Tuesday, November 22, 2011

November 2011 vacation diary - day 10

Given the nature of this trip, a dance (or at worst a trudge) of steps forward and back, it’s no surprise that soon after completing yesterday’s installment, and calling it the best day of the trip so far, I started to feel heavy and nauseous. We went out for a drink, but I couldn’t even finish one; I threw up three times during the course of the evening, and spent hours in one of those wretched states where you can’t function awake but then can’t sleep either. Poor Ally just had to entertain herself through all this. At around 1 am I lay in the jacuzzi to see if that would relax me (it did, but only for an hour or so), and then I became obsessed with drinking some skimmed milk; I called the so-called all-night room service repeatedly but there was no answer. I ended up drinking all the Gatorade from the mini-bar. The next day I felt better for a while, but then chronic exhaustion set in; for much of our morning outing I could barely stand. It’s lucky I suppose that today was the lightest day on the itinerary.

Rafael was our guide again. He’s an amazing story-teller, for instance reminiscing about visiting his grandparents as a child – a trip made without roads and before electricity - and bartering fish he’d caught earlier that day for fresh avocados and smoked beef; he’s one of those people whose relish in telling the story makes you taste the food even across several decades. First we drove a short distance and went on a little nature walk, with him instructing us in various plants, drawing out the famous richness of the island, from superior coffee beans to medicinal applications to flavour enhancements to pure beauty. He took us to a little patch of woodland where we spotted a bright red vermillion flycatcher (the ipad camera isn't the best at capturing such fleeting sights, but here's the best we've got) – he was overjoyed and said he’d spent three hours the other week with an ornithologist trying to find the bird, without success – this, he said, meant seven years good luck for us. Maybe that'll start tomorrow...

Then we went to see giant tortoises in the wild. We saw maybe twenty of them, hanging out in fields, cooling off in mud pools; mostly a hundred or a hundred and fifty years old. Living so long and moving so deliberately, it’s as if their own slow metabolism affects everything around them. It’s tempting to say confinement couldn’t possibly matter to them as much, but who’s to say they don’t feel the presence of the wall just as strongly, even if it takes them a year to reach it? One of the tortoises was mating with another, which made Rafael ecstatic again; he said crews from National Geographic or suchlike might spend weeks waiting for such a moment. Once the moment comes however, they should be able to enjoy it at their leisure – the process lasts three or four hours. There was another tortoise hanging out outside the washrooms, and later we passed one on the side of the road as well, just as you do.

Finally, we visited an enormous cave, a tunnel carved out of molten lava, discovered only a few decades ago by a farmer looking for a missing calf (the whole of Galapagos is built on lava; the most recent eruption within the system was just last year). Well, visiting caves is always cool, what can you say. By now though I could barely stand – each step was an ordeal. We returned to the hotel; I got right into bed and slept for four solid hours. Once again, Ally was stuck having to fill time.

I woke up around 3.30 feeling somewhat refreshed and after a while we headed into Puerto Ayora. It was bustling compared to the other day, with a lot of locals hanging out around the port. We engaged in the vital tourist project – shopping. We bought a new bag to replace the one that got stolen, a tortoise figure which will be our souvenir of the trip, and various gifts for people (hard to keep this in mind right now, but when we return it'll be the cold downward slide to Christmas). Then we went to eat. Ally had beef tenderloin, which was very good; I could only manage chicken broth and cheese sticks, and didn’t finish all of that. By now I was exhausted again; when we returned to the hotel I slept for several more hours. Still, the worst seemed to be behind me (I’m writing much of this around midnight, because of course I’m now awake…hopefully I haven’t screwed up my sleeping pattern too much).

Today then was one of those vacation days which “worked” in that it generated images we’ll probably remember all our lives: a rare thing when one can’t typically remember what happened this time last week. But on the other hand, most of the day was a total failure. We have two more days, which I’m sure will be memorable, but our minds are both heavily focused on Friday and on returning to our normal life (we’re both preoccupied by the prospect of missing a connection or some other mishap on the way home, which we'd never usually worry about - it sums up where our minds have gotten to). We’ve never been able to attain any unhindered, liberated momentum on this trip, and unfortunately we’ve both given up on the idea of reaching it now. Still, you never know. Did I mention we have seven years of good luck ahead of us?

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