Ryan's Journal

"My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?" — David Mitchell

Pretty Pictures

Posted from Culver City, California at 8:20 pm, May 24th, 2006

The Galapagos photos are online now, which means that I no longer have any excuse for not looking for work:

There are at least a couple of photos that aren’t painful to look at, which I credit to having a really, really big lens. As Aaron says, nostril shots are the way to go.

Great Frigate Bird on Genovesa Island

Great Frigate Bird on Genovesa Island.

Muy Guapo

Posted from Quito, Ecuador at 10:00 pm, May 19th, 2006

Day the last. After waking up to find that the hotel was (surprisingly) offering running water to all guests, we cleaned up and discovered that Gregorio had stopped by for breakfast, so our last day on the islands was hosted by our fearless and bearded tour leader. Audrey and I had to leave the table early to make an excursion into the depths of the Darwin Research Station in search of a t-shirt exchange. Despite our efforts and exertions we were not to find any satisfaction. An hour later the taxi across the island ($15, muy rapido) took us through the finch killing fields and back to the other side of the island where we caught the ferry, followed by the bus, followed by the plane, followed by the other bus, and arrived at our hotel in Quito. The plane ride was made more entertaining by the presence of three of the four horsemen of the Apocolypse: the puker, the tiny screamer (and hair puller), and most noticeably, the egg farter.

The trip’s final dinner was at La Ronda (which is Spanish for “the restaurant with the marriachi band and the guy with the saxophone where they serve decent food and tasty vino”) where we had a nice dinner with Travis, Roberta and the Canadians. Our wakeup for the morning is at the magic hour of four, with a pickup to the airport at 4:15. In the morning. Before the sunrise. Before anything at all happens, actually. The plane ride home promises to be a sleepy one, but after the amazing trip, and with mamosas to help us along, it’s a small burden to bear.

Tidal Waves and Gasoline

Posted from Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos Islands at 4:30 pm, May 18th, 2006

Day thirteen. After waking and finding the hotel again without water we headed out to breakfast, during which time one of the hotel staff asked “Did you want us to turn the water back on for you?” Not being one who would ever want to flush the toilet, shower, or wash my hands in the morning I simply responded that I had to be somewhere and not to worry about it. Our last day of scuba saw just Audrey, Roberta, Travis and I diving at Cousins. The seas were calm on the way over, and after an hour and fifteen minute boat ride over to Santiago Island we jumped into the water with Javier, our guide from yesterday, and a new guide, dubbed “El Ganga”. Immediately after getting in the water we found ourselves in the midst of a school of tens of thousands of black salema. People were diving through them, forming tunnels of fish so thick that the light disappeared and made it almost impossible to find other divers. It took a few minutes to swim out of the school, and we then dove along the weird lava cliffs of the rock to see seahorses, fish, rays, and several sea lions who would hover upside down staring in people’s masks. A really great dive site that everyone enjoyed. The second dive was in the same location, and we enjoyed more of the same despite a surprising drop in water temperature.

After finishing the dives and dealing with Jonathan, our holey-underwear-clad-backpacker-scuba friend from Wales, we started for home, but rough seas were conspiring to slow us down. Captain Insane-O didn’t believe in delays, however, and for the next hour we were bounced mercilessly across the waves. At one point the smell of smoke and gas became overpowering, and thinking that the combination of flame, gasoline, and compressed oxygen might be a problem we asked the captain to investigate. We did slow down, but the boat never actually came to a stop while the solution (an almost imperceptible increase in ventillation) was implemented. Audrey and I came up with our own solution, which was to breathe through snorkels stuck through the boat’s canvas walls. Luckily despite the fact that we were measuring the distance to the nearest islands in the case of a shipwreck we made it home alive.

Also, some memorable trip quotes:

  • “Hammerheads, hammerheads, here we come. Hammerheads, hammerheads, have some fun.”
  • “Scott, at what point during the race did you engage the man boobs?”
  • “I’M DELICATE!” (Joanna, during a vicious wetsuit disembarkation)
  • “Why are we going into open ocean in rough seas with almost no visibility? Well, that’s ’cause we’re crazy.”
  • “Sca-las-ia, sca-las-ia, you are blah blah blah endemic (yo).”
  • “Hey, are you guys listening to me?”
  • “Did he just say ‘anal kiss’?”
  • “Well, the stirrups came loose, and then the horse started to trot, and that seems to have been when the blunt testicular trauma occurred.”
  • “Oh, this is so dangerous.”
  • “So I jumped out of the shower, opened my door, and Aaron was standing there doing some weird butt dance…”
  • “Hey Greg, who would win if a hammerhead fought a beach master?”

Lateness in the Eveningness

Posted from Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos Islands at 9:30 pm, May 17th, 2006

Day twelve. Diving in the Galapagos was a bit of a letdown on the last trip only because the snorkeling was so great, and the same seems to be holding true on this trip – our dive at North Seymour Island actually started out yesterday in the dive shop when we all tried on our equipment. The first wetsuit that was suggested for me was almost loose enough that I could bend my elbows, but the fact that I couldn’t lower my arms was agreed upon by everyone present to be a potential hindrance. The second wetsuit provided a nearly partial range of motion while only slightly cutting off circulation to less-used parts of the body (such as arms and legs) so that one was a winner. We returned to the dive shop today at 7:00 AM, climbed into trucks that took us across the island at nearly double the posted 70 km/hr speed limit, and then boarded a boat that required people to constantly change seats in order to prevent capsizing. The dive site was choppy, although the two dives weren’t bad – we started out with a field of sea snakes and ended with a school of six foot long white-tipped reef sharks circling only a few feet away. The interlude between dives provided an opportunity to partake of some fine tupperware cuisine, which one member of the dive party promptly returned to the ocean; luckily the captain was available to aid the seasick by politely dousing her with jugs of water while she puked; the phrase “Please just hold my hair back” is apparently not one that non-English speakers are familiar with.

After returning to town and navigating Puerto Ayora’s water taxi system I failed miserably in my attempts to resolve Greg and Thalia’s email problems, and later met a group to have dinner in the Highlands. Oswaldo met us at the taxi, led us into the restaurant (which we had completely to ourselves) and for the next three hours we dined on crepes, fish, cake, coffee and drinks that would cause lesser men to go blind, all for $16 per person. Audrey is reminding me that there was also a pool visit prior to dinner, and while I didn’t witness it stories are circulating about an old man, laps around a pool, and unfortunate collisions with Caitlin’s crotch. Tomorrow is the last full day in the islands, after which this trip sadly begins its end.

The Day Everyone Went Away

Posted from Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos Islands at 9:30 pm, May 16th, 2006

Day eleven, or the day that half of the group was brutally ripped away from me. After a blissfully calm evening we awoke to what was either the calm and soothing sounds of acoustic guitar or else a nightmare of muzak, depending on who was asked. Heading out on deck, a group of us stood on the bow with coffee in hand while we circumnavigated Daphne Major and Greg told of us of how the Grants carried out their study of finches on the island. Things got considerably livelier once we anchored in Baltra and three large Galapagos sharks appeared and circled the boat for almost an hour. Unofficially Enrique may have baited a rope with some old fish to lure the sharks in closer, while Aaron tried to bring them in closer using a broom and a water pistol (I would pay so much money to know what he was thinking) but neither myself nor anyone else aboard would know anything about that.

The scene at the airport was a bit traumatic as it finally dawned on me that half of my friends were leaving. JB made things interesting by sneaking out onto the tarmac to look at the planes and was later escorted back by security, but otherwise it was a fairly uneventful departure. The remaining nine of us arrived in town, ate a quick lunch, and then immediately fell asleep before reconvening for drinks in the evening. Julie leaves tomorrow, so that’s one more goodbye, while the rest of us have a couple of days of scuba still to look forward to.

Greg is Almost Free of Us

Posted from North Seymour Island, Galapagos Islands at 8:15 pm, May 15th, 2006

Day ten. The last full day of the trip, and after a week and a half of dealing with us, going full bore at all hours, and trying to corral Aaron and Scott, Greg may be glad to be near the end; the rest of us definitely feel otherwise. Today we started out at Rabida Island on a red sand beach with brown pelicans, then moved on to two snorkels with sharks, an octopus, and tons of other critters whose names I’m incapable of remembering. A three hour motor to North Seymour island was interrupted by the ship’s horn, and when we emerged from lunch to see what was going on two blue whales surfaced off the bow. I’ve always wanted to see one, so when Greg mentioned that there wasn’t time today for whalewatching I quickly made it clear that anything in the schedule could be dropped if it meant more time with whales. It was an easy negotiation, and we got thirty minutes with the giant beasts in exchange for only a kayak on North Seymour; my bargaining skills rule.

When we did finally arrive on North Seymour we jumped in the water for a snorkel – Greg began it with a rare admission: “Why are we going into open ocean in rough seas with almost no visibility? Well, that’s ’cause we’re crazy.” It wasn’t a highlight snorkel (remember, we saw a whale shark and manta ray earlier on the trip) but wasn’t too bad. The last landing of the trip was on North Seymour to see the blue-footed boobies and frigate birds. About halfway through the walk Greg decided not to give any further nature information and just let us enjoy the animals, and the last hour on land was pretty nice. Dinner was a surprise with lobster tails being served, and Elvis finally cracked a smile when he brought out a five pound mallet to help Aaron chisel through some stubborn desert pastry. I’m writing this as everyone is gathered in the lounge; it’s gonna be sad to see everyone head home in the morning.

Blue-Footed Boobie on North Seymour Island

Blue-Footed Boobie on North Seymour Island.

Hammerheads, Hammerheads, Here We Go

Posted from Genovesa Island, Galapagos Islands at 8:15 pm, May 14th, 2006

Day nine, which was the day that Scott engaged his man boobs and left us in his wake during the kayak race. We arrived a bit later to Genovesa Island than planned due to rough seas, but luckily didn’t miss any activities. The frigate birds had their pouches inflated and were making their Pac-Man-like mating calls when we landed, and the red-footed boobies were nesting in the trees along the trail. The birds here are particularly fearless, including one frigate bird which flew in and then began exploring Audrey’s head for nesting materials. The snorkel that followed was a long one, and while the hammerheads disappointed JB stepped up to the plate and swam halfway around the island.

Following lunch and a short siesta the much built-up kayak race took off, and after ten minutes of fierce paddling Scott and Gene pulled off the upset by touching the anchor chain three seconds in front of Aaron and I. My arms were shaking for two hours afterwards, and while I didn’t empty my stomach again there were a few tense moments. Aaron fumed over the loss and refused to come ashore, and had to read several chapters from Bruce Lee’s Guide to Daily Living to try to calm his rage; the boy doesn’t like to lose.

The last landing of the day was to enjoy another colony of the island’s birds, including a newly-arrived group of waved albatrosses. The albatross had never been recorded nesting on this island, but given a tip from a morning group we found two eggs, meaning that a new colony may be forming. The owls were more elusive, and despite the offer of a bottle of wine for the first sighting they remained hidden. The entire landing lasted for about three hours, after which we came back to the boat for yet another adventure – everyone donned their wetsuit yet again for a night snorkel. With Aaron and Scott repeatedly reminding us of what a good idea it was to jump into shark-infested water in the dark we saw a turtle, some rays, and two moray eels amongst many creatures captured by our lights. The seas are rough again for tonight’s voyage to Rabida Island and the last full day of the trip.

Great Frigate Bird on Genovesa Island

Great Frigate Bird on Genovesa Island.

In the Big City

Posted from Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos Islands at 9:20 pm, May 13th, 2006

Day eight. Santa Cruz Island is the most heavily populated of the Galapagos Islands with 15,000 residents, but we came for geology, birds and tortoises. A bus met us at the north side of the island at 7:00 AM and we headed up to the Highlands to see the huge volcanic craters named Los Gemelos and to look for the vermillion flycatcher. The flycatcher showed up, but it was far enough away that Aaron can still torment me about how great his photo from the last trip is. Following the craters we headed off to look for giant tortoises, and several of the beasties accommodated us, included a pair who were getting hot and heavy – Scott is a master of weird talents, and impersonating the sounds of a giant tortoise having sex sadly is one of those talents that we may be hearing for years to come.

Following the tortoises we did a quick hike through a one kilometer long lava tube, include a belly crawl at the end, before eating lunch at an amazing restaurant. Greg’s family joined us, and a group shot of firewater completed the meal. The final group event of the day was a trip to the Darwin Research Station, followed by free time in town. Eleven of us returned to town for dinner, and despite being given views of the restaurant from a couple of different tables and then being treated to plenty of time to exercise our arms waving for the waittress we managed a fun evening. Tomorrow is a 5:30 AM wakeup with almost non-stop activity, so we’re all heading to bed before what promises to be a rough crossing to Genevosa (Tower) Island.

The One With the Boobies

Posted from Santiago Island, Galapagos Islands at 6:20 pm, May 12th, 2006

Day seven. Santiago Island is home to a volcanic beach that’s great for fur seals and tide pools, so we started the morning with a walk on the lava before taking on four members of the crew in a quick soccer game. I sat out due to improper footwear until Travis decided he didn’t need the skin on the ball of his foot and I had to come in as a replacement. Whether Elvis let the ball roll through his legs on purpose or not is now a moot point since the gringos held their own against born and bred footballers, with a final score of one to one. The snorkel that followed produced a surprise mantra ray, which I was late in seeing until Aaron poked his head up at me and said “Dude, will you just look at this manta ray!” It was somewhere between eight and twelve feet from wingtip to wingtip and stayed with us for almost ten minutes. At times it would swing around and its huge head would be only a few feet away. A handful of black-tipped reef sharks completed the snorkel adventure for the day.

After snorkeling we started out on the motor to Bartolome Island. I tried to stay out on deck, and actually saw a few manta rays leaping out of the water before I dozed off and had to head back to the cabin – active trip or not, a soccer game in blazing heat earns a nap. I wasn’t alone in my siesta, and when we landed everyone was groggy as we got into the water for a snorkel. The snorkel was a surprisingly good one – on two occasions I had Galapagos penguins floating within inches of my mask, a sea lion came to play, two octopus were hiding in the rocks, and after getting back into the panga we spotted five rays and jumped back into the water. After that most of the folks chose to head back to the Reina Silvia, but four of us wanted to snorkel more so we hopped in near the pinnacle on Bartolome. Two penguins were checking us out, again floating only inches away, but the highlight came when we spotted a massive school of selema and then noticed that the blue-footed boobies were plunge-diving down to grab fish. We sat in the water and watched as a couple of the birds torpedoed down from forty feet above us and then blasted at insane speeds ten feet down to the bottom, leaving a long stream of bubbles in their wake. Very, very cool. After quickly changing clothes we cruised up the hill to get the view over the islands, and being of simple minds Aaron and I raced up the last portion, which after the day’s activity was far less than a brilliant idea. Tomorrow we’re off to Santa Cruz, with only three full days left in the trip.

Sally Lightfoot Crab on Santiago Island

Sally Lightfoot Crab on Santiago Island.

The One Where…

Posted from Isabela Island, Galapagos Islands at 6:40 pm, May 11th, 2006

Day six, henceforth to be known as the one where we swam with the whale shark OR the one where we saw the pod of a few hundred dolphins. I’ve been hoping for at least one moment on this trip that everyone would remember for a lifetime, and today we got it twofold. The day started out with a late wakeup so that we could snorkel first thing with marine iguanas as they were feeding underwater. Unfortunately the marine iguanas didn’t get the memo, but several sea turtles drifted to within inches of people while feeding on sea lettuce. A borderline aggressive group of sea lions also followed us for nearly the entire snorkel, repeatedly swimming up to people and turning away only inches from their masks. Following the snorkel we went ashore and communed with the thousands of marine iguanas at Punta Espinosa. While wading out to some tide pools I managed to slip, and given the choice between getting the camera wet or cutting up my leg I saved the camera and earned the nickname of “shark bait” for the day. An octopus that was chasing crabs through tidepools was the landing’s final highlight before we returned to the ship for lunch.

Following lunch we motored to Tagus Cove for the Bataan Death March through blazing heat up to Darwin Lake. Sukh and Greg continued on a bit further while saner members of the group returned to the boat for a quick (and more importantly cool) swim. We then spent the next couple of hours out on deck looking for whales and dolphins as we motored north, but both creatures were in hiding so we arrived at the northern part of Isabela Island a bit disappointed. It was just as we were getting ready for a snorkel in the “Icebox” that one of the panga drivers shouted “whale”. We didn’t see a whale, but in record time everyone had their gear ready and was in the panga, and we motored over to a young whale shark that was hanging out on the surface. I was first into the rough and murky water, and had to swim within only a few feet of the shark just to be able to see it. The tail was huge, sticking a couple of feet out of the water and slicing through the ocean like a scythe. As more people got in the water the shark made a u-turn back towards us, and it swam back towards me, showing me the entire side of its body, before turning right at me, swimming to within a foot, diving, and then disappearing into the ocean.

Still high from the whale shark we motored over to a cave in the island and did a quick snorkel amongst sea turtles and an utterly massive school of salema before getting back in the boat. Glowing over the whale shark experience we all watched the sun go down, and as we were getting ready for dinner the captain shouted out that there were dolphins outside. A school of probably 100-200 common dolphins was surrounding the boat, leaping insanely high out of the water with the sunset in the background. No one had any complaints after all was said and done, except for Scott who was heard to mumble that we had already done everything, and there are still five days left.

Common dolpin near Isabela Island

Common dolphin near Isabela Island.


Posted from Isabela Island, Galapagos Islands at 6:10 pm, May 10th, 2006

Day five. The day began at 6:15 AM with a kayak through one of the coves at Elizabeth Bay to look for sea turtles, penguins, “tree” lions and rays. While the rays disappointed the other animals were out in force, and JB and I (the 2003 team reunited) took advantage. The crew scared the hell out of us on the return as they were yelling and waving all of the kayaks towards the stern, convincing JB and I that a killer whale was chasing us or some other danger was imminent. Turns out they just thought we were racing and wanted to cheer. Oh well.

The highlight of the day, and possibly of the trip, followed when we snorkeled with about forty sea turtles in a pool in Peppys Cove. It was one of my favorite experiences from the 2003 trip, and while there weren’t as many turtles this time around it was as amazing or better. Floating in a pool that’s perhaps sixty feet across and no more than twenty feet deep while sea turtles glide by on every side is pretty awesome. I stayed in the water for as long as I could handle the cold, got out to warm up, and then snorkeled some more. Given the chance I could have stayed all day.

The remaining activities for the day were a panga ride to see more penguins, blue-footed boobies, flightless cormorants, frigate birds, and sea lions, followed by transit time up to the next site. Aaron’s and my attempts to search for whales and dolphins turned into a siesta instead, but the whales and dolphins seemed to be hiding anyhow. The day’s final activity was a walk near Alcedo Volcano to see land iguanas in an area that was underwater until the 1950’s when it rose fifteen feet in two days due to volcanic uplift. Amazingly the trip is now halfway done, althought tomorrow holds another highlight as we visit Fernandina Island and its many marine iguanas.

Galapagos Penguin in Elizabeth Bay

Galapagos Penguin in Elizabeth Bay.

Demon Horses

Posted from Puerto Villamil, Isabela Island, Galapagos Islands at 6:45 pm, May 9th, 2006

Day four. A late (5:45 AM) wakeup was followed by a 7:00 AM landing in the town of Puerto Villamil where we met trucks that took us forty-five minutes up into the Highlands of Isabela Island. From there the fun began as seventeen horses were trotted out to take us the remainder of the way up the Sierra Negra volcano. From the early moments it was clear that these horses were going to do whatever they wanted, which in my case was to sprint to the front of the pack and then slow the pace to a crawl, blocking the other horses from moving quickly and therefore allowing my horse to move slowly without fear of getting a switch in the tail from the gauchos who were accompanying us. An additional insult occurred when my stirrups came unhitched near the end of the trail just as the horse broke into a canter, resulting in a textbook example of blunt testicular trauma; that horse is not one that I will remember fondly.

The hike that followed provided great views across the baking hot lava, and we returned to the horses several hours later quite tired. On the ride down Sukh’s horse distinguished himself by continually abruptly stopping in close proximity to other riders, forcing the knees of those riders into an orifice of the horse that no one wants their knee forced into; Scott, myself, and several other people will probably be burning our pants later today. The day finished with some relaxation in town and on the beach, including cervesas, ice cream, and great bakery food near the jetty. After a long and likely choppy boat ride tonight it’s on to another side of Isabela to chase turtles and penguins for a day.

Bifurcated Flippers

Posted from Floreana Island, Galapagos Islands at 8:05 pm, May 8th, 2006

Day three. A 5:15 AM wakeup was followed by an early landing on Flour Beach to look for nesting sea turtles. The turtles disappointed, but the soft sands were great, and the flamingos in the nearby lagoon put on a show for us. Breakfast was followed by not one but two snorkels, the first one at Champion with schools of fish and some really playful sea lions, and the second with the currents, sharks, octopus, and giant schools of fish at Devil’s Crown. It’s a tough call as to which one was better – the sea lions were a blast, following people around and obviously curious, but Devil’s Crown is a just a great spot with lots to see. Aaron managed to avoid killing himself diving in the caves this year, although Scott filled in nicely by failing to clear his ears while diving.

Still in the morning we did a kayak over to Post Office Bay, seeing sea lions and our first penguin enroute. Since another group was already at the post office barrel, and since in Greg’s words “it’s such a young group” we made a brief hike over to a lava tube cave before returning to the barrel. Lunch followed, after which we got into a truck/bus onshore (Aaron: “wow, this thing is so safe”) and headed up into the Floreana Highlands. I braved at least five attacks from a rabid, man-eating giant tortoise – it was only through sheer cunning and with ninja-like reflexes that I avoided an early demise. Scott and Aaron were later scared by endemic cows, Anna found several of the infamous snails and pre-empted the reason for Greg’s Snail Hill hike, and much of the group still chose to hike up the hill in the sweltering heat and then hike back to the settlement. Audrey and I reached the settlement shortly after sunset, grabbed a quick shower (cleanliness is a beautiful thing) and then joined the rest of the group on shore for a barbecue. A hunt for hermit crabs with Scott and Aaron ended the evening, and tomorrow we’re off to Isabela Island to visit the Sierra Negra volcano.

Birds and Lizards and Sea Lions and Stuff

Posted from Espanola Island, Galapagos Islands at 8:15 pm, May 7th, 2006

Day two. I made the comment at lunch that we’d been in the Galapagos for twenty-four hours and everyone’s eyes boggled since it feels like much longer with all of the activity. The water was choppy last night, and the (only) downside of having the owner’s cabin became apparent as Audrey and I got tossed all over the place. Luckily everyone else has rooms in lower cabins and awoke in good health this morning to the sounds of Kenny G on the ship’s speakers. We snorkeled immediately at 6:00 AM, ate breakfast, roamed the beach near Isla Tortuga, and then did two more snorkels with fish and a group of playful sea lions. As always the sea lions were ridiculously fun, and Gene came away with video of a sea lion repeatedly swimming at him only to blast away at the last second in a puff of bubbles. At the end of the snorkel I was given the option of returning to the boat by panga or by swimming – not being able to face the possibility of any downtime on the trip I opted for some exercise. We still managed an hour-long siesta after lunch during the voyage to another location on Espanola.

The afternoon’s landing on Espanola is one of the highlights of the archipelago. During the landing we watched marine iguanas swimming out to sea and sea lions surfing in the waves (quite literally). Marine iguanas, sea lions, blue-footed boobies, Nazca boobies, and waved albatross all made appearances as we traversed the one and a half mile trail through the area. The evening meal featured Aaron and Scott’s expletive-replacement phrase “Mother of pearl!”, with interjections to discuss how the gun show could best be fit on a Galapagos t-shirt. Tomorrow promises a 5:15 AM wakeup and a visit to Floreana Island and its infamous Snail Hill.