Thursday, November 24, 2011

November 2011 vacation diary - day 12

In the unlikely event that anyone has made it to the end of this, I know I should apologize for the depressing turgidity of it all. If you were to read my previous vacation blogs, you’d know I’m not always like this (I've never been like this) – these are usually our happiest times of the year (which of course is the whole reason why we do it). Visiting somewhere like Japan or Israel, our heads were buzzing with observations both large and small and with cultural speculation and a sense of historical significance. On this trip it’s been hard to get past the logistics; the experience as a whole just hasn’t been that mentally liberating. But we at least managed to end on a real high note. The object today was Plazas island, about an hour nearer than yesterday’s destination. We went through the usual ritual, but with a much later start, arriving around 11 a.m. Plazas was the strangest and most rewarding of our destinations, covered in scruffy red vegetation, out of which bright green cactus trees rose up like telephone poles. The sky was the brightest blue, giving the place the air of an alien exercise in primary colours. One of our shots, posted here, contains a number of yellow iguanas in the foreground, rounding out the experiment (unfortunately again, the ipad camera is not the best at capturing these subtleties).

The island was small but crammed with life. When we arrived, sea lions were sprawled out all over the steps of the landing dock. As I mentioned before, the animals here are truly fearless; when the sea lions moved out of the way for us, it was solely because they had to – they seemed to make their views on being disturbed pretty clear (the steps are obviously a hot spot – when we returned ninety minutes later, they were covered in sea lions again). We might have seen a hundred of these animals in the course of our walk – it’s hard to spot them all. A lot of the time of course they’re just sprawled out looking lazy and physically implausible. But we watched one of them pull himself onto the rocks far below us, and haul himself up a steep cliff path with impossible speed; not put out at all by the small crowd watching his progress (see photo), he proceeded right past us and picked out a nice spot overlooking the water, where I expect he planned to stay for hours. Others were circling endlessly in the water – apparently males will protect their chosen territory for days until they give up out of sheer exhaustion, at which time another may come in and steal it. There were many puppies, often behaving quite independently.

And then in between all of this, the iguanas, like mysterious sentinels, usually alone but sometimes in small groups, staring out to sea, or in proximity to the sea lions (guarding them? communing with them? drawing comfort from them? Who knows…) or most entertainingly of all, marching along in their ungainly but very determined way. They often look as if you could pull the skin off them with one good tug, and some of them show the residue of having feasted on sea lion excrement (good for protein) but whereas you could imagine hurting a sea lion’s feelings with such remarks, the iguanas seem too cool to care. For flavouring, the island also had scatterings of crabs and birds. Even more than a few days ago at Seymour island, it really is your classic sense of the Galapagos, a place that looks and feels like nowhere else on earth, and where some elemental harmony still holds in place, even making room for visiting humans (who, frankly, barely deserve to be admitted).

We had lunch on the boat, as usual, and then travelled back. About ten minutes from the port, the boat docked at a cove which was good for swimming and snorkeling. I happily stayed on the upper deck of the boat reading David Foster Wallace’s Consider the Lobster, but Ally went in and did a circle of the cove (here she is, taken from the boat). She saw a little less than yesterday, but that included a shark and various other marine colour. And then we were back in the hotel by 4 pm. It’s only when you get here that you realize the compromised meaning of a “full day tour” in the Galapagos, at worst bringing to mind the quip about the Oscar broadcast constituting thirty minutes of sparkling entertainment…spread out over a three hour show. Today though, the entertainment was so pure and potent and memorable, any amount of dilution wouldn’t have mattered.

There was a Canadian family on the boat today, and also a large family from Georgia. The Canadian woman warned us early on that she’d met the others earlier in the week, and the Georgian woman had offended her by mouthing off about how few hours Canadians work compared to Americans. We were in no mood for such stuff today and momentarily girded ourselves for a confrontation, but as it happened we never exchanged a word with any of them. Another example, as it were, of sea lions and iguanas happily coexisting.

We arrived back at the hotel and the receptionist rang to ask if we’d be eating dinner at the hotel, citing their special Thanksgiving buffet. Although I knew of course it was US Thanksgiving, it had seemed until now entirely abstract, not like something that could possibly have any application here. So in that sense we did achieve the kind of removal you hope for on vacation. As I write, it's about 5.45. We are mostly all packed for tomorrow. Ally is well-advanced on reading Freedom. I will shortly finish watching The Little Theatre of Jean Renoir, which I would have finished days ago if I hadn't got sick. All that remains for this diary is to report on a problem-free journey home...

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