Escaping Underwater While Sheltering in Place

April 2, 2020

It has been over two weeks now since we returned from what will probably be our last trip for a very long time. While we have been sheltering in place, my feelings have alternated between gratitude for my safe, comfortable life at home with time to work on projects and freedom from many responsibilities, and deep sadness over the suffering the COVID-19 is causing everywhere. To escape, I returned to the glorious underwater world of the Galapagos, editing the beautiful footage shot by our guide, Paola Sangolqui and putting it to muic. I invite you to escape with Paola and the turtles, rays, sharks and many other wonderful creatures of the sea in the pristine water of the Galapagos Islands.

Under the Sea in the Galapagos Islands

Grief, Pilgrimage, and Saint Patrick’s Day

17 March 2020

Grief: For the world transformed by the coronavirus pandemic, grief for the world we didn’t think we’d lose so suddenly, and perhaps irretrievably.  I grieve for the loss of my freedom to travel, to visit friends and family, to live as I please.  I grieve for the people of the world who are much more impacted than I have been so far:  for those who are ill, those who have lost their incomes, and their loved ones.  For Those who cannot, as our president admonishes us, “enjoy your living room.”

Yet, as I walked the ditch banks this afternoon, I thought of my life as a pilgrim, and how the pilgrim learns to accept whatever happens – learns that there are things that can be controlled and those that cannot.  The hardy group of American Pilgrims on the Camino who gathered last weekend on the shores of spectacular Lake Tahoe, adapted to ever-changing circumstances as news of the pandemic and subsequent regulations assailed us.  Travel to Europe was suspended, the Spanish Camino de Santiago closed and all pilgrims ordered to return to their homes, while a series of ever-bigger snowstorms caused many, including me, to depart from Lake Tahoe before the end of the Gathering, when a break in the snowfall presented an opportunity to cross the mountain passes.

So, here I sit, home now for twenty-four hours, thinking of all this as I listen to a recording of the great John McCormack singing Irish songs I’ve known and loved since my youth.  They are melancholy, as the lovers are parted by distance and death.  I’ve put on my shamrock necklace, even though I am not Irish, despite a hint of Celtic in my DNA.  But I have children who are one quarter Irish, and my first husband Ed had an Irish twinkle in his eye and a lilt in his voice that perhaps came from his mother, Ellen Mildred Courtney.

My intention for this Saint Patrick’s Day was to celebrate with my daughter Psyche, her husband Saad, and my two adorable grandchildren, ages almost three and almost four months.  But, alas, San Franciscans are “sheltering in place,” and to visit seemed foolhardy, if not impossible.  I long to be with them, because despite my lack of Irish heritage, the days surrounding Saint Patrick’s Day are important ones that are associated with momentous turning points in my life.

In 1973, in Tucson, Arizona, I celebrated completing my comprehensive exams for a master’s degree in English literature by throwing a party for which my mother made Cornish pasties and I baked a cake which I decorated with a picture of Saint Patrick driving the snakes from Ireland.  A reference librarian searched at length for details or an image of this legend, which we never found.  I begged her to stop looking; and was embarrassed to tell her it was only to decorate a cake – not for some serious research project.  Only after I became a reference librarian myself did I understand how librarians love the thrill and challenge of such searches and don’t want to to quit even when their patrons say, “Enough.”

Just four years later, on March 16, 1997, I first laid eyes on Ed Philips during my very first meeting of a Unitarian singles group in State College, Pennsylvania.  We had a brief conversation, but there was something about him that caused me to write in my diary that very evening, “If God wants me to marry Ed Philips, so be it.”  We were married on May 29 that same year, which was both of our birthdays, eighteen year apart.

In my kitchen hangs a beautifully framed group of photos.  An inscriptions reads:  Paquimé, near Casas Grandes, Chihuahua, Mexico, visited by Linnea Hendrickson, Helen Williamson, Jeanne Howard, and Ross Burkhardt, March 17, 1999.

The day before we departed on this trip, we found a puddle of oil under my car in Jeanne’s driveway.  Helen and I stayed an extra night in Las Cruces, so the car could be repaired.  We had had a celebratory traditional Saint Patrick’s Day dinner with Jeanne and Ross and assorted family the previous day, topped off with Irish coffee.  Now, as Helen and I drove alone across the remote, windswept roads of northern Chihuahua, we sang lustily along with John McCormack, a poignant memory, now that Jeanne (friend, adventurer, and trip and party organizer like me) is gone, and Helen (the first person I called upon Ed’s death) speaks to me no more.

Almost three years after Ed’s passing in June 2007, it was time to fulfill the vow I’d made while he was dying, to walk the Camino de Santiago de Compostela.  I was planning to walk in September, starting somewhere in Spain, depending how far I thought I could walk in three or four weeks.  But in February 2010, I began reading Conrad Rudolph’s Pilgrimage to the End of the World, which filled me with a burning desire to walk from Le-Puy-en-Velay, in France, a distance more than twice as far as I’d intended to walk.

At a Christmas Eve party in 2009 – another event organized by Jeanne – I had met Kent, the “typewriter man.”  In February, he had driven all the way from Las Cruces to Albuquerque, and I’d guided him to the junk stores and antique shops to look for typewriters. We had continued to correspond via email.  Then in March, I decided it was time I hosted, as I often had with Ed, a Saint Patrick’s Day dinner, with corned beef, cabbage, Irish songs I had printed so everyone could sing, and even a Saint Patrick’s Day trivia quiz.  As I assembled my guest list the ratio of men and women was unbalanced.  Why not invite Kent?  He could always say no.  I sweetened the invitation by suggesting he spend the night and we go hiking the following day.  I was still pondering whether I could possibly fit in a walk starting in France in April and May, before I had to be home for events in June and July.

Kent came, and that evening everyone had to leave the dinner party early, leaving the two of us alone by eight p.m.  What to do with an evening stretching before us?  We visited, then went to bed in our separate rooms, to be ready to arise early to hike.  We took two cars, leaving one at the Embudo trailhead and another at Three-Gun-Spring.  It was a fairly strenuous hike up over the pass that connected the two trails.  I was testing myself, my new boots, pack, and hiking poles.  Could I really take off to walk in France?  That hike decided it – three weeks later I was walking alone in France, and writing to Kent (on computers with French keyboards that had z’s where the a’s should be).

That afternoon after our walk, we sat in my backyard eating leftover plum cobbler before he headed back to Las Cruces.  He looked around the large yard and said, “I really l like your place.”  It was so comfortable and companionable having him there, my heart gave a little leap, and I felt, “I think he belongs here.”

It would be another year before he came to stay, but that Saint Patrick’s Day was a turning point, and the beginning of a new beginning.

So now, after our ditch walk, and be-decked with shamrock necklaces, we are about to sit down, not to corned beef and cabbage and cobbler, alas, and without the company of friends, but to bacon-lettuce-and-tomato sandwiches, still happy to have each other in this broken world.

Galapagos Snorkeling: February 2020

My Turtle Collage (paper)

How I love snorkeling! The snorkeling, sometimes twice a day, has been quite marvelous along rocky ledges and over sandy bottoms. Sturdy ladders on the dinghies have made it fairly easy to climb out of the water.

The water is warm, and sometimes crystal clear.  Today was the best, and a dive I had rather feared.  We would be swimming with sharks!  The destination was Kicker Rock off San Cristobal, a monolith jutting straight out of the water, perhaps 200 feet high.  We swam through a crack in the rock, along straight walls. thick with corals and barnacles and other growths, colorful in the sunshine.  Parrot fish and others nibbled along the wall.  In the center of the channel the water was deep blue, with no visible bottom.  There we saw a green Pacific turtle, swimming in a relaxed manner, just like us, and then suddenly far below, we saw the distinctively shaped hammerhead sharks.  They paid us no attention, which helped me stay calm.

We saw white-tipped reef sharks and turtles on the darker shady side of the rock, and several other quite large sharks as well.  There were also puffer fish and beautiful eagle spotted rays, at one point two swimming in a dance together.

Once Kent and I looked down into the deep and to see perhaps three Galapagos and three Hammerheads circling below us.

Later, just before we got into the dinghy, dozens of sharks circled below us.

I don’t know why I didn’t think about an underwater camera!  Paola used a go-pro in a plastic case on a wand, and got some wonderful videos.

Thursday:  today we snorkeled in deep water around some rocks off Floreana.  The water felt cold.  I swam above a shark or two, and then a huge form approached on my left—it was a sea lion!  .  In shallower and warmer water I was delighted to see many brilliant blue starfish on the bottom as well as some unusual large mounded gray-colored shapes with many sides— perhaps also starfish?  (I think chocolate chip sea stars with five sides).

This is where I also saw a long thin fish, like a trumpet fish, but almost transparent—ill look it up.

Friday: Our last snorkel.  There were only Kent, me and Margaret, and one of the crew members— the captain of the ship!  Again, we snorkeled along a rocky shore.  Paola was in the dinghy, but didn’t snorkel with us.  We saw nothing new, but as we entered the water, sea lions leaped and dived beside us, almost close enough to touch—i tried, but could not quite reach one that almost swam into me.  

I was the last out of the water: I didn’t want to leave.

 Farewell to the underwater world.

Galapagos Islands Map: Kicker Rock off
San Cristobal on Lower Right

Into a Lava Tube: Isla Floreana, Galapagos Islands

Isla Floreana
The Post Office

After visiting the famous post office box, where we left a postcard addressed to ourselves, and picked up several addressed to Albuquerque residents, some of us visited a lava tube. Larry and Margaret backed out after the first two ladders down, but Linda, Ed, Kent, and I continued with Paola and Juan Carlo to the end of the tube, where we waded in darkness in cold salt water that came above our knees.

Paola in the lava tube

I’ll admit, I found it a bit scary.  I don’t really like dark holes in the ground.  But it was an interesting experience, and climbing out was easier than going down when my Teva sandals slipped on the gravel.

I was surprised and happy to see the bright light of day pouring down from the opening, sooner than I’d expected it.

We also had the opportunity to swim at the beach near the “post office,” but the water over the brown sand was murky, and as I was about to wade in I spied numerous sting-rays swimming in clusters along the water’s edge.  I decided to wait for a better opportunity to swim!

Sting Rays at Post Office Beach

We also saw Numerous turtle tracks on the beach.

Turtle tracks, Post Office Beach

Galapagos!

February 2, 2020

Sunrise first morning in Galapagos

Written after our first day in the Galapagos.

I’m lying on the bed in our air-conditioned room, taking a few minutes to write. We have been here less than 24 hours, and already I am loving these islands.

We have just returned from a walk over lava at Sullivan’s Bay, which, as our guide Paola said, was mostly about landscape, but we also saw penguins: the first a juvénile perched alone in a rocky cove, and later many swimming near the rocks where we landed and the sandy beach from which we returned.

Galapagos penguin

The lava was varied, with some organic-looking curving swirls and balls, and rope-like twisted forms.

Other bits were jagged and sharp, and cracked with sometimes deep fissures, oxidized red. Large and small red cinder cones from older eruptions loomed in the background.

We were transported between boat and shore via Zodiacs.

The water is crystal clear and turquoise blue.

I awoke before 6 this morning to see a glowing sky behind mountains. I grabbed the camera, and dashed out in my Mexican dress. In just minutes the sky had faded.

Some of us sat on the sun deck as the sun rose. A frigate bird perched on the roof, and sharks circled in the water with surgeon fish. I tried doing some yoga stretches, and realized how stiff and out of shape I am.

We will meet shortly to learn about the Galapagos finches. There are other boats anchored here. An Xploration catamaran and a much larger Silver Sea cruise ship. Kent tells me that several others have since come. We are still quite close to the main island of Santa Cruz, which our guide Paola’s home.

Yesterday

I snapped pictures of a few islands as we flew over them, including the airport and Mosquera Island — a interesting spit Of sand and black rock, where we were to walk later.

After Paola met us at the airport, we took a bus to a pier, then Zodiac to our ship Galaxy, where we were given our cabins, and served lunch.

After a bit of rest, the first expedition was a snorkel trip. I think we were all a bit nervous. I know it has been several years since Kent and I have snorkeled. We first had to find masks and fins that fit, and I had to struggle to get into my bathing suit.

But once in the water, it all comeback to me. There was a bit of swell as we swam along a rocky edge. I saw surgeon fish, parrot fish, and a Moorish Idol. And many others. Kent spied a shark, and others a spotted eagle ray. I relaxed among the beauty of the fish, but eventually., as the sunlight came at lower angles and clouds also loomed, I was ready to get out, and managed to navigate the ladder into the boat without too much difficulty after removing my fins in the water.

Getting fins for first snorkel

We were greeted in the Zodiacs with outdoor towels, and back on the ship, with hot sweet tea.

Our first challenge successfully completed!

A bit later, dressed in dry clothes, we walked on Mosquera Island, after a wet landing in surging waves that made it even later than we’d expected. I had a plastic bag over camera with big lens.

We saw many sea lions, pelicans, and black iguanas, all of which seemed quite unafraid.

Wet landing and departure

The sun was dipping low as we braved rough seas again, back to the boat. I was so tired at dinner, I could hardly stay awake.

I slept long and soundly, rocked in the cradle of the sea.

Adventuring in Quito

February 1, 2020

Basilica, Quito

February 1, 2020

On our free day in Quito, we decided to walk from the hotel to the Mercado Artisanal and the Basilica. With help of a map and saved images from Google maps, we made it just fine.

We had fun at the market, chatting with vendors, and buying more than we had anticipated. We were especially captivated by a flute player, and ended up meeting another fan — an Ecuadoran woman who lives in Florida.

The Basilica is a gothic-styled structure, much more recent than the more prevalent 16th-century churches in Spanish Mission style. The draw here was to climb the bell tower via a series of metal ladders high above the roof. At the half-way point I hesitated, especially as the wind picked up, but as two guys with full-sized backpacks headed up, I decided I could be brave, so I followed them up, reaching the platform at the top, panting and shaking. Best not to look down!

The views were spectacular. Getting back down the same way, including descending a ladder beneath the pitched roof and crossing a wooden catwalk that stretched over the inner vault, was almost as challenging.

Next we climbed another series of steps and tiny circular metal stairs to the top of one of the two main towers.

Once back on terrafirma, we walked steeply up, then down—a long steep street to the Old Town, where we had a light lunch in a charming old dining room upstairs in what had once been a colonial house (La Colonial). There was a party going on in an adjacent room, with very loud music. I kept hoping they would soon be done. We could see that the guests had finished eating, and were now dancing around the table. I peeked in as we were leaving, and they waved for me to join in the merriment, so I danced a couple of rounds about the table with them. Kent snapped a picture.

We are now boarding the flight to the Galapagos, via Guayaquil, and can expect to have no internet for the next 7 days, so you will be reading this perhaps a week from today. yes!

Virgin de Quito

The Amazing Amazon

January 30, 2020

piranha

In some ways I’ve felt trapped in an oppressively warm, unbearably humid, claustrophobic cocoon of green vegetation and brown, sticky mud for the past two days. This is a place very different from the dry, open desert of New Mexico.

Yet, I’ve also found connections in the lives of the indigenous people of the rain forest, and those of the indigenous people of the desert in their connection to the land and their struggles to survive as an alien culture has imposed itself upon them.

For the first time I no have seen how cacao grows, and have seen firsthand the pods depicted, perhaps a thousand years ago, in a petroglyph carved on the walls of Chaco Canyon. The people of the desert and those of the rainforest shared a connection, also evidenced by the presence of macaw feathers in the northern pueblos.

We have walked on sometimes slippery trails, and been shown amazing plants with medicinal properties. We have seen colonies of ants who talk to each other, and squirrel monkeys who leap from tree to tree on thin swinging branches, sometimes with babies clinging to their backs.

Christina at home visit showing us harvesting from the forest

We floated in silent canoes on a small lake in darkness, no light but brilliant stars reflected in the still water, and the fairy-like lights of fireflies glowing in the heavy air and on the vegetation on the water. We were silent, but the night surrounded us with an almost deafening symphony of sounds all playing at once like an avant guard composition.

Winchell showing us a plant similar to curare
Sunset, Yarina Lodge

We’ve had siestas each afternoon during the hottest part of the day, but I have never sweat so much and been so consistently hot for so long. In other tropical places, I’ve had air-conditioned rooms in which to recover. Here, there are none.

Tonight, our last before we take a plane back to Quito, there is thunder, lightning, and rain.

The days have been packed with experiences and information. Alfredo, who spent a year living with a remote indigenous tribe that wore no clothes, has been an excellent guide, assisted by Winchell,a local guide.

We’ve been well-cared for, the food has been simple, but delicious, with some unusual touches — why haven’t I taken pictures?—the beds comfortable—but it has still been physically taxing, getting in and out of boats while wearing uncomfortable life jackets and carrying binoculars, cameras, water, and rain jackets.

I’m looking forward to two nights in Quito, cooler temperatures, and clean clothes, before our flight to the Galapagos on Saturday.