ILove (Blue-Footed) Boobies!
With next January’s CAMP Rehoboth cruise to South America on the docket (and lots of folks, including us signed up!), it’s a great time to tell you about the kind of vacation Accent on Travel, the local travel agency arranging the cruise can cook up. Back in December they put together an amazing trip to the Galapagos Islands off Ecuador. A thousand words (okay, editor, maybe 1300 with pix) cannot do it justice, but I will try.
In the midst of another freakin’ winter snow storm in Baltimore, we flew out to Quito Ecuador, on the flippin’ equator. Nice improvement. And we took the requisite awkward photo with one foot in the Northern Hemisphere and the other in the Southern. Tourons, indeed.
From Quito we flew 600 miles to the island of Baltra in the Galapagos, traveled by bus the short distance to the coast, donned life jackets and took 16-person inflatable boats to our anchored ship. Our luxurious Celebrity cruise ship welcomed only 100 passengers. While this was no gay cruise, using our gaydar we immediately spied our 10 percent and had great company. Plus, we met several straight couples we came to adore, so the diversity was a blast.
Every day we left the ship by inflatable boat to go to a different island. The first day was probably the most fantastic since it was such a glorious surprise to be up close and personal with sea lions, iguanas, sea turtles and a bevy of birds.
Since there are no island predators, certainly not humans, the animals have no fear. We were told to stay at least eight feet from the animals but if they chose to come closer, what could we do? At one point a friend stopped to sit under a tree to tie her shoe and a honking sea lion came up and used her butt for a pillow. Stranger things have happened, but not much.
These fabulous creatures lumbered up to us, snorted, scratched and generally went about their business. We saw nursing sea lions, swimming sea turtles and fish-swallowing pelicans, in what truly personified a big gulp. Penguins hopped around in pairs, cormorants dried their wings in the wind and frigate birds swooped overhead like the Blue Angels.
Then there was the day of the iguana. Piles of them, actually, littering the beach, happily ignoring the camera-carrying, floppy-hatted tourist species. I became so addicted to snapping photos I begged Bonnie to stop me so I could actually look around and take it all in. Never, had I seen such a magical environment.
One day we took a long walk along a portion of an island formed by a 1998 volcanic eruption. The lava and shale formations looked like stunning sculptures, modern art and a stark, unforgiving landscape. Heaven and hell together, beautiful and forbidding at the same time. One gay boy clucked his tongue at finding a two-foot square piece of shale that had broken off a formation, picked it up and searched for where it came from. Sure enough, he found the exact spot and fit it back together like a jig saw puzzle. “It was so messy!” he joked.
Darwin’s theories of evolution and nature’s uncanny ability to persevere were all around us. To see a tiny new growth cactus peek out from a wall of inhospitable lava told the tale.
Later, we walked to Darwin’s Lake, where flamingos stood on one foot, grazing from the reeds growing from the bottom of the water. When the naturalists told us that the birds spend seven hours a day eating, everyone was astonished. I don’t know why. We’d been doing just that on the ship.
When it came time for snorkeling I donned the big ugly wet suit and gave it a try. I was alright at first, floating, head down, gazing at the beautiful array of colorful fish. In my wonderment I didn’t notice the current pushing me pretty far out, where I bumped a rock and scraped my knee. Gee, Bonnie was no longer nearby, and I panicked a little, glad to see one of our inflatables and its crew hovering not too far away. They’d taught us a signal for requesting help—kind of a loop with my arm, over my head. The best I could do at that point was flail my arms, but the crew recognized that as the universal evacuation plea.
The boat came quickly and hauled me aboard. As the lone casualty of our 16-person tour, I felt humiliated—until I saw the others gasping for air, struggling back to shore, stumbling out of the water as if they’d made the Cuba to Key West swim. I began to feel less humiliated than clever.
Back aboard the mother ship, I unzipped my wet suit, surprised I didn’t hear myself deflate like a beach ball with its valve open. I peeled off my wet suit and got immediately into a dry martini.
The naturalists warned us that we were not allowed to take any lava, shells, rocks, or sand off the islands and onto the ship. They didn’t count the pounds of sand in our hair, not to mention our privates. And if they could think of a polite way to get that back, I suspect they would.
A main attraction was the Blue Footed Boobie—a gull-like bird with bright blue webbed feet. According to the naturalists, the brighter the blue, the more attractive the bird is to the opposite sex. On the heels of that description we saw fornicating sea tortoises, with one female entertaining lots of different males, for sessions lasting up to eight hours. When they are done, the males continue to swim and the female drags herself, exhausted, up onto the shore. I would imagine so. Between the Boobies and the turtle antics it was like the real housewives of Galapagos.
One of my favorite island adventures happened on one of only two inhabited islands. There, the naturalists told us that sea lions were there first, and people came later. Ergo, people defer to the sea lions as natives. We got off our boats at the pier, and spied benches for people waiting for the ferries and boats. The folks sitting on those benches were equally divided between human beings and sea lions. There was a park in the town, built for the human inhabitant’s children, but it was currently being used by sea lions. Do you know that playground equipment with bright colored tubes where kids can slide into sandboxes or water? The sea lions were using it. Honest.
We got back to our ship and an adorable sea lion was sitting on the swim platform welcoming us home. “Good thing we have stairs up to the higher floors,” said our naturalist. “On other boats, with ramps, it’s not unusual to come down to breakfast and find sea lions in the dining room!”
One of our last stops was a sanctuary for giant tortoises, who looked like Volkswagens. Some of them were over 100 years old. We were told it takes a giant Tortoise 2-3 weeks to digest a meal, which I related to because that pretty much happens to me if I go to Burger King.
At the sanctuary we heard about Lonesome George, a huge old Tortoise who recently passed away. Apparently he was lousy in the dating department and the island was not incubating enough tortoises. When the government of Ecuador borrowed a giant tortoise of the same species from the San Diego Zoo, voila! All of a sudden there were 1200 baby tortoises. Our guides told us that Diego, as he was called, managed all that without a little blue pill.
Yup, Darwin had it right. Survival of the fittest. Those of us less fit survived too, as it was an adventure, but not too strenuous. We ate and drank our fill, took thousands of pix and cannot recommend Celebrity and Accent on Travel highly enough. Hope to see you on the CAMP cruise in January 2015!
Fay Jacobs is the author of As I Lay Frying—a Rehoboth Beach Memoir; Fried & True—Tales from Rehoboth Beach, For Frying Out Loud—Rehoboth Beach Diaries, and her newest book Time Fries—Aging Gracelessly in Rehoboth Beach.