Dick Pace Trip To Galapagos
Day 1 The flight to Quito
Here we go again!!! Another Dick travelogue that most of you probably don’t care about but you are going to get it anyway. And please don’t bore me with all your comments about my spelling and grammar. Blame spell check.
This year, my travel agent wife decided that I needed more nature in my life as if I don’t have enough of it already. After all, I do go fishing and have birds in my yard and see dog’s everyday and even see an occasional turkey walk down my street. We go to Jackson Hole every year and see elk, bison, frogs and an occasional bear. So, how much nature do I ready need? All of you know that all I really want to do each Dec is go to a warm Caribbean Island and watch a few well proportioned topless babes frolic in the water. Not much to ask is it??
So where are we on our way to you ask. The Galapagos Islands, 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador!!! I am signed up to do an “Educational Tour” along with a bunch of bird watching nerds and follow the route that Darwin took when he discovered the Theory of Evolution!! I need this like a hole in the head. I was Biology major at Bucknell and learned all of this stuff back in 1966. In fact I wrote a thesis on Darwin. Do you know that Darwin sailed around the world on the HMS Beagle in 1835 and it was at the Galapagos where he began to figure out where humans came from. He figured it out by studying finches and worms and fauna (For my stupid frat brothers out there, Fauna is vegetation!) In my thesis I suggested that Darwin would have been better off going to a zoo and watching a bunch of monkeys play with themselves if he wanted to know where we came from. What an asshole. He spent 5 years studying finches and worms to create the Theory of Evolution when he could have just gone to the zoo!!!
So what about the Galapagos? Here is the first sentence in a book that I bought about the Galapagos. “The archipelago is a “hot spot”, an area of “high thermic flux” and volcanic activity, subject to almost annual strong eruptions.” Sort of sounds like me. It is the home of 8 zillion species of birds including 20 varieties of finches. I can’t wait to identify them all!!
There are seals, and penguins and copulating turtles and of course 800 year old Tortoises. One of these tortoises apparently has written on his shell.” Charles Darwin May 13, 1835”. True story!
The one thing that did excite me about the Galapagos is that they have booby’s everywhere. A buddy from town told me about the booby’s and I suddenly perked up. Maybe it is like the Caribbean after all. Sadly these booby’s turned out to be birds. Let’s see, there is the Blue Footed Booby, the Nazca Booby, the Perky Booby, the Sagging Booby and lots more.
More on the Galapagos when we get there.
Tonight we land in Quito, Ecuador, a town of 1.3 million people and at an altitude of 9300 Ft. I have been to Quito a dozen times during my banking days but forget most of what I saw. I do remember that it was hard to breath, hard to sleep, had good food and lousy wine but that was many years ago. So to refresh my memory I bought a Quito tourist guide. There is a section in the guide that cautions about all the health problems you can get while visiting Quito, mostly related to the altitude. There is a section in the health section for “older adults” Since I now qualify as an “older adult” I decided to focus on this section. Not good news. What I learned if that due to the thinning of the blood at high altitudes, older men are cautioned NOT to have any type of sex for at least three or four days after arriving. You see, if an older man gets excited and has an erection, all the blood rushes from his head to his penis and he immediately passes out!!!! Well, I am one guy that doesn’t want to pass out so there goes the kinky Quito sex. I guess we just will have to go shopping for Indian trinkets.
More to come once we get to Quito and meet our merry band of travel companions or other wise known as “The revenge of the Nerds”
Day 2. Quito and the Bus Ride From Hell
We arrived in Quito after an uneventful flight on Bankrupt American Airlines. Mary used about a zillion of my hard earned miles to up-grade us to First Class. A lot of good that did! I had ravioli that was two levels down from a “Lean Cuisine” and the once elaborate wine list now consisted of: “Do you want Red or White?” The female flight attendants in coach were at least 70 years old and probably started their careers on a Zeppelin. We had two gay flight attendants in First Class, Juan and Juanito, who were very funny and loved the fact that Mary was a Pan Am Stewardess.
We were met at the gate by Mariana, our very friendly, and hot, guide for our stay in Quito. I thought to myself, “Hmmm, things are looking up for our Quito visit”. Well, the high sprits lasted for about 1 minute but then I was introduced to my 13 companions for the trip. Actually, some were alright but many were real Klingons. Let’s see, there was the Russian couple, Galina and Vladimir who have been in this country for 22 years and couldn’t speak a word of English. Mind you, not speaking English is not a bad thing. It’s just that they yelled at each other 24/7, in Russian. Then there was Danuta Sodha, the Polish wife of an Indian brain surgeon, who had super bright red hair (dyed of course) and also could not speak a word of English. She was also a little goofy. Then there was the A&K rep that looked like, acted like, and sounded like Valerie, Miracle Max’s wife in the Princess Bride (aka Billy Crystal’s wife). The good news was that there was a guy on board who could help me if I needed brain surgery.
We were awakened the next day at 6 am for our 10 hour “Educational Tour” of the Ecuadorian countryside. It made the Bataan Death March seem like a walk in the park. First of all the traffic was horrendous. It seems that we landed in Quito on Spanish Day. It is a national holiday that celebrates the fact that Spain conquered what is now Ecuador and killed everybody in sight. Everyone dresses like a Spaniard, eats paella, gets drunk, dances the flamenco and goes to a bullfight. What kind of stupid holiday is this? It is like us having English day. We sit around drinking warm beer and talk about our bad teeth; anyway the streets were packed with drunks and riot police so the going was slow.
Our bus itinerary consisted of a visit to the equator; shopping at a traditional Indian market in the town of Otavalo, lunch at a hacienda and watching Indian craftsmen weave a wall hanging. This would have not been so bad except I had been to Ecuador 15 times and have seen just about all there is to see. Worse still was the fact the we went on a two lane highway that went up and down 11,000 ft mountains and around hair pin turns with trucks coming straight at us. Oh, did I say that it was rainy and wet? To make matter worse, I sat in the rear of the bus on the axle. I no longer have a prostate!
Our first stop was the equator. Not the whole equator, just a monument with a brick line going down the middle. Since this was an educational tour we had to listen to this local Equator Expert talk for 40 minutes about everything from the Tropic of Cancer, to the position of the sun to the stars, to the Inca’s, to the fact that the toilet flushes the opposite way when in the Southern Hemisphere. This was the coolest part of the talk. After about 15 minutes my ADD kicked in and I started looking around for something to do. Since I was standing on the equator, I decided to jump back and forth from the Southern Hemisphere to the Northern Hemisphere repeatedly. No one was amused! I have attached a picture to prove that I straddled the equator.
After the Indian market, we had a local meal at an 18th century Hacienda and a lesson on how to weave a wall hanging. We then headed back to town for a well deserved Ecuadorian meal and a few Chilean wines.
Day 3. Quito to Galapagos and Our First Adventure Tour.
The trip from Quito to the Galapagos went surprisingly smoothly. Mariana was a great host but it was good to be leaving Quito. The surprise of the day was when we landed on the Island of Baltra in the Galapagos. It was then that I learned that, contrary to what I thought; we would be joined by another 34 random people for our tour of the islands. This actually turned out to be a good thing as there was a bunch of fun people that we would meet. In my experience, the people that you meet on these type of expeditions are divided into three categories: 1\3 are complete flaming assholes, 1/3 are nice people that happen to be as interesting as watching a car rust, and 1/3 are people that are fun to hang around with and don’t mind an off color joke or two. Mary actually thinks that I fit into all three categories.
The Eclipse is an expedition boat that is 220 ft long and holds 48 passengers and 34 crew. It is owned ½ by Abercrombie and Kent, a global tour operation and an Ecuadorian businessman named Nelson Freile, who happened to be one of the guests on the boat. It turned out to be a perfect ship to see the Galapagos; not too big and not too small with a nice outdoor bar and indoor and outdoor dining rooms and a great hot tub where I observed some wonderful nature shots. One of the species that attracted my attention at the hot tub was the two legged, Ecuadorian twin booby with a string bikini. See, I love nature after all.
After a nice buffet lunch we headed ashore on Santa Cruz Island in search of wild life. We made what is called a wet landing which simply means that you jump out of the boat and into about one or two feet of water. There, waiting for us, was a bunch of really cool sea lions. By the way, do you know the difference between a sea lion and a seal? The difference is simple I learned. Sea lions have external ears and seals have internal ears. For the rest of the week I still managed to call then seals much to the consternation of Mary and everybody else on the ship.
The Galapagos is one of the most protected natural preserves in the world. The wildlife has few predators and, as a result, you can literally walk right up to them and they just ignore you. We saw baby sea lions, some water Iguanas and all sorts of birds. However, our ultimate goal was to find Flamingos in a nearby salt pond.
After a short walk on the beach we found the pond and 5 beautiful Flamingos that were digging for shrimp. There was also a colony of water Iguanas that sort of shrugged their shoulders when we walked up to them. They just didn’t give a shit that we were there. We sat down and watched the Flamingos for about 20 minutes. All the while the nature guide taught us every conceivable thing that you can know about the Flamingo. Their size, what they eat, how fast they fly, when do they migrate and the most important factoid of all, their mating habits. Mating habits turned out to be a common theme of all our lectures on every bird, fish, seal, sea lion, turtle, and lizard that we encountered. I can’t remember much of the billion lectures that I attended except the very explicit details on the mating habits of anything that lives in the Galapagos. Ask me about the Giant Tortoise, or land iguana, or a whale or the Large Cactus Ground Finch and I can tell you how they screw, for how long, with how many females, etc. I am now a certified Screwologist.
Back to the Flamingo lecture. It was very interesting but, as usual, after about ten minutes I started to lose interest. All my nerdy companions were asking all sorts of mundane questions and finally one of them asked, “How do you know where a Flamingo lives? I immediately raised my hand and said that I knew the answer. I was very proud of myself. The guide turned to me and asked, “So Dick, how do you know where a Flamingo lives”. I energetically answered, “You can always tell where a Flamingo lives because they always have a statue of an Italian on their lawn”! Mary just cringed but it did get a few laughs.
Day 5 Santa Cruz Looking for the Land Iguana
Santa Cruz is one of the few islands in the Galapagos that is inhabited. There are about 15,000 people on the island but most are located on the southern shore in a small town called Puerto Ayora. This is the place where all of our naturalist guides live. There is Tommy, Ruli, Javier and Gustavo and all of them are studs… They are all very fit, qualified master divers, young, and very good looking. They were no doubt hired to keep all the older women on the boat on their toes, especially when these studs are discussing copulating mammals and fish in a very sensual manner and with a sexy Latin accent. For example: “The 300 lb male tortoise slowly mounts the female tortoise and gently puts his flippers around her shell and breaths heavily on her neck. She is very receptive and smiles as he caresses her and gently inserts his 5 ft penis into her in as they do it in the turtle style position They make passionate love for 5 hours while she tells him dirty turtle stories” Anyway, you get the picture. They should have called this expedition “The Mating Cruise”!
In addition to knowing everything about everything (even more than me, if that is possible) the nature guides on our boat had two other unique qualities. They were fantastic salsa and meringue dancers and they could talk non-stop for hours. A perfect combination for the many wives on the boat who were married to very boring, over weight, nerdy guys. Like Mary!
A good example of how much these guides talk about nature happened on today’s nature hike. We were walking along when all of a sudden Gustavo yelled out “Hey everyone, please come here quickly, I have something amazing to show you.” I figured it must be a 6-footed Iguana or a blind sea lion or hopefully the two legged Ecuadorian bare breasted booby taking a swim. I was wrong. The cause of all this excitement was a Lady Bug that landed on his arm. A stupid ladybug. Now don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against ladybugs and I like the idea that they eat insects. It’s just that Gustavo went on for 30 minutes about this tiny ladybug. Where it came from, what it eats, where it lives and of course, the inevitable 20 minutes of their mating habits.
In the morning we went on a 3-mile nature walk looking for the elusive land Iguana. Land Iguanas are different than sea iguanas. They are much larger and have a yellow head. These are the guys who had the movie Godzilla patterned after them. It was an interesting hike but we only saw two of them hidden under trees. We found out later that it would have been easier to go to any park in Guayaquil to see hundreds of them climbing trees!!!
(photo courtesy of Doodlecafe.com)
The one major problem about a longer hike is that you are not allowed to pee anywhere. They apparently don’t want you to upset the pristine conditions of the island. Let me tell you, this is a tough deal with guys with an enlarged prostate. So on behalf of the older men on the boat I asked the guide a question. “Gustavo, let me get this straight. We are walking on volcanic rock on a beach that is covered with Sea Lion crap, bird crap, crab crap, lizard crap and my personal favorite, Iguana crap and you are telling me that my pee will destroy the island?” Gustavo told me to just to go for a swim!
After another good lunch and a short boat ride, we ended up at a beautiful cove at Rabida Island. As is always the case in the afternoon, you had the choice to go for a Panga ride along the shore, a hike along the beach, or snorkeling. Mary and I always choose the snorkeling in spite of the fact that my shrinkage was getting worse and the ultimate goal of our stud guides was to locate as many men and women eating sharks as we could.
The dive, like all the dives, was incredible and it is hard to explain how spectacular it was. This time we were met by a bunch of sea lions that just wanted to play. This one pup would go between my legs, do 360’s, jump out of the water and stare at me in my mask. It is hard to laugh while snorkeling but I did it. We finally moved on and these sea lions were actually pissed. They have a sad look on their faces and were saying in sea lion talk, “hey guys, don’t go, we are having fun”! We saw dozens of very large turtles that simply do not move out of your way. On the shore (we were swimming just 10-20 ft from a rocky cliff) we saw penguins, flightless cormorants and the blue footed booby’s. In the water we saw a sea snake, rays, and a lot of different fish. All the while the Booby’s and the frigate birds were diving into the water all around us. The one thing that I did not see was a large shark, which was just fine with me.
The dinner on day 5 was terrific and afterwards we went to the deck bar in the stern of the boat for a drink with the “Hard Core” that could stay up past 10 pm. There were about 15 of us, everyone else headed for bed. All the guides would show up and we would buy them beers if they would teach our wives and partners how to salsa, what a show! The most amazing couple was this 81 year old woman from New Jersey who was there with her super geeky and painfully boring boyfriend who was 61 years old. She was a good dancer and he sucked. The best part was when she said to him with a twinkle in her eye, “Norman, it’s time for bed. We some unfinished business to take care of”! Can you believe it? Talk about mating habits!
Day 6 The Eclipse Triathlon at Tangus Cove
A trip on the Eclipse is not for the faint hearted. It is not like some large cruise ship where you have a big pool and a casino and spend most of the day sitting on your ass on a lounge chair. On the Eclipse you are always doing something, and it is usually physical in nature (which was fine by me).
For example, on day six we did what we called the Eclipse Triathlon. The triathlon consisted of a 2 1/2 hour “power walk” up a large volcano; a 1 1/2 hour snorkel trip and a 1-hour kayak ride along the coast. They woke us up at 6 am and we were back for lunch at noon, tired but feeling great about our accomplishments.
The hike was beautiful. When we got to the top of the hill all you could see was miles and miles of lava flows. We also saw the usual array of Iguanas, mockingbirds, finches, and all sorts of cacti. The major event of the hike happened when we spotted a hawk in a nearby tree. Our guide, Tommy, rushed us over to the tree and, you guessed it, gave us a lecture about everything conceivable about the Galapagos Hawk including the mating habits. I think that the Hawk was as bored as I was, because after about 10 minutes he turned around, lifted his rear feathers and shit on all of us.
After the hike and being shit on by the Hawk, we all raced back to the boat, changed into our wetsuits and headed off for a snorkel trip which included more turtles than you could imagine as well as manta rays, penguins, booby’s (blue, red, perky and the worse kind, sagging) and cormorants along the shore. As always, we were also joined in the water by a bunch of playful sea lions. You never get tired of watching them!
After an hour in the freezing water we rushed back to the boat, changed and went on our tandem kayak expedition. The wind and waves were a little rough that day so that you had to know what you were doing. There were four couples signed up to go kayaking. One of the couples was the Russian Mafia who had never been in a kayak and was afraid of the water. To prevent a disaster, Mary and I agreed to take one of the Russians with each of us. I had the ever bitching Galina, and Mary took Attila the Hun (Vladimir). I put Galina in the front and I basically did all the work. We went along the rocky shore and saw more birds, sea lions and Iguanas. All of a sudden Galina shouts out “Yepenaya trajt’sya, Yepenaya trajt’sya” She kept yelling it out and pointing in front of us. Pretty soon Vlad starts yelling “Yepenaya trajt’sya”. My Russian is a little rusty but I did recognize the Russian word for screw. Sure enough, right in front of us were two mating turtles or, as Galina was trying to tell me, “Screwing turtles”. I wish I knew the Russian word for SHUT UP.
That evening the dinner on the boat was outstanding. We were served a huge whole baked grouper along with many typical Ecuadorian side dishes all of which were very tasty. I had my usually Dark and Stormy which I smuggled into the country in shampoo bottles supplied by my sister and Mary ordered her Chardonnay. By now I figured out the sitting arrangements and sat with a bunch of fun people, we had lots of laughs.
Day 7. The climax of the Mating lectures
This is the last day on the Eclipse. I must admit that after 6 days of experiencing nature in the Galapagos, I have become a dedicated and committed Naturalist. I am a new and improved Dick! No longer will I mock nerdy birdwatchers or laugh when the mating habits of a worm are described to me. Henceforth, I will call all wildlife by their Latin names like the Pelamis platurus (Sea Snake) or the Anaus Discors (The Blue Footed Teal). If, in the future I had the choice of watching a Camarhynchus Psittacukla (Large Tree Finch) building a nest or watching the lovely Mariela exit the hot tub in her wet, white string bikini, I for sure would watch the Tree Finch build a nest.
Our goal today is to see the Geochelone Elepanhtopus or as you nature neophytes might call it: The Galapagos Giant Tortoise. This is one of the highlights of the trip since there are only two island groups in the world that are inhabited by the Giant Tortoise: Aldabra Island in the Seychelles and the Galapagos. My fellow Zoologists have indentified 11 races or species that survive today and most are on the Galapagos. A male Tortoise can weigh more than 200 lbs and some have reached the ripe old age of 230 years. Sadly, the Giant Tortoise was almost wiped out by pirates and sailors who would put them in the holes of their ships for up to a year without food or water and then hem when provisions ran low. I hate Pirates!
We made our way by panga and bus to the Darwin Center on Santa Cruz Island to see Lonesome George, a 100 year old Giant Tortoise who is the last of his race. I asked Gustavo, our Naturalist guide why they called him Lonesome George. After all, he had about 6 fairly good looking females in his lair so how lonesome can he get.
Gustavo explained to me that George is Lonesome because none of the female babes will mate with him. In other words, George was sort of like my Fraternity brothers at Bucknell – no body would mate with them either! I couldn’t get what Gustavo was saying. After all, the six females with George looked like George, had the same shell as George, smelled like George, ate like George and walked just like George. Since I am now a trained and committed naturalist, I had to get to the bottom this. So I asked Gustavo “Gustavo, I don’t understand why George can’t mate with the females. If you think about it, a German Shepard can mate with a Poodle and a horse can mate with a mule and I once even saw an Italian buddy of mine mate with a Chinese girl. So tell me why George is out of luck” Gustavo just looked at me, shook his head and said something about genes or DNA or whatever. I still don’t get it.