Travel

Diego, The Galapageño Gigolo

During the 17th and 18th centuries, at least 150,000 tortoises were taken from the various islands of the Galapagos, mostly for food and later, for oil also. The Galapagos were a way station for Pacific whaling ships and fur seal hunters. Because they’re so slow and have no fear of humans, the tortoises were easy pickings. Each ship would take dozens, sometimes hundreds, of tortoises and keep them in the hold stacked on their backs, alive. They could live up to a year that way, providing fresh meat for the sailors as they slowly starved. Even Charles Darwin thought little about how the constant taking of tortoises for food was bringing about their near-extinction, or how the introduced animals, especially rats, were decimating the endemic birds and reptiles who laid their eggs on the ground. Naturalists were not necessarily conservationists. …

Love, Galapagos Style

On our first day in the Galapagos, we had one of several opportunities to witness something that normally isn’t easy to see up close: Avian courtship. Also, really big iguanas. But I’ll talk about the iguanas in a future post. I should state for the record that I am not a birder, but during this trip I became a temporary convert.

The Galapagos Islands are famous for their bird life. Charles Darwin observed the differences in the beaks of the otherwise-similar finches on the various islands and surmised that they had developed their differences to deal with differing environmental conditions. These and some other bird species are seen nowhere else on earth, while others, though they also exist elsewhere, have long made their homes here. But as I will keep mentioning, all of them had no fear of us humans. …

Aboard The Xavier III

Twelve of us sat in the salon of the boat, the Xavier III, with our Galapageño guide, Fabian. We went around the circle—Germans, Americans, Brits and Australians—introducing ourselves and telling him what we most hoped to see: Tortoises, iguanas, boobies, penguins, flamingos. Fabian told us that if we smiled a lot, we might see them all. Wait—penguins and flamingos? I didn’t know you could see those in the Galapagos Islands! We must have been doing some good smiling because we saw everything the group hoped for, and more.

For the next 8 days, we would be living on this boat as we visited different islands, each with its own geology, ecology, and endemic wildlife. Almost every day included two hikes and two snorkeling opportunities. There was very little down time between our 7AM breakfasts and our 7PM dinners; sometimes we craved an afternoon to just relax on the deck and read. But those cravings didn’t last long.

Quito In An Afternoon

We didn’t arrive at our hotel until midnight Friday and slept in Saturday morning. Since we were meeting our tour group at 7PM, we only had a few hours to explore. After a late breakfast, we started on the one-mile walk to Quito’s historic district, hoping to find all the circled numbers on a map the concierge had given to Yvonne.

We headed off the main drag and started uphill on smaller streets. When we were in Morocco earlier this year, crossing the street in her cities was a contest with Death himself as we dodged cars who cared nothing for our presence in the crosswalk. Here in Quito, the cars politely honk to warn you that they’re coming. …

A Tourist In My Own Back Yard

Ask most anyone, anywhere, about a local tourist destination or activity, and there’s a good chance that they haven’t seen or done it. I’m no different. Have I driven down Lombard Street, the Crookedest Street In The World? Ridden the Napa Wine Train? Visited the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park? Ridden a Segway along the San Francisco Marina? No, no, no, and no.

A Bientót, Morocco!

I’m sitting in the back of our taxi as we drive, looping inland and then back to the Atlantic coast heading north from Essaouira. We’ve just begun the seven-hour drive to Salé, where we will spend our final night in Morroco. The sky is overcast. Forests of thuya wood stretch from both sides of the road, as far as the eye can see. As always, Yvonne is sitting in the front seat so that she can talk to the driver in French. I am half-listening, half writing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe trees become scrub as we get closer to the sea. Unburdened donkeys graze by the road, no work this morning. Small herds of sheep and goats populate the hillsides, their keepers always nearby. Low stone walls make corrals for the occasional horses or cows. We mount a rise in the road, and suddenly the ocean appears, calm, the beach an endless stretch of sand.

Jimi Hendrix, Where Art Thou?

ess-kitesIt was so windy in Essaouira the evening we arrived that my hat flew off of my head as I exited the car. That much wind was exceptional, but it isn’t called the Windy City for nothing; this coastal town and its tradewinds are world-reknowned for kitesurfing. The typical weather during our visit was cool and overcast in the morning, even foggy sometimes, while afternoons were sunny and breezy. It was much more like San Francisco than hot Casablanca, which is 200 miles north.

Nomads and Villages

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After we left Merzouga, we took a long, winding road through the mountains, where we were about to spend a week seeing some of the rural parts of Morocco. The road wasn’t just a long and winding one; it was the ONLY road. Outside of the major cities, there really aren’t a lot of highways, and nearly all of them are two lanes. …

Ramadan

We went to bed around midnight in Chefchaouen, only to be awakened at 1:30 AM by the loud, rhythmic banging of a drum. It started in the distance and slowly got closer. I looked out the window just in time to see a young man jogging by, banging his drum on the run. A woman across the street was looking out her window also, smiling and watching the drummer as he disappeared and his drum faded into the distance. Finally, the 1-man parade ended as I heard the final drumbeat.


But about 15 minutes later, just as I was falling back to sleep, the muezzin in the mosque next to our hotel called out for several minutes. Loudly. After that, we didn’t awaken until around 8 AM, despite an alleged call to daybreak prayer. …

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