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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
We left Quito in fog and rain early this morning, boarding a plane that took us in a very short flight, up over invisible mountains(where a volcano is currently exploding) and down into a hot, humid rainforest and the Francisco de Orellana Aeropuerto in the village of Coca.
From the plane we could see where swathes of forest had been cut to grow palms for oil.
Some of us accompanied Alfredo to a street of shops to buy rain ponchos we will give to school children, and Kent and I purchased a small bottle of
Detan insect repellent.
After trying on tall rubber boots to make sure they would fit, we boarded a large motorized canoe, which took us from the junction of the Napo and Coca Rivers to our home for the next three nights—Yarina Lodge.
After lunch, we had siestas until 4:30 pm, when we donned our rubber boots to walk on a sometimes muddy, sometimes rooty trail into the forest.
◦ It was slow-going because there were so many of us, but we did encounter some interesting flora and fauna, including a spiny-trunked « torture tree.,» a drago’s blood tree, a monkey cup bright red fungus, a variet of mahogany tree, an enormous earthworm, some Caciques, a relatively rarely-sighted blue cotinga, and squirrel monkeys.
Tonight we sleep in little screened cabins under mosquito nets. It was so hot and humid, I could barely get into my clothes after our siesta, but it has cooled enough that I’ll be able to sleep.
Tomorrow we have a full day of walks and boat rides.
After our flights from San Francisco and Dallas, a long wait through immigration, and a fairly long, convoluted taxi ride in the dark, we finally gratefully dropped into our bed at our Quito hotel sometime between 1 and 2 am.
We were not very bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at our 8:30 am breakfast or at the get acquainted trip overview that followed. The guidelines for behavior included, “No discussion of USA politics.” Probably a good idea.
Our trip leader Alfredo is knowledgeable and enthusiastic. He led us through a two- hour walk of the historic center of Quito, which included an interview with a former gang member who turned his life around, although at the cost of almost losing his life.
We also met and were able to ask questions of a 43-year-old street-corner prostitute, whose working name is Daniela. She is married and the mother of a son in his final year of a university engineering program and of a 13-year-old daughter. Her children do not know about her work, although her husband does. They need the money. She earns $13 per client, whom she takes to a nearby “official” hotel. The hotel takes $3 and she keeps $10. Alfredo paid her for the time she spent taking with us. There Is much more she told us. She seemed like a nice person. Another very made-up woman nearby in high heels and short tight skirt smiled and waved at me. I felt sad.
Later, near our hotel, we met a young couple who were Venezuelan refugees. They had walked for two months through Colombia to reach Ecuador and were hoping to get to Guayaquil. They were gaunt and weather-beaten.
During our walk through the old city we visited the gold-encrusted interior of the Jesuit La Compania de Jesus church that combines Baroque and Mudejar design elements. The church is now a museum except for Sunday mass. Huge vases of white flowers were being arranged on the altar this Saturday afternoon.
We enjoyed a lovely lunch in an old house on La Ronda street, where we were welcomed with hugs and speeches and toasts, and given descriptions of the delicious foods and drinks were were given. I especially loved the delicate small empanadas, one chicken and one cheese, served with two lovely sauces. There was also a dessert of Tomate de arbol (Tamarillo) with cinnamon.
Tomorrow early we head for the equator, the center of the world.