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Monday, June 28, 2010

Hangin' in the Mangroves

First stop today was Bartholome, another small island just east of Santiago and my favorite beach and place to look at. It has this weird lava formation called the Pinnacle. And a rainbow beach. Best swimming we encountered on the whole trip. We love sea lions, but you know, they foul the beach. However, it's their beach, so it's not right for us to complain. But when they just don't happen to be there, well, that's not always a bad thing.

After Baltra, we headed to those mangoves Franklin promised to show us. This is a good place to be on a hot day, one of the few places in the Galapagos where you will find any shade at all. Here we are with Franklin. He's smart, funny and very cute. Joyce didn't like him as well as I did because he picked on this one young guy, but it was just male bonding.

And this was where we got to see those marine tortoises up close, without snorkeling. Look at the nice reflections.

And here's a tortoise.

After this, we had an endless ride back to Millenium because she could not come in any closer to pick us up. But if not for that ride, we wouldn't have this great sunset to show you:

Next: our last day in the islands.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Abandon ship! Pinzones!

Or not. It was just the lifeboat drill. We had it on our fifth day out. Thank goodness nothing happened before that! I wondered why we weren't having one but convinced myself it was because the water out there is so shallow, they didn't need to. I didn't want to say anything lest it force us into the pangas for no good reason.

In fact, they did want us to abandon ship to refuel at Baltra. Apparently having passengers aboard during refueling ops is a no-no. My retired fuels officer spouse says so. But there was no place for us to go, so we had to hide and be quiet. We were supposed to have been taken off to a mangrove swamp during this, but because of the blown engine, it would have taken too long for Millenium to backtrack for us, to say nothing of the hit-or-miss motor on the one panga. So we agreed to nap and shut up about it.

We did go to the mangrove swamp eventually, though, and we got to see marine tortoises because they hang around the surface there. I'll save the photos for that post. In this post I'm putting all my pinzones, which are finches, Read on for details.

Right after Santa Cruz we went to Rabida, a tiny island just due north of Perto Ayora, whose distinctive feature is red sand. It's also a good place to see finches. Before I post finch pictures, some information is helpful. You will not see finches unless you are QUIET. Well, 16 people and a guide can't be quiet. So the thing to do is let everyone else get away, way away, from you, and then stand in a thicket and make bird noises. Seriously. Just stand still and they'll come out. So I saw more finches than anyone else. Finches, however, are not "pretty," but they are important because they were Darwin's key to natural selection. Here are several kinds. They are very hard to see, so click the pics and scroll around.

First, the red sand beach.

Before I show the finches, check out this bird. Be sure to enlarge the photo. It's some sort of a frigate bird, which you can tell from the body and the white wing stripe. The red head indicates it's a juvenile. Since it takes over a year to raise one, they grow as big as their parents before leaving the nest. This one is quite large, and is probably waiting on the nest to be fed.

Now, the finches. These are from around all the islands, not just Rabida.

In the photo below is a ground finch. You have to click and look carefully. They're not supposed to be easy to see. If you don't like finch pictures, that's fine. Skip them. You have no idea how many I had to take to get these. They are so fast and jump around so much, it's nearly impossible. It was like trying to photograph the Least Chipmunk last year in South Dakota. I had to take 20 to get one.

There are two in this next one.

Here, at the end, is a juvenile Oyster Catcher, also on Rabida. Franklin said this was rare.

Sombrero Chino, our second stop of the day, had a lot of animals. too, kind of like Espanola. Coming up you'll see the Ruddy Turnstone Crab, a hawk, and a crazed sea lion mother calling her pup. The hawk was one of my finds from standing around alone, quietly, like the finches. This was why I never cared if I didn't finish a hike. I saw a lot just by being patient. I was the only one who saw this sea lion drama, and one other on our last day there.

Here, you can see where the island got its name. It's just off the southeastern tip of Santiago and doesn't appear on most maps.

Zoom in to see the crabs.

And the hawk. See how effective protective coloration is!

And here's mom.

Note there is another seal in the photo, but that is not HER baby. He or she arrives a split second later and they settled down to nurse right there on the rocks.

Finally, we took a little panga ride to go penguin spotting. Remember, penguins are black with little streak of white, and they hang out on black lava rocks streaked with white guano. So this, believe me, is an excellent picture of a Galapagos penguin, which, by the way, are the third smallest in the world.

As always, enlarge for detail. The little head and face are pointing left.

Dueling pharmacies, dueling cultures

I found one of the oddest things about Ecuador was how there was a whole set of the same kind of store in every block: farmacia, polleria, alimentaria and on and on. It makes SOME sense, considering all the walking they must do, but they're still all awfully close together. But even crazier is when there are two, or even three, of the same kind of store in a row. So we went ashore with Franklin and he took us to two pharmacies, side by side. We got half of what we needed in each one. And here's a tip: if you must get a cold, do it in Ecuador. They have nothing like our FDA. I don't know what was in the stuff, but in 48 hours the whole thing was gone, and in between, all the symptoms were totally under control. It was like I didn't have a cold at all, once I got that stuff. I don't ask questions I can't stand the answers to.

The next day we went by bus up into the highlands of Santa Cruz. This is where the big land tortoises live, and their habitat is a national park. Again, we didn't see a lot of them, and we wasted a tremendous amount of time watching people trying to get into, and move around in, a toroise shell, minus the original occupant. One or two would have been sufficient, really. This was the cutest.

So then we started hiking all over to look for them. Joyce went, too! We had our walking sticks, as always. The light conditions for tortoise-picture taking weren't the best, because they go under the bushes, but I caught one out in the open.

Franklin said they may be slow (They certainly are!) but they can cover three miles or more a day, especially when highly motivated by things like mating. We watched a slow-motion chase that went on the whole time we were there without reaching resolution. He was bigger but she was faster. And did you know that turtles (land or marine, any size or species) can't die of old age? They can only die of disease, injury or predation. They know these creatures are hundreds of years old, but exactly how old, they can't tell. You can assume at least some of them, the ones who hid well and weren't eaten by humans, were around when Darwin visited. They date the ones that are born now, but as far as the ones already there, no clue.

Anyway, it finally got too hot for hiking so we got back on the bus and went to a lava tube. That was down a lot of steps, again with no railings, and sounded too messy with not enough payoff, so we passed on that. Then we returned to Puerto Ayora to panga out to the boat for lunch. Even though this was a built-up area, it has the most beautiful water I've ever seen. Franklin says it has to do with the algae and the depth and the position on the equator. I mean, look at this.

And then when we got back on the boat, there was a tortoise in our cabin!

Well! That was exciting! After lunch we went to the Charles Darwin Research Center where Lonesome George lives. He wasn't out, though; too hot. But we saw his relatives.

And neighbors. This is a land iguana. All the dark ones are the marine type. There's one island where they mix and you can see some hybrids, maybe.

After the Research Center, they told us it was just a mile back into town. Yeah, over broken sidewalks in 98 F. No thanks. We called a cab. Then one of the pangas was down for maintenance so we all crammed into one. It was a long, low ride, but the water was beautiful!

At the dock, we said goodbye to our gaggle of backpackers. That makes this a good place to discuss some things we learned about how Ecuadorans view their guests from around the world. Americans, Canadians, Australians and and Kiwis are all welcomed with open arms. However, they HATE Western Europeans, thinking they're a bunch of arrogant, useless slobs. Oddly, the British are not included as "Europeans" although we USAians often group them together. British people are lumped in with Canadians and Americans for Ecuadoran purposes.

Of all the Europeans, they hate the Germans most. And right up there with the Germans are the Argentineans, the Texans of South America. They apparently never shut up about how big and rich they are. Ecuadorans and Peruvians don't like that. This year, lacking a team in the World Cup, Ecuador is cheering for Brazil, Argentina's arch-enemy. That's all for today's lesson on prejudice around the world. Seems like we all have them.

Next: Hide! Hide! They're refuelling outside!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Floreana. Santa Maria. Whatever.

Many of the islands have more than one name. This was one of them, which we reached after another overnight cruise.

We went for a hike at 5:45 AM, before breakfast, on the off chance we might see sea tortoises leaving the beach. Alas, no such luck. We hiked clear across the island and back, though, all of us, including Joyce. We did see some other things. We saw endemic flamingos, which are hard to find, especially this time of year. When we were in Africa, we saw thousands, all in one place, like that airplane scene in Out of Africa. Here we saw four.

Also, in the Antarctic, we saw what seemed like millions of penguins. Here we saw six, and we're not sure it wasn't the same three, over and over. On the other hand, here we saw hundreds of sea lions on every island. In the Antarctic, we saw three on three separate occasions. So there you go.

On this island, we also heard a long, boring story about attempts by crazy people to colonize it. They all failed or died or disappeared. As Kurt Vonnegut would say, "Heigh ho."

When we got back to the boat, we had a real American breakfast with all the trimmings for a change. It was a nice surprise.

Later the same day, same island. at another wet landing, we saw Post Office Bay, an informal historic post office begun by whalers where travelers drop off and collect mail and hand-deliver it to total strangers they happen to live near. We have five and plan to take some day trips as excuses for eating out. We didn't leave any. We don't know anybody. Several of our companions, however, sent cards to themselves just to see what would happen.

Then they snorkeled and we swam a lot. It was yet another really beautiful beach with warm, calm water.

If you just sort of hung in the water, all kinds of fish would swim by, and boobies and frigate birds were everywhere, diving for food. It was just fun to float around and watch.

It was here that my cold and sore throat symptoms began to manifest themselves, but I still went on every landing, kept on hiking and kept on swimming. I had no intentions of ever coming back, so I just doped myself to the gills and kept going. If I wasn't ashore or eating, I was in bed, propped up in my corner against a tower of life preservers, rolled-up blankets, extra sweatshirts and pillows. And every day the steward thoughtfully dismantled the entire thing. We learned in a big hurry that they would fold anything they found out in the cabin. Anything. Let your imagination be your guide.

Meanwhile, the battle of the sluts continued on land and at sea. I'm sure they looked at us as fat, stupid, old women , but we amused ourselves with what their lives will be like when they ruin themselves with children. Karma is a real bitch. Now, to be fair, their male traveling companions were sullen, greasy and rude; in other words, hardly any more appealing. But the men were far less dramatic. The lot of them had been together for a while by the time we met up, so perhaps they were just exhausted. Poor things.

There's room here for a little snorkeling commentary. I passed on doing it anymore because it just wasn't that enjoyable, and the cold I caught would have made it impossible anyway. But watching the others do it; especially, prepare to do it, was informative. There's a lot of equipment. You obviously need a mask and snorkle and fins. Many of them, especially the women, wore wet suits. They were always squealing about how cold the water was. Really? If you say so. Seems there's a use for the fat layers we carry around, then. They also help you float. Many of them said they also needed the suits for sun protection on their backs. We wore our worst t-shirts for all landings, and I left mine behind when we disembarked. It was a wreck. But a lot easier to get in and out of than a wet suit. And then there was crap to spray in your mask, and the underwater cameras. Putting all this stuff on takes lots of time and tugging and attaching, and then you have to laboriously swim with it all on to the reef du jour. I suppose maybe all this gear and carrying on gives the sport some sort of cache, but I'll stick to swimming and kayaking.

Next: Puerto Ayora and the twin farmacias!

Espanola: Spanish for Spanish

Espanola was probably our best stop, because it had a lot of stuff and you could get around it pretty easily. Too bad it was "Ms. Toad's Wild Ride" overnight to get there. Here's a pretty decent map. And I added this link to every entry about the Galapagos, so no one has to hunt for it while reading.

and don't forget Galasam

If this doesn't appear in large format, click the white square and it will. You can't see Los Lobos, but it's just off San Cristobal to the southwest. and then Espanola is due south of that. The boats all pretty much go around in a little square among the central islands, rotating passengers every four days at Puerto Ayora and Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, and refueling at Baltra. Wherever you go, you see other boats. Our companions mostly were the Mary Anne, the Sagitta and some Celebrity thing. Dedicated dive boats disappear for a week at a time and never touch land.

Speaking of diving, we didn't do any. The Millenium site said snorkeling was available, but it didn't say you had to snorkle, or that the trip was based around snorkeling, or that you had to be young and fit, or that it was inconvenient and dangerous. I mean, why would they say that? So they didn't. We found out on our own.

But all the problems don't mean we didn't have fun, or didn't see anything. That's just the way travel is, especially adventure travel. You have to expect some difficulties. The problem is, you never know which ones will appear.

So, on to Espanola. As was always the case, there was snorkeling and a hike at two different landings. I would go ashore, walk around as far as I could, take pictures, and then go in the water. Franklin soon realized his idea of an "easy" trail was not the same as ours. I mean, we never intended to climb the volcanos, we thought we'd stay on the regular trails. Well, there's nothing regular about any of the trails. I'm not suggesting they pour cement all over the islands, but if you want to SHOW them to people, make a few simple accommodations, like a flat landing platform, safe steps and some railings on the landings. You know the water taxis in the islands have railings? Imagine. You could maybe supplement the paths with open pavers for stability.

Moving right along. On Espanola some sea turtles were hatching, and some frigate birds were killing them. I couldn't look. However, I got some terrific pictures of marine iguanas. Check it out. Don't forget to click the pic.

Joyce and I hiked the whole length of this beach, a wet landing, taking pictures, mostly of nursing sea lion pups. Here's one.

While everyone else went snorkeling, we went swimming, and although we don't have pictures, we lucked out and swam with a penguin. Even Joyce went swimming. If she came ashore (on a wet landing. She made all of those) she swam as much as I did, for a couple of reasons. Sea lions have flies; lots and lots of flies, primarily horseflies. Flies don't bother you as much in the water. And, it was HOT! We were on the equator! In the summer! The water may have seemed a little cold at first, but because it was so hot, you got comfortable in a hurry. You better go swimming.

The kids also enjoyed Espanola.

We actually landed at several different places on this island. Here we were told we could see sea lions surfing. Well, you could, but it was too tough to take a picture. I did get a nice shot of the waves, the Millenium, and a bit of the ships in our little gaggle.

On this beach, which was a dry landing, I was able to hike part of the way until we reached a lava boulder field, and on the way we found blue-footed boobies. Here they are.

Nearby we were treated to a rare glimpse of the Literate Marine Iguana, endemic only to this particular island.

Here is a group of the far more numerous Lazy Marine Iguana. They're waiting for the movie.

Between landings we ate lunch, napped and did our laundry in the bathtub. One reason we napped was utter exhaustion. The other was to avoid the Euro-trash drama. A third was, it was a lot cooler in our cabin than in the public spaces.

The food was usually disappointing. It was served buffet-style and of the three entrees, I could usually eat some of one. I made sure to always get fruit if they had it, because the vegetables were often inedible. There was only ever one kind of salad dressing, and we had a dessert with chocolate in it just once out of 16 dessert-bearing meals. Of course they served fish. It was usually horrible. I don't think it was fresh. You know why? Only indigenous people are allowed to fish the waters there, and none of us were.

So between the endless exercise and generally unappetizing food, it was easy to lose weight. One thing I won't complain about.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Not exactly

We were told there was laundry service on the ship. Not exactly. There was a washing machine, but it didn't work. We could do our laundry in port, except we wouldn't be there until Sunday, and then the laundries were closed.

They said there was WiFi and computer equipment on the boat. Not exactly, and we didn't need WiFi anyway, but Franklin let us use his computer to download photos from our camera onto our flash drives.

They said there was gourmet food on this ship. Not exactly, but they had two chefs who never ran out of tree tomatoes. I mistook a glass of orange colored juice for actual orange juice one morning, and was not happy to discover I had been tricked into ingesting the nasty stuff yet again. I was a lot more careful after that.

They said a catamaran was the most stable kind of boat for a trip around the islands. Not exactly, but the passengers who didn't get sick had plenty of meds for the ones who did.

They said the boat was called Millenium, but we forgot to ask WHICH millenium it was named after.

It looked good on the travel site. It's called a luxury class yacht. Okay, just not by American standards, maybe? The beds were comfortable, the room was big. The air conditioning worked fine. There was plenty of storage. The crew were really great. We just loved them.

But there were issues. The toilet tissue issue was several-ply. The "disposal" of same was a pretty disgusting problem. They never brought enough, not grasping there were two WOMEN in the cabin and we have to use it for everything, not just once in a while. So it was "Por favor, (name). Yo quiero mas papel del bano." Brief wait. "Muchas gracias." We didn't speak one another's languages well enough to make the situation more graphically clear. Then, guess what. They turned off the water at night. So you go to flush and nothing. After two nights of this, Joyce and Senior Greg raised hell with the captain so it was left on.

At some point, one of our two engines failed. This made for a slow, long, bumpy ride from island to island. When you have to use your muscles to keep from rolling out of bed all night, you can't get a lot of restful sleep. A catamaran has, as we know, two hulls for stability, but apparently only one is in contact with the water surface at any one time, rather like a toddler or a drunk trying to run. It lurches from side to side until it gets where it's going. And with only one engine running, it's even less balanced. Speaking of engines, we had two pangas, one of which had perpetual engine problems. Like parent, like child. Oh, and only one panga could be hauled aboard, so one banged along behind us all the time, not just on short hops.

Here's a link to the Millenium. Take note of how it looks, in case they change the name of it.

Galapagos Islands Cruise - Galapagos Millennium Catamaran - Vacations Galapagos Islands - Galapagos Luxury Cruises - Galapago...

We really wanted to like it. But we didn't. However, we made the best of it. For example. Joyce adapted a song to sing on the toilet to help us remember what to do:

"A tisket a tasket; The paper goes in the basket."

I added a second verse:

"A tasket, a tisket; It's not a chocolate biscuit."

Joyce complained that was gross, but hey, it worked all but twice each, and that apparently, was not enough to bring the plumbing to an inglorious end.

So, as I said, there were 16 of us aboard to begin with. Six were from the US and had made specific reservations for this ship at this time. All the rest were backpackers who were doing the world and just grabbed whatever boat was available. I wonder what they paid, but they had to be willing to take pot luck, and we were willing to buy certainty. One couple was from Australia, and they got engaged their last night on the boat. Another couple was from New Zealand. The rest were a sort of gaggle from Europe, and I don't want to mention their countries because they were not representing their nations very well and since I love those places, I will not embarrass them. Of the ten younger people, two unattached young women, who attached themselves to a couple of younger men, caused enough drama and foolishness to script several Housewives shows for a year. It was like an endless contest to see which one could out-hooker the other, especially by wearing the least clothing. One of them acted up so badly on a landing that Franklin had to give her a time out! And one of the young men was so rude to Joyce that I had to publicly reprimand him for being a boor. I won't tolerate that sort of thing. I don't care what you think of us, but you will not interfere with my enjoyment of a trip I paid good money to take.

I could tell a lot more horror stories, but it's a waste. They were only there the first half of the trip, and then they rotated out and we got three people from New York and some nice Israeli and British backpackers and everything was very peaceful after that. As nearly as we could tell Joyce was the senior person on the boat. Senior Greg and Teresa fell between us, and Junior Greg and Candace were a lot younger. The backpackers as a group fell in their twenties to early thirties. The folks from New York were a lawyer in her 30s, maybe, and couple in their 50s, we guess.

If you go back to the dining room picture, you can see there are three round tables, and it was just sort of "sit wherever" each time, so we got to know folks a little bit, though we tended to hang out with the couple from Tennessee, who were by far the funniest Republicans we ever met. As to the tables, they were, of course, bolted down, and in front of semi-circular banquettes. And for some of us, they were WAY too close. They needed to add extra chairs anyway so we usually sat there, or on the ends of the benches. The other people who sat on the ends were seasick. We missed several of them for days at a time.

So while all that nonsense was going on, the cruise itself was proceeding according to schedule. After Los Lobos, still the same day, we headed for Espanola, an overnight passage from where we were. Tomorrow I'll post a link to a map.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Getting there is half the fun! Really!

Just a little flight out to the Galapagos. Onto the ship and off to visit the islands. What could be simpler, right?

Staying home, actually. But we were already there, so we did the usual airport mambo. We had an escort, which was a good thing, because we had to go to four different places to get out of the darned place. In case you're unaware, you have to pay to leave EVERY airport in South America, domestic (to them) flights included. So you pay, and you check in, and you get a luggage inspection, and you show your ID someplace else, and a guy from the travel agency trots around with you to make sure you hit all the stations in the right order. Thank goodness!

Once we passed through the security station, we found ourselves in an enormous departure lounge. And our flight was cancelled. And then on again, and then off, and then consolidated with another one. Okay. Fine. It still left on time. And it STILL wasn't full. Forty minutes later we were in Guayaquil. I don't know why, but the deal is, all flights to the Galapagos take place in the morning (and so do all flights out of Lima to Cusco). So no matter when you arrive in Ecuador (Quito or Guayaquil) you have to stay there overnight, at least, and fly the following morning again. I suspect it's a way to get tourist dollars, but you know what? I don't care, because we had a great time around Quito, and I don't even LIKE cities. Some people stay in Guayaquil instead, which is a beach town, and supposed to be very nice as well. You can't lose.

Off on time again, another meal and an hour and a half later we arrived in San Cristobal, one of the two airports that serve tourism. They have two others as well. They have, in fact, EIGHT entry points into the Galapagos, which kind of shocked me. It's a lot more populated than I thought. But it's also very restricted, which protects the environment.

The airports are not modern. By this I mean, you climb up and down in and out of the planes and walk across the tarmac into an open-air terminal where your luggage eventually ends up thrown on the concrete floor. They do, however, have the computers needed to check you in and take your money for the National Park, which is, essentially, all the islands. You can't go there and not go to the "Park."

Our guide, Franklin, collected us all in one spot for the bus to the harbor. There we met Candace and Greg and Teresa and Greg. So that made six, and no one else showed up, and the boat, Millenium, carries 16 passengers. He warned us to be prepared to encounter a very unpleasant couple. We thought this was odd, coming from a professional guide, but it turned out to be good advice. Franklin said everyone else was on the boat already so we assumed they had arrived that day on an earlier flight.

Not so. They had arrived four days earlier on a different island, Baltra. Enter the Euro-trash. But I'm getting ahead of myself. The bus with no air conditioning took us through the town to the harbor. I mean, it was very close, like five minutes. And as soon as we got off the bus we saw that, instead of dogs lying around, sea lions were lying around, all over the docks and the sidewalks. Well, better than dogs! Franklin told us not to step on them.

We went down a ramp to where a panga awaited. A panga is the same thing as a Zodiac, or, if you like, a rubber dinghy. The way you get in is, you grab two crewmembers and leap: pier - rubber gunwale - hard step - hard deck. You also get out that way. How much of a leap depends on how calm the water is. Or not. It's not that hard for me, even though I'm heavy. I'm strong and have good balance. The problem is, the crew doesn't get it at first how big I am, and it takes a couple of times before they don't get knocked on their butts.

Here's one of our "hard" landings, which means bow first onto a more or less dry surface.

In this one, you can see there's nothing but other humans to grab onto, and no mooring of any kind. It may not look like much, but it's one of those things you don't think to question in advance. We had already been in and out of Zodiacs, and all landings were wet. The height of the jumps to the various levels weren't an issue then, so we didn't give it any thought when we booked.

For Joyce, the problem is different. She doesn't weigh as much, but she is tall, (and Ecuadorans are shorter by far) and has bad knees. The Zodiacs in the Antarctic didn't pose as much of a problem because they were secured to the boat better and there were things to hold onto. To hold a panga to the boat, you just run the engine real hard in "forward." So that began, basically, a week of terror for her. She was never sure she wouldn't slip between the panga and the Millenium, disappear and be killed. Luckily this never came even close to happening, but when you think it might, that changes how you feel about going ashore.

A wet landing is stern in, and you roll over the side into the water. You get back in the same way. But every landing onto the boat itself is dry. And when the waves are high, you may not be stepping up onto the boat, but down from the panga onto the boat. It's tricky and the timing has to be perfect.

Okay, so we cleared that hurdle, and at the same time, developed a system for disembarking: let everyone else off first. Then Joyce approaches the bow, and when she says "go," I shove her up the step, over the gunwale and onto the deck while the crew catches her. Hope they ate their Wheaties!

Our cabin was right inside the main deck fantail, very handy for when you crawl back aboard. But we didn't go there first, we went to the salon for lunch and a briefing instead. The lunch was an omen. It was small and bland. I ate the pasta out of it. Warm water was served, with paper napkins. And this was supposed to be an upgrade from our original reservation. Only the new people ate, because the ones already on the ship had eaten earlier, and were hanging out in the salon, waiting for us so we could get the briefing. At that point we couldn't really tell who they were.

Here are the dining room and the two sides of the salon/lounge.

The side with the bar has the whiteboard where Franklin draws whatever we're going to do. The seasoned travelers were there, and the rest of us had to sit on the other side where we couldn't see, until Franklin told them to move or make room. This was our hint that we came from different civilizations. And here is a link to some definitions of that other civilization.

At the first briefing we learned two things. The boat was going to a protected reef where the newbies could check out their snorkeling gear, and you can't flush paper down the toilets. On a boat. Hello? Ever heard of marine toilet paper? So that was unpleasant as all hell. Ashore, if we accidentally flushed, we weren't staying there, but if we did it here, the whole boat would be plunged (ha) into chaos. There was a basket, of course, which they said would be emptied twice daily. We immediately said it had better be more often than that.

But first we had to go swimming. and the boat was already under weigh, so we had to run change. There were a lot of other little rules having to do with shoes and the environment and safety and so on, but they're way too numerous and boring to list, and they really didn't have much of an effect on the trip, so forget about those.

Joyce immediately opted out of snorkeling. Said she had tried it and didn't like it and the water was too cold for swimming, so forget it. I said I would at least attempt to snorkle, and the water was not too cold, so I would swim, too. For Joyce, the water has to be giving off steam in order to be warm enough. That changed real fast, but not the first day.

We anchored off Los Lobos Island. I went alone with Franklin to re-learn snorkeling, and I did it. I saw marine tortoises, fish, coral, rocks and starfish. And then the next day or so I came down with a cold. Wonder how well they cleaned that snorkeling gear. As usual, we were carrying an entire pharmacy, so I was able to take care of it until we hit our next port. Anyway, back to the rest of our itinerary.

Here's our cabin, and our two bathrooms, one for showers and one for other ablutions. Guess which is which. We also had a patio, but it was impossible to take a picture of it.

Snazzy, huh? We were lucky. The closet door never fell off till the last day, and I saw only one waterbug. That explained the can of Raid in the salon.

After the snorkeling, we had a hard landing on Los Lobos to see sea lions, blue-footed boobies and a frigate bird rookery. The "landing" was a crumbling chunk of cement, again, with no railings and no means of securing the panga or yourself, after which one was supposed to walk over black lava rocks that looked like irregular bowling balls, and felt just as stable. I managed to jump over a few rocks to a sandy area, and wound along a path with the others, not realizing Joyce wasn't behind me. She couldn't make those jumps, got off the cement, got stuck on the rocks, and eventually managed to get back up. In the meantime, we reached another pile of broken bowing balls with no end in sight, and I said, "I don't care what's on the other end, I'm not wrenching my knees to see it." I mean, there's no doctor or medical facilities on that boat.

So I worked my way back through the sea lions, taking pictures and wondering what had become of Joyce. I was thus able to see her efforts to right herself. She was up before I could reach her, and pretty pissed, too. We had no idea there was no way to land without killing yourself, and that there were no paths that could just be walked on instead of rock-climbed. I even had my walking stick with me, but there were no places to plant it securely to use it.

Here are some of the very first pictures I took in the islands. You can't really see how many, but there are numberless sea lions under the trees and around the rocks. They yell and cough and spit and holler all the time. As one of our traveling companions said, "It sounds like a tuberculoisis ward."

Regardless of their noises, they're very good about posing. People don't bother them at all, as long as they don't feel surrounded or cut off. Then they bite.

So, after that abortive attempt at looking around Los Lobos, we waved to the Millenium and they sent a panga over. We took our beer up to the top of the ship and waited for the others to return. They said the entire hike was like that, very hard to manage your footing. Later we asked Franklin if there were any landings we could actually do and enjoy, and he said yes, especially the wet ones. So we were still game to try going ashore. After all, we were there to see the animals, and there weren't a lot of options.

After the snorkeling and abortive hiking, we were happy to go unpack and go to bed right after dinner. There was another landing the next morning at 8 AM!