Galapagone

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‘Adoring Ecuador — in spite of spooky caiman, scary towers and claustrophobic lava tubes.’

Yes, we made it. To the Amazonian jungle, the Andean peaks and the Galapagos Islands. There was plenty of excitement, though perhaps the most hair-raising bit was American Airlines cancelling our 6AM flight at midnight the night before.

That’s our lodge in the distance. Yes, it’s accessible only by water

We spent the first ten days in a remote lodge in the middle of the jungle, where swimming was allowed only in a caged area since there were caiman and piranha and sea otters roaming the waters. (Tempted to swim? I was most decidedly not.)

Lucy, the caiman who lives under the breakfast pavilion at Sacha Lodge

Though I did indulge in some tower climbing. For those unfamiliar with jungle birding (which may be most of you), towers and walkways suspended high above the jungle are pretty much a necessary evil, since the canopy is where the cool birds hang out. And with some tree heights well over 100 feet, there’s really no way to see, say, a paradise tanager without taking the plunge (hah) and hightailing it up a tower.

Me, after shimmying up one of the two canopy towers

There were seven of us participating on this jungle adventure, five of whom went on to the Galapagos. After more than a week of muddy-trail-and-scary-tower togetherness, we’d formed a pretty tight bond. I’ve often said that these birding trips are like jury duty. You show up when and where you’re told; you eat together, talk together, pay attention to authority figures. And the Galapagos trip was almost literally like a jury since there were 13 of us (12 jurors and an alternate).

Our Galapagos Group. There was no one who was The One. Unless it was me, of course

Usually on these trips there is a participant who is The One. He/she is maybe a little too loud or too whiny or who has some other personality trait that’s, well, annoying. Like, there was a woman on a Panama trip who insisted on being called “Raven,” though she had a perfectly good normal name (Rebecca, I think it was.) I responded to this request by “mistakenly” referring to her as Sparrow.

No sparrows, but plenty of iguana. So many that you had to be careful where you stepped

And then there was the famous instance of the vegan on the East Africa Tour. In those days it was pretty tough to provide for a vegan in the wilds of Africa while traveling from lodge to lodge every day. Every time we unpacked our tasty lunches, we’d look to see what nasty surprise Jodi would find in her box labelled “Vegan” (or sometimes just “V”). The funniest was the day she found her box filled with a hand of bananas — and nothing else. Well, nothing else but the giant tarantula nestled inside. And then, on our last night together, Jodi, like the rest of us, ordered a pizza. “You’re having pizza?” inquired our baffled guide Terry. “I thought you were vegan.” “Oh, I was just trying out being a vegan on this trip, just to see if I liked it.” she replied, as Terry’s face grew red and his head spun around on his neck.

Decidedly non-vegan lunch on board the Nemo III, our floating Galapagos home

We had a vegan on this tour too. But he was very nice. And got to eat a lot of avocados.

Dude Man makes a couple of new Galapagan friends. I don’t think they’re vegan either

Suffice it to say that the Galapagos Islands themselves lived up to all the Bucket List hype. I will have more than enough material for several more blog posts. (Oh, and remind me to tell you all about when we almost drove off a cliff up in the Andes.) But before I sign off today, let me tell you about the Lava Tube.

The Galapagos. We got to visit ten of the islands. Only three of them had any people living there

This is pretty self-explanatory. The Galapagos being volcanic in nature, there are lots of big ole “tubes” where lava once flowed. We had just finished a rather lovely lunch (no hands of bananas with clinging tarantulas) at the tortoise preserve when Willy, our guide, suggested a post-prandial stroll — through a nearby Lava Tube. “How long is it?” someone asked. “About two football fields. Silence. Asked for a show of hands, only Dude Man raised his. Then one other guy raised his. It was only after one other woman raised her hand that I figured “what the hell,” and raised mine too.

Another new Dude Man buddy

Our intrepid little band set out. There were many steep stairs to the entrance, but the beginning wasn’t too bad. There was even lighting. But, as we forged on, the tube got narrower — and shorter. Until, at one point, we had to sort of “limbo” our way under a rock outcropping. Here I was, scrunched up under a ten-foot span of cooled-off lava that was 3 feet from floor to ceiling. Literally a once in a lifetime experience.

Trying not to think about Tom Sawyer while in the Lava Tube

Whew. More adventures next week. Now I really need to get back to Barbara Pym. 

Thinking longingly about English villages and vicars

Amagansett, New York. August 2022

 

I was positive I was negative

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‘But my Covid test said, “Not so fast.”‘

Was it the hairpin turns at 13,000 feet? The overturned tractor-trailer along the road to Buga? Or the super-sized snake being mobbed by birds?

Perhaps I should have appealed to Mary instead of taking her picture. (Note snake with an apple in its mouth at her feet not being mobbed by birds)

Nope. The scariest part of our trip to Colombia was when I got the results of my Covid test:

See, a negative Covid test is one of the many requirements to regain entry to the United States if you have been anywhere outside its borders, not just Colombia. And, yup. This triple-vaccinated person — along with two more of our group — tested positive. Continue reading

Social distancing, the Borneo Way

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‘Forget masks and Purell; just crack open a Durian’

A couple of weeks and a lifetime ago, we were birding our way along a highway (and I do mean “high”) up in the mountains of Borneo when a ramshackle car sputtered to a halt on a steep stretch of roadway right alongside us.

Another roadside attraction. Nope, The Dude isn’t looking at that gorgeous mountain. There’s a bird over yonder somewhere

Our guide sauntered over to see what was what and reported back that the driver was on his way to the City (in this case, Kota Kinabalu) with a load of fruit to sell. He and his load couldn’t make it up the incline, so he pulled over for a smoke.

That’s Mt. Kinabalu, at sunset of the day we survived the durian episode

Now, we’re in Borneo, remember, so by “load of fruit” I don’t mean a whole batch of apples or pears. Not even pineapples or bananas. Nope, these “fruits” were completely unrecognizable. Our guide Hamit (a name I committed to memory by using the mnemonic “hah! meat!”, because what passed for meat in Borneo was pretty darned amusing) — well, Hamit thought it was pretty darned amusing to offer us tastes of some of these fruits and then watch our faces.

That’s Hamit on the right. I not only forgot the guy on the left’s name, but also his mnemonic. He was our driver, and he didn’t make us eat any fruit

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The Gate Nazi at JFK

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’Forced Bag Check. Even worse, forced Caroling’

I didn’t take a picture of the Gate Nazi (I was way too intimidated to try), though in retrospect I probably should have. Instead I am showing you a picture of where we went so you can see that the bullying we experienced at the very start of our Amazonian Adventure was worth it.

The scene at the top of this post is of a river trip taken on the afternoon of the first day we arrived in Brazil — yes, less than 24 hours after stepping on a plane in New York, we were seated on a small boat on a small tributary of a medium tributary of a larger tributary of the mighty Amazon River. The miracles of air travel are definitely worth every agonizing moment along the way. Even the agonizing moment I’m about to tell you.

Another small-boat moment. Crossing the Amazon, where the White Water meets the Black. Called, natch, “The Meeting of the Waters”

We were nice and early at our gate, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and eager to start. We had planned to carry our duffels and backpacks on board, in fear of losing our gear. (Clothes don’t matter on these trips; it’s all about the gear. I found this out the hard way on our first trip, to Kenya. I came down to dinner in a cute little sundress, much to the amusement of our birding cohort.)

The Dude and our current birding cohort confer with our guide

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French Lick, the WaWa Goose, and the Oregon Trail

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‘Summer vacations, Midcentury Midwestern Style’

The Child is on Day 18 of her solo hike of the John Muir Trail. The JM is a 200-mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs from Canada to Mexico. Her Childness started in Yosemite National Park a couple of weeks ago and will finish in three or four more days at Mt. Whitney.

Here she was on Day 13. Well, here is where the satellite said she was, anyway

We’re not too panicky, since we can track her via GPS. And sometimes, when she has cell service, she calls or texts. She even Facetimed us from the top of Half Dome.

The Child Instagrams from Half Dome, where there were still a few people. Unless those are bears in disguise

Now, I’m glad (sort of) that she’s doing this. But I must say that this kind of trip is certainly not my cup of tea. The blisters and bears and dehydrated food and being alone for hours at a time wouldn’t bother me so much. (In fact, I rather like being alone.)

Nope. It’s the sleeping outside part that’s the deal-breaker for me. Let me explain.

The Child’s home away from home. A veritable trailside Hilton

See, when I was a kid, when we took a family vacation, we drove. We didn’t know anybody who took planes. For one thing, back in those days taking a plane with a family with at least three kids (and ultimately five) was way too pricey. At least for families like mine.

Trains were on the expensive side too, though I remember taking one once from Memphis to Chicago. That was the trip where Middle Brother Roger (who was the youngest at the time) sat on a fancy lady’s lap and asked her why she had a string of dead squirrels around her neck. (It was, in fact, a mink stole, and she didn’t even get mad, he was so adorable.)

Surly Teen Me, with Laura and Roger, on a rare trip that (I think) did not involve sleeping outside. We went, for some reason, to French Lick, Indiana, and stayed in an old resort at the hot springs. (Oldest Younger Brother Scott snapped the photo)

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The time we left The Child by the side of the road

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‘The terrors of taking a toddler on a trip in a car’

Last week I wrote about the dangers one encounters on a trip to the Tropics. This week I got to thinking about another trip we took — Out West, this was, years ago when The Child was about two — and those Bullet Ants started sounding downright cuddly. Because there’s nothing quite as dangerous as a Toddler Tantrum on a road trip.

Notice that I don’t say “The time we almost left The Child by the side of the road.” Nope. We honest to goodness left her. Not for very long, and no, there wasn’t anyone else around, but still. If we did this today, we’d no doubt get into some deep doodoo — like that hapless New York Times reporter who left her screaming spawn in the car while she ran into a 7Eleven.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Yes, still Before Road Trip, we hang out with The Dude’s Aunt Elsa, who had the Toddler Touch, even on a trip to the children’s zoo

It all started when we flew out to Arizona for one of The Dude’s Doctor Meetings. (You can read about another childlike meltdown on another of these Doctor Meetings in “Let me go; I want my mommy!”  Why, oh why, did we do this kind of thing — and more than once?) Continue reading

Gorilla My Dreams

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‘The Silverback makes my previous Ape Alpha Male look like Chimp Change’

You may recall my relatively-recent story about that Playboy Monkey the Alpha Male Chimp. (It’s called ‘Monkey See, Monkey Do’.) Mr. Alpha was one fascinating fellow; he postured, he posed, and he made satisfyingly movie-sound-track-like crazy chimp sounds as he ran around slapping tree trunks to show off his chimp cojones.

One of our merry Birding and Chimp-Tracking band made a little movie on his iPhone and was just about to play it back when the leader of our Primate Patrol cautioned him against doing so. The crazy chimp squeals on the soundtrack would cause Said Alpha to attack us. Oh.

But intimidating as he was, Mr. Head Chimp was an organ-grinder’s sidekick compared to the Silverback. Who is Head Dude of the gorillas, and well, a whole different animal. (The ‘gorilla’ featured in the picture at the top of this post is about as real as a unicorn. Though we did get to see Real Gorillas. And we were much much closer to them than we were to that silly gorilla statue.)

No, we weren’t camping. Nor were we in ‘executive budget rooms’. But we did find us some gorillas

This get-to-know gorillas experience occurred when we were in the Buhoma area of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda. Our tour company, the inestimable Field Guides, had warned us that the Mountain Gorillas were hard to find, even though they were “habituated”. Which meant that they were (sort of) used to people. We could spend an hour with a gorilla troupe, provided we could find one, and, um, provided with suitable protection.

No, she is not a guerrilla leader — she was our gorilla leader. And yes that is a machete she’s holding

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Slip slidin’ away

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‘On — and off — the many wet roads of Uganda.’

I wish I had a nickel for every time my mother told me that I “wasn’t made of sugar, so I wouldn’t melt.” Maybe I’d have enough money by now for new rain gear.

Because ours sure got a workout on our African Adventure. In fact, we’re home now and I’m still reminded of how wet it was. My boots are gunky, my clothes are moldy-funky. My socks? Let’s not speak of my socks. You can probably smell them from wherever you are. And it wasn’t even the Rainy Season.

These boots, freshly-applied with waterproofing goop, are made for stompin’. Through mud and puddles and unspeakable gunk

But back to that “not made of sugar” deal. If that’s the case, then why did I attract so many ants? Tiny, nasty little bitey ants. The kind that swarm all over you if you’re not super-careful — and if you’re on a hiking trail where you can’t see the little buggers. (Not like in this video, where they’re on a road in plain, avoidable, sight.) Continue reading

One from Column ‘A’

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‘Alice’s Adventures in Astoria. Free Schmeeg lesson included’

No, I didn’t climb the Column. Nor did I hike up the Head. (I have done both — the Column climbing and the Head hiking — but being deathly afraid of heights, believe me, once was enough.)

But the Peeps who tagged along on my recent Visit to Mom and Sis were more than game, so up they went, a-climbing and a-hiking. (The pic at the top of this post shows said Peeps peeping over the top of the Column. Which is in Astoria, Oregon. In case you’re craving column background, you can read all about it here. )

Me. Not climbing the Column (seen looming in background)

My Head. Next to the Tillamook One. (Which I am most def not hiking)

View from the top of Said Head. (Photo not taken by me)

Turns out that abstaining from heights can have its dangers too. I was pooped on by a seagull while not hiking the Head. I swore the darned thing laughed at me afterward but The Dude says there are no Laughing Gulls in the Northwest, so I guess it was my imagination. Though the icky white streak on my track pants was definitely real. Good thing I learned from previous Birding Adventures to always carry Kleenex in my pants pocket. Continue reading

“I see by your outfit that you are a birder”

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‘On the Streets of Laredo, way back when — and now’

Nobody goes to Laredo,” says my Texan Friend. Well, call me ‘Nobody’ then, because I’ve not only been to Laredo, I’ve been there twice.

This most recent time shouldn’t really count, since The Dude and I were there not even a whole day, Laredo being merely the ‘end point’ of our birding adventure to the Rio Grande Valley, tales of which I will regale you with another time. Or not. But count it I will, since we did in fact “go walking on the streets of Laredo”, to quote the Immortal Johnny Cash.

We didn’t spy any “young cowboys all dressed in white linen”. Or any cowboys at all. Well, except for these hombres:

The only cowboys we spied. And they were hanging out at the airport, not walking on the streets like any self-respecting Laredo cowboy

No, the time I spent in Laredo that really counts is the time I went there as part of a trip made with my Gramma and Grampa Peterson and my Aunt Marilyn. Continue reading