New Year 2009

Tuesday night we went to a QU women’s basketball game–Lowell, Savannah and me.  We stomped the other team.  I was surprised we didn’t make it to 100 points.  We had dinner afterward at the Chinese buffet–Savannah’s favorite.

Wednesday morning I chainsawed the last of the downed limbs and we took the last load of brush to the dump, I hope.  Stacey raked up the smaller limbs (and leaves and sweetgum balls), which we shoveled onto a canvas and dumped in the woods.  Job done!  I had some spare time before lunch and went down to shoot eagles.

Coming in for a landing.

Sailing by.


A fish in the mouth is worth…a meal.                                                

I AM smiling!

Cleaning fish bits off the bill.

Yelling solves everything.

Let’s both yell at the immature newcomer.

I went back in the afternoon, but there wasn’t much activity.  There were also too many people about.  Savannah went with a friend to Quincy for a movie and teen night at a club.  Stacey and I went out to dinner with another couple.   We went to bed and didn’t even stay up until midnight.  Happy New Year!

New Year’s Day I went out to Lowell’s.  My bow was still set up for bunny hunting since I had not hunted deer this year.  We tromped around the frozen ground.  It was 20 degrees and windy, and kinda cold at first.  I jumped up and down on a brush pile and flushed a cottontail out, but it ran about a hundred yards away.  I knew more or less where it was, and after checking another brush pile, I saw the rabbit hunkered down in the woods about 10 yards from the trail.  I drew and shot.  The rabbit hopped away like it wasn’t feeling too well, and stopped by a tree about 20 yards away.  I figured it was hit and fired again.  My arrow went high and the rabbit ran off.  There was a decent tuft of hair left by the first arrow.  I had hit him, but not well.  We looked around for awhile, but could not turn up the bunny.  We should have taken the second shot with the contender, which is what we have always done in the past.  We walked the rest of the place and saw no more rabbits.  The activity warmed us up though.  It was noon when we finished, but we didn’t think there would be anywhere open serving lunch nearby.  I went home and napped much of the afternoon away, catching a few episodes of the Twilight Zone marathon on Sci Fi while drifting in and out of consciousness.

Friday we hung about the house much of the day.  In the latter part of the morning I went eagle hunting again.


Failure.

W I N G S P A N

In the afternoon we went to Quincy.  Stacey dropped off Savannah and me at QU main campus while she went to Hannibal for a visitation.  I checked my mail, then Savannah and I walked the eight blocks to North Campus.  I called one of my students so that we could go over his schedule.  We finished just before Stacey arrived to pick us up.  Savannah played computer games.  We had a Burger King dinner on the way out of town.  There was a lovely moon out when we got home.

Saturday morning I racked my wine and got a few other little jobs done.  Savannah went shopping in Quincy with a friend.  Stacey and I stayed home.

Sunday morning I went down to shoot eagles, but they weren’t very cooperative.  There were many out, but they spent all their time soaring over the river on the steady wind.  Furthermore, the sun disappeared behind a veil of clouds.  Needless to say, I didn’t get much.  It was Savannah’s first day at her new job at Orsheln Farm and Home.  Truly we live in the best of all possible worlds.  The place is only a couple of blocks away from our house.  The job is better than any of the food service or other jobs one her age is likely to secure around here.  She gets an employee discount that’s good for the whole family.  They have lots of tools and things that I often need.  I’ve already gotten some bar and chain oil and a pair of gloves.  She gets to wear a walkie talkie, a nifty vest, and a big, tricked-out name tag.

Monday morning Stacey had to go back to work (sniff!) and Savannah had to go to school. leaving me to my own devices.  The sun was shining, which means…more eagles!  They were considerably more cooperative and the lighting was better.  Here are some clean shots of adults.
 


I happened to catch one juvenile challenging another for its perch.


The usurper is a slightly older bird, as you can tell by the greater whiteness of its feathers.
 

Ring-billed gulls like the same things that eagles do–dead fish

I spent the afternoon on firewood detail.  The racks on the north side of the house were empty, providing me with room to begin storing some for next year.  First, I cut up a long log that my neighbor had at his place outside of town.  It was good locust, but a small load, so I stopped at the brush dump and cut out some easily accessible lengths.  Too bad it’s been bulldozed, or there’d be a year’s worth of firewood there alone.  I unloaded what I had, then went up to the Stookeys’, where I had cut quite a bit a couple of months ago.  It made for a very full load.  After unloading, I went back to the riverfront.  The eagles were at least a bit active.  Normally, I sit in the vehicle near a tree that has at least one eagle in it.  When the eagle flies, I shoot.  A couple walked by with their two dogs.  They didn’t spook the eagle I had been babysitting, so I got out of the truck and took some close shots.  He didn’t fly away.

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Christmas 2008

I returned to find a few minor catastrophes had occurred in my absence, as usual.  First, some of my grades had not posted properly on QU’s computer system.  This problem had cause much consternation in the Registrar’s office, understandably, as they had to figure out things like academic probations and suspensions.  I went in to the office first thing Monday morning and posted my grades properly.  I also met with Kristen Liesen for a debriefing.  She’s the one to thank for dealing with the tour agency and working out our travel details.  The second catastrophe was the ice storm that seemed to hit our yard worse than any of our neighbors.  We had a lot of limbs down in the back yard, so much so that Stacey could not get to the wood furnace.  I don’t worry too much about her when I’m gone, as she has an army of firefighters at her disposal.  Aaron came up and chainsawed a path to the wood furnace.  Over the course of days, I chainsawed some more and hauled many loads to the brush dump.  There was probably a year’s worth of firewood in the brush dump, but I didn’t have time to cut it or the room to store it.  The third tragedy was that Kane had a big hematoma in his ear.  I took him to the vet, but it was already healing.  He’ll probably end up with a crinkly cauliflower ear. 


There’s a wood furnace behind there somewhere.  Photo by Stacey.

For Christmas we stayed home, opened our presents, and ate really well.  Stacey cooked the traditional prime rib.  I got a game processing kit from Savannah so I can cut up the next deer more easily.  Stacey got me some movies and books.  She had already given me the underwater camera, which I really enjoyed using in the Galapagos (and my students were very jealous).  I  had brought back some stuff from Ecuador for Stacey and Savannah.  We watched movies and played some new video games.  The sun was shining in the back yard.  I gave the long lens a work out.

Female white-throated sparrow, I think.

Dark-eyed Junco.                                                                                  Male Northern Cardinal with seed on tongue.

Male cardinal on bird feeder.

One bit of good news was that I saw an eagle using one of the perches we had placed down by the river.  We added branches to them this year, and it seems to have worked.  Next, my goal is to photograph one in use. 

Friday morning Stacey had a fire call.  It was the nursing home, which could have been a really bad situation.  It turned out that the sprinkler system had frozen and broken, flooding some rooms, collapsing ceilings and soaking insulation.  That ate her whole morning.  I was looking at Savannah’s tires and found some rocks between the rim and tire.  I still don’t know how that happens, but I couldn’t get them all out.  I took it to the tire shop.  I spend the rest of the morning hauling brush and pulling out pine boughs.  It was a warm day, and I wanted the living branches to be able to lift off the ground without the impediment of overlying dead ones.  I was filthy and beat before it was over.  I spent the rest of the day working on my blog and stuff.  

In the middle of the night it started raining like mad.  It had been unusually warm all day, and nearly all the ice had melted.  I had not, however, anticipated tornado watches and warnings.  The chatter on Stacey’s pager indicated that storm spotters were out.  The storm ultimately passed, but it was hard to sleep through all that, especially since I had to get up and move Kane from the basement to the garage at 1 A.M.  It rained hard most of Saturday.  We hung around the house and watched movies.  Everything melted down and the yard was muddy.  After sunset, however, it cooled down and began to snow.  Everything was frozen over again!

Sunday morning I scraped the ice from Stacey’s car window’s and those of my truck.  She went to do a pulpit fill preaching job.  It was at a church she used to preach at 9 years ago, so there were some fun reunions.  The sun was shining so I went down to the river to shoot eagles.  The water was covered with slabs of ice moving downstream, and not many eagles were around.  I ran into Lew.  We went and got doughnuts and went to his place to BS for a few hours.  I still learn a lot of photography from him.  Afterward I went to the brush dump, emptied my ashes, and thence to the riverfront.  The water had opened up some and the eagles were on the move.  This was the first time I was really able to give the bazooka a workout on eagles.  I ended up with 500 frames.  As usual, most were crappy and I deleted them.  There were a few interesting ones.

Coming in for a landing!                                                                     Filleting lessons.  I love the visible fish eye.

Yay, I caught a fish.

You will NOT steal it from me.

Ha!  Got away clean.

This one was tearing up a fish very near me.  I cropped the image to get a head shot.  Bits of fish still clinging to the beak are a bit distracting, however.

Sunday afternoon Savannah and I watched the Return of the King, completing the Lord of the Rings trilogy over the break.  It’s something of a holiday tradition.  She still cries at the end.

Monday we all went to Quincy.  Our first stop was the hospital annex, where Savannah had to submit to a drug test, a requirement of her new job.  And she couldn’t pee.  We waited over an hour while she drank water and continually failed to produce.  We gave up and left her there while we ran errands.  We picked her up when she was done and went to TGI Friday’s for lunch.  I was overstuffed.  A quick trip to the mall and a few more errands, then we went home.  I went down to the river and tried shooting eagles, but the light was too low already.  In the evening Jeff and Joe came over for a meeting.  We were planning a benefit for one of the firefighters.  They ended up staying until almost 11 while we told stories and BSed.  Consequently, I didn’t get this blog out. 

Tuesday morning I chainsawed more dead limbs.  Stacey helped me
load brush and I hauled two loads to the brush dump.  I took some time down at the river for more eagle photography.  They weren’t that active, but I did get a shot that I’ve been wanting for years.

The highly coveted eagle poo shot!

Galapagos 2008–Skadoosh!

I left Canton about 6 A.M. on Saturday, December 13.  I met my colleague Caroline Collins at the 18 Wheeler Restaurant and we car pooled down to the airport in St. Louis.  A few students were already there, and the rest trickled in, except one latecomer.  I waited for her while the others went through security.  When she arrived, I got her checked in, which had been tricky for the first of us.  We went through security to the gate.  There was a screaming kid on the plane all the way to Atlanta.  After a layover of a couple hours, we took the long flight to Quito, Ecuador.  We met our guide, Jorge Pineiros.  He has a Portuguese last name, like me.  The bus took us to the San Francisco Hotel in downtown, the old part of Quito.  I had my first Pilsener in a year.  Delicious!  We stayed up talking for a bit, and got to bed at about 2 A.M. 

Sunday morning we had breakfast at the hotel and took the bus to the Inti-Nan museum, which is on the actual equator.  This is distinct from the Mitad del Mundo, the big tourist trap that is about 300 meters off.  The Inti-Nan emphasizes native culture.  Our guide, Natali, showed us the native huts, monuments, and various “experiments” (mostly pseudoscientific) illustrating the unique properties at the equator.  A dude in native costume danced with some of the students.  There was a shop of native handicrafts there, very inexpensive. 

 
Nikki walks the equatorial line.

Kevin and Kyle dance with the costumed dude.

On the bus ride we had to stop for a crew that was clearing a landslide that had blocked the road. While we were waiting a guy came around selling ice cream.  We must have made his day because we bought him out.  Blackberry (mora) ice cream is awesome.  I had many milkshakes and juices of mora in the coming days.  We bussed up to Mindo and had lunch in a local cafe.  A short distance away we went to Sachatamia, land of the hummingbirds.  We hiked a trail in the mist and rain through the cloud forest.  It was gorgeous and lush.  We saw many types of vegetation, flowers, a lizard and a caterpillar.  There was a pool formed by dammed creek.  Some of the students wanted to swim.  The guide said it was OK, and I didn’t have a problem with it.  The water was cold and they were mostly soaked for the rest of the day.  Some had not come prepared for swimming.  None had any regrets, however.


A hummingbird at Sachatamia.

Crazy kids splash down.

When we got back to Quito, it was Sunday night and all the shops were closed.  For safety, we went as one group to a sort of mall on the Grand Plaza and found a restaurant.  I had a fritada, a traditional dish of pork and boiled corn.  It was yummy.  While we were there, one of the guys practically became engaged to a cute local girl.  Some bought stuff at a gift shop.  On the way back to the hotel, some of us saw what was apparently a drug deal going down.  One thing I learned was that they don’t insulate the walls in the tropics.  So hotels are noisy.  My room was adjacent to the street, and I heard every truck that rumbled down it. 

I got up at 5 A.M. Monday, December 15.  We were bussed to the airport , where I got a ham sandwich and blackberry juice.  We met a couple who worked at the Missouri Botanical Garden, did research in Ecuador, and were vacationing in Galapagos.  From Quito we flew to Guayaquil, and on to the Galapagos.  For lunch we were served…ham sandwiches.  Upon landing in Baltra, we met our guides, Geoconda and Maria Fernanda.  We took the short bus ride across Baltra to the Strait of Itabaca, the ferry across that, then the bus ride to Puerto Ayora.  Half way there, we stopped at the big pit craters, Los Gemelos.  We checked in to the Fernandina Hotel, which was a bit better than our hotel last year, but not as close to the downtown area.  We toured the Darwin station and had lunch at La Garrapata.  I think I had a burger.  We walked to the dive shop and were fitted for wetsuits, except for three of us that had brought our own snorkeling gear.  And one student who we lost on the way.  We found her later at the hotel.  We swam in the pool and some of the students tried snorkeling there.  We got in the hot tub, which was barely luke warm to start, but eventually got too hot to stay in (how do you say “thermostat” in Spanish?).   Kevin and Kyle were doing crude somersaults off the edge of the pool and repeating “No flippies off the dock!”  I don’t know what movie that comes from.  So I decided to show them how it’s done, being a former varsity diver.  The edge of the pool had a funny rounded edge to it, but I was not that bothered by it.  I got plenty of height and rotation and held a good tuck.  I completed the back somersault thinking it was going great, felt my feet and lower body enter the water…then my chin hit the edge of the pool.  It was kind of like getting kicked in the head in karate, and I’d had plenty of that in the past (explains a lot, I know). Kyle said I cut my chin, but I didn’t think so.  Further inspection proved him right.  I didn’t really want to go to the emergency room that late, so I taped it shut with bandaids.   I didn’t sleep well, thinking I was not going to be able to snorkel the next day. 

Sea lion on a buoy in the Strait of Itabaca.

Female lava lizard.

Galapagos mockingbird–very tame.

Land iguana–sleepy.

Tuesday I woke up with some blood on my pillow and sheets where it had soaked through my bandaids.  I had our student nurse, Jennie-Rebecca, bandage it in the morning.  Kyle taped it for good measure.  We departed via bus at 8 A.M., and returned immediately for Anele, who is normally so quiet we did not even notice she was missing.  The bus took us over Santa Cruz Island to the Strait again, where we boarded our boat, the Northstar and headed for Daphne Major.  We met our boat guide, David, the captain, Guillermo, and the first mate, Armando.  We motored around Daphne Major and saw a lot of birds up close, as well as sea lions and turtles.  At one point, a big manta ray jumped right next to the boat.   It jumped once more, but I only saw the ripples after it entered.  We continued to Daphne minor, and saw some baby sea lions.  We stopped off of Mosquera for our first snorkel.  The waves were high, and the water was cold and deep–just how I didn’t want it to start!  We only had one student panic.  Kyle, a lifeguard, pulled Anita back to the boat.  She did rejoin us for snorkeling later.  The incredible density of fish was far above anything we saw last year.  I saw a really cool eel with strikingly contrasting lateral stripes.  I couldn’t stop to photograph it because I was so far behind the rest of the group.  This was the maiden voyage of the underwater camera.  I was having some trouble seeing anything at all on the LCD display anyway.  I thought, “Man, this camera is crap.”  Then I discovered that it wasn’t turned on.  Results were decidedly better after t
hat.  The bandage was barely hanging off my chin by that point.  I pulled it off and stuck it in my wetsuit.  Note: next time take waterproof bandages.  We saw a stingray, turtles, a shark, and numerous invertebrates.  It was a long stretch of good snorkeling.  We motored over to the opposite shore, which I think was Baltra, and snorkeled a bit more.  Lots of bat stars there, and these little red fish in schools up close to the rocks.  There were also schools of tiny fish fry in the water.  Reproduction is a good thing!  We motored to a calm bay on Baltra.  Some snorkeled there, but I was too cold at that point.  Next time I bring the full length wet suit.  We ate lunch in the bay right on the boat–hot fish and rice.  It was damn good.  We were motoring around the Northeast side of Santa Cruz when whales were spotted.  We followed them around for about an hour, and got some good views of orcas up close.  This was a real bonus, as whales are rarely sighted.  We motored over to Gordon Rocks, a well known SCUBA spot.  We saw a couple of Galapagos fur seals, also uncommon.  Almost everyone slept during the remaining hour ride back to Puerto Ayora.  When we got off the boat, Geoconda met us and  took me straight to the ER.  It happened to be a busy night.  When I finally saw the physician.  He looked at my chin for about 5 seconds and said, “Esta cerrado.”  It’s closed.  A nurse cleaned it with alcohol and iodine, then sent me on my way.  No charge.  After returning to the hotel we went back downtown for shopping and dinner.  I had ceviche, a kind of seafood salad, also a very traditional Ecuadoran dish. 

Swallowtailed gull.

Baby sea lion–it’s pupping season…

…which may be why orcas are on the prowl.

A little gecko on the wall of the hotel.

Wednesday morning we walked down to the docks and got on our boat again.  The Northstar took us to Santa Fe in about an hour, but the ride was rough, with the wind-driven swells causing large amplitude rolling of the boat.  I stared at the horizon to avoid sea sickness, but it’s a good thing the ride wasn’t another hour longer.  As I was staring into the distance I saw a splash.  I looked at the spot for a minute and a manta ray jumped.  I’m sure I was the only one to see it.  We cruised around the island, seeing many boobies, baby sea lions, and plunge diving birds.  Every time a booby would fold its wings and pierce the water, we’d yell, “Skadoosh!”  Not sure what it means, but it sounds good.  Along the steep-walled cliffs we saw the Galapagos Hawk, another species we had not seen last year.  We started snorkeling in a nice, warm bay, but the stinkin’ bull sea lions kept patrolling the coast and making me nervous.  There were bazillions of fish in this spot.  We swam out of the bay into the open ocean to see more and larger fish.  So cool.  We took the boat to a small island off Santa Cruz where last year one student had been washed up on the rocks and cut up pretty badly.  It’s about the only place to swim with marine iguanas and the best for snorkel with sea lions, but I was rather wary.  I did see an iguana underwater, and even got the shot, but was soon occupied by pulling our girls out of the rocks.  The sea lions (usually friendly juveniles and females) didn’t show. 

Blue-footed booby, with actual blue feet.

Galapagos hawk, a juvenile.

We motored back to Tortuga Bay, a calm, sunny beach that we had had to hike to last year.  As we pulled in, I saw the kayak guy go ashore, lock up his kayaks and leave.  No kayaking for us!  Didn’t matter.  We saw rays, turtles and many sharks.  Just when we arrived, we saw sharks mating.  Our guide had only seen it twice in his lifetime.  This was one of many lucky events in this trip.  We ate lunch on the boat and played soccer on the beach.  I didn’t make much of a contribution, but we had many able players including the guide, Miki (a former college player), Anele, Nikki, and Collins on our team.  We won 3-2.   I rested in the shade while some students played a game of chicken.  Anele and Anita won.  The students made a sandman and took a group photo.  We hiked the peninsula, seeing many iguanas, the American oystercatcher and a juvenile yellow-crowned night heron.  When we got back to Puerto Ayora I bought a white T shirt with Charles Darwin on the front.  I had an idea to have all the students sign it, and I happened to have a permanent marker.  I also had them put funny quotes on it, which I will collect here later.  We all had dinner at The Rock.  It was quite fun, as they played videos from 1970s era musicals (Grease, Saturday Night Fever, Dirty Dancing) and the kids sang along.  Anele left early, feeling a bit ill.  We all went back to the hotel later.  I had one beer in the hotel bar.  I met some locals and heard a good Spanish pun.  The guy said the girl’s eyes were the color of miel-da.  This sounds like honey (miel), but also poo (mierda).  Ha ha.


Kyle spots a white-tipped shark.

Nikki and Miki show their enthusiasm for the beach.

Thursday we loaded up into 5 pick-up trucks.  A white pick-up is the standard cab in Puerto Ayora, double cab, usually a Toyota.  The beds were full of mountain bikes and we drove a few miles out of town to begin our mountain bike ride.  I helped get people fitted to their bikes and their seats adjusted.  I had been led to believe we were going to start at the top of the island and coast downhill to the beach.  It didn’t work out that way.  There were lots of hills, some of them steep.  Shifting difficulties took out a few people, and the hills many more.  The trucks followed behind and picked up those that dropped out.  Good thing I ride a lot of hills around Canton.  By the time I caught up to the lead group, Miki had fallen and scratched her knee.  We stopped at a little store, where I rinsed off her leg, cleaned it as well as I could, and coated it with neosporin.  While we rested, a torrential rain came down for a few minutes, the hardest I’ve seen in the Galapagos.  It was a good example of the rainshadow effect, given our location.  From there it was mostly downhill.  We passed a donkey, which brayed at Miki, and some chickens that crossed the road.  Anele almost ran one over.  The leaders stopped at a point with a nice view of the ocean.  I watched as, almost in slow motion, Miki rolled up behind them and locked her brakes.  The bike skidded and she rolled off of it.  I should mention that, while short segments were paved, most of the route was covered in volcanic rock and cinder.  It cuts.  When she came up, her shoulder was scraped over a large area and her other knee was thoroughly cut up, including a dime-sized hole.  I again pulled out the first aid kit (new Spanish word of the day: botiquin).  I patched her up as best I could, but had no way to scrub the dirt out of her wounds.  She never sh
owed a sign of pain.  Tough kid.  She rode in the truck after that, and those riding bikes coasted down to the parking area.  They were doing road work and I had to wait for a track hoe to get out of the road. 

Finches afoot.

Fiddler crab about an inch long.

White-cheeked pintails in a row.

We hiked the short trail down to the beach.  It was low tide, and we saw many little fiddler crabs in one area.  There were no flamingoes in the lagoon this year, but several white-cheeked pintails.  The Darwin’s finches were everywhere.  It had been a wet year, and lots of vegetation to show for it.  Finches reproduce well under those conditions.  Many were very tame, landing on our packs, feet, and even heads, especially when we had food.  Little beggars.  Some students swam, but not much or for very long.  We found a dead sea turtle on the beach, reduced to mostly bones.  Anele had done the ride, but lay in the shade most of the time.  We walked or rode back to the trucks, where all but Kyle got in and were driven to the lunch site.  I could have ridden it, but not as fast as Kyle.  He’s a 6 foot 6 inch superman.  Lunch was at a beautiful villa/plantation kind of affair, where the students lounged in hammocks and we enjoyed a huge lunch of chicken.  Kyle and Nikki played volleyball with the locals for a bit.  Both of them are varsity players.  Anele wasn’t feeling well, and sat in the truck.  The kitchen staff made a bowl of chicken soup just for her.  Kari sat with her while she ate it.  She felt like she had a fever to me, so she, Miki and I rode in one vehicle to the hospital.  Neither wanted to go, but I insisted.  I take care of my kids.  They cleaned and disinfected Miki’s wounds, and gave her a shot in the butt.  They gave Anele prescriptions for some pills.  She didn’t have a fever, apparently.  It was a relatively early end to our scheduled activities that day, so we took a cab back to the hotel for naps and showers.  Another student had diarrhea pretty badly.  I gave her some Imodium, which seemed to get it under control.  So if you’re keeping track, we totaled three visits to the doctor, just like last year.

Lava heron in the toxic manzanillo tree, I believe.

Friday I knew we had a two-hour boat ride, and I took a Dramamine accordingly.  I felt great and fell asleep after one hour.  Armando the deckhand was quite a singer, and he serenaded us (well, mostly Laura) much of the time.  When we arrived at Floreana, a small panga ferried us to the dock.  We took the bus to the highlands and hiked up to the place where they put all the tortoises that are hybrids or of unknown origin.  The native subspecies is extinct; that’s why I call it the Island of Misfit Tortoises.  The students had a great time hand feeding them stalks of corn.  We saw the pirate caves, evidence of early settlements, the spring and the look-out.  The bus took us back down to the coast, where we had lunch at the Wittmer’s, descendents of early German settlers.  They had the most awesome soup, followed by fish and more.  We poked around on the beach some, then got into the boat.  We cruised east on the coast to a little bay, where we saw for the first time the endemic Galapagos Penguin.  There were just a pair of them sitting on the rocks, but we were very excited (we didn’t see these last year).   The guide took the boat really close so that we could get a good view and pictures.  We snorkeled around one shore of Floreana, seeing sharks, many fish and sea stars.  We moved to the coast of the small island of Champion, where a long snorkel through the shallows provided the best snorkeling of the trip.  The colorful fish let us approach closely, and there were many invertebrates.  At one point I came up to see red-billed tropicbirds flying overhead.  It doesn’t get any better.  The battery died on my underwater camera just before the end, but that’s OK.  We got back in the boat and cruised around Enderbee, which provided good views of courtship dances in Nazca boobies and displays of magnificent frigate birds (the ones with the big inflatable red throat pouch).  This was a dream come true for me, having seen these behaviours on TV, but never thinking I’d ever see them in person.  On the trip back to Santa Cruz, Armando sung us some tunes, mostly gospel and love songs, and all in Spanish.  But his efforts were interspersed by those of our own Kari, who it turns out, can sing like a bird.  She did some favorites from Disney movies (Little Mermaid, Pocahontas), and when she ran out we made requests.  Then we started joining in.  Never in my life would I have guessed that we would all sing for two hours all the way back to port.  Even I sang, which I normally only do in the car.  Alone.

Courting Nazca boobies.

Magnificent frigate bird.

Big, bad marine iguana.

Galapagos penguin.

On our return, we shopped a bit, and some of us ate chicken on a stick for $1.50.  We returned to the hotel, showered, and went out walking around.  At one point the students all shared in a toast–to me.  It was touching.  We went to a disco, where everybody danced.  Some of the girls danced with the locals, which worked well until their grinding became a little too intimate.  I’ve seen golden retrievers that were more subtle.  Outside, we had more chicken on a stick, and walked back to the hotel for cake.

At this point I must back up and describe the purpose of the cake.  On the flight down earlier in the week, Anna asked Laura how to say curse words in Spanish.  Laura, being very savvy and commonsensical, told her that the Spanish for the F-word was peluchePeluche is short for osita de peluche, or teddy bear.  So Anna goes around all week saying peluche this and peluche that.  All the rest of us know what it really means.  Even the boat captain and hotel bartender are in on it.  It’s hilarious.  I’ve never been party to a practical joke of such magnitude that worked so well.  So, to the cake.  Kyle bought it and had them put “Peluche, G Crew 2008” on it.  We presented it to Anna in a ceremony in a hotel room, and Kyle told her what peluche really means.  It was said later that we never saw a black person turn red before.  She said, “That’s not cool.”  But took it with a smile.”  If she didn’t love teddy bears so much, she might have been mad.  In a striking coincidence, she loves teddy bears, has a large collection, and even a tattoo of one on her shoulder.  I think Brian got this all on film.

It was with heavy hearts that we got up on Saturday morning and got on the bus.  Nobody wanted to leave.  it was a sad bus ride across the island.  It was then I learned that our guide (spelled Geoconda, not Yocanda) had had a C-section 20 days earlier.  She would have done everything with us otherwise.  I had wondered why we had her, plus another guide on land (Maria Fernanda) and another on the boat (David).  She walked
us all the way through to check-in.  Last year’s guide had left us to fend for ourselves at the ferry.  We got some last minute shopping in at the airport.  The flight to Guayaquil and Quito was uneventful.  Our Quito Guide, Jorge, was there actually waiting for a different group, as he thought our flight was two hours later.  Fortunately, he had a bus waiting, which took us straight to the hotel.  Sort of.  Everyone was out Christmas shopping and traffic was thick.  What a contrast to the previous week, where all was deserted.  We walked downtown to the municipal theater square.  A live band was playing a benefit for an environmental group trying to stop mining in Ecuador.  We sat at an outdoor cafe and had dinner.  Well, I had a banana split, as I didn’t think my stomach was ready for meat.  Some of us bought blank T shirts at a nearby shop and had the environmentalists iron on their propaganda.  The percussion band was AWESOME.  Too bad they weren’t selling a CD.  The next band was rock/ska, and they were great too.  Meanwhile, jugglers and acrobats were performing.  Pretty good deal for free.  On the walk back to the hotel we stopped at a couple of soccer shops, where many of us bought $5 soccer jerseys.  Let’s say they were probably not officially licensed merchandise. I went up on top of the hotel and took photos of various churches and El Panecillo.  We hung out in the hotel lounge and watched a video of Indian songs and dances that Laura had bought.  We watched a part of Kung Fu Panda in Spanish too.  We talked Kari into singing again.  She did “Part of Your World” from Little Mermaid.  She sounds a lot better without twin 200 hp Yamahas in the background.  She has one of those voices that bring a tear to your eye.  I had my last Pilsener.

Jugglers and acrobats.


A big church in Quito at night.

The percussion band.

An early wake-up, and we took the bus to the airport.  We checked in and paid our $40.80 fee to exit the country.  Most people got some food before the final check in and search of our carry-ons.  Miki was chosen for the random search of her checked bag.  Poor thing; she was a little nervous.  I waited while everyone else got on the plane.  Finally, Miki came back and we boarded.  There was a slight delay, then we flew out of Quito.  It was pretty cloudy, and we couldn’t see much from the plane.  After it cleared, I was able to see the Panama Canal, Cuba and Florida.  After landing in Atlanta, we had to go through four steps to our next gate.  At the baggage claim, Laura’s back pack did not show up.  They wouldn’t let her file a claim until we got to St. Louis.  At security, Brian was flagged for an outstanding warrant and taken aside.  I wasn’t there to see it.  They said he had a DUI in New Mexico.  He was nowhere near New Mexico at the time, but someone had stolen his wallet prior to that.  They said that “they were coming to take him away” and they wouldn’t let him call me.  Fortunately, they discovered it was a case of mistaken identity and let him go.  Meanwhile, everyone else had made it to the gate.  I waited for them to collect there.  They guy across from me gave me two meal vouchers.  I gave one to Laura and we ate at a hot dog place.  Our flight was delayed about an hour.  The plane was kind of small; Kyle couldn’t stand up all the way and walk down the aisle without bending at the neck.  The flight attendant had to shush us almost immediately (she should see this group when they’re really wound up!).   At the baggage claim, Anna’s main bag didn’t show up.  We said our goodbyes, broke into groups and went our separate ways.  Kari, Caroline and I caught a shuttle to the parking lot.  I drove and dropped them off at the 18-Wheeler two hours later. 


A peninsula off the west coast of the Panama Canal.

A blue lagoon in Cuba.

Final Reflection
I have to say this was a truly outstanding trip.  We saw an amazing diversity of wildlife, some of which was quite rare.  We had excellent snorkeling, and plenty of it.  Moreover, our group had a certain chemistry.  We went almost everywhere together, not because we had to, but because we wanted to.  We all bonded with each other.  Everyone was included in the constant festive atmosphere.  It was sunny and warm every day.  No one was seriously hurt or ill.  It could only have been better for me if I had not been slightly sick almost every day and if my family could have been there.  Most of the students are trying to figure out how they’re going to go back.  Some might make it, but it won’t be the same.  Our MVP was Laura, whose command of Spanish was extremely useful, and whose efforts to take care of everyone were so appreciated.  If you want to see more of my photos, get on Facebook and friend me, as I have posted many there.  Here are a few more, taken with the underwater camera.


Stingray

Black triggerfish.

Yellow-bellied trigger and king angel.

Large-banded blenny.

Sea cucumber.

Chocolate chip sea star and pencil urchin.

December 10 – Finals week

Monday I left Boots out all night.  It rained most of that time, and by morning he was meowing loudly to be let in.  I should have taken that as a clue.  When he came in, he dropped a dead deer mouse on the kitchen floor.  I’m sure he would have appreciated it more if I had eaten it for breakfast instead of flinging it into the back yard, which is what I did.

Tuesday the rain turned to ice and snow.  Savannah had an early out.  I got out of Quincy in time to get home and get some work done before it got really bad.  My camera club meeting was canceled.  I’ve been giving finals and grading pretty constantly.  But it’s strange when I get caught up and have to think hard to find something useful to do.  There are long-range projects to attend to; you just get used to putting out fires all the time, I guess.

Thursday I had an early final.  Some of the freshmen were there 15 minutes before it started.  One spilled a huge cup of hot chocolate right off the bat.  She ended up getting the high score though.  About halfway through I thought a fight was going to break out.  One student told another to shut the f*** up.  I got them calmed down, but I was really mad that he dropped the F bomb in my class.  I spent much of the day grading stuff.  All of my grades are in, but I will likely have one more incomplete to process.  I got home early enough to take the furnace ashes down to the brush dump and work on a couple of jobs around the house. 

Friday I did odd jobs around the house and completed the final packing for the Galapagos.  Stacey gave me an early Christmas present–an underwater camera.  Woo hoo!  I’ll get some good stuff in the Galapagos now.  In the afternoon we went to the QU Christmas Party.  It’s nice to see so many of our friends and colleagues when they’re not working.  We ran some errands around Quincy, came home and ran errands around Canton.  Savannah had a job interview at the Farm and Home store.  She thought it went pretty well.  It would be a great place for her.  Tomorrow morning I leave early for Ecuador.  There’ll be a big update when I get back, but not much until then.  Last year we had some access to the internet via a computer in the hotel.  We’ll see. 

December 3 – last week of class

Wednesday I got out of the office as soon as I reasonably could, as it was snowing pretty hard.  Not much had accumulated yet, but there was a truck overturned in the median on the highway.  Several cars had already stopped.  I didn’t think I could help much.  I passed the ambulance, fire truck, and state trooper coming the other way.  The pick-up in front of me lost traction for a bit.  I knew the road was slippery.  Stacey called me about when I got home.  She asked me to start dinner.  When I entered the house, Savannah was reading a book (Harry Potter).  I told her that Mom wanted her to make dinner.  I pretty much conned her into doing it, but I helped a little. 

Thursday afternoon I went to say goodbye to Lori Lori.  She’s moving to Switzerland, and her going away party is next Saturday, when I’ll be on my way to Ecuador.  We had a long talk about many different things.  It was a lesson in impermanence; another friend leaves.  I went to the QU basketball games in the evening. I had a nutritious dinner of hot dog, pepsi, and snickers bar.  The women’s game was a blow-out, as we won by a large margin.  It’s still fun to watch our star player, Jessica Keller.  Three minutes into the game she missed two free throws.  When she came back down the court, she said to the coach, “That’s a guy’s ball.”  She was right.  Later she was knocked down, but kept the dribble going about 4 inches from the floor.  The men’s game was an exciting come-from-behind win. 

Friday I stayed home.  I took the first eagle photos of the season, and cruised around looking for other raptors.  They were suprisingly cooperative.  Later I went to Monticello to register the truck.  That night I went to our high school basketball games.  The girls won by a large margin.  The boys stayed with it long enough to give us hope, but lost in the end. 
 
This eagle didn’t mind me as long as I stayed in the car.

It was a little ruffled when this juvenile, perched nearby, suddently took off.

American Kestrel–didn’t set still for long.
 

A Red-tailed Hawk watched me for a minute, then bailed.

Saturday Stacey and I went to Quincy.  She went shopping after dropping me off at QU for the basketball games.  Once again, our women blew out the competition, scoring 108 points, about 40 more than the other team.  It’s great to see the bench get to play.  Several of them are biology students.  Keller had a typical game.  This time she made a one-handed backward shot from under the net.  The men’s team traded the lead until the second half, when the other team ran away with it.

Sunday we stayed home.  I spent most of the morning working on the fire department Christmas video, but I went deer hunting in the afternoon.  It was the last day of muzzleloading season.  I took down my old treestand, which was a lot easier than putting it up.  On the way out there I spooked something that crashed away in the woods.  Probably a deer.  I was walking to the stand when I saw some tracks by the pond.  I photographed them because they looked like bobcat tracks.  I tooks some measurements with my swiss army knife too.  I walked out to my spot and spooked a big flock of turkeys.  In a few minutes they were yelping at each other trying to regroup. I sat in the woods for a couple of hours.  It was cold, but the sun came out for awhile, just before it set.  I looked up periodically from my reading to see if anything was around.  Nothing but the usual squirrels.  It got pretty dark, but was still shooting light when I started to pack up.  I reached down to put my camera in my pack, and spooked a deer behind me that must have been less than 20 yards away.  Oh, well.  That would have been my last chance of the year.  Driving out, two deer crossed the driveway in front of me.  I’m cursed. 

The lack of claw marks was the first clue.  The size and shape are consistent too.  I’ve never seen a bobcat or its tracks, but they’re around.

At 1:30 in the morning, I got a call from one of my students.  She wanted to know whether the final exam was Monday or Tuesday.  I knew it was Tuesday.  It’s been on the schedule all semester.  Then when I was driving to work I got another call.  There were seven students there waiting for me.  Apparently, I had told them it was Monday at some point.  I wrote the exam in record time and gave it to those present.  It pays to be adaptable.

That night was the Fire Department Christmas Dinner.  We had a lot of good food, and my video went over really well.  I put some animations and morphs in it that got their attention, and a variety of fire-related music. 

One night Savannah had a plate full of mini cream puffs.  She was sitting on the couch and Boots was with her, staring intently at said cream puffs.  Then he made one of those little cat coughs.  I think he sprayed cat spit over all of them.  I was dying with laughter.  She ate them anyway.

Today I had the final meeting for the Galapagos trip.  I leave on Saturday, so I don’t know if I’ll get another one of these out before then.  It will be at least a couple of weeks, most likely.