January 31

Tuesday I had my environmental science class work with the stream table again.  They designed their own experiments, which were usually very interesting.  They did an oxbow formation, a levy breach, a beaver dam, and a streambank stabilization.

Wednesday Stacey left to go to a conference in Branson, about a 5.5 h drive.  About noon she called and said the Check Engine light on the car was on.  I said that was no big deal.  Then she said it was overheating.  I told her to turn the heater on, but it wouldn’t blow hot air.  Very bad.  Of course, she was on one of our Ozark highways with no shoulder and no place to pull over.  She finally got off the road and had to call a wrecker.  It turns out one of the idler pulleys seized, which eventually shredded the serpentine belt.  I guess that’s what was making that whining noise all last week.  She caught a ride to her hotel from a little old lady who witnessed to her the whole way at 40 mph. 

I had my plant class in the afternoon.  We went to Main Campus and saw 8 new trees.  It was bitterly cold, so I didn’t make them stay out too long.   I had book club Wednesday evening, but it was largely uneventful.  We are almost done with this book, which started out great but by now I am sick of.  When I got home I went out back to feed the furnace.  I was almost done when I heard Dustin pull up to drop of Savannah.  It’s very dark at this point, so I sneaked around the north side of the house while Savannah was walking to the front door.  I jumped out with a great roar.  Scared the living and nearly dead daylights out of her. 

I think it was Monday that we started out at 52 F, and by midnight were down to about 2 F.  I have just used up all the wood I had stored on the north and south sides of the house.  It lasted about two months plus 10 days.  Fortunately, we have large reserves out at Lowell’s.

Thursday I went to our QU basketball games.  The women’s was interesting.  Even though we were better than the other team, they were dropping three-pointers one after another.  We ultimately won by a large margin.  The men’s game was neck-and-neck through the first half, but we steadily pulled away in the second.  The other team’s coach liked to yell a lot, and he finally drew a technical.  It had been snowing all day, and continued to do so all the way home.  I had to drive slow.  That night before bed I asked Savannah why my toothbrush was wet.  She said, “That’s my toothbrush.”  I said that her mother had told me the blue one was mine.  Blue for boys–even I could remember that.  She said she had picked that one out herself.  She normally uses it in the morning, while I normally brush at night.  Yes, we had been using the same toothbrush for months.  I thought she was going to rinse her mouth out with bleach.  I pulled a pretty purple toothbrush out of the holder.  It looked like it had never been used, which was probably the case.

Friday I got the truck out so that I could use its 4-wheel drive to get up to a friend’s house to feed their dogs and cats.  I came home, traded it for the Lil Egg, and drove to Hannibal.  On the way, I saw a big pick-up truck pulling a bigger trailer that had just jackknifed in the other side of the highway.  Shortly thereafter, I saw another pickup truck in the ditch–upside down.  I went to see another ear, nose and throat doctor, which I had done 4 years ago without effect.  I remember getting the MRI on my head.  They didn’t find anything then (there was a brain, fortunately).  I still have the same problem.  It feels like there’s fluid or something in my middle ear, so my own voice echoes in my head all the time.  I’ve had this for about six years now.  More recently, I’ve had a much more difficult time understanding people.  So they tested me every way they knew how.  My hearing has decreased significantly in the problem ear (left).  I liked this ENT a lot more, but he couldn’t figure out what my problem is either.  We had a long discussion of options.  I decided I wanted to try using a hearing aid to see if it would help.  The audiologist found one I could borrow.  It’s a model that was made for profoundly deaf people, and I can crank the volume up to 11.  It seems to be helping, but the test will come when students ask questions in a crowded classroom with lots of background noise.

I went to QU and got lunch at the campus eatery.  I ordered chicken strips and they were cold.  Yum.  I sat with our student secretaries and found out some idiot had pulled a fire alarm at North Campus that morning.  I went to my office for awhile, then to the pet store to get goldfish, crickets and mice.  All will end up as food for something else.  I took them back to my office and then went home.  Stacey returned from her hellish trip, for which we are all thankful. 

Saturday morning I got the best of all possible news: a certified letter from the QU president indicating that I will be tenured and promoted.  Whew!  Third time’s the charm, I guess.  When I got down to the lock house, there were people already waiting.  I set up the laptop and projector as fast as I could, and by then there were more people.  So I gave the eagle talk.  There was a constant traffic of people all day.  It was probably the most successful Eagle Day ever, at least since the first one.  I am so sick of the eagle talk.  I must have given it five or six times.  We think it was the perfect weather: cold enough to keep eagles around, but warm enough to bring people around. 


Eagle on Eagle Day.  Tufted titmouse in back yard.

When Ron found out about the tenure decision, he penned one of his inimitable poems:


QU GETS IT RIGHT

 

Would you believe a birdie stopped once more

 

Yes, I heard this racket at my sliding glass door

 

I said come on in it is really cold

 

And in he hopped sprightly and bold

 

I said what is it this time, what should I know

 

He said have you heard the news about Joe

 

You mean that Portuguese guy that lives in Missouri

 

You mean that guy I’ve given fishing lessons for free

 

Yah, he’s walking around and smiles a lot

 

Sounds like he really thinks he’s hot

 

QU gave him tenure and a promotion too

 

Congratulations to him and good for QU

 

I guess it just shows that the university is bright

 

And it’s obvious that QU got it right.


Sunday morning I left somewhat early to give a talk to the boy scouts in Quincy.  This was the first time I’ve had the chance to talk about the Galapagos, which was fun.  At least it wasn’t the stinkin’ eagles!  I got a nice breakfast when I arrived, and they had a laptop, projector and screen already set up.  Mostly I showed images of wildlife and talked about the animals.  I stopped by the office, fed the fish, and got a file from my computer.  When I got home I shoveled ashes out of the furnace and filled it up with wood again.  Savannah went to some intramural basketball games at QU, while Stacey and I cleaned out the pantry and rearranged things somewhat in the kitchen.  That’s when it began to thundersnow.  Large flakes began falling from the sky.  A prolonged period of lightning and thunder followed, while the snowfall got heavier and faster.  It changed to snow pellet after awhile.  We had a good coating of snow before it stopped, but it was granular corn snow.  We took naps before the Superbowl.  I enjoyed the Giants win, not because I like the giants, but they were the underdogs, and the brothers Manning back-to-back Superbowl wins and MVPs makes for a great story.  Every time Maroney carried the ball, I said, “Bony Maroney!”  Drove Savannah crazy.


Female cardinal.  Snowstorm.

Monday morning we had a thick fog, as the day was warmer.  It got quite warm by the afternoon; felt like 70, and all the snow melted.  I wore the hearing aid most of the day, and it seemed to work.  On the way home there was a low-level fog lying in all the fields.  It looked really eerie. 

Here is Stacey’s travelogue from earlier in the week.
           
I was in Branson, Missouri–about six hours away from home—for a federal training. 

I had to leave before the crack of dawn to get to this meeting on time.  About 15 minutes from Branson, my check engine light came on, steam started coming from under the hood, and I lost steering.  To complicate the situation, I was in the hills of the Missouri Ozarks where there are no shoulders—only cliff drops.  Just as the car stopped completely, I was able to get to a small strip mall to call a wrecker.  By luck, one of the business owners personally recommended a wrecker and repair shop.  The wrecker driver was a bit rough looking, but very nice.  He rode with a cute dog.  So he puts the car on his flat bed and the dog and I decide to share a seat.  The Missouri Ozarks are very hilly, but the driver was a fast negotiator of the curves.

           The repair shop was literally a hole in the wall and the office looked like a converted closet.  Deb, the lady running the office, was very kind and salt-of-the-earth type person.  Carl, the owner, was quieter, but also nice.  He didn’t say much, but it was probably hard to get a word in against Deb’s chatting.  I was sure to be late to the meeting and I call and let the director know.  Carl comes to the office and tells me that there is bad news.  One of the pulleys that run the major belt that runs all of the Tracker’s systems has died.  He can fix it, but he can not get the part until tomorrow and it’s going to cost me about $400.  I explain that the car and money are not the real problem.  The real problem, I have to get to the conference.  He explained that there are no taxis or buses to Branson.  Suddenly, this little old lady who was there to get her car inspected says, “I’m not busy this afternoon, I’d be glad to take you.” 


            So I am relieved and a bit concerned.  I am praying that I have not gotten in a car with a serial killer.   The lady drives 40 mph the entire trip and gives me her testimony all the way. I heard about her heavenly visions and all.  It’s kind of funny when a person’s Christian testimony involves condemning her ex-husband to hell.


            While I was there, Branson got eight inches of snow.  I had to get a ride from another conference participant to go get my car (minus the testimony!) I paid, got in the Tracker, drove it six miles, noticed the check engine light was on, and the car started steaming.  I called Deb back and she immediately sent the wrecker.  (In the last 30 days, this car has been on a wrecker three times!) They needed to bleed the line –I still am not sure what this means.  But everything worked out and I was able to get back on the road.  So the car is fixed and should be able to get another 106,000 miles.


            Church went well Sunday morning.  We had nearly 30 people (virtual crowd in rural Clark County.  The little kids—which are a new and exciting aspect to our worship—made all types of noise, but no one cares because it is the sound of a growing church.  Silence is the domain of the dying.  I have always promised myself that I will not die quietly.  I missed Sunday school because I had to go back home and get the bulletins that I had left on the kitchen table.  When I forget my sermon manuscript, I just leave it.  It is not as important as the bulletins.




 

Advertisements

January 23

Wednesday afternoon I had my Plant Field Biology class out in the cold weather.  It was OK when we weren’t in the wind or standing in snow, but that wasn’t often.  We IDed about 10 species of trees, which is about right.  Most of the time we use the twigs to ID the tree with our handy dichotomous key.  At one point we were working on one tree and the key asked whether the buds were hairy or not.  One of the women said, “Lick it to see if it’s hairy.”  I had about 8 good punch lines to follow that statement, but I couldn’t use any of them. 

Thursday afternoon I went to Savannah’s indoor soccer game.  She got a lot more minutes this time, as fewer members of the team showed up.  She also got to play forward a bit.  She even got a shot on goal but missed.  Everyone on her team did, as we were beaten 6-0.  Once again, Savannah was much more aggressive in the second half than the first.


Coach delivers the obligatory half-time butt chewing.



Savannah steals the ball and perhaps delivers an elbow.

Friday I went in to the office to get some work done and collect the journals from my Galapagos class. 
I got ahold of some of my students’ pictures of the Ecuador trip.  Some had single-use underwater cameras.

This is really how close and thick the Galapagos sea lions were during snorkeling.  Count them!


Extremely eerie image of me underwater in las grietas, the brackish lagoon that we snorkeled.  Stacey says it’s what I’ll look like when I’m 70.  My student-given nickname for the trip: Scuba Darwin.



Nice sea star pic.


One half-order of cuy from Mama Clorinda’s.  Yes, that is the guinea pig’s head on the right. 


Darwin’s finches really are tame, and apparently love Combos.  That’s an oven-fresh engagement ring on Sandy’s finger. 

Saturday I went to a Discovery Day at QU, where high school students come to check us out.  The other two biologists and myself were the only ones to show up from our division.  We had an entire two premeds talk to us.  I had brought a bunch of stuff from Ecuador, and was wearing my poncho and Panama hat.  A big guy, obviously a parent, came up to talk to me.  He said, “You have a Portuguese last name.” 
I said, “Yes, I do.” 
“But you don’t speak it, do you?”
“I speak a little.”
“Portuguese from Portugal or Portuguese from Brazil?” he said in Portuguese.
I said, “Portuguese from the Azores”, in Portuguese.
This guy was from Brazil, and we talked a long time about Iguassu Falls and the Pantanal (in English).  Fascinating.

Afterward I went to the cafeteria for my free lunch.  I dropped off my props at the office and went to the RV and Camping Show.  It should have been called the huge RV show, because that was all they really had.  Some were very luxurious units.  Not much in the way of innovations that I saw, except the ubiquitous flatscreen TVs.

I came home, took a nap.  Savannah and I played guitar hero for a couple of hours til our hands were tired.  I had a headache, congestion and back pains, all signs of incipient illness.

Curious cardinal.

I felt somewhat better on Sunday, though not 100%.  I worked on the Tracker for awhile, but I couldn’t find anything wrong with it.  Stacey and Savannah said it was making funny noises.  I took the ashes down to the brush dump with my truck, and surprisingly did not bring anything back.  I cruised by the river and shot some eagles (with camera).

Bed head. 

A lot of eagles in one tree, especially for a warm day.  Can you count them all?

I scanned a bunch of pictures of myself and made a morphing animation.  I uploaded it to YouTube, but the aspect ratio got really screwed up.  I took it down again.  Here’s a link from the blog page.  Hope it works.

Morphing Joe

In the afternoon we went to another indoor soccer game.  This was the first time Stacey saw Savannah play.  Stacey played in high school, and couldn’t resist coaching from the sidelines.  We lost again, without scoring a goal.  Apparently, we’ve never won a game in 5 years.  We are the doormat of the league.

Monday I had everyone in my Bio II class start a houseplant from a cutting.  They’re going to learn to love plants if it kills me.  On the way home from work I stopped at the auto parts store for oil and filters.  They were on sale?  As soon as I got home I did the Echo, which took no time at all.  When Stacey got home I started on the Tracker, which didn’t go so well.  I burnt the hell out of my fingers on hot oil and caused a major oil spill to boot.  Good thing I have plenty of sawdust around.

Answers: 5 Galapagos sea lions, 8 eagles.





January 19

Tuesday after work I went to Savannah’s first indoor soccer game, which was conveniently located at an arena near my office.  I liked the way the coach made frequent substitutions so all the girls got to play.  Savannah was a little tentative in the first half, but got more aggressive and kicked the ball harder in the second half.  We started the game with a 2-0 lead, and I thought we were going to kill.  We ended up losing 8-4.  The conditioning practices have Savannah sore and tired most of the time.  No pain, no gain!
  
Walking through the backfield.  Love those maroon tie-dye socks!  In action, moving the ball upfield.

Wednesday I took the Plant Field Biology class out for their first lab.  We walked around North Campus and identified 11 tree species.  That’s enough for one cold afternoon.  That night I had book club.  Our new format is to have some meditation before discussion, which is nice.  We also welcomed a new member. 

Thursday I caught up on a lot of stuff in the afternoon: ordering supplies for courses, revising manuscripts, etc.  Later I went to our QU basketball games.  The ladies won by a large margin, which is nice because I get to see our freshmen/bench play at the end.  Our men lost in a squeaker. 

Friday I went out to Lowell’s we walked around and harassed the cottontail rabbits, but without much effect.  If we don’t kill one this season, our average is going to fall to 0.5 bunnies/year.  It’s still a lot of fun, whether we shoot or not.  I carry my bow, and Lowell backs me up with the .410 Contender.  We haven’t fired a shot this season.  After we had made the circuit of all the brush piles, we loaded my truck with wood.  We had a hearty lunch in Ewing.  We both felt more like a nap at that point, but loaded his trailer with firewood instead.  We barely made a dent in our stores, as 1/4 of the holzhausen is still left, plus a couple of large racks.  I pulled the trailer home and backed it in.  I had enough wood for probably another month, but I like to stay well supplied. 

That night Stacey and I went to a bull-riding rodeo in Quincy.  I’ve been saying for years that we’re pink necks, not quite red.  It was indoors, which was strange.  The bulls were pretty good.  There weren’t any real high-scoring rides.  One guy got kicked in the chest, yielding a broken sternum and two broken ribs.  The scariest thing, however, was the creepy looking guy sitting next to me, who had fresh stitches in a long wound on his wrist.  I had forgotten all the aspects of the rodeo atmosphere I despise: excessive patriotism, Christian proselytizing, and forced crowd participation.  It was fun, but I wish we could just watch guys ride bulls.

When I got up Saturday morning it was -0.3 out.  By breakfast, it had fallen to -1.7.  Lovely weather.  Savannah helped me unload the wood from trailer and truck.  One tire had gone flat on the trailer, and I took that in for replacement.  I took my ashes down to the brush dump, and picked up another load of fresh firewood.  After unloading that, my back was shot.  I took a bath and worked the jacuzzi hard. 

Sunday I finally got around to putting together my year-end recap.  I had 73 days afield in 2007, quite a few more than last year, mostly because of the summer trip through the southwest.  I took 10,685 photos, about 30% more than last year.  Although my camera was in the repair shop for about a week, the research trips and Galapagos more than compensated.  I caught 6 species of fish, vs. 5 last year.  I even added a new species, the brown trout, from the Taneycomo trip.  I probably caught one during my youth in California, but no specific memory persists.  I caught nearly two hundred fish, about 25% more than last year.  Most of these were largemouth bass (136), three more than last year, but nowhere near the most ever.  I shot no turkeys this year; in fact, I shot no mammals or birds whatsoever.  This has not happened in many years. 


I don’t normally get much insect photography in January, but I found this meloid beetle crawling outside the basement door.  These are also known as pop bugs or blister beetles, and some members of the family are better known as “Spanish Fly.” 


The cold weather and snow cover have caused the birds to mob our feeders.  Goldfinches in this case.

A female cardinal, perhaps yelling at a male.  A male purple finch.

Monday Stacey and I didn’t have to go to work.  However, between the cat, the dog and the kid we didn’t get to sleep in.  I went down to the river; eagles were everywhere, as well as ducks and gulls.  With the cold weather we’ve had, they are really aggregating down there, and feeding constantly.   I did get one interesting shot.

This one just landed, and was screaming at another eagle in the same tree.

January 10

When I got back from Ecuador, I was still feeling a bit sick.  It took a few days to recover.  Since then I’ve been working on my courses for the spring, writing my blog, and processing my pictures.  I went to a high school basketball game one night, and sat with Lowell on the opposing team’s side.  Predictably, our girls won and our boys lost.  While I was gone, Savannah was practicing Guitar Hero.  She’s now quite a bit better than me.  The question is whether she’s truly more talented, or just higher on the learning curve.  I’ve been catching up since I’ve been home and she’s been at school.

I joined Facebook because it is the means by which my students exchange photographs.  It really does have a very nice upload feature, the best I’ve seen.  In any case, I have posted quite a few images there, more than I was able to put on the blog.  So if you’re a member already, all you have to do is add me as a friend and you’ll be able to see them.

I did get down to the river one day and photograph some eagles.

  
Left: Solo eagle.  Right: These two seem to be having a conversation: “What do you think?”  “I think we should eat him, what do you think?”

Saturday I took the furnace ashes down to the brush dump, and ended up bringing back two pick-up loads of logs.  Cutting, moving, and stacking the firewood was the best work-out I’d had in a week at least.  Sunday I recovered, and in the afternoon, Stacey and I went to Quincy to run errands.  Monday (today) I went to work.  I had no classes, but needed to prepare.  I had no internet all morning, which maybe was a good thing.  I got my filing done, my desk cleaned off, my old courses put away and my new ones brought out. 

I’ve posted most of my video clips from the Galapagos on YouTube, which makes it easy for everyone to see them.  Go here for a look:

http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=1F4CEF36FACED939



Ecuador Panoramas

These images were made by stitching together separate frames with Panorama Maker 3, then shrinking the result considerably to fit in this space.


View of Academy Bay, Santa Cruz Island, from the 4th floor of the Gran Hotel Lobo de Mar.


One of Los Gemelos pit craters, Santa Cruz.  100 yards across.


Lake Cuicocha, near Otavalo, mainland Ecuador.


Quito, as seen from Mt. Pichincha.


Another view of Quito from Pichincha.

  
Waterfall in Mindo cloud forest.  El Panecillo, a huge statue on top of a hill in Quito.

Galapagos Journal

Dec 26 (Wednesday)
I met students David and Brittany at the County Market in Canton at 4:30.  I drove down to St. Louis, mostly n the rain and dark.  We checked in to the Marriott, waited for another member of our party, and went to dinner. 

Dec 27 (Thursday)
We ate breakfast at the hotel and took a shuttle to the airport, where we met the rest of the students.  We checked our bags and I distributed the T shirts.  We went through security for the first of many times.  I had forgotten to put my Swiss Army knife in my checked bag, so I stuck it in my backpack.  It went through without difficulty.  Of all people, Brent was chosen for the thorough search.  Our flight left on time and we landed in Atlanta without difficulty.  We had 4 hours to burn before our next flight.  Owing to some confusing signage, many of us had to go through security again.  They ran my backpack through the X ray machine twice, but they didn’t catch the knife.  Our flight was delayed somewhat.  We sat near the gate, read and played cards.  Finally, we got on the plane and left Georgia in the dark.  It was a 5-hour flight to Quito.  They showed the movie Stardust, which I had just seen a few weeks earlier.  I watched it with the Spanish language channel, which was good practice.   Our landing in Quito was decidedly rough.  It was an “All hands brace for impact” moment, but it turned out all right.  We went through immigration and customs, which required more X-raying of our stuff, and met our guide Marta.  She showed us to our bus and gave us a little introduction to Ecuador on the way to the hotel.  We checked in and got to bed late, like midnight. Many people reported that their sleep was poor for various reasons.  For me, it was strange to be hearing frogs again.


Dec 28 (Friday)

We rose early, got breakfast at a buffet full of interesting local dishes, and  loaded back into the bus.  We got a great look at the city as we went back across town to the airport.  Many flowers were in bloom.  The city sits in a valley among the mountains. 
  
Quito, Plaza de Toros (bullfighting stadium)

We went through security AGAIN, checked our bags, endured confusion with respect to our tickets, and waited in yet more lines.  When we got to the gate, there was even more confusion about which gate was actually ours, and when we would board.  Eventually we did board the 737 and made the short flight to Guayaquil, which is on the coast of Ecuador.  We didn’t have to get off the plane, but we did have to sit on the ground for a half hour.  A two-hour flight through the clouds took us to the Galapagos.  As we descended through the clouds, we could see Santa Cruz and Baltra, the former US air base. 
  
Farms on the Andean highlands.  Santa Cruz Island at left, Baltra at right

We had a smooth landing, waited in more lines, got our luggage, and waited for the bus.  This is where we saw our first lava lizards and land iguanas.  We met our guide Mauricio, took a bus on a short ride across Baltra, and loaded onto a ferry.  A short trip across the strait of Itabasca landed us on Santa Cruz.  We saw blue-footed boobies plunge diving, and our first frigate birds.  There were Sally Lightfoot crabs all over the shore, and a couple of sea lions hanging about.  We loaded into yet another bus and drove across Santa Cruz.  We passed from the arid zone into the scrub zone and the Scalesia zone.  It’s so weird to see plants in flower in December.  It was really cool.  When we got near the southern side of the island, we saw tortoises out grazing in the fields.  We had a nice lunch at the hotel, checked in and got into our rooms.  Some of the balconies had great views of the bay.
  
View from my room.  The room I shared with the boys, as neat as it would ever be.

  
David Phillips and Brent Groesch, the two ruffians I shared a room with.  I have no complaints about their company.  Giant prickly pear tree.  David is the one reaching up to take a photo.  He’s 6′ 3″. 

     
Group photo, fake background.  Me and a half-grown tortoise. 

 
Almost everyone at entrance to Station.  Stephanie demonstrates sunscreen application technique.  Sadly, she got burned anyway.  Equatorial sun beats Irish redhead every time.

Shortly, we walked to the Charles Darwin Research Station.  We saw the tortoise rearing facility, which had some little baby tortoises in nurseries, and some large older individuals as well.  Lonesome George sleeps in the middle of the day, so we only saw a bit of his shell.  The prickly pear cactus trees were huge around there.  We also saw the mockingbird, yellow warbler, and one of the finches.  We walked back into town, looked through some of the shops and made phone calls back home in these telephone booths where you can pay cheaply by the minute.  My efforts to rent or buy a cell phone were useless.  It was very warm and rather humid most of the day, and mostly cloudy.  We had a nice dinner at the hotel again.  I swam in the pool for a short while.  Some of the students went out for shopping and other pursuits, but I went to catch up on this narrative and get some sleep.


Dec 29 (Saturday)



We took a boat ride out to Floreana, and older island to the south.  Along the way, we saw an albatross and many dolphins.  We ferried into the pier on a smaller boat.  Before we got on the bus, one of the women fell and sprained her ankle.  Fortunately, Tama applied some traditional Chinese techniques, which was very handy, as I had left the first aid kit at the Hotel.  We rode the bus up a hill and hiked around, seeing many tortoises in a semi-wild condition.   We got good looks at the vegetation.  I saw monarchs, cloudless sulfurs, skippers, and many carpenter bees.  We visited the little spring that provides the island’s 120 occupants with water. 
  
Spring.  Rock carved by early settlers; note clever use of ferns for hair.


Girls on the street: Chaundra, Jacquez, Maria, Jenn.  Peek-a-boo girls: Kristin, Sandy, Gayla, Brittany.

We saw some neat rock formations, pirate caves, and old settlers buildings.  We took the bus back down to the tiny town and had a great lunch, with Darwin’s finches hopping around and begging for food.  We walked down to the pier, where there were many Sally lightfoot crabs, marine iguanas (much more colorful here), and sea lions.  They had a hard time getting the attention of the boat driver to pick us up.  They hauled us out in two boatloads, but Gayla had left her sunglasses at the eatery and ran back.  We took off before she returned, and boy did she look panicked, but we turned around and got her. 
 
Gayla runs to catch the boat.  Devil’s Crown.

We took the boat out to the famous Devil’s Crown, but didn’t see the penguins in the place where we had the best chance.  We geared up for snorkeling and all got in the water.  It was a little rough, deep and cold, but our wetsuits did the job, except that Stephanie, an excellent swimmer, went without.  One got a bit freaked, so I took her back to the boat.  There were tremendous numbers and diversity of fish, many pencil urchins, and some sea stars.  We angled over to a cave, where stingrays were resting in the bottom.  There was a school of big blue fish in one spot, and some white corals.  There was another cave, or really a hole in the rock underwater.  I saw a bunch of fish suddenly swim out of it, followed by a sea lion (fortunately not a shark).  Later, the guide and Stephanie swam through the hole to the other side.  Steph scraped her heels on the rocks.  I went too, with Brittany supposedly following, but she didn’t show up.  Her full-length wet suit had floated her to the top of the hole.  She pushed herself out by hand, and scratched her palms up.  It’s hard to catch your breath while breathing through a tube, but I eventually went back through the hole.  Then we saw more sea lions and a sea turtle, and swam along with the latter. Many students got scratched up on the rocks for one reason or another. 

  
Sandy and Kristin.  Tama looks on while Sandy and Gayla try out the cargo bike.

A boat ride back to the hotel brought us showers, then dinner, during which a native Indian band played.  I thought they were great.  We did some shopping, then went to a nightclub where we all got one free drink, arranged by our guide.  Almost everyone danced, and Gayla got a long lesson from a local guy who was really good.  Turns out it was at least in part a gay bar, however, and one guy walked in and tried to pick up both Dave and Brent.   Later, I said, “Hey, what am I, chopped liver?” 

     
Brittany finds the best place to sleep in the boat.  Indian band.


Dec 30 (Sunday)
Santa Cruz Island

We rode in two small boats, first along a rock wall where we got close looks at blue-footed boobies and brown noddies.  A couple of the noddies were acting naughty. 

Blue panga.  Naughty noddies.

We went through the  Canal de Amor, with clear blue water, and got out on Punto Estrada.  After a short hike we came to a pool where 4 white-tipped sharks were resting on the bottom. 

Love Canal.  Sea lions on the pier.

Then another came and swam around, sometimes shallow.  We hiked to the other side of the point and found some large marine iguana colonies.  One male let us get very close, and we took our pictures with it. 

Friendly iguana.  Tolerant, at least.

On the way back we ran across a hermit crab. 

CO2 makes hermit crabs come out of their shell.  Great blue heron salute.

We got back in the boats and motored to another part of the bay (Playa de los Alemanes), where we disembarked and hiked 1 km, past salt flats, to a brackish, deep lagoon (las grietas).  Some of the locals did cliff diving into it. 

Salt mines.  Note use of cinder block and bamboo in domestic construction.



Cliff diver jumps off.  Another splashes down.

We snorkeled it without wetsuits, as it was warm.  Not many fish, but it was neat, and the students got to practice in a more friendly environment.  Brittany grabbed someone else’s leg to scare her.  So I dove deep and came up under Brittany and grabbed her leg, totally scaring her.  Some of us climbed up on the rocks and did some shorter dives.  We hiked back to the boats and motored over to a small island.  Along the way, we saw sea turtles mating and a small hammerhead shark.  We anchored in the lee of the island, but there was still some heavy surf.  There were sea lions and marine iguanas.  There were lots of big colorful fish.  I went over to where the marine iguanas were coming from, and saw a big, beautiful male, blue, red and black, eating the algae from a rock.  I called to the students, but only David came over.  On the way, a sea lion nipped at his fins.  He stuck his camera in its face and took a picture.  It still didn’t let go.  It was hilarious.  As we were watching the iguana, the surge got stronger.  I swam against it and managed to get out into deep water again, but David was washed ashore.  He got cut up on the rocks and was really tired from fighting the current.  Everyone was yelling at him to stay off the rocks and swim back out.  After he rested a bit, he came back to the boat.  There were lots of sea lions about, up to their highjinks swimming around us.  At one time, four females were swimming all around us.  I picked up a pencil urchin to look at.  Diving into the deep water was fun, to look at the big fish. And I did see another iguana cropping short algae from the rocks.  We got in late for lunch, and soon head out for a rough 20-mile bus ride, and a 1 km hike to Garrapatero Beach.  Tama and I took a side trip to a lagoon to look at flamingos.  There were two, and I photographed them to death.  Also there were teal and shorebirds.  The students said the water was warm, but I didn’t swim.  We played hackysack and Britt took the pictures.  At 5 the beach captain kicked us out, saying the beach closed at 5.  Locals continued to arrive, so I doubted his veracity somewhat.  We hiked back to the bus and endured the rough ride home.  There was a nice sunset.  This was the first sunny day, as it has been overcast until now.  We got back just in time for dinner.  Afterward we went shopping and had a couple of beers. 
I had taped Jenn’s ankle, and it held up really well during the hiking.  I had also put bandaids on Steph’s wounds, and they stayed on even in the ocean. 

Dec 31 (Monday)
We walked from the hotel down a sidewalk trail 3 km to Tortuga Bay, a long beach with lots of wave action, unsuitable for swimming.  We saw tracks of sea turtles that had come up on shore, perhaps to lay eggs.  We walked all the way down this beach to another one in a protected bay, relatively shallow.  We swam there with the eagle rays, sting rays and sea turtles.  Tama and I rented a double kayak and paddled it along the mangroves on both sides of the bay.   In one spot, there were about 30 good sized white-tipped sharks right underneath us.  The rays and turtles liked this spot too.  We saw a lava heron on its nest in the mangroves, and a marine iguana chase a couple of others off his personal pile of rocks.  I had bought a hammock to put my stuff on, as apparently none of the two dozen shops here sells beach towels (though every one has the requisite “I love boobies” T shirt).  We hung it up in a tree and took several people’s picture in it. 

Me in my hammock, relaxing in the Islands.

It’s surprisingly comfortable.  At 11 we packed up and walked out.  I got a nice sunburn on top of my feet and legs.  Jenn had about 6 blisters on her feet, which I tended with moleskin thereafter.  I took a nap after lunch, and we took a bus to Los Gemelos, some large pit craters.  From there, we drove a short distance to the lava tube.  It’s illuminated with incandescent lights. There’s a tight spot we all had to crawl through.  It was much like a cave, but with no formations.  After we emerged from the other end of the tube, we took the bus to Primicias Reserve, a farm that has a lot of tortoises.  We took lots of pictures, and some video of feeding behavior.  There was a big eatery and shop there.  They had a couple of old tortoise shells that we got inside and goofed off with. 

Two tortoise boys.  Mauricio, our guide in the Islands.

On the way back, we picked up 4 guys, friends of the guide, who would otherwise had a long walk back to town.  I took another nap, a shower, wrote this entry, and prepared for New Year’s eve.  The town tradition is to make cardboard and paper mache effigies and burn them.  Some men dress up as widows and beg for money.  It’s hilarious.  We went out on the town for a couple of beers, more shopping, and to see the New Year’s festivities.  There was a huge gathering in front of a bandshell down by the pier.  There was a beauty contest among the widows, including sexy dancing by all the shemales.  A lot of the subtleties were lost, as I was unable to understand most of the Spanish, except when they asked e
ach contestant how they reacted on the night their husband died.  One screamed, the others gave vent to various moanings and lamentations.  The winner got $100. 

One of Las Miudas.  A man-puppet.

The shops that had made life-sized puppets burned them in the street.  At midnight, there was a great fireworks show, right over our heads.  Afterward the band began to play.  They were excellent, I guess salsa was their style.  They had dancing girls that didn’t sing or play any instruments.  One of the students later got up on stage and danced with one.  I had a headache, sore feet, and was tired and sunburnt.  I went back to the hotel and to sleep.  Most of the students stayed out later.  It was an amazingly safe environment.  There were no creepazoids about, and everyone seemed to get along.  The balcony doors are open slats, so I heard the party continue…until I got up at 6 AM!  I went out to take some pics in the streets.  There were drunk people passed out on benches, and others being led away staggering.  These people know how to party. 

Jan 1 (Tuesday)

We took the bus across Santa Cruz Island, seeing our last tortoises on the roadside.  We ferried across to Baltra and bussed gain to the airport.  Our guide left us at the ferry.  It’s a damned good thing we had Maria Elena Alejandre with us.  She’s not only a very nice and helpful student, but a fluent speaker of Spanish.  I never would have gotten us on the plane.  I shopped, drank a coke and photographed some lizards.  They ended up calling for boarding early, and I had to rush around finding students.  Some had just ordered French fries (the first they would have had in at least a week), but couldn’t stay to eat them.  We flew to Guayaquil.  I sat next to a lady and her baby.  The baby was fine until right around when we had to descend, then she barfed. The mother cleaned it up with a blanket, but there was still considerable residue on the seat after they left.  On the plane, one student had swollen legs from her sunburn.  By the time we got to the airport in Quito, she was looking pretty bad, and I decided to get her to a doctor.  Fortunately, the hotel had a house doctor, who came up to her room, examined and treated her, all for $50.  She had sun poisoning, as I expected.  It was a real hairball getting students into rooms, getting baggage out of storage and making plans for the evening.  Wrangling 12 students and dealing with multiple crises is like the proverbial herding of cats.   Later we had two more girls get sick, one with GI problems and fever.  She looked the worst.  She didn’t want to see  a doctor, but I made an executive decision.  While the doctor was there I had her look at the roommate, who had a throat infection.  I didn’t let the students leave the hotel that night.  It has a casino and bar, which was plenty to keep them busy.  I have to thank Stacey and Savannah at this point for giving me practice in how to tape a sprained ankle and how to tell when a girl is sick enough to need a doctor, respectively.

Jan 2 (Wednesday)


We took a bus ride.  Along the way we stopped at Mitad del Mundo, the middle of the earth.  This was the guide giving us a freebie, as it wasn’t included in our tour.  There’s a huge monument where the French surveyed in the equatorial line in the 1700s.  Later, more accurate methods showed that it was further north, exactly where the Indians had placed it thousands of years ago. I saw my GPS cross 0 latitude for a second, but snapped the pic at 0.003 minutes N.  Our first stop was at the Mindo cloud forest.  There were lots of cool flowers and plants, but not many birds.  We hiked up steep, rocky, muddy terrain at high altitude in the rain.  At the end, most of us stripped to our bathing suits and stood under the cold, beautiful waterfall. It had an excellent effect on my hair.  The challenge was drying off, removing mud and getting back into clothes.  We hiked back down in the slippery mud to the orchid farm.  Not as fascinating, but some interesting flowers.  The next stop was the lunch place, Sachatamia Rainforest Research, which had a bunch of hummingbird feeders, and an incredible number and variety of exotic looking hummingbirds. Sadly, the rain and low light levels made photography difficult.  We continued to the butterfly conservatory, which had about 20 species.  It was nice to see some insects, but it couldn’t compare to Butterfly World in Florida.  I took lots of pics, as expected.  Then it was a 3-hour bus ride back to Quito, mostly in the rain.  We all napped.  There was a phone cafe across the street that we used to call home. 

  
The monument to Mitad del Mundo.  Here’s what the GPS said there.


A short way up the street and we’re closer to the mark.  The trail map to the waterfall.

  
Our guide in the mainland, Marta.  I meditated for 5 breaths.  I was really concentrated for 3 or 4 of them, I swear!


Jan 3 (Thursday)



I woke up at 3 AM with the Inca two-step.  I visited the bathroom every 20 minutes afterward.  About half of our group had it at this point, and nearly all would have it by the end.  I got an Immodium from one of our guys.
We rented a bus for a two-hour ride north.  Our first stop was at Cuicocha, a beautiful natural lake in the mountains.  We passed on the boat ride, and just took a little hike on a trail up a hillside to get a good overview on the lake.  There were lots of flowers and stuff along the way.  We took the bus back to Otavalo.  Now, all along the way, the driver had trouble finding gears on the thing.  Half way down the mountain he grinds a gear, then the a loud thunka-thunka sound starts coming from under the bus.  Sounded like the U joint, but I didn’t crawl under to look.  He made a few attempts to fix it and a few phone calls.  He eventually flagged down a public bus which we took just a few miles in to Otavalo.  That was interesting.  It was standing room only among the local people, which included little old ladies, school girls in uniform, work men, and ladies breast-feeding their children. 
We got to the market, which takes up an entire plaza, or square city block.  I shopped a little, and stopped to eat, as I was feeling poorly.  I had about the worst hamburger I’ve had in years.  The patty was compressed and looked a little green.   We continued shopping until the designated meeting hour, then did another half hour. The place was full of indigenous craft products: clothing of alpaca wool, blankets, tablecloths, sweaters, ponchos, jewelry, carvings, paintings, purses, hammocks, etc.  I bought way too much stuff, and had to buy a bag to put it in.  It was fun at first haggling over prices, and my Spanish held up well, even though many of the vendors spoke with a Quechua accent.  When we got back on the bus, a local girl got on and sang us a few songs, most in Quechua, but one in Spanish.  Then she went around and sold us stuff out of her little bag.  I bought a couple of scarves.  We let her off at her home village.  She was 13.  I told some of our students they were slackers by comparison.  This little girl has a regular racket going.  After the long, uneventful ride home, we went out to at a traditional Ecuadoran restaurant.  I tried chicha, a local favorite drink (fermented corn).  Many of the student and I tried cuy, breaded and fried guinea pig.  I was joking beforehand, asking if it came with the head and eyes on, like a trout.  It actually came with the severed head, and they leave the claws on the feet.  It was really good, like  a sweet chicken.  There was a guitar player who was very good.  Back at the hotel, we went up to the bar to hear another guitar player. He turned out to be more of a singer, with amplified back up music that was too boomy.  Mauricio had taught us a couple of sayings that I’m trying to remember here.  Instead of saying “cheese” for a picture “Me gusta la chicha, la cana, la yucca, y la cerveza.”  (I like chicha, sugar cane, yucca cakes, and beer).  As a toast: “Arriba, a bajo, al lado, otro lado, al centro, al dentro.”  (Up, down, to one side, to the other side, to the center, to the inside.”



A shopkeeper where I left a wad of cash.  The 13-year-old charmer on the bus.

Jan 4 – 5


I slept in a little. I went out on the balcony to take in the view, and saw a hawk swoop at a little bird. I went down to the gardens and took pictures of birds.  We let the students sleep in and met at the lobby at 10:30.  Most of them wanted to go to Old Town, the historic part of the city.  Tama and I went to take a tramway (Teleferico) up to near the top of Mount Pichincha.  It was 4100 m elevation there, or about 13,500 ft.  The signs say “Slow, don’t run.”  After about 5 steps up we were breathing hard.  The altitude effects were tangible.  Every time I bent down to photograph a flower, I got up dizzy.  We walked a little further up the mountain.  There’s a horse rental there, but I don’t know if they were open.  We ran into an exchange student from Ohio who had just arrived two days previously.  She had a lot to look forward to. 


Warning signs.  They’re serious about this.

After we got back down the mountain, I recognized our doctor, Ximena (which I think is a lovely name), who was taking some visiting family members around town.  She asked how our girls were doing.  I mentioned that I had used her as an example of bedside manner, professionalism and caring, since most of our students are pre-med.  I also mentioned I wasn’t feeling too good that day, and she noted that I was a little pale.  Damn she was good!
We took a cab to El Panecillo, a giant statue of the winged virgin standing on a dragon (the devil) whom she has chained.  There were more shops there, so we naturally bought more stuff.  We ate bananas for lunch, and they were good.  We took another cab down to Old Town and walked around.  We didn’t go into any of the churches, but visited a few shops along the way.  Ecuador is absolutely crazy about soccer.  Every other store was a soccer shop, and I am not kidding.  I bought some jerseys for Savannah.  We took another cab back to the hotel and met our students for dinner at Hunter’s, basically an American restaurant, but cheaper.  I had an excellent steak for about six dollars.

Pork was obviously on the menu at El Panecillo, but this was enough to make even an obligate carnivore like me turn frugivore.


Tama Weisman, a great traveling partner.  Me at El Panecillo, overlooking the city of Quito.

We took a bus to the airport, and let the fun begin.  Security, immigration, checking baggage, standing in line.  We had to pay the requisite $45 to leave the country.  A young Chilean guy was standing near the line asking for money (in very poor English), as he didn’t have the fee.  I gave him a dollar and all my useless Ecuadoran change.  I thought that his black T-shirt featuring a fist holding a marijuana leaf and the slogan “Disfruta sus derechos” (Enjoy your rights) was probably not going to earn him the smoothest transitions through airports.  One of our guys had his luggage chosen for the random search.  The plane left at 10:30 P.M.
After the short flight to Guayaquil, we all had to get off the plane, go into the terminal, go back through security, and get back on the SAME DAMN PLANE.  Some stupid Ecuadoran rule.  Meanwhile, one of our girls had lost her boarding pass.  The flight from Guayaquil to Atlanta was the long leg, and I slept as much as I could, as it was the red-eye.  Atlanta was another series of hassles: security, immigration, customs, baggage claim, baggage check, security again, and a 3-hour layover.  One piece of luggage was thought to be lost, when another student had picked it up as a favor.  At one point we all had to stop in our tracks for a security breach.  After a couple of minutes they let us move on.  When we got back to St. Louis, one piece of luggage didn’t show up with the rest.  We contacted an agent, and it finally came out on the carousel.  All the students were picked up by someone, except for my two, who drove back to Canton with me.


In summary, I think Brent put it best, “Ecuador: beautiful country, beautiful people.”

Galapagos Wildlife Photos

I took about 1500 photos in the Galapagos and mainland Ecuador.  I haven’t downloaded my journal from my PDA yet, so I’m going to post the wildlife photos first.  These are more or less in reverse chronological order.



A butterfly and caterpillar in Mindo (mainland Ecuador).


The booted racquet-tail near Mindo  (mainland Ecuador).


A millipede and Mygona irmina in Mindo Cloud Forest  (mainland Ecuador).


Rufous-collared sparrow in parking lot, Quito (capital of Ecuador).

All images below were taken in the Galapagos, mostly on Santa Cruz Island.


Galapagos grasshopper and blue.


Darwin’s finches; male and female Geospiza magnirostris, I think.


Brown pelican about to take off, grooming.


Black-necked stilt; smooth-billed ani.


Four marine iguanas face on; looks like a pile of rocks but there are 20 or 30 iguanas here.


Sun-bathing male marine iguanas; L: Santa Cruz Island, R: Floreana.


White-tipped shark, mating green sea turtles.


Lava heron, great blue heron.


Sea lions enjoy the good life–plenty of food and cozy places to rest.


Blue-footed booby, greater flamingo.


Sally lightfoot crab, Galapagos flycatcher


Mockingbird, Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos.


Giant Galapagos tortoise: baby at the Darwin Research Center and large adult on farm.


Lava lizard female (L) and male.

More pictures and text to follow soon!