Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Fernandina and Isabela

This comes late due to a game of Mao. (Mao!) I have the younger generation hooked on the game, both the kids aged 8 to 14 and my own college-aged peers. The bullet is enormous, there is no escape. If you want pictures, and an official run down of the events (I rarely will cover everything), go to the site maintained by the cruise company.

I am now officially a poliwog, having crossed the equator in a boat with my eyes open. I even have a picture of the bright yellow line floating in the water, girding the globe. My certificate suitable for framing will arrive tonight over dinner, along with tomorrow's itinerary.

As we crossed, the acptain blew the horn and the cruise director herded us to the stern of teh ship, whre naturalists dressed up as pirates (and one ninja) held hostage all of the children (which was stretched to mean all the children and me, and then anyone my age or younger, and then all of us and one old white-bearded grandfather). We were "baptised" in the Equatorial tap water, sprayed from a hose, forced to kiss a dead octopus, and drink strawberry-kiwi flavored Iguana blood. We were christened with animal names as well, for laughs. (Well, some of us were).

We are on the lookout or whales and dolphins here (mostly whales anymore because I am happy to report my luck with dolphins has not run out). After lunch, we ran into a pod of dolphins, maybe five hundred of them, on all sides, swimming with and in front of the boat. Five hundred common dolphins, which, according to the naturalists (who have a vested interest in lying about this, but have not been dishonest before) is not so common at all; as the small animals tend to shy away from contact with humans. They jumped ten feet out of the water, frolicing in the waves in front of us, showing off their dark gray backs and yellowish-white stomachs, smaller and rounder than their ubiquitous bottlenose cousins. I had told my friends here of my previous luck with dolphins, and I am glad not to disappoint. If only I had inherited my mother's Orca-spotting capabilities as well.

But the real stars of the day were sea turtles, and again snorkeling. After scouting out the water, the guides were naysaying a snorkelling tour: too cold, too murky, too choppy, they said. But the college kids and I banded together, sitting at the front desk with eyes as big as baby sea lions, looking hopeful for teh chance to put on our wet suits and commune with the ocean once again, and finally Lucho said "okay, fine, if you want to go snorkelling, now would be a good time to put on your gear." No announcement to the ship at large, he just assumed that everyone who wanted to would figure it out. And they did, adn there were two boats full of us at the end. Jessica and I were the first ones there, waiting eagerly for the zodiac boat. The guide, probably shocked by our folly, stayed in the zodiac.

The water was colder and cloudier than before, and shallower, and so full of sea turtles that I honestly worried I would run into one on accident and be banned from snorkelling in the Galapagos for life because of an overpopulation problem. We swam into teh center of an outright sea turtle convention, five, ten, twenty of them staring at us with their dinosaur visages, moving so slowly it was hard to keep up, adn yet almost weightless in teh water. I had always imagined turtles would be heavy, slow, barely able to lift their legs. But underwater, these animals are anything but leaden- floatnig slowly by, graceful, not a care in teh world. Almost as if their slow speed is the result not of heaviness but of the right sort of turtle calm balance - the world sits so lightly on their shells that there is no need for exertion, no need for a hurry, or for outside expectations.

Jessica leads us away from our slow-moving friends in search of three things: sea iguanas, fur seals, and penguins. We succeed in two out of three counts; catching the tail end of an iguana writhing through the water like a snake, arms and legs tucked in close to its body, adn a fur seal (rumored to be less friendly than its galapagos sea lion cousins) came to check us out and blow bubbles in our faces. But the penguins and the flightless cormorants that were so outstanding on the zodiac tour stayed high and dry and did not join us in the water. We're bound by regulation to climb out of the ocean at noon, so we cut the aquatic adventure shorter than I would have liked, but at least we have formed, today, a snorkelling lobby to ensure future trips.

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