We’ve been home from our trip for 18 hours. As I worked my way through eight loads of dirty laundry today, I was reflecting on what made last week so special. Certainly a large part of the joy found in the Galapagos Islands was attributable to creatures we had never before seen, landscapes that were harsh and yet strikingly beautiful, and new endeavors we were just trying on for size. But, what is more important is not what we found but instead what we were lacking. Last week, we were devoid of television, video games, Netflix, and Apple TV. We didn’t have shows waiting for us on our DVR. The boys weren’t glued to YouTube videos on their computer or busy mentally purchasing new action figures on Amazon.com. Without his Legos, Luke sat with other kids in the Kids’ Corner of the ship’s lounge for hours playing Monopoly and working out his chess skills. Joe got lost in the ship’s library looking at nature books. As a family, we played cards, listened to lectures, and spent time outdoors. Without my iPhone, I wasn’t absorbed in Words With Friends or Mind Feud or texting. Life without screens was as miraculous of a new world as the Galapagos Islands were.
So, I’ve been thinking about some changes I can make in our household lives that might bring us some of the peace and simplicity we enjoyed last week. I’m considering some type of family enrichment program. Nothing too extraordinary, mind you. I don’t want to send my children into culture shock. But, there must be a way to bring things down a notch while still staying connected. Perhaps I put a moratorium on iPhone usage between 5-9 p.m. when we’re all together. Maybe I limit the boys with regard to screen time. A couple hours a week of games and cards rather than television could be beneficial. And, we could make a nightly family walk a ritual rather than a rarity.
A week ago, my sons were present in my life. They were plugged into life and not screens. They woke up early and went to bed early. They weren’t talking to us about things they wanted but instead told us about things they learned. As much as I already miss the islands, I miss the people we were while on the islands more. I’m giving them a down day today. I’m letting them catch up on Ninjago and their Superhero Squad videos. We all needed a break after two consecutive travel days, colds we’re trying to beat, and the chaos that ensues when you return home after 10 days away. But, I’m going to do some research. Maybe we can’t make any big trips like the one we just took again anytime soon. But, I can go to the library, find some videos on far away locations, and take us out of our insular lives occasionally. I mean, I’m never giving up my iPhone. But, I can put it down once in a while and remember what life is like offscreen. Maybe I’ll take the boys outside to stargaze or get a book on local plants and see how many we can scout out during a hike. I’d love to have the boys pick out a recipe we could make together. We’ll still have family movie nights, but maybe I’ll let them teach me chess or challenge them to write a comic book they can share with me. I need to get back to reading to them because we loved that and it got lost. To find ourselves again, I think it’s best that we turn off our screens more often because the reflections we get from them aren’t as true as the reflections we get from each other.
On the last full day of our excursion aboard the National Geographic Endeavor, we were fortunate enough to visit Genovesa Island. This island was closed to visitors for years because of its fragile environment. Over a million birds call Genovesa their home. There are colonies of swallow-tailed gulls, red-footed boobies, petrels, and frigatebirds. Short-eared owls hunt smaller bird prey over cracks of dried lava millions and millions of years old. The entire island is an extinct volcano slowly sinking into the sea. The center of the cone is now filled with sea and one side has been entirely eroded away so that our ship was able to sail directly into the c-shaped center. The only word I could come up with to describe its landscape is “otherworldly.”
My father-in-law asked me what my impressions were of this trip compared with other trips we have taken as a family. We’ve been treated to trips to England, Alaska’s Inside Passage, Norway, and now the Galapagos Islands. Hands down, this has been my favorite trip. When I told other people I was going to the Galapagos, their responses were always the same. I was told repeatedly, “That’s the trip of a lifetime.” The truth is, though, that it’s not the trip of a lifetime because that implies we will only ever visit these islands once. I want to come back to this place again someday, maybe in another season, maybe to visit a few different islands, but I definitely want to return. I completely understand how the naturalists here never tire of their job. This place is enchanting. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m having a hard time with the reality of leaving these islands. Tears have been shed. But, that just proves that these islands are beyond the trip of a lifetime. They are the love of a lifetime, and I will have to return to them again someday.
It’s been an incredible week here on board the National Geographic Endeavor, but my favorite parts of the trip have occurred off the ship out with the wildlife. It’s unbelievable how many birds, fish, and reptiles I’ve seen up close and personal in nature. I don’t know that I had actually contemplated how this trip might change me after witnessing life outside myself in this way. Yesterday I was fortunate enough to try deep sea snorkeling. While out on our swim, I watched a sea turtle underwater. I never thought I would try deep sea snorkeling, much less see a sea turtle while doing it. I’ve had an entire week to explore this unique world and expand my horizons. I’m definitely changed.
I love things that make me feel small and insignificant, things that take me outside my petty concerns in day-to-day life. I appreciate being reminded that I am just a cog in a much larger machine because then all my worries become trivial. Life on this planet is incredibly precious and here it’s easy to see how tenuous it is. When I’m having a tough day, going forward I will remember that only those who are able to change and adapt are able to survive. And, that’s not a theory…it’s a fact.
Yesterday we had the opportunity to visit the city of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island. This is where the Charles Darwin Research Station is located and where we would have been able to meet Lonesome George had he survived just 40 days longer. Alas, no George. Still, the station was well worth the trip as we were able to learn about the breeding program designed to increase the population of giant tortoises around the islands.
After our visit to the station, we were able to spend some time wandering around the town. Approximately 20,000 people live here, so it’s less of a town and more of a city, I suppose. Still, compared to Denver, it’s small. The best part of the day (well, aside from standing in the Santa Cruz highlands just feet from giant tortoises) was a small fish market we encountered in town. There was a crowd of tourists gathered with cameras when we got there. There were the usual fish market thieves (pelicans) and this time there were a couple other added guests…sea lions. They stood at the foot of the fish counter where the fish were being cut and begged like dogs at a table for scraps. Cutest thing ever. A fellow passenger on the cruise told me yesterday that he read that sea lions here are like dogs in wet suits. No wonder I like them so much.
Our day yesterday was spent on Floreana Island. Our Galapagos expedition leader, Paula, told us that Floreana is called the Mystery Island. I’m not surprised. Our excursions there yesterday had me thinking about the now defunct ABC television series, LOST.
We started our day with a very early morning hike to try to see some flamingos. Yes. Flamingos. These are Greater American Flamingos that came here from the Caribbean. There is a small population of about 500 of these birds living in the Galapagos. So, we hiked a bit inland from the ocean to a brackish lake on Floreana, hopeful we would see some pink birds but also doubtful because their population is so small. We were in luck. There were about 15 of them at the lake. How crazy to see an American flamingo out here in the isolated Pacific.
Later in the afternoon, we were doing Zodiac cruises around Post Office Bay (here there is a barrel that was set up in 1793 and you can deposit letters without postage and hopefully someone will stop by, take your letter, and hand deliver it to the recipient at a future date). As we skirted our way around the bay, we saw an eagle ray jump from the water just ahead of us, spied several sea turtles coming up for air, and even saw a penguin. The Galapagos Islands, in addition to flamingos, are also home to a small population of penguins. These are the only penguins that live north of the equator and they can do this because of the Humboldt and Cromwell currents that cool both the ocean and the air here.
I sat in our room last night thinking about seeing a flamingo and a penguin on the same day on the same island in the Pacific near the equator. The Galapagos Islands truly are a magical, mysterious place. On LOST, people who were marooned on an isolated tropical island were stuck pondering how polar bears came to be there. Today I saw a flamingo and a penguin on the same island. Apparently LOST wasn’t that far fetched after all.
Yesterday was a day of firsts. It was my first time swimming with the sea lions (one playfully tried to nip me, naughty little thing), my first time to see in person the courtship dance of the waved albatross, and my first encounter with a blue footed booby. I also sampled octopus at lunch. After I had my bite, Joe felt brave enough to try it too. Octopus is chewy but not foul, I’m happy to report. I’ve been so proud of my boys who have attempted snorkeling, hiked along like troopers, and tried all kinds of new foods too. I’ve learned in my rapidly advancing age that life is full of experiences. You don’t want to miss your opportunity to sample what life has to offer. I’ve also learned that if you aren’t willing to try new things, your children won’t be either. For that reason, I have been working diligently to be a good example. I hope that when my kids are the age I am they will be further along in their life experiences than I am.
I have always loved sea lions. Their little ear flaps, long whiskers, and deeply inquisitive eyes make them my favorites. On San Cristobal Island in the Galapagos I had the opportunity to sit within feet of them and observe them. It’s true what they say of the animals here. They are not the least bit fearful of humans. Birds land at your feet. Fish swim right up to you. Sea lions jump and splash in the water where you are swimming. I had one sea lion today stop on the beach, its flippers resting on my feet. Amazing. I am in awe of this place. You hear that it’s magical, but you have no idea until you’re here. I am blessed.
When we traveled to Norway a few years ago, I had a phrase I uttered repeatedly to my children: The first rule of travel is “Hurry up and wait.” It seems whenever you travel, the trip is filled with an inevitable ebb and flow. You rush to get to the airport to check in, then you wait in line. You hurry to get through security screening just to sit idly at the gate. When it’s finally boarding time, you rush to get on the plane only to sit in line waiting for take off. It is the way it works.
So far today our experience is proving my first rule of travel to be absolute. We woke up at 5:15 to get our luggage out for the tour company by 6. We were exhausted after only four hours of sleep, but we soldiered on, had breakfast, and waited for our 7:20 departure to the airport for our flight from mainland Ecuador to the Galapagos Islands. At 7:20, though, we were informed that the plane we are taking is still in Quito because it is damaged. So, now we must wait on another plane. Sigh.
It amazes me how different my boys are. With the flight delayed, my more laid back Luke promptly fell asleep in a couch in the lobby. Joe, however, began to stress out, afraid our ship would leave the islands without us, annoyed that we were stuck at the hotel. I just keep repeating the travel mantra to him and reassuring him that we will get there eventually. And we will…even if it doesn’t feel that way right now.
I used to hate the tides of travel, but now I don’t mind “hurry up and wait” as much because it forces me to live in the moment. There’s something incredibly freeing in having no choice but to sit and be, to exist in the present and wait for the day to unfold rather than bullying your way through it. Still, I admit that, like Joe, I think I’d like “be” a lot happier if I was sitting on some white sand near some playful sea lions. What can I say? Old habits die hard.
A week from today at this time I will be sitting in the Miami airport waiting for our flight to Guayaquil, Ecuador en route to the Galapagos Islands. Today I planned to be putting together packing lists for said trip. Instead, I’ve spent at least an hour researching the Blood Type Diet and realizing that there is no food in my house that I’m allowed to eat for my O-type health. I’ve spent about an hour looking online at the Boden fall clothing collection and realizing that I need a much better paying job than my current position so I can purchase the Emma dress and the Contrast Mary Janes. I’ve also run a couple errands, texted with my pal Heather, and played a ridiculous number of games of Words With Friends, Dice With Buddies, and Mind Feud on my iPhone. The one thing I have not done is figure out even one item I am packing. Oops.
This makes no sense. I’m a Type A person. I’ve been a Type A person since I emerged from the womb, two days beyond my due date when I felt it was appropriate. I’ve always been independent. I’m organized, meticulous, and determined. I multi-task with ease. I’m proactive. As a rule, I don’t procrastinate. But, today I can’t bring myself to complete the task at hand. I figure there are two ways I can go with this. I can either Type A it by digging really deep, finding some inclination to step away from the computer, and doing this job the right way and getting ‘er done. Or, I can Type B it by realizing that as long as I have at least one outfit to wear it will all be fine. Then I can go watch a movie with Ryan Gosling in it (which is, by any estimation, a much better way to spend a rainy day).
Wait a minute. I guess there is a third way I can go with this. I could meet myself somewhere in the middle. I can get off my avoiding, lazy butt and do a little planning to assuage my Type A mind that will be annoyed when I realize while on vacation that my Type B behavior landed me with not one swimsuit to wear during my island vacation. I guess it wouldn’t hurt to go stand in front of my closet and stare into it for a while to determine some options. I could always scrawl a few notes on some paper for later. Maybe I could set aside a few items I’m sure I don’t want to leave behind. No harm in that, right?
I’m starting to wonder about my lifelong membership in the Type A club. In my quest to become more zen, I’ve relaxed a bit and come a little more towards Type B-ishness. Apparently, I’m not quite the rabid Type-A personality I once was. I’m not really comfortable at Type B either, though. So, for now I will suggest that I’ve been downgraded from Type A to Type A-. I think that is a fine devolution for me. I’ll get packed eventually. There’s no way that I’m missing that flight a week from now.