of what appeared to be owl expectoration. Then it was back to the Eric for more food and libations. The very active day sent us to bed right after dinner.

Galápagos dove
Ruddy turnstone
Wandering tattler
Swallow-tailed dove
Lava gull
Red-billed tropicbird
Band-rumped storm petrel
Wedge-Rumped storm petrel
Galápagos petrel
Magnificent frigatebird
Great frigatebird
Nazca booby
Blue-footed booby
Red-footed booby
Brown pelican
Yellow-crowned night-heron
Short-eared owl
Galápagos mockingbird
Large ground-finch
Large cactus finch
Galápagos storm-petrel

Underwater:

Spotted eagle ray
Blue chinned parrot fish
Sea cucumbers
King angelfish
White sea urchin
Pencil spend sea urchin
Marine iguana
Wrass
Barberfish
Yellowtail surgeon fish
Gold rimmed surgeon fish
Hammerhead shark
Manta ray (sp)
White-tipped reef shark
Morrish idol
Octopus
Spine-tailed mobula
Diamond stingray
Pufferfish
Blue-chinned parrotfish
Hieroglyphic hawkfish
Three-banded butterflyfish
Giant damsel fish
Panama sergeant major
Large banded blenny
Calico lizard fish
Guinea fowl puffer
Grouper (sp)
Baby jack (sp)
Streamer hawkfish

Nazca Boobies
Nazca Boobies
Short-eared owl
Short-eared owl. Well hidden.

Day Three: Santa Cruz Island, Black Turtle Cove, Baltra, Dragon Hill

After a sound sleep and another long night crossing we headed out early into Black Turtle Cove on the pangas. Here we learned about the mangroves and saw an abundance of penguins, turtles, and nursery sharks. A pair of Pacific green turtles obliged us with their mating practices. The penguins swam by in formation. It seemed like they were seeking handouts. The next activity was another snorkel. The snorkels were so full of saline that further lists only contain notable animals. Midday was occupied by refueling at Baltra. The Gypsy Carpenters helped pass the time with a singalong
in the lounge. That afternoon we snorkeled (again :)) and took a hike up Dragon Hill in search of land iguanas and giant tortoises. Of course we saw both. This group had magic.

White-Cheeked pintail
Smooth-billed ani
Black-necked stilt
Whimbrel
Least sandpiper
Wandering tattler
Lesser Yellowlegs
Lava gull
Elliot’s storm-petrel
Blue-Footed booby
Frigatebird (sp)
Brown pelican
Great blue heron
Galápagos flycatcher
Yellow warbler
Large tree-finch
Small ground-finch
Common cactus-finch
Medium ground-finch
Semipalmated plover

Pacific green sea turtles
Black-tipped shark
hammerhead shark
Concentric pufferfish
Chocolate chip seastar
Spiny lobster
Blue seastar
Pencil sea urchin
Sand dollar
Diamond ray

Day Four: Fernandina Island, Punta Espinoza, Bahia Urvina

By day four we are really into the rhythm of our daily activities. Getting in and out of our wetsuits, eating great food, napping, singing. every day is action packed. This day we arrived at the western most part of our trip. Fernandina is the youngest island in the archipelago. Our landing on the dock brought us nose to nose with marine iguanas and sea lions. Overhead we found three Galágos hawks. Underfoot there were lava lizards sunning onto of sea iguanas. We saw the rarely seen flower of the lava cactus and flightless cormorants. Our afternoon hike on the edge of Isabela Island was filled with enormous marine iguanas, giant tortoises and more cormorants.The day’s snorkels were excellent again but it was hard to imagine better, but more was waiting.That night we had a special concert by the Eric’s crew. I-Love led the group in high energy songs but Segundo moved us with his traditional ballads. Those guys could really jam. There were songs and dancing and Maria led is in the limbo. Then collapse into our beds with smiles again.

Galápagos dove
Smooth-billed ani
American oystercatcher
Semipalmated plover
Whimbrel
Wandering tattler
Franklin’s gull
Lava gull
Galápagos penguin
Magnificent frigatebird
Frigatebird (sp)
Blue-footed booby
Flightless cormorant
Brown pelican
Striated heron (lava)
Galápagos hawk
Galápagos mockingbird
Yellow warbler
Small tree-finch
Small ground-finch
Medium ground-finch
Darwin’s finch (sp)

Mola mola (giant sunfish)
Octopus
Pacific green sea turtle
Marine iguanas
Penguins

Day Five: Isabela Island, Elizabeth Bay, Tagus Cove, Darwin’s Crater:

After another fortifying breakfast we took a panga ride along the coast of this marvelous island. The surprise was seeing the largely vegetarian Pacific green sea turtle with it’s jaws firmly locked on an half eaten fish. A large half eaten fish. Somebody was craving protein. A concentric pufferfish was dining on a moth. The damp season had brought a lot of insects and the birds and fish were taking advantage. Spiders (argiope sp) in beautiful webs were also seen everywhere. The morning snorkel was laden with sea life. Penguins, cormorants, turtles and iguanas in a parade amongst the permanent creatures of the deep. we learned that an animal is a land creature if it eats on land and a marine creature if it eats in the sea. One irritable flightless cormorant took a nip at Bobbie’s right calf leaving a small red dot. Another first for our group. Really, the visual wonders of the sea made it hard to end every snorkel. Our guides frequently had to chase some of us back into the boat. That afternoon we hiked to Darwin’s Crater for magnificent views of the mysterious salty water body and the vast lava field making up the north of the island. Mockingbirds and finches entertained us with their feather fanning mating displays. Heaps of Monarch butterflies raised questions of migration and food sources. They do not migrate and there is milkweed on the islands. How the Monarch got to the Galapagos is a mystery.

Brown Noddy
Galápagos penguin
Flightless cormorant
Brown pelican
Galápagos flycatcher
Galápagos mockingbird
Small ground-finch
Medium ground-finch

Golden eagle ray
spotted eagle ray
Sea (Tree) lion
Pacific green sea turtle
Concentric pufferfish

So many fish. We got tired of trying to sort them all out. Heads were exploding.

Day Six: Puerto Egas of Santiago, Rabida Island

At Puerto Egas we learned about a short lived era of human habitation that left behind a few ruins. It was the eternal story of corruption and exploitation that we hear all over the world. People were promised land that the promiser did not own. A change in government ended it all and everybody left. Today the island teems with wildlife. A group of fur seals were frolicking in the grottos near Darwin’s toilet. We could see the different facial features between the sea lion and fur seals, even thought this fur seal is not a true seal. The dominant male greeted our group with a large bellow. Along the edges of a tidal pool was an American Oystercatcher with its wee down covered hatchling no larger than an egg on legs. Sally Lightfoot crabs added dots of red and gold on the dark sculpted rocks. Zig zag spiders decorated trailside trees. On our morning snorkel we spotted a huge stone scorpionfish and a school of salema I would have said numbered over 100,000 individuals. The afternoon snorkel had a spotted tiger eel snake and toothy moray eel. Late in the day we hiked the red soil of Rabida. Before we even had our shoes changed Burt yelled, “Flamingo” and Karina ran to see if he was kidding. He was not. For the first time in years and only the second time ever in her 20+ year career there was a flamingo in the brackish water at Rabida. Oddly, it was the second time in 18 months for Burt and Susan to see a flamingo here. Their amazing good luck continued. We got an eyeful of that calm and showy bird. It was spectacular. We all watched as it swung its improbable bill back and forth in the water filtering out crustaceans and preened its bright pink feathers.

Red-necked phalarope
Galapagos martin
White-cheeked pintail (Galápagos)
American flamingo
Galápagos dove
American oystercatcher
Semipalmated plover
Wandering tattler
Brown noddy
Galápagos penguin
Galápagos shearwater
Magnificent frigatebird
Frigatebird (sp)
Nazca booby
Blue-footed booby
Brown pelican
Galápagos flycatcher
Galápagos mockingbird
Finch (sp)

Moray eel (sp)
Tiger eel snake
Sea horse

Day Seven: Highlands of Santa Cruz Island and the Darwin Center

Our tour was coming to an end and there was a kind of gentle sadness infecting us. Not only would we have to say good-bye to new friends but all of us, crew and passengers, had to bid farewell to the Eric. After nearly three decades of service the Eric was being replaced by a new ship. We all loved this hard working craft and nobody wants dot see it retired. Still we had fun and more things to see and more songs to sing. That morning we visited the Darwin Center and Karina delighted us with a passionate presentation of the land tortoise restoration program. She explained how island by island rats were being eradicated. It was a complex process but slowly they were notching up success. Land tortoises are breeding in the wild for the first time in 100 years in some locations. Then we took an hour to explore the town and stock up on gifts for home. After lunch we took a bus ride to the highlands and visited the Gemelos, twin sink holes. Green warbler-finches sang for us and a woodpecker finch sped on past. At the working ranch we observed the tortoises in mid-migration across a working farm. We also walked through a dark and damp lava tube. Karina explained how these tubes form when the lava cools at different rates. A cooler and harder exterior can contain a warmer flowing interior, like a straw and soda. That night we played music and gathered ourselves for the parting.

White-cheeked pintail (Galápagos)
Smooth-billed ani
Franklin’s gull
Galápagos shearwater
Frigatebird (sp)
Blue-footed booby
Brown pelican
Cattle egret
Yellow-crowned night-heron
Galápagos flycatcher
Galápagos mockingbird
Yellow-warbler
Green warbler-finch
Vegetarian finch
Woodpecker finch
Small tree-finch
Small ground-finch
Finch (sp)

Day Eight: Interpretive Center at San Cristobal, Departure

The final day was spent touring the exhibits at the San Cristobal Interpretive Center or hiking up Tijeretas Hill followed by a snack and wi-fi in town as we waited for our flight to Quito. The hill hike rewarded us with a breeze and expansive views of Puerto Ayora and the Pacific. Our group arrived in Quito and had one last dinner together and then it was off on ur own journeys. Some headed home, others to Mindo for more birds, and others for a more expansive tour through Ecuador. It was a privilege to be in your company. We were lucky to have a group of warm and interesting companions, guides that wanted to share their home with us, and a crew that saw to our every need.

Blue-footed boobie
Ruddy turnstone
Franklin’s gull
Frigatebird (sp)
Great blue heron
Great egret
Yellow warbler
San Cristobal mockingbird
Small ground-finch
Finch (sp)

San Cristobal lava lizard

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Actually it’s the end of Week 5

Pumper truck to the roof.
Pumper truck to the roof.

Here we are at what happens to be the end of week 5 of construction. The structure is complete. Next steps for our team of albañiles (masons) is the half wall on the roof deck and the start of the exterior plaster. Word is the interior scaffolding will remain in place as the roof concrete cures for two weeks. I just looked up the cure curves for concrete to refresh myself. Seven days is generally accepted as 70% strength under optimal temperatures and humidity. We’re pretty close to that here on the Tropic of Cancer, maybe just a little dry and too much day to night temperature swings, for a perfect cure but way ahead of the US right now. So two weeks is well within the margin of error to remove the forms.

The pour was uneventful but a little stressing for me. Our concrete was ordered from Cabo San Lucas. Two of the spinning Easter egg shaped trucks and a pumper truck came in stages but by the time the pumper was situated the concrete was two hours old. ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineering) says no truck over 1 1/2 hours old shall be accepted. I know from past experience that 2 hour trucks get poured but it’s not what you want to do. It was a very dry, difficult to work concrete that landed on our roof. Only time will tell if it’s adequate for the job. Most likely all is well and this is a case where ignorance would be bliss. I have no fears about the structural integrity but I do worry about the finish. Here, again, our location is an advantage. There is no freeze, therefore no thaw, and the concrete finish should not be heavily stressed.

On other fronts I was laid low by a severe bout of vertigo last week. It’s happened before and it’s never fun but this time I projectile vomited. Surprisingly easy to do when your inner ear isn’t working. The ear doctor hear ordered me onto a no salt diet. My ear seems to hurt less, and my fingers are skinnier. I guess I was retaining water. The vertigo is lessened but not gone. It might take weeks.

We have a show next week and we’ve been regularly practicing with our friend Priscila. Check us out on Valentine’s Day at Las Fuentes, 6 PM, Todos Santos. Love gone good and bad.

The roof with a skim coating of mortar.
The roof with a skim coating of mortar. The drainage bulge is visible.
Show at Las Fuetes on Valentine's Day.
Show at Las Fuetes on Valentine’s Day.
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Week 4 of casita construction

Lumber is installed to support the plywood forms.
Lumber is installed to support the plywood forms.

Soon we will have a roof over our casita. Yes, Kevin, I call it a casita because it’s just a one-bedroom home. There’s no room for guests but that won’t be a problem. We have the rumpus room for any visitors. Hint, hint. For those of you concerned about construction management while we are gone for ten days I say you are right to be concerned. We’re pretty relaxed about this but there is no telling what might or might not happen. The Gypsy Carpenters often work in similarly unsupervised conditions with very few problems. We’re extending the same trust to our team that we enjoy from our clients. In addition, our neighbor and good friend Janet will be serving as the treasurer. She can give the guys money if they need any supplies while we are gone. Janet knows our team, she speaks Spanish, and she is right next door. She will be well compensated for any work she has to do on our behalf. The job should be at the plaster and stucco stage so there’s not much that could go wrong. Famous last words, right?

The construction technique for the ceiling has finally come clear in my head. I was confused for years about how insulation and concrete and rebar came together to form a roof. and ceiling. Rebar and insulation are built over plywood forms in a matrix. Concrete is poured over the mass to a thickness of 2″ above the rebar. After two weeks of curing the forms are removed and the bottom (ceiling side) is a grid of  reinforced concrete and styrofoam. They call this style of roof caseton. Maybe casaton. I’m not sure. When the forms are  removed the underside is then plastered. My fears of concrete landing on my head during a Baja earthquake were unfounded. This is a well reinforced structure. If a big earthquake hits only plaster will rain down. I feel better. Were you worried? Our workers tell us only the gringos and really rich Mexicans get a caseton roof. Most families here live under simple concrete slabs or corrugated metal roofs. These homes can be unspeakably hot in summer.

Oh, btw, our workers built that brick colored house behind ours in the photos.

The plywood rests on teh temporary beams.
The plywood forms will rest on the temporary posts and beams.
This styrofoam insulation is crammed into the spaces between courses of rebar.
This styrofoam insulation will be crammed into the spaces between courses of rebar.
The styrofoam blocks are installed after the perpendicular courses of rebar are run.
Here you can see the plywood forms are in place. The styrofoam blocks are installed after the perpendicular courses of rebar are run.
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