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La gente (Galapagos part 3)


For eight days we live in a strange mix of primitive and privilege. We are stripped down to the minimum — of clothes, comfort, language. They plunk us into puffy orange vests, and we bounce on the water like babies in a pool. There is in fact an innocence to us now, a childlike grasping to our communication. Everything is curiosity and discovery. When we don’t know the words, we try a simpler language. We speak with our eyes and our hands and our laughter.

For eight days we share our lives with strangers. And then of course they are not so strange anymore. For all of us, this is a once in a lifetime experience. What does it mean to inhabit a single moment together? We cross into one another. We are living each other’s time.

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The locals say they still feel awe, but I’m not sure I believe them. They are in constant motion, just like the boat on which they live. Cook, sail, clean, repeat. Our vacation is their responsibility, their exhaustion. Our paradise is their status quo.

I’m glad I speak their language, even if I do it poorly. Otherwise how would we have gotten to know that Mario is from the mainland, that Elio has a cold, that Edgar’s son is named Jessie, that Angel once worked for a Japanese man who liked shark fin soup? With my broken Spanish, I hope to become more than just another passenger to ferry, another guest to please, another bed to make. Because to me they are more than just the crew.

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When we are back on land, Andy asks, “What will you take away from all this?” At first I don’t know how to answer. The question is too big.

“Adventure,” I say at last. It is trite but true. “Opportunities. They’re all around us, if we have the guts to pursue them.”

He imagines, perhaps, that I am referring to swimming with sharks. Or chasing penguins with my camera. Or speaking Spanish with anyone and everyone because I have to.

But I am not referring to any of those things. Or perhaps I am referring to all of them, plus one more.

I am remembering our night in Puerto Ayora, when Ruben took us to the Calle de Kioscos, to eat his favorite dish, to meet his wife and son. I am remembering the bar we went to afterward, with the Australians and the Italians. I am remembering the empty dance floor.

Loud music, dark lighting, and a room full of people I would probably never see again after the week was out. No risk, and yet still I hesitated. Ruben and his wife led the way, twisting and shaking and spinning, with their spirits full in their eyes. The Italian ladies went out next, shedding inhibition, embracing the moment, as they had done the entire trip. Then there was me, sitting on a bench, sipping jugo de mora.

The girl that sat. That wasn’t how I wanted to be remembered. Or forgotten.

After a few minutes, I got up. I danced. And now I can say it, forever. Even if I never see those people — including myself — again.

I danced in the Galapagos.

That is what I will take away from all this.

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La tierra (Galapagos part 2)


There is no light when you wake. Just the ship’s musty heartbeat, and the sharp ring of a bell calling everyone together. Through the darkness, sixteen pairs of eyes flit to the shoreline, eagerly watching its approach. What strange and lovely creatures await us today? What experience, what adventure.

But there are rules, even out here on these untamed rocks. Don’t get too close. Don’t fall too far behind. Sweat too much, drink even more. Stretch. Ache. Tire. Rest. See. Do. Live.

Never take.

The truth is, you couldn’t possess this land even if you tried.

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The paths are marked in black and white — gentle but obvious reminders when set against such a vibrant world. This is the only way you may go. The rest of the animals pay no attention. Their definition of home will never include lines or locks or laws.

An iguana blinks up at me. His skin is ridged and cracked. He steps forward. He angles his head. His jaws open. He plucks a tiny yellow star from its leafy nest. He chews.

I laugh as he deflowers the entire patch of grass and then moves on to the next.

What a strange and lovely creature.

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Once upon a time, these islands were nothing but fire and ash. Coils of black rippling against each other. Burning waves conquered by the steady blue water.

Then there was a seed, a sprout, an egg, a chick.

Lifetimes layer like sweet, rich cake. Once upon a time, once upon a hundred years ago, once upon a yesterday, once upon a now. Tomorrow is invisible but there, waiting. It’s the salt you taste on every breeze.

My only regret is that I am never alone here. Just for a moment, I would like all the other bodies and voices to disappear, to leave me with my thoughts, allow me to converse with this place that is science and history and art. We have been introduced, the Galapagos and I. But we are not intimate. I would like to really know her.

I spot a sea lion pup sucking on its mother’s teat, and suddenly I have been let in on a secret. Our vulnerability is shared. The islands whisper, You may not know me, but I know you. And it’s true. I cannot hide here, I do not perform. Like the land, my mind and spirit roam wild. This place is not the experience or the adventure. I am.

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El mar (Galapagos part 1)


I grew up on the water, but I didn’t always love it. As a girl I feared the crash of the waves, and the dreadful dip down into the sea. But I became older and braver (and my dad became a better sailor). The boat is now a happy place, an escape, an inner peace manifested. I look forward to being surrounded by blue of all different shades. I look forward to the rhythmic song of the waves, to the openness of the sky, to the cradling. Day or night, I feel a vastness around me. Within it I am not small, but exactly the right size.

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I have never been a great swimmer. Once I nearly drowned at a beach in Valencia. I was with friends, but they had gotten ahead of me. Since then, I’ve been afraid to be in the back. What if the water tries to claim me again? What if no one notices until it’s too late?

But I refuse to live a fearful life, so I swim, and when I fall behind, I move forward as best I can.

There are sharks in the Galapagos. Yes, I refuse to live a fearful life, but still I felt the fear. Of blood and teeth and the Jaws theme song. Of becoming one of those unlikely statistics. Of losing a limb — or worse, a friend. Yes, I felt the fear.

Naturally, during our very first snorkel, we saw a shark nearby.

After a few electric heartbeats, it was fine. He didn’t come after me, he didn’t want my flesh. He didn’t even care that I was there, really. He was nothing to fear.

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It’s easy to understand why we create fairytales about mermaids and lost cities under the sea. There’s so much life below the water, so much color and motion. There are stories to be told, and feelings to be felt. There is life and death and love and wonder and ruthlessness and cunning and loyalty.

When I saw a penguin swimming right beside me, I lost my breath entirely. I became a child. I watched, starry-eyed, and I giggled like I never do. I tried to keep up, tried to catch the little elf, but I have never been a good swimmer. So I let him dance in circles around me. I let myself live a little fairytale.

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On the alphabet of madness, my particular worldview, and adding sentences

I don’t talk much about my “process.” Probably for the same reasons that I feel compelled to put “process” in quotes. It’s just such a fickle, fluid thing. Some days I do X; some days I do Y. If I’m lucky, I can just go back and forth between those two. But more often, I’m forced to try Z, or G, or B, or M. There’s a whole alphabet of tricks and techniques. Of methods and madness.

But I really enjoyed Natalia’s post about writing the other day, so I’m going to participate in this blog-hop about my “process” too. Who knows. Maybe if I talk about it enough, someday I’ll lose the quotes.

What are you working on?

Right now, mostly a story about a girl escaping to Spain.

Sometimes I play in pages about a girl and her parents visiting the Galapagos. And very occasionally, I dip my toe into a story about a girl and her famous football-playing father.

But yeah, mostly the Spain thing.

It’s about mourning the loss of a toxic friendship, holding onto an identity that everyone except you questions, and dancing your heart out in a noisy, electric nightclub in Barcelona.

I like it.

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

Hm. I guess the primary difference is that my work is written by me, while the rest of its peers are not.

And of course what that means is, my work is infused by my specific thoughts, questions, and feelings. My stories embody the particular discussions and debates that I have with myself about the world. Most of all, they reflect what I see — or hope to see — in the world around me.

I especially like to focus on uncommon settings, diverse characters, and strong emotional relationships.

Why do you write what you do?

Because it is what interests and compels me most.

Because I don’t see enough of it on the shelves yet.

And because I have always liked to connect with people and explore the world through stories.

How does your writing process work?

Ah, and now we come to that pesky alphabet I was talking about…

Most days, I sit at my desk, open my Word document, and try to add sentences. Other days, I sit on my couch, with my journal and a pen, and try to add sentences.

Sometimes I go for a walk with my dog and think about a scene that’s giving me trouble. Sometimes I talk through ideas with my writing buddies, who often help me find an even better path than the one I was considering. Sometimes I read for hours — to fill up my well of inspiration, and to study good storytelling. Sometimes I watch TV or spend time with loved ones — to recharge my batteries, and to remember that there’s a world outside my own brain that I need to be in dialogue with.

I am by no means an expert in How To Write. I am just a person who tries, and fails, and tries again, and hopefully fails better.

Bottom line: Add sentences.

(Until it’s time to revise. Then delete!)

Tales from Botswana: Life vs. survival

You guys, there is nothing cuter than a baby elephant that doesn’t know how to use its trunk yet.

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Elephants usually master their trunks at about 1 month of age, which means this little guy is probably about 3 weeks old (according to our guide). While his mother elegantly sucks water into her trunk, then tips her head back to pour it into her mouth, her little guy does, well, this.

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Yeah, he’s pretty much just jamming his face into the puddle and hoping for the best.

Also cute: a baby elephant (same one) scratching his nose.

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And for our final cute: a baby elephant (same one) who is too afraid of crocodiles to cross the water with the rest of the herd, so his mother has to take him aaaaallll the way around to a land crossing.

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After watching him for about 20 minutes, every single one of us (even the guide) wanted to take that baby elephant home.

Even though we saw a TON of elephants over the course of our safari, somehow they never got old. Unlike the antelope. Or even the giraffes and hippos. I think it’s because elephants seem to have so much personality. They react to the cars, they interact with each other. They shake their heads. They trumpet. When they open their mouths, they look like they’re smiling.

The only other adventure/wilderness trip that Andy and I have been on was in 2011 when we visited the Galapagos islands. Though the two places are like apples and oranges, we couldn’t help comparing them. Both are filled with beauty beyond imagining. The landscapes, the wildlife, the culture. The sky.

I think the biggest difference I noticed was that the Galapagos feels much more… nurturing. It’s always wet and lush, and the animals are of a “friendlier” variety. Sea lions, turtles, lizards, penguins, finches, and fish. (Okay, yes, and sharks.)

But Botswana, at least during dry season, is a harsh place. The grasses get so dry that wildfires start spontaneously. So many of the plants have thorns that elephants have evolved to just eat them. And then there are the lions, cheetahs, leopards, wild dogs, and crocodiles roaming to kill.

Life versus survival.

Of course, a balance of both exists no matter where you go. But one definitely seemed a more dominant theme in Galapagos, and whereas the other prevailed in Botswana. Just an interesting observation — one of many in our travels.

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