Posts Tagged ‘Wildlife’


Saturday, January 23rd, 2016

The Galapagos Islands are a world of extremes. For any land animal to have survived here, it had to adapt to some seriously harsh climates, and do so only after having swam, drifted, or flown many hundreds of miles to arrive. The sea is teeming with life and it’s a fish eat fish world out there. Penguins swim effortlessly through the water to chase fish, giant manta rays scoop plankton by the pounds, and schools of shark populate every nook and cranny.

When we first arrived at the Galapagos, we were drenched in sweat and hard pressed to find a reasonably priced meal for a hungry family of five. We’d already paid $500 bucks just to step foot on the islands and $15 for the steamy 45 minute bus ride was just another indicator that we weren’t on the mainland anymore. By the time we arrived at our hotel, Semilla Verde, where we had certain expectations based on the price and those expectations were not met, we were wondering what in the world we were doing in the Galapagos.

Ah, sweet expectations there to disappoint again. Fortunately once I clarified what my expectations had been, the hotel quickly made some adjustments to accommodate us. However, this really seemed to anger the woman who ran the hotel (think giant house made into bed and breakfast). Through gritted teeth and forced smile she explained to me how I had been wrong in my expectations as she simultaneously changed things to please us. Now I’m one of those demanding, privileged and hard-to-please tourists. Guess I cannot escape myself no matter where I go. The air was heavy with heat and moisture and now all our hearts were heavy, too.

We quickly decided we needed to get out of there for some fun, and we visited Las Grietas, a giant crack that mixed sea water with rain water and offered a cool reprieve, though it was packed with people and populated by biting flies. The next day we had a good time at Tortuga Bay and acquired sun burns to prove it. After a couple days of being on the island, we started to look for a “last minute” cruise, notorious for good deals for the traveler with some flexibility. By very good fortune, we were able to get on a last minute cruise… literally the last 120 minutes possible…. as we found space on a first class yacht that was leaving the port in 2 hours.

The cruise itself will go down as one of the most memorable experiences of my family’s life. It was also a welcome reprieve to the heavy feeling hotel and the endless decisions that are made when traveling with emerging plans. Of course the food and the accommodations were spectacular in and of themselves.

However, the amenities will not be what we will remember. We will remember how we played. And it wasn’t the crew that reminded us. It was a sea lion.

It was off the coast of Rabida, with it’s red sand beach, that we encountered our first playful sea lion. It was a young one, as the mother had been with it prior to our arrival and she seemed to take the opportunity to let us entertain her cub while she got some other things done, because we didn’t see her again. A Galàpagoan play date.

The young sea lion swam circles around us, seeming to dare us to swim as deep and spin as gracefully as she. The children tried, plunging clumsily down 6 feet and floating to the surface to grab the much needed oxygen. The sea lion started to bite our flippers, gently grabbing the ends in her mouth and giving a tug. This incited squeals from Rubi, who was part startled and part delighted. We followed that sea lion for nearly an hour, seeing the different coral is showed us, and trying out our diving and spinning and upside-down swimming skills.

We returned to the boat exhilarated. That playful sea lion demonstrated to us what is meant by the commonly heard statement: “the wildlife are not afraid of humans on the Galapagos.”

It was off the coast of Santa Fe that another encounter with a playful sea lion reminded us of the power of this type of interaction. While snorkeling with a sea lion, Brady reached out to touch it (against his better judgement, as this is frowned upon in the Galapagos). The sea lion is an agile swimmer and dodged his attempt successfully in spite of the close proximity. It was 20 seconds later that the sea lion swooped up from under Brady in a spiral swimming motion, only to reach out her fin and touch Brady. “Ah-ha!”, she seemed to say. “I got you!”

Of course most humans love to interact with wildlife in this manner, and it is clear to us that these encounters were the highlights, even as we also saw blue-footed boobies diving into the water like bullets, sea turtles with their easy pace in the water, and sharks nonchalantly swimming past us with their distinctive swagger.

Yet, the power of play goes beyond that between a human and an animal. The power of play between humans is a phenomenon that can change one’s experience as well.

We were dining in a small restaurant very near our lovely hotel on Isabella where we would ultimately spend a week. The restaurant has black gravel floor and only a few tables. The woman waiting on us was juggling a fussy one-year-old by switching between carrying him and putting him in a playpen. Anyone who has raised children knows that the play pen works to contain a child, but never to entertain him. His fussiness escalated into yelling after being in the play pen, and though his pleas did not bother me, I empathized with the mom who was trying to work and I wanted to help. After all, those days are long gone for me and will likely only return if I ever have grandchildren.

I tentatively approached the playpen. My food had yet to arrive and the mom was in the kitchen cooking. What else did I have to do other than entertain this little boy? The play pen smelled sour, like spilled milk and soiled cloth. I approached the baby gingerly, knowing not to come on too strong to a little human who prefers his mother above all else. I showed him how my empty water bottle made sounds when I tapped it against the gatorade bottle in his pen. I picked up his stuffed animal and made it walk along the perimeter of the pen, making animal sounds, slowly moving to the child’s foot, where the stuffed animal bounced happily. The child began to grab for the empty water bottle and the stuffed animal. Victory! I’m in.

A silly game of peek-a-boo brought on smiles, and that near-laughter of a baby that makes adults act super silly in their attempt to get the prize. The boy picked up soggy crackers from the crevices of the damp blankets in the pen, and I made chomping and “yum-yum” sounds on his behalf. His interest in his gatorade bottle peaked and after seeking permission from his mom, “¿eso es para beber?”, I gave him a couple of swallows. Jack pot! That cold sugary drink hit his mouth and we were instant friends.

My food arrived and I returned to join my family and the atmosphere in the restaurant had shifted, at least for me and the boy. The mom was smiling and the boy was no longer crying. My family seemed relieved that the approach to the pack-and-play had been a success and not an embarrassing mom-flop.

The magic of the playful encounter was yet to show itself, though. At the end of the evening, as we left the restaurant, the boy blew me kisses with his mom’s aid, as she moved his hand from mouth to air with the word “besos, besos” in a sing-song tone. I blew kisses, too.

The next day we saw the family on the sand streets of Isabella, standing on the corner next to the shops that board up for most of the heat of the day. I said “¡mi amigo!” and the family smiled broadly and began encouraging “besos”. We blew kisses to one another in passing.

That evening when we returned to the restaurant (hey, why mess with it when you got something good…), we were welcomed enthusiastically by the woman who was working. Though she was not “the mom”, and “the boy” was not there, she seemed to know us as she beamed at us. After dinner, she even gave us free desert! Oreo ice creams all around. And dinner that night was substantially cheaper than the previous two nights had been.

That playful encounter between me and the child may or may not have been the catalyst to a lighter atmosphere in a dimly lit restaurant, or a smaller bill on a very expensive island. It certainly was fun, regardless of the outcome.

A few days ago as I was sitting on the patio of La Casita De La Playa, the hotel we will hate to leave this afternoon, I watched Frigates play with a piece of plastic. The way they swooped about in the air, tossing it from one to the other, reminded me of the Frigates I had seen flying behind our cruise yacht, fighting over a fish one had caught. But this was not a fish! This was clearly a piece of blue plastic. Surely they must know this was not a fish. Yet they approached the actions just as they did when it was a catch. Playing? They must be playing.

This morning as Brady and I took a morning jog along the sweltering hot 4 KM stretch of white sand beaches sprinkled with lava rock and iguanas, we saw a Pelican swoop down so low to the water that his wing touched the surface. I’ve seen Pelicans fly close to the water, then dive down in a clumsy plop and come up to swallow their catch whole. It’s entertaining to me, and a lot of effort for them. This was different. This pelican didn’t dive and didn’t appear to be looking around, he was simply flying along with another pelican, close to the water, close enough to just skim the surface of the shallow glassy ocean water with his feather. Playing? He must be playing.

The Galapagos have taught us a lot. We have learned how life has adapted in marvelous and shocking ways to this hostile land environment. We have learned how the islands are sinking back into the ocean even as volcanic activity creates new islands. We have learned not to trust taxi drivers with the purchase of boat tickets and how to find affordable food to eat in a town that gets monthly boat shipments from a mainland 100s of miles away. Perhaps the lingering lesson that we will carry forward with us is the power of play. Playfulness is connection. It’s laughter, it’s wonder, it’s spontaneity and it’s risk. It’s a force of life, as important as working and eating.


**** I’ll try to post a blog full of photos soon. It’s very hard just to get this text uploaded right now!