Ecuador and the Galapagos Part 8 and FINAL: Santa Cruz Island, the return to San Cristobal, Quito and GOING HOME

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Our last full day on the boat began with a stunning sunrise.

Our last white board:
Our delicious breakfast–there was always hot food, cheeses, meats, fresh juices, and cocoa puffs (the kids’ favorite).
Today, we were visiting the highlands of Santa Cruz Island. We rode the pangas through the harbor in Puerto Ayora and boarded a bus for a 45 minute trip. The girls raced to the back seats, where they could sing songs, play pattycake games and giggle. Our destination was El Chato Ranch. Our guides explained the the land is owned by local people who are paid not to farm their land with animals or crops. Instead the land is managed in its natural state so that the giant tortoise can live and thrive there. The bus left the harbor town of Puerto Ayora and climbed up into the misty, green hillside.
Cool billboards:
Get a load of this road sign. “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”
We arrived at El Chato in the mid-morning, and it was not crowded. There may have been one other bus in the parking lot. This was our experience throughout the trip. The number of people in the park is tightly regulated, and we never felt as if we were in a crowd.
There were two tortoise shells no longer being used by their owners, and the kids took turns climbing in and posing for photos.
Greg shows off his manliness by lifting the shell up.
There were tables under a pavilion, and they had fresh-brewed coffee and cold Coca-colas waiting for us. Hernan told us the ladies here make a mean empanada, but it was going to take too long to make them so we devoured a plate of watermelon instead.
Hernan and James asked for a couple of volunteers. They said, “We must have a married couple to help us.” Melanie and Doug stepped up to the plate. It only took them a moment to realize that they were to be the brunt of a little joke, and they rose (or sank) to the occasion with élan. All of us parents roared with laughter as they made tortoise in flagrante delicto faces, and the kids pretended to be embarrassed by us, although I think they enjoyed the joke too. Genene said, “You guys are disturbing.”
After our little tortoise love scene, James and Hernan led us on a short nature walk. We walked through pastures and forests that at first glance seemed not so different from Arkansas or Texas. Then we spotted a giant tortoise sitting in the middle of the field, munching contentedly on grass, just as a Texas Longhorn would.
The kids were thrilled to see the big creatures in their native habitat.
Both James and Hernan had confessed on separate occasions that when they were kids, they rode on the backs of these creatures. They have photos to prove it. Hernan told us that when he goes to visit his grandparents, they want to get pictures of his young son on a tortoise. He politely declines. The young people of Ecuador are more attuned to the goals of conservation, and such activities are now frowned up. I was reminded of the Maasai people in Tanzania. It used to be a rite of passage for each young man of that tribe to slay a male lion. Times change, and traditions must change as well.
Thanks to Hernan, who got some rare footage of me in front of a camera.
I think this one will make the Christmas card.
The land tortoises enjoy a mud bath.
Our guides explained that, all joking aside, the act of tortoise-mating can be dangerous, particularly for the male tortoise. At the conclusion of the festivities, he may be upended by his lady. It is one of the few times when the rangers and guides may intervene, because the tortoises are endangered. If a tortoise is spotted on its back, the guide or ranger notifies the national park and provides the time and location. If the tortoise has not righted himself in four hours, the guides are allowed to do so. A tortoise can weigh over 500 pounds, so it takes more than one person to flip one back over and send him on his merry way.
Toward the end of the nature walk, Hernan showed us to a lava tube (cave) and told us that we could go inside. He said, “I can swim with marine iguanas, hammerhead and whitetip sharks, and I can lead tour groups and presentations. But I cannot go with you into that cave. I have claustrophobia. I will be waiting for you at the mouth.” I sympathized with Hernan. I found out during an MRI a few years ago that I do not do well in confined spaces either, though the lava tube was large enough that it did not trigger any reaction in me on this day.
We got back in the bus and headed back to Puerto Ayora. The girls did their girly things.
At breakfast earlier, one of crew members, Richard, had passed around some intelligence in a conspiratorial whisper. It was the captain’s birthday, and tradition called for him to be tossed into the water. Greg was dubious. He had heard of no such tradition in the Coast Guard, and we were afraid we were being set up. Some of our fellow travelers asked more questions, and the entire crew was unanimous: Feliz cumpleanos and over the side!
The kids used the lunchtime panga ride to hatch the plan. Everyone, including the crew, thought it would go more smoothly if the kids were the instigators of this friendly mutiny.
The captain was waiting for us, and we got the kids to pose for pictures with him. After they had him surrounded, they told him he had to go for a dive.
He says, “Are you kidding me? I just took a shower.”
Richard (the true instigator) was very happy that the kids were forcing the issue instead of him.
The captain climbed to the highest point of the boat, the sundeck.
One last futile appeal to the heartless children….
Avast, ye scurvy dogs! I’m outta here. Bombs away!
Perfect form!
And he sticks the landing! A perfect 10!
It’s a quick swim back to the boat.
The captain was very good-natured and gracious.


We had a nice lunch and then a long break with time to pack and nap. All of our clothes were wet and/or dirty, so it was probably time to bring the trip to a close.

We returned to Santa Cruz and Puerto Ayora at 3:30 to see some of the scientific endeavors that are underway to ensure the survival of the several unique species of the Galapagos. We went to the land tortoise breeding center and saw baby and juvenile tortoises.

I marvel at the use of available technology in developing countries. The center needed to monitor a nest of birds, and their solution was ingenious as it was simple: they wired a GoPro camera to the cactus and pointed it at the birds. In the US, we would have likely gone through some sort of complicated procurement process with bid specifications and ended up with a multi-million dollar camera system that did not work.


We saw the habitat area of Lonesome George, who was the last of the Pinta Island saddleback tortoises. The story of Lonesome George is fascinating and ultimately sad. Pinta Island is one of the smaller islands. It’s not visited by tourists and not inhabited by humans. Pinta Island’s ecosystem had been ravaged by a population of feral goats that had been originally introduced by pirates centuries ago. Tortoises need green grass and shade and condensation pools to survive, and the hardy goats mowed all of that down. By the mid 1950’s, the Pinta Island tortoise was declared extinct….or so it was thought. In 1971, a man visiting Pinta Island to collect shells observed a lone tortoise lumbering around near the beach. A Pinta Island tortoise! Alive! An exhaustive search of the island was made, but George was all alone, the last of his kind. He was brought to the breeding center in Santa Cruz in hopes that he would mate with a similar land tortoise from a neighboring island. The scientists introduced him to Georgina and Georgetta, but George wasn’t too interested. At one point, there were some eggs, but none hatched. Lonesome George died in 2012, devasting his handler of more than 40 years and the rest of the scientific world, all of whom had gone to great lengths to try to preserve the species. (In an interesting footnote, scientists have discovered tortoises on other islands in the Galapagos with small amounts of Pinta DNA. They theorize that human activity is likely responsible. The pirates may have moved tortoises from island to island, where they mated with the “locals,” and some hybrids survived. In any event, the Pinta tortoise in its “purebred” form died with George.) There is something particularly poignant about being able to pinpoint the exact time and place when a species ceases to exist. Who wrote it down for the dinosaurs? Who will write it down for us?

Lonesome George was preserved with loving attention to detail by a taxidermist at the Museum of Natural History in New York City. Lonesome George was displayed at the museum, and we even got the chance to see him back in October. The Galapagos National Park is trying to raise funding for a proper display for him, but I believe that he is heading to mainland Ecuador for now.

Flashback to October 2014. I wish we had seen him alive in Santa Cruz.

If you have five minutes to kill, this is a very interesting youtube video on the subject of Lonesome George and the efforts to preserve his body. I have never given much thought to taxidermists and their art form, although I know a lot of people make a lot of money mounting deer heads in Arkansas. The folks who work for the Museum of Natural History are obviously in another league. No wonder Ben Stiller could imagine an entire movie about a museum coming alive after hours. A lot of effort goes into making these creatures lifelike.
The land tortoise breeding center is having some remarkable successes. Tortoise babies are everywhere, and they can sometimes be re-introduced to the islands. The successful eradications of feral goat and rat populations have allowed tortoises to be re-established on some of the islands formerly too inhospitable.
This land iguana posed for me, and I dutifully took the shot, although I had trouble working up much enthusiasm for photographing the creatures in captivity. After all, just a couple of days ago, I saw these guys in the wild. I have a similar feeling about zoos now after going on safari. I still visit the zoo in Houston, but I don’t get as excited about it.


After we completed our tour of the breeding center, the guides gave us some souvenir shopping time in Puerto Ayora town. We got some t-shirts and art work and generally strolled around.


James, proud resident of Santa Cruz, asked his wife to bring the twins down to meet us. We got to see James in a different role, that of proud father.

The Flamingo kids took a turn on the rolling stuffed animals.
Our time drew to a close, and we headed for the harbor and boarded the pangas.
I love this photo. Most of the kids piled into the same panga with Hernan, and they motored off, enjoying a laugh about goodness knows what.
The parents loaded onto our panga.
As the sun disappeared, we headed for our “home” on the Flamingo for one last time. The kids called it the “Flaming O.”
I dug my camera out of the wetbag to get this shot because I knew it was the last time we would approach the boat.
The kids unloaded first and ran up to the wetsuit deck to greet Abel and get one last delicious snack.
The captain, showered and changed again, waited on deck to greet us.

We ate our snacks, went back to our rooms and showered off so that we could attend the captain’s farewell cocktail. We met in the main muster area, and the champagne was flowing. The captain had put on his dress white top with crisply starched black pants, and his face was freshly clean-shaven. Perhaps he wanted a change of look for his birthday. He cut an impressive figure. (Can you tell that I liked the captain?) He thanked us all for being a good group, and we thanked the crew in return. We raised our glasses in toast. The crew told us they had a little surprise for us: Hernan and James had been photographing US while we were out on excursions, and they had put together a video montage of our week’s activities. They had made a concerted effort to get several pictures of each family, and everyone was fairly represented. (Almost every picture of me showed me with a camera up to my face. Surprise!) It was such a sweet gesture, and we all cheered and laughed at each other’s photos. There were also some spectacular wildlife photos in the lineup. Hernan is a very talented photographer. They told us that if we brought an SD card to the main muster area later, they would copy it for each of us at no charge. I got my copy and proudly added it to my photo collection. We got our tip envelopes and comment cards, and James and Hernan announced to us for the last time, “Dinner is served.” We enjoyed one last delicious supper together. We laughed heartily, but I think there was a hint of wistful melancholy in the air. Everyone was sad to have to leave these enchanting islands and each other. After dessert and drinks, we all headed off our separate ways to pack and get ready to depart in the morning.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The guides told us it would be a pretty short trip to get back to San Cristobal and they were right. The engines started up at 11:00 PM or so on Saturday night, and we motored along until about 3:30 in the morning. I always woke up when the boat stopped. The absence of the “white noise” was just disruptive enough to bring me to the surface. I sat and listened to the sounds of the boat and the men. I heard the sound of the winch lowering the pangas down to water level. I heard the men’s voices as they worked together to get the boat anchored. Soon I drifted back to sleep.

One last “wake up, wake up” and we gathered for breakfast aboard the ship. There was no white board. The crew could not spend a lot of time moping with us. They were making the ship ready for the next guests, who will arrive in the afternoon. They have only a few hours to make the boat ready for the next set of adventurers. Will they be as fun as we were? No way!

We met on the deck for our last panga ride together. We had all become professionals at getting in and out of our life preservers and loading into the boats.


We alternated sides while loading the panga to keep everything balanced.
The kids’ panga launched. The captain waved to them. Genene made a face at me. She gets tired of being photographed.
My last view of my captain. He waved goodbye to us. As soon as we were a respectful distance, I watched him turn back to the panga boat and return to his crew. Back to work for them…and for us.
We got off the panga for the last time in San Cristobal, and we waved at the panga driver as he sped back to the Flamingo.
As Maxine Nightingale says, “It’s all right! It’s comin’ on! We gotta get right back to where we started from.” Can you believe it? It looks like the same sea lions are lounging on the same steps!
We walked along the pier, and everyone still giggled at the sight of the sea lions lying around everywhere.
People cannot even move their cars without looking carefully for these big guys.

We spent an hour or so at an interpretation center. I got this nice shot from the deck.

The kids dutifully read about the history of the islands, but everyone knew that we were just killing time until our flight.
After we finishing reviewing the exhibits at the interpretive center, our guides turned us loose for some final shopping.
Most of us had satisfied our shopping “needs,” and so we wandered around looking for a place to cool our heels. Most of us congregated at a local bar and restaurant. The kids got their own table, and the adults sat nearby companionably drinking beer and eating fried foods until it was time to go.
We said goodbye to Matt, Laura and Kate at the bus. They are staying on the island for a few days. There were hugs all around. The kids have made a plan to come back in 20 years with their own kids. It’s so sweet to hear them talk like that, though I am not sure about their math.
I caught Genene looking a little forlorn.
Hernan gave us our boarding passes and passports at the airport, and again there were hugs all around as we said our goodbyes to our faithful, tireless and patient guide. James showed up at the last second, and we waved to him from the security line at the airport. After we passed through security, we would see them no more.
As soon as we got to the gate, the kids gathered up again for one last round of card games. The adults began to look at their electronic devices, now receiving cellular service after days of “no signal.”


We flew from San Cristobal to Guayaquil on the mainland, and all of our boat mates except Ian, Buffy and Sean got off. Some of them were continuing their vacation adventures, while others were headed home. We hugged the ones who were close enough to hug and waved enthusiastically at those who were too far away. Melanie ran backwards two rows on the plane to give me a last squeeze, a sweet gesture that I will always remember. She and I both had tears in our eyes. Strangers on the plane wanted to know what cruise we had been on and whether we had all known each other before. We told them, “We are from the Flamingo touring with Ecoventura. We did not know each other before, but we are all friends now!” It was a peculiar thing to have this special bond with all of these fabulous people who had shared our lives and our adventure. Can you make friends for life in a week’s time? I think so.

We got to Quito in the late afternoon and had to recover all of our bags, which were only checked through to Quito. We would have to go to the international terminal with all of them and go through security again. Our layover was about 5 hours, which is a brutal amount of time to spend sitting around in an airport. At first we thought about dropping our bags at a paid locker station, but they wanted $11 per bag, which we thought was exorbitant. I was feeling so grubby and desperately wanted a hot shower and a few minutes of rest. We found an information booth and asked the lady if there was a hotel very near the airport where we could get a day room. She knew just the place. She told us transportation was included and the man would be there in “10 minutes.” We should have known that was 10 minutes Ecuadorian, which means 30 minutes USA time. After half an hour, she apologized and said that the hotel owner was having a snafu with someone else’s bag and asked us if we cared to take a prepaid taxi to the hotel. We took a chance and said okay, and in 10 minutes we were there. But where was there?

It seemed a little odd at first, because the town seemed nothing more than a collection of tall, metal walls. The cab driver went to the appointed address and honked, and the solid metal gate, too tall to see beyond, opened. At first I wondered if we had been sent on a boondoggle. Were we about to go inside the wall and be robbed or fleeced? We were met by the owner, who grabbed our bags and escorted us into a nice little hacienda style hotel. Thanks to the internet, we were soon able to research the hotel and found that it got good reviews on TripAdvisor, particularly as a resting spot near the airport. Whew!

We stuffed our bags into the room and took turns standing under the hot, steamy, ROOMY shower. It was so nice to stand in a shower that didn’t sway. We laid on the bed until suppertime and went to the main dining hall, where we had the best $7 supper I’ve ever had: a hearty soup, chicken, rice and vegetables, and homemade dessert. The dining room was sparsely populated, which seemed a shame with such delightful meal. There was one couple in the place and a girl in the back corner plugged into her iPhone. We struck up a conversation with the couple. They wanted to know where we had been and what we had done. They were Canadians who had been in-country for 42 days and had many tales to tell. They were professional travelers and told us of their many adventures in Ecuador and throughout the years. They were the kind of people who delight in finding a $25 bargain hostel. I like to think that I might be more like them if I were retired and had no time constraints. I tend to plan my entire trip in advance and pay a premium to have certainty about where I am staying and what I am doing. Perhaps when I retire….. Anyway, the man said he was in India while they were filming the Ben Kingsley movie “Ghandi” and was an extra. He told us exactly where to find him in the movie…for all three seconds. He also told us a long involved story about how he once stepped on Mother Theresa’s toe. Most interestingly, he told us how he asked his wife to marry him at the conclusion of the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James) pilgrimage walk in Spain. He later went back and did the pilgrimage again with his grown daughter. He said the experience was “sublime”, and of course, Greg and I were intrigued. Genene yawned into her dessert. So many places. So little time. We parted company and wished each other safe and wonderful travels.

Greg, Genene and I returned hand in hand in hand to our room, and we got to see a stunning sunset.

The lights of Quito burned in the distance.


We had a few more minutes to relax on the bed before heading back to the airport at 9:15 PM. The hotel’s driver took us by van, and the return trip took only 10 minutes. It was easy to get checked in on United, and we were glad that we had taken the chance on the hotel. We reunited with Austinites Buffy, Ian and Sean, and we all sat at the airport gate companionably. Turns out they were seated right across from us in the airplane (we all sprang for those extra legroom seats), but we were exhausted so we didn’t say much. The flight got in the air at 15 minutes past midnight, and I was asleep before the plane leveled off.

We arrived in Houston at 5:30 AM on Monday morning, and through the magic of Global Entry we were through immigration before our bags got on the carousel. Buffy, Ian and Sean were not too far behind, and we gathered our gear. They had to catch a connecting flight to Austin, so we were finally parted. The adults all hugged. Adhering to the age-old rule that boys and girls of a certain age can’t touch or act as if they might like each other, Genene and Sean simply made hand gestures and slapped at each other without touching. I hope we will see them again soon. Austin is only a three hour drive from Houston.

We were waved through customs without a problem and got in a cab. We were at our front doorstep by 7:00 AM. Greg and Genene crashed down hard, but I could not afford to because I had to be at work. I put on a load of laundry and unpacked some bags. I was at the office well before a client board meeting at noon. I was able to announce proudly to the board that “last night at midnight, I was in Quito, Ecuador.” I am not sure if they were impressed or mortified.


It took me until Thursday to lose the sensation of movement, which was quite disconcerting. The patch was a godsend, and as I mentioned, I experienced no seasickness while on board the ship. I found it odd that it was only AFTER disembarking that I felt bad. After a couple of days, I began researching and through the power of internet self-diagnosis managed to frighten myself into thinking I had some kind of rare disorder called mal de debarquement. I read posts from people who went on a cruise and never quit moving for years. Thankfully, I found my land legs by the week’s end and was able to quit fretting. The internet has really transformed life. There is so much information at our fingertips. Too bad so much of it is frightening or wrong. The internet must be a hypochondriac’s dream.

We loved our guides, our tour operator and our boat. First, a shout-out to our guides: Hernan and James were marvelous. They were patient with the kids, and they seemed to genuinely enjoy their vocation. Guides in the Galapagos are all required to be certified as Class I, II and III, with III having the most training and formal education as naturalists. Our guides were Class III and it showed. There was no reptile or bird they could not identify. Or maybe they just followed the cheater’s rules they laid out for us: if you do not know its name, start with Darwin, lava or Galapagos. And we will never forget their explanations of the marine iguana snot-rockets and the land tortoise and cormorant coochie-coochie. The old adage holds true: a bad guide can ruin a trip and a good guide can make one. Hernan and James were superb.

The Flamingo was a beauty. Her cabins were small, but that was to be expected. We were cozy, and the important things (to me) were taken care of. Bed linens were soft and comfy. The rooms were clean. The sun deck was perfect for reading and napping, and the bar was fully stocked. (Priorities!) We ate gourmet meals and wanted for nothing. And did I mention her captain was cute?

Our tour operator was Ecoventura, which is privately owned by Ecuadorian family. They have been in business since 1990, and they know their stuff. They were the first Galapagos touring company to earn the Smart Voyager designation, a program developed by the Rainforest Alliance to promote ecological conservation. Their fleet operates to strict standards to avoid impact to the islands. In fact, one of the sister yachts–Eric–has been fitted with wind turbines and solar panels, making it the first hybrid yacht in the Galapagos. Ecoventura takes their charge to protect the islands seriously, and we felt good about cruising with them. As an aside, our guides told us that each year, all the representatives from all the tour operator companies get together with the national park to negotiate the terms of their respective park uses, including itineraries. Apparently there is a lot of horsetrading involved in those meetings. “We want to be able to go to Rabida.” “Okay, you must trade me a day on Genovesa.” “No way. You’re not getting Genovesa for Rabida.” And so on. I would enjoy being a fly on the wall in those negotiations. All I can say is this: The Ecoventura family must have some serious stroke or have some formidable negotiating powers because our itinerary was first class. If you want to cruise with the pros, check them out. Here’s the link (I think; I’m still learning this blog platform): Galapagos Islands Cruises & Tours, Scuba Diving, Cruise Ship, Yacht Charter To Galapagos Islands

A word about Ecuador (I warned you these observations were random.) Ecuador adopted a new constitution in 2008. It is the first constitution IN THE WORLD to give rights to nature. Its translated Article 71 says, “Nature, or Pacha Mama, where life is reproduced and occurs, has the right to integral respect for its existence and for the maintenance and regeneration of its life cycles, structure, functions and evolutionary processes. All persons, communities, peoples and nations can call upon public authorities to enforce the rights of nature. To enforce and interpret these rights, the principles set forth in the Constitution shall be observed, as appropriate. The State shall give incentives to natural persons and legal entities and to communities to protect nature and to promote respect for all the elements comprising an ecosystem.”

Think about that for a moment–constitutional rights…for nature! What a radical thought. In a world where human rights are not even close to being realized, Ecuador has the audacity to grant rights to nature. Is this hopeless, maybe even a fool’s errand? Probably. But if we save nature, will we possibly save ourselves?

If you have an hour to kill in the car, as I often do, I commend your attention to a Radiolab production about the Galapagos. You can listen to it on your smartphone (handsfree, of course) as you drive, and I guarantee you will be enthralled. Did you ever wonder how to eliminate 200,000 goats from an island chain and thus restore its ecosystem to the tortoises? I’ll give you a few hints: it involves several million dollars, helicopters, sharp shooters, and “Judas goats” with radio collars. Perhaps most importantly, it requires the Ecuadorian government and the national park to have a strong constitution and a willingness to do something bold and controversial to reclaim the islands. To make an omelette, one must break some eggs. Click here: Galapagos – Radiolab and hit the play button. You can ponder questions about how far mankind is willing to go to put back what we have had a part in destroying and how far we are willing to go to bring back what is already gone. It’s fascinating.

On a personal note, I loved the experience of the Galapagos for other, more selfish and less lofty reasons. Genene had an absolute blast with the kids on board, and as a mother, I am happy when she is happy. We all got to listen to the girls’ songs in the back seat of the buses, in the pangas, on the walks. I now know what The viper does, the story of the lady with long, skinny fingers and ruby red lips, the peanut butter sandwich, and ants on a log. Not everything we learned was edifying, but it was fun. At the beginning of the journey, I was worried that she might make “a friend” and leave us all alone. She made seven friends, and we made many more.

Every parent can groan with me as you listen to 13 seconds of “Cow Go, Cow Go Moo!”

When you are in that car or bus, it can be annoying, but I realize that Genene is growing up very fast, and these days will be a distant, happy memory all too soon. I would like to hold onto these times, and I am doing it with this blog.

Another thing I enjoyed was the absolute lack of cell phone service after we left the inhabited islands on the first day of the cruise. I do have a rule about turning off my work emails on vacations, but I still habitually check my personal email, my text messages, Facebook, etc. None of it worked! (I was able to get cell service in the middle of the Serengeti and throughout Peru so I am always surprised at how connected the world is.) After a day or so, when I realized that we were not going to get service, I left the phone plugged into the wall in the closet in my cabin and quit looking at it. I only twitched with withdrawal pangs for a little while, and then, I rediscovered the world. I love Facebook and how it keeps me connected to friends all over the world, but turning it off gave me the chance to get to know the people right beside me on the boat.

Our guides Hernan and James gave us all copies of the video they made for us, and Melanie downloaded it to youtube for all of us to share. (Thanks, Melanie!) In almost every shot of me, I have a camera up to my face. It must have frustrated James and Hernan, who were trying to sneak all these pictures of us. There are also some beautiful wildlife photos mixed in. If you were not on the trip, it might not hold your interest for all 13 minutes, but I shall treasure it forever. It’s a reminder of all the wonderful friends we made “on the road.”




On our last night on the Flamingo, the captain gave us all autographed maps of our journey. We traveled 502 nautical miles together. We saw the wonders of Darwin’s world and came unplugged from our busy day-to-day affairs. I cherish the trip and the people we met on it.

I have struggled to finish this blog. I think part of it may have been intentional on my part. As long as I was still writing, researching, editing…a part of me was still there. I didn’t ride my first airplane until a callback interview in law school, but I’ve been making up for lost time. I love to go to exotic places, and I have a daughter who can compare the cuy in Peru to the cuy in Ecuador. She wants to know when she will get to go to Disneyworld. She told me once, “Mom, I would like to go there before I get too old to enjoy it.” I guess we will have to put it on the list. Our next trip is already planned. We are going to Thailand and Cambodia for two weeks this summer, and we will have new adventures and hopefully make new friends. Another blog!

The Galapagos are the Enchanted Islands, and for a short week, we enjoyed their magic. I do believe we got some “good karma” along the way, and even the night of the rough seas makes for a good story (after the fact). I could go on and on. In fact, I already have. Time to stop dreaming, finish my income taxes and do all the real world tasks that make our travels possible. Genene had a blast and told me she wants to return to the Galapagos (maybe after Disneyworld or Universal Studios). James and Hernan, if you are listening, “Cue the booby!”


Ecuador and the Galapagos Part 7: Santiago Island and Rabida Island

Friday, March 20, 2015

We lived!

When I last left off blogging, our tiny ship was tossed. If not for the courage of the fearless crew….. well, sing it for yourself. After taking her anti-nausea medicine, Genene slept for 11 hours straight and woke up refreshed and hungry. I slept pretty well myself, at least until the muscle relaxer wore off. At some point in the wee hours of the morning, I woke up and realized that the boat was back on smooth seas, and we were not going to end up on Gilligan’s Island. Whew! We met Greg at breakfast and found him no worse for the wear. Everyone was hungry for breakfast and glad to be back on glassy water. There was a palpable feeling of relief as we gathered around the breakfast buffet. One of our guides said that on a scale from 1 to 10, last night’s rough seas were about a 7. Greg, our Coast Guard veteran, says that’s a Galapagos 7, but it’s a Coast Guard 4. I’m sure if we asked a Navy man, he would call it a 2. Every enlisted man likes to wag his….tongue.

The white board:


We and our shipmates were all beginning to function like a well-oiled machine. At panga boarding time, everyone was ready. They had all grabbed their snorkeling gear bags, camera gear and backpacks, and each person boarded the panga like a professional. It was a shame our trip was winding down, just when we were all getting good at it!

Our first stop was Santiago Island. There was a salt mine ruin here, and some of the evidence of the development remained in the form of warehouse remains. Hernan told us some of the crazy stories of the Galapagos. The tales are too involved to tell, but there was a baroness who arrived to the islands with two German lovers. There were some vegetarians already on the island who had removed their teeth to avoid the temptation to eat meat. One of the ladies “really, really loved” her donkey, and Hernan shook his head and made “tsk tsk” sounds when he mentioned it. It all ended badly, when several of these settlers were murdered or disappeared. Years later, the mystery around it all remains. The last family on the island remained there, and the descendants are alive today and own extensive properties. Of course there is speculation that their ancestors were involved in murdering some of the folks who disappeared. I think there is a movie on the subject called “The Galapagos Affair.” Perhaps I will rent that one some time.

There were beautiful lava rock beaches with grottos all around.

Marine iguanas hang out on the beach.
The Flamingo waits for us patiently. While we hiked, snorkeled and swam, shiphand Richard went into each of our cabins, made our beds perfectly and got us ready for the day. Genene brought her stuffed animals Senior and Andrea, and we would always come back to find them tucked into our bed snugly.
The beaches seemed like moonscapes on Santiago Island.
How many sea lions can you find in this photo? I see at least three, including a large bull in the shadows on the right.
Genene took this very interesting photo of iguana tracks.
I think this is a yellow-crowned night heron.
Galapagos flycatcher (I think).


There was a short guided walk just off the beach. Hernan showed us the chala tree and told us of the medicinal value of the juice from its leaves. He asked if anyone had an open sore. I pointed out a small wound on my finger, and he offered to squeeze some of the juice into it. I decided to take a chance. He took the chala leaf and squeezed until a teardrop appeared on the stem. He put the drop onto the open wound. Then he said, “It will begin to itch and burn in a few minutes. Don’t worry. It will only last 4 or 5 days.” Then he smiled and I realized he was kidding, at least about the duration of the symptoms. He was right about the burning. It reminded me of the old-time remedies my mother and dad used on us: mercurochrome and methylate. I remember how we dreaded to show them any open sore. They would apply that red paint, and it would burn like fire. Then it would scab up and get better. Or maybe I was just so glad when it quit burning that I thought it was better. Anyway, the juice of the chala gave the same burn and itch, but after a few minutes, it passed. (I am looking at my finger now a couple of weeks later, and it is completely healed. Perhaps it would have healed anyway, but the chala plant seemed to work for me.)

We strolled to the beach, with beautiful grottos all around. The water was incredibly blue and clear. We saw fur seals and sea lions playing in the surf.

We watched these two swim and play in this beautiful pool:

The crew of the Minnow…ahem, the Flamingo:
Two fur seals commiserate. “Did you hear the one about the baroness and the donkey?”
“Hee haw!”
“Go ahead and jump.”
Hernan strikes a pose. Can you see the marine iguana in the shadows under his foot? Don’t tell the National Park, but I think Hernan may be violating the six foot rule.
A sea lion carries some sea weed in his mouth.
Moe, Curly, and Larry:
Another lava lizard strikes a pose for me.
The lady lava lizard indicates her willingness to do the coochie-coochie by turning red. James likened it to wearing lipstick.
The beach floor looked like this all around. The colorful evidence of life was everywhere.


After our walk, we all went snorkeling from the beach. It was a gorgeous day with good visibility in the water. Genene amazed me with her snorkeling. She acted as if she has been doing it all her life. She couldn’t wait to get in the water and look around. The other kids were equally adept. The water was filled with young explorers.

Genene did not hesitate to dive straight down to explore.

She gets her form from her dad.
Yellow tail surgeon fish.
More schools of fish. The water was teeming with life.
Can you see the ray at upper left of center?
Here’s another look at him with the contrast pumped.
The plants were also beautiful.
Speaking of yellowtail surgeonfish, we saw several schools of them. I like this compilation of footage that Greg took of them. If you watch the whole thing, you can really get an idea for how plentiful they were. We saw many different schools of fish, and I am not well versed enough to name them. My favorite part of this video is when James divides the “herd” at 0:38, and as soon as he swims away, they fill right back in.
The kids enjoyed burying themselves in the black lava sand.
Doug and Melanie recreated the flightless cormorant courtship ritual, while Greg played the part of interloping iguana.



We went back to the boat for lunch. Each day, there was a hearty soup, and several entrees and sides to choose from, all served buffet style. After lunch, the kids played cards or watched videos in the muster area. Most of the parents went to the sun deck or their rooms to read and sleep. I appreciated that most days we got a nice long siesta after lunch.

The view from our dining room:

The kids served themselves on the buffet, while the ever-patient and fabulous Abel tried to keep up with the demands of the hungry sailors.
A typical lunch:



Genene told us that she wanted to sea kayak and we had not taken a turn yet so we put our names on the list. After playing games with her friends in the early afternoon, she came to the cabin about 30 minutes before we were to leave and said that she needed to “recharge her batteries.” We let her nap, and she did not want to wake up at the appointed hour so Greg and I went without her. It was a nice interlude. Greg and I probably do not do enough adult activities without Genene, so we enjoyed this little moment together. We still remembered our seldom used kayaking skills. I was the motor up front, while Greg steered from the back. We paddled along the cliff wall and watched the birds, the marine iguanas and the sea lions. The sea lions were particularly amusing. They laid in the surf and let the waves roll them in and out of the water. Some of them poked their heads up playfully alongside the kayak. We also saw sea turtles swimming in the open water.

We returned to the boat and immediately got ready for a short panga ride to Rabida Island. Genene was hard to wake up, as usual, and we spent a few minutes trying to goad her into doing what she needed to do to get ready. Our panga ride roughly repeated the ground covered by the kayak. We had a wet landing on the beach, and the smell of sea lion poop was in the air. There were a few annoying bugs, which made us want to get into the water that much faster.

The beach at Rabida was rusty red.
Cue the boobies:


We had our last and greatest snorkel off the beach at Rabida Island. One sea lion in particular flirted and played with the kids. He was not the least bit interested in the six foot rule.

It was amazing to watch the kids interact when him. Greg got this GoPro footage. The kids took turns spinning with the sea lion. For my mom’s sake, I’ll point out that Genene is in the blue shirt with the aqua shorts cavorting with the sea lion at 0:19 and again at 0:54. It’s very interesting to see the kids turn flips and in response, the sea lion flips and rolls.
Some of the parents swam around the point in search of sharks. The water got a little more choppy and difficult to swim in, and most of the kids came back pretty quickly and hung out in the panga. I had been following along with Genene and got out of the water when she did. Greg continued on with some of the others.
The kids took turns jumping off the panga. I caught Ellie in a perfect flip.
Genene went in the lazy way.
Greg was one of the last snorkelers to return.

He had some great GoPro footage as a reward. He got several shots of a whitetip reef shark. I am not sure it was wise of him to follow it, but he said it was small. I regret that I did not see this fellow. Greg missed the hammerhead shark that I saw early in the trip, so I guess this whitetip reef shark was his reward.



I compiled this assortment of sea creatures taken by Greg on this day’s adventures: a dead iguana, a fish trying to eat an urchin, some barracuda (maybe), sand dollar, a beautiful spotted ray, and two waving girls.



We ended our last snorkel, boarded the pangas and made our way back to the Flamingo. We had our briefing, and dinner was delicious as usual. We were all beginning to get a little melancholy because James and Hernan had reminded us along the way today, “Last time to see a fur seal. Last time to see a blue footed booby. Last chance for a sea kayak. Last snorkel. ” We all knew that our time together was coming to a close. Tomorrow would be our last full day of adventures together before heading back to reality.

No one wanted it to end.