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In the final post of the wonderful trip to Galapagos and Peru, I want to share some of the majesty that the islands offer. Ecuador does a great job of preserving the life on the islands, even after decades of human intrusion. In fact on some of the islands the pirates introduced animals such as goats and donkeys. These animals wreaked havoc on the creatures endemic to the islands. Eventually many of those goats and donkeys were exterminated or removed to protect the local life.

Some of what makes this place magnificent is the nature left to act in their natural habitat. You can see the various species making and having babies, protecting their eggs from predators, protecting territories, and catching their next meals. We saw a bird fighting off a frigate on his back who was trying to steal the eggs underneath in his nest. Nature can be brutal to their own as well. We saw Boobies warming their two eggs and were told that once one egg hatches they get rid of the next one. No spare after the heir with Boobie birds.

On one beach walk, we came across the saddest part of the trip—nature again playing Darwin’s survival of the fittest game. A cute baby sea lion was obviously very hungry as he walked around and then rested due to weakness from lack of sustenance. We could see his rib cage—a sign he hadn’t eaten in a while. His mommy may have been hurt or gone. This little guy was pleading with and slowly chasing another adult female to try to get some milk. Unfortunately they don’t do adoptions in the sea lion world so the female kept moving away from the baby. She was saving her resources for her own young.  I prayed his mommy would show up soon. 

In brighter news, the snorkeling was fantastic, and the most fun part was the sea lions swimming around you and playing. There were also marine iguanas eating the algae on the rocks under the water as well as huge turtles. The turtles were slow unless a boat or a person were coming on them and then they could scoot away. It was a bit startling at times though to turn around and see one right in front of you. After seeing some beautiful fish, we got back to the boat with white fingers from the cold water, to soak in the hot tub for a bit before our nightly happy hour.

Taking a walk along the shoreline on one island, we saw a number of frigates—the males trying to attract the females by enlarging the pouch under their chin. When “inflated” it looked like a red heart. When the ladies flew overhead, they would make a lot of noise, show their pouches, and spread their wings wide—look at me dahlin!

We also saw more sea lions and were told by the guide that sometimes you’ll see a beach boss—one guy who “owned” that beach for him and his women. If there were lots of ladies, he would be higher up on the hierarchy. On another island we saw a number of the colorful land iguanas. They moved slowly and the males seemed more colorful. At one point, two males were competing for a female’s attention.

The swimming and hiking wiped me out. Thankfully we took afternoon rides on zodiacs and saw many wonderful animals and geographical sites. On one island, we saw lots of Galapagos penguins swimming around. The ones we saw getting in and out of the water were pretty cute. It was fascinating to see penguins outside of a zoo and not in the freezing Antarctic.

Back on the boat, we had fun seeing birds that would catch rides between islands. And at one point a sea lion jumped on our stairs to catch a ride but was blocked by crew standing near the entrance. The crew couldn’t touch the sea lion but maybe their presence hindered his objective of a free ride. Later he jumped on a zodiac that was parked along the side of the boat.

Our happy hour was on the deck that night as we had a final crossing the equator party. It was beautiful with the sun setting and was our seventh crossing (six on the boat, one by plane and we had one more to go to get home). They gave us certificates with new names given to us by King Neptune—mine was Sergeant Major.

Our final tour of the trip was on land to a special tortoise sanctuary. There were some seriously big boys there. They were all over—lots of them in the mud pits. We got pretty close to a few of them. And a few people in our group climbed into big shells they had at the center to see how it feels to wear one. A bus trip through lovely scenery took us back to a dock and then on to a tiny airport for our flight back to the mainland.

A final night in Ecuador with a lovely goodbye dinner was festive. We had an amazing group—really one of the most fun we’ve ever had with Tauck. I highly recommend a trip to these two countries—Peru and Ecuador. The people were nice and interesting, the scenery was breathtaking, and the history was rich and filled with a mixture of religions and cultures. It once again grew our hearts and our compassion for our earth and the animals and people in it.

We had a few hours of sleep and a cold shower before taking a nice trip back to the states. It was exhausting but once again, mom, dad, and I had an amazing family experience. We are currently throwing darts at the map to see where we land next! Until then, buenas noches!

The sea lion trying to board without a ticket.

Kids in Peru singing a drinking song to make money off of tourists.

Sea lions hanging out on someone’s panga.

I was super excited to visit the Galapagos Islands. I felt almost rewarded after the experience of having to go through my evolution class in college and reading The Evolution of the Species by Charles Darwin. Now, before I lose you reader, please know I will not reproduce the entire excruciating details of that said publication and will mostly be talking as a tourist having fun in a magnificent environment with beautiful animals and birds.

Beach time at San Cristobal.

When we arrived at San Cristobel island we were immediately delighted at the sight of sea lions making themselves at home basically anywhere; on the steps and the platforms to the boats, on the streets, on boats (if you leave it too close and too long near the land), etc. Our guides told us you can’t touch the animals here so some of them get used to that and feel free and comfortable. Sometimes that means you have to leave them be as they take up space on the boat you are riding on at the moment.

The crazy stairs we climbed on Genovese.

Our cruise ship was very comfortable and had 22 guest rooms. My parents and I got the rooms in the stern and there was plenty of room. An early wake up found us in the northern hemisphere anchored in the Great Darwin Bay at the island of Genovese where we took a 1.5 mile walk across some hard terrain of lava rocks. Here we saw a lot of red footed and Nazca boobies. Lots of other species of birds were nesting everywhere. There were frigates, hawks, swallow-tail gulls, mockingbirds and finches. The Prince Philip Stairs where we caught our zodiac was a scary 90 ft decent and not for the clumsy types.

Playing with the seals.

In the afternoon we took a short beach walk on the other side and then went for a snorkel. It was a very busy and physical itinerary. The snorkeling gave us views of colorful fish, barnacles, and a very rare eel. The most fun thing I liked on these snorkels were the sea lions. They would swim around you and play, coming up close to you then spinning away at the last second.

Marine iguana getting warm.

Our next stop, back down in the southern hemisphere, was to Santiago, an old pirate stop. We started off up some rocky stairs avoiding the baby sea lion and his mama on the rocks and took a long stroll through the paths in the island seeing a ton of lizards and birds. And also along the shoreline where the sea lions would climb up (how I’m not sure) into cozy spots to sleep. We had to watch our step because the marine iguanas were everywhere. They look like prehistoric scary predators but in reality were algae-eating, slow moving, sun-soaking, and fascinating to observe. All of the animals would co-exist and sleep near each other including Sally Lightfoot crabs who had beautiful red markings. The terrain was very interesting and full of lava formations, low trees, and random rock formations.

Our days normally consisted of walks, rides in the pangas (zodiacs) along the coast lines, and swims. Next post covers some more back and forth across the equator and around the islands.

They look like killers but they just hang out in a “mess.”

Cool rock formations where pirates used to store their riches.

Can you spot the sea lion and guess how he got there?

Pelicans were everywhere and beautiful in flight.

Sally Lightfoot crabs crawled all over the rocks, other animals, etc. Black as babies, they get colorful as adults.

Lizards (or salamanders?) scurried across our path. The females had red heads and the males would do push ups to try to get their attention.

Red-footed booby bird.

The red-footed booby has a beautiful blue face.

 

Male frigate. His pouch is deflated–time to eat.

Tons of birds fly around on Genevosa.

 

This guy stands on one leg.

Sleeping in the sun on an abandoned boat, because we can.

A rare glimpse at an eel while snorkeling.

Our ship the Isabella II.

Swimming with my new friends.

Curious kids entertaining our train and hoping for some handouts.

The Peru and Galapagos trip continues with our final days in Peru. With my Fitbit registering a ton of steps and my knees sore, it was a relief to go by bus and train from Machu Picchu back to Cusco. The train had to stop a few times and we would see some locals asking for money. It’s always a reminder of how well off we are and how just a few dollars can make a difference to their day. We saw a local women who looked elderly and her back was bent pretty bad—probably from years of hard work.

So many of these people like to be self-employed. We met a few of them all over the Cusco/Machu Picchu region as they were friends of our tour guide. They called themselves names such as Diana Ross and George Washington. As a marketing professional, I can say I am impressed by this tactic.

Street vendor.

On the way and throughout the trip we would see kids and women in tourist areas with lamas, alpacas, and even baby sheep because they looked cute, dressed up to take pictures and collect money. We noticed the kids would get upset when they weren’t picked for the photo or didn’t get a U.S. dollar if another did. I got my photo taken with some kids who started singing a song. I asked our tour guide what the words meant and he said it was a drinking song. (See below for video of them singing.)

Coca leaves to chew on to help with the elevation were in a big bowl at the airport. I preferred the candy and tea versions.

Back in Cusco, the elevation was making me take deep breaths and hurt my lungs and head a bit. Our hotel was really interesting—it was an old monastery and each room had a lot of character. We took a tour around town to a cathedral and enjoyed a big party and parades going on around the main square. We saw military members walking with those old German type straight steps, guys dressed in cowboy outfits shaking beer and spraying it around, college groups dressed in black and white business clothes, and more. We were told there are so many “holidays” that get celebrated there were too many to count or know all of them.

We went to a lama/alpaca farm where they let us feed them. There were also demonstrations by locals who learned the tradition of weaving the wool and making the wonderful cloths they sell today. Baby alpaca is the first “shaving” of an animal and is softer, costing more. There were several breeds of both kinds of animals and all were fun to and interesting to see.

As we went through a beautiful church, we learned how the Peruvians really mixed their pagan traditions with Christianity. There is lots of that all over the world; however, I was somewhat shocked that they didn’t only observe old traditions, they still “worship” pagan symbols. At the risk of sounding judgmental—I’m surprised they can’t see the outright contradiction with the first commandment. For example, there was a stone from pagan religions that sits in a glass near the door. On Sundays, the people line up after service and put their hands on the stone and pray. The priests say “it’s just a door stop” but the people believe it’s more. There are other symbols including statues and paintings depicting Mary in clothes that are like triangles (mountain shaped and hiding her feet)—she symbolizes Mother Earth who they worship. And paintings of her pregnant that contradict the Catholic religion, but not Protestant. Throughout the trip we were told of many other pagan worship rituals that still happen. While a little disconcerting, it was a good lesson of their culture and I found their architecture and people to be quite beautiful.

Dad and I did our traditional shopping trip around town and then went back to rest before dinner and another very early morning wake up to catch the flight to Lima and then on to Guayaquil, Ecuador. We landed in Ecuador and took a short city bus tour. Our hotel rooms were big and we explored the main street around us—not really finding anything but banks, disease-welcoming restaurants, tiny mini markets, pharmacies, etc. Our next morning was brutally early and back again to the airport to catch a flight to San Christobal in the Galapagos.  Goodbye beautiful Peru and more on the islands to come!

 

 

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I think this is Mt. Ranier with windmills turning from the heavy winds blowing across the fields.

On my second day in Oregon, I got up from the wonderful home where I was staying in Hood River and headed east along the Columbia River. The scene was gorgeous and soon I was starting to see more desert landscape. The scenery was magnificent and changed continuously as I drove east and south. At one point as I was driving through low rolling hills and endless fields with wind generators dotting the horizon, I looked in my rear view mirror and saw a huge snow-capped mountain. I pulled off the side of the road to get a good look and then scanned to the left and saw another mountain in the distance. I’m pretty sure the one was Mt. Rainier in Washington. I don’t think any other mountain that far away could have been as huge as the tallest peak in America. I saw it once from a plane and now viewed it from land.

While I normally dislike the journey and am more of a destination kind of person, I fully enjoyed the drive and stopped to take photos as the landscape called to me. Oregon has a natural history filled with geological turbulence and regrowth. Ice ages, volcanoes, water, weather patterns, storms, and more formed the beauty we see today. Fields and prairies, hills and low bushes, tall beautiful trees, mountains in the distance, and windy rivers all captured my attention and made me relaxed and happy.

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The stage coach station in the old west town of Shaniko.

I stopped at a ghost town called Shaniko. In the old west, it was a thriving place but when the railroad passed it by, it became desolate. So the locals now make some cash from selling antiques in the old stagecoach station and from people like me who stop off to see a little tiny old west town.

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The Clarno Unit of John Day Fossil Beds.

After my short visit, I continued on a somewhat deserted road that turned sharply up and down the hills of central Oregon toward one of the locations of John Day Fossil Beds Parks. There are three sites that make up this park. I first went to the Clarno Unit, where I hiked about a mile and a half through in the high sun and along rough paths through ancient rocks. The scene of the tall rock monuments changed as I wound my way around the paths. These rock cliffs were formed from volcanic mudflows that swept through the area 44 million years ago and preserved a diverse assortment of plants and animals that inhabited a near-tropical forest. My heart was palpitating when I got to the top of a 450 foot elevation on a small rough path ending under an arch and a fossil of a tree embedded in the cliff.

I was in want of ice cream when I finally made it back to my pickup truck—the so called “economy rental”, but alas, no civilization was nearby so I continued along the windy roads to the next park, the Painted Hills. These colorful hills were beautiful. Reds, yellows, and spots of black flowed through the rolling hills as a result of ancient volcanic flows.

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The Painted Hills

The Painted Hills is one of those places where the view keeps getting better and different as you move along the paths. The hills look like sand but when you see it up close, it’s more like very dry, crumbly rock that has been colored. As I was making my way down from the top of one path, I noticed many people with dogs—they are allowed on leashes. And then, my eye caught one woman walking her little goat. He was on a leash, so I guess that works! One of the cool things about traveling is seeing all kinds of people who make it interesting enough to write about.

IMG_5306With my Fitbit buzzing at 10,000 steps, I called it a day and drove the final leg down to Bend where I would get to see my niece, Zenia, and her friend McKenna. More mountains dotted the landscape as I reached hippie town, USA. Seriously, it is a lovely town, about to burst at the seams as more and more people (and students) add to the 80,000 population. More on Bend and my fun with “Grasshopper” on my next post, but once again, I will say I thoroughly enjoyed the drive through this gorgeous state with seemingly vast resources and open land.

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Know anyone who rents a tomb? I know of only one. He used it for three days and then left it empty. That emptiness of the tomb is a symbol of fullness in everything else. You can use that empty tomb to store all the useless things in your life you don’t need.IMG_0318

I tend to cry on Good Friday and Easter during services. I used to think it was because of the insane brutality of torture Jesus endured. Now I know it’s partly that but it is also the overwhelming feeling of being loved so much by someone that He would take the burden of all my sins and die for me an excruciating death.IMG_0311

When the women who loved Jesus went to clean Him up on that Sunday 2,000 years ago, they found the tomb empty. The men did not believe them. Peter and John ran to the tomb to see for themselves. My pastor said this morning, when you are faced with bad times, indecision, hurt, or need help, run to the tomb. Run to Jesus.

Happy Resurrection day! Thank you Jesus.

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My continuing coverage on our trip to Greece and Turkey begins with the arrival in Athens, Greece where we were picked up by our guide, Kosta, from Homeric tours. As we passed through the ancient narrow streets that were lined with orange trees and tiny cars, we caught glimpses of the Athens Acropolis. The parking was limited so there were many cars parked up on the streets and sidewalks.

IMG_2101Very tired from the overnight flight, the three of us barely fit into the tiny elevator of the Athenian Callirhoe, and went up to our rooms. The beds were rock hard but the staff of this hotel were top-notch. Very helpful and nice to us during our entire stay. It was in a very good location, close to the major attractions and some metro stops and restaurants. Kosta directed us to where the locals eat and we had a nice meal before hiking through the streets where we helped the local economy.

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The streets didn’t match up with the maps but the shopkeepers were very helpful giving us directions and then inviting us into their shops. We were making our way up to the Plaka area. We bought our obligatory tourist stuff and gave some coins to some kids on the street who were playing bouzoukis (a Greek guitar) and accordions, attempting to make their daily quota for their adult lords. It was hot and I for one was very weary after traveling so we headed back and had a lovely dinner at the restaurant hotel.

One of my thoughts walking the ancient streets was how much human history lies beneath the concrete sidewalks we were stomping on. For now we have many wonders to explore and more are excavated each year.

IMG_2217One thing I notice when we travel is the general character and décor of the living spaces in these big cities. In some countries you’ll see satellite dishes or water tanks on the roofs. Here in Athens I would describe the apartments that are home to six million residents as having a drab type of architecture with lots of green foliage spilling off their balconies—most having awnings. Their roofs hosted solar panels that also dotted the landscape. None of the buildings were very tall because there was a law to keep the view of the Acropolis open to the surrounding region.

The Acropolis

My parents were here 15 years ago and also 50 years ago as a young couple. My brother was a third wheel of sorts on that first trip, but not quite out of the cocoon at that point. We have photos of my parents in 1965 at the Acropolis. They enjoyed seeing the ruins again as we hiked up the tall local hill to the top.IMG_2173

In each of the ancient Greek cities, there was an acropolis. Most people know the one in Athens as the only one but there are many throughout the country. The Acropolis contains several ancient structures including the entryway or Propylaea. A monument to Agrippa still stands as part of the Propylaea. Also on the hill top is the Parthenon, which is the main structure, and the Erechtheum which was a temple to Athena and Poseidon. The Acropolis was the center of the civilized society and where the ancient nobles lived. The little people lived below in the low lands.

IMG_2164As we walked among the ruins I was amused at some of the wardrobes of the tourists, including one woman with blue high heels. This was not exactly an easy place to walk around—uneven rocks everywhere.

A couple of historical side notes…

The story of the Parthenon involved a rivalry among two of the ancient Greek gods, Athena and Poseidon. Looking for a patron for the city, the King asked the two to participate in a contest. Each offered a gift to the people—Poseidon created a spring but it turned out to have salty water, which didn’t do anything for the people there. Athena on the other hand gave them an olive tree, providing sustenance and oil to light there lamps. So Athena won, hence the name Athens.IMG_2207

The Parthenon was blown up when the Turks, who were occupying Athens, kept their arsenal there. The Athenians were fighting back and bombarded the arsenal, taking the ancient ruin with it. It has a lot of scaffolding so they are working to repair it.

In the early 1800s, the British Earl of Elgin obtained permission from the Sultan (who ruled Greece at the time) to take whatever he wanted from the Parthenon and so the ancient Frieze that decorated the outside of the Parthenon went piece by piece to England where it was sold to the British museum.

Day two will continue in the next post with a tour of the Olympic Stadium and more!

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Mom and Dad in 2015.

Mom and Dad in 2015.

Mom and Dad in 1965.

Mom and Dad in 1965.

Frieze replica.

Frieze replica.

Part of the Frieze from the Parthenon.

Part of the Frieze from the Parthenon.

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The monument of Agrippa (on the left) of the Propylaea.

The monument of Agrippa (on the left) of the Propylaea.

The intercom at the animal hospital boomed, “Attention, Grendel’s mom is here, Grendel’s mom is here.” I smiled a bit and inside my head laughed while wondering if anyone else there was laughing.

Why was I laughing? In high school and college I read and liked the story of Beowulf and my sense of humor is a mystery to some, but I find irony funny at times. Grendel is a character in Beowulf who is depicted as a monster. Large, hairy, mean—this monster invaded Hrothgar’s mead hall and eats his Viking warriors for breakfast. After the hero Beowulf kills Grendel, Grendel’s mother goes mental and causes even more destruction before Beowulf has to do battle with her as well.

Grendel driving

Grendel driving

My Grendel may have been very hairy and big for a dog, but he was the most gentle, kind, loving creature you could hope to love. When I brought him home as a puppy, my one cat tolerated him and the other went out of her way to smack him in the nose at every opportunity. He would sit and take it, even though he could have eaten her in two gulps. Grendel outlived them and had the experience of getting love from several new kittens in the house who adored the big guy.

The absence of Grendel’s presence is so pronounced in my house. He was always right in the middle of the action—whether that was lying down in the kitchen as five people worked their way around him trying to cook a meal, or blocking the doorway of my bathroom every morning to await his breakfast. He would never hurt a fly on purpose but he did take me down by the knees going down the stairs as a puppy. And he liked to play that game where he sits behind someone who doesn’t know he’s there and they turn and trip over him and fly to the ground as he hopes they drop some food.IMG_5731

One of my favorite activities to do with Grendel was to walk on the beach or in the woods. No leashes, no rules—just sniffing away at all the smells. I laughed when the experts told me to get him a dog bowl on a tray up off the ground to help ease the strain on his neck. Well then what do I do about him every other minute when we are walking and his nose is on the ground sniffing?

g-surfingOn the off-season down at Bethany Beach, we would head out sans leash and he would trot alongside the dunes as I walked along the surf. The dunes provided more smelling opportunities and then sometimes he would venture into the waves to fetch and surf. A water dog at heart, when we visited the lake, he was all about jumping off the steps of the dock to swim out and save me or to chase a duck. I never worried about his wandering up on Walloon Lake and even met some neighbors who lived several houses down because he had first made the introductions and of course gave everyone a great first impression.

At home I was embarrassed at times when he would just run into my neighbors’ houses and before we could grab him, would gobble up any food left out for their cats or dogs. He was part of the Briarleigh pack, letting the little dogs bark at him and running around the children with a delightful look on his face.4188_83427987487_6046940_n

Grendel was a quiet dog—very much to my liking. He barked only on special occasions—like when he would see family or friends approaching, or when he was at the dog park and wanted his buddy to run and play, or at home when someone knocked on the door. Just one definitive bark—nothing ongoing and noisy—just enough to warn away the bad guys and let me know a friend was at the door. And my gentle giant would sometimes bark at the little cats who would venture too close to his bone. He would put up with a lot but he was not okay with them messing with his bones. Even though the bones were as big as the cats themselves.

10398500_57849267487_1153483_nWhat a comfort and joy he was to me for 11 wonderful years. Lying with me on our sofa, riding along with me to the beach or Michigan, or just on some errands as we did a few days ago. He saw me leaving and rushed the door—standing in my way determined to go with me, so I brought him along and he had a happy last ride sticking his head out the window.

God gives us what we need and I believe He gave Grendel and me to each other at the right time. I finally was settled with a house and ready to take care of a puppy. Lab Rescue had a male yellow lab puppy who needed a home just at the time I was ready. I drove up to Baltimore to meet him at a vet office. The woman said I could spend a few minutes with him and decide if I want him or not and that she had three other people lined up if I didn’t. He burst into the room—a ball of energy running around sniffing and licking and his happy tail knocking over everything in its proximity. I took him home and soon realized I needed a bigger car. So instead of getting a little sports car, I got a big SUV to hall me and my baby and all our stuff on our adventures.10398500_57849252487_6768651_n

Nine years ago I remember sitting in my room crying out to God to please save Grendel for me. I had come home from work with a bad back only to realize that Grendel had gotten up on the counter and eaten through a large bottle of Advil I had just bought. He ate 200 times the toxic dose and somehow still managed to survive. Praise God. I cried again last week when the doctor told me he had cancer. For a few days it seemed maybe this would be something they could fix and he would live a couple more years. But just as life brings us unexpected blessings, so too it gives us unexpected blows. After a routine visit for a cat scan things progressed rapidly and no one could figure out why. In a blink of an eye I had to decide whether to fight a seemingly losing battle and keep him around for a little while longer or to stop the pain and suffering he seemed to be in. I am going back and forth about the wisdom of that decision now. It may be just because I miss him and I’m hating the uncertainty of what the outcome would have been. And some moments I am at peace knowing that it was his time to go and I just hate that it happened.10398500_57849257487_5295814_n

Thank you—all of my dear friends and family—all of the wonderful supportive words and actions you have given me. Yes, he’s a dog and not a human. But anyone who loves animals understands the loss of a beloved pet. They are our companions, they comfort us and love us and are part of our families. Thanks to all my human friends and thank you God for giving me a wonderful decade with the Grendel dog.

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