A Night to Remember

Full team
Full team, thanks Sue for the pics.

This morning Barb asked, “Are you going to write about last night?” I hadn’t gotten that far in my thinking. This morning I’m sapped and stunned. Then Barb added, “I miss so many of the older folks and it would be something I can have to remember.” Talk about pressure.

This summer the Gypsy Carpenters found an artistic home and last night we were able to bring a lot of pieces together in one place to create something much bigger than us. Years of friendships, and gigs, and open hearts made for a magic night. Here’s how it started.

Firstly, Zondra. The Z grew up here and has been a part of the Gardiner music scene since she could walk. She is carrying on her father Wayne’s legacy as an ambassador of live music and a community builder. Wayne was a master of getting th emusic going and going and going. Zondra has inherited that gene. Zondra came with a venue and a weekly slot and a pile of musical talent and energy. Zondra rocks that bass and is game for anything, anywhere. Let’s play! is her motto and nothing we do is too difficult of weird. She gave us the energy and the desire to get out of our trailer and commit to playing regularly for fun and practice. A regular gig does wonders for the skill, relaxation, and repertoire. Which leads us to the Wonderland Cafe.

Stacy and her staff, everyone of them, make us feel like we are exactly where we belong when we show up to play. Last night I asked for a cobbler after the show and when it looked like they might have forgotten it they said, “No, don’t leave. We want you to be fully satisfied!” That Flathead cherry cobbler showed up 2 minutes later. We’ve been told we can play whenever we want. We can play whatever we want. We can invite guests. They can eat, too. And the food is good. The clientele are mostly tourists looking for a good time and they tip generously. We give them a night to remember when we play a favorite song or bless them with good wishes to see their dream animal in the park.

Cody. Remember, Cody? Refresh yourselves HERE. In brief, we picked up Cody hitchhiking in Texas nearly 10 years ago. He and his bike were pinned down in a vicious wind. Cody is currently working seasonally in Gardiner. He’s a percussionist living an improvised life like us. We’ve been pestering him to sit in with us all summer but his job intruded. Last night he finally showed up with his cajon to beat out some support for us.

After a couple of gigs in July we knew this was a place to settle in and have fun making music. I texted our former bandmate Barb Piccolo and asked if she wanted to come down and visit and play a night with us. I knew she’d be in the area for other events and hoped to loop her into one of our shows. Barb has been a steadfast friend and mentor to me through thick and thin. In the beginning she was the thoroughly skilled and knowledgeable player that encouraged me to keep at it. As my skills grew she kept encouraging me. There was always positive energy  from her as I developed. Barb has never wavered in her support and kindness to Burt and me. There was a dark time in our lives when very few people would associate with us. Barb stood by us and played music with us. All that and she loves the stuff we play and kills it on accordion. I really hoped Barb would join us for a gig but we saw her plenty at various Montana jamborees and did a lot of tunes together. Last week Barb said she was going to come and see us. Then she wasn’t. Then she was.

In the midst of Barb trying to find time to play with us we ran into Johnny at the Dearborn music campout. Johnny is a long, lean boy of 16 that is coming into his own on the fiddle. Two years ago when we met him I would not have invited him to sit it. This summer he played a couple of tunes with us and I found out he lived about 30 minutes away. He had not played a public gig. I said, “Johnny, you want to play with us?” I didn’t even check with Burt. Johnny said yes. The logistics nearly ruined it for him but despite his confusion on locations and dates and missing our one practice he made it to the gig.

Magically, Zondra, Johnny, Barb, and Cody all convened on the same night with the Gypsy Carpenters in the Wonderland Cafe. We had never played all together at the same time. But the solid foundation of the Gypsy Carpenters was perfect for these dynamic players to build upon. The house was full of tourists and friends. In another bit of kismet several folks that had wanted to see us were finally able to make a show. I took advantage of knowing the house was friendly and boldly compelled the restaurant to near silence as I announced to the audience that they were in for a special night. I told them they were lucky and we were lucky. Burt and I were surrounded by players and listeners that loved us. Johnny was here for his first gig. Barb and Zondra had played with us for years. I gave everyone’s back story. I opened their hearts to us as a ragtag group that had miracuolously come together. And then we got going.

We almost always start with I am a Pilgrim. It’s easy, it’s upbeat. We can warm up the harmonies, and our hands. In a masterful move, Burt gave Johnny the first break in this first song. A song Johnny had never even heard before. That’s how we do it around here. Stay loose and ready. So the music was good. It was fun. It was unpredictable. And we were off. Johnny fired off some fiddle tunes. Barb and Zondra sang a duet. I’d never heard Zondra sing in twenty years. A man named Alex showed up with an ukulele. He was playing along on the sidewalk outside. I invited him in. Then he said he had a trumpet. We sent him home to fetch his trumpet and we had everyone in the place singing ring of fire while Alex blasted out the iconic trumpet bits.  And I had my dream come true of a horn section. People were having a ball on and off stage. The tips were huge.

And then it was over. Many people think playing music must always feel good, it must always be fun. Those people are not musicians. It’s our job to make it look fun and easy and look as if we are enjoying ourselves. But we’re often hot, tired,  or we can’t hear ourselves, or we are annoyed that nobody is listening, annoyed that they ARE listening, annoyed the tip jar is empty, annoyed the restaurant has cruddy food and they made us move the tables. Last night was the kind of show we dream about. It was fun and joyful. We got to share the love with everyone. The show ended and we sat for an extra beer and a cobbler. A group of men from Seattle came up and told us they enjoyed our singing. They wanted to know how long we’d been practicing together. I explained it was our first time playing as a group but Burt and I had been a duo for ten years. I asked if they were musicians. One man, they grew up in Southern India, said he studied Indian singing. As we sat in the nearly empty restaurant he sang us an Indian folk song. I tear up recalling it. What a gift it is to inspire people to share their music.

This morning as we grew teary missing Wayne and Tom and all the other musicians that led us here I said to Barb, “But look at the first gig we gave Johnny. It was joyful, generous, good, fun…The crowd loved us…We’re doing it right bringing up the next kids. He will always have that to remember.”

We convinced Johnny to give up the chair.
We convinced Johnny to give up the chair.
Friends
Friends before the show.
Cody
Cody and Burt post music.
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Emotional stability hard to find

We're playing full steam ahead with Zondra on the bass.
We’re playing full steam ahead with Zondra on the bass.

I’m not sleeping much. I don’t think it’s the incredibly vile political commentary coming from above or the horrific things happening to refugees on our border so much as it is the hot flashes. The hot flashes plague me at night. The other stuff haunt me during the day. I feel profoundly powerless on so many levels. I can’t work much due to general old lady-ness. The elevation, my back and the heaviness of the work have rendered me nearly useless or worse, a liability. I started physical therapy this week and we decided the trouble I’m having is the super laxity of my joints. I’ve always had hypermobile joints and it has served me well in many ways but as I get older and my muscle tone naturally diminishes things move way too much. So my PT boils down to a simple enough maneuver that is hilarious. It’s an belly button lift and a kegel any time I move. After months of this my PT says it will happen automatically and I won’t have to think about it every time I move. If I felt old before I feel really old now. Lift and squeeze, lift and squeeze. That’s it though. No other exercises just lift and squeeze and go about my business. That’s the plan for the low back. The moveable rib in my mid-back that comes and goes with shocking pain has not got a plan, yet. The PT says I might learn how to pop it back in over time. Meanwhile it’s still muscle relaxers and pain killers if it goes out again.

So feeling all decrepit as I am I decided it was time to replace this shoddy mattress. Amazon Prime brought us a top rated memory foam queen right to the gNash door for $450. I feel guilty patronizing the huge worker abusing corporation but have you ever tried to buy a mattress? Add to that experience living 2 hours from the nearest mattress store and you can see why the big A is irresistible. That and the thing cost half what I’ve paid for a mattress in the last twenty years. Sometimes I think these are the cultural issues that divide us. Walmart and Amazon have made life much easier in the rural areas of our deeply divided nation. I’ve been derided for shopping at Walmart and I respond with, “Where are we supposed to go? It’s all that’s left in rural America.” Luckily here we can pick up essentials at an independent store 5 miles away or head an hour up the road to my favorite grocery in all of Montana, also employee owned.

On the up side of the general negativity we are playing a weekly gig and it has been good. The tourist based crowds love to interact and shout out where they are from when I ask. Canada, Brazil, West Virginia, Spokane…Given our wide variety of tunes in our repertoire we have something to please everyone. Weeven got a rousing round of Wheels on the Bus for a kid filled night. Tips are adequate, too. The Wonderland Cafe has tasty food and a supportive staff but the best part is we get backed up by the flexible fingers and groovy beats of Zondra Skertich on bass. Z happens to be our client and the reason we are here working so it’s very convenient to have her in the band this season. If you’re in the area come on down.

Saturday we’re opening the Gardiner Brewfest. Music starts at 3:30. Pop in and have a beer.

Down below you’ll see my latest experiment.

I'm experimenting with my own hair conditioner.
I’m experimenting with my own hair conditioner.
This is the first batch.
This is the first batch.
New sunnies. I was hoping the purple mirror would be more obvious.
New sunnies. I was hoping the purple mirror would be more obvious.
My diamond encrusted glasses.
My diamond encrusted glasses.
These dogs. Harrumph.
These dogs. Harrumph.
Conditioner worked but not suave.
Conditioner worked but not suave.
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Good Medicine Jam

Monster jam
Monster jam

Our weekend was spent at my favorite summer jamboree. Every June the Simms brothers host a pile of musicians on their ranch near Helena and all we have to do is play, play, play. The Simms and their team of friendly helpers give us food and love in return. This year did not disappoint. First off Mike Simms shared with me how he is deeply into the Gypsy Carpenters’ blog. He started reading from post #1 and is somewhere in year two. That’s a lot of embarrassing material to be dredged up. Burt and I think Mike might know our past better than we do. It’s always a thrill to talk with a reading fan. I think there are 6 now.

Then I got to share my recent bigotry blowout story in person with Mike and a couple others. It felt good to get that off my chest. And then we played music and left all that other BS behind for a few days. It helps that our phones don’t work up in the mountains. My friend KaL came to walk me and Olive and Chava on Saturday. We caught up on all things dog and some not-dog. I miss KaL. We used to run millions of miles together. Now we walk a couple of miles a year. Next year should be better.

After our sore hands and fingers and brains gave up we headed to Helena for showers and tool collection. Today I am writing from Jardine, MT. Look it up. Grizzly central. We’ll be hear all summer. Stay tuned for more pictures with my fantastic birthday camera and tales of walking in bear country with the dogs.

Noodle dog
Noodle dog
Stay tuned. I got a new camera for my birthday. Chipping sparrow.
Stay tuned. I got a new camera for my birthday. Chipping sparrow.
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Portal Irish Music Week 2018 in the Bag

Concert Day
Concert Day

Our largest and most successful ever Portal Irish Music Week is done and gone. Fifty students and staff converged on tiny Portal, Arizona for five days of music and walks and birds and we had a great time. Every year I feel more and more blessed to be a part of this event. Pete and Will and I had a dream of starting a camp where inclusivity and love were the main themes. Somehow we’ve succeeded. Our staff and students come together and they make a space better than any of us could imagine. Mitch and Lonnie and their Portal Cafe staff are a big part of it, too.

This year we had a man come and learn despite his brain cancer and looming experimental surgery. Tim is living every day like we all should. Fully present and pursuing his dreams. His experimental treatment begins today. Let’s send out some positive vibes for Tim and his family and friends.

I am so lucky.

Merch Table
Merch Table
Birders of Irish Music
Birders of Irish Music
Henna tatoos, too
Henna tatoos, too
The view from the top
The view from the top
Coatimundi
Coatimundi
Congestion managed.
Congestion managed. These people make it all worth the work.
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Annual Dearborn Picnic

Mouth guard fine tuning
Mouth guard fine tuning
My teeth
My teeth

Burt and I had to sneak into Helena for a day so I could get my night guard followup checkup. Back in May dentist convinced me it was time to protect the many thousands of dollars investment I had made in my mouth. Gold crowns that I’ve had for twenty-five years are still secure but my subconscious habit of gnashing my teeth all night long (and some days, too) had made some serious grooves. Dr. K said it was only a matter of time before I broke something. I agreed to have a custom guard made and I’ve been using it for about a month. The guard slips right in and I fall asleep fine. I even imagine it has helped me relax my throat muscles and made singing and swallowing easier. My jaw muscles aren’t as tired as they used to be but sdon’t expect me to turn into a Chatty Cathy.

After the dentist we took a beating in Bridge and then headed up to the annual Dearborn Picnic picking party. I’ve written about this destination many times in previous posts. This year we enjoyed moderate temperatures, a remodeled stream bed, and the usual fine mix of friends and music. The children of the founders and their friends now greatly out number the older generation but the music moves perpetually with the people. We can go to bed early knowing the ‘kids’ will take the all night shift and sing to the gods of the dark.

Stickerville
Stickerville. We were among the first to arrive.
Rainbows for breakfast and lunch.
Rainbows for breakfast and lunch.
Burt and me
Burt and me
Music
Music
More music
More music
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Beartooth Pass

A herd of goats takes in the sights.
A herd of goats takes in the sights.

This year’s Musician’s Rendezvous in Columbus coincided with a spike in the local temperature. Sitting under the cottonwood trees while playing tunes with your buddies is a great way to spend a summer day. The campground where we all gather is on the Yellowstone River. If you want to cool off you can take a dip in its chilly waters. The Gypsy Carpenters had been looking forward to this weekend since last winter. Sad to say gNash life and an erratic heart and temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit do not mix. So Burt and I came up with a mix of music and alternate cool activities for the weekend.

Day one we arrived at Itch-Kep-Pe park and found a spot with some shade. It was Wednesday and all of the really deep shade was already occupied in anticipation of the weekend’s activities. Musicians come from all over Montana and the best spots fill early. Burt and I played a few tunes with each other and went to bed when the bugs started biting. The next morning we took a walk and did some birding before the day warmed. We found the nest of a Cooper’s hawk and watched the recently fledged youngster fly all about and beg food from a parent. We also found an unattended firearm in the bed of a maintenance cart for the nearby golf club. I sent a few emails and posts around about the gun safety problem. Burt and I thought in hindsight we probably should have called the authorities instead of walking away from a loaded gun. Ethical dilemma. Personally I was afraid to confront the owner face to face. Stand Your Ground is a bad law. My fear of being shot for having harsh words with someone overrode my desire to stay and make sure the gun was properly handled.

After our walk we did what all smart people looking to avoid a hot day do…we drove to Billings and played Bridge. An air conditioned day of cards. What could be better? That evening we headed back to our superheated trailer and pondered the next day’s survival plan. We debated simply leaving and heading to the high country but the lure of tunes was strong. People we only see once or twice a year were on hand and eager to play. Luckily, Montana still cools off over night. We decided to play music until noon then get in our truck and head for the hills for the late afternoon and evening, come back after dark, sleep, wake up and play more morning music. It worked out perfectly.

Friday we played tunes in the morning and then drove an hour and a half to the Beartooth Plateau. We looked for the black rosy finch, a high altitude bird, but only found white-crowned sparrows, solitaires, and gray jays. The altitude (10,000′ or so) was easier to take than the heat. Burt and I and the pooped poopies returned to the gNash at 9:30. Things were just starting to cool down. Burt took a dip in the Yellowstone while I lay on an ice pack.

The next day we decided to head to electricity so we could run our air conditioner for the 104 degree spike. So after a few hours of fiddling with Barb and Zondra we pulled up and headed to Emigrant to do some maintenance on the client’s property we built 6 years ago. We arrived safe and sound but we have also learned our truck has sprung an oil leak. We fear it’s the end. She’s got a gusher.

This one is still leaving last year's coat behind.
This one is still leaving last year’s coat behind.
Baby goats on th erun.
Baby goats on the run.

A great place to cool off.

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Play on despite the rain

Amnesia?
Amnesia?

So all anyone really says after a colonoscopy is the procedure isn’t bad, it’s the prep. Yup. Forty-five minutes of twilight sedation is fun – if you even remember it. I don’t. The 12 hours of swallowing a gallon of grossness scented with lime and it’s purgative effects are your beginning of the end. It’s like a Sweet Sixteen for the over fifty. Middle age is fading fast and the next thing is barreling at you. Arrival at the hospital after a night of little sleep and much toilet paper was a relief. Put me under. I don’t care what you do to me. Three people asked me if my ‘stools’ were clear and sediment free. Uh, I guess so. The state of our trailer toilet precluded a thorough look. Plastic just doesn’t let go of 9 years of bodily fluids. Describing our plastic throne as stained is an understatement. It’s scarred.

My results, thanks, ObamaCare or ACA, made me really happy to have finally done my screening colonoscopy. They doctor found and removed a small polyp. I have learned it was benign. Polyps are where colon cancer gets started so it is very nice to not have that little guy lurking and growing in my gut. And since it was benign I don’t have to do this for ten more years. That is great news. I could’t have done this without health insurance and I’m grateful I don’t the polyp is gone and can’t get into any dirty business.

Immediately afterwards Burt loaded me into the truck and we headed out to the Good Medicine music jam just out of Jefferson City. The Simms brothers host a music campout in June. Food and showers are provided. We just have to show up and be musicians. We get to see old friends from all over the region and just focus on making music. The meal bells ring and we put our stuff away and pile in the food. Repeat for three days. There is no internet or cell reception. Ahhhh….

Highlights of this year’s Good Medicine for me were seeing my friend Sally O’Neill and playing Spanish songs and leading my first fiddle jam and laughing with a friend who was sort of fired/let go from a pseudo-band that I was fired from over 13 years ago. Sally did a semester in Mexico a while back and she returned with a love of Mexican folk music. So we swapped tunes and she gave me some new ones to work on.

I anchored my first fiddle jam at 8:00AM on Sunday morning. No real fiddlers are awake at this hour so I stepped into the void. I found myself surrounded by loved ones and felt lifted by their appreciation of my music such as it is. We played simple and lovely and ancient music. Then we went to breakfast and packed up for home.

The person let go from the band that I was let go from and I got a good laugh because there are more people fired from the band than actually still in the band. My claim to fame is that I was a founding member and I was the first one fired. Some might say the people losing their jobs could all get together and form a better band than the band that fired us. All of us have been told by the same person that we weren’t taking our commitment to the band seriously enough. This is a band that when I was fired had not had a paying gigs. My recently cast-off amigo reports that they still haven’t had a paying gig. I’ll call the band of castaways the commitment phobes.

Cantamos en español.
Cantamos en español.
Sally and Steve
Sally and Steve
Mountain Lady Slipper
Mountain Lady Slipper
Old and new.
Old and new.
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Pony Fiddle Fest

Fiddle Class. Practicing the shuffle.
Fiddle Class. Practicing the shuffle.

District 3 of Montana’s Old Time Fiddler’s Association had a gathering in Pony, Montana this weekend. Burt and I went along because Mike and Barb asked us to back them up in the show-me-what-you-got concert after the workshops. These fiddler events are held all over the country and they are an important part of old time music fiddle culture. This particular event is special because they offer a few classes and host a huge potluck dinner. Young and old, great and mediocre, all take their turns on stage for a tune or three.

I enjoyed the workshops I attended but Burt hadn’t much to do. While I was practicing my shuffle and some improvisation Burt was wandering around and catching up with friends. The WMDs finally got on stage around 8PM for our 10 minutes of singing and playing. At Mike’s request I sang Cancion Mixteca and none to soon as it turned out two women were being detained in Montana by ICE for speaking Spanish. The agent says he wasn’t racially profiling these 100% American bilingual woman but I’d bet you everything I own he’d never detain me for speaking Spanish. These women happened to be brown and speaking a foreign language. I find this current xenophobic climate horrifying. There are more Spanish speakers in the United States than there are in Spain. Get over it mono-linguists.

I give the Pony Fiddle Fest a big thumbs up. Burt says he’s good for about 15 years. Pony, Montana is a former mining town where 1000 or 5000 people called home depending on your source. Today it is a mere shadow of its former self. The scenery is spectacular (on a sunny day) and there’s a natural hot spring nearby.

Former Pony School
Former Pony School
The tiniest fiddlers.
The tiniest fiddlers.
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Demo well underway

Kitchen open floor plan now visible.
Kitchen open floor plan now visible.

The Gypsy Carpenters have been on the job less than a week and almost all demolition has been completed and major style decisions are made. The cabinets and counters are measured and ordered and paid. Tile and bath and faucets and flooring have been selected. Now we just need to find an electrician. Hopefully that will become clear tomorrow.

Besides intensely working (we’re sore and tired) we have managed to fit in some fun, too. I had my first fiddle lesson with Mike on Friday. Mike was my first music teacher nearly twenty years ago. It’s a little weird to be back sitting in his studio after a ten year hiatus. We learned a hornpipe and worked on some tunes I already knew. We’ve also played music for fun with our former WMD band mates Todd and Barb. Todd and his wife Gretchen left Helena right after we hit the road and they returned to stay a couple of weeks ago. Fortuitous timing for all of us.

Today we are celebrating Burt’s birthday with a trip to see some live local theater. The Full Monty is on at Helena’s Grandstreet Theater. I am embarrassed to admit this is my first visit to our local theater institution. As they say better late than never. It took a while for me to figure out my husband is a fan of live theater. I grew up in Drama Club and drifted away. We’re both looking forward to this hilarious and bawdy show.

As decision fatigue set in I noticed that Keith is the most stylish Home Depot employee we've met. He says all credit goes to his wife.
As decision fatigue set in I noticed that Keith is the most stylish Home Depot employee we’ve met. He says all credit goes to his wife.
WMDs
WMDs
I don't know what this is but I like it. Accidental art.
I don’t know what this is but I like it. Accidental art.
Master bathroom demo.
Master bathroom demo.
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Galapagos Redux

Sally Lightfoot Crab
Sally Lightfoot Crab

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.

Fiona in the sea kayak.
Fiona in the sea kayak.

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.

Brian getting groovey.
Brian getting groovy. Fiona on my fiddle. Brian on my mandolin. I am properly unarmed.
Mailing my post card.
Mailing my post card.

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.

A wintry but warm day in the Galapagos.
A wintry but warm day in the Galapagos.

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.

Hammerhead sharks
Hammerhead sharks
IMG_1610
Hawksbill sea turtle

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.

Bartolome
Bartolome
Blue-footed boobies
Blue-footed boobies

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.

White-cheeked Pintail

American Flamingo

Galapagos Penguin

Galapagos Shearwater
Elliot’s Storm-Petrel

Red-billed Tropicbird

Red-tailed Tropicbird

Magnificent Frigatebird

Great Frigatebird

Nazca Booby

Blue-footed Booby

Red-footed Booby

Brown Pelican

Great Blue Heron

Cattle Egret

Striated Heron

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

Galapagos Hawk

Common Gallinule

Black-necked Stilt

American Oystercatcher

Semipalmated Plover

Whimbrel

Ruddy Turnstone

Sanderling

Western Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

Wandering Tattler

Swallow-tailed Gull

Lava Gull

Brown Noddy

Galapagos Dove

Smooth-billed Ani

Galapagos Flycatcher

Galapagos Mockingbird

Floreana Mockingbird

Española Mockingbird

San Cristobal Mockingbird

Yellow Warbler

Green Warbler-Finch

Gray Warbler-Finch

Woodpecker Finch

Large Tree-Finch

Small Tree-Finch

Small Ground-Finch

Large Ground-Finch

Common Cactus-Finch

Medium Ground-Finch

Española Cactus-Finch

 

 

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