In the Rockies

In the Rockies
Butler Gulch

Thursday, November 8, 2018

And then there were the birds!

                      The frigates flew with the boat much of the time, but this day I was up above at the right time and enjoyed taking their photos. I enjoyed watching all of the birds wherever we were but four hikes, one the first part of the week and three of our last four outings focused on the islands' birds. I've shown you the flamingo and the pelican in other posts. Iguanas were in some of the areas with birds so they'll show up here too. The one below was my favorite. Could it have something to do with the color?!

The bird above was found in the same swamp as the flamingo--a Galapagos mockingbird.

We climbed up a rocky path to see these Galapagos hawks devouring a dead baby seal. My shot of one standing alone won't upload but think you can see how different they are from the ones around our areas. I wasn't warned and didn't take my hiking poles on our first hike out to see birds, became afraid I'd fall on the large round rocks and got behind the rest of the group. After that I took one pole, and my roommates used the other one. With my camera, I couldn't have used more than one. The shore where we watched for these swallow-tailed gulls to take off was spectacular.

On the way to these birds we saw this iguana posing. 

 From the trail as we were beginning the walk to the shore birds.
See how the bird blends with the rocks--over which I didn't enjoy walking! This was our first walk with birds where the rocky paths were a challenge. The island is Plaza Sur, a small island we visited near Isla Santa Fe where we saw the hawks.

I should perhaps have blown this one up so you could fully appreciate the sight of so many of the red-orange crabs lining the rocky shore above the sea. 

And now we are on to another island--Espanola, the southernmost island of the Galapagos where birds abound--especially the waved albatrosses. Nearly all of the world's 12,000 pairs breed here. We walked through the middle of booby colonies too. And sea lions and marine iguanas make their way to the water on the beaches. 

This wonderful geyser-like eruption is made simply by the waves hitting this spot in the rocks!. Gorgeous! 
Here is a pair of waved albatrosses! There were many seeming, like this pair to pose for us. And below are boobies. The blue feet don't always show up well and some were other types of boobies. The hills were alive--literally! I was delighted no matter the rocks over which to walk!

These two are masked boobies.

A blue-footed booby is on the left, and a delighted Maggie here!

There are more bird walks and birds. However, I'm signing off for now with no promises for more Galapagos blogs. I hope at some point to write a bit about Quito. Perhaps I'll start that blog with the last bird walk on the islands. For now, I want to work on the novel!

Saturday, November 3, 2018

The Galapagos -- Post 2 -- Simply Amazing!

                         View from cliff-top trail on Espanola, the southern-most island of the Galapagos

There were other ships at many of the ports, one group in particular traced many of our stops. I knew this primarily because our guide and theirs, a woman, visited either in passing or on the beaches from which snorkeling was the primary activity. And not so many of that group joined the snorkelers. On one beach I chatted with a man from Columbia Missouri who graduated from Missouri State in Springfield. He was the only American with whom I spoke on the islands.

 Our forays into the island paths didn't lend many flower photos, and I was using my distance lens but here are a couple of flowers in this jungle-like area.

This was the big payoff on this walk. We were close enough in this lagoon that I could have captured this flamingo with my I-phone! And we saw more than one!

From the turtle breeding center I walked along the sea, then cut through this pink house restaurant to read the road where I joined others searching, in what was barely a town, for post cards to send from Post Office Bay where we were going the next day.

And Post Office Bay, you asked? It wasn't what I expected! 

This funny little peaked box contained many post cards. We searched through them for addresses near us to take to, ideally, deliver in person, and we left our own cards, most of which were addressed to ourselves. Mine was hand delivered while I was on a recent trip to Tulsa for a memorial service. Our new receptionist called and asked me to come down as the folks delivering it wanted to meet me. I answered from outside the Crystal Springs Art Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas, so didn't meet those folks. They also wanted to know if I'd been in the Galapagos to write the card! 

I was trying out my mask and flopping around in the water near this beach, not making much progress. I don't know how much better I would have done with fins, but there were none small enough for my feet. Unexpectedly, a voice above me said, "I'll take you out to see the swimming turtles." It was a woman from New Zealand and her husband. She took my arm and he swam along the other side and they led me out farther than I could have gone alone to see the underwater swimming turtles!! It was exciting and by the trip back to the beach, I'd relaxed enough to enjoy the snorkel. Back on the beach as I exclaimed my thanks, she said, "I couldn't stand for you not to see the turtles."

And speaking of turtles/tortoises, I loved the ones roaming around the field on a farm we visited. That farmer made a business of allowing tourists to visit. They had boots for us to wear in case of mud and for sturdier walking and coffee/tea afterward. Our group was boarding our van to leave as the next much larger group arrived.

This tortoise is heading to submerge in a small pond, joining others already there.

Early the morning we were going to visit the Charles Darwin Research Center, we bid goodbye to six of our fellow passengers. Four I'd spent enough time with to be sad they were leaving--the couple who led me through the water to see the turtles swimming and a mother and daughter. The daughter was another camera buff and the mother a nurse with whom I'd walked another beach and visited while others were snorkeling. Those of us who stayed went to the Darwin Center's visitors' pavilions together and began to seek each other out at meals and cocktail hour. Our guide, pictured below, spoke as if he was reading the best book I read prior to the trip, adding his stories. He was extraordinary!

We did go inside a room where "Big George" stays on display. He's the oldest known tortoise, maybe approaching 100 years though his age can't be documented, and is preserved for visitors to view through glass.

Afterward we found our first tiny touch of the Internet in the Galapagos National Preserve's small gift shop just outside the Research Center's grounds. It was so slow that we got e-mail titles but not the content. This was a town with many many shops filled with the same variety of souvenirs and also restaurants. After walking, shopping and enjoying the fish market below, six of us found a place to enjoy drinks.

That's it for this morning. Next time I'll share the birds and shores that were my favorite spots! I also loved riding on the sea, whether reading up on top, watching the birds following us or riding around in the panga while others snorkeled!

Saturday, October 27, 2018

The Galapagos -- Part 1 -- September 29 - October 8, 2018

The clouds from the plane on the way to our first stop, Miami, were wonderful! I felt, as I often do on an airplane, a sense of escape. The additional 2+ hour wait in Miami while a tire was changed on our plane--we were allowed to get off--was made enjoyable by the company of a couple from Maine who were also headed to the Galapagos Islands. They were taking the big ship tour--100 passengers--and we wouldn't likely see them as on many of the spots we visited they would constitute the entire number of visitors for that area at one time or on one day.

We arrived at the Quito, Ecuador airport about 1 am. I met my roommate who'd arrived not long before and we were met by two women from the tour company, Peregrine. I booked through Intrepid but Peregrine, a sister company, runs the Galapagos tours. My new roommate and I were too tired to converse on the 45-minute drive so I knew what she looked like, that she was Australian and that was about it. She invited me to join her with the guide she had engaged to tour Quito at 9 am the next morning, but I didn't want to head out that early. Since our hotel rooms for that night were extra, we'd reserved singly. The next day she paid for one more night alone and the hotel let me have my room without extra cost for that night. I hoped that didn't mean that she hadn't felt good about rooming with me, but would learn that she had some of the same concerns I had about rooming with a stranger. She was a pleasant and easy roommate.

My Quito photographs for that extra day are on my phone so I'll do a short blog on Quito later. It is an interesting large city, and I learned as I took taxis around town that very, very few people speak English. Ecuador uses the dollar for currency and that, and that it is the usual departure point for the Galapagos Islands let me think more service people would speak English. I wish I had known!

I all but missed the tour group meeting, but that's a story for the Quito blog. There were fourteen of us for the first part of our tour. Some would leave mid-week and others would join us. The couples ranged from 30s honeymooners from Ireland to an early-mid sixties couple from Australia. There were two fifty something couples from New Zealand,  a mother and daughter from Australia (the mother was 70), and my roommate and me. Two sixty-something women from Australia were already on the boat. Yes, as I had been told was likely, I was the only American. Both Intrepid and Peregrine are Australian companies.

Our ship, the Grand Queen Beatriz, was new this season. Below is the lounge and reading area where our guide's nightly talks were held and where we were welcomed aboard, introduced to our crew and given frothy drinks. We did this to say goodbye to those who departed mid-week and to welcome the newcomers. We lost six--the women who were already aboard, the mother-daughter duo and one of the New Zealand couples. We gained another mother-daughter duo (younger) and two Australian couples plus a delightful married couple (women) from Britain. I understood them without such hard listening although by the time they came aboard I was able to hear the others without as much effort. I'd also given up paying serious attention when the Australians and New Zealanders talked about politics and places in their countries, often two or three talking at once.

Below you can see that the food bar where breakfast and lunch choices were arrayed sets between the two tables, each seating eight people. With a group that small, it was important for all to get along. For the most part, that happened. Dinner was served to us at our tables. For whatever reason, gluten free was an impossible concept so I ate many serving of beautifully arrayed fruit for dessert! Finally I asked that they keep those fruit plates, serve me whatever the others were eating and let me decide what to eat. For instance, I could eat the fillings of pie. The food was excellent with many healthy fruit and veggie choices. I don't recall a mediocre dinner.

I love being outside as the boat sped to our first destination, one of snorkeling from the boat. Those who were planning to snorkel, I didn't then, loaded into a panga boat pictured below. We used two of these boats for all shore landings, some wet where we waded a few steps to shore and some to a dock where we made shore in a dry landing. We knew in advance which type landing we would have. Sometimes I went barefoot on the sand and others I wore old Teva sandals and changed to hiking shoes if necessary.

The panga driver who became my buddy took me along the shore and pointed out my first critters while the others snorkeled.
With all back on the boat we motored to our next destination. I went up on the top deck and took photos of the frigate birds that followed us. They will show up in another blog post but these were my first.

I spent time reading and relaxing between shore tours under the shade on these comfortable benches. Opposite them are lounge chairs in which to sun, but as you can see from the photo below, our first days didn't have much sun.

The next day we began our usual schedule: 7 am breakfast and ready for the first tour at 8. Our first day's morning tour was on Isla Isabela, the largest of the Galapagos Islands. The area where we docked for a dry landing was flat and the trails easy to walk. We were greeted by a sea lion on our path. We were not to walk toward the animals but could stand still and let them walk toward us--to a point. No touching!
The iguanas on this island are marine iguanas, the only ocean-swimming lizards. The iguanas were of different varieties on other islands, some others also swimming.

This spot on Isabela wasn't beautiful but we were so excited to see the wildlife that we weren't bothered much by all the rocks.

The iguanas hung on the sides of the rocks by the water peering over as if to say "take my picture."
The ghost crabs beckoned to me with their orange-red color. After walking and listening to our guide for a couple of hours, we headed back to the ship for lunch and a rest before our afternoon excursion.

That afternoon we went to the tortoises sanctuary and saw them in all sizes. We arrived at feeding time and watched the caretakers toss elephant ears into the pens of various sized tortoises. Our guide said that by 2020, all will be turned loose to live in the wild since the species is able to reproduce and survive in their natural setting. Here are a few photos of tortoise feeding. We'll see more older ones in the wild later.

I was going to add a large tortoise as they were at this sanctuary too, but my uploading has stopped working. I'll close for now as we go back to the ship, rest, annoy the bartender for drinks, listen to our guide tell us what we'll see tomorrow and answer questions and enjoy a lovely dinner and conversation.

More in a couple of days.

Friday, October 26, 2018

A Glimpse of the Divine --

Sunset at St. Benedict's Monastery 

This week this dimension of life lost two men, both Benedictine Monks and Priests, whose lives enriched those of many of us. 

Father Thomas Keating with me on retreat at the Snowmass Retreat Center at St. Benedict's and Fr. Thomas alone.

Last Sunday morning I happened to check e-mail early and had a Caring Bridge notice that Abbot Joseph Boyle of St. Benedict's had died early that morning after a valiant battle with cancer. Abbot Joseph was three years younger than me. He was always a welcoming presence at the Monastery, speaking to groups of all sizes. He prided himself on remembering our names and was temporarily flummoxed when my friend Mary Ann appeared with me at her side rather than our friend, Judith, who had accompanied her on many retreats. "You are not Judith," he said, then rubbed his nose as if that would bring my name to mind. He later got as close as Margie, not bad since I hadn't been there in four or five years. After that he did not forget my name.

This morning I opened my e-mail to find three notices of the passing of Fr. Thomas Keating who had moved to the abbey in Spencer, Mass. to get more effective care several months ago. Fr. Keating was born in 1923. When asked how he was for the past several years prior to his departure from St. Benedict's, he had smiled and said he was dying.

At the retreat where he is pictured, he had spoken with vigor to our group at the retreat's closing circle and announced at the end that he would be happy to stay for a few minutes for photographs. We hadn't known that he would be able to meet with us so the picture taking opportunity was a bonus.

Humble, compassionate, wise, with eyes that sparkled with joy as he spoke--these words could describe both of these men. Abbot Joseph was known primarily to the St. Benedict's Community--those who regularly and occasionally attended mass there and the hundreds of us who made retreats in that beautiful valley. Fr. Thomas was known not only to the Christian Contemplative world but to many in other traditions.

As my friend Mary Ann said today, they had served well and long and deserved their rest. However, this world has lost two lights that spread Divine love and light to all they encountered. Fr. Thomas' books and the centering prayer practice he founded with two others changed my life at a fragile time and enriched my life in the twenty plus years since.

I last saw them both in July of 2015, shortly before I moved from Colorado to Nashville. Mary Ann and I were on a private retreat at St. Benedict's and were invited to a memorial service for Abbot Joseph's sister. Ft. Thomas slipped into the back of the sanctuary in time for communion and stood in the bookstore waiting to receive hugs and greetings as we left the service, announcing to all who asked that he was dying.

It is with a heart broken open that I acknowledge their passing and with the deepest gratitude that I honor the gifts they brought into my life.

Rest in Peace dear brothers in Christ.

PS: Tomorrow I will write about my trip to the Galapagos. I simply couldn't let the passing of these religious men pass without notice.