As with all vacations, the time came to leave and return home again. We are left with wonderful memories and over 700 pictures. I am so glad we could go. It was a wonderful adventure, but it was time to return to home and the good life we live here. I can't say it was the best vacation ever, but it was mighty good. God made a great big world and exploring it is an exciting wonderful thing. What makes a vacation wonderful? What are some of your wonderful vacation memories?
No visit to the Galapagos would be complete without seeing giant tortoises. On the island of Santa Cruz we had our chance to see them in the wild and later at the Charles Darwin research center. I loved seeing them in the wild, just lumbering along at their very slow pace, munching grass as they went. These creatures weigh up to 500 pounds and live more than 150 years. There are currently eleven species of giant tortoises. At one time there were more than thirty different species, but people have made life difficult for the tortoise. The most noticeable difference is the shape of their shells. Some are domed, others are saddle backed. These differences were among the observations that helped Darwin to conceive of his theory of evolution and the survival of the fittest.
According to the shipboard naturalist, we can all learn some very important life lessons from observing the tortoise. This the list. 1.Eat you vegetables. 2.Get a minimum of eight hours sleep every night. 3.Slow down and reduce stress. 4.Have sex for at least four hours every day.
We sailed back northward toward the equator and came to Rabida Island. I have now seen thousands of blue footed boobies and thousands of magnificent frigate birds, but I still get excited with each new sighting. I just have a hard time believing that I am really here and really seeing all of this. Marine iguanas are sunning on every rock and we just walk around the sea lions on the beach. What an amazing place this is!
We found a nesting area of pelicans today. Newly hatched birds were is every nest. We watched as the mom regurgitated into her bill and the baby then ate out of her bill. Look closely at the first picture and you can see the tiny baby eating. It was an awesome thing to see.
We went to Bashra Beach on Santa Cruz Island in the afternoon and found a lagoon full of flamingos. I just sat down and watched these graceful birds. They are truly beautiful.
Dennis was quite excited about seeing this Galapagos mockingbird. It was another rare find for his life time list.
We sailed south during the night and were off the shore of tiny Floreana Island in the morning. The evening before the captain had told us all to get our postcards written because we would be stopping at the post office this morning. Soon after breakfast we all scrambled into our pangas and went ashore to mail our cards and letters. No postage would be required. This is the post office we found. It was established by the sailors of old as a way to communicate with their families. We pulled out the pile of mail inside the barrel and several of us read off the addresses. Any of us going that way were encouraged to take mail and deliver it to the addressee. We brought home two cards to deliver to people in Maryland. I am curious to see if any of the ten cards we wrote will ever be delivered.
After we left the post office we went back to shore and waited to be tendered back to our floating home. The La Pinta is a beautiful boat with three decks and comfortable places to rest and enjoy the ocean.
The crew issued the gear for snorkeling when we returned. I got the gear and thought I would try, but I was just too afraid to jump into that deep ocean. I couldn't make myself do it. About half the passengers snorkeled and frolicked in the water with the fish and the sea lions. The rest of us opted to see the fish through a small glass bottomed boat. We were able to see the beautiful tropical fish, sting rays, sharks and sea lions swimming beneath us. It was a beautiful sight. Dennis spotted a Floreana Mockingbird on shore which made his day. This mockingbird is found only here. There are only about 150 individuals of this species remaining. The naturalist was just as excited as he was.
In the afternoon we went ashore again and walked across the island. It was a beautiful walk. There was a lagoon full of flamingos (the flamingo pictures did not turn out too well, but we got some better ones later.) There were beautiful flowers and lots of birds. This yellow warbler was a new lifetime bird too.
A beautiful deserted beach greeted us on the other side of the island. The footprints in the sand are mine. We were the only people there. We were unable to swim because there were stingrays swimming right off shore, but it was a lovely place to rest and enjoy God's beautiful creation.
Jean's condition remains unchanged. She has been is a coma for a week now. Today she had a tracheotomy and a feeding tube inserted. This will make her long term care easier. Continue to pray for Jean and for Bill who still cries.
We stepped off our panga through a bunch of big red crabs and around a big sea lion onto Fernandina Island. This is the westernmost and youngest of the Galapagos Islands. It is covered with uneven, ropy lava which made walking difficult, but the sights we saw made the difficult walk easy. The beach was covered with piles and piles of marine iguanas. There were thousands of them just warming themselves in the sun. They really are ugly and scary looking, but the naturalists all assure me that they are harmless. They do have a mighty spit and I got sprayed several times. They spit to clear the salt from they nostrils. They actually blend into the lava and several times I almost stepped on one. I am sure that would have scared me more than the iguanas who seemed completely unaware of our presence. Sling, I couldn't decide which one to pick for you. You will just have to choose from one of these.
Little lava lizards scampered all over the iguanas feeding on little sea urchins on the iguanas' skin. The lizards' lunch was the iguanas' bath.
The island was a nursery for the sea lions. We saw several babies not far from their moms. Twice I saw babies nursing from their moms.
We saw sea turtles often in the water. This beautiful one swam ashore and posed for pictures.
My birdman was always looking for more birds and added new ones to his list every day. On Fernandina he saw this Galapagos pelican and a flightless cormorant. The cormorant is one of the many endemic species that evolved to better survive the harsh life on these islands.
Fernandina felt like we had visited a land that time forgot.
Our plane touched down at the tiny one gate airport on the tiny island of Baltra. Before we were off the tarmac Dennis had spotted a new bird, one more for his life time list. After clearing all the legalities of entering the Galapagos Islands we boarded a small bus and took a five minute ride to the pier. As we donned our life jackets to ride the panga (a big rubber raft that was always our ride on and off the yacht) we were greeted by our first sea lion and our first marine iguana. I was excited. As soon as we boarded the La Pinta we were sent upstairs to the main lounge for our first briefing. We were given all the rules and told we would be exploring North Seymour Island that afternoon. It would be a dry landing, meaning we would not need to step into the ocean before stepping up onto the rocks on shore. We enjoyed a wonderful lunch and a short rest period then we piled back into the pangas for our ride ashore.
“Wow! Look, look!” was about all I said for the next three hours. I had hoped to see a blue footed booby. I saw thousands of them. North Seymour is one of their major nesting areas and everywhere I looked there were boobies. They were dancing with one another in a courtship ritual or sitting on nests with their eggs or diving into the sea like torpedoes. It was just awesome
North Seymour is also a nesting area for the magnificent frigate birds. These birds are huge, with a wingspan of more than six feet. They look like small airplanes in flight. The males have a big balloon-like throat pouch that they inflate in order to impress the ladies. I can assure you that I was impressed with their beautiful magnificence.
The island was covered with many kinds of birds. It also had a large number of sea lions and lava lizards. You needed to watch where you stepped or you might step on one of the land iguanas munching on its lunch.
After North Seymour I could hardly wait for whatever wonders might lie in store for us the next day.
After our long flight to Quito I was excited when we were instructed to prepare for landing. I was watching the small screen in front of me that displayed our route from Atlanta to Ecuador including information like flight speed and altitude. I had just noted that our altitude was 10,000 feet when suddenly the wheels hit the tarmac. We had landed at the capital city of Ecuador which is high in the Andes mountains. The altitude left us a bit breathless and tired for the two days we there – or maybe we were just breathless at the fact that we were actually in Ecuador. Quito is divided into two sections, New Town and Old Town. New Town is a big modern city with tall buildings and traffic. Old Town was built by the Spanish in the sixteenth century. It is full of beautiful old churches, narrow, crowded streets, tourists and little boys everywhere trying to shine our shoes for only one dollar. Little girls were trying to sell us chewing gum and the women were selling beautiful scarves made from alpaca. I really could not understand what they said since I do not speak Spanish and they spoke no English, but their meaning was clear. If I ever move to another country I will learn the language. It is very frustrating not to understand what is being said.
On a high hill overlooking the city is a enormous statue of the Virgin protecting the city. She is fairly new, built is 1978, and quite spectacular to see. You can see her in this picture taken from one of the many plazas in Old Town. The yellow building is one of the many monasteries in town.
In this picture you can see the crowded, streets of Old Town. It is hard to capture the feel of the peddlers and beggars that lined every street.
We were at the presidential palace at the changing of the guard. It was a nice ceremony, but only two guards were involved so it was a very short ceremony. The guards appeared very young, just boys.
Looking out our hotel window we could see past some of buildings of New Town to the Basilica. The building is lit up at night and was a beautiful sight.
Tomorrow I will start a series of posts abut the Galapagos and the fantastic things we saw there.
Jean's condition remains unchanged. She is still in a coma. She is breathing mostly on her own but is only responsive to painful stimuli. The doctors are not very encouraging. The fear is that she may not wake up and just remain comatose. Bill just cries. It is hard.
We are home. The trip was wonderful beyond our wildest expectations! We have many pictures and stories to share, but right now we are just too tired after the forty hours of travel since we left the boat yesterday morning. We will sort it all out and I promise to share soon.
The day after we left my sister-in-law fell and hit her head. We were out of contact and just found out when we got home. She has a bleed in the brain that they can't seem to control. She is non-responsive and on a ventilator now while my sweet brother tries to be hopeful . Pray for Jean and my brother Bill.
Tomorrow is the big day. We have waited and waited with growing excitement thinking July 8 would never come, but as always the much waited day has almost come. We leave bright and early tomorrow for our once in a lifetime trip to the Galapagos Islands. Tomorrow night we will be in Quito ,Ecuador. After two days there we will fly to the Galapagos Islands. We will spend the next week on a forty passenger tour boat seeing sights we have never seen before. The islands are populated with many varieties of unusual birds and wildlife. This is the place that inspired Charles Darwin to write his theory of evolution. My beloved the bird watcher will increase his life time bird list by many birds that exist only in these islands. I believe he is more excited than he ever has been about a trip. One of the most common birds there is called the Blue Footed Booby. It is a comical duck-like bird that often dances. When I start talking about dancing boobies, I am referring to the birds like the one in the picture. We will be away from phones and computers. You will have to wait until we return to hear all about our adventures in this far away place.
When we returned home from our visit in West Virginia we had a message from our bank to call as soon as possible. There had been unusual activity on our bank account. We weren't too concerned, assuming our out of town charges had been noted. When my husband went in to check it was a little scarier than that. A phone call from someone impersonating my husband had come in from Singapore to verify the faxed withdrawal slip with a signature closely resembling my husband's signature. Whoever it was had all the information about our bank account and was requesting the exact amount of money available in our account plus a loan for $100,000. It all looked very legitimate. Fortunately the bank recognized this as highly unusual and called to verify the transaction before transferring the money. Apparently the information was obtained through records that are part of the public domain about property ownership in Maryland and then through credit checks that had all our financial information. It was scary to think that we were a keystroke away from having our entire savings wiped out. We have closed our bank account and opened a new one that is password protected. The FBI and the Secret Service are investigating the incident. We are grateful to still have our savings.
We have just returned from an overnight visit in New Martinsville, WV. The long drive for a short visit was prompted by the need to see one ten-year-old girl who who calls me Gramma. I do love this little girl and just needed to give her a big hug and spend a little time with her.
The hardest part of the trip is always trying to answer the many questions she always asks about her dad. Her father was our foster son. Todd came to live with us when he was fifteen years old. In my heart he became my son, but unfortunately Todd was not able to make that same commitment. We were the end of a long line of parental figures in his life and he was just not able to make another intimate attachment. He was a sweet boy who definitely livened up our household. When he finished high school we sent him to a small college in West Virgina were he fell in love with and married a West Virginia girl. They were married for four years and had a beautiful little girl, our Michaela. Marriage, commitment and responsibility were hard for Todd and one day he just left. He came to see us for Christmas five years ago. We had a great visit. After a week he climbed back into his big truck and drove away. We have not heard anything from him since then. Well, almost nothing. A couple of years after he left we hired a private detective who found him in Iowa. He did call to talk. He said he knew we loved him, but it was hard for him to talk to us. Life was hard for him right then. He would call us when he was able. He has not called.
So Michaela asks us about her dad. She wants to know about him. We tell her some of the funny things he did while he lived with us. She laughs at some of the funny antics we remember. When she asks if he will ever come back we have to say that we don't know, but probably not. Something inside of her daddy got broken a long time ago. He is missing out on so much and that is sad. She is a well loved, happy little girl. We are grateful that we get to be her grandparents.