Not Traveling Now

A friend stopped me in the sheets and towels aisle of Reny’s recently to tell me how much she liked this blog, but how she wished I’d post more often. I don’t want to misquote my friend, so I’ll sum up her message with the words my brain heard her say, which I’m sure aren’t perfectly accurate. But they were something like: Your life can’t possibly be all that exciting as when you’re traveling.

To which I laughed, and said in return: You bet your ass it isn’t.  

I’m still trying to put Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands into words, the task equivalent of summing up an epic poem with a haiku. But I’m also living my life, which is abundant with laundry, dirty dishes, appointments, soccer games and work. I mean, writing is maybe, maybe the 27th thing on a priority list of taking care of business. And I told my friend that. And she said, and this time I’ll quote her word for word: give us a dose of the real life, too. 

So, ahem. Attention. Some real life for you.

I’ve been trying to teach my dog Reuben some damn manners. He’s basically a good dog, I think. I’ve never had a dog from puppy stage and trained him myself before so I’ve nothing to compare. He’s great most of the time.

But he CAN’T. CONTROL. HIMSELF if other dogs are nearby. He must sniff their butts, then lower his elbows to the ground with his own butt high in the air, then roll over to show he’s subservient, to every single dog he sees. But first, he must bark so loudly, and with so much authority, that people cross the street to avoid him. It’s a sound that rises out of him like a harmless burp, but it sounds like a dire warning.

Which is a problem, because he doesn’t care that you’ve crossed the street to avoid him. He can still smell you, and sooooo wants to be your BFF. Also, to be clear, though he be little (45 pounds) he be strong. He has pulled me off my feet several times before just to go up to another dog, roll over on his back, whine incessantly, and demand to be loved like the diva he is.

Last weekend Luke and his soccer team ran in the Pancake 5K past our house. I decided to use this crowded venue for a bit of dog training. I walked Reuben a full mile before the racers even began – in an attempt to tire him out a bit. (It didn’t. Nothing short of playing with other dogs at Wag It all day does that.) Anyway, I took him out, armed with a thousand treats to keep his attention should other dogs happen to also be out walking. (And in the three plus years we’ve had Reuben I can count on one hand the walks I’ve taken with him when we didn’t see other dogs.) So, for a full mile he did very well, focusing on me (the liver and salmon treats, really) when other pups trotted by, and sitting nicely as all the runners from the 5K made their way down the street past us.

I made the mistake of being proud of this thing that felt like accomplishment.

We got back to the house. I needed to throw the poop bag into the receptacle we use, which is between the house and garage. Just as I reached out to take the cover off the galvanized steel bucket, Reuben sensed or smelled a dog walking by out front. I didn’t see the dog because of the giant forsythia bush that blocks the view to the street. Well. Note to self: never let your guard down while still out in the neighborhood.

Reuben barked and took off, taking me with him. I dropped the poop bag and tried to grab a strong hold of the leash, while being dragged – first sideways, then in a squat position – along the stone path, at the end of which he pulled me, like a water skier, straight through that forsythia bush, which is a solid four feet taller than I am and wide as a truck. My hat got caught up, and my sunglasses got completely destroyed by the sharp, leafless branches of the bush, while my hair was pulled out of my head in two spots. Crikey, it was a sight.

I think the only thing that stopped him was that the woman on the other side of the forsythia had heard that giant bark. She’d already begun to cross the street, taking her Australian Shepard with her. Plus I had finally gained control of him, and was holding tightly, hair in every direction, one pant leg up past my knee.

All this maybe lasted 20 seconds.

There you have it. That’s the way things seems to go for me. I’m always trying to catch a fly ball — I got it, I got it, I got it…………….I don’t got it. Basically I’m kicking ass at life; a life that’s mundane and astoundingly vibrant, and mine.


The Galapagos Island of Isabela

Arriving on Isabela Island, I felt a pull equivalent to buying and reading a new book: familiar somehow – anticipated, appointed, discovered. In some ways my visit to Isabela was like going home. In others, like finding one. Do you ever travel to a place you’ve never been and yet belong? For me, that was Isabela.

It’s 105 minutes by boat from Santa Cruz on a boat just large enough for our group of 25, two guides and two crew members. I think I’ll skip the details of the discomfort of traveling between the islands and just sum up what the guide books say. In essence, that is: bring motion sickness meds. Take them. Bring rain gear. Wear it. Settle in for some rough travel. Try to keep a positive attitude. May the odds be ever in your favor.

Yeah. That izth small.

After reaching our hotel, changing into dry clothes and shoes, and replenishing our fluids, we were off into full sun and hot temperatures. Our open-sided bus was awesome while at sea level, with the hot summer breeze flowing through.

I wouldn’t call it comfortable, but the uniqueness won us over.

Our itinerary for the day was to travel up into the rainforest and hike around a dormant volcano. The further up into the highlands we traveled, the colder, windier and rainier it got. At one point, my teeth started chattering and I couldn’t stop them. Things didn’t go wrong, they just went. Plans were thwarted. On to Plan B.

Back at sea level where it was sunny, and did I mention hot, we were taken to a giant tortoise breeding center, at which we saw — wait for it: Baby. Giant. Tortoises. BABIES! Would it be over the top to yell in all caps: OMG!? LOOK AT THEM! We sauntered around the property, greeting tortoises at every stage of development, and loved every second of it.

And then it was over. I had the thought that life would never be that sweet again. And then, all because were not able to go to the rainforest, came my absolute favorite part of this entire trip, a walk into the mangroves, with no explanation, and no promise of anything. We had no idea where we were headed, how long it would take to get there, whether we’d be coming back the same way we went in – nothing. We trusted our guides. Off we went.

We stopped many times along the way to learn about this plant or that tiny animal, this tree or that view. And then, the denseness around us opened up into a peaceful pond, and in it were dozens of pink flamingoes, wading, fishing, hanging out with their buds. Well worth the hour long walk. Most of the flamingoes you see in this picture are fishing, their heads in the water. The ones far away on the left are standing full height. They are truly astounding creatures. I had no idea they were so magnificent.

I could have stayed here all day long just watching these docile birds live their lives. But there was more to see and do. Soon, the mangroves opened again, this time to the vast ocean. This was the view I had personally been waiting for – the one in my dreams about the Galapagos Islands, with black volcanic rock lining the shore, and vibrant blue waters beyond. I couldn’t wait to step into it. Breathtakable.

Natalie, me, Luke, Zoe, Garrett and Guy #Family

We explored the sand and surf, played a little soccer with a coconut shell, and made our way down the beach to the little town in the distance, where we drank four gallons of water each and had a lunch of the freshest octopus on earth. Or chicken, whichever you’d ordered. I was proud of several kids who tried the octopus and loved it!

That takes us to lunch. There’s more to Isabela. Stay tuned for Part 2. And thanks for sticking around.

The Galapagos Island of Santa Cruz

I’m going to attempt to tell you some more about Ecuador now, but I confess: all the wonderful flights, boat trips, snorkeling excursions, wildlife, beaches, shopping, food, hotels and experiences are running together in my mind like a Monet. I’ve been working on a draft on and off for a few days, and had to delete the whole thing due to inaccuracies and unintelligible rantings. So I’m going to try again.

But first, a llama.

Isn’t he delightful?

After two nights in Quito (check last blog entry), the 25 of us, 6 adults and 19 kids, arose around 6am, with sleepy seeds still stuck in our eyeballs. I’m sure we had a lovely breakfast of fresh fruit juices, eggs, pastries, fried plantains, potatoes prepared every which way, and strong coffee.

To get our energies flowing, we danced a little indigenous dance in the ballroom at our hotel with our guide, Wilson.

Here he is teaching us about a northern native dance.

And here, a dance from the southern part of the country. I might have those reversed.

We took a small bus back to the airport, an hour outside the city, and hopped our flight, which was supposed to occur in two parts, but it’s the islands! Plans change. This time, the change was to our benefit — a DIRECT flight to Santa Cruz with no layover!

Here we are awaiting our flight.

…and by the time we arrived we were all YAHOO for island living, having flown for two hours or so in that magic space where we couldn’t tell where sky ended and water began. This is absolutely one of my most favorite sights on earth, so far. Blue for days.

Upon arriving in Baltra, one of two islands in the Galapagos with a place to land an airplane, we took a five minute boat ride to Santa Cruz, where we met our local guides Cesar and Patricio,or Pato,who were friendly and knowledgeable, and who piled us onto a bus, taking us to a giant tortoise reserve. Hundreds of acres of heaven for the gargantuan kings.

There was this.

And this. Eating guava. 

And this. These divine creatures completely took my breath away with their size and stature, indeed their presence on the planet. The giant tortoises are everything I’d hoped they’d be. Astounding.

My niece, Zoe, and her new friend.

At the end of our tour of the reserve, we ate hot cheese empanadas. And were happy. 

You can see here just how happy as we gathered into our little bus van thing and prepared to go.

So much more pleasant than at 6am, myself included. The tortoises brought pure joy.

Back in town we had dinner, and then went to the pier, from which we watched dozens of sharks, and visited with a few sea lions who live there. We stayed out well into the evening enjoying this sea life and also doing a little shopping.

Our crew at the pier.

Shopping took all the energy I had left. I only speak for myself when I say I was asleep well before I closed my eyes on this night. It was a day full of new adventure in a mesmerizing place, surrounded by animals and vegetation unique to the Galapagos. Special indeed.

This is a view of the gorgeous street of little shops. See the merch for The Blue Footed Boobies? About which, more later.