Bartolomé Island, Galapagos

The family photo to prove we were here

When we found out we had been booked on an excursion to the Galapagos, I was intrigued. It hadn’t been a place I had ever thought I would travel to, so I hadn’t allowed myself to become too excited about the location. Now, though, after nearly a week here, I can’t believe I had ever left this magical place off my list. Yesterday we visited Bartolomé Island to view Pinnacle Rock. Pinnacle Rock is an icon. It is to the Galapagos what the Statue of Liberty is to New York City or the Eiffel Tower is to Paris. To take in the grand view, we climbed over 300 stairs before 7 a.m. It was well worth it.

Afterwards, we were fortunate enough to snorkel from the beach just below the rock, around the point, and to another sandy beach. This time we were accompanied by both boys. (Earlier this week Luke had decided he was too afraid to deep sea snorkel and after an hour with his grandparents where he was given boundaries he decided that snorkeling with his parents was a better option.) Although seeing the schools of yellow-tailed surgeonfish and king angelfish was incredibly cool, what meant more to me was being out in the ocean with my boys, having them swim along with us, and sharing the experience of pointing to new and different fish. At one point, Joe decided to return to shore with his aunt. On their swim back, they came face to face with a white tipped reef shark. Joe, whose nickname is Shark Boy in our house because of his vast knowledge of all things shark, was thoroughly freaked out. Personally, I was thrilled that he had that encounter. He told us he wanted to see a shark on this trip and he did.

Our boys are growing fast and these are the experiences I want to share with them. I want us to try new things as a family, to see new sights together, and to learn new things about the world. It doesn’t really matter what brand of shoes we wear or how nice our dining room table is. What matters is that we are together growing as a family. I think this trip has changed our priorities a bit. Well…I will still buy clothes for myself from Boden; I’m simply going to buy fewer of them so we can increase our travel savings account.

Why You Don’t Mess With English Majors

About to board for our Norway trip.

So, we’re leaving on this big expedition to the Galapagos tomorrow, right? I’ve spent my day packing and cleaning and writing out luggage tags and running errands. I have to get up at 4 a.m. to start this journey, but I have so much to do to finish getting ready that I am already acknowledging that tomorrow is going to be a triple shot latte followed by two Cokes kind of day. Still, I am excited. I love travel. Love it. Once we get to the airport, I will be in my happy place.

Anyway, yesterday I was at a party for a friend and someone asked me if I was excited about our upcoming vacation. Clearly this particular friend hasn’t known me for very long.

“It’s a trip,” I corrected him.

He stared at me blankly.

“Oh. Steve said you guys were going on a family vacation,” he said, puzzled by my distinction.

“Oh. It’s a family vacation for Steve. For me, it’s a family trip.”

He furrowed his eyebrows.

“You see, my kids are coming with me. Since my career is as a full-time, stay-at-home parent, any traveling I do with my children is not technically a vacation for me. According to the dictionary definition, a vacation is a freedom or release from work. If my work is there, it’s a trip. You know, just like if you traveled for your job it would be a trip and not a vacation,” I explained.

“But, you’re going to the Galapagos Islands,” he said. “I think most people would call that a vacation.”

“I’m sure most people would. I would not. If you went to London for work, would you call it a vacation?” I asked.

“No.”

“If you went to London to see the Olympics, would you have to file for vacation time from work?”

“Of course,” he replied.

“See….that’s just it. I don’t file for vacation time because it’s not a vacation,” I continued. “It’s a trip. I’m bringing my work along.”

“But it’s the same thing,” he said.

“It’s not the same thing. For me, a vacation is when I’m away from my children. For you, a vacation is when you’re away from work,” I tried again.

“But, when you’re away from home doesn’t it feel like vacation?” he pressed.

“Not really because it’s actually easier to parent my kids at home than it is when we travel. When we travel there are all sorts of distractions and new issues. There’s no routine. Things are more chaotic, which sometimes makes work more difficult.”

At this point, I sensed his eyes starting to roll to the back of his head, so I dropped the subject and moved on. Clearly, he was not going to understand where I was coming from. I’m not entirely sure, in fact, that anyone but a fellow stay-at-home parent could understand my distinction between the two words at this point in my life. It’s an issue of semantics. I get that. Someday, when my boys are grown and I am without them more than with them, I’m sure my terminology will go back to the more standard and readily acceptable. Someday, when I vacation with my sons (and maybe even their families), the journeys will truly be vacations because I will have more freedom to enjoy myself and fewer responsibilities. For now, though, I’m sticking with calling this a “trip.” Don’t misunderstand me. It’s going to be an amazing, incredible, once-in-a-lifetime trip, but it’s still a trip…even if my work doesn’t fit into my laptop case.

 

Lonesome George: The Rebel Tortoise With A Cause

A page of the itinerary for our upcoming trip to the Galapagos Islands. The page lists a stop on Santa Cruz to see Lonesome George, the tortoise that is sadly no longer on our itinerary.

I’m in a bit of a mourning period. I haven’t been wearing black or weeping uncontrollably, so perhaps you haven’t noticed my sadness. Still, it persists. Two weeks ago, on June 24th, the world lost its last remaining Pinta Island Giant Tortoise, whose moniker was Lonesome George. I came to know George (we were on a first-name, no-descriptors-needed basis) last year when I started research for our upcoming trip to the Galapagos Islands. George’s kind had been pushed to extinction by humans who hunted them as if they were an inexhaustible resource. Surprising, I know. I was looking forward to meeting him in person. But, in his typical, stubborn, I’m-the-last-of-my-kind-so-don’t-push-me way, he would not wait for me or my family.

When the report of George’s passing came across my iPhone news feed, I uttered an audible sigh of disappointment. Joe, ever observant, asked me what was wrong.

“Lonesome George died,” I told him.

“You’re joking,” he replied, assuming as we all do that any tortoise that could live to 100 would certainly live to 101 so we could meet him.

“Why would I joke about something like that?” I told him. I showed him the story and we sat and read it together, disheartened.

George was the rarest creature on Earth, which made him uncomfortable. He was removed from his native island to the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz island, where he was photographed, studied, and manually “stimulated” by humans in an attempt to get him to mate. (Leave it to humans to push something to the point of extinction and then force it to have sex while we watch so we can ease our consciences.) George would not comply. I liked that about him. I’ll admit it’s a bit anthropomorphic on my part, but I like to believe George would not produce offspring on command not because he couldn’t but because he simply chose not to. He knew we wanted to right our wrong of ostensibly exterminating his species. He preferred that we suffer for our crime.

I’ve always liked tortoises. They’re slow, they’re tough, and they just keep plodding along. There’s something incredibly profound about their way of persevering on this fast-paced, crazy planet. I mourn not because I won’t get to see the rarest creature on earth, but because he is no longer a creature on this earth. If we take anything from George’s life, I hope we stop at least briefly to consider how fragile life is. Some creatures, as exhibited through Darwin’s theory of natural selection, do become extinct. This is part of life on this planet. More creatures, however, become extinct because we humans decimate their habitats and carelessly destroy them. I know many people believe God gave us this planet for our use. I prefer to believe God entrusted us with the sacred duty to steward and protect this unique and incredible rock and all her creatures. We did not protect the Pinta Island Giant Tortoise or the Dodo or the Tasmanian Tiger and now they are gone. So, I’m sorry that I won’t get to meet George, but I’m mourning because there will never be another tortoise like him.

 

 

Boobies and Sea Lions and Giant Tortoises, Oh My!

Working on research for our trip

Two months from today, we will be embarking on a long, international journey. My very generous and well-traveled in-laws are treating the entire family to a 10-day excursion to Ecuador to visit the Galapagos Islands. When they first suggested this trip, I was intrigued. Honestly, I hadn’t had the Galapagos Islands on my list of places I must see on this planet, but how could I not want to go and experience what so few others have? How could I turn my nose up at an opportunity to see blue-footed boobies, giant tortoises, and marine iguanas (iguanas that actually swim)? How many people get to walk where Darwin walked and see what Darwin saw? People talk about “the trip of a lifetime,” but this one truly is.

We’re not just taking any old tour, either. We’re taking the National Geographic Expeditions’ Galapagos Family Odyssey trip. We’re traveling with naturalists and photographers from National Geographic. It’s a family friendly voyage where we’ll have opportunities to swim with sea lions, snorkel with sea turtles, and stand feet away from the islands’ giant tortoises and where the boys will be provided special activities to enhance their experience. We’ll take six airline flights and spend 7-days aboard a small cruise ship. I’ve had to buy new luggage, expedition clothing, and shoes that can get wet. We’re doing research and reading about both Darwin and the islands, their flora and fauna, and their history. This is no lightweight island vacation where you lounge on a beach. This is an expedition of the highest order.

This vacation has been planned for over a year now, so I’ve delayed my enthusiasm and excitement to live with the wait involved. But today, as I looked at the date, it hit me that it’s finally almost here. I’ve got to brush up on my Spanish, review the trip packing list and determine what we’re missing, and try to figure out how I am going to blog daily from a ship off the coast of the Galapagos. I know I often write about living in the moment, but this is one of those cases when you have plan ahead to be appropriately prepared and to get the most from the experience. Two months from today I will wake up early, fly to Miami before boarding a plane for Guayaquil, Ecuador, and then step foot in South America for the first time. August 3rd will be here in a flash. Time to start taking this trip of a lifetime seriously.