Ecuador and the Galapagos Part 6: Isabela Island

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The white board:


Our wake-up call was at 7:00 AM.

I said, “Wake up!”


The morning was to be easy, with only one activity before lunch. We sat out on the pangas to explore Elizabeth Bay, where we hoped to see blue-footed boobies and penguins. Our guides had told us we did not even have to wear shoes, because we were not getting out of the pangas. This was my kind of excursion.

First we traveled to the rocky cliff side, and a blue-footed booby stood right there and smiled at us. He must have been the Welcome Wagon. I had been teasing Genene by telling her that all the animals were tame or animatronic. We would ask the guides, “How long did it take you last night to set all those out?” It almost seemed true because we drove the pangas right up to those boobies, and they just stood there gazing back at us fearlessly.

Cue the booby!


Can you see why the pirates called them Enchanted Islands? It was like something out of our science books. Now class, open your books to the chapter titled “prehistoric” and take a look.



Before long, our guides spotted something really spectacular. At an outcropping of rock in the bay, there was a feeding frenzy going on.

It was incredible. There were penguins by the dozens swimming. James told us that they were hunting and churning up the fish and that the birds were hunting cooperatively. There was a school of black-tail mullet below. The penguins were slicing under the water, disrupting the school. The other birds were joining in the fray. There were blue-footed boobies, flightless cormorants, and pelicans by the dozen in the scrum. Even the occasional sea lion swam in the pack. The boobies and pelicans dive-bombed fiercely and without ceasing. The cormorants paddled on the surface, from time to time sticking their faces down and swimming straight down. It was a wonderous sight, and James confided that he had only seen it himself about 5 or 6 times in all his years of guiding tours on the Galapagos.

A booby dives on the right, while the peguin comes up on the left.

Dive! Dive! Dive!
Flightless cormorant interlude. Come back and see me in a millenium, and I will show you my penguin flipper.
Again, I was reminded of Alfred Hitchcock. If Norman Bates shows up, I’m outta here!
A pelican and a booby in flight.
Blue footed booby in flight.
At one point, James was narrating, and I thought of the Ringling Brothers ringmaster. James stretched out his hand, pointed and said, “Blue footed booby. Flightless cormorant. Penguin. Sea lion. Pelican.” I thought he was going to say, “Behold, the greatest show on earth.” But he didn’t.
Greg got some incredible underwater footage with his GoPro, and I edited it into one long action-packed segment. If you don’t have time to watch it all, go to 2:14 for my favorite sequence and watch until the penguin buzzes by at 2:35.
We noticed one pelican on the edge of the scrum. His pouch was torn. James told us that he will starve. In the midst of all the life, there is death.
James and Genene strike a pose on the panga.

Nestled in the cliffside, we saw a penguin on its nest.

The blue-footed boobies gather on the rocks.

After watching the feeding frenzy for more than 30 minutes, we motored inland to go into the mangroves. Greg and I were both reminded of “The African Queen.” I kept expecting to see Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn at every bend. Never mind that they are both long dead. There were tributaries and inlets running everywhere like little fingers. James explained that baby sea turtles and baby golden rays make there home there. The mangroves offer some protection from the predators on the high seas. We saw a few sea turtles but we saw at least 50 golden rays traveling in a pack, school, or whatever it is that rays travel in.

“Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.”
I thought the golden rays were incredible. It was just magical to see them floating just under the surface. This is what they looked like from the boat:
And from our underwater camera:
This is a very short but incredible video. They just float along, as if on air.


What an incredible morning of wildlife viewing. We were back aboard at about 10:45, and Abel was waiting with a mid-morning snack. Today, the chef had prepared pizza, which thrilled the kids in particular. Every single bite was gone in a few short minutes.

Our guides told us that we had been seeing a lot of very unusual things, and the feeding frenzy in particular was our good fortune to see. James told us that he believed we are getting “good karma” because we are such a good group. His theory was that our energy was bringing good things to us, and I really think he was not kidding or blowing the proverbial smoke up our butts. It was an amazing group of people. Each time we all gathered, there was hearty laughter all around. The kids giggled and played games. They didn’t even argue.

Our lunch looked like Tex-Mex to me: beans, tortillas, carne asada, salad, fruit and apple pie. At the end of each lunch, Abel comes by with the menu choices for the evening meal. There is always an appetizer, a soup, and main course and dessert. Two main courses are offered, so that is the only choice that has to be made. Greg’s family has always made me laugh because they often start planning their next meal while still at the lunch table. They would have been in heaven here.

Some people chose to go kayaking in the early afternoon, but we elected to stay on the boat and relax.

Whalers and pirates began visiting Isabela in the 18th century, and evidence of their travels exists in the form of graffiti on the cliff walls. As James would say, “It is part of the human history of the Galapagos.” The oldest readable evidence of whalers is from 1836.


At 3:15, we all went deep water snorkeling. We saw several varieties of starfish and a few sea horses.

My little snorkler:
James is pointing out a tiny seahorse hanging out in the seaweed. As fat as I am and wearing a wetsuit to boot, there was no way I was going to get down there for the shot. You will just have to take my word for it.


We returned to the boat, and the kids (and some of the adults) jumped from the boat and into the water.

They started from the first deck. Every single kid took a turn. I was amazed that they were all so fearless.

Go Genene go!

My bigger kid goes off from the second level.
He looks a bit like a flightless cormorant, doesn’t he?
And he sticks the landing!
Monkey see, monkey do. Every single kid went off the second deck as well. Again, what a brave group of kids. They were game for every challenge!
Go Genene!
And finally, El Capitan had to show them all who was the big boss. He went off the sun deck.
Perfect landing. I thought about jumping in after him, but in the end, I decided that would be too obvious.
After the snorkel, there was one other choice of activities for the late afternoon. The passengers could go on another panga ride or take a hike from the cove to a hill top overlooking Darwin Lake. We were lazy and chose the panga ride, along with most of the kids. They squealed and made up games and generally had a good time.
A penguin in the cliff wall.
Two penguins and a marine iguana hang out.
We motored along the cliff edge and peered into the grottos.
We were in luck! Our guide pointed out that we were going to witness a courtship ritual of the flightless cormorant. The male brings pieces of seaweed to the female, which she uses to “feather” the nest where they will incumbate their eggs. James explained that the female examines each piece. He compared it to the human male bringing his fiancee a diamond ring. Is it big enough? Is it good enough?
He approaches. A marine iguana hangs out nearby. Nothing better to do, I guess.
She examines it. “Good clarity. Good cut.”
She accepts the gift.
Waterfall interlude:
And then we saw ANOTHER ONE! A second male was swimming out of the water with his seaweed.
He takes a moment to make himself presentable.
He approaches his lady. I don’t know who those other characters are. There are always bystanders!
Nicely done.
Now go get me another one!
Landscape interlude:
The scenery here was just gorgeous:
Sea lions basked in the rock wall:
Cue the booby!
Oh look! Two boobies! (You knew I would have to get that joke in.)
The face of a fisherman:
I can fish too!
We enjoyed the panga ride very much. The kids looked at the wildlife, between singing songs, playing pattycake games, and making up nicknames for each other. It was just the kind of lowkey afternoon I wanted.

We all got aboard in the late afternoon, and the crew pulled up anchor as soon as the last person set foot on the Flamingo. The other group enjoyed a lovely walk up the hill and said the views were marvelous. The kids played on the top deck, but we noticed pretty quickly that we had some pretty rough seas. We told the kids to stop playing on the top deck, and we all went down to the muster room.

The captain announced on the PA system that we were to “stay inside the boat.” Always a good idea in my book. We understood his point. Walking on the decks was difficult.

Had we brought it on ourselves with all the talk of “good karma”? The Greeks called it hubris. To shorten the scripture from Proverbs, “Pride goeth before a fall.”

We met in the muster area, and the guides told us that they were going to make it quick. Hernan and James said, “We are not even going to use the computers tonight. We do not want you to have to look at the screen. We are going to Santiago Island tomorrow, and wake-up will be at 7:00 AM. There will be a wet landing at 8:30. We will put it all on the white board. The rough seas came suddenly, and we do not know how long they will last. We do know that it is going to get worse in two hours. We suggest that you eat, if you can, and go straight to bed. Dinner is served.”

Hernan confessed that he did not plan to eat and left the room. Of the 20 passengers, only about 8 of us sat down at the dinner table. It was a shame because it was a beautiful seared tuna. Genene was so miserable that we gave her an anti-nausea pill and sent her to bed after the appetizer. Abel did not serve any wine, probably the best idea that anyone had. After the main course, I checked on Genene and she was out like a light.

To my utter amazement, I was able to eat. As I mentioned, I have never been good with motion sickness, but the ear patch was a godsend. I felt a little bit queasy, but I ate supper as normal (without any wine). Greg, Mr. Coast Guard, was completely unaffected. He did not take any kind of medicine and did not seem to need any. He must have been a Viking in a past life. Right after supper, we all headed to bed. There were no songs to be sung on this night. Walking the short journey on deck from the dining room to my cabin was a challenge. The boat rocked and swayed, and I held on to the rail for dear life. When I got to the room, Genene was dead to the world. The guides had warned us that the worst was yet to come, and they had prescribed sleep as the cure for motion sickness. I have been having some trouble with my back and had brought a stash of muscle-relaxers. My back had been doing great, but I turned to the drugs in my time of need. I popped a pill and racked out beside Genene. The bed rocked and rolled for a while, and then I was gone.


Ecuador and the Galapagos Part 5: Fernandina and Isabela Islands

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


The white board:

We got to sleep in until 7:30 this morning because of the long transit time between yesterday’s stop on Santa Cruz Island and today’s activities on Fernandina and Isabela Islands. Fernandina and Isabela are the westerly islands in the Galapagos archipelago, and as such, they are the “young” islands. The volcanos are still active, and our guides told us that some visitors have been “lucky” enough to see an eruption.

We had a dry landing at Punta Espinoza at Fernandina, and we knew it was going to be something special before we even got off the pangas. The water in the bay was filled with marine iguanas. On our previous days’ tours, we had certainly seen marine iguanas here and there, but this was something on a different scale. Their heads were sticking out of the water everywhere.

When we got ashore, it was a little difficult for our minds to accept what our eyes were seeing. At first glance, it looked like a black volcanic lava shore. Closer inspection revealed more.
Marine iguanas everywhere.
Marine iguanas are cold-blooded, and so they must absorb the heat of the sun before and after diving into the cold waters to search for algae. To avoid overheating, they vary their position in relation to the sun. Sometimes they face the sun directly to reduce their exposure to it. The colony segregates itself. These are the males.
As we watched, a sea lion grabbed the tail of a swimming iguana. Our guides said that the sea lions are “playing” with the iguanas.
Smile for the camera!
The Sally Lightfoot crabs clean the scales and parasites off of the iguanas.
The marine iguana can stay under the water for up to 10 minutes. When they return to land, they forcefully expel the salt from their nostrils. As we stared at this pile of iguanas, every few seconds a spray of white snot would go up. One of them hit the girls with the snot-rocket. I trained my camera on the group and snapped away, hoping to catch one in the act. It seemed like an easy thing to do, as the sound of the nose-clearing was almost constant. The problem was that I could never figure out when any given iguana was going to clear his nose, and so I never got the shot. I got lots of good close-ups anyway.
This guy didn’t make it. An adult marine iguana does not have many enemies. Most of them die by being crushed against the lava rocks in a storm.
As we walked along the beach, we came upon a flightless cormorant on the nest. The cormorant has useless vestigial wings. They swim with powerful webbed feet. Our guides told us that if we could come back in a millenium, the wings will have transformed into flippers, like a penguin. They build nests on the rocky shore with seaweed.
Near the bird on the nest, we saw another fellow come inland.
He passed by the nesting bird, and she gave a squawk.
He headed straight for a lady-friend, and right there in front of the children, they began getting it on. James said they were “doing the coochie-coochie.” The iguana in the foreground is unimpressed.
Landscape interlude….
Was it good for you?
Sea lions basked in the sun.
The next photo is a little disturbing. We first spotted this little guy from afar, and our guides said, “Oh look. A baby!” As we got closer, it became clear that this baby was dying. Our guides explained that he had probably lost his mother to a predator, a whale perhaps. The other sea lions will not adopt an orphan and so the baby slowly starves. The kids gathered close, and they were all disturbed. Oddly enough, the baby was purring. I did not even know that sea lions could purr. The girls all wanted to take the baby home with them, but our guides explained that this could not happen. The guides are not allowed to intervene in nature’s cruelty. In a little while, this little fellow will perish, and the Sally Lightfoot crabs will pick his bones clean.
A close-up view of the cormorant’s useless wing and his very useful foot:
The kids look at the sea lion, and the sea lion looks at the kids. Wonder if either of them liked what they saw?
Another colony of marine iguanas. I think these are the females.
Offshore, a group of penguins fished.
A close-up of the pale blue eye of the flightless cormorant:
We got to watch the changing of the guard. Both male and female cormorant incubate the eggs.
My turn:
Go grab a bite!
A marine iguana with a lava lizard hat.
This is what I felt like most days after lunch.
Our guides Hernan and James decided to strike a pose for us.
They clearly shared a great working relationship and a strong bond. Hernan was from San Cristobal and claimed that was the “best” island. James was as strong in his belief that his home island of Santa Cruz was “No. 1.” We were never asked to choose our favorite island or guide, and it would have been impossible.
Cactus grow from the lava rocks.
A Galapagos hawk perched atop a tree. James joked that if you do not know the name of an animal in the Galapagos, a good guess is simply to start with one of these words: Galapagos, Darwin or lava.
We took a short walk to a mangrove inlet, where we saw sea turtles skimming the surface.
In 2007, several pilot whales beached on neighboring Isabela Island. Through the efforts of bystanders, some were saved but others perished. The National Park preserved the bones and relocated them to this beach to provide educational opportunities for visitors.


After our walk, we went for a very short snorkel. Due to prevailing currents, the water off the shore of the western islands is much colder than the eastern islands where we started our cruise. Wetsuits were a must. We saw amazing things in the water. Right off the bat, we saw a marine iguana eating seaweed. Talk about feeling like you have stepped back in time. It was the closest thing to Jurassic Park that I expect to ever see.

I’m trying to upload my first youtube video to this blog. Let’s see if this works:
Genene watched the iguana swim away.
I cannot really describe how bizarre it is to see a lizard swimming gracefully in the sea.
I hope this video of the swimming iguana turns out:
No sooner did the marine iguana make his exit than the sea turtle floated into view.
Genene followed, trying to maintain the six foot rule.
This guy turned right toward me, and I was a six-foot violator in a moment’s notice. He went right under me and all I could do was simply be still and let him pass.
See you later!
We came back aboard the boat for lunch and a siesta.

In the late afternoon, we made our first trip to Isabela Island (Isabela and Fernandina are within sight of each other). We had a wet landing at Bahia Urbina.

The island was grassy and green.

As we walked the trails, we got our first glimpse of the land tortoises. There are several species of tortoise, but they can be roughly divided into two groups: dome shaped and saddlebacks. Isabela’s tortoises are dome shaped. Dome shaped tortoises evolved on the larger islands with more extensive moist area and vegetation. The saddlebacks live on the low islands. Their saddlebacks evolved because the tortoises much reach high into the vegetation to feed.
The tortoise is one of the few animals of the Galapagos with a fear of man. Pirates who landed on the islands valued the tortoise as food. They can live up to a year on their backs with no food and water, making them ideal meat for hungry sailors. Sailors to the islands would fill the holds of their ships with the big beasts (tossing out the goats that they were sick of eating) and have fresh meat for their voyage. The tortoises take over 25 years to reach sexual maturity and live to be over 100. At maturity, they weigh several hundred pounds.
Speaking of goats, their invasive introduction by sailors became a huge problem for the islands. The goats destroyed the habitat of the tortoises and competed for natural resources. The Galapagos government undertook a massive goat eradication program, shooting the goats from helicopters. There is a wonderful hourlong “Radiolab” program on the Galapagos that discusses this issue in some detail. I commend it to your listening pleasure.
We got our first glimpse of the tortoise. He was not hard to find, sitting in the middle of the trail.
This fellow was naturally shy. Don’t worry. We won’t toss you into the boat.
The turtles are deaf but can feel the vibrations of people walking.
This fellow ate a poison apple as we watched. Their digestive systems are adapted to it, but James explained that this fruit will make a human very sick. Even the leaves of the tree are poisonous to people.
It came a drenching afternoon shower as we toured the island, and this outline showed us where the land iguana had been laying. It looks a bit like a police outline, doesn’t it?
Look at the big feet and tail.
We came upon this fellow strolling down the walk as we toured the island. To mind the six-foot rule, we all had to push to the edge of the trail and give the right-of-way.

Our guides told us that the early sailors called the Galapagos the Enchanted Islands. They were frequently covered by the mists and clouds, and the sailors thought that the islands moved. Staring across at Fernandina from Isabela, I could understand their point.

After our walk, we snorkeled from the beach. I didn’t see anything new, and the cloud cover made for lower visibility. Some people saw a sea turtle. Genene simply enjoyed letting the waves push her in and out on the shore.


We went back to the boat, where snacks of ice tea, chicken salad sandwiches, PBJ, cantaloupe-prosciuttto and black olives awaited, along with the ever-smiling Abel. He was not about to let us get hungry. We all had time to take a shower before the briefing on tomorrow’s activities and supper. Tonight we ate cucumber appetizer, chicken consommé, with entree choices of beef and salmon, and for dessert bananas foster. The chef was a genius. Every course was delightful.

After dinner, we got a special treat. The crew put on a musical show for us. Tomorrow, we will spend the day on Isabela Island. Because the crew only had to move the boat for 3 hours, we were at anchor after dinner. There was time for everyone to relax, including the crew. Even the captain joined in the festivities. He bought us all a beer, and the entire crew sang songs for us. They had a guitar, and the captain played bongo drums with his hands. Even Abel joined in, banging on an empty wine bottle with a spoon. Soon, they were all dancing. The captain gestured to me (at least that’s the way I saw it; That’s the way I wanted to see it!) I jumped off the couch in a moment and danced with him. (Did I mention that he was very handsome?) At some point, I looked over, and Genene had her face covered with her hands. Oh well. I don’t care if she was embarrassed. When will I get another chance to cavort on the high seas with a swarthy young boat captain? Several of the other ladies took a turn, and the boat was filled with laughter and song.

They asked if any of us wanted to sing, and young Alec took the guitar. He did an absolutely stunning rendition of “Hey Soul Sister.” I reached out to his mother, and we shared a little moment. I felt her pride for her son, and it welled up inside of me. We were bursting with emotion….or was it the wine?

After Alec wowed everyone, one of the fathers, Matt from Vancouver, picked up the guitar. He played and sang Neil Young’s “Old Man Take a Look at My Life.” His acoustic guitar and vocals were astonishingly beautiful. We teased his wife Laura, asking her if this is how he had courted her. It was on this night that I began to suspect we had something really special going on. What were the chances that we would have two phenomenally talented musicians on board? Several of the girls take piano lessons, including Genene, but they were all beginning to see the utility in learning to play a portable instrument like the guitar. If only I had brought my clarinet!

It was just an amazing night. Perhaps the coolest part of all is that after Alec and Matt sang their one song each, no one sang anything else. Too often, an amateur musical night can devolve into hours of one-upmanship, but this was not the case. The crew, Alec and Matt performed their best, put down the guitar and left us wanting for more. Their best was fabulous, all of it.

We stayed a while and laughed and talked. The kids, bonded like glue, played their own games.

At anchor, until tomorrow…..


Ecuador and the Galapagos Part 4: Santa Cruz Island

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

I slept very well on the boat, which is surprising. I normally have a lot of trouble staying asleep but I think they just wore me out. Genene and I hit the rack before 10PM last night, and I did not wake up until 3:30 AM when the boat stopped. You can definitely tell when we are motoring on the high seas. The boat rocks, and the sound of the engine is quite loud. All of it lulls me to sleep.

The white board:


This morning’s wake-up was at 7:00 AM. The “call” each morning came in the form of some music being piped in over the PA system. The first morning we were all slightly amused because it was an instrumental version of “Hotel California.” Was it a threat or a promise? (You can check out any time you like but…you can never leave!)

Anyway, after a minute-long musical interlude of some sort, the guide announced, “Buenos Dias, Good morning! This is your wakeup call. Breakfast will be served in 30 minutes. Please get ready for the day. Wake up! Wake up!”

I stepped out the door and took in the sunrise.

Genene was harder to wake up:

We splashed water on our faces and took the few short steps from our cabin to the main dining room. Another great breakfast awaited. We had cereals (including the ever-popular chocolate puffs, which were attacked by the kids), fresh fruit, fruit juices, meats and cheeses, hot coffee, and some kind of omelette. We must be fortified for our adventures lest we become famished.

At 8:30, we climbed into the pangas and headed for a wet beach landing on Bachas Beach. Our guide explained that the beach was named because during World War II, US troops had a presence in the Galapagos. On Santa Cruz, barges were loaded and unloaded. The local Spanish-speakers could not say “barges,” and so the beach became Bachas.

The kids took a close-up look at the Sally Lightfoot crabs:

The crabs were all over the rocks.
The cactus trees grow tall on Santa Cruz.

We walked a short distance to the beach area to see the sea turtle nests and their tracks. We saw one swimming in the water.

The babies make these small tracks as they try to reach the sea after they hatch:

The female sea turtle cuts a larger track, first up the dune to lay her eggs and then back down to the water. Our guides can tell from the way the sand is pushed up whether the turtle was inbound or outbound. The tracks look as large as an ATV track, don’t they?

Our ship strikes a pose in the turquoise water.
The Flamingo frequently attracted a following of birds:
I think this is a striated heron but it could be a lava heron.
The black lava rocks and the white sea foam contrast beautifully.
The kids enjoyed looking for crabs.
The Sally Lightfoot crab can be seen everywhere. Our guides told us that they used to be commonly eaten and were “delicious.” Even though they are common and not in any way endangered, it is forbidden to eat them now. They serve a valuable purpose in the Galapagos ecosystem. They are the “cleaners” and have symbiotic relationships with other creatures on the island. They pick the scales and parasites off the marine iguanas and sea lions. Nevertheless, James says his mouth still waters when he thinks of how they taste.
A marine iguana sits on the lava rocks:

A flamingo searches for food in a brackish pool. Our guides explained that the flamingos send scouts. The rest of the flock remains behind on another island while a few brave souls go looking for food. If they find good eats, they go back and get the rest of their troop.

The white cheeked pintail is quite clearly a duck, not so different from the green head mallards of Stuttgart, Arkansas.
The marine iguanas look like Godzilla to me.
Eons ago, when the iguana arrived in the Galapagos, probably floating on a log or debris, it was a land creature. They evolved to eat the algae and can dive up to 10 meters. They can hold their breath underwater for up to 10 minutes. The iguanas propel themselves with a side-to-side motion of the tail. They are very other-worldly looking to me.
The brackish pond. Can you see the two scout flamingos?

After walking on the beach for about an hour, our guides released us to snorkel off the beach for another hour. I saw a ray, puffer fish and lots of fish whose names I do not know. The kids all elected to stay on the beach and swim without their snorkels.

One of the panga drivers let them get on board the panga, and he took them out into the deeper water so that they could jump over the side. It was fun to snorkel off the shore and listen to their squeals of delight close by. The kids got along famously and so did the adults. I was amazed by the group we were traveling with. Every single person was smart, fascinating and fun. It even seemed as if we parented our kids in the same style. It was a joy to share the adventure with them.

A few shots from our snorkel interlude.

Colorful fish:

A ray!
Greg enjoyed the snorkeling most of all. He is very comfortable in the water and just loves looking at everything. I’m an Arkansas land-lubber and so I regard the sea with much more suspicion and trepidation. I was glad when Genene did not join us for snorkeling because I did not have to worry about her. Greg worried about nothing and frequently ditched us all to do his own exploring.
The water in the Galapagos is teeming with life.

After the morning snorkel, we returned to the boat and had lunch at noon. Between noon and 3:00 PM, the boat moved to another landing on Santa Cruz, Cerro Dragon (Dragon Hill). Most people took a siesta or sat on the top deck reading a book.

At 3:00 PM, we went swimming and snorkeling off the beach, where we saw schools and schools of fish. Genene snorkeled without a wetsuit or life vest. She is so confident with her swimming. I am proud of her. In this regard, she takes after her dad.

As I said before, the water is teeming with life. Food is easy to come by in the Galapagos.
I wish the photo did justice to the one fish with the spots on it. In real life, it looked like the fish had glowing polka dots on it. Bizarre looking!
Can I say “teeming” one more time?
At the end of each beach outing, we got hosed down before boarding the ship. “No sand in the pangas! No sand on the boat.” In this photo, Genene has boarded the boat from the panga, and she’s getting the wash down before coming upstairs to take off her life jacket. After each outing, Abel, our waiter for all meals and snacks, waited at the muster area with snacks.


As soon as we got back on board after snorkeling, we changed into hiking shoes and went back to Cerro Dragon, Dragon Hill. The landing was dry but very slippery. We made our way gingerly across the algae-covered black lava rocks and went for a hike.

Our landing point:

A marine iguana soaks up the sun:
Most of the plants appear to be succulents of some sort.
The marine iguana’s face sometimes appears white because it is encrusted with sea salt.
A lava lizard perches on a marine iguana:
A yellow warbler:
In the late afternoon, the light of the setting sun shone through the cactus trees, making them appear to glow.
As we strolled along, we looked for the land iguanas, which are much less common than the marine iguanas. Their habitat has declined because of competition from introduced goats and donkeys, and they also have suffered from introduced predators: rats, feral dogs, cats and pigs. Our safari eyes helped us on this part of the trip. It was fun to scan the brush and the hillsides for these huge lizards.
I think this is a Galapagos flycatcher.
A land iguana eating something:
The view of the Ecoventura fleet from Dragon Hill:
A cactus tree:
A mockingbird (Harper Lee says, “Don’t shoot.” Lori says, “Get the bb gun.”)
Is it any wonder that the early sailors called these creatures dragons? I am sure those sailors must have thought that they stepped into a land that time forgot. I frequently thought of that old TV series that we watched as kids, “Land of the Lost.” The premise was that a man and his two kids went on a rafting trip, somehow fell through a crack in the earth, and ended up in some kind of bizarro dinosaur world. The special effects were hopelessly cheesy, and the bad guys were upright man-lizards called “Sleestaks” that moved at glacial speed and hissed ominously. I’m sure Genene would not be impressed with what passed for high entertainment in my youth. Anyway, these lizards must have been a bit unnerving to the first sailors who visited these islands.
It’s a little hard to get perspective with the six foot rule, but these creatures are about a yard long and can weigh about 28 pounds.
As we walked the trail, we saw a lot of donkey poop. The donkeys were, of course, introduced to the islands and were originally domesticated. They have become feral and are a problem on the island, as they compete for habitat with the land iguanas. The guides never used the word “invasive” as we might have done to describe the introduced species. Instead they would say that the donkeys “are part of the human history of the Galapagos.” That’s a nice way of putting it.
One last look at Cerro Dragon.


We returned to the boat at 7 pm and had a beer while the guides presented their powerpoint presentation and prepped us for the next day’s activities. They had to “shush” us several times because all of us–parents, grandparents and children–have become quite friendly and consequently are boisterous and talkative. There were laughs all around as we tried to sing the various national anthems–Star Spangled Banner, God Save the Queen, and O Canada. The kids all love to play with one another, and they taught each other pattycake games, card games, dumb jokes and riddles, and so on. Our guides finally had to say, “We are so glad you are such a good group and are getting along so well, but we do need you to listen for a few moments.” And so we quieted down and got our orders. And then came the favorite line of the Gordons: “And now, dinner is served.”

We tried to sit with someone different every night, and it was fun to get to know all of them. It was as if we had ordered these people from central casting. Each person brought a different set of fascinating stories to the table. Everyone has been on great adventures, and it is fun to hear about them all. The kids all rushed to their own table. Abel poured wine generously during all the meals. We shared the day’s adventures and our excitement about what tomorrow might bring. What will we see next?

The ship got underway just as soon as the last person set foot on board, and we were traveling at a good clip throughout the briefing, the dinner and onward into the night. Our guides told us that we would have a good 13 hours of speedy travel to get to the next island by morning light.

Ecuador and the Galapagos Part 3: Genovesa Island

Monday, March 16, 2015

It took most of the night for us to make our way from San Cristobal Island to Genovesa Island. It was easy to tell when we arrived, for the sound of the boat motor was quite loud from my cabin. It’s a white noise that is easy to sleep through, but the moment it stopped, I woke up for a few minutes and listened to the sounds of the crew securing the anchor. I was soon back asleep. Our wake-up call was at 7:00 AM, which I thought was very civilized. We were at anchor within sight of Genovesa.

Our tour operator, Ecoventura, has three yachts in their fleet. They travel together, although it appears that we stagger our arrival and departure times a bit to avoid running into each other.

Meet Flamingo’s “sisters”, Eric and Letty:


At 7:30, breakfast was served. Breakfast was a delicious buffet of all kinds of treats: fruit, cereals, prosciutto, salami, hot coffee, yogurt drinks, fresh squeezed fruit juices.

At 8:30, we loaded onto the pangas and motored over to Genovesa Island, a trip of less than 10 minutes. The panga pilots brought us along side the cliff wall, and birds, sea lions and fur seals were abundant.

Birds at the top of the cliff:
Birds in the cliff wall:
James and the fur seal:
The fur seal thinks it’s a runway model and poses for us, this way and that:

The fur seal is not actually a seal at all. It’s more like a “fur sea lion.” It is smaller than a sea lion with a shorter snout. You will not find it on sandy beaches, only rocky ones.

We were THIS close:
We had a dry landing, which means we could wear our hiking shoes. Wet landings call for Tevas sandals. We walked up Prince Philip steps, so named after the British prince paid Genovesa a visit on the royal yacht Brittania in the 1960s. I would love to see the inside of that boat! The steps are set into a cliff wall, and at the top was an unbelievable scene: birds were everywhere. They were flying through the air, walking across the ground, and sitting in the trees. Each and every one was completely oblivious to us. If it were not against the rules, you could easily reach out and pet them or wring their necks. (Sorry, I’m an old Arkansas girl, and I’ve seen that done. I’m sure hungry sailors thought the same thing.)


Galapagos dove:

If you look closely at this photo, you will begin to see birds everywhere:

The great frigate bird is a spectacular creature. The male has a huge red gular pouch (I call it a throat balloon) that he inflates to attract a mate. The inflation and deflation of the pouch takes over half an hour. As our guide explained, he inflates the pouch to show the lady birds how virile he is. “Look at me. I have a Mercedes Benz.” Even after he has attracted a mate, he will keep the pouch inflated for 5 days, just to make sure the lady doesn’t better-deal him. The guides described the birds as “pirates,” because while they can fish directly from the sea by skimming, they cannot plunge into the water or their wings will weight them down and drown them. Instead they usually chase other birds, particularly the booby. The frigate uses its hooked beak to catch the booby by the tail-feathers, shaking and forcing it to disgorge the fish it has caught. The frigate then catches the dropped fish in midair.

Love is in the air:

Don’t look at him! Look at me!
He either got his girl or gave up trying.

When Spaniards first came to the Galapagos, they were unimpressed with some of the birds, which simply stared at them and did not run away. They called them “bobos” (stupid), and that became booby. The name is not accurate, for these birds are skilled fishermen.

The red-footed booby is adept at fishing. With its long bill, it can pierce the water in a 25-meter dive and with its webbed feet, it can swim below the surface to catch fish.

The booby spends hours spreading oil on its feathers so that they can repel water:
The Nazca booby (below) is white with a black masked face. I guess I can almost see the Spaniards’ point. This fellow looks a bit dopey:

The Nazca booby lays two eggs, but they are laid a few weeks apart. The Nazca booby can only raise one of the chicks. The stronger baby bird (usually but not always the firstborn) pushes the weak one out of the nest, and the one on the ground dies. I guess they are the Cain and Abel of the bird world. Our guide James says that he has seen this happen many times. He’s seen the bird on the ground crying to be fed, and the parents just ignore it and feed the one in the nest. Nature can seem awfully cruel sometimes.

A juvenile Nazca booby in the nest. I guess he killed his sibling a while back.

Spread your wings, Cain!
Morning glory:
Spanish moss:

As we continued our walk around the island, Genene became quite tired. She had eaten something that disagreed with her, and she was a bit dehydrated. She completed the walk, but it was an effort and she was not her normal cheerful self.

We got to an observation area with the coast in full view, and the birds were swarming like something out of a Hitchcock movie. There was literally a cloud of them.

In the midst of the swarm was a short eared owl, which hunts in daylight. He’s flying just left of center below:
In this photo, you can see him perched at the cliff edge:
And here he is in flight:
As we continued our walk, we found another owl hiding out in a small grotto. Look at his strong talons!
While trying to capture the owl, I really wanted my 500 mm lens. I used my 18-300mm exclusively on this trip, and most of the time it was up to the task.
Circling back, we continued to encounter more birds on the ground and in trees all around us.
Ladies (yeah!) Ladies (yeah!)
You wanna ride in my Mercedes (Yeah!)
Why don’t you shut up?
The mockingbird was one of the easier birds for me to identify. They look much like ours at home in Texas and Arkansas. Don’t tell Harper Lee, but we used to shoot them all the time because they are noisy.
Hernan, our guide and sometimes Nat Geo photographer, goes all out for the Nazca booby shot:
Back down Prince Philip’s Steps:

Our walk around the island lasted about 90 minutes, and we came back to the boat and prepared to snorkel. Some people wore wetsuits, but I elected not to make the effort to squeeze into the thing. (Five pounds of lard into a three pound sack.) I should have done that or worn a life jacket, because it was the first time I had been snorkeling in many years, and I was a little uncomfortable at first. Eventually I relaxed enough to understand that I was pretty buoyant (fat) and was not going to sink like a stone. There is another world down there! Genene saw a ray and I saw a hammerhead shark! My breath quickened a bit, and of course, the theme to “Jaws” came instantly into my head. I only saw him for a few seconds, and I did not get a photo.

There were all kinds of other colorful fish, whose names I do not know. No wonder all the animals have an easy living on the Galapagos. Food is plentiful just under the surface of the water.

The kids were tired!

We snorkeled for less than an hour and came back to the boat for snacks, followed by a delightful lunch.

Some people chose to sea kayak in the afternoon. There are not enough kayaks for everyone to go, and so we elected to stay on the boat and take a nap and relax. We will be entitled to priority the next time that kayaking is offered, so that everyone will eventually get a turn. Genene seemed to be feeling better and played hide-and-seek with all her new-found friends for hours on the top deck. I guess that was too much for her. She began feeling low again and chose to skip the late afternoon excursion. She felt bad about it because she was afraid that she might miss her chance to swim with the sea lions, but she was just too exhausted. She wanted to stay in bed, and we knew that meant that she should rest. The guides assured us that she would be very safe on the boat as the crew was still aboard. Greg and I left her to sleep and went back to a different landing point on Genovesa, Darwin Beach.

The sea lions sunbathed on the beach:

Close enough for the kids to touch, but they honored the six foot rule:
The beach:
This fellow patrolled the beach:
Dead sea lions are picked clean in a matter of days:

We got to see a sea lion fight. The alpha male ran off a young pest.

Get out!
And stay out!
The swallow tailed gull lays a single egg, which is incubated by both parents. We got a good look at the spotted egg:
The nest sits on the ground among the cactus plants:


Another frigate bird looking for a lady:

Another red footed booby:

As we strolled around, it came a torrential downpour, and I was glad that Genene had elected to stay in the boat. The beach was beautiful, but we really were not seeing any new animals or birds. With hindsight, I might have stayed in the cabin and avoided the drenching too.


Greg and I were thoroughly soaked, but I don’t know that I have seen him look happier.
Let’s panga home!


Genene was asleep in her room when we came back. She seemed no worse for the wear, and we assured her that she had not missed getting to swim with the sea lions.

At 7:00 PM, the guides gave us the briefing about the following day’s events, and dinner followed directly thereafter. Genene had perked up sufficiently to ditch us for friends of her own age. Greg and I had dinner with two other fathers. This was OUR kind of trip with our kind of people. Everyone we have met wants their kids to experience new places, customs and people. Most of our boatmates are world travelers, and we were getting many ideas for future trips. The red and white wine was flowing, as was the laughter and bonhomie. We enjoyed pumpkin soup, sea bass in peanut sauce, creme brûlée, and friendship. We felt lucky to be among such nice people, and it was good to hear the squeals of laughter coming from the kids’ table. I was pleased that my seasickness patch was doing its job perfectly, and frankly it was a surprise. I have always been prone to motion sickness, and every childhood summertime car trip involved my mom packing a wastebasket that she called the “puke basket”, and more often than not, it got used. I felt like a sailor and for the first time was able to enjoy riding on a boat. Our bellies were full and our faces were sore from laughter, and so we teetered off to bed. Genene came in and racked out before 10:00 PM, and Greg and I were right behind her. Being on vacation is hard work!


Ecuador and the Galapagos Part 2: To the Islands!


Sunday, March 15, 2015

Our day started early at 5:30 AM. We were to meet our cab at 6:50 to take us back to the airport, so naturally Prontosaurus (Greg) wanted to get up at the butt-crack of dawn. For once, we got ourselves going in an orderly fashion. We even had time to sit down and have a cup of coffee and continental breakfast before our cabbie showed up.

We checked out of Patio Andaluz (we barely knew you!) and put Quito in the rear view mirror. The drive to the airport was a little scary, because there was a very dense fog. Our cabbie navigated it flawlessly and put us out at the terminal well early of our required check-in. Our tour operator was waiting for us at the door and escorted us to the SICGAL, the System for Inspection and Quarantine in the Galapagos (the acronym makes sense in Spanish). The Galapagos is a national park in Ecuador, and they take its protection very seriously. All persons headed for the Galapagos must undergo a thorough inspection of bags to avoid the introduction of any invasive plants or animals. All of our bags were xrayed, and the checked bags were fastened shut with plastic lock-ties. We were given a declaration to complete and give to the inspector upon arrival at the Galapagos Islands. The tour operator met us again after the inspection and gave us our boarding passes, boat tickets and final instructions. I went into the airport bathroom and put on the seasickness patch. I’m taking no chances!

Our flight was on time. The flight to Guayaquil was about 30 minutes in the air, and in that time the crew managed to deliver a free muffin and a hot cup of coffee. Avianca 1, United 0. The same plane was taking us on to the islands, so we were told to stay in our seats. I was surprised that the plane was so large. Somehow I had in my mind that we would be taking a puddle-jumper to the islands, but this was an Airbus 330 with over 100 passengers.

The flight from Guayaquil to San Cristobal in the Galapagos was about 1 1/2 hours. Everyone on the plane was full of excitement, and the atmosphere was electric. The people in the row ahead of us are going to be on the same boat as we are, and one of their children is Genene’s age. Perhaps Genene will find a friend, which will make her parents happy but lonely. We got a cup of coffee, a small hot sandwich and a diet coke, all free. Avianca 2, United 0.

About 15 minutes prior to landing on San Cristobal Island, the crew passed through the cabin and opened all the overhead bins. All planes headed for the Galapagos are treated to protect the fragile ecosystem of the islands from damaging non-native plants and animals, even microscopic ones. The flight attendants (who are all beautiful women, by the way, wearing bright red dresses with the make-up to match) opened all of the overhead storage bins and sprayed an aerosol in the the bins and on each bag. I could smell the bug killer.

The plane landed smoothly, but we all chuckled because the pilot took up every inch of the runway. The plane began its taxi with a sharp turn, and we could all see the drop-off to the ocean. There was no margin for error. Most tours begin and end on San Cristobal because it is one of the few islands with an airport.

We deplaned onto the tarmac and went inside and through the control area to the national park. Our carryon bags were opened and checked by hand to make sure that we were not carrying seeds or food on any other contraband that could damage the ecosystem of the islands.

We gathered our duffel bags from the baggage carousel, found our Ecoventura guide and boat mates, and waited outside for the bus to carry us to the boat. It was hot and steamy.

Are we there yet?

Various dive groups and tour operators lined this area:

The passengers of the Flamingo:
I’m hot and tired!


The bus ride to boat was short.

Are we there yet?

First glimpse of the harbor through the bus window:

These guys were lounging around all over the docks.
The pier:
The sea lions have no fear of people and lay around all over the steps, piers, and sidewalks:
Crabs are plentiful:
Another view of the pier:
Try going down these steps:
We were met at the pier by our guides, who passed out life jackets to everyone. We loaded into two pangas (zodiaks) for the ride through the harbor to our boat:

It was a short panga ride to our home for the week, the Flamingo I.

First glimpse of the Flamingo:

A sea lion and a heron hang out on a boat:
I’m king of this boat!
Our guides told us that the sea lions can be a menace in the port. Sometimes a large male will sit atop a boat and call to his mates. They sometimes swarm on a smaller boat and sink it.
A closer view of the Flamingo:
The panga drivers pulled up to the rear of the boat, and we unloaded one by one. We alternated sides when unloading to keep the panga balanced. Hands are slippery with sunscreen, so we were told to grasp wrist to wrist as we step off the panga to the boat.

We had a buffet lunch and initial briefing. We met the 17 people who were sharing this adventure with us: a couple from Austin (originally from Great Britain) with their 11 year old grandson; a couple from Boston with two girls,11 and 10; a couple from Vancouver with their 11 year old daughter; a couple from Portland, Oregon with their 14 year old son and 11 year old daughter; another couple from Boston (but who formerly lived in Dallas) with their 12 year old son. I was so excited to see all the kids of similar ages and interests. It did not take the kids long to start talking to one another and forming their own pack.

We met our guides for the week, James and Hernan. They gave us some of the ground rules for dealing with the animals. We are supposed to keep a 6-foot separation from us and any animal. We must watch where we put our feet to avoid stepping on any creatures or plant life. If the animals come too close to us, we are to “do the Michael Jackson walk” and move back away from them. It’s hard to imagine that the animals will be this close. We are also to take nothing from the island. If we pick something up, we are to put it back down exactly where we found it. We are to avoid stepping on any vegetation. The guides apologized in advance and told us that they were going to be “quite bossy” in enforcing the park rules.

After lunch, we were given some time to unpack. The cabins were small but nice. Genene and I shared one cabin, and Greg is around the back side of the boat in the other. Our cabins are side by side, and they are the only cabins that open to the outside. We had originally thought that the doors to the room would open from the inside, but that was not to be the case. We can knock on the wall if we need anything.

The crew put us all through a safety drill and showed us where our life preservers were in our rooms, where to muster, and what the alarm would sound like. They told there would only be this one drill, and if we heard that alarm again, it would be a real emergency.

At 4:00 PM, we took a panga ride back to shore and rode a bus for a short distance to a local swimming hole.

The black lava rocks are beautiful:

Vegetation grows right up through the rocks:

This little lava lizard posed for me:


Sea lions were lounging on the black lava rocks and swimming in the water with the locals:

A view of my intrepid traveler at the local swimming hole:
The sea lion played peekaboo with the kids:


Birds stroll close to us:

A “mom” sea lion and her baby lumbered by and settled down for some family time:

“Mom” laid on the shore nursing her little one, and they were both completely oblivious to humans. They do not regard us as predators, and we could get close enough to hear the suckling sounds. The kids enjoyed watching the sea lions in the water and getting their feet wet.

Slurp, slurp:
Can you see the two sea lions that the girls are watching? They blend into the lava rocks quite well:
Watching the nursing sea lion:
These two look as if they are sharing a joke: “This sea lion walked into a bar….”
Covered in sand:
Our guide told us that the sea lion mothers go out to hunt for several hours a day, leaving their babies on the shore. When they come in, the pups line up, and each mom identifies her pup based on smell. This is one reason it is important not to touch the babies:
Can you see the little hermit crab strolling across the beach? Also, take note of the incredible number of shells. It was tempting to pick up a pocketful, but I did not want to end up in jail so I resisted the urge.

On the walk back to the bus, we ran into a marine iguana. I would say he was about 2 feet long, head to tail.

I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille:


We rode the bus back into town and spent a couple of minutes souvenir shopping. Genene had her eye on a little leather wallet, and Greg and I each got a cold beer and sat out on the park benches in the shade.

More sea lions hanging out:
Beach bum:
I like to imagine the lives of the people I see along the way. I wonder what these folks do and how they make their living with this small boat?
On the panga headed back to the boat:
Sunset and the Flamingo:


We rode the pangas back to boat and splashed water on our faces and went to the lounge area for the captain’s welcome.

Genene took an opportunity to relax for a moment in the cabin. What a view from our window!


In the lounge, our guides James and Hernan were waiting to tell us about tomorrow’s activities. The lounge area has two large flat screen televisions, onto which the guides project a powerpoint presentation. They showed a map of our sailing route, photographs of things we should expect to see, an itinerary of events, and a description of things we should bring for each trip. They told us whether each landing will be wet or dry and what kind of shoes to wear. After the presentation, the main itinerary is written on a white board. The guides encouraged us to take a photo of the board each day so that we could refer to it. Everyone has an iPad or iPhone, and there are some nice cameras hanging off of necks all around. In fact, our guide Hernan takes photographs for National Geographic. How cool is that?

We are headed to Genovesa Island, which is a voyage of several hours.

The captain made his entry, and he is a handsome fellow and much younger than I would have imagined. He thanked us for coming aboard and told us that the Flamingo was to be our home for the week, and we were to all be friends sharing the adventure together. I do not think that will be hard. He introduced us to his crew, and there was a pink champagne toast (for adults) and orange/cherry juice for the kids. Directly after the toast, a delicious dinner was served: mozzarella and tomato appetizer, a choice of octopus or filet mignon for the main course, and a warm Chocolate ganache dessert to die for. The Gordons are in heaven!

We are awestruck at how nice and interesting all of the passengers are. The dinner tables are 4-tops, and there are just enough tables to seat everyone aboard. That means that the families who are “threesomes” have to mix it up. We have been sitting as a family, but we will need to change that. I am sure the kids will start wanting to sit together, and that will leave us some opportunities to sit with adults and visit.

After supper, the kids played hide-and-seek on the top of the boat. We let them go. After all, how far lost can you get on a boat? The Flamingo pulled up anchor, and we were underway!

It was completely dark with open water all around. The stars were amazing. Genene came in tired and ready for bed. The hum of the boat motor lulled Genene to sleep, and I followed close behind.

Ecuador and the Galapagos Part 1: Getting to Quito

Friday, March 13, 2015

Today has been a day of roller coaster emotions. We were excited to be going to the Galapagos for spring break, but my excitement has been tempered by sadness. As we were finishing our packing, we got word that one of my dear co-workers lost her husband today. His fight with cancer was short, and the odds were mercilessly stacked against him from the start. Nevertheless, the news was sad. God rest his soul. I wish I could be there for my friend, and I am torn about getting on a plane to have a vacation while she has experienced this terrible loss. Please keep her in your prayers, as our family does.


I finished my last work meeting of the week last night and went back to the office for a few minutes to drop off files and settle all those last minute details. I was home by 10 PM. Greg was so excited that he could hardly stand himself. This trip has captured his imagination like none other in my memory. I am excited too. Genene, the world traveler, is taking it all in stride. Will it be better than Universal Studios, where one of her classmates is spending spring break?

This morning we got Genene off to school so that the real packing could begin in earnest. Before I had even gotten in the shower, the power went off in the entire house. The day was overcast, so the whole house was dark. Have you ever tried to pack duffel bags in the dark? It’s not easy. Luckily we had some headlamps left over from our ill-fated Inca Trail expedition, so I put one on and went around the house looking like some kind of half-assed coal miner. The power came back on after a couple of hours, and we got it all done in time to pick Genene up from school. We took her out an hour early, figuring that a little island education would be as good as that last hour of math class on the Friday before spring break.

Action Limos took us to the airport, and I am continuing to LOVE the Global Entry. Today, the regular line to go through security and screening was miles long, and there was NO ONE in the TSA pre-check line. We were finished with all the xrays and bag checks in a jiffy and had time to eat dinner in the airport.

The flight was uneventful. I watched “Wild,” which I thought was passable. Reese Witherspoon’s performance was inspired, but her character was not very likeable. I have a hard time investing two hours in a movie if I do not like the characters. I also had trouble accepting that Laura Dern was Reese Witherspoon’s mother. They look more like drinking buddies. Genene watched “Big Hero 6” and thought it was really good. Greg watched “The Good Lie” and liked it.

We did make a rookie mistake on the flight. United offered to SELL us some food as the flight first began. We had just stuffed ourselves and so declined the offer. I was under the mistaken impression that they would pass through the cabin again and offer to sell us a snack. They did not. In fact, the crew only passed through the cabin and offered water two times during a 5 1/2 hour flight. I thought that was pretty sorry. We were parched by the flight’s end.

By the time we got on the ground in Quito at 11:00 PM and through customs and immigration, we were starving. We had hired a driver to meet us. I know that taxis are cheaper, but at 11:00 PM, who wants to take a chance? It’s very comforting to see a friendly face holding the “GORDON FAMILY” sign among the throng. It took less than an hour to get to the hotel, and we begged the concierge to have the kitchen make us something–anything! They obliged with a white bread sandwich and some potato chips and we devoured it like a pack of ravenous wolves and hit the sack.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

We had no plans, so we set no alarms. I love days like this. We drowsed until 8:30 or so and strolled down for breakfast in our lobby. The coffee was delicious, and we enjoyed fresh fruits and scrambled eggs. Everyone had a healthy appetite. Quito is at about 9,350 feet above sea level and is the highest capital city in the world. I have been a little worried about a repeat of last summer’s altitude sickness drama with Greg. I didn’t want another endoscopy without benefit of anesthesia, so I have been watching him like a hawk. He is taking a bigger dose of altitude medicine and does not seem affected as he was in Peru last summer. Perhaps that bleeding ulcer he had then was the bigger part of his problem.

Genene having breakfast:

The colorful courtyard where we ate breakfast:

Our hotel is located less than three blocks from the central plaza in Quito and so we wandered down there to see the sights.


No sooner did we step onto the square than we were accosted by a group of young teenagers. Obviously they had a class assignment and were working in teams. They wanted to interview us in English (sort of). Thankfully they had their questions written out on pieces of paper that they would hold up as they interviewed us. Their command of both written and spoken English was pretty shaky, but I admired their willingness to try to speak. Much of the key to mastering a foreign language is overcoming the fear of trying to speak it. Anyway, they all had their iPhones out recording our answers, and we felt like rock stars. The questions were along the lines of “Do you hate Monday?” (of course!); “Have you ever stolen anything?” (Genene and I were able to say no, and Greg smiled and said nothing. There’s a story there.); “Do you think motorbikes are dangerous?” (Yes, but I like to ride them anyway); and “Are you an adventurous person?” (I’m standing in the middle of a foreign country, so I think so.) It was fun the first time, but as soon as we finished a second group approached with the same questions. Then they wanted to interview us individually.

The loved interviewing Genene and getting their photos made with her:

Holding up their questions on cards:

After about the fourth round, we began to politely wave them off and watched them run away giggling, racing to find more gringos. We continued strolling around the plaza.

We wandered into a church and lit candles for Genene’s grandfather and for our friend’s husband.


The altitude does have a way of wearing you out quicker and making you hungry. After wandering around the central plaza for a while, we were ready to find lunch. Last summer in Peru, we had a South American delicacy called cuy. You North Americans will call it….guinea pig. We thought it was wonderful. The Ecuadorans claim to make the best cuy in the world, so naturally we wanted to compare. We asked our concierge where the best cuy in Quito is served, and he put us on a taxi to Mama Clorinda’s.

We got great seats on the balcony with terrific views of the plaza below:

We ate traditional empanadas, a potato soup that was marvelous, and lamb to go with our cuy. It was all delightful, although our family’s decision was unanimous: the Peruvians make better cuy!
Potato soup:
Cuy! (Second best!)
One of Genene’s best friends has a pet guinea pig, and Genene delights in telling her friend, “I love guinea pigs too. I like mine roasted.”


It was easy to find a cab back to the hotel, and the return trip cost half as much as the trip out. I don’t know if the first guy just gave us the gringo upcharge. Traffic was worse on the way out, so perhaps it was an honest difference. In any event, both ways were cheaper fares than most that I take in Houston, so I am not sweating it. By the way, Ecuador uses the American dollar, so that part is quite simple, although we did notice that one vendor gave us change in their old currency. We will add it to Genene’s coin collection.

I caught this street shot from the cab window on the ride back:

With our bellies full of cuy, Greg and I took a nap. Genene went upstairs to her balcony bedroom and finished reading the only paperback that she brought. She will be sorry! I am proud that she is a voracious reader, but she should have paced herself for those afternoons on the boat. Perhaps there will be some books on the boat.

We walked to dinner tonight. We had a wonderful meal at Theatrum. I always love a tasting menu. Small bites, many courses, happy Lori. I love my red wine, and I think I know the difference between the good stuff and the plonk. I drink both. The problem is that I have a very poor memory for names, so even when I find a good bottle, I cannot often remember the name of it. I picked a Argentinian malbec, and the waiter told me my choice was perfect. I love it when they flatter me like that. I also love it when we are both right. It was a wonderful meal, and we crammed into a van with another group of people from Vancouver who were headed back to the same hotel. We are fat and happy and ready for bed!

Our hotel is very charming and centrally located.

The wifi is STRONG and fast, and Genene is texting away with a friend in Houston. I find it amazing that we can stay connected so well these days, although starting tomorrow it will be a different story. There will be no wifi on the boat. We get up early tomorrow and fly to Guayaquil and then to San Cristobal Island in the Galapagos. We will board an 8-cabin yacht and start motoring from island to island. We will see the animals that inspired Darwin to think about adaptation and evolution. It’s going to be something else. I will keep my blog, but I probably will not be able to post it until I return. I’ll be back!


For John Wyatt, may he rest in peace…..