Nine years ago, I was planning for a trip that changed my life. I just came across the diary I wrote while I was in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands and thought I would share it again [unedited]. I cannot seem to find any photographs on this computer from that trip, but I will keep looking. Here it is:
Some things that I have learned:
1. If you sit in the window seat in front of an exit row, your chair will not recline.
2. Peanuts and an endless supply of Coke cannot replace a day’s worth of well-balanced meals.
3. Texas is AWESOME, just ask anyone there.
4. Some flight attendants may have not had the time to schedule in their companies “Diversity Training” and could result in them asking small Asian girls on domestic flights if they understand English.
5. Not feeding their customers meals is somehow seen by American Airlines as giving their passengers “more room.”
6. If you have an hour layover and think that you have enough time to tear up the Duty Free shop, you don’t.
7. The best place to find “Quito Punta” is exactly fifteen feet outside customs.
If you are in Quito, Ecuador and love coffee, it is all about “The Magic Bean.” I don’t know what the magic is and frankly I don’t really care, their coffee is best served black, thick, and smooth.
Within seconds of entering one of the largest Indian markets in Quito, a man asked me if I needed some “Ganja” Between that and the “Quito Punta”, I have decided that these Ecuadorians can read me like a book. Local artists show their wears at every corner, and park in Quito, I bought several canvases as well as a decorative tile, baby clothes, finger puppets, a scarf, and a small painted box for les than $80. Shipping them home will break the bank, most likely, but I’m on vacation. All day long, we were witness and at times civilian casualties of water balloons and squirt guns. I had explained it away as some crazy local past time or whatever. Not until tonight, upon reading a Quito travel book did we realize that water balloons and squirt guns are part of the local celebration of “Carnival.” Not that it makes it all fine with me to get hit with a water balloon, whose contents are of highly questionable quality, but who am I to tell the locals that I would prefer to not celebrate carnival?
Cabs from nice hotels are very clean, the drivers are friendly, and they speak some amount of English. We took one to the newer part of town to see a movie in a shopping mall tonight. We saw “Heartbreakers” with Spanish subtitles, which meant that we laughed about five seconds before the rest of the viewing audience. Cabs from shopping malls are not nearly as a delight. It costs more, which is still only $4 (cab drivers in Seattle wont even unlock the doors until they see a $10 bill), and the drivers claim to not know where your hotel is located. Our particular cab didn’t have working headlights or a proper exhaust system. Traffic signals are just pretty lights and do not even function as a possible suggestion to drivers as to what may be advised when approaching an intersection. We exited the cab reeking of exhaust and believing that perhaps walking the streets would have been safer. Even before checking into our hotel, our guide told us that is was not safe to be outside at night, so we have felt like prisoners once the sun goes down. A possible refuge was thought to be found in the hotel’s business center, with Internet access and all the photocopies your heart desires, but Internet access has proven to be spotty at best. I think that you are automatically kicked off after three minutes, which is oddly just enough time to open your hotmail account and delete all the porn/herbal viagra/mortage/porn spam.
Tomorrow, we are torn between climbing to the top of this large hill to look at a statue in the oldest part of the city or going to the shopping mall. My vote has yet to be cast, but I have already window-shopped that mall and feel confident that I am not missing much.
”Friends” is on twice a day, just like home. Also, we finally got to watch most of that movie where Kathy Lee plays a pill popping nightmare bitch actress. It was bad, and they sure did make Howie Mandel look completely different, and Kathy Lee says “Friggin” several times, which I have no doubt that she has used the full octane version of that word every day since she was on the Lawrence Welk Show.
Carnival will never end. Today, my day was spent being followed around by my very own personal paparazzi (Tim is OUT OF CONTROL with his new digital camera) and being dowsed from every rooftop, passing car, and small child with a super soaker. I do not understand the fun behind the whole spraying people with all the water. Especially for us, who have been reminded several times to not drink any of the water that comes out of the bathroom faucet. God only know where the fuck the water came from before it was hauled up into the muffler-less pickup truck and sprayed all over us.
Our hotel staff is finally starting to get into the groove of their specific job descriptions, the concierge actually helped us today. A true dear diary moment. More than I can say for the front desk people who actually suggested that we walk four blocks down the street, the very same street we are not allowed to step foot on after dark, to get a newspaper from the Hilton. The Hilton front desk boy (as gay as you can be in Ecuador without getting publicly stoned to death) was so helpful, to the point of trying to get us to stay at his hotel instead. He said he would make us a deal, a deal that we did not hash out the details of, for obvious reasons. Today’s Miami Herald horoscope told me that I would be complimented on my love making skills, amongst other things. It is now 1 am and nothing came of it. I considered complimenting myself, but shared bedrooms limit that sort of availability. Why the hell have I never learned to masturbate in the shower?! Sharing a room for two weeks, I am going to need to learn how, I fear. I decided to wear my ugly sandals around today to break them in before they become second skins to me on the islands. I am not sure if it was coupling them with a pair of camouflage army pants or if just on their own merit that they garnered stares from almost everyone. Do they think that exposing bare feet is horrible? Tim seems to think that I am so fashion forward that they were in shock by my hip footwear. If that is the case, these sorry bastards are worse off than I could ever imagine. I will ask someone about this at some point and get back to you.
I found a new hobby to pass some of the time during lockdown tonight. Wet balled up tissues thrown from our eight-floor balcony, trying to hit the windows of the office building across the street. Then when that proved to be unattainable, I switched to tossing nickels down onto the corrugated tin rooftop of the newsstand on the sidewalk below. We all celebrate Carnival in our own way.
Up at the crack of dawn or about 6 AM depending on what you consider what the crack of dawn to be. We grabbed a quick breakfast downstairs at the café and then set off for our last leg of the trip, the Galapagos.
We flew to Quayaguil and then found out the truth of our changing of planes. Our guide told us that we would change planes, but she failed to mention that it was going to include a 5-hour lay-over. We ate at the KFC at the airport, when was the last time I ate at a KFC? College? I am sure that little meal is going to give my typhoid shot a run for its money tonight.
We landed in the Galapagos Islands. Everything changed, we instantly calmed and can physically feel the stresses and worries of the city and our lives flow away. The peace and ultimate breath taking beauty of even what I have just seen this afternoon brings tears to my eyes. We walked past Sea Lions, Sea Iguanas, and Frigates so close they could reach out and touch us. They were completely unconcerned by the entire event, they were much more concerned about doing what they had done for hundreds of years without us. The beauty and love I felt coming from one baby sea lion’s eyes was humbling to the point of making me want to sit there and stare into them for hours, not speaking, just trying to emit the same love back to her that she was emitting to me. She was perfection in form and in function, all surrounded with the most piercingly dark oil spots for eyes that enveloped you with stillness.
”Evolution is the combination of an isolated population and a food shortage.” The talk on board tonight focused around the basics of how the islands were formed and what factors were involved in creating the specific species found there. I quoted Barry above because that is basically summing up what really was said. It was not always survival of the fittest or even the strongest and evolution did not occur slowly over time but mostly in spurts in quick succession. Meaning sometimes it was the freaky looking tortoise with the long neck and the screwed up shell that survived because he was the only one tall enough to reach the plants to eat. Sometimes, it was the Iguana that swam while all the rest stayed on the sore while the island imploded. It is a lesson to me as well to probably everyone that the status quo is never that, the status quo has to change and evolve and adapt and create all the time or it will be passed by. That girl that you laugh at on the streets could hold the next brain that is kinked in such a way she can figure out the necessary factors for an AIDS cure, or write the next modern symphony, the likes that haven’t been heard for hundreds of years. What does any of this mean? I don’t really know, but it has given me pause to think about how I was a freak, a misfit that didn’t fit, and how my evolution has not happened in spurts, but all the same has happened and has created in me, the next symphonic masterpiece.
You will forgive me for not writing, won’t you? I have affectionately coined this trip the “Galapagos Iron Man” because of all the activities the events we do each day. Rising at six in the morning to go on a pre-breakfast hike seems like something that is against the Geneva Convention, but seeing a mother sea tortoise walking back into the ocean after laying her eggs is not something we would have ever experienced by waking up later. Especially meaningful as she was our very first sighting of a tortoise this trip. She took her time; she plodded along back to the ocean, leaving behind her possibly one hundred eggs and the mark of every step in the sand. Beautiful. Farther down the beach, there were dark black lava rocks spotted with read crabs. They had the most contrasting of blue underbellies and rapidly moving eyes I had ever seen.
We snorkeled twice before lunch, seeing white tipped sharks, full grown and baby sea lions, and an impossibly long list of vibrantly colored fish. At one point, I was diving down, twirling around and attempting, with my clumsy human body, to mimic the grace and agility of the sea lions, as they swam circles, literally and figuratively around me. It was the most humbling and amazing experience, to be on their turf, playing their games, and being taunted by their abilities. Later that day, we kayaked to a lookout point high atop a hill and had the chance to see out over the surrounding islands. It was a wonderful view of everything. Today, we ate breakfast at 6:30 am and boarded the ponga for the small town on Santa Cruz, the location of most of the population of the Galapagos Islands and home to the Charles Darwin Station. They rescue turtles and iguanas and repopulate islands that for one reason or another have been dangerously close to losing all their original animals. The chance to go back into the regulated portion of the center to see the baby iguanas was something the average visitor does not get to do, since our travel company is the scholarship sponsor to several past and present interns at the center, we received a private guided tour. The Darwin Center is also home to Lonesome George, the suspected last Pina Turtle left in the world. He does have playmates in his area for company, he does seem a bit sad because all turtles seem sort of sad; maybe it is their slowness? Can you imagine being the last of your kind? I wonder if he realizes that?
Jacqueline De Roy joined us for lunch at the Galapagos Hotel, she brought some of the silver jewelry and sculpture pieces she has been working on recently and regaled us with stories of what her life was like when she arrived on Santa Cruz over 50 years ago. She is a vibrant, interesting, insightful, calm, witty free thinker that makes you wish you had a little of what she has in her to take risks and gamble. She is obviously a success story in the game of risk, establishing a life here, and making everything from her entire house to the sailboat they used for transportation.
After lunch, we went to several lava sinkholes; some so deep I had to lean over the wooden railing to see the bottom. The vegetation higher on Santa Cruz changed drastically from our previous island visits to lush grassy pastures, full of bamboo, papaya, and mangrove trees. We then traveled to a small restaurant for dinner. One of the best dinners we have had to date. Besides the breathtaking setting amongst the tall trees with open walls and wooden plank floors, the food was prepared so lovingly and expertly it dissolved in your mouth like cubes of sugar. The music playing was a trip hop compilation CD that had some of my favorite bands mixed with local Ecuadorian ones, which I found odd, yet had to take as a sign as something very good.
Our bus back to the pongo almost hit a cow in the road, and since everyone had consumed at least one rum and fresh grapefruit juice drink, it couldn’t have been funnier. I think that I have fallen in love with everyone aboard at some point. All for different reasons, but mostly as a deep respect for who they are, how they got to where they are, and the levels of comfortability inside their skins they all seem to possess. We are such a diverse group, all bonded together by the early mornings, the power snorkeling, and the unique awareness to realize that we are incredibly fortunate to be experiencing something most people will not.
I need to go to bed now, we are waking at five tomorrow morning to hike and ride horses all day, the Iron Man continues. But I am not missing a thing, and are all the better for it.
Yesterday, we woke up at 5 to have breakfast at 5:30, so we could be in the ponga by 6 and off to Isabella Island. From there, we all climbed in the back of a pickup truck and rode the bumpy uneven roads up into the hills outside of town. Some of us were to ride horses and some of us were to hike, I had chosen the hike because I was afraid that the horses would be too nagged up to hold my weight and that I would end up carrying them. While the horses did look very skinny, very tired, and a little beat up, they proved to be full of spunk once the riders mounted and headed up the trails to Sierra Negra’s caldera. They passed us hikers like a gang of banditos, whooping and hollering, all the while wildly brandishing their switches in the air. We didn’t know until later that the horses worked in a pack mentality and any attempt to control an individual was pointless, one ran, they all ran.
The hike was long and tiresome, leaving our guide the very last to make it to all resting spots. We walked along the rim of the caldera for quite a ways, the huge crater stretching in all directions. We then entered a newly formed lava bed, from 1979, very little vegetation and almost no animals have returned. The terrain was rough and glasslike, causing the travel to be slow and cautious. Once we were as high as possible in the lava fields, we stopped, sat down and remained silent for ten minutes, allowing ourselves to experience the space without a guided commentary, without a history lesson. Just to sit there and experience the wind, the smells, and the feeling of power, heat, and change that the area still stores within its glassy rocks, even after 20 years.
Our dirty hike proved to be more than most had thought and some could handle. My legs can feel it today, and conversation around the breakfast table was centered on sore and tired parts. Today will prove to be a tad slower, as for now, we are cruising along, I am sitting in the stern seating area while Marie sketches, Ross sleeps, Jerry scans the water for whales, and Richard tells us stories of his past jobs, past lives.
A tad of gossip from last night: Michael accused Barry of being passive aggressive during the evening lecture, in front of the group. Barry denied it, as the passive aggressive would do when confronted, deflected all responsibility for the situation off of him. Anyway, we all sort of agree that it could have been best handled in private, and with fewer accusations. Marie, whom I respect and admire very greatly, sums it up to mostly just male testosterone. I agree to some extent, where as Nancy can see the differences between East and West coasters when dealing with issues, I guess the big thing for her was that it was two west coast types, making it a very foreign sort of situation. It is a small boat, we are all expected to or should allow a bit compromise from our normal lives.
Yesterday, my siesta was punctuated with a rather vivid dream about me interviewing a dominant Sea Lion. There was a language barrier that we had to get around, he spoke Spanish and I spoke English. To be honest, he looked a bit like the ships engineer. I ask pretty basic questions: “Why so much noise and thrashing about?” and the like. I was curious if it was more about claiming his territory or if it was more about proclaiming his prowess as the head male and an announcement that he is willing to take on any challenger. To say the least, the Galapagos Islands have entered my dreams and started to affect me on more subterranean levels. Last night, I dreamt that we caught a Blue Footed Booby in our dragline and we were all very sad.
We had our first night snorkel yesterday after dinner. Although the water was not very clear and our entire thrashing about could have contributed to the lack of anything astounding being seen, it was great fun. Everyone stayed very close to each other, compared to the day snorkels, so we all shared more sightings. The phosphorescence of the water was incredible, it was like a million stars were created each time you moved you arms, swirling off into distant galaxies. Our hike was quite amazing yesterday; we hiked all around and saw for the first time close up, cormorants. These flightless birds have remarkably long necks they use for getting in between tight rocks under water. One seemed to torment most of the swimmers earlier in the day, including biting Elizabeth on the arm. I think he just thought that he was playing and it was very funny to see, this bird following everyone around.
I have been thinking about Greg more and more lately, most every night before I go to sleep. I am not really sure what that means or if I should take it to mean anything really, but I have been thinking a lot about him, sort of missing him, thinking that I want to make it work, that I can make it work, that maybe all I need to do is be bold enough to open up the communication lines a little wider, to establish a higher lever of comfort with a wider array of subjects? I can’t deny that he has been on my mind a lot, I can’t deny that he is a good guy, and I can’t deny that I miss him and have for several months. One lesson that I have learned so far from the trip is to let people into your life, let them know you and take risks that by letting them know the real you, they may actually like you. I used to know that, back from those summers at Interlochen, but I guess that the city has a way of changing you; your credentials need to be up front, your face, your car, your bank account, your spin as it were. I will remember it again. Even though it is a possibility that I could be moving to Los Angeles soon, we shall see. Nancy asked me what I missed most about my life at home, and I couldn’t think of anything. Is that because I am so in the moment? Or is it that I don’t let much get to me at home enough to miss them? I sort of thought about how I missed driving my car, but even I can identify that as a fleeting thought. She also asked me my thoughts about hitting my five-year mark at Amazon and what I planned on doing. I really have not given it any thought which is wrong, I should have a plan, I should be aggressive with my life and make decisions that are not the easiest path and that are active.
Almost everyone has experienced some sort of intestinal discomfort on this trip, but for some reason, I have not. I thought that it was a bit odd that I had gone without, not that I was feeling left out, but I wondered when/if I would get to experience the tales I had one heard second hand. Well, I guess it may be that my turn is about to come up, the grumbling in my stomach have me worried to stray far from any bathroom.
Later that very same day
The grumbling have proved to be nothing, just that, grumbling.
I love bananas, don’t get me wrong, but we have had bananas and plantains served in more ways that I ever thought was possible. Cooked somehow, maybe boiled or poached? As a desert with some sort of sweet syrup on them, and julienned into French fries. None of us are going to get scurvy or whatever happens from a lack of potassium that is for sure.
Our freezing snorkel this morning was punctuated by a beautiful cave exploration and thousands of invisible little opportunist jelly fish stinging any exposed skin and some through the thinner wet suits. The pain is minimal, but grows slowly on the softer spots like armpits and eyelids. Don’t ask me how they got to my eyelid; they are crafty in their ways.
Roca Rotunda is this isolated island with steep rock walls, permitting only tiny shelves for the fur seals to call home. The convergence of several strong opposing currents causes great swells on all sides, and made our ponga ride the most exciting to date. Up and down, pushed in and out, we circled the island once and then went back to let those snorkeling have a go at it. They really enjoyed it and saw hammerhead sharks. I should have gone, but at the point of decision, it was still questionable for even taking the ponga out, from now on, I just need to jump with both feet and feel the chance completely. Let someone sort out my car payments if the worst happens.
Dolphins joined us on our way from Roca Redondo, they swam along the bow of the ship, jumping and splashing, turning sideways to look up at us, making actual eye contact. Such incredibly beautiful and peaceful beings, so much grace and warmth, a strong sense of love emitted from them, my eyes welled up. In the last day or so, everyone’s auras have just opened up into these bright shining beacons of light; everyone is clearing away the clouds and becoming such beautiful people. I am not sure it is the surroundings, the close quarters, or if it is something all together different, an exposure of their true selves and acceptance of it. Diane was one of the people that arrived with an aura full blazing, but the rest of them have joined her and it is so wonderful to witness. I had hoped that the experience would be one of great change and discovery for me, but it is so much more enlightening to see that it was that for others as well. That we all have that possibility within us for crystalline purity and greatness.
We traveled all night, rocking and rolling. I woke up shortly before we arrived at 5:30 am; it was still dark and cool out, one of the best times of day. Breakfast and a short ponga ride found us on the beach in James Bay. The standard type of characters littered the black lava and sandstone beach, sea lions, sea iguanas, and those crazy red Sally Lightfoot Crabs.
We snorkeled off the shore for over an hour and then had lunch. A few hours in transit and then we snorkeled, walked the red sand beach, and then did an additional night snorkel in the same location. I lost my dive light over the edge. Filipe says he can find it and that I should give him my address in case he does. We had dinner and now here I am, after the debriefing for tomorrow’s full day of the same, just at a different island.
Today is Gavin’s birthday and I tried my best to take a roll of photographs that I can make into a small book to show him what I did today. He will maybe find it interesting in years to come. It will go with all this other gifts.
I am sorry for cutting this so short, but I am beat.
Today was the isle of horrible bird guano. It was actually overwhelmingly beautiful, even if it was my own personal allergy hell. We climbed Prince Phillip Steps and saw our first Red Footed Boobies, Vampire Finches, and Owls. Apparently, somewhere along the way, the Vampire Finch found out that they could attack the necks of boobies and drink their blood, strange.
We kayaked out from the boat back to Prince Phillip and snorkeled along the cliffs back toward the boat. For some reason, there was a lot of junk in the water, but it was very impressive, we saw several Manta Rays, Hammerhead Sharks, and exotic fish.
When we got back, we jumped off the side of the boat and I lost my sunglasses somewhere along the way.
At 12:40 this morning, our boat ran aground at Punta Sieta. A lot of Spanish screaming and a serious list to the boat made us realize that something was wrong. We were told to pack up all of our things and be ready to evacuate the boat. The Polaris, a large cruise ship, was in the area and agreed to take us aboard. We slept on the floor of the cocktail lounge until about 5:30 that morning and then went back to the boat. Thanks to the metal hull and rising tide, there was no damage and the boat floated off all by itself.
Later in the day, we snorkeled back around the exact spot where we ran aground. I couldn’t find any spots where paint had rubbed off or anything like that. We climbed up to a view spot of Pinnacle Rock called Barta Lamay. The crew organized a huge diner tonight, it was so amazing, and they really went all out for us. I don’t think we could have had nearly as good of a time without them.
This journal has sort of trailed off at the end now, but it was such a trying experience, that I barely had enough time to shower, let alone write what I could.
Our last day on the boat. We rode around in the ponga to Black Turtle Cove and saw so many Pacific Green Turtles, too numerous to count. We then got on the airplane to go back to Quito. The airport was hot, slow, and very tiresome, but we were glad to wait, to have the chance to sit together and sort of just sit. We had a group dinner that night in Quito, and had the chance to just let loose, and be goofy, not be learning about nature and listening to lectures. They actually let us pick our own food, we had choices, and it was something we had not thought about in a while, one of the options being goat. Goat? I guess it is supposed to taste like lamb, whatever.