« December 2006 | Main | February 2007 »

January 22, 2007

A rhyme heals faster than time

Even before Paul's "high speed chase" on foot, I knew that our camera was long gone, probably before either of us looked up but a few seconds later.

A quick recap of how the unarmed robbery went down. A team of four guys worked the internet cafe. One distracted the owner, another distracted the owners father, the third distracted Paul and I by tapping us on the shoulder and pointing to a key on the ground asking us if it was ours, while the fourth culprit grabbed the camera and ran with Paul giving chase moments later.

We know it is only material goods and are grateful that we were not hurt, but of course Paul and I were still bummed about our camera being stolen.

They say, whoever "they" are, that time heals all wounds. I have found this to be true. However, after my sister Louise sent us a poem about our camera extravaganza, I have decided that "they" should change the saying from time to rhyme heals all wounds.

Read Louise's poem and you will see what I mean.

Thanks for putting a huge smile on our faces Sis!!

Clinkety clank, is this your key? We barely blinked and off he did flee.

There we sat engaged in the internet store, Distracting us surrounded a team of four.

We didn't lose our passports or any cash, But off went our camera in an instant flash.

We had read about this scam, we knew to beware, At least they didn't take our second underwear.

You didn't get hurt and this is my only concern, Thankfully this only resulted in an easy lesson to learn.

Order your new apparatus and ship it to my place, I will forward it on to you at a lightening pace.

The only reward I ask is the sharing of your new pics, Oh and of course you admitting that you don’t know tricks!

Thanks for your call today, your voice I really miss, Big hugs and kisses back, love your proud Big Sis.

Old Center of Quito

Photo: IMAGE 026

January 21, 2007

Otavalo Market

Photo: IMAGE 008
We're in Otavalo the day after the enormous indigenous market (we're told the largest in South America).

I sit here on the grass, on a sunny Sunday afternoon in the Simon Bolivar park, people watching. We're taking a rest after our hike up the local peak where we got a view of the large Laguna San Pablo. As I'm playing with my phone, it hits me: TyTN has a camera built-in! Well, this is the first ever blog post with a photo from the phone. Wish I would have thought of it sooner.

At yesterday's market, we bought a few handicrafts, including Joanne's new hat, which she's completely enamored with. How cute!

The sight of the indigenous people of the Sierra mountain area of Ecuador selling their tapestries, carvings, woven and knit goods are truly stunning. It's really unfortunate we didn't have a camera with us to share some of it with you all.

I'll try to paint it for you: They are a short, stout people with dark complexions and long thick black hair that both the men and women wear braided or pony tailed, usually under a Panama hat (which is unfortunately named, it originates in Ecuador with their culture). They wear blankets over their shoulders, under which the women wear lacy white embroidered blouses and decorative necklaces. The men's collared shirts stand in stark contrast to their often crisp white calf length pants. Astonishingly for rugged mountain folk, they wear the flimsiest little shoes, barely with a sole, and just a string around their heel to keep them from falling off.

Oh, and the women carry loads two to three times their body volume, and perhaps twice their weight, hunched over with the enormous burlap bags tied with a single rope around the bag and their shoulders. The men are rarely seen carrying anything.

Earlier Saturday morning, we rose at the ungodly early hour of six thirty (we can remember getting up even earlier when we worked, but our bodies, now used to a solid eight hours of sleep were unforgiving in their exhausted complaints from the sudden rousing at sunrise after just five and a half hours to sleep off the bottle of wine from the late dinner the night before - I know, I know, woe are we, hold the sympathy, please).

We made our tired uncaffeinated butts over to the animal market. There, we found hundreds of squealing pigs on leash, as many docile cows and a few enormous, intimidating bulls, also on flimsy leashes often held by a small child alongside hundreds upon hundreds of indigenous people of all ages buying and selling their livestock.

In a sea of animals, mud, shit, and brightly clothed people we stood, surrounded by snowcapped mountains and crisp air awed by the organized chaos of a real-deal market. Suddenly, a pig bit me for no apparent reason. I'm still alive. And now I have a story to tell and a shit stain on my jeans where its snout got me, which a moment before was smearing a pile of steaming dung around. Yum!

Most of the grass grazing scrawny-looking hide and bones cows go for $250, while the alfalfa-fed "normal" looking cows (which there weren't many of) go for $400. Pigs are a quarter the cost, and all go into a tortured squealing frenzy as one leash comes off and the new owner's leash comes on and they are dragged off towards the horizon by their proud new owners. It's at once fascinating, sad and engrossing to see.

We don't often think or see the steps that lead to a plate of meat at dinner. For us, it was our first exposure to just one of the steps involved in husbandry. Nice to have the blinder's off.

Later in the day, the crafts market (artisanas) opens and the main streets are lined with stall after stall of indigenous handiwork. Bargaining is the norm, and items generally cost half as much as the stated price. At first, we hesitated to offer less than half of the asking price and bargain up to half, but this is expected. After the first few purchases, the transactions were smooth and fun. Our best deal: the $4 hat you see in the photo went for $1.25. Sweet!

Now that I remember about the phone's camera, you can look forward to a few impromptu (low quality) photos until a replacement camera arrives in a couple of weeks.

There you have it, mobile blogging from high in the Ecuadorian sierra. A big "Olah!" from both of us to all of you.

Oldest trick in the book

We've read about the scams, been warned again and again about the theft here, and were as vigilant as we thought we could be. But, unsurprisingly, it just happened to us.

Unfortunately, our camera was stolen from us while at our favorite Internet café the day before we left Quito for Otavalo... Buggers! We should have known better than to leave a camera worth a few hundred dollars (several months pay here) out for the pilfering. A guy tapped me on the shoulder, pointed at a key on the floor and asked if it was mine. I said no and went to keep typing, but in that second, an accomplice stole the camera while I had turned to look down.

Less than two seconds after the camera was stolen, I realized it, jumped up and gave chase. Unfortunately, he was gone. GONE!

I ran around like an idiot for a half hour looking for him, until I found a guy who looked the part and confronted him. When he acted really guilty, I tried to flag down a passing police car. When I realized they weren't going to stop, I jumped into the road in front of them and made them stop - or run me over, thankfully that didn't happen, and I am still here to continue the story... I explained what had happened, and told them that this might be the guy, but I wanted to head back to the café to get the other witnesses' opinions, since I wasn't 100%.

We hoped into the police car, went to the police station, where he got thrown into a cell while I re-explained the deal to the other cops and again insisted that we go back to the café. They seemed to think this was unnecessary, but ultimately agreed to escort him in custody to the café for a positive id. Turns out nobody recognized him and I had the wrong guy. I apologized, shook the poor fella's hand and he was free to go.

I feel really horrible about this. Here's some guy walking down the street, and a stranger comes up to him, accuses him of something random and he gets an hour-long police work over. I can't help but flip the roles around and wonder how easily the same could have happened to me. And maybe by someone who wasn't all gung-ho about being sure they had the right guy. The police sure weren't too concerned about it and would have gladly jailed him just on my accusation.

In the end after the adrenaline level subsided, I wished I had done more for the guy once I realized it wasn't him. Dinner, drinks, something!

Oddly, I mean confoundingly odd to me, is that the guy never objected to any of it. He'd just say he didn't have the camera, but never said he wasn't involved. He just went along with it all, in the kind of way a broken man who doesn't feel like he has a say in his destiny would. I've heard our hosts explain how the people are so used to being screwed by their corrupt politicians, police, etc..., that they don't feel like anything they do matters. That's just the way it is, they would say. Acceptance to such an extreme, I've never seen before, especially not first hand. Think about it. If you were in his shoes, would you have just gone along hopelessly, not even bothering to object or defend yourself? This is a fundamental cultural difference here. People feel powerless.

But I digress, live and learn, don't leave your stuff out, and if you're going to accuse someone of something here, better be sure, because a foreigner's word is enough to put someone in jail. (Shouldn't it be the other way around?)

January 18, 2007

Off the Beaten Path

When traveling there are definitely the list of "must see" places, for example; you don't go to Italy and skip the Colosseum, or to Egypt without seeing the great pyramids because there might be a crowd. For us, there is a balance of the must sees and staying away from the "tourist traps". While an experience is not lessened in its authenticity just because many travelers visit a particular place, we feel traveling off the beaten path gives us the opportunity to experience an overall richer cultural experience.

Finding your way off the beaten path can prove to be a challenge at times.

When meeting other travelers more often than not they have taken the most traveled routes.

While our South American guide book offers suggestions to places less visited, it is also the same guide book that we see time and time again, in the hands of other travelers, hanging out of backpacks, in bookstores...

The richest cultural experiences for us thus far, have been entirely as a result of the incredible Latin American warm and welcoming hospitality.

Paul and I befriended the married couple who own our favorite Internet cafe in Quito, Pizza@net on the corner of Calama and 6 de Diciembre. For us the warm greetings we receive from Leonardo and Natalia each time we arrive makes us feel at home and warms our hearts. However, the welcoming did not stop there; we were invited to spend a weekend with them and their family in their hometown of Pintag, a small village of 15000 people 45 minutes southeast of Quito.

We can definitely see where Natalia and Leonardo get their hospitality from; their entire family welcomed us with hugs and kisses as if we had known each other for years, even though we had just met for the first time.

Not having family of our own nearby, being adopted into a family even for a weekend gives us a sense of belonging and makes us appreciate our own families even more than before.

Natalia's father Manuel, gave us a tour of Pintag, the place in which he was born and as he stated, where he will die. We learned of its rich history dating back to the time of the Inca´s, all the while getting a feel for living in a small village where Manuel seemed to know everyone we passed.

The following day we got the privilege of experiencing raw untouched nature in an ecological reserve which houses the majestic Antisana mountain. Normally there are no tourists who visit Antisana as there is a greater desire to preserve its natural wildlife than have it change drastically, as is the fate for all heavily visited tourist sites.

We were only permitted to enter because a friend of Manuel's is the administrator of the reserve, and did him a favor and guided us through its back country.

Photo: Approach to Antisana (2007/01/14 10:25)
Photo: Antisana countryside (2007/01/14 10:26)
Photo: Wild horses (2007/01/14 09:16)
Photo: Llamas (2007/01/14 09:42)
Photo: Climbing to the glacier (2007/01/14 11:09)
Photo: Joanne high on altitude (2007/01/14 12:10)
Photo: PoJo on the glacier (2007/01/14 11:42)
Photo: Antisana (2007/01/14 12:14)

Want more photos? See the whole Antisana photo set on flickr or see it as a slideshow

Being able to explore uncharted territory, we got to see a rare sight of beautiful strong unsaddled wild horses roaming freely, breathtaking!

We entered the reserve and started climbing in a 4x4 truck. Our first off-roading experience for both Paul and I! Not knowing the limits of what a 4x4 can handle, I kept thinking the terrain would leave us no choice but to get out and walk, but the truck forged on. Eventually it met its match, and we did make our way on foot to the base of Antisana's glacier.

It was amazing to have so many of our senses tantalized at once. Our eyes feasting on the incredible contrast of colors and epic scenery, drinking the sparkling blue fresh cold water as it ran down the glacier, smelling the brisk clean mountain air, all in perfect silence. Ahhh!

While Pintag may not show up in many traveling guidebooks, for us it has definitely become a "must see" should we ever return to Quito.

January 7, 2007

Isabela Paradise

What we did in paradise... Where to begin? While there was plenty of activity to keep us busy, we were also content to do nothing and enjoy the sounds and sights of our surroundings.

Getting There

First off, the boat ride from Santa Cruz to Puerto Villamil, the only town on Isabela Island was nothing like the bucking bull ride that Paul described when we left Isabela. The boat ride over was a little bumpy, yet was filled with dozing passengers - they seemed to have anticipated a rough ride and so most popped a motion sickness pills, making them very sleepy. Very funny to watch people try to sleep sitting up right while being jostled side to side from the waves. Every now and then, they would slowly fall onto the shoulder of the person beside them, only to awaken startled as they realized they did not know the person sitting beside them. This was how my neighbor introduced himself to me. :)

Birthday Celebration

Photo: CIMG5560 (2006/12/26 10:56)
Photo: CIMG5594 (2006/12/26 12:35)
Photo: CIMG5602 (2006/12/26 12:39)
Photo: CIMG5604 (2006/12/26 12:43)
Photo: CIMG5612 (2006/12/26 12:55)

For my birthday, we took an hour-long boat ride over to Los Tuneles, a series of lava flows which produced a number of beautiful formations of arches and tunnels both under and above the water. Two weeks ago, I would have described that boat ride as a bucking bull ride, but after experiencing the real wild west, it can't be gauged on the same caliber. Now, I would describe the trip to Los Tuneles as a roller coaster ride on the ocean. It's all relative!

The waters there were shallow and calm making it a wonderful place to observe sea turtles and beautifully colored fish swimming through the lava tunnels. We hopped off the boat and explored the lava tunnels on foot, then jumped into the water to snorkel and explore them underwater. We were back just in time to enjoy our first sunset on the beach as we sipped on some wine sitting on the deserted beach. For dinner, we diverged from the usual rice and fish and treated ourselves to a feast at the only beachfront hotel with a real chef. Happy birthday to me!

Volcanic Exploration

Photo: CIMG5647 (2006/12/27 12:48)
Photo: CIMG5625 (2006/12/27 11:39)
Photo: CIMG5629 (2006/12/27 11:40)
Photo: CIMG5653 (2006/12/27 14:59)
Photo: CIMG5658 (2006/12/27 15:14)
Photo: CIMG5657 (2006/12/27 15:14)

In another adventure, we found ourselves on horseback making our way up to the crater of one of the five volcanoes that formed the island: Volcan Sierra Negra. It is the world's second largest volcanic crater: 10 kilometers across and 92 meters deep. We traveled from the beach, through lagoons and mangroves, dry forest, lava fields and finally through wet forest zones. It's striking to see the rapidly changing climactic zones in such a short period of time.

The horses were tame and had a mind of their own. When trying to give them instructions, it was well understood we were NOT the bosses, they were letting us ride on their backs and the rest was up to them. I named our horses "Slow" and "Slower". Mine was Slow, and Paul's was Slower. No matter how hard he tried to get his horse to go faster, it was met with the same stubborn unchanging snail's pace. The funny part was Paul's relentless efforts in trying to get his horse, Slower, to gallop. All futile, but he persisted nonetheless. I was happy to let Slow do its thing, I was in no hurry.

At the top, we hiked around the crater's edge and along several of the parasite craters (little outlets of lava on the slopes of the main crater) and enjoyed the varied vistas. We learned that the candelabra cacti grow a mere centimeter each year, and can thus tell how long it had been since the last lava flows occurred in this area.

Back on the horses on the way down, I felt quite apprehensive because the trails were incredibly muddy and the horses were having a lot of difficulty with their footing. A girl from our group was an experienced rider, so I stayed close to her. I'm not sure what difference this made for Slow, but it gave me a (false) sense of security. Ultimately, false it was: her horse slipped and lost its footing, fell to the ground, sending her flying off into the mud. Thankfully, and likely due to her experience, she was as smooth and as graceful as could be - if that's even possible while being thrown from a horse into a mud bath. Slow got a little startled, but overall kept his calm. I on the other hand, did not - my heart was pounding.

It was just too dangerous to continue on horseback in these conditions. We all got off our horses and hoofed our own way back down through the mud to the bottom. This was fine by me, if I slip and fall there is much less distance between my 5'4" body and the ground than when atop the horse. Paul was slip sliding away; literally, he was wearing sandals which made it challenging for him in all the mud. As for myself, I had the best seat in the house to watch Paul's repeated near wipe-outs and so I giggled the rest of the way down. Especially when he finally did fall and take a mud bath. I know what you are thinking, but I know you would have laughed too!

Seafood Feasts

Photo: CIMG5733 (2006/12/31 20:53)
Photo: CIMG5690 (2006/12/28 20:59)

One evening, while enjoying our ritual cup of wine on the beach as the sun set, we met a couple who had spent the last two months on the island. They shared a secret about an amazing dining experience. We were in! They told us about a restaurant at the end of the pier where, if you gave them 24 hours notice they could fix you up a seafood feast. The notice gave the fisherman time to go out the next day and catch your dinner. They prepared us a feast of lobster, yellow fin tuna, calamari, shrimp and octopus, which we enjoyed after a long arduous day on the beach. All of this was cooked on a small charcoal grill but a few feet away from us as we looked on. With our feet in the sand, we enjoyed impromptu conversation with others as the anticipation mounted. We agreed with that couple, and could definitely say that this was our best dining experience to date.

The following day we looked on at the pier as the fisherman caught a school of Lisa (white fish) near the shore with a net. We helped them descale, gut and clean dozens of them. While fresh fish guts don't do it for me, throwing the just yanked innards of the fish straight up into the air caused quite the frenzy overhead among the frigates, the pelicans and the boobie birds as they amazingly swooped in and caught their treats mid-air. They didn't miss even once. Watching as some with the quickest moves would catch more was a true demonstration of survival of the fittest at its best!

Most of these fish were taken to locals or merchants to sell; a few were fried up and handed out as thanks to those who had just helped with the catch. Not only did we try our hand at our first descaling/degutting experience, but also ate our first Lisa fish. It was delicious! The Lisa fish was so scrumptious that we wanted more. Paul managed to get us invited back to cook up another feast on New Year's Eve, and that we did. A little oil, some garlic, lemon, salt, pepper, white wine on the "oh so fresh" Lisa fried up by us. And we didn't have to clean up! Now that's my idea of a new year's dinner.

Latin American Hospitality

Most mornings, I would walk along the beach and find a spot that called to me to enjoy a peaceful yoga session, losing myself in the sound of the crashing waves. One morning, on my way back, I ran into a local young boy that had befriended us a day or so after we arrived. This time, he was with his mother and they were heading home after having caught a rather large Lisa which they were planning on eating for dinner. As we have witnessed on more than one occasion, Latin Americans are welcoming, curious, and incredibly hospitable. After exchanging a few words, we found ourselves invited over to share in fresh ceviche at their home. You don't have to ask me more than once.

What an incredible experience to be so welcomed into a stranger's home. This open, welcoming attitude towards strangers baffles Paul and I, yet we would like to learn to do the same when the situation is reversed. As a side note, their homemade ceviche was incredible.

And then some...

Photo: CIMG5671 (2006/12/27 19:03)
Photo: CIMG5619 (2006/12/26 18:43)
Photo: CIMG5692 (2006/12/29 12:57)
Photo: CIMG5660 (2006/12/27 17:37)
Photo: CIMG5684 (2006/12/28 11:02)
Photo: CIMG5715 (2006/12/31 18:32)

Many of our days were spent simply making our way in and out of the ocean, interspersed with reading, yoga, writing, strolling along the fine white sandy beaches and streets, walking along coastal lagoons, snorkeling, visiting the giant tortoise breeding center, meeting locals, getting to know what their lives are like here, finding and returning to our favorite spots, eating leisurely meals (rice, rice and more rice), all without a care in the world. Actually, this is not true, I had a care, and it was pretty serious. The one place that served ice cream ran out and I definitely cared when they would get more. Oh the stresses that came with being on Isabela!

When traveling, there's a constant stream of new stimuli each day. Our relaxed time in Isabella offered us the much needed time to simply pause, reflect and integrate all that we've seen up to this point. We've come to realize that these breaks are an essential aspect to making the most of our journey.

Want more photos? See the whole Isabela photo set on flickr or see it as a slideshow

January 6, 2007

Photos Bartolome Island, Galapagos

Photo: CIMG5486 (2006/12/24 11:04)
Photo: CIMG5488 (2006/12/24 11:04)
Photo: CIMG5505 (2006/12/24 11:17)
Photo: CIMG5512 (2006/12/24 11:46)
Photo: CIMG5546 (2006/12/24 13:10)

Want more photos? See the whole Bartolome photo set on flickr or see it as a slideshow

Photos from Mindo, Ecuador

Photo: CIMG5119 (2006/12/14 14:39)
Photo: CIMG5128 (2006/12/14 17:52)
Photo: CIMG5170 (2006/12/15 10:59)
Photo: CIMG5172 (2006/12/15 11:00)
Photo: CIMG5176 (2006/12/15 11:06)
Photo: CIMG5180 (2006/12/15 11:23)
Photo: CIMG5214 (2006/12/15 16:28)
Photo: CIMG5222 (2006/12/15 17:36)
Photo: CIMG5229 (2006/12/16 15:04)
Photo: CIMG5236 (2006/12/16 16:06)
Photo: CIMG5281 (2006/12/17 13:34)
Photo: CIMG5283 (2006/12/17 13:36)
Photo: CIMG5200 (2006/12/15 11:58)

Want more photos? See the whole Mindo photo set on flickr or see it as a slideshow

Photos from Quito December 2006

Photos from our return to Quito after the jungle in early December, including hike up Pinchincha Mountain at 4700 meters, some typical Quito street scenes and a relaxing glass of mulled wine overlooking the city.
Photo: CIMG5029 (2006/12/10 08:50)
Photo: CIMG5032 (2006/12/10 10:34)
Photo: CIMG5034 (2006/12/10 11:54)
Photo: CIMG5049 (2006/12/10 13:55)
Photo: CIMG5059 (2006/12/13 11:41)
Photo: CIMG5062 (2006/12/13 14:02)
Photo: CIMG5094 (2006/12/13 16:34)
Photo: CIMG5097 (2006/12/13 17:32)

Need more? See the whole Quito December 2006 set on flickr or see the slideshow

Photos from Quito November 2006

Long overdue photos from our arrival in Quito in November:

Our language school, and the view out the window:
Photo: CIMG4391 (2006/11/23 08:21)
Photo: CIMG4392 (2006/11/23 08:22)

Our host family's house and the preparation of Joanne's favorite, chiflets (fried plantain):
Photo: CIMG4407 (2006/11/25 10:12)
Photo: CIMG4415 (2006/11/25 10:17)
Photo: CIMG4435 (2006/11/26 12:40)
Photo: CIMG4437 (2006/11/26 12:42)

Need more? See the whole Quito November 2006 set on flickr or see the slideshow

January 5, 2007

Boat or Bucking Bull?

Today, our Galapagos adventure comes to a close and we make the 12 hour journey back to Quito:

As I write this, we are on a boat from the remote Isabela island to Santa Cruz island. The boat, which can hold a maximum of 12 passengers, is overstuffed with 20. The other passengers sit hip to hip on the two benches running along the sides of the boat. There is a small improvised wooden bench in the middle that seats two. Joanne and I are sitting on that bench, along with a Frenchman :).

It's incredible to me that I can be thumb peck typing this on my HTC TyTN here and now. This would definitely not be possible with a laptop. I'm glad I switched.

The morning sea greeted us with 2 -3 meter waves. Unpredictably, the boat would launch off one of these waves into the air, and we suddenly find ourselves in mid-air with nothing but a long way down and gravity between us and the next WHACK!, as the boat slams back onto the sea. Each time, our butts lift off the hard seats and slam moments later back down. Ouch! Shoving the frayed (and wet) life jackets between our butts and the wooden seats offered little relief from the pounding.

Although these whacks come only every few minutes during the three hour trip, they are completely unpredictable, keeping us tensed up in anticipation for the whole ride.

As you can imagine, the smashing motion isn't what Joanne's neck needs. Thankfully, she's been symptom free for a long time, and this last week started carrying weight in her backpack. Strong like bull! Even the bucking bull motion of the boat was no match for her recovery. This bodes well for our idea to head down to the southernmost tip of South America, to Torres del Paine National Park for backpacking and camping in what some have described as one of the top 5 most beautiful nature scapes in the world!

But I digress, back to our immediate drama... The boy sitting across from me just threw up again. Judging by some of the other faces, and that they're already clutching paper towels in anticipation of cleaning up after their own contributions to the sea, I'm sure he's not the only one feeling ill.

The air is thick with the exhaust fumes from the two outboard engines. They are spewing out grey stink that's the hallmark of the low octane fuel that they have in Ecuador. The fumes are drawn forward from the engines by a vacuum effect created by the windshield. The smell itself is nauseating, but combined with the motion, well...

Uhm, that was close. As I was writing that, a wave of nausea came over me. First I put down my TyTN and looked at the horizon, hoping it would pass. But then came the squirting saliva sensation as the body lubes the way for what's coming... I urgently signaled the guy opposite to switch seats with me, so I could lean over the edge, and... Thankfully, with the blast of fresh air and reprieve from the exhaust, I started to feel better and the urge passed.

A short time later, one particularly big leap had everyone catapult half a meter into the air and land lopsided and barely upright. At that very moment a shot of pain flew up from my right foot. The wooden bench, with three people on it, had landed on, and was crushing my small toe. An instant later, I lunged forward, and with the kind of Herculean strength you're only capable of after the shot of adrenaline this kind of pain brings, lifted the bench and the three people on it off my toe. Fearing crushed bones, I give my toe a little wiggle and it moves! Luckily, miraculously, it doesn't appear to be broken. Amazing! :)

As I look up to see if everyone else was ok, I see to my left an older man on his hands and knees clutching his back. By now, the captain had slowed the boat and others were rushing to his aid, he looked cripplingly hurt. My gaze turns to Joanne as the impact of this severe a smash on her neck hits me. Thankfully, her expression tells me she's ok. After helping the man back to his feet and checking for other injuries, the captain continues on, as if nothing notable had happened. Here, none of this is out of the ordinary or remarkable.

I look up across the boat at Joanne clutching her seat and mouth: "Isn't this a great adventure!?" Her beaming smile tells me she feels the same...

As we continue to find, the best adventures lay in the journeys not the destinations.

I wonder what awaits us on the ferry boat, bus, airplane and taxi that still lay ahead today?

January 2, 2007

Isabella Island

Isabella Island is magical. It is not uncommon to meet people here who were just passing through for a quick visit and ended up staying longer than expected, we are no exception to this.

Isabella was formed by the lava flows of five enormous volcanoes; it is the youngest island at one million years young and the biggest of all the Galapagos.

The natural beauty while enchanting, is but a part of the experience. Officially, there are 2000 people who live here, but it does not feel like more than 500 people to us. Those who we have met are all so welcoming with their laid back attitude which seems to exemplify island living.

Here, when asking a question, the most common answer is "no problema" or "todo es possible", everything is possible.

The irony is, not everything is possible when living 1000 kilometers away from the mainland. There are significantly fewer conveniences at your fingertips. If it can't be grown, caught, or raised here, then it's brought in by infrequent boat service from its neighboring island, Santa Cruz. And it had to get there from the mainland somehow.

There are only 3 restaurants here, all of which have the same menu. The other day two of them were closed, can you guess which one we ate at? If eating lunch a little later than 2:00PM, it is typical to be told what is left to choose from.

Maybe that's the secret; why they are all so laid back and relaxed: fewer choices to weigh them down leaving more living to be done?

Growing up in a suburb of a big city, our consumerist society ensured a world filled with countless choices. Whatever you need is but a hop and a skip away with many stores competing for your business. Is this a good thing?

Isabella's streets are unpaved, as it is against the law to pave them. They are mostly hard packed sand. Few cars can be heard or seen, I have yet to hear a horn blown. Mostly people stroll or cycle in the middle of the street or just sit and watch the passers by.

It is such a small community that when you tell someone, "Hasta luego", see you later, you actually mean it. Seeing the same faces has opened the doors to meeting many of the locals and vacationers, yet you can feel like you are on a deserted island by simply walking for five minutes on the beach. This morning while walking along the fine white sandy beach, there were but two sets of footprints, they were mine going out and coming back. I didn't count the prints that the marine iguanas or birds made. The hundreds of sally light footed crabs, as their names would indicate, didn't leave any.

The nature is outstanding; it is breathtakingly calm and beautiful. We are staying right across from the beach, crashing waves is without a doubt the best alarm clock- you never want to press snooze.

From the moment our toes touch the sand, the sparkling blue waters call to us. It competes with the mangrove tree forest off to the left with an opening in the middle that invites us to explore what lay beyond it. Although it is one of the only sources of shade available, we find ourselves drawn to the waters. The temperature of the ocean is perfect and offers much relief from the unforgiving sun. I think the sea lions that we see playing a few meters away would agree.

In the distance there are ships, but only a few so they do not dominate the view. Scattered lava rocks create small islands throughout the beach where pelicans, lava lizards, and marine iguanas find some rest. Up above, the birds put on a daily acrobatic show.

You know it is dinner time here when the show has begun. The blue footed boobies (fascinating Galapagos bird with bright blue webbed feet) masked boobies (similar without the blue feet but with a Zorro type mask) and pelicans start diving head first into the water to feed themselves. The boobies are precise and accurate in their flight pattern. They will make a dramatic 90 degree nose dive from about 15 meters high, tuck there wings in and barely making a splash as their aerodynamic bodies become as narrow as possible allowing them to catch their prey.

The pelicans are not quite as graceful. They will fly a meter or so above the water, then plop themselves down with wings mostly splayed out, creating a splash as they open their beaks filling them with about 13 liters of water, as the water drains out, the fish that remain in their beaks are their prize. Bon app├ętit!

To add to this avian show, the frigate birds (slender black birds with the highest wing span to body weight ratio of any bird) soar high above without almost ever flapping their wings. They use the air current and always appear to be gliding their days away. They are known as the kleptomaniacs as they will not go into the water for their food; they will wait until a blue footed boobie has done the work and then take it from them in mid air.

Quite impressive to watch with our toes dug deep into the sand while we sip on some wine as the sun sets, an almost nightly event that we have grown quite fond of.

So what is there to do here in paradise? That will have to wait for another entry.