Saturday, December 22, 2007
We have been eating out most meals since we got back from Galapagos. But...today, we are cooking tacos. As always, the simmering meat is creating a nice odor in the house. Nothing quite like the smell of garlic and spices in the air. We have Xmas music playing. The snow has mostly melted; but, that's OK by me.
Tomorrow, we will shop for groceries for Xmas eve. As always, we are doing lots of bite-sized stuff. Cucumber sandwiches, small wieners in sauce, crab salad, etc. Over the years, that has become our Xmas eve tradition. We will exchange gifts on Xmas eve since nobody really wants to get up early on Xmas day anymore.
It has really been rather hectic since before Thanksgiving. With travel for the holidays, entertaining for cards, travel to Galapagos, dealing with Xmas decorating and everything else, it seems that a little downtime will be nice. I have a 4-day weekend and hope to do as little as possible.
Medically, my feet are finally starting to feel a little better. They still feel like they are asleep. But, much of the pain is subsiding. It has been a bit difficult - especially with the walking in the Galapagos. Hopefully, I have weathered that storm and my feet will be better for a while.
I saw Dr Forkin this week. She is still not happy with my cholesterol level - thought it is only slightly high. She has changed my med and we'll see how that does. Other than that, I am in a holding pattern. I see Dr Einhorn after the New Year.
Monday, December 17, 2007
Considering that the Galapogas trip was a last minute trip, it sure turned out to be pretty fantastic. In all of our trips, we have never seen so much wildlife. We've never seen wildlife so abundant and so casual about human visitors. The need to walk around and step over the sea lions, iguanas and birds was amazing. I would have never expected to walk within inches of wildlife.
Quito, Ecuador was an interesting city - even if I hadn't had my blackberry stolen and recovered. It is not in the developed class of many larger cities we have visited. But, it is a city that is developing rapidly.
Development on the Galapogas islands is minimal and strictly controlled. In fact, many current inhabitants are being asked to leave the islands if they are not what Ecuador has classified as natives. With only four significant towns, residential population is minimal. One city around 20,000 and the rest in the range of 4,000 to 6,000.
The geology of the islands is also amazing. We observed clear examples of the development of volcanic islands. Each island was different based upon the age of the island. In many cases, erosion allowed us to see various layers of geologic age.
In the end, this was perhaps one of our most interesting trips. It certainly wasn't relaxing - Jill and I are literally worn out. This trip can't be beat for the wildlife, nature, geology and natural history. Fabulous, wonderful, amazing and without comparison.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
For our final day, we returned to Santa Cruz Island to the largest city in the Galapogas - Puerto Ayora. This is the hub for tourists. The Charles Darwin Research Station and the National Park Service offices are here. A large portion of the 20,000 population is involved in tourism.
In the morning, we visited the Charles Darwin Research Station and observed their efforts to conserve and restore giant tortoise populations. We saw baby tortoises around 6 inches and adult tortoises around 500 lbs. We also saw Lonesome George - the last member of the Pinta Island race of tortoises.
In the afternoon, we took a bus to the highlands to find and observe giant tortoises in the wild. During our hike, we saw perhaps 30 or more tortoises. Hopefully, I got some great pictures.
Unfortunately, this is our last day. Tonight, we pack our bags and, tomorrow, we fly back to Quito, Ecuador. Monday morning we leave for home.
I will ponder how to do a proper final wrap-up for this trip. It has been something truly special.
Friday, December 14, 2007
We began early this morning with a zodiac ride at Puerto Egas on San Salvador Island. Our short ride took us along the coast where we observed fur seals, marine iguanas, sea lions, blue-footed boobies and frigate birds. The rest of the day will likely be restful since we are not taking and afternoon excursion. The low intensity excursion is simply an afternoon at the beach - which is not for us.
After lunch, we listened to one of the naturalists/guides talk about growing up in Galapogas. It was quite interesting to hear how the residents of the islands have been gradually educated to understand ecology and conservation. Right now, Jill is at a presentation by the chef. This afternoon and tonight we have to videos/movies about Galapogas and migration.
It is hard to believe that we are already almost done. We have become so accustomed to longer cruises. Being done in just a week seems like a blink of an eye. But, it has been very busy. We will definitely need to relax after this trip.
Today we visited Isabela and Fernandina Islands. Isabela is by far the largest island. It is composed of five volcanoes - all of which are still considered active. The last eruption was October, 2006. Here we visited Elizabeth Bay by zodiac. We slowly floated through wonderful mangroves to small inlets filled with green sea turtles.
In the afternoon, we visited did a zodiac trip around part of Fernandina Island and visited Punta Espanoza. During the float, we saw sea lions that literally came up to our zodiac, blue-footed boobies, flightless cormorants, and large marine iguanas. Due to the available nutrients, the largest marine iguanas are here - up to four feet long. We also had a glimpse of a spotted sting ray. On Punta Espinoza we saw huge marine iguana colonies - perhaps as many as 100 in each colony.
Tonight was an outdoor bbq.
We started today with a wet landing at Bachas Beach on Santa Cruz for a hike and flamingo search. During the hike our guide told us more about sea turtles. Again, we feel like we are in the middle of a live Discovery Channel show. He showed us the location of many sea turtle nests and we observed the tracks of the mother's path in the sand. In one case, the guide said that the paths were made just this past night and this morning. The paths were so clear that you could easily distinguish the path taken from the ocean up to the nesting area and the separate return path.
We visited two different brackish lagoons. At the first, there were no flamingos. At the second, there were two. We also saw other birds - black necked stilts, white cheeked pintail ducks, and sandpipers. Back at the beach, we watched a couple large great blue herons. We chose not to swim and returned to the ship for lunch and naps.
In the afternoon, we took an hour-plus long zodiac ride to view Bartolome Island. Oh my gosh!!! Right away we saw Galapogas penguins. These are the most northern residing penguins. In total throughout the zodiac ride, we viewed about 20 penguins.
The geology here is quite unique. We observed many volcanic cones which have been exposed by erosion - allowing us to see the central solidified lava flow. We saw cinder cones and small lava tunnels. It was very interesting to be able to see the various levels in the formation of the island.
We then floated out to a small island loaded with blue-footed boobies. It is great fun watching them dive for food. The boobie will soar high in the air scouting the water for food - small fish. Then, the bird will tuck its wings and become like a bullet diving straight into the water. Definitely a high score for diving form and no splash. One after another - splash, splash, splash - we watched as the birds dived - sometimes only a few feet from our zodiac.
In addition, there are schools of some kind of green fish - I didn't get the name of the fish. The schools of the 20 to 24 inch fish number around 50 to 100 each - and we are surrounded by schools of the fish. They are coming to the surface with the mouths open - so I assume they are eating some kind of insect or fly at the water surface.
After watching this for a while, we begin our return ride. Upon entering a small cove where some will climb out to swim or snorkel, our sailor notices a commotion and moves closer. Wow! There is a white-tipped shark half on the beach. Apparently the shark literally throws itself onto the beach in an attempt to grab prey. In this case, we assume the shark had been after a sea lion just beyond its reach. The shark wiggles its body until it gets back into the water. We watch as it swims back and forth - apparently contemplating another attempt. But, it seems to give up and swims away.
This afternoon has been fabulous. Penguins, diving blue-footed boobies, a shark trying to take prey on the beach - wow. We also saw more sea lions, crabs and marine iguanas - but, believe it or not, they have become so commonplace that we hardly notice.
We have been so many places where the goal is to see wildlife but where it takes good eyes and hard work to spot something. Here, the wildlife if literally just sitting there to be seen.
We can't believe that our trip is already half over. But, we have perhaps already seen as much wildlife in a few days as most of our other wildlife trips combined. Can't wait so see what tomorrow will bring. I hear that we may see four-foot long marine iguanas.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Today started early with an 8AM morning excursion. We anchored off Floreana Island and did our first wet landing - meaning that the zodiac simply pulled as close to the beach as possible, everyone climbed out into the shallow water and walked the rest of the way to the dry sand. Floreana is the sixth largest of the islands and is one of the four islands visited by Darwin.
Along the beach we again observed quite a few sea lions - all just ignored us and it was fun to watch a few play in the shallow waters where they would jump, spin and splash.
The naturalist explained more history of the islands and told a little about when he was growing up in the Galapogas in Santa Cruz - a town we will visit later in the trip.
Then we began the hike to a brackish pond where we saw flamingos and white cheeked pintail ducks. While hiking further, we also saw flycatchers, a lava heron and Darwin finches.
The hike was a bit rough. Though mostly sand and small pebbles, it included pretty long stretches of perhaps 30 to 45 degree climbs. We hiked around half a mile to another sandy beach.
At this beach, we saw sea turtles in the water around 15 to 20 feet off shore. We also saw tracks from sea turtles pulling themselves onto shore. This is a sea turtle nesting area but we were not able to observe where eggs had need laid. On black lava rock on the beach, we saw young black and mature red crabs. We also saw a dead spotted sting ray which had not been there long - so we had a chance to see the detail of the body.
The return hike was, again, a challenge for some of us. In total, it was about a one mile hike with considerable inclines. When we returned to the original beach, some took time to swim or snorkel. We climbed into a zodiac and headed back to the ship for naps and lunch.
On our afternoon excursion, we took a zodiac ride back to another site on Floreana and saw quite a few critters - sea lions, sea turtles, and various birds. After maybe 25 or 30 minutes, we did a wet landing on a beach at Baroness Lookout and climbed up a relatively steep incline to a overlook deck to see the panoramic view. Our guide also told us a local story about a supposed baroness and her lovers.
Jill stayed with Brenda and one of the guides in the zodiac - probably good since I'm not sure either could have made the climb. For me, it wasn't too bad since it was more climbing than aerobic. They saw quite a few sea turtles while waiting for us.
After the excursion, we had another typical evening - dinner and a talk about next day excursions. Finally, about 10:45, the ship anchored and put out bright lights to attract wildlife. In the dark by the bright lights, we saw pelicans, sharks, sea lions, jelly fish and loads of small fish.
That's all for today.
Monday, December 10, 2007
Today started early with a visit to Kicker's Boot - a rock island so named because it looks like a boot. This was, apparently, one of the first islands seen by Darwin since it is southeast. Zodiac's went out at 7AM - hah, not us. We sat on our balconies in our robes as the captain circled what is basically a really big rock. Talking to others who took the Zodiac ride, they didn't see anything we hadn't seen already.
Then, breakfast. Typical breakfast buffet foods. With the very small group, we aren't as worried about the buffet spread of germs as on a 2,000+ passenger ship. All meals are in the one small dining room with open seating.
Then, we visited San Cristobal. The town has a population of about 5,000 and is the governmental seat of the Galapogas. Here we visited a museum about the history of the islands. After the museum, we visited the town for souvenir shopping - all five blocks of it. Back to the ship for lunch and a nap - finally.
About 3PM we attended a lecture re the geological history of the Galapogas. We learned how the islands were formed. The trip leans heavily on learning about, seeing and respecting the wildlife and natural history of the islands.
At 4:15, we headed to Espanola. This island has no human population. But...there sure is wildlife. We came foot to foot, eyeball to eyeball with marine iguanas, lava lizards, sea lions, blue footed boobies, a Galapogas hawk, Galapogas doves, and Galapogas mockingbirds. We saw a few waved albatross and frigate birds from a distance.
It continues to amaze is that we are literally within feet, and sometimes inches, from the wildlife and they simply don't move or even pay attention to us. Without any question, this is the ultimate paradise for those wanting to see wildlife closeup.
Not much for tonight except dinner, hearing the talk about tomorrow's excursions and relaxing. From the schedule, it looks like we may have a chance for two excursions tomorrow. If this is what we can expect every day, we will really need every chance to rest and relax.
That's all for now.
The Celebrity Xpedition is small - only about 92 passengers and around 60 crew. We were introduced to 7 naturalists who will lead our excursions. Most cabins are small - about 160 sf and no balcony. We visited our travel agent's cabin and it is tiny. We chose to take the penthouse suite and it is much more comfortable. We have two single beds - side by side, two bathrooms - of course, I took the small one, a seating area with two love-seats and a full balcony.
It doesn't take long to learn the ship. There is the one restaurant, the one lounge/bar, the one outdoor "grill" serving burgers & hot dogs, a small top deck with one got tub (no pool), some exercise equipment and seating. The attraction here is definitely not the ship or the ship activities. There are 13 primary islands and we will visit 10.
North Seymour Island is less than one sq mile. But, it was jam-packed with wildlife. Just think, this is only the beginning!!
Today, we made the trip from Quito to Baltra in Galapogas. The islands are actually quite a ways off Ecuador - a 2-hour flight or about 600 miles.
When we were landing, I first noticed just how dry this island is. Very much a desert. The two landing strips on Baltra were originally built during WWII by the US Air Force who maintained a base here.
After a very short bus ride, we literally climbed on a Zodiac - an inflatable, roughly 16-passenger raft for the short ride to the Celebrity Xpedition. Basically, the Zodiac pulls up to the back of our cruise ship and we carefully climb onto the ship. This will be our method of transport to and from the various islands this week.
Checking in, receiving a short orientation and getting to our cabin was the quickest we have ever experienced. And, we quickly learn that they intend to get is immersed in the Galapogas experience almost immediately.
After lunch, we learn that we will already be having an excursion this afternoon. The cruise director - who is a naturalist - explains our excursion choices. All excursions are included in the package - so all we do is select between easy, medium and challenging. We pick medium.
So...lickety-split we are back on the Zodiac. Our excursion begins with a short float along the coast of North Seymour Island. Our guide/naturalist Ivan explains that it is call Seymour because we will "see more" than we expected. Sure enough we are almost immediately seeing loads of sea lions (in fact, a beach covered with them) and various birds. After the short float, we landed on the island - by landed I mean that the Zodiac kinda pulled up to a group of rocks and we carefully climbed out.
Once on the island, we were literally visually assaulted by an abundance of wildlife. During the float and hour-long hike, we saw hundreds of sea lions, frigate birds, marine iguanas, lava lizards, lava gulls, blue-footed boobies, an American oyster catcher, a fur seal, and a giant manta ray. We are stunned by how close we get. Many of the animals/birds are literally just a few feet away - and, I mean around 2, 4 and 6 feet away.
As we walked toward what I think was the west side of the island, we begin to see huge waves pounding into the island. As the waves curl into a tube, the throw off spray that looks like white ghosts riding the top of the waves. The waves seem to be at least 15 to 20 feet high but I have nothing to guage their size. To us they appear huge - and they must be because even Ivan seems pretty impressed.
Besides the sheer abundance of wildlife, there are individual amazing experiences along the way. The wave that flew into our raft and took Jill about a foot off her seat. Countless baby sea lions nursing on mom. Blue-footed boonies doing this rather bizarre mating dance. Male great frigate birds inflating the bright red pouch under his throat to attract females. Frigate birds soaring just a few feet overhead with a wingspan around 5 to 6 feet. Large bull sea lions barking loadly to warn if someone is too close. Literally hundreds of bright orange Sally Lightfoot crabs sunning themselves on rocks.
Since there are no large land predators, none of the wildlife seems to have any fear. After all our wildlife sightseeing throughout the world, we are amazed at what we are seeing. And, this is just the first 2-hour excursion on the first day of the trip. At first, we couldn't imagine how quickly they were pushing us through our boarding and checkin. But, after this first experience, it is obvious that there is so much to see. Tonight, they have already outlined our choices for tomorrow and we have, once again, chosen the medium option. It appears that we will end each day worn out from our excursions and that it is unlikely that we will miss the typical evening hoopla and entertainment of the big ships. Here, the entertainment is all-natural and only in front of us to see.
Saturday, December 8, 2007
Well...today was quite a day in Ecuador and I am lucky to be able to write this update. But...more about that later.
Our travel to Ecuador was pretty uneventful. It had snowed the night before our departure - but, Pat was able to get is picked up and delivered to the airport OK. Our flight boarded and departed pretty close to on-time despite the weather.
We had a four hour layover in Houston - but, that wasn't too bad since we were able to use the Continental's President's Club. Jill didn't feel well right after our Houston landing - but, was mostly better by the time we were scheduled to fly again. Not sure if it was something she ate or the rough ride landing since we were on a kinda small plane. She seems to be OK now.
The flight to Ecuador was a little over five hours and we landed about 10:24PM. Finally got to the hotel about 11:30-ish. Went right to bed after cleaning up a little.
Our morning today started with a nice buffet breakfast in the JW Marriott - not bad. Brenda was able to arrange for our entire Indy group to be on one bus for the day. We began our tour of Quito.
Quito is a very high city - about a mile and a half. Denver is only one mile. Therefore, the air is thin. It is a long city between mountains/volcanoes - about 24 km long and 6 to 12 km wide. Much of the building construction is similar to what you would see in Mexico. There are some newer, substantial construction building - like the Marriott - but most is two and three level simple wood construction. When we got to the Old Towne area, it was very similar to the Baroque architecture of Barcelona. Lots and lots of churches, museums, plazas, govt buildings.
Our troubles started about 10AM at a gallery. We were looking at paintings when four boys surrounded me - like the boys in Mexico selling chicklets. Poking and constantly asking me to buy. Suddenly, I heard the click of the magnet on my blackberry case. I immediately knew someone had stolen my BB and felt down to confirm it was gone. I stepped back and yelled that they had stolen my phone - over and over loudly. The four boys were still right by me. Two were only about 5 or 6 and two were about 8 or 9. So...there was never any real danger - just a pain in the butt.
Right away security guards were by me. The boys tried to walk out of the museum area - but we caught them with security guard help. City police showed up and began to check the four boys for the phone. After lots of back and forth between the boys, the security guards, the city police and our tour guide, I even offered the boys money to just return the BB - no luck. Our guide, Alejandra, stuck by me the whole time and pushed the boys to return the phone.
Finally, the Ecuador National Police showed up. And...they clearly meant business. They made it very clear that this type of treatment of tourists was unacceptable. They took the entire group to a small maybe 10 X 10 room - this included the four boys, me, security guards, city police, our tour guide, and our travel agent who speaks Spanish. The national policeman really started grilling the boys.
Then...another man entered the room. Turns out he was a local who had also just had his cell phone stolen. Now the national policeman really got hot. After, the boys kept denying everything, the national policeman finally had the security guards and city policemen start taking everything from the kids and started taking off the sweatshirts, shirts, etc. Rather than a simple pat-down, they were now going through everything in detail - not quite but close to a strip search. The national police were obviously determined to solve this.
First, they found the local guy's cell phone - he was really mad. Then, they found my BB on one of the younger boys. Through the travel agent, I learned that the boys were being told that they cannot put up with against tourists to their country. Selling chicklets, small paintings, etc - OK. Stealing - absolutely not OK in their country. The boys were going to be sent to a kind of reform school where they will take classes and learn how to behave.
Later in the day, Alejandra told us that she learned from others milling around during the commotion that the boys parents are in prison for the same kind of thing. She also said that it was good that I stuck with it and was so persistent. She said that, unfortunately, few tourists would have yelled and remained firm the way I did. Everyone agreed that nobody really thought that I would ever see the BB again.
Anyway, after the fuss, we continued our tour. We visited another very beautiful church/monastary. The inside really reminded me of churches we had seen in Barcelona. Filled with beautiful wood carvings.
Then, they fed us lunch and, finally, took us to a sort of museum for the equator. There was the expected place to take a picture with one foot in the north hemisphere and one in the south hemisphere. A funny comment, though, that our guide told us - with new GPS technology, they have determined that the equator is really slightly north - about 10 minutes which is apparently maybe 100 yards or so. Actually, they were pretty close considering that they did the original calculation in the 1700's.
After returning to the hotel, where we took a short nap, we re-gathered and went to dinner as a group. Both the lunch and dinner were so-so. During dinner, there was a singer who provided nice background music - when he wasn't singing opera.
And so, that's it. We are back at the hotel. Tomorrow we travel to Galapogas. Sounds like a bit of a long day. Luggage outside our room by 8AM - breakfast - flight check-in at the hotel - bus to airport - 2 hour flight to Galapogas - bus to the dock - zodiac to the ship. It sounds like we will be settled by mid-afternoon into our cabin.
We don't know yet whether we will have cell/data service in the islands. If not, I will do updates and just send them when we have service.
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
The peripheral neuropathy in my feet continues; but, he still thinks it will go away. I found out this past weekend that cold has a severe negative effect on my feet. Did some outdoor chores and it was quite cold. What a mistake!!
Anyway, got my Avastin infusion today and all seems to continue OK. We talked about after the first year. He said that there are 3rd, 4th, and even 5th choices for other non-chemo treatments. Apparently, this is the area where there is the most current research and development of new potential treatments.
He also said that, if we get at least a year remission from the chemo, it might make sense to go back to it. Apparently, the next possible round of chemo would be expect to bring a reduced time for remission; but, given that it has worked, it would be worth trying again. It is kind of a wait & see situation.
We leave Friday for Ecuador and Sunday we fly to the Galapogas Islands. This should be a very interesting trip.