Tuesday, 6 May 2008

We said our goodbyes to Efi, Ivan and the Amazon rainforest, and took that same canoe two hours back to Coca. Benji lost his tooth while we waited to go to the airport, the tooth fairy would have to scramble to find some sort of treat. We took a short walking tour of the city of Coca to kill time,  waiting for our flight, it started to rain as we passed shops selling everything under the sun. We saw a woman holding a large silver tray with ice cream piled in mounds on top, with a few cones decorating it.

We passed another woman pushing a cart of fruit down the street, and underneath was a small boy, lying on his back and enjoying the ride. It reminded me of the times I rode under the grocery cart at the grocery store when I was a kid. We passed a girl maybe Nate’s age, holding a very tiny infant. She looked up at us with this pride in her eyes, like “this is my baby brother, and I’m taking care of him”. Alayna was so jealous, all the kids are pushing for one more baby in the Davis family. I keep telling them we’ll just wait until they produce grandkids, in the distant future.

After flying to Quito, we asked our driver to make a stop at the laundry we had come to know so well during our last stay. They were willing to wash all our clothes for $3, and we could pick it up that evening, I almost broke into song I was so excited. We stayed at that same funky hotel, but they made amends by putting us up in two super nice rooms, with doors on the bathrooms and lots of space. They also sent us a nice note and a free bottle of champagne, we’re all friends again. The kids weren’t really thrilled with the naked women murals painted on the walls, but it wasn’t anything worse than what they saw in museums back in Europe.

This afternoon consisted of my going out for snacks and tooth fairy supplies while Clay buckled down and got the web site up to date with our free wireless internet, a beautiful thing. We all chowed down on ice cream sandwiches and chips in the absence of lunch, I purchased four ice cream sandwiches, three bags of chips, two packs of crackers, and two packs of gum, for under $5. We went out this evening for dinner and to pick up the laundry. Crossing streets was an adventure, there were no lights telling us when to walk, so we just had to catch the eye of motorists and dart between the traffic. We ate at a place with Far Side cartoons taped to the walls, and the kids wandered around with their necks craned, reading all of them and asking us to explain them. It was a nice break from the normal card game routine we’ve established during most dinnertimes.

I took a bath in the huge bathroom after putting the kids to bed, soaking and wondering if this would be my last bath before Austin. It’s down to that now, doing something for the “last” time on the trip. We’ve got all sorts of lists going, what’s our favorite big city, our favorite activity, our favorite food, our worst experience, our funniest. We’re ready to answer rapid fire questions when we get home, we’re ready for home. Just about. We’re all still excited about penguins and giant tortoises and exploring a new room, this time on a ship. Because it’s our last, I think this next excursion will be fraught with excitement of new discoveries to be remembered and added to those lists . . .


Wednesday, 7 May 2008

While waiting for our flight to the Galapagos this morning, I noticed a group of kids maybe ten to twelve years old. There were at least fifty of them, they were some sort of school group. About twenty boys clustered around Alayna, Nate and Benji to watch them play their DS games. Once again, the DS proves its worth in the ability to meet people in foreign countries. The school kids were all wearing orange baseball hats, and they were very interested in what our kids were playing. Efi told us earlier in the week that he and his son have DS games, but it’s hard to get game cartridges for them, and when they do they are very expensive. Sometimes fifty or sixty dollars. Back in the rainforest, the kids had long and involved discussions with Efi on the merits of Mario and what Goomba’s are, they could have had equally animated discussions with these school kids if only we spoke a little more Spanish, or they spoke a little more English. Alas, their encounter was purely show, no tell.

The kids left before we did, our flight was uneventful. As we touched down on the airstrip on San Cristobal Island, I noticed how wild it looked. On one side of the runway was the ocean, on the other was vegetation, and a flock of white birds. Our first look at the Galapagos. It only got better, as we boarded a bus with other passengers of our ship, the Galapagos Explorer II. We were dropped off at a dock to board a small inflatable craft, a zodiac, which would take us to the larger cruise ship. While we waited, we looked over the side of the dock and saw sea lions, a pup nursing from its mother and several others lounging in the sun or swimming effortlessly in the water. A marine iguana poked its head up over a step, and more than twenty colorful red crabs scuttled at the edge of the water. We were already taking pictures, and we weren’t even on the boat yet!

After arriving on board the cruise ship we got ourselves situated, participated in a safety drill which required donning bright orange life vests and locating our lifeboat, and checked out our snorkel equipment. As we were checking out the equipment, Clay reached down to pick up one of the bags and something stung his hand. He thought at first it was a jellyfish tentacle stuck to the bag, but we couldn’t find any. His hand really hurt, and he said the pain shot all the way to his armpit. He said it felt like he’d been stabbed. Nobody on the ship had any idea what it might have been, not comforting.

We will be on the boat a total of seven nights, which is actually a combination of the ship’s three day and four day itineraries. Half way through the trip, a lot of people on the boat will disembark and we’ll meet a whole slew of new people. Right now, there are 86 people on the boat, we were put in the Penguino group (we were hoping to be in the boobie group, but no luck), and we leave with our groups to be shuttled to excursions on different islands. Benji and Nate were startled the first time they flushed the toilet on board, it makes a loud whooshing sound kind of like on a plane. I found Benji crouched in the bathroom with his hands over his ears, I think he was a little afraid he was going to be sucked down the toilet.

We met another family with two boys, Will is six and Chris is nine. Our boys were thrilled, they couldn’t wait to spend some time with these new playmates. Our first excursion came just an hour later, when we were shuttled, by zodiac again, for some beach time near Wizard Hill on San Cristobal Island. The kids all played in the surf, Alayna dug a giant hole at the edge of the ocean and sat in it, waiting for the tide to gradually fill it up, I did a little snorkeling, and Clay visited with Jim and Amy, Will and Chris’ parents. The snorkeling wasn’t great, the water was very cloudy with sand, but I did swim through some schools of tiny silver fish, and I found a new love. My shorty wet suit. I guess I’ve never worn a wet suit before, but we heard water temperature in the Galapagos this time of year can be cool. We all rented a shorty along with our snorkeling gear. That suit was amazing, it kept me warm and it was buoyant so it wasn’t hard to keep myself up while snorkeling. I almost love it as much as the rubber boots from the rainforest.

As the sun set, we noticed some blue-footed boobies dive bombing the water, fishing for dinner. They’d come soaring straight down and plunge under the water, then bob up seconds later. It was so entertaining to watch them, they looked really funny the way they would disappear and then reappear. The sunset was amazing, and the kids had a ball on the beach. As we were finally herded back to the boat, the last people to leave, we noticed some pelicans sitting on a rock. The wildlife here is just as we’d hoped it would be, it’s everywhere! I really think we’re going to love this part of the trip.

Dinner was late tonight, after a “welcome cocktail” we ate at 8:15. We’ll be waking up at 6:30 most mornings, it will be interesting to see how the kids cope with this later bedtime and early wake up call. I predict some naps in our future. At dinner, the kids traded jokes and riddles with Will and Chris and their parents. We compared who was double-jointed, who could wiggle their ears, and who could twist their tongues over. Not your typical dinner conversation, but then we aren’t quite typical, I suppose. We told one more riddle as we left the table, leaving Amy and Jim to try and figure it out overnight.

Clay’s thumb still hurts a lot, it’s hot to the touch and very swollen, but the ship’s doctor said not to be concerned, even though he has no idea what it was. We’ll give it a day or two and see what happens. The kids went to bed easily, they were pooped from running around on the beach and staying up late. I can’t think of a better way to spend our last week on the road, cruising around the Galapagos. Having so much fun, eating big dinners, and falling into bed and easily slipping into sleep to the gentle sway of our boat.


Thursday, 8 May 2008

Clay and I will always remember where we celebrated our fifteenth wedding anniversary, in the Galapagos with our kids! Clay gave me a pretty ring he got back in Chile, it’s a special stone that when cut, has a black cross design in the center. I love it. And I gave him a deck of cards. I thought we had agreed no gifts this year, the Galapagos being a big gift indeed, but when Clay let it slip that he’d gotten me a “little something” I panicked and ran to the first shop I could find in Quito. It isn’t just any deck of cards, there are pictures of Galapagos animals on each one, and our card decks are getting really grimy, and every time we play we’ll remember this anniversary and where we celebrated, and I actually came up with 52 memories of the past 15 years, so a deck of cards isn’t quite as cheesy as it first appears.

Clay’s thumb turned itchy this morning, still hot to the touch, and still really swollen. But it isn’t black, and it doesn’t have red lines running from it, so we’ll just keep our eyes on it. Our first excursion was a hike on Española Island, the southernmost and oldest island in the Galapagos archipelago. It was a “dry landing”, which meant we could wear regular shoes while exiting the zodiac and land on dry land. We were immediately greeted by dozens of sea lions on our arrival, all lounging on the beach. We walked just inches from their noses, most didn’t seem to notice. A few of the younger ones were more curious, approaching us with their big brown eyes and quivering whiskers. The rule is you can’t touch them, if they approach you are supposed to take a big step back, but it’s hard to do. You just want to reach down and scratch them behind the ears.

There were also tons of marine iguanas, sunning themselves on the rocks. It was actually hard to see them at first, their bodies were the same color as the black rocks they rested on, but once you picked them out you noticed them everywhere. They lay all piled on top of each other, sometimes we’d see an iguana with his arm slung over his buddy, both of them snoozing. Crabs scuttled all over the rocks, and smaller lizards called lava lizards scurried across our paths, usually a male in pursuit of a female. Apparently, love is in the air on the islands, and lots of the animals are mating. I was really afraid I was going to step on something, an iguana tail or a fast-moving lizard, killing one of the precious, protected Galapagos animals.

After taking dozens of pictures, we moved away from the beach and followed our guide, with the rest of the Penguino group, on a hike that took us to the other side of the island. We encountered the rude mockingbirds, which pestered other animals and each other. They are very territorial, and several times we’d see two or three birds chasing some poor intruder, squabbling and pecking. We were warned that in the dry season (our arrival falls just at the end of the wet season, the beginning of the dry season) the mockingbirds will go for water bottles, the mockingbirds need fresh water and it is in short supply on the island. Sometimes they even attack baby sea lions while the mother is off finding food, desiring the water found in the sea lions eyes. I always liked the sound of their name, “mockingbird”, but now that I know more about them, I find them undesirable.

We came across lots of blue-footed boobies on our hike. In flight it’s hard to see their feet, they tuck them up under their tails, but when they are standing on the ground their blue feet are amazing. They come in all different shades of blue, and scientists think the females choose a suitable male for mating with by the color of their feet. Cobalt, light blue, bright turquoise. They were in the midst of choosing mates as we watched, the male stands on a rock and watched for a female flying by. When she does, he begins to do a slow boobie dance, picking up one foot and then another, slowing rocking back and forth, stretching out his wings. Sometimes there are four or five males trying to woo one female. She may land on a nearby rock and survey her options, while all the males do their boobie dance.

Once she decides on a mate, the male begins to present her with gifts. Small stones and sticks. They do this courtship for weeks, until there is a big pile of rocks and sticks for the female. When she finally decides to lay her egg, she clears all the rocks and sticks out of the way (hence the term “nesting instinct”?) and digs a small hole to lay her egg in. We came across a baby boobie as we walked, they are adorable. They don’t have the blue feet, and their body is covered in soft white feathers. We were nose to beak with this tiny bird, it opened his mouth pitifully, hoping maybe we’d feed him, but alas, we had nothing. And even if we did, we wouldn’t be allowed. It’s all about letting nature take its course on these islands.

Our guide pointed out some Nazca boobies on rocks overlooking the ocean. The rocks were white, entirely covered in bird poop, and the guide said this is a very clever form of camouflage. When the Nazca babies are born, they are defenseless white puff balls. When their parents go out to get food, they must leave their babies behind, easy prey for a Galapagos hawk or hungry iguana. The white poop covered rocks help hide the babies.

We encountered lots of waved albatrosses as we hiked, they are found only on this island. The mother and father share the job of sitting on the eggs, and these birds are so fearless, just like all the animals on the island, that some of them made their nests right next to our foot path. We are under strict rules that we must stay on the designated footpaths, but the birds don’t seem to care about us. We were able to see a giant egg under one of the mother albatross birds, and we saw a take off as a male flop flopped on his big, unwieldy feet and took off over the edge of a cliff. He reminded me of the albatross in the movie The Rescuers.

Our guide for the morning, Maria, led us to a rocky place where we could sit and rest awhile, perched at the top of a cliff overlooking beautiful turquoise water and an impressive blowhole. When the waves were big enough, water shot out of a cleft in the rocks, up to 25 meters in the air. The wind would pick up the mist and blow it gently, and a rainbow lingered in the droplets. Blue-footed boobies and albatross flew past us, as well as a graceful little red-cheeked tropicbird with a long white tail.

Also flying above, reminding us of the shape of pterodactyls, were the frigate birds. Maria called these birds pirates. They are heavy and don’t have the oil required to dive into the water and shed water in drops off their feathers. If these birds get too wet, they die because they can no longer fly. But they need to eat, and they eat fish, so they just steal their food from other birds. If they find a boobie or albatross that has caught a fish and is digesting it in their belly as they fly back to their young, the frigate pesters and intimidates them by pulling their tail or charging at them. The bird gets so distressed, it throws up the food, and the frigate catches the partially digested food in the air. What a rascal!

After catching our breaths we hiked back down the same path back to the zodiacs, which would take us back to our big ship. It was hot, we were sweating and slathering sun screen, and looking forward to our afternoon excursion when we’d get to jump in the water again. During our break on the boat, Alayna came running to tell us that they had been invited to be in a wedding that night. She was going to be a flower girl, Nate the ring bearer, and Benji a bubble blower. I confirmed this information with a staff member on board. Yes, there would be a wedding that night on the boat and the entire passenger list was invited. They wanted our kids to take a part in it, and even though we didn’t know the bride or groom at all, we said “sure.”

That afternoon we ventured out, this time on the other side of Española Island. As we got closer to the beach, we noticed that those dark shapes we had assumed were rocks or seaweeds were hundreds of sea lions, all basking in the sun. It was amazing, once again we walked right among them, watching them from just a few feet away. When they talked to each other, it sounded like belching. Most of them had this low, big man belch, but the babies sounded like belches on helium, everyone just cracked up when they heard it. Babies were nursing on their mothers, it was past mating season so the “bulls”, the male sea lions, were taking it easy and not too territorial. Usually there is one bull with a harem of twenty or thirty females, and the babies. Once a male baby gets to be about a year or so old, he must leave the colony and go to a bachelor pad, until he gets sexually mature and can try and start his own colony. A big wave came and swamped all the sea lions. They don’t like getting wet and all at once moved up the beach directly towards us, Clay caught it on video.

There were lots of babies, we watched one little guy go from mother to mother, trying to nurse and being shoved away with firm pushes of the flipper. His mother must have been out fishing, and mothers are not willing to share their milk with anyone but their own young. Once the dry season really sets in, it can get difficult and food can become an issue. He looked so pitiful, all my mothering instincts went out to this pup. Once we finished our hike up and down the beach we went back to get our gear and found a giant sea lion asleep on top of our stuff. A guide showed us how to clap and encourage him to find a new spot.

We all jumped into the crystal clear blue water, it felt lovely. I wore my shorty again, because I still love it and I am a big cold water wimp. This time we swam with the sea lions, they jumped in and swam all around us. The babies were very curious, they would swim right up to the kids and splash around, wanting to play. The big sea lions were a little more intimidating with their big teeth and loud belchy noises, but they weren’t as interested in us anyway. They would swim right past us, playing their own games.

It was amazing, swimming with sea lions. A baby came and touched Alayna right on the face. The boys were a little shy, if a sea lion came at them they usually splashed away yelling their heads off. The baby was really interested in Clay’s snorkel mask, it came right up to him and stared through the glass, trying to figure it all out. Clay took a short zodiac ride out to a nearby rock outcropping to snorkel, and saw a giant ray, huge parrotfish, and schools of smaller, colorful fish. I would have joined him, equipped today with a mask that didn’t leak, but when I got in the water I discovered my snorkel sucked in water. I was happy to swim with the sea lions instead.

When we got back to the boat, we all jumped in the shower to wash off the sticky salt. There were three white shirts on the kids’ beds, for them to wear for the wedding. Talk about a low stress wedding, there was no rehearsal or anything. The crew member found our kids ten minutes before it began and showed them where to walk, that was it. When the music was cued, our kids came down a spiral staircase into the main ballroom, everyone ooh’s and aah’d at how cute they were. They cleaned up real nice, and it’s the first time I’ve seen all three of them in new shirts, shirts with collars on them, and the boys’ tucked in, for nine months. I ooh’d and aah’d myself. The bride followed shortly after, she looked beautiful in a white wedding gown.

We got the scoop later, she and her husband had a civil ceremony back in Cleveland, they’re going to have a reception with friends and family when they get back. It seemed so strange to me, getting married with a bunch of strangers, but it was sweet how everyone wished them well and got teared up on their behalf. It’s probably Alayna’s one and only chance to be a flower girl since she’s past prime flower-girl age, and the outfit suited her just fine. No bows or lace or frills. I thought it was nice to be reminded of the vows Clay and I said to each other fifteen years ago, there were rumors a man on board was going to ask his girlfriend to marry him while on the cruise. Love is in the air, on the islands and on board.


Friday, 9 May 2008

Our wakeup call is a calm woman’s voice that comes over the loudspeakers, she hopes we had a restful night, and tells us it’s time to get up now. She spoke to us, and the rest of the boat, at 6am this morning, reminding us it was time to rise and shine. Clay’s thumb update, still swollen, but not itchy. We think it’s getting better. What in the world was that thing that stung it? Maybe a spider? Maybe a hijacked Conga ant from the rain forest? Let’s hope not, the Galapagos authorities would have a fit if we introduced the Conga ant to the islands. The doctor and lead naturalist are stumped. They can tell us what it’s not, what not what it is.

Our first excursion of the day was to Santa Cruz Island, where we visited the Charles Darwin Research Station. We learned a little about conservation on the islands, but the main reason for the visit was to see the giant tortoises. They have a breeding program at the center, they are trying to repopulate islands that were once full of these turtles. The turtles disappeared for different reasons, some were hunted by man for their meat, but many were destroyed by non-native animals introduced on the island, like rats and pigs and goats (that ate the tortoises’ food), feral dogs and cats. These non-native animals are slowly being evicted and the research center hopes to return the islands in the Galapagos to their previous state, full of happy turtles.

We were able to get really close to some tortoises, they were enormous. Their heavy shells scraped on the concrete pad while they ate, they get fed three times a week and we were lucky to arrive on a feeding day. Animals in captivity sometimes become aggressive, though they aren’t aggressive in the wild. We saw a fight, which for tortoises is pretty amusing. They raise their heads as high as their wrinkly necks will let them, and the tortoise that gets his head the highest wins. I wish all fights were that non-violent. They were so slow, they turned their heads slowly to reach for a leaf to eat, they heaved themselves slowly and awkwardly across the concrete pad, they seemed old and wise and a little dull.

We saw Lonesome George, the sole survivor from the Pinta Island. He’s a male, and there are no females with his same DNA, he was taken to the Charles Darwin Research Station for safety’s sake. There were two females in the enclosure with George, they aren’t his exact subspecies but they are the closest they can find to his DNA, and came from islands close to Pinta. George is very excited about the prospect of mating with these girls, but the females will have nothing to do with him. We watched poor George pursue one female across a small pond, but she escaped into some rocks where George couldn’t reach her. The center hopes someday they’ll find a female from that island, perhaps somebody’s pet somewhere in the world, taken from the island before it was protected. Maybe at a zoo. Unless they do, George will be the last of his kind.

We walked back to the dock, stopping in a few souvenir stores on the way so Benji could spend his tooth fairy money. We saw some men on a boat, cutting up huge tuna fish and gutting them. They had a very interested audience of pelicans and a few sea lions. Every once in a while, the men would throw a chunk of bloody goo into the air and some lucky sea lion or pelican would get a tasty snack. I almost couldn’t look, it was pretty gruesome. The kids were eager to play a few board games with Chris and Will when we got back, and Alayna was dying to go to the towel-folding class at 3. If she were honest, she’d say one of the main reasons she’s excited about our Galapagos cruise is because they offer a towel-folding class.

At 3 we went to the main lounge, where a surprisingly large group gathered to learn how to make creatures out of towels. We learned how to make a sea lion, a boobie, a snake, and more. Alayna actually helped an older woman behind her, she caught right on after all her origami work. She is probably the only one who will remember how to make a crab from a towel, and I already have plans to make her our official towel caretaker back home. Not only can she fold the towels, she could also wash and dry the towels! When I told her my plans, she asked, “Wash all those towels by hand!” The poor girl has forgotten about the beautiful washing machine we have at home.

That afternoon we visited Rubina Island, the red island. Its name is obvious once you catch sight of it, the sand on it is very red. Upon arrival we were met by a very territorial male sea lion who barked at us loudly while we disembarked from our zodiac. Our guide warned us to keep clear of the sea lions, they can be dangerous, and she pointed out a small area where we would be allowed to swim because it wasn’t in the sea lion’s territory. All other parts of the shoreline were off limits, if we ventured into them the male sea lion could become dangerous and injure us. I wasn’t so sure about this, had anyone actually talked to the sea lion and made sure he realized just where his space ended and our space began?

We hiked around the island a bit, there were some beautiful views and cool sea breezes. As we made our way back to the beach to swim, Benji declared he had to go to the bathroom, number two, a toilet was necessary. So while Benji and I went back to the big ship for a bathroom, Clay stayed behind with Alayna and Nate to try out the swimming and snorkeling. I wasn’t so disappointed to miss out on the swimming this time, that sea lion made me nervous. Back at the boat, Benji and I tried out the Jacuzzi, which we found too hot, then found a movie on the three channels the boat offers and settled down to relax a bit. When the Clay and the kids returned and I washed out Nate’s swimsuit, it was full of tiny rocks in the pockets. They reported the swimming was okay, but not great, and neither was the snorkeling. The sea lion hadn’t bothered them, thank goodness.

After a few days, we begin to feel we “know” some of the passengers, some better than others. There are Jim and Amy, Will and Chris’ parents, we’ve been able to speak to them quite a bit and enjoy their company. Then there are those we just talk to in passing, during quick trips on the zodiac. There are the newlyweds, Brad and Sheena, the ones married on the boat. There is the group of Germans who we haven’t talked too much, but one of them caught our eye with his gigantic camera. With the lens, it was almost as long as my arm, this man carted it from island to island and we speculated on the amazing pictures he must be taking. He stopped me that evening and said he had some great pictures of our kids swimming with the sea lions, Clay arranged to meet with him after dinner and get copies.

Our kids are something of a novelty, on a boat with over eighty passengers there are only five kids on board, and so they are noticed. It is a great ice breaker, we’ve met many people who miss their kids or grandkids after watching our kids play, wishing they could take their kids on this trip. We are so lucky, the kids are so lucky, this is a great finale to our big trip. Tomorrow, almost the entire boat will go home. Some have been on the cruise for just three days, others for eight days, there are only eleven of us who will remain after the morning excursion. I’m glad our clothes can continue to hang in the closets, our backpacks can remain tucked away. I’m not quite ready to pack it all up yet.


Saturday, 10 May 2008

This morning was a bit of a disappointment. The calm-voiced woman woke us up at 6:30am, but it turned out we could have slept an hour later, the early morning call was for those who had to have their bags outside the room by 7. Then we went on an excursion that included a bus ride, a ferry ride, and then another forty five minute bus ride, to reach two craters on the highlands of Santa Cruz Island. At the craters, our guide got a call that the plane for those departing would be landing early, so we only spent about ten minutes at the craters before boarding the bus again and retracing our steps, before going to the airport.

We thought we’d just be dropping off passengers at the airport, those going home, then we’d be transported back to the ship. Things weren’t so easy, we ended up waiting almost an hour before a bus could take us back. We really didn’t enjoy sitting around a hot outdoor airport waiting room when we didn’t have to. Even nacho Doritos and Chips Ahoy cookies couldn’t make it all go away. I forced everyone to look on the bright side. By getting up early we got to see all the gigantic grasshoppers that had invaded the boat overnight, clinging to all outdoor surfaces. When we arrived at the first dock, we were greeted by several sea lions that were stretched out on wooden benches, being lazy. One rested his head on another’s bottom, they looked like a bunch of bums. Clay got a picture of a lava gull we happened upon at one of the docks, apparently a rare spot as there are only 800 left in the world. And from the ferry boat, we saw fifty or more blue-footed Boobies dive-bombing the water at the same time, following each other into the water. There must have been a school of fish there, it was so cool seeing all those splashes, and then little bodies popping up all over the place.

The craters were pretty cool. Maybe not worth an entire morning excursion, when we could have just slept in and stayed on the boat, but at least we didn’t sail away from Santa Cruz wondering what we had missed. On the way back, we talked to another couple who was staying on four more days. It was the couple who had been married, Brad and Sheen, and we learned that they both work at a zoo in Cleveland. When we told them Alayna was interested in working with primates they both wrinkled their noses and made gagging sounds. Apparently chimps and orangutans and other primates are known for hurling their poop at people and being generally obnoxious. We also learned that primates are very fragile, if you have a cold and they catch it, they get it ten times worse. And if they have a cold and you get it, you get it ten times worse.

Alayna listened very intently to all of this discussion, asking few questions but I could see the wheels turning. Her dream of one day opening a primate center where people could interact with the monkeys didn’t seem like it was going to work out. Sheena and Brad encouraged her to get a job at a zoo, or a humane society. To work with all sorts of animals and find out if it’s really what she wants to do. They were really sweet to her, taking her seriously. I loved hearing all their stories about misbehaving animals. They were almost as good as a kindergarten teacher’s stories. When we got back to our room Alayna said, “Maybe I should work in an orphanage.” I think what she really wants to do someday, is spend a lot of time hugging and loving on things. Monkeys or children, it really doesn’t matter. She will be a good mommy.

Clay’s thumb is still swollen, we can’t believe it’s lasted this long. That was some spider/insect/bug that got hold of him. We kept a close eye on the picture channel on the TV, where our good buddy Fernando, the ship photographer, was posting pictures of all the new passengers on board. The kids were really hoping for more kids this next four days, but alas, there were none. We did get to smugly watch all the new passengers participate in the safety drill, scurrying down the halls in their big orange life jackets, while we calmly played a game of Clue.

That afternoon we had an excursion to Dragon Hill on Santa Cruz Island. The main attraction were the land iguanas, we saw nine of them as we wandered around. It was the first time we actually had to hunt for animals, instead of them just lying at our feet as soon as we arrived. They looked much different than the marine iguanas, yellow and green and scaly, several were shedding their skin. We learned that marine iguanas have three main differences from their land-based cousins, black skin to absorb heat they lose in the water, wedge-shaped tails for swimming and shorter snouts for eating algae growing on submerged rocks. We also saw some cool birds on a small lagoon, a couple of smallish ducks and some stilt birds. We were the only Penguinos left in our group, eight new people joined us and it was fun to see how excited they got over the little lava lizards (we saw tons of them on a previous day) and the one sea lion we encountered (after seeing literally hundreds of them before)

We returned hot and sweaty from the hike on the island, we didn’t get to swim this time. After being very grumpy about being abandoned at the airport for an hour this morning, Clay’s decided to be Mr. Happy and not complain about things like having to be last in line when the groups lined up to go this afternoon. He goes around saying things like “It takes more muscles to frown than to smile,”  “My motto is, you can never smile too big,” and “My, isn’t that sea air refreshing!” He glories in embarrassing Alayna by walking like a penguin, since we’re in the Penguino group, or expounding on the reasons he likes to be last, he wishes he could be last all the time. I’m not sure I entirely like this Mr. Happy persona, but it’s always interesting to see what Clay will say, or do, next. I think we’re all just a little delirious, we’ve sniffed too much sun screen, or something.