Some days the ennui of modern life takes hold. The weeks of visiting and traveling are over. Here we are in Mexico for a couple of stationary months. No visitors planned. No big ideas looming. This morning I woke up just kind of down. A why am I here? kind of day. The kids all failed to show up to English class a few days ago. Possibly they stayed home because Thursday was the start of a holiday weekend. Or because Vikki suffered an injury and couldn’t rally the troops. Or maybe, word hadn’t made it around we were back in town. We’ll never know. I felt the funk creeping in that day.
There’s all kinds of problems in the world. Here we have the usual neglect and abuse of little ones. Right now we’ve got a neighborhood flasher harassing the kids. I have some ideas of what I’d like to do to the guy and his equipment but I’m leaving it to others. It wouldn’t be prudent to say more here. If I write a book the details will be in there. Ask me about it if you see me. Also, just down the hill from us is a camp of migrant workers. Rumors are the kids don’t even speak Spanish and that they are hunting grasshoppers for their meals. The neighbors are collecting clothes, food, and blankets to help ease the suffering.
Then there’s Vikki. She fell and severely hurt her knee. That means no work and no money while she recuperates. Of course we’re all helping out there. There’s also another friend with aggressive breast cancer. She’s just 40. The news is not optimistic. Sometimes it seems like death and loss are all we know. Suffering is all around.
And then there’s me. My suffering is caused by feeling powerless to help. We throw some money here and there. Give a blanket and some toys. Try to keep the kids busy so they don’t wander around town looking for attention. And I just find myself wondering is it doing any good? any good at all? I really don’t know. But these are the only ideas I have right now.
On the up side, here’s a little glimpse into the hard as hell life of Luz Maria. She is one tough broad. Luz Maria is the mother of our friend Elsi. Everyone calls her (and all women her age) Mama. I first met mama ten years ago. That was before her husband died. Luz Maria mostly keeps to the traditional ways. She dresses as she always has in a wool skirt, embroidered blouse, coral and gold jewelry. She also always sports the multi-purpose shawl. The shawl keeps her warm or shades her head or serves as a carry-all. Sometimes she wears a hoodie. Now, she has a pair of readers. Luz Maria is in her late sixties and probably hasn’t read a label in 20 years. She needed help threading needles. All fine work required a younger set of eyes. Now she can see a little better. We brought a pack of readers for the family. Both mamas, and Luis Fabian and Elsi now have reading glasses to help read bills, labels, and homework assignments.
While we were visiting in Peguche we took a walk to Luz Maria’s home. Luz Maria and I connected over our shared love of animals. She credits my good wishes to her laboring cow with the safe delivery of the heifer’s first calf last fall. I was honored when the calf was named Susan. My only namesake and she’s gonna spend her life making babies and milk until she’s slaughtered. That’s a thought to shake the doldrums.
Luz Maria toured us around her fields and her old home. The cows were tied out and grazing in separate locations. Our journey took us through fields of corn and beans and across muddy roads and deep puddles. At an elevation of nearly 10,000′ I could hardly keep up with Luz Maria for the length of our hour long walk. One stretch of the journey found us balance beaming along a three foot high concrete wall. That woman can move in a pair of rubber boots. Our chore was done when we walked the cow and calf back to the security of the house yard for the night.
Luz Maria grew up in a dirt floored stick hut. She speaks kichwa. Her Spanish is about as good as my Spanish. She glows with light. I’m going to try and remember her and her smile and her cows.
Trip report from the singing and swinging group on the Letty. Susan and Burt, Susan and Bill, Amy and Edwin, Sue and Clay, Brian, and Fiona, and Robert. From this point on: Susan is Susan Mittelstadt. Susana is Susan Roth, Sue is Sue. There’s a full list of birds seen at the end.
2/4/18: The very first moments of our very first day looked like we might have a long week ahead of us. It all begin well enough with a fish dinner followed by Amy’s birthday cake at Puembo Birding Gardens. Then things went bad. Susan woke up with an intense version of tourista at 2 AM. With only 5 hours to go before the bus to the airport arrived some tough calls needed to be made. Pondering the hospital or disturbing a guest, Susan and Burt chose the guest. Edwin has been Susan’s intermittent primary care provider of 35 years and the two share a long tradition of medical care in remote locales. Susan swallowed her pride and gratefully accepted a shot of anti-nausea drug. She also despaired over the idea of dragging some noro-virus like disease onto airplanes and a ship with a group ready to enjoy the Galapagos Islands. Edwin assured her that if she kept her hands clean she would not infect the group. So she made up her mind to get herself to the Galapagos and recover en route. At seven she was able to leave the room and found the group rallied and taking over leadership roles. Burt was managing Susan. Susana was gathering people, luggage and keeping track of time. The bus was late. Twenty minutes after the scheduled pick up time the bus was spotted passing by a block away. Our hostess was excitedly trying to direct the driver by phone but it was not working. Ultimately Bill saved the day and ran down the bus on foot. Run, Bill, run! We arrived at the airport with only a little time to spare but EcoVenturas was ready and swept us though all the preliminaries with alacrity. Susan was wheeled about in a wheelchair. Sue and Clay joined us at the airport. We all made the flight. Way to go team. Roberto joined the group at the stopover in Guayaquil.
We arrived in San Cristobal on schedule and were ferried to the boat. The Naturalist Journey’s group met 6 new friends and we seamlessly merged into one group of friendly and excited participants. Susan passed out the species checklists and shared the extras with the other couples. We had our boarding briefing and then enjoyed the first of a continuous string of fine meals. After lunch there was a practice emergency drill. Susan slept through it but reports were it went well. We are all pleased there was no need to find out who or who not might have been paying attention.
The afternoon was the first snorkeling of the trip. Burt helped the newbies figure out the mask and snorkel and generally relax in the water. Fiona saw her first sea turtle. Highlights of the outing were the Pacific Green Sea Turtle, the blue-footed Booby, sea lions, great and magnificent frigate birds. That night an exhausted group headed to bed early. No music was played.
2/5/18: By the first morning aboard we were all under the Galapagos’ magic spell and the bad omens of the day before were forgotten. We started with a wet landing at Cerro Brujo and a beach walk. Our Ecoventura guides Cecibel and Giancarlo set us free to explore a lovely stretch of soft sandy shoreline. We walked in sight of Leon Dormido (or Kicker Rock). There we saw our first marine iguanas and lava lizards. The San Cristobal mockingbird, a warbler finch, and the velvety gray lava gull were also spotted. Elliot’s storm petrels danced on the water behind the Letty, too.
The late morning was spent snorkeling nearby. Words fail, mainly because I have no idea what we saw. The snorkeling never failed to impress.
After lunch we did a hike at Punta Pitt. Begging blue-footed booby babies. Dancing blue-footed boobies. Egg sitting blue-footed boobies. Blue-footed boobies are looking good at Punta Pitt. A marine iguana took a run at Susan and she leapt and screamed to the delight of everyone in her group. Susan swears she was not scared only startled by the love stuck reptile.
Highlights of the day: All three species of boobies (red-footed, blue-footed, and Nazca) were seen. We also enjoyed close up swoops of the nocturnal swallowtail gull and the red-billed tropic bird. Fiona is bitten by the bird listing craze and it is revealed that her SO is an eBird administrator. Fiona spots a pair of American Oystercatchers.
2/6/18: Day three found us walking at Punta Suarez on Espaniola and sea kayaking, snorkeling, and hiking along Gardener Bay. It was a jam packed day. On our hike we saw our only waved albatross. It was dead but nobody seemed to mind. Giancarlo explained that the largely unfilled niche of carrion eaters in the Islands was why skeletons and mummified remains were so plentiful. On the live side we saw more Nazca boobies, a snake, and sea lions and marine iguanas. The marine iguanas are especially colorful and active this time of year. Our boating expedition was a delight. Calm seas, clear water, balmy temperatures. What else could you ask for? Susan and Fiona went out together while Burt boated with Brian. Roberto did the SUP and all the other couples were paired with their mates. Nobody was thrown overboard.
During the snorkel we saw a massive ball of creole fish. A shimmering blue delight.
That night Susan ate her first solid food and the instruments and singers came together and got the trip groove going. Brian, Burt, Susan, Fiona, and Roberto got down. The Capitan danced with Sue to Love Potion #9 while Claudia drove the ship. Edwin wins the award for knowing all the words to all the songs.
The day’s highlights: Galapagos mockingbird, Espaniola warbler finch, wandering tattler, a yellow-crowned night heron, creole fish, marine iguanas.
2/7/18: On our fourth day we were getting the hang of this expedition. Our ship was anchored just off Floreana. Cecibel had us getting up early to avoid the heat. The early wake up call had the added benefit of avoiding other groups. We’ve hardly crossed paths with other visitors on any day. Despite our good natured grumbles about the 6 AM alarms we are happy. That Cecibel is a smart one. On this day we visited Post Office bay and learned the history of the area. Following a centuries old tradition we took the time to sort through the mail and find some post cards to hand deliver. We left our own cards behind with the hope someone would bring them to us someday.
Before the visit to the post office, we took a walk to the turtle beach and saw fresh tracks of a Pacific green sea turtle. She was swimming away from her nest as we arrived. On our return walk we stopped and watched American flamingos in the pond just behind the dunes. Joining the flamingoes were a whimbrel, a sanderling, some lava herons, white-cheeked pintails, and a black-necked stilt. The day’s bird list was very long and varied.
That afternoon there was more snorkeling and in the evening lots of fun music with Fiona singing Crazy and Danny Boy. The requests started pouring in and the whole group was singing along now. Brian wowed us with some Sligo solos and joined in on the pop tunes, too.
2/8/18: On this day we left the wilderness behind and visited the inhabited island of Santa Cruz. First up was a stop at Los Gemelos, the twin giant sink holes in the lava on the side of the highway. At this volcanic formation half our group saw the elusive woodpecker finch. The rest of us enjoyed hearing about seeing the woodpecker finch. Afterwards we bussed up to El Chayote Farm to see the giant Galapagos tortoises. The seasonal rains were late this year and so the vegetation wasn’t very deep or thick. While a dry wet season isn’t good news for all creatures it makes for prime tortoise viewing. We saw many fine creatures and they were in the mood for love. Tortoise humping is not as sexy as it sounds nor is it a high action event but it is very fun to see. We saw many Galapagos finches here and started checking off some of Darwin’s famous species. We walked through a beautiful and long lava tunnel. There were common gallinules, smooth billed-anis, a whimbrel and some cattle egrets in the ranch surroundings.
That afternoon we took a tour of the Darwin Center. Giancarlo and Cecibel explained the captive breeding program and the accidental finds of George in the wild and Diego in a zoo. We saw Diego, father of hundreds, in his compound with several lovely ladies. We also saw the remains of George, father of none, hermetically sealed in a glass case. George was the last of his kind so it’s appropriate he has a place where we can forever contemplate the loss of a species.
Afterwards we had free time in town. There was shopping to do and Ecuavoli to watch. That Ecuavoli is a high stakes game. Three on three for several hundred dollars a match. The Carnival parade with a band and the local beauty queens came by just as we headed back to the Letty for the evening.
2/9/18: On this day we visited one of the most spectacular scenes in the world, Bartolome. We took a boardwalk across a lava landscape to a view of Pinnacle rock. It was a stout hike but we all made it without distress. Again we were grateful to Cecibel for an early start. We had the island to ourselves and the dark lava was already heating up at 7:30. Our guides explained the geology of the area while we walked. Tuff was discussed at length. We saw some lovely lava cactus starting the process of vegetating the islet. At the viewing deck you can see the isle nipped in with bays on opposing shores and Pinnacle rock in the center of it all. Afterwards some of us snorkeled. Again, the snorkeling was worth the effort of donning all that gear. White tipped sharks lurked in shallow crevasse just below us. The lava landscape continued into the seascape. On our way back from the swim we passed the base of Pinnacle rock and spotted a Galapagos penguin. Fiona, on board, was watching the pangas and took note of our stop and saw the penguin from the Letty with her binoculars. Impressive skills of observation.
That afternoon we took a panga ride into the Black Turtle Mangroves on Isla Santa Cruz. Right away we happened upon a multi-species feeding frenzy. Sardines were running and everything else was chasing them. Frigates slid down in lazy arcs to just dip the tip of their bills in and flick out a fish. Pelicans and blue-footed boobies plunged deep from up high. Herons lined the shore and stabbed at passersby. Meanwhile bigger fish swam behind the schools and created vortexes of disturbed water.
We traveled deeper into the mangroves and found a hawksbill sea turtle and both white and black tipped sharks. Then we found one of the most delightful creatures to see from a boat, juvenile hammerhead sharks. We had stumbled into the recently discovered hammerhead shark nursery. There were clumps of five or more in several locations. Our guide, Giancarlo, had never seen so many baby hammerheads in one location. Hammerheads at this size look like a fun pet. This is such a recent discovery that it only made the news the week we returned.
More music and more singers let lose in public that night. Roberto slayed Dylan’s Another Cup of Coffee. Brian showed he’s got the chops to improvise on anything we throw at him.
2/10/18: The penultimate day. The previous day was one boggling scene or creature after another. On our last full day in the islands we had the time to look around and think about all the beauty we had taken in. First we took a long walk at South Plaza. We saw a hybrid of a land/sea iguana at the entry to the island. This streak faced animal is neither one nor the other. It isn’t even known if it can propagate. We also observed courtship between swallowtail gulls, a nursing sea lion and pup, some wrestling lava lizards, and some interspecies interactions between land and sea iguanas. I guess they have to interact if they occasionally produce hybrids.
We watched the shearwaters and swallowtail gulls soaring off the cliffs. A hatchling in a cliff side nest below us was fed by a parent. Half the group watched sharks eat a seal. It was reported to be a gory slow death.
That afternoon we snorkeled and hiked at North Seymour. Our hike was full of frigates in all stages of reproduction from courtship to eggs to hatchlings to juveniles. There were shrub climbing land lizards, too. There were also many blue-footed boobies. We saw two male boobies vying for the attention of a lone female. All that foot wagging and sky pointing and she seemed unimpressed. We enjoyed the show.
Our last night of tunes was full of group singing. The crew joined us for some well known numbers in both English and Spanish. Cielito Lindo, Besame Mucho, Quizas…
2/11/18: We spent our morning hanging in internet cafes and passing the time before our flight back to reality. Here’s the complete bird list.
It’s been non-stop action around here until this morning. All was going well for my cousin and her hubby on their first vacation to Baja. Hikes, food, music, sightseeing, whale sharks, whales. And then a sneaky organism found its way into Burt’s digestive tract. Super-host Burt was struck down by a microbe. I’ve never heard him in such agony. I’ll spare you the details. Today we are sleeping it off. Tennis and Bridge canceled.
Cara and Bobby arrived on Tuesday. Since then they saw a packed Gypsy Carpenter show, gone to yoga, hiked, boated and snorkeled with the whale sharks, and eaten a lot of fine food. The weather has been the usual 78 and sunny. Cara’s blog link is on the left. You can see her pictures and read her impressions there soon. I’m happy she and the big guy are here and having a great time. Until today.
When Cara and Bobby arranged their trip they asked if they could see whale sharks. Cara said it was on her ‘bucket list’. My previous experience with the whale sharks was less than interesting. It was a small, loud boat with loud companions. There weren’t many whale sharks and I only spent a quick moment in the water. After seeing actual whales I was underwhelmed by the vacant stare of the plankton eating mega-fish. And I was seasick. But since I love my Cara-pooh I tried to be upbeat and I made arrangements to see the world’s largest fish. I am glad I did. This second trip was far more interesting and exciting than the first visit to the Bay of La Paz.
Neza and Zorro were our guides. We met up with them at 9:00 AM in front of the Burger King on the Malecon in La Paz. It took some firm evasive maneuvers to actually find Neza. We had a date with Neza but several other boat guides tried to poach us as we walked the twenty yards from our car to our meeting place. These other guides all said there was no guy named Neza. Neza? Neza who? Then Neza showed up and they were all like, “ohhhh, Neza. Yeah, we know him.” All’s fair in love and the eco-tourism industry. Despite having an appointment with Neza we didn’t actually have a slot to visit the whale sharks. There was some explaining about the restrictions on the number of boats and swimmers. Neza offered to take us on a longer tour and we could explore more areas (for more money of course). We said, nah, we’re good. We just want to see the whale sharks. I had no problem with this idea but I hate motor boats and all day in an open boat is sun and salt blasted and tiring. No biggy, we’d just go out and wait our turn.
It’s a form of kidnapping. A pleasant kidnapping where you wind up loving your kidnapper. Stockholm syndrome. The guides don’t want to loose a client when they don’t actually have a slot for their visit so they get you on the boat and have you in the bank so to speak while they wait for a slot to open. Since we had to wait over an hour for a space for our tour we just wandered around and looked at things. I think if you didn’t speak Spanish you might not even notice the guide negotiating over the radio to try and get in. It would be easy to think everything was moving along as planned. A pod of dolphins swam by so we followed them from a respectful distance. We saw a few magnificent frigates and brown pelicans. We enjoyed a lecture on all the names of the whale shark from around the world. Whale shark is a really extreme misnomer. This fish is neither whale nor shark. It’s its own thing. It needs a new name. Ginormo. Mr. Mouth. Godfisha. I learned that the fish are all in a database and can be identified by their unique spot patterns. The same technology on a smart phone that identifies constellations of stars can identify the whale sharks in photos.
After about two hours of wandering we finally were cleared to enter the whale shark area. It was a hoot. We immediately found some fishes and jumped in and swam with them. Quite literally. They swim and feed and you swim along side. It’s a terrific workout. Kicking like mad and breathing through a small tube while a 25′ fish with a mouth as large as a refrigerator cruises along. We were able to follow several and really see them in action. They were much more entertaining this time around. Cara has her own personal story that I’ll let you read from her blog. I’ll just say Zorro earned a large tip for his superb work.
In summary, I highly recommend visiting the whale sharks with Neza and Zorro. They kept us entertained and safe and we saw what we wanted to see.
Art Journaling is the first thing I do on waking. I don’t even get out of bed. I reach over and grab my phone and check the prompt. I sit and think. I open my journal bag and grab the book and pen and draw a picture. Then I write. Today’s prompt: What is you most outrageous dream? Two things about this prompt caught my attention. There’s some synchronicity out there. Firstly, I woke up from a very odd musical dream where Burt and I as the Gypsy Carpenters were playing a stadium sized gig with a back up band. The odd part was that I was singing on a ladder from back stage. We can analyze that some other time. Secondly, last night at dinner with my dad and Sara Gay we confessed our next big dream. Stage two of dream achievement plan accomplished. The confession came about because they asked if we were planning to get a new cat when Mimi eventually goes. No, we are not. We are planning on burying Mimi and Elvis when the times come and doing something else. More here down below.
So life dreams, the big ones, are hard to quantify. It’s a tricky thing dreaming. I could say I want to visit the moon. I do want to visit the moon. I wish I could be a universe explorer. But that’s not going to happen so I don’t spend much though on it. It’s a waste of energy. I could also say I wish I was thirty pounds lighter and super-fit. Just not going to happen. There’s all kinds of reasons why but mainly I’d rather not be that kind of person that worries about those kinds of things. I like to focus on dreams that I might be able to accomplish if I have the intention, resources, interest, and luck. Burt and I had a great conversation about how neither of us like to talk pie in the sky dreams but we are good at achieving things many people won’t dare to try. The phrase “if wishes were horses” does not apply to us. I hate those conversations about if I was rich, if I was in charge, or if I was blah blah blah. I’m a down to earth. I can solve a puzzle. I have enough resources.
Here’s what I concluded today, for me, about dreams. Find a dream where you have the drive, the itch, the passion. Then look for the skills, resources, and luck you’ll need to achieve it. I don’t want to be a super famous performer. I’m happy as a community musician. I like to help our kids but I don’t want to run a school. I do want to explore the world. I want to drive. I want to speak Spanish. I want to drive the entirety of South America.
Just as the seeds of quitting work and hitting the road took root a few months before we did it eight years ago this South America idea has been sitting in the soil of our hearts and minds for a while. There are logistical problems with our current outfit. Then there are the elderly pets. There are money concerns, too. Safety, health, age…But recently we saw our window. Mimi and Elvis appear on convergent tracks of expiration. Two years at the most for either or both or them. First step towards down scaling the living arrangements: No new pets.
Last the idea saw life outside the gNash. Burt and I dared tell others we hope to drive to South America. Like all bold ideas it was met with questions and fears for our safety but also with support and excitement. It sounds like we are on teh right path.
So I insist, go find that first step to your dreams.
Below are the 5k race results. I was super pleased to see I had managed under 20 minute miles. Maybe that super-fit goal isn’t as far fetched as I thought.
As I sit here at the El Centro Walmart parking lot as I have for the last three years I am filled with gratitude and relief to find us ready to cross into Mexico for another winter. The year has been hectic and the last week was filled with non-stop activity. A flat tire, broken furnace, Mimi transfer, and pre-Mexico provisioning has consumed our minds and bodies. Burt and I exited the Northern Jaguar Project reserve to find it 26F in Portal. That means it’s time to head south without delay.
All the details of crossing are the same every year but the means of accomplishing our tasks vary. Vehicle insurance – check, health insurance – check (Thanks, Obama), clothes for Vikki – check, visas – check, special foods (chocolate, parmesan cheese)- check. This year we purchased our insurance and visas early due to the NJP reserve excursion. We’ve also learned to do this without joining the Baja traveler’s group that demands a pretty surcharge for the supposed convenience of them getting us our visa. We do self-service at the border. Saves us a trip to San Diego or chasing mail. It’s very easy. If you’re thinking of coming down by car let me know and I’ll tell you how to do it.
I have a nice pile of clothes from my neighbors that were donated by a variety of friends. Thanks, Pat, Jack, Jack’s wife, Eskild, Susan, and Peg. Today I supplemented these hand-me-downs with a spree at the dollar store and Target. Last spring we had a benefit concert and the proceeds of that go to my girls. With the money I bought hair ties, nail polish, socks, tees, tights, markers, and note pads for 14. The Target cashier got a little misty when she heard why I was buying such a volume of children’s clothes in a wide variety of sizes. I am so grateful to my dad and our fans for generously helping us make these gifts.
After all our preparatory work was done we found ourselves with time to spare in a not so attractive town. We did a short bird walk in a city park. The new eBird phone app uses GPS to map and time each bird sighting. I wanted to play with it before we got to Mexico. That worked so add another check to the list of to-dos. On the technology front I also managed to add WhatsApp? to my iPhone. This is a texting app favored by all our Latin American friends from Mexico to Ecuador. I finally got on board and started texting our buddies in their preferred manner. Another check on the to-do list.
The bird walk was quick so then we headed over to the bowling alley. Normally when were siting about in a towny area we’d go to the movies but nothing showing appealed to us and the bowling alley was shiny and new. Burt and I last bowled in Helena, Montana in 2007 when my parents came to visit. It was a cool and rainy day. Bowling seemed like a good idea. It was fun for a few minutes but mom couldn’t really remember how to hold the ball. She was in the midst of her Alzheimer’s. Mom was still active but the activity had to be something she was hardwired for. Bowling wasn’t high on the list of her hobbies. Golfing was okay. So we bailed after one set of ten frames.
Today Burt and I showed signs of untapped bowling talent. Our first ten frames were a disaster. The score was 90 to 38. The next set saw such dramatic improvements you’d think we had been trying to lure in some marks the first round. That was 238 to 141. We quit mid-way through the third round because my wrist was too tired. I started dropping the ball instead of rolling it. Burt thought we could go pro by next week if we applied ourselves. I figure I’d have a psychological breakdown and should get out now.
Now we are snuggled in the gNash and ready to drive. Mimi is already back into her old routines of begging food and walking on me all night long.
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.
The wonders of the Galapagos are widely covered in books and magazines and I am running out of time. Burt and I are headed into the Northern Jaguar Reserve tomorrow. I will be incommunicado for another two to three weeks. I can’t keep up. So here is a summary:
Naturalist Journeys runs a well organized, fortifying trip full of exciting wildlife and fun activities. You can check them out. Our tour had two daily walks, a daily scuba and about three sea kayaking adventures. No activity was too long or too draining. My favorite activity was snorkeling. What a surprise. I have had some bad snorkeling experiences and this was mesmerizing and fun. There was time for us to play some tunes and sing with our friends. The boat was well kept by a stellar crew. The naturalists were knowledgeable and generous. I encourage you to go while you can. It is a very active trip and it’s fun to do while strong and energetic. I have lots more photos on Facebook. If I have time I’ll put them up here.
Two weeks ago Burt and I landed in Ecuador and had a memorable adventure. An adventure full of fun and action and family and friends. Here’s how it went.
The Gypsy Carpenters flew out of El Paso which is three hours from Portal, AZ. Our trailer and dogs and cat were stowed safely with friends in Portal. The cat is apparently happier with her friend Dodi than with us and the canines. Our flight was at mid-day and on the spur of the moment we drove to El Paso the evening before. After a few frustrating u-turns on the endless highways surrounding the El Paso airport we found a La Quinta with an authentic taco joint next door. Live music and tacos pastur for dinner. The La Quinta took us in and kept our car for free with a free shuttle to the airport. What a deal. The next morning we slept in, ate the complimentary breakfast and took to the skies.
There’s not much to say about air travel beyond how uncomfortable it is for everyone involved. Twelve hours later we landed in Quito. Burt and I have both been to Ecuador several times but the most recent trip was ten years ago. A lot has changed in Ecuador in ten years. We stepped out of our airplane expecting a third world style-runway exit with lots of intimidating barriers and screaming taxistas. Instead we landed in a modern day airport. It was clean and cavernous and well lit. Everything was orderly. What happened? President Rafael Correa happened is what I hear. A country wide investment in infrastructure has made the place anew. The Pan American highway was once a two lane pot hole riddled byway. Kind cute. Now it is a super highway. Six lanes of well-engineered roadway all the way to Columbia. Welcome, tourists.
At 11:00 PM we were shuffled through customs efficiently and with smiles. My ink splattered declaration was not a problem. My crossed-out name not an issue. Quite the opposite of our entry into Miami yesterday where I accidentally pushed a wrong button at the mandatory automatic kiosk and got us swept into the X line of suspicious people. Four in the morning and nobody was smiling. I was told I wouldn’t make that mistake again by the grumpy inspector. The taxis were lined up and regulated. We paid the standard ten US dollars to be ferried to our Air B and B host in Tababela. Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar as its currency. Another reason to travel there.
We spent a day resting and acclimating to the high elevation. Chester’s B and B was a cozy spot with a comfortable bed in a town where nothing was happening. Worked for us. Most of our tour companions were on a pre-Galapagos side trip to see the condors and were staying in Puembo at the Puembo Birding Gardens. Naturalist Journeys uses the Puembo Birding Gardens as its Quito base camp. The inn is in beautiful location and has many fantastic birds, a friendly hostess, and fine dining. I figure my heart wasn’t up to the elevation where condors soar so we just hung out and played music and read for a day in seclusion.
The next morning we were up early and taken to the airport by our hosts. At the airport we united with our group and began the intricate journey to the Galapagos Islands. There were 18 guests and 2 hosts on this trip. Carol Simon and Howard Topoff were our hosts. In February Burt and I will be hosts and have guests of our own. Our twenty person group was met by the Ecoventuras team and shuttled through the detailed Galapagos luggage inspection and baggage check and sent off to our boarding gate to wait for our nearly three hour flight to the islands. The Galapagos are a unique place full of native plants and animals. The luggage inspection is to make sure we are not carrying anything that might harm the natural environment. No seeds, unpackaged food, plants, or dirt are allowed. I cleaned Burt’s and my shoes before the trip. (Shocking, I know.)
Our group was comprised of a bunch of scientific types with connections to Portal, Arizona. All of us knew someone on the trip. Burt and I knew Carol and Howard, of course, but we also had longtime Helena friends Ed and Rosemary on board. Our flight made a stop at the coastal city of Guayaquil and we picked up two more of our participants and then it was off the the archipelago.
The Galapagos are more than 600 miles from shore in the Pacific Ocean. The airplane makes quick work of what used to be a many day sea voyage. Flying is convenient but it also minimized the vast distance and made it easy to forget how far from the rest of the world we were. Our plane landed on San Cristobal Island around 3 in the afternoon. After another inspection we met our week’s guides, Fabricio and Franklin, and headed right out our ship for a late lunch and a boat safety meeting. After eating and considering a midnight sinking we headed back to land and took our first nature walk to La Loberia. Sea Lions are called Lobos Marinos and La Loberia was the place of many sea lions. They weren’t kidding. More next post.
These photos are a flashback to work in Oregon for a special family. This six person group wanted a bigger dining room table. Burt can’t make fine furniture with the tools we carry so he suggested Craig’s List or eBay. Burt even found a few second hand tables for sale in the area and the family insisted they wanted a table by Burt no matter how primitive. So Burt built a picnic table and it is large. There’s plenty of room for six people and their school work, crafts, meals, etc. The new table even allows the eldest boy to lock his personal chair to the table for safe keeping. You’ll have to ask him why. I didn’t dare stir up family drama and inquire as to who might be a chair thief.
Today we are parked at a friend’s/client’s place in Templeton, California. We are in wine and olive country. The ocean is nearby. Bridge, too. Barry and Laura are people we met in Portal. They’re engaged and we’ll be playing music for their wedding next month back in Portal. You’ll be hearing more as we get to work. First impression is good. There are a lot of turkeys and Barry offered me $5 for each gopher I kill.
Helena friends, Rosemary and Ed, took a day off from their campground hosting duties and Carl Washburn State Park to visit us on the sunny side of the mountains. Ed alternately blames us and credits us for inspiring their semi-nomadic lifestyle. He and Rosemary spend a few months spring and fall back in Helena, Montana and the rest of the time they are volunteering in Death Valley of other parks or they are simply wandering the world. They visited Baja this past winter and are joining us in the Galapagos soon. Take it from them, it’s fun to travel with the GCs. Food is plentiful and tasty and the dogs play. Sometimes there’s songs to sing. If you’re really lucky Rosemary will dance. Our visit was a good treatment for the eclipse hangover I’m suffering.
Everybody has vacated our current site and we are (or Burt is) back at work. It’s very quiet around here. We played some Bridge and some music and have done on-line shopping to prepare for our next season of wandering. Both of us need new footwear for the Galapagos. Yesterday another wandering duo, Rolf and Bonnie of Portal, AZ, stopped by. Rolf and Bonnie had just visited the Galapagos so they had useful ideas on what to think about as we try to get ready. They even offered us the use of a rolling duffle bag that can be carried backpack style. Our trip to Europe showed us we have left duffle bag days behind and yet the gNash has no room for real luggage. We hardly ever have to pack and this year we are taking three international trips. One person in our party, and I know you’re thinking it was me but it wasn’t, over packed and over shopped for Europe. Some items purchased remain unused. But he is ready for a nice night out. I am pleased he has some stylish pants and shoes for the next time somebody invites us someplace stylish. The islands on the equator are not that place.