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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Still not to Jack’s house

Kelso, CA train station
Kelso, CA train station

I am writing this pile of posts having finally arrived and departed Jack’s house. There was sparse internet on the way and, well, my back hurt and my eye irritated me. But you, dear reader, are still not to Jack’s house. The regulator repair slowed us down.  So the day drew to a close and we found ourselves wondering where to stop just where I-40 comes into California. We opted for the Mohave National Preserve. But where in the vast undeveloped reserve. BLM rules allow for boondocking on any road but could we find a road? There was an awkward ten minutes turning around in a dead end vista site. Traffic is sparse out in the Mojave so we were able to back directly out into the highway. Eventually we accidentally found a free boondocking site just next to Kelso. It was sunset when we arrived so we took a quick walk and then headed into the gNash for some DVD watching. Kelso, has or had, a train station. It was hard to tell. I mean it has a train station but does the train stop? Hold on, I’ll google. No you cannot catch a train from Kelso. Passenger service stopped in 1964 and with it the town crumbled. Now it is restored as the National Park Service’s visitor center.

We got up and split early. Hot springs and Jack were still ahead.

Kelso, CA train station
Kelso, CA train station
Kelso jail
Kelso jail
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Marfa Texas

Not sure if this was a Donald Judd influence but this venue has a minimalist sign.
Not sure if this was a Donald Judd influence but this venue has a minimalist sign.

Marfa, Texas is an arts community that has a side of Texas county seat and rancher culture. Donald Judd settled here in 1971. Judd was a titan of minimalistic art and made huge installations. Huge but minimal. Marfa was a place he could go big and he did. He owned several ranches and air hangers and the Chinati hot springs. He died over twenty years ago but two foundations and a pack of other people have built Marfa into and international arts destination. Part of me hates it and part of me loves it. I don’t know why the hate. Okay, I do. There’s an element of poser/hipster-ness that I find inauthentic. I like art. I like big art. I really like good food. The fame and destination-ness have resulted in some fantastic food options. And then there’s the people trying to slay us all with their efforts at cool and I think effort does not equal cool. You must be yourself. So I liked the broken down Marfa shoulder to shoulder with international destination Marfa. I did not like the Marfa is…insert your word…self-congratulatory hand bags, socks, t-shirts, and hats. Give me your film festivals, opera, and art shows, keep your chachkas of self-referential coolness.

The food at Cochineal was superb. Worth every penny.

Reflections
Reflections
Minimalism in a shop makes me uncomfortable.
Minimalism in a shop makes me uncomfortable.
Maybe if we win the lottery we'll fix this up.
Maybe if we win the lottery we’ll fix this up.
Please
Please
Lifestyle coach with no curb appeal.
Lifestyle coach with no curb appeal.
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Chinati Hot Springs

Our comfortable, clean, and cozy room at Chinati Hot Springs.
Our comfortable, clean, and cozy room at Chinati Hot Springs.

Burt’s hot spring itch has taken us to some sketchy places in remote corners of the world. Moisture, decay, mold, mildew. Those are not my favorite words for a warm spring. Yet so many warm spring resorts are nothing but slippery pots of smelly water. I was less than enthusiastic about driving several hours into the desert to check what looked in the hot springs guide book little more than a preppers hidey hole. But Burt. This one was a big win for him. Chinati Hot Springs defies all previous personal experiences and sets the bar for a wilderness and comfort and fun. Chinati is hands down the nicest hot spring I have ever been. This oasis of warm water is remote but the current management has not used that as an excuse for ramshackle infrastructure or untidy accommodations. It’s spotless and still funky. A drive to the Chinati Hot Springs is worth your time and money. I say this and I don’t even enjoy soaking for more than ten minutes.

This place has been a resting stop for hundereds of years. Native Americans, Spaniards, Mexicans, world travelers all have found rejuvenation in its warm water. For a while it was owned by the artist Donald Judd and the public was barred from enjoying its riches. Judd died a couple of decades ago and the spring is back open for all. More on Donald Judd in the Marfa post. If you go, get a room or camp, and cook for yourself in the spacious, spotless and view-licious group kitchen. Say hi to the friendliest gray tabby cat I have ever met. I so wanted to steal him.

Sign near Chinati Hot Springs. Attractive but hard to read at even a modest speed.
Sign near Chinati Hot Springs. Attractive but hard to read at even a modest speed.
the Audad has become a problem and we arrived in time for erradication.
the Audad or Barbery Sheep has become a problem and we arrived in time for erradication.
Rock art 1
Rock art 1
Rock art 2
Rock art 2
Rock art 3
Rock art 3
rock art 4
rock art 4
Chinati Hot Springs has serious water pressure.
Chinati Hot Springs has serious water pressure.
Burt likes hot water.
Burt likes hot water.
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Photos

The flat sky and very white sands made depth perception difficult. We carefully walked from marker to marker.
The flat sky and very white sands made depth perception difficult. We carefully walked from marker to marker.
Follow the red markers for 5 miles. Do not entire the missile range.
Follow the red markers for 5 miles. Do not entire the missile range. The trail seems large but is frequently and rapidly obliterated by winds.
Another group of hikers.
Another group of hikers. Sleds and dogs are allowed.
The sand is ground up gypsum from the San Andreas mountains. Gypsum, unlike, regular silica or quartzite sand, is water soluble. It melts and reforms a crust when it rains. The crust is easy walking.
bad wefi
IMG_4889
The sand is ground up gypsum from the San Andreas mountains. Gypsum, unlike, regular silica or quartzite sand, is water soluble. It melts and reforms a crust when it rains. The crust is easy walking but only lasts a short time as hikers break it up.
The alkali flat between the dunes and the San Andreas Mountains. Gypsum is reoded out of the mountains and deposited in the flat. The wind picks it up and forms the dunes.
The alkali flat between the dunes and the San Andreas Mountains. Gypsum is reoded out of the mountains and deposited in the flat. The wind picks it up and forms the dunes.
Tussocks of hardened gypsum form under trees and shrubs. When the vegetation dies the water hardened tussocks remain.
Tussocks of hardened gypsum form under trees and shrubs. When the vegetation dies the water hardened tussocks remain.
There was trail of feather leading away from the marked route. Burt pulled me back from certain death when he insisted I could not follow the feathers into the deeper dunes. It was probably a trap.
There was trail of feather leading away from the marked route. Burt pulled me back from certain death when he insisted I could not follow the feathers into the deeper dunes. It was probably a trap.
The play of light in White Sand Dunes National Monument resembles the ocean.
The play of light in White Sand Dunes National Monument resembles the ocean.
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White Sands National Monument

The Gypsy Carpenters summer work season is over. We haven’t landed in Mexico for the winter, yet. Our big plans to float the Aros river in Mexico were dashed when the roads washed out. It’s time to improvise. How shall we ever pass the time? The last few days we wandered like the good, old days but for the first ime we have all our boating gear. Nine years ago we hit the Big Bend area of Texas and could only enjoy it from the land. It was marvelous but the canyons  called for a deeper plunge. Tomorrow two friends from Montana arrive and we’ll head off on a 100 mile float along la frontera. Literally we will be drifting down the international border on the river than splits the US and Mexico.  We will be out for nine or so days.

The internet here in Terlingua is too slow for posting photos. You’ll just have to imagine the soft, white, gypsum sand dunes of White Sand National Monument and the oasis hot springs nestled in the Chianti Mountains and the odd juxtaposition of West Texas rural life and high art that is Marfa, Texas. And the invertebrates that have finally emerged after a dry summer. They seem to all be trying to live out a condensed life cycle with these late fall rains. Winter is upon them and the migrating birds.

 

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Traveling with Dogs or Dogs ruin our lives. Again.

It's been cold
It’s been cold

We had big plans for the coming weeks. A superb adventure in a wild land. Then it rained and rained and rained. The roads around the Northern Jaguar Reserve washed out and with it our plan to raft the Aros River floated away. Instead we’re headed over to Big Bend National Park. The Rio Grande (or Rio Bravo in Mexico) is still remote and wild country but much more traveled and less mysterious. Also, no dogs allowed.

Olive and Elvis were going to join us on our Mexican adventure and now they are trapped in a kennel in Las Cruces. Hours spent searching for a kennel within 100 miles of our adventure were fruitless. At one point our friend Peg was going to care for them but then Elvis showed us he’s not safe in anybody’s hands and we had to find a kennel. Elvis has redeveloped some behavioral issues from his anxious childhood. I presume it’s doggie dementia. He pretty much cannot be left safely alone unless he’s in our truck or trailer. So I spent more time calling. Kenneling must be a tough business. Many numbers I called were disconnected. One place needed a day long play date for compatibility. Another was closed on Sunday. A third was full. Finally, we got into a place in Las Cruces. All we needed was a record of their vaccinations.

Inadvertently having to stop in Las Cruces worked in our favor. Two Portal Irish Music Week friends live in the area and we were able to see both. Cheryl owns the Mesilla bookstore. I’ve always wanted to see Mesilla and Cheryl’s store but when we’ve passed by towing the gNash Burt said we wouldn’t fit. This time we were sans gNash and we went in to old town Mesilla. Burt was right. The truck alone barely passes through the tight streets. Mesilla is a very old adobe town built in the Mexican style. There’s a church plaza with trees surrounded by charming stores and restaurants. Now. Cheryl’s store was a delight. I dropped a pile of money because it seemed every book was screaming for me. How did she do that? She didn’t even know we were coming. The store has been around for a very long time. Cheryl’s mother bought it in 1963. The town was all bars and no trees back then.

After the book binge we headed to our friend Trish’s house. Trish has just the hour before been playing music with Cheryl in a back room of the bookstore but we had just missed her. Trish put us up for the night and we went out to eat together. More above.

Honey pot ants
Honey pot ants. Just because.
Bat nap
Bat nap. We found this in the road. We woke it up and it flew away. Maybe it was stunned by a car or owl.
Saint Francis
Saint Francis at the Mesilla bookstore.
Me and Cheryl
Me and Cheryl
Carriage
Carriage at the bookstore
Indian Basket
Indian Basket in the bookstore
Mesilla Bookstore
Mesilla Bookstore
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Lonely and scary drive

Moon viewing
Moon viewing

We’ve arrived safely in Arizona last week. It was a high strung drive for me with Portal Irish Music Week looming and internet going in and out. Despite the self generating worrying we stopped and explored some new areas. Burt wound the gNash and crew through Capitol Reef National Park. Like Yellowstone Capitol Reef was fully booked and had no space for us. We drove through and enjoyed it from the windshield. The night before we spent out on a high pass in cool air. Elvis again demonstrated his growing senility when he took off after some birds and could not find his way back to us. It was a fraught twenty minutes before Burt spotted him a half mile away on an opposing hillside heading in the wrong direction. Burt was able to catch up to nearly 13 years old Elvis and lead his tired bones back home. More leash time for the old doggo.

Our last night traveling we spent on the Coronado Highway at the edge of the Mogollon rim. We’ve spent many nights up there and really look forward to trips into this wild country. Eight years ago some fugitives were captured near us. Remember that? No? HERE’s the story. Now we can add this bit of discomfort to that story. That night, as usual, Burt fell right to sleep. I tossed and turned and played some Bridge on-line. On-line Bridge puts me right to sleep. Usually. Around 11:00 PM a vehicle pulled up next to out camper with its lights on. I listened for doors. Nothing. Then the vehicle pulled out. No big deal. We were parked in a circular pullout for a view right on the highway. There was cell reception. Three minutes later the same vehicle pulled in with its lights out. Now my spidey-senses were on full alert. I nudged Burt and he was instantly awake. He must have heard the car in his sleep. I said, “Car.” We sat in silence and listened. Burt got partially dressed. He had his machete. I had my stick. We had bear spray. We listened and listened. It was awful. The car rumbled. I kept saying to myself DO NOT LEAVE THE TRAILER. Over and over again. DO NOT LEAVE THE TRAILER. I thought about how I told a single female friend these words as she headed out on a long solo trip. Our only protection is in the trailer. Did you read the story above about the RVers being killed and their rig being stolen? That story was repeating in my head. Burt and I had a few hushed whispers. The dogs were dead quiet. I steadied my breathing. I cursed all the scary TV we watch. I considered how this route was a great place for drug passes.

After 20 minutes or so the car pulled away. Nothing happened. They probably were on a phone call. Burt and I finished dressing and waited another ten minutes and got the hell out of there. Burt drove us to the bright lights of the Morenci mine and we finished out rest there.

Now off the Portal Irish Music Week.

Ollie in her slightly snug bed.
Ollie in her slightly snug bed.
Who would mess with us?
Who would mess with us?
Hubble Trading Post jewelry.
Hubble Trading Post jewelry.
More jewelry from the Navaho Trading Post.It was hard to resist.
More jewelry from the Navaho Trading Post.It was hard to resist.
Our Lady of Guadalupe
Our Lady of Guadalupe
Navaho Rugs
Navaho Rugs
We-fi right before the scare.
We-fi right before the scare.
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Existential Angst

Vaquita Susan and Susan
Vaquita Susan and Susan

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.

Luz Maria's former home
Luz Maria’s former home
Luz Maria walks to get the mama cow.
Luz Maria walks to get the mama cow. Bean vines climbing the corn stalks.
River crossing with the cow, Julieta. Named for Jueves which means Thursday.
River crossing with the cow, Julieta. Named for Jueves which means Thursday.
Heading home for the night.
Heading home for the night.
Luz Maria and her new readers.
Luz Maria and her new readers. This is in the kitchen of her daughter’s home.
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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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