Ecuador, The Outtakes Part 2. Photos from the Edit Room floor.

Here is the last collection of photos that didn’t make the first cut but fill in a few of the gaps and flesh out a few of the adventures in Ecuador.

Thanks to everyone who has been following along. It’s been satisfying to know that people have been tuning in for this trip with me, I had a damn good time putting it together.

Ecuador, Day 7. Galapagos Islands.

We traveled overnight to Santiago Island and learned that rocking while sleeping is both a side to side and head to toe affair. Your best bet is literally just to roll with it, from one side of your bed to the other, hoping you don’t roll right out. Up at 6, soon taking the pangas to a long sandy beach lining the bay where the boat had anchored. We walked the length of it, the sand littered with ghost crabs, small, quick buggers that scuttle into holes almost before you’ve even seen they’re there. Cool little birds (I’m showing my Audubon knowledge now) that ran out into the surf, and then dashed madly away from the waves as they came in, over and over again. Griffin and Oakley followed suit. The Boobies were out too, diving after fish like sleek missiles, dropping straight down into the water.

The beach was book-ended by lava jetties where underwater sea life gathers, so we suited up in our snorkel gear and headed out. We immediately found schools of fish, each a thousand strong. Flashing silver, they moved as a whole, making room as we swam through and then closing the gap behind us. Griffin and I often dove down right through the middle of them, a wall of life surrounding us. Fawn, the boys and I were swimming quite near each other and suddenly a sea lion joined us, clearly coming to play. The water was perfectly clear and Griffin immediately dove down to be closer to her. Suddenly I’m watching him below me, the sea lion swimming circles around him, both of them twisting sideways, swimming together. Incredible to watch my son doing that, to see him experience it. A while later Fawn and the boys continued on while I headed back to the beach. At one point a puffer fish was swimming near, maybe 10 feet away. It was calm, the water clear and still, with no other fish around. A small, isolated moment. As I watched him, a Blue Footed Boobie suddenly shot into the water from above to catch it, a flash of lightning directly in front of me. It was one of the most unexpected things I’ve ever seen, shockingly fast. Incredibly, the fish got away, and the Boobie bobbed back up to the surface. I came up too and as he lifted from the water, he flew directly over my head, not 6 inches above me. Getting back on the beach was a little tricky with fins, with large rocks hidden under the waves of the shallow shore. I eventually decided to just let the waves roll me up onto the beach. Everyone had a pretty good laugh at that and I had more sand in the crack of my butt than I’m willing to discuss. An early lunch during which the boat traveled over to Puerto Egas. Another walk then, this one over mostly flat terrain. The path was sandy, leading to a lava coastline farther along. Again with many different types of lava – sharp spires, round and smooth boulders, undulating waves that had solidified, craggly rocks, etc. Here they had formed tunnels in a few places, the water from the ocean rushing 50 feet inland, spraying up, and retreating again.

Many sea lions here, sleeping lazily, like they had nothing better to do. Marine iguanas too, a different subspecies and the biggest yet. There were many cool, small tide pools on this island, with small birds pecking for food and Sally Lightfoot crabs crawling creepily (it’s the only way they crawl) along the lava at the edges. A little further along was a baby fur sea lion, a different and apparently more rare species. Whatever, it was crazy cute. It was soon joined by two others, making a trio of big-eyed, furry, barking baby sea lion goodness. Griffin approached them, and they didn’t shy away. In fact one of them took notice of Griffin and became curious in return. Griffin got down on his belly on a small outcrop of rock directly in front of them. He had his camera and was taking pictures of them up close, less than 12 inches away now. One of them took a waddling step and leaned in closer still. Quietly, in one of those moments when time seems to slow down just a bit, they inched even closer, staring at each other, Griffin and the baby sea lion. Soon they were actually nose to nose, touching. They stayed that way, each looking at the other in an amazing, magical moment. I will never forget it.

By 4 we were back on board and headed for San Cristabel, a long 12 hour cruise across the open water between islands. The ocean was rougher, the swells deeper. All of us started to feel sick and dinner was ruled out (though Gary was robust enough to endure it). I went to the briefing at 6:45 and took notes. Gathering the emigration forms that Peter needed, I started to feel sicker still and barely delivered the paperwork before I got back upstairs and threw up. Griffin had been in the room with me, but I could hear a mad dash of footsteps as he bolted, retreating into Fawn and Oakley’s room. I couldn’t blame him, I was being loud and completely disgusting.  (Thankfully, I felt better and went straight to bed.)

(March 12, 2012.)

Ecuador, Day 6. Galapagos Islands.

When I woke up my back pain was no better, and in fact it kept me up most of the night. It’s starting to get me down, but now I’m just more determined to get up and go. Sitting around doing nothing is for iguanas, and I’m hoping that moving and going and doing will help.

We headed out first for a hike and I traveled as light as possible. I left my camera behind (iPhone in pocket), and took just a bottle of water. Getting in and out of the panga was pretty difficult, but we were soon off to the East side of Fernandina Island, the youngest of the Galapagos Islands at 500,000 years old. The landing path was covered with iguanas. COVERED. We had to step carefully, slowly, making our way through them. Have I mentioned they smell? They smell. On this hike we saw hundreds, easily, in every direction.

We walked along marked paths across lava that was alternately sharp, smooth, rolling, gravelly. Almost everything, everywhere, is made of black lava. We saw many sea lions too, including something rare – a baby sea lion feeding from one mother, and then from another. Peter, our guide, figured the second mother was too lazy, lying in the sun, to protest. On land, sea lions are pretty awkward with that waddling run they do, barking as they go. But as they dive into the water, they’re incredibly graceful, rolling and twisting through the blue. Frigate birds are pretty much omnipresent, and Sally Lightfoot crabs crawl the rocky shores everywhere. They’re bright orange and red, a sharp contrast against the black rock. We also saw a couple of dead iguanas, skeletons bleaching, and a collection of minki whale bones.

Back to the boat where cold iced drinks and snacks were waiting. Very nice. An hour’s break before we were back in the pangas to a secluded lava cove to snorkel. The snorkelling was better here, the water clearer, and there were dozens of different schools of fish. The shores were low and shallow, the underwater lava looking and acting like coral for fish. We saw Yellowtailed Surgeons, Damselfish with bright yellow lips, puffer fish, a couple porcupine fish (those suckers were huge!), and more penguins. It was incredibly fun to swim here, to share this with the boys (swimming with penguins!). We also saw a ray, a moray eel, tiny freaky shrimp of some sort, and Fawn saw a sea lion that came right over to swim with her.

During lunch (there’s always a tasty dessert too), the boat took us across the channel, back to the west coast of Isabela Island, where we headed out for a ‘power hike’, a climb part way up the side of Darwin Volcano to Darwin Lake. It was challenging, but for the first time the pain in my back changed from sharp to dull, a definite step in the right direction. The more I pushed, the more it stretched and eased into something better. On the way up there were 4 or 5 places to stop for the view, each more impressive than the last. Darwin Lake is isolated, a big, round, dead lake up above sea level with a view of the ocean down below. And here we were again on the side of another volcano. That was cool, and it was hot. Really, really hot.

Peter is a great guide, giving us constant information as we go, from details about the animals to the pea-lava formed when water drops were petrified during the last volcanic eruption. Even though the Islands have been protected on and off by various international laws over the years, there is evidence that people have been visiting – and leaving their mark – since the Darwin’s time. Though it’s not common, if you look for it you can find carved in rock and painted on cliff faces the names of explorers, sailors, WWII soldiers, and unfortunately, a few modern tourists.

This walk was tough enough that not everyone made it to the top, but the effort was worth it. Darwin Lake far below, boats in the ocean beyond that, and behind us an incredible valley. I was sorry I didn’t have my camera gear, but happy I didn’t have the weight. My back needed a break and that seemed to be helping. The panoramic shots I got with my phone made me wonder what I even have a DSLR for. Okay no, not really, but that phone does a damn good job.

Back down, the walk was even hotter somehow than on the way up. Peter has a great watch with a thermometer on it that read 36, but I know it got a few degrees hotter than that and by the time we reached the bottom Oakley was overheated. He was red all over, face and arms, like a little volcano himself, but with water and rest he felt better before long.

Off again in the pangas to a nearby cove for another round of snorkelling. The water is colder here, so we were given wet suits to wear. Here more sea lions, but these were the friendliest yet, swimming with us, zooming below and circling around, clearly curious and glad we were there. One of them paused, stopping just below me, and looked at me directly. She just floated there, watching, interested. Suddenly she blew out a burst of bubbles that rose directly into my face and waited, it seemed, to get my reaction. I’m not sure what she thought of me laughing, but she waited a few moments more and then barrel rolled away. By then the rest of our group had joined Griffin and I and we in turn were joined by a very rare bird, a flightless cormorant (there are only 1500 left in the world). Perhaps protecting his endangered status, he immediately attacked us, pecking at us with his beak! It got a few good nips at 2 or 3 of the group, and actually latched onto the end Allan’s finger for a moment.

Fawn and Oakley soon joined us and I made the mistake of telling Oakley about the biting cormorant. He was (understandably) reluctant to go near it, but it was between us and the sea lions where we wanted to be. Suddenly, it came at us, so I immediately moved in front of Oakley, ready to protect him. The cormorant and I faced off, and I was ready to go to battle, determined to keep Oakley safe. So you know what I did to that underwater-swimming water bird? I SPLASHED him. And he looked at me like I was idiot. But before long we saw it swim under us (also cool) and soon we were all swimming with the sea lions too.

After a while Oakley and I swam back to the pangas where we loaded next into a kayak to check out the shoreline from above the water. We went over to where Griffin and Fawn were now snorkelling with a few penguins. It’s almost becoming passé. On then to the last challenge of the day, kayaking back to the boat. With no kayaking experience and a headwind, it was a challenge. Oakley was in the bow, and it was not easy going, but he dug right in. I was damn proud of him, he’s a great paddler. Before long, Griffin and Fawn pulled in behind us, digging hard against the same wind we fought.

Back on board, I got into talking about photography with Allan, an enthusiast who brought an arsenal of lenses. He let me try his 100mm macro prime and his 400mm monster that looks more like a bazooka. The conversation was satisfying and nerdy about all the gadgets we have and want and what you can do with them. The photography here has been, of course, fun and satisfying. The wildlife is unique, the landscapes are amazing.

I’m feeling happy and relieved that my back is feeling better than before. It’s not 100%, and in fact it still hurts all the time, but it’s not as bad and it seems that it will be fine with stretching.

I might also be getting my sea legs. The boat has been rocking as it travels between islands this evening and even without medication, I haven’t felt sick. It’s a strange thing to get used to, the floor being constantly unstable, moving, rocking, swaying. But it’s starting to become second nature. Give me another day and I’ll be like a pirate sea captain. I’ve always wanted a parrot.

During dinner Peter told us that before long we would be crossing the Equator and the boat’s GPS will read 0 degrees latitude as we do. When the time came, a handful of us went up to the bridge. It’s quiet and dark there, but we all burst in, way too excited and way too loud. We had a big countdown and at that very moment we were half way between the Earth’s poles, we erupted into big cheer, with high five and hugs. No doubt the guys on the bridge were very happy to see us go.

I’m feeling already that this is turning into one of the best trips I’ve ever taken. We’ll see what Quito holds for us when we get back to the mainland, but of all the places I’ve been – and I’ve been very lucky to travel to some very exotic places in the world, none of them I take for granted – this place is just constantly great.

(March 11, 2012.)

Ecuador, Day 5. Galapagos Islands.

More ocean swells during the night as we traveled from the South side of Isabela Island to the West. The bathroom door in our room is a large, heavy, rolling door set in a track. Made to counter the waves, you really have to put your shoulder into it to open or close it. Last night however, the waves were so big it was rolling open and closed effortlessly, until it finally slammed shut and stuck. The shower stall door was banging around too until I got up to close it and engage the ‘wave’ lock, made not for privacy but simply for waves just like these. Griffin slept through it all.

My back pain continued through the night, a small knot balled up in my lower back that flared up every time I moved. Or breathed. Or lived. I couldn’t go to breakfast this morning, but Griffin the Great brought me French toast and pineapple in bed (he’s such a little adult now, I’m so proud of him). It took some time just to sit up, but that somehow made breakfast all the better.

I decided against going on the morning excursion, but stayed hopeful believing I’d be fine by the afternoon and trusting that everyone else would have a terrible time. They left early, about 7, and were gone about 2 1/2 hours during which I slept, knocked out on the codeine in Gary’s painkillers. Relief there. When they returned I got into the hot tub on the top deck with the boys to try to relieve the muscle knot, but unfortunately it didn’t help.

Still mid-morning, I made my way back to bed while the others went off again for a snorkelling expedition. I was very sorry to miss this one, but I’m trusting this won’t last long. On a related note, my knee that was once so sore seems to be all better, dammit.

When everyone returned from snorkelling, I went down for lunch, hoping I’d feel more limber, but ended up going back to the room again. The afternoon expedition was a tour in the pangas of the shores and coves of the West side of Isabela where we had anchored. Fawn, Gary and the boys all said it was a good afternoon with many sea turtles, Blue Footed Boobies and the ubiquitous iguanas.

Later, I was able to go down for dinner and it was another great meal – the food on board is really good, and again I’m struck by the luxuriousness of this trip. Afterwards, we headed up to the roof deck to take a look at the stars. The night sky here at the Equator is mostly different than at home, and it was interesting to see all the stars out of place. We used an iPad app to tour the sky, and even out in this remote area of the ocean, the compass and GPS worked perfectly, and the boys had fun identifying cool astronomical destinations like Bellatrix and Zaurak.

End of the day now, and my back is no better. I’m starting to wonder how long this will last. Missing this day, I really hope it’s the only one. People have been really nice about it, asking how I am, filling me in on the details of the excursions. I talked about my back problem with Mike and Ian, two doctors on board, and they gave me some new drugs to try and the advice to soldier through it, that I might be able to work it out instead of rest it out. I’ll do that tomorrow as I’m determined not to let this wreck my trip. Better to experience it in pain than not at all.

(March 10, 2012)

Ecuador, Day 4. Galapagos Islands.

The boat was rocking heavily all night and at 3:30am I started feeling nauseous. I took some medication and hoped for the best. Looking out into the darkness, I saw that the windows and boat deck were soaked, but I couldn’t tell if it was rain or waves crashing up over the bow. The boat’s engines were thundering, sounding eager to give everyone dreams of roller coasters. Pillow over my head, back to sleep, and by morning the nausea had passed.

We traveled overnight to Isabela Island, by far the largest of the archipelago at more than 100km (62mi) in length. 6:30am for breakfast, and with the waves still rocking us, Oakley got sea sick and threw up over the stern of the boat. As he crouched down on all fours, his nose, dry from salt water, started to bleed. With an earnest voice, and no trace of pity, he said, “There are 3 things of mine falling into the water. My vomit, my tears, and my blood.” That kid is tough as nails sometimes.

We were on the panga by 7, landing in what looked exactly like Jurassic Park. Marine iguanas were both huge and everywhere. They really are like dinosaurs, tough and fierce with long claws and a consistently unimpressed look in their eyes. The volcanic rock here is black, jagged, rough, but covered in sharp contrast with white lichen. All of it is so foreign in every way, harsh, hot, hard. Above us those pterodactyls were circling on the air currents, rarely flapping their wings. Two of the iguanas began fighting for territory, wrestling, throwing sand, and enthusiastically nodding their heads. Apparently the nodding is a sign of dominance, but it just looked like they were in agreement. Others were clinging sideways to rocks or crawling on top of each other. Often they were perfectly camouflaged, fearless, and there was almost always a real danger of stepping on them.

While the iguanas could care less about our existence, the sea lions seemed to be at least mildly amused by us. There was one right on the ramp to the boat landing, others hanging off the backs of boats anchored in the bay, some lazing around in the sand catching tans. They’re all like dogs. They look cute, furry, friendly, and make eye contact with you. With their awkward front-flipper walk, there wasn’t anyone who didn’t want to hug and take one home in a suitcase.

Back in the panga, we saw the famous Blue Footed Boobies, a diving bird that has, in fact, the brightest blue feet you could imagine. Because this is the Galapagos, there is much talk of Darwin and the pioneering work he did on the theory of evolution. Adapting finch bills, camouflaged lizards, I get that. But bright blue feet? That’s just nature having a laugh. We saw penguins then, the most Northern place in the world to find them. Considering they’re generally known as a bird from cold environments, it’s damn funny that the only place I’ve seen penguins in the wild was in Africa and here, waddling around the Equator. That’s my kind of cold. There were lots of pelicans too, with their big kangaroo beaks. The species that lives here is the brown pelican, the smallest in the world, with a wingspan of SIX FEET! (For you metric folks, that’s like 27 metres…)

Not even 10am yet, and we hopped onto a truck/van/bus, a rattling contraption without doors or walls and with axles that sound like they are about to fall off. It was a bumpy 45 minute ride half way up the side of Sierra Negra Volcano. After stopping we took to a foot path that climbed the rest of the way up to the top. The hike was challenging – hot, sunny, sweaty, tiring – and we stopped a number of times in the shade of small trees to catch our breath. The vegetation here, and on most of the islands it seems, is low, rough and brushy. It’s a beautiful place, but not lush. My knee was still sore, and the steeper inclines were slow going. I’m hoping, hoping that it’s not going to get worse.

At the top of the climb we were greeted with a view that was entirely worth the climb. Standing at the lip of the volcano, we looked across the caldera itself, an expanse of 11km (6.8mi). Long dormant, the edges have grown in with vegetation, but the distance in between is still a sea of hardened lava, more of it than I could really conceive of. It hinted at a power that was here, right at our feet, quietly and hugely threatening. Standing there at the edge of the volcano, I had the distinct feeling that the ground was rocking, swaying slowly back and forth. It wasn’t the volcano, but the lingering influence of the damn boat. Kate, meanwhile, asked me to take a picture of her again, this time jumping up, arms out, feet kicked back, at the lip of the caldera (“just one more step back… one more…”). Like her ‘crikey’ photos, she has a series of photos of her jumping at various destinations around the world. What a fantastic idea. A rest then, sandwiches and apples – being very careful to pack up every scrap of garbage and leftover food – before heading back down.

It’s our 2nd day in with this group and I’m still working on that name problem. Kate, Allan, Sarah, Nick, Carol, 2 or 3 others. I’m pretty solid only with “Griffin” and “Oakley”.

Back on board, we took our first swim in the boat’s pool, Peter’s name for the ocean. I’m sure that joke must get recycled, but it sure did make me smile. Griffin and I jumped in, so great after the sweaty hike, but there is something about the expanse of an ocean that makes it feel somehow more dangerous than usual. Actually, it’s not the expanse, it’s the sharks you know are in there with you. The current, moving off the back of the boat, was surprisingly strong. It took a strong swim to stay steady, so before long we held on to the rope and floated, like good shark food does. Fawn soon joined us, and Oakley hung out on the ladder, happy to cool off and sit as lifeguard.

Finally, lunch! Busy morning, it felt like 3 days had gone by. Afterwards, up on the top deck to enjoy some downtime, I noticed there were 6 people reading, but only one was reading a hard copy, paper book. Everyone else had an e-reader or a tablet. The end is clearly nigh.

Next up was a tortoise sanctuary, where Lonesome George lives. A locally famous tortoise now 100 years old and 880lbs (400kg), he is the very last of his species, making him the rarest animal on Earth. The tortoises are almost alien creatures, all of them born looking like my grandmother. They were very active, feeding, walking, even mating. That last one you don’t forget, ever.

On then to Puerto Villamil where we walked the length of a boardwalk that was built through a thick forest of mangrove trees that grew crazily over, under, and through the boardwalk itself. It exited the trees at the ocean, where we all jumped in for some snorkelling. It was sandy, and there were few fish, but Fawn and the boys saw a turtle. Before the trip, Gary had bought a snorkel mask that has a camera built right into the frame. It takes video and stills and both Griffin and Oakley were really looking forward to trying it out. Despite the murky water here, Griffin said he was able to get footage of the turtle and it was obvious he was having a ton of fun using the mask.

Getting out of water, I found my knee was surprisingly better. Not perfect, but I could climb the ladder from the water to the dock. At the same time, my lower back suddenly seized. I could barely move at all. Wha! I hobbled back along the boardwalk and eased carefully into a chair at a (rare) beach side bar where everyone was gathering to wait for the panga back to the boat. This was a cool spot, with tables and chairs right on the sand in the shade of palm trees and mangroves. Thirsty, I realized I couldn’t find my water bottle, a metal thermos I had been carrying around with me. And just like in a movie, I had a scene play out flashback style, that had happened about a half hour earlier. When getting out of the water and gathering my snorkelling gear, something had fallen, hit my foot, and splashed into the water at the edge of the dock. I had looked into the water, but didn’t see anything. Definitely odd, but I could not figure out what it might have been. Now, of course, the light bulb went off. The Galapagos Islands are famous for being very strict with rules and regulations. The environment here is completely unique, found nowhere else in the world. With a balanced ecosystem, nothing must ever be taken or left behind on the islands. And here I’ve dumped a metal canister into the water, something that will remain for hundreds of years. Realizing what had happened, I had to go back to see if I could find it, but by now I was grimacing with this back pain and making my way back along the boardwalk was comical. The mangrove trees hung low over many parts of it, and I crawled, hands and knees, to get under the branches. Finally making it to the end, I looked everywhere, under the dock, beside it, into the mangrove branches under the water, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. So today, right now, somewhere in the sacred waters of the Galapagos, is a stainless steel bottle from Canada. I have officially committed an international environmental faux pas.

Back on the boat now, and the back pain hasn’t eased up at all. If it doesn’t get better I’m worried I won’t be able to go on the excursions tomorrow. Advil down, something stronger standing by…

(March 9, 2012)

Ecuador, Day 3. Quito to Galapagos.

Today we’re going to the Galapagos Islands. TODAY! GALAPAGOS! This day has been a long time coming.

However. First thing this morning, I was sitting down for breakfast at the hotel when a sudden, sharp pain shot through my knee. It feels like a ligament/tendon strain of some sort, and though it hurts significantly whenever I bend it, it’s worse when putting weight on it. Going up or down stairs is bad, but walking level is relatively okay. I’m sure it’ll be fine. FINE, I say.

I’m looking forward to finally seeing the Islands, but my stomach and the open water don’t get along very well and I’m not sure how I’m going to fare on the Galapagos touring boat. There will be ocean, there will be waves. I’m hoping for the best, but I’ll be spending 6 days on this thing, 24/7, and I can’t help but wonder if I’m facing a week of high-side-hurling. I’ve done that before and I’m ready this time with two different kinds of medication, accu-pressure anti-nausea wrist bands, and lots of advice on how to beat sea sickness. Fawn actually asked us all to stop talking about it in the weeks leading up to the trip, saying it would likely only make it worse. So here we are just a couple hours from boarding, we’ll see how it goes…

A 2 hour flight and a bouncy landing brought us to an airport on Baltra Island, one of 50 in the Galapagos archipelago, this one used at one time as a U.S. military base. The plane was surprisingly large, a 3-and-3, but the airport itself was tiny, with just a few rooms and waist-high outdoor walls, baking evenly in 30C (86F) degree heat.

Boarding the plane in Quito, destination Galapagos.

Baltra Island Airport

Having landed on a small island in the middle of ocean, I expected the boat to be close by, but after having our luggage loaded on the back of an open truck, we boarded a transfer bus to take us South across the island to the Itabaca Channel. From there, a short ferry ride took us to another bus that drove another hour South across Santa Cruz Island. Finally reaching the far shore, we transferred to a panga (Pangas are like zodiacs, small inflatable boats that sharks like.) and travelled 10 minutes to the tour boat.

The ferry to Santa Cruz Island

The boat, called the Domenica, is really nice, more luxurious than I was expecting. It’s a 90 foot yacht with two jacuzzis on the top deck, and down below, a large dining room with glossy hardwood floors. Griffin and I are sharing a room that is bigger than many hotel rooms I’ve been in.

We were introduced to Peter, our guide, and after lunch he gave us our first briefing on the afternoon itinerary and rules of the Islands. Being a unique ecosystem, the rules are quite strict. Stick to the paths, don’t touch anything, don’t take anything, don’t leave anything, anywhere. Next up, our first excursion! It was a quick panga ride to Santa Cruz Island where as a group we landed and saw our first taste of the Islands’ wild life. Marine iguanas, the very same prehistoric reptile from the cover of that book I had as a teenager, were scattered about the boat landing. They were large, heavy-looking, and paid us no attention whatsoever. I had heard that because the Islands are protected and the animals are used to seeing humans, they don’t feel threatened, and rarely seek cover when approached. The iguanas proved this true and although they watched us sharply, they didn’t move an inch. We walked on and toured the Darwin Research Station, an animal retreat where they aim to reintroduce threatened species back into the Galapagos wild. Continuing on, we saw wild sea lions, pelicans, a whack of finches (among Darwin’s most famous subjects), and pterodactyls. Well, we later learned they were Frigate birds and not real pteranadons as I had hoped.

Not a marine iguana…

Peter, our guide.

We took all this in on our first walk, and got to know one of our fellow passengers. Kate is a marine biology graduate from Australia, traveling 10 days through The Galapagos. She’s an experienced diver, with great stories about sharks and rays, including fake stories about the scars she has (the real stories aren’t as cool). She asked me to use her camera to take a photo of her with an iguana, specifically a ‘Crikey’ Photo. She explained that she and a group of her friends pose a particular way, the crikey pose, with animals they encounter when traveling. It was both hilarious and awesome.

It’s hot, the first real heat we’ve felt since arriving in Ecuador. I can see already that my camera gear will be great to have in a place like this, but heat plus HEAVY equals “I damn well better get some good shots while we’re here”.

After the tour of the research station, we were free to wander. Generally that’s uncommon, wandering around the Galapagos, but a few of the islands are inhabited, sporting (very) small towns with marinas that accommodate visiting sailboats, yachts and chartered boats like ours. Kate had been to this area before, so she took us to the two best places on the waterfront – the fish market, and the ice cream shop.

At the fish market, the fishermen were cleaning their haul, cutting, filleting, keeping the good and discarding the bad. At their feet, begging for scraps, was a flock of brown pelicans. Standing, waiting, necks craned up to watch for scraps, each and every one of them were vigorously shaking their tail feathers with anticipation. Not to be outdone, there was a sea lion waiting there too. He was just like a dog, sitting right at the fisherman’s heel, nose up, waiting for scraps to fall from the table. A short ways away, there was a second sea lion asleep on a bench. Griffin casually sat with him for a while, like a buddy, because Griffin’s cool like that.

Taking a break from the smell of the fish, we went to the ice cream shop, a place with a small deck that served some great gelato. Well, I guess gelato is always great, but when you’re 1000km (600mi) from the mainland, it’s even better.

Now back to the dock to rejoin our group. A volleyball game was going on and Kate explained to us that it’s a daily gambler’s game. The court was lined with men cheering and booing every play, each with small pieces of paper in their hand. I don’t know how much money they had riding, but it obviously mattered.

Through all this, my knee is still very sore. The tendons above my knee cap hurt like hell and they can’t support my weight. I’ve been hopping up stairs as best I can without looking ridiculous, but I think that’s inevitable at this point. It’s worse now than this morning, so I’m hoping it doesn’t get worse still.

Back on board the Domenica I got to know Allan, a guy with some serious photography gear. We talked shop, compared lenses and said all the nerdy things that photographers say when they get excited about gear. He’s a good guy, modest. I’m hoping I will be able to see some of his photos when this is all over.

Learning everyone’s name will be a challenge. We’ve moved from the introduce-yourself phase to the I-forget-your-name-already-and-I’m-too-embarrassed-to-ask phase. I’ll have to glean the names from conversations, even though I know some people have probably forgotten my name too.

I had almost forgotten that when you arrive at your travel destination, it’s a melting pot of travellers from places in the world that seem ridiculously far away, but are in fact no farther from this common ground than your own home is. There are many accents in this group and I love that.

At 6:45pm each day we’re to meet for the day’s recap and get the itinerary for the following day. Tomorrow sounds very promising: sun, water, land, animals, fish, birds. Well, that will likely sum up every day around here, but I’m looking forward to the details.

End of the day now and I’m sitting on my bed in my cabin aboard the boat, which is swaying crazily. In fact I feel like I’m in a giant, boat-shaped hammock. The sea sickness? Thank God for those pills I took. So far so good, which is surprising considering the boat is listing like she’s had a few too many cervezas. The bathroom door is rolling open and closed and the blinds on the window keep reaching out in to the room, only to change their mind at the next wave and clatter back against the window. 10 bucks I roll out of bed tonight.

(March 8, 2012)