Sea Lions and Boobys and
Turtles, Oh My…
(A slightly abridged version of my 1988 journal.)
By Tim Gielow
Posted here 5-20-08. Transcribed: April 2008. Photo above from the Internet (modified).
Friday, August 12, 1988
How ironic is it that the last words from my last recorded trip (Japan, Hong Kong, etc.) would concern diarrhea? The threat of such a malady is omnipresent to the South American traveler. Yes, you read it right. This jet-setting dude is now styling and profiling below the equator!Saturday, August 13th
It is an odd thing. It is my birthday. I am now a quarter of a century old. I have no job. I'm not sure where I will be living in three weeks. A Born-Again Christian calls me her boyfriend. I am almost $3 grand in debt. Yet, here I am, in scenic Ecuador -- Guayaquil to be exact -- scanning the treetops for iguanas.
My last vacation (in Michigan), it seemed like I spent all my time driving (although every second in the driver's seat of a new Hyundai feels like a vacation); this time around, it's flying.
Yesterday, I flew from Boston to Raleigh-Durham. Last night, I relived the Caribbean cruise (thanks to the wonders of videotape and a posterity-minded Pops). Today, I rose far too early, flew to Atlanta, flew to Orlando, flew to Miami and finally, to Guayaquil.
Row 1, Seat A - Too sharp an angle to catch the movie ("Moonstruck" - no major loss), but I got the opportunity to witness every single preparation procedure by those goofy, fun-loving Eastern flight attendants.
A.) First time out of the country, on my birthday
B.) First time in South America
C.) First time below the Equator
Yes, Tim, but at what cost?!
This is no spontaneous jaunt in the park. I had to pay my dues. Yes, three shots (one in each arm, one stuck firmly in my right butt cheek), drugs, behind-ear patches, and the constant threat of malaria, pestilence, and other exotic, dangerous sounding diseases.
We can't drink out of glasses. We can't drink anything with ice in it. Walking through the big city, I was afraid that the first bug bite would be my last.
The bartender wasn't digging us when we said "Hold the drinking vessels." ("Those stupid Americans - afraid of a little intestinal distress…") However, the cocktail waitress is very cute, and I would like to start a meaningful, long-distance relationship with her (what would our parents say?).
Isabel is our hostess (and a fine one, at that).
After the breathtaking iguana hunt, we strolled the banks of the river. The garbage was plentiful, and the smell was strong, but it didn't stop the unbridled passion of those Ecuadorian young lovers, who came out in droves to kiss and cuddle amongst the debris.
The day was not that overwhelming, but Pops and I both sacked out around 7:30
Up at 7:30 - gotta meet that spunky little guide of ours, by 9:00.Sunday, August 14th
We caught the 10:30 shuttle to Cuenca. No "Honey-Roasted Eagle Snacks" were served, but we were allowed to partake in a plastic shot cup of Fanta Apple/Orange (?) Soda.
Another guide met us (whose name I don't remember) and took us to the hotel. "La Laguna" - the Cuencan version of "Lifestyles of the Reech and Famous."
It is a very impressive place. The room was massive, and, all in all, at least 1 ½ stars better than the Ramada (no relation to the American Ramada, mind you).
We were on our own until the next morning, so we ate lunch and headed downtown. I had the world famous "La Laguna Superburger." I have no idea what kind of meat was in it, but they topped it off with an onion goo and a soft boiled egg (mmm).
The beer selection is not vast. For my free drink in Guayaquil, I had a Busch. Here, I can choose between Club and Pilsener. Club is 100 Sucres less expensive and tastes better ("Less expensive! Tastes Great! Less Expensive! Etc. Etc.).
Which reminds me, I forgot to explain the currency:
490 Sucres = 1 American Dollar
Dad changed a $100 Travelers Check in Guayaquil and was handed (49) 1000 Sucre bills.
Driving is an adventure. People pass you whenever they feel like it, and if you're lucky, you'll get a warning toot. It is almost as primitive and dangerous as Boston.
We ended up downtown at the church in the center of town. It is a biggie. It reminded me of my "British Art & Architecture" days (Editor's Note: This is a class I took, when I spent a semester in London). Three towering spires, beautiful stain glass windows, an altar made of gold. It does not make sense to me that God would appreciate such extravagance (why not use the money to feed some of the street people?). But, this is no place for religious commentary. This is a journal, for God's sakes!
Poverty is big down here. Rag tag youngsters attack you from every angle, with the intent of shining your shoes for a couple Sucres. I don't understand what they think they are going to do to my Stan Smiths (sneakers), but you can't blame them for trying.
Most of the stores are closed. Every five feet, someone is camped out on the sidewalk, trying to sell whatever they could get their hands on. Free enterprise has never been less lucrative.
For dinner, Dad had the compost heap soup, and I had the whiskey-soaked chicken. I was toasted, and he was disgusted.
I wanted to boogie with the Saturday night revelers (at the hotel), but I went to sleep, instead.
Marcia (pronounced "Mar-See-Uh") is our new guide. She's a cute gal (despite the presence of a couple of chin hairs). I like when she speaks in broken English. Our driver's name is Senor Ocho. He may be a little horn-happy, but he seems to be more cautious than most.Monday, August 15th
First the city tour. Basically, we saw the same things we saw yesterday. There was little enlightenment, in terms of origin or meaning of specific attractions.
What it all boils down to is that I have no interest in Panama Hats, woven articles, or jewelry. The one thing that is really interesting me is the market.
I have a nice camera now. I have 72 exposures at my disposal. Still, I'm very stingy when it comes to pressing the button. You could say I'm "camera shy" in a reverse sort of way. I rarely take pictures of places or things. I love capturing people, and these marketplaces contain more priceless expressions than a whole suitcase full of Fuji film could cover.
Old women, with more lines on their faces than a seismic activity chart, some carrying bulky canisters of cooking gas. Others just squatting in place, trying to sell enough corn to make it through until next week's bartering extravaganza.
(Sidenote: I finally broke down my camera boycott, on the trip here, when I saw pig dangling off the top of a bus!)
This is "Filene's Basement," (Editor's Note: famous department store, in Boston) on an Ecuadorial scale: shoes by the millions, fruits and veggies, sugar cane cubes (looking like Dad's glycerine-scented bath soap), chocolates, grains, toys, knick-knacks, etc. etc. etc.
But the meat! Whoa! I have seen smaller ribs, during the opening sequence of the Flintstones. Whole pigs, looking peaceful in their varying degrees of dismemberment, at every booth in Row #2. Not a single part or organ goes to waste. They were selling feet, cow noses, testicles from who knows what. It was protein bedlam. The colors, the faces, the overwhelming pageantry and poverty of it all. I captured it all on film. I think a Pulitzer prize in photography would really perk up my resume!
Top the day off with a hearty pot of cheese fondue (made with wine; I was wondering if it would knock Dad under the table), and you've got 24 hours you can be proud of.
The sky is overcast, yes sir, but nothing is going to keep this dude off the links. (Do you mean golf?) I certainly do. El Tennis Y Golf Club is supposedly just 12 minutes away, in San Joaquin. (What was that green liquid they were serving for breakfast?) After about 20 minutes, we copped a taxi, and we were on our way. Boy, I can hardly wait - 18 holes of breathtaking Ecuadorian countryside, most likely teeming with nature and visually pleasing man-made treats. Hmm, looks like a nice enough course, but there is no one in sight. I realize that a Monday is no time for a young rural professional to leave his fields for a quick 9, but you'd think at least some doctors or lawyers would be out here. Son of a biscuit, the place is closed! The disappointment cut deep, but we decided to walk it off (all the way back to the hotel). The village folk seemed friendly enough (except for those 2 sleazy guys, who pestered us for about a quarter of a mile).Tuesday, August 16th
We stopped to help some poor guy change a tire on his truck. He was jamming that lug nut to the right. I always thought it was "lefty loosey, righty tighty" the world over. Maybe things are reversed in the Southern Hemisphere - who's to know? If he is right, he's in trouble, because that baby is not budging. If we're right, he's really screwed, because he has accidentally tightened it beyond repair. He even had one of his young tikes sitting on the lever extension unit.
2 ½ miles into the walk, we heard a blood-curdling scream. No man could have produced such a horrible utterance. My word, it is a pig! That wasn't your average "stop dangling me by the tail" squeal. What could be happening to this poor porker? Two hundred meters later, the truth hit us like a freight train. Those dirty Cuencan bastards! They killed the pig. Blood was flowing like water. This was one big pig - a real monster, and they struck him down in his prime.
If you recall, I mentioned earlier that they sell every single part available. Two women were already washing things which I dared not guess what they were. They started to carve further, and I could take no more. No rubber-necking, no sensationalistic, sadistic interest; I had to move on.
I could not mourn, because the pig was not close to me, but I did pause and reflect on the meaning of life, and all the things I was thankful for. I get to go to America and find my fame and fortune, and that little piggy is probably going straight to market. It's just not fair, damn it. Why couldn't it have been me?!
I managed to put it all behind me, though. I wasn't going to let one slaughter ruin my whole day.
Actually, it was only 1:00, but we had run out of things to do in Cuenca town. I suggested we sleep until 4:00 (our scheduled rendezvous time with Mar See Uh). Dad felt otherwise.
We ended up going downtown once again. I was pretty much "downtowned out." It was basically an exercise in killing time.
Marcia was a little late, and Dad was feeling uneasy, but she did show, and, once again, we made it to the airport on time.
One thing I forgot to mention. Food is damn cheap down here! We've had gourmet meals for two, complete with wine, beer, or sangria, for 6 bucks! Six dollars for two people!! Unbelievable. I was telling Dad that I might even be able to stay in the black in this crazy town.
Back to Guayaquil in a rinky-dink prop plane, with a group of burnt out AFS students.
Another notable event: That was the smallest plane I had ever traveled on.
I must say, I had a fine meal at the Ramada. The steak au poivre was superb. The French onion soup lacked character, but, on the whole, it was a wonderful presentation. We were the only two in the restaurant.
Again, I was primed for the disco (free rum and Cokes will do that to you), but we were told that it was closed about a year ago. (That's what happens, when you don't update your signs - a lot of people end up broken-hearted.)
A few soccer highlights on TV, a few scratches in the journal and buenos nochas.
(Sidenote: The cocktail waitress is cute as a button, and she definitely digs my American butt.)
Sandra (?) met us promptly at 9:15, and, with a ham and cheese omelette slowly working its way through my disoriented digestive tract, we were off to the aeropuerto once again. This time, DESTINATION: GALAPAGOS!Wednesday, August 17th
As always, my antennae were out, in search of visually pleasing females who might be accompanying us on the "M/N Bucanero." I spotted an unbelievable duo, but I'm going to have to wait for a confirmation on them.
The Galapagos Airport is the equivalent of a rest area on the Turnpike. It is in the middle of nowhere.
Whoa, there is a blond with potential. A little heavy in the midriff, but everything else seems to be in order ("Tim, you superficial jerk."). She's next to a blond beefcake, but, if my calculations are correct, he is a sibling.
My calculations are correct, but they're both flying out of here. Their trip is over, and I will never ever see her again (sigh).
Ah, but my earlier sighting is blossoming into a wonderful reality. They are lean, they are Italian, and they are absolutely exquisite. Yes, Timmy my boy, your pleasure is doubled.
Now, please do not think I am on some delusions of grandeur kick, and that I fancy myself having carnal relations with these women (although the thought has crossed my mind). It's just that, no matter where I go (planes, trains, shopping malls, etc.), I always like to have at least one sterling example of feminine beauty, within eyesight. It keeps my spirits up.
We waited at the terminal for about an hour and a half and them boarded the bus to the M/N Bucanero (note: this must be said with a convincing Spanish accent). It looks like an old oil freighter - something not unlike the boat that rescued Indiana Jones in "Raiders of the Lost Ark."
No sooner did we find our cabin than I grabbed the Bain de Soleil and hit the deck. Both of the women were out there, in their high-priced swimwear. No joke. These women are gorgeous - supermodel material, if I do say so myself. They also have surprisingly large breasts, for such svelte figures, but the total package is nothing less than stunning.
No sooner did I take my shirt off and sit back than a bell rang, and we had to assemble to pick up our cabin key. Dad got into a minor altercation over this, but everything worked out well.
This was followed by ½ hour more of sunning, and then we had to assemble for a briefing.
"Wet landings," "dry landings," "don't surround the boobys" (referring to birds, fair reader, birds!), "don't grab the chains," "don't take anything," "don't touch anything." That's about it.
Our group is called "The Finches," and our guide's name is Mario.
After the briefing, it was off to the first island. We hopped in our "panga" and chugged towards shore. Wet landings require wading skills, and the ability to dry your feet and put your shoes back on, without falling over.
A couple sea lions here, a couple crabs there - basically unexciting. It did have an impressive rock structure jutting out on the front side of the island. It kind of reminded me of the landscape in the "Star Trek" episode, with the "Green Gorn Monster."
Dinner (some kind of beef stroganoff concoction) and then bed.
Let me tell you, the thrill rides at Coney Island are no match for trying to sleep on the M/N Bucanero (the emphasis is on "buck"). Yee ha! Transderm Scop (anti-sea sickness medicine) - take me away!
Ah, it was inevitable. The intestinal powers that be decided it was time to "let loose" (pun intended). Please, let it not interfere with my disembarking and embarking.Thursday, August 18th
I'm feeling woozy. I hardly even touched my pancakes. It's time to break down and apply "The Patch!" Yes, it's on. We have contact. I am now sporting a circular, Curad-like patch on the hairless portion behind my ear. Let it never be said that medicine ever stood in the way of fashion.
The morning excursion was a doozy.
Sea lion frenzy on the beach. "Tokyo Rose" got too close to a dead pup, and paid the price. Momma sea lion swooped in and ripped off a chunk of her tender, Japanese flesh. She's a trooper. She shrugged it off with nary a dent on her multiple photographic units. (Who knows what mental scars she will carry with her to her grave?)
Despite what you may have heard, today, I had my first encounter with boobys. Blue-footed, masked, red-footed (Editor's Note: The red-footed booby was unavailable for observation, because they had migrated to yonder regions.) I must say that I am partial to the blue-footed.
I saw marine iguanas, by the dozen. You can tell they're marine iguanas (as opposed to land iguanas), because they have crewcuts, and they are few and proud.
We walked further, and yes, over there (shhh…), under the tree - the rarest of rare - the albatross. That baby has a yellow beak that would make Jimmy Durante proud.
On to the 8th wonder of the world - the wacky and refreshing "blowhole."
The sea lions rallied their forces and successfully blocked our embarkation, but we were able to drive them back, long enough to escape.
On the afternoon island, we observed some vegetation. Call me old-fashioned, but I would rather look at a wild and wonderful beastie, than a cactus (although cactuses are probably the coolest member of the vegetation family).
However, on the far side of the island, we managed to see: a school of manta rays, a sea turtle ("See Turtle! See Turtle"), a couple sharks and one wayward goat. A quick sail around the "Devil's Crown" ("ooh, aah"), and we were back on board.
Things got pretty social in the PM. First, there was the "Galapagos Derby."
(By the way, did you see what those Italian girls were sporting for evening wear? Dresses with snug fits, like you read about!)
I don't know how or why, but there was an obvious conspiracy against the #2 horse ("Nightmare"). Rolls were disallowed. Odds were questionably low. It was all I could do to not lodge a formal complaint with the Captain (you can sure as hell bet that I am going to contact my Congressman, when I get home).
Afterwards, I ended up playing poker with Steve, Betsy, Ruwena (sp?) and Mario (Sandy was the banker). Toothpicks and matchsticks were the currency. All in all, it was a rousing game. I learned some great new games: "Chicago" (best hand and/or low spade in the hole), "Anaconda" (best 4, pass 3; best 5, pass 2, etc.), "Follow the Queens" (7 card stud; cards after the face-up queens are wild).
I ended up going to sleep at 2:00, feeling tired, but content.
You have heard about Chuckie Darwin. You may have seen a television program or two on the giant tortoise. Well, this is where it all happened - Porto Ayora - home of Charles Darwin Station and "Shellus Maximus" (the Latin, scientific term for "big turtle").Friday, August 19th
They were large, yes indeed. I almost wiped out on a piece of turtle cocka, right next to the Italian girl's momma (with a first impression like that, I would be a shoo-in son-in-law candidate).
The Station, itself, had some juicy informational tidbits, but this is no time for intellectual concerns. So, I walked, alone and unafraid, towards the civilization that had spawned on this friendly isle, in search of…(wait for it)…the perfect t-shirt.
I found a postcard of mating turtles (yes, in the act!). I tried to slip the sales native some American cash, but she vetoed it.
Well, it's obvious that my money is not good here. I think I will bum a lobster breakfast off of Steve and "the little woman."
Yes, I know I am a thrill seeker, but sometimes, I even surprise myself. I took the initiative. I took Dad's money, and I willingly chose to snorkel in waters that just may darn well be shark infested.
Steve went along. So did those wonderful Italian girls. (The sight of them, in their bathing suits, was, all by itself, worth the price of admission.) As it turned out, Steve and I were the only ones in the panga who spoke English.
We pulled in to about 20 feet away from a rocky shore, and then the guide said "Agua, Agua!" I though we would be brought to a beach, so we could settle ourselves and gradually immerse ourselves into the murky deep. No way. This is jump overboard and paddle for dear life (as many of you know, I am not known for my swimming skills)!
Well, you only live once. I spit in my mask, took one last gaze at the blonds and jumped overboard.
Yes, it was cold, and, although I would love to exaggerate the fact, it was quite bearable.
So, I started paddling around (sans flippers), and, who should swim directly below me, but a bull sea lion!
Something grabbed me!
Ah, it was only Steve, that little prankster. Still, it did give me quite a start.
Actually, it was pretty fun. It was like an episode of "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom" Jacques Cousteau would be lounging on the deck of the "Calypso," with a nice cup of tea, and he would send me out to observe the bulls.
My mask was not keeping the water out, very well. The water level inside it was about halfway up my nose. Plus, I accidentally inhaled some salt water. What I'm trying to say here, is that I wasn't very comfortable, so I just hung out for a few minutes. I saw a couple fish, I saw a couple more sea lions, and then I climbed back on board.
It was scary, but I am glad I did it. Not many people can claim the same.
Due to the present ethnic ratio, Steve and I ended up receiving the Spanish version of the island tour. We saw our first land iguana (not counting the ones in Guayaquil). We (in our wet state) froze, walking along the windy cliffs, on the way to "Bachelor's Island. (By the way, the bar on the boat was called "The Bachelor's Delight." - Yeah, if you're an octogenarian!)
No new discoveries of note. Just a few more sterling examples of sea lion frolic.
The farewell dinner buffet was very impressive. I couldn't name what I was eating, but it was rather tasty.
The farewell party was ok. Too many toasts. Too many Spanish songs. I liked them. The bartender was very talented, but there were just too many.
I liked the sense that everyone felt a bond (because of the unique, shared experience), and that everyone seemed sad to go.
What was really sad was trying to come up with a song to represent America. Harriet temporarily saved us with her "Old Mill Stream" choreography (she was looped), but when the time came to make our country proud, we ended up arguing and generally looking foolish. The international crowd that had assembled (Italy, Austria, England, Japan, Ecuador, etc.) started to walk out.
Steve's rousing rendition of "Your Cheatin' Heart" was amusing, but the worst was still to come. We ended up with a broken up version of "Won't you come home, Bill Bailey," with Sandy taking lead, drunken vocals, "A Tavern on the Town" (huh?!), and a sickeningly slow tempo-ed version of "My Booby Lies Over the Ocean" (good idea, poor execution).
America, once a proud power, was shamed in front of the world. Maybe future cruise participants can restore our reputation, but, for now, we can only hang our heads.
Once again, the poker crew came together. I took some fine photos of mid-"Indian Poker" hysterics. This time, the stakes were high. No more picks and sticks; Steve broke into the drinking straw reserve.
I also learned an Ecuadorian card game called "40." Betsy and I were a tough tandem to beat. One would have thought that inexperience would be our downfall. However, we employed various alternating strategies of intimidation and "BS." It worked to our advantage, and we came away with a 2-2 tie against Ruwena (sp?) and Mario.
Take out 8's, 9's and 10's. Three of a kind is two points. If you match, you can scoop up consecutive cards. If you have the sum or two or more cards, you can grab them, as well. I know how to play; I'm just not sure how to score. Still, it is something I look forward to sharing with my American friends.
Another post 2:00 AM outing. It's reassuring to know that middle-age folks are not afraid to stay out late and have fun.
We disembark tomorrow morning at 7:00, so a hearty group, we are, indeed.
Before I recall this day's events, let me backtrack. I forgot to write down an event of some significance.
While we were flying in our prop plane, from Cuenca to Guayaquil (on Monday), I attained peace of mind.
Yes, I found the setting to be ideal for reflecting on past and present anxieties (i.e., housing, employment, female relationships, etc.).
The clouds outside my window were magnificent. There was a layer above and below. It is really an awesome sight - mounds of cotton stretching as far as the eyes can see. One almost feels as if the plane could land on it, and they wouldn't even have to put the "Fasten Your Seatbelt" sign on.
Anyway, my revelation was that my problems are miniscule, compared with the man who was crawling down the sidewalks of downtown Guayaquil. I am very fortunate. I have a lot going for me, and, sooner or later, things are going to fall into place (they always seem to do so).
If I work my butt off, when I get back, I might be able to pay "Mr. Car Payment" and "Mr. Insurance," without applying for a bailout loan.
In addition, I can't let these crazy women (names withheld, to protect the crazy) run my life.
I have not been myself. Sure, I have some big problems on my mind, but I shouldn't let them consume me. I lost myself. I started floundering in self pity and worrying about always pleasing others. It's time to rediscover the old Tim. Regain the sense of humor, resume the laid back stance, don't worry, take the initiative, do not fear the consequences of certain females being unhappy with me, because whatever you do, they probably won't be happy about it. (I won't mention their names, but I will say that they rhyme with the words "Fargo" and "Patchouli.")
Take the bull by the horns! Make the move (whatever seems to be best), get a job and thrive, baby, thrive! (I almost ran out of cliches, there.)
This vacation is just what I needed. Everyone needs the opportunity to remove themselves from their situation, take a look at what's happening and re-evaluate their perspective.
How much further away from my situation can I be, than 30,000 feet above South America?
Thanks, Dad. I needed that.
On to Friday's events!
The water was not turned on at 6:45 AM (they only turn it on for an hour, or so, each day). So, we made our way to the pangas, carrying our dirt from the night before (how graphic).
The turnout was low. However, the "Feenches" were well represented (a hearty group, those Finches). I appreciated the strong showing from the Italian contingent
We made a dry landing on North Seymour Island, and got our first peek at those crazy "frigate birds." The males puff out their red necks (and when I say puff out, I mean PUFF OUT), to attract the females (yes, the similarity to human behavior is striking). I don't know how those guys do it. It looks like a flotation device, one that would be painful to sustain. I guess that, when the opposite sex is concerned, the animal kingdom will do just about anything. (Sigh.)
(Editor's Note: …and so that journal abruptly ended.)
8-12-88: Arrive at Guayaquil, Ecuador, transfer to the Hotel Ramada (not affiliated with the Ramada Hotel).
8-13-88: Transfer to airport, fly Ecuador 171 to Cuenca, Ecuador, transfer to Hotel La Laguna.
8-15-88: Transfer to airport, fly Ecuador 174 to Guayaquil, transfer to Hotel Ramada.
8-16-88: Transfer to airport, fly to Baltra, Galapagos, board the M/N Bucanero, visit Bartholome Island.
8-17-88: Visit Espanola Island, visit Floreana Island.
8-18-88: Visit Academy Bay and the Plaza Islands.
8-19-88: Visit North Seymore Island. Disembark M/N Bucanero, fly to Guayaquil, transfer to Hotel Ramada.
8-20-88: Transfer to airport, fly Eastern 050 to Miami.