Sunday, November 20, 2011

November 2011 vacation diary - day 8

We had dinner in the hotel restaurant – one of the most astonishing restaurant spaces I’ve ever seen, capable of seating hundreds, with the roof rising as if in a cathedral, but with a thrilling attention to detail in every aspect of its design. Only one other couple was eating there tonight; they left after a while and we had the whole place to ourselves (the hotel offers 24-hour room service, although it must mean some poor person spends night after night killing time). We had a couple of drinks in the adjacent bar, then we walked around the grounds for a while. Everything was still open – the gym, the business centre, even an art gallery on the site – but deserted. It’s a cliched reference, but it was like one of those movies where everyone has eerily disappeared, leaving a couple of survivors to plunder what’s left; or maybe it's like a more scenic version of Justin Bieber renting out an entire movie theatre for an evening. The stars (I mean the ones in the sky, not Justin Bieber) were visible as they could never be at home (so that stuff about the constellations is actually real!). The TV was showing Mexico’s Next Top Model and the old Drew Barrymore movie Riding in Cars with Boys.

We had breakfast in our room (we usually skip it, but for today at least the idea of having them bring it to us was just too tempting). We left at around 8.30, getting driven down to the road and then joining a group on another bus, which took us to a dinghy to the mid-sized boat Narel, where we were part of a group of sixteen or so (including Japanese, Indians, and Americans, the latter of course being the most unavoidable). Thirty minutes on the boat brought us to Seymour island, where we took a guided walk of an hour and a half or so, yielding extremely close and vivid views of frigate birds and iguanas in particular. The environment was very parched (although the rainy season starts soon), and he explained at length how the characteristics and age of each of the islands influence what lives and grows there. At the end of the walk we came to a beach where the rocks were crawling with sea lions, iguanas, crabs and birds – I’ve never seen a beach so bountifully defined by life. We walked slowly back to the dinghy (with another variation on that sense of being at the end of the world) and returned to the boat where they served us lunch – we expected it would just be a sandwich or something, but it was actually a full meal with fish and rice and vegetables and dessert. You realize pretty quickly that beneath the surface of the Galapagos lies an astonishing infrastructure of coordination and scheduling – people are constantly being collected from their various locations, combined into groups, then decombined again; everything is tightly booked it seems so that the previous group leaves each of the headline visiting places as another arrives…preserving that sense of privileged isolation isn't easy.

The boat took us to Bachas beach, the pure white sand of dreams, where we were given an hour to do as we please. We walked for a while, watching the crabs run away from us and disappear down their holes in the sand. Alison went snorkeling. I didn’t feel like doing that, but I waded into the water to watch her. Suddenly I remembered the camera was in my pocket. I quickly came out of the water and extracted it, but it was dead. Obviously I was mad at myself for being so dumb. On the other hand, I might have been more mad if we’d been having a seamless vacation and I’d suddenly thrown a wrench into it. On this trip I’ve already lost my Blackberry twice (for the first occasion, see day one) and now in a sense I've lost two cameras, after never losing anything in the past. If we believed in such things, we’d say destiny was operating this time to ensure we never get too sucked into the highs nor too consumed by the lows; after letting ourselves be lulled last night into the near-fantasy of the hotel and the island, we’re reminded again of our fallibility. Anyway, that explains the absence of pictures for today. I don’t think we’ll buy another camera right now (maybe it’ll dry out over night or something, we can only hope) but I remembered that the ipad we brought with us has a camera. It’s more cumbersome to use, and we’re having problems with that device too (the battery doesn’t seem to be fully charging), but it would obviously be better than nothing (and it would redeem the ipad in our eyes – to this point we consider it largely a waste of money, except for the week when my nephew Shane visited and used it all the time). Check again tomorrow…

Anyway, given this distraction I almost forgot to appreciate where I was, but Ally enjoyed the snorkeling, although at the distance she swam out to she didn’t find it as rich in marine life as her earlier experiences in Bermuda (another couple went out much further and they were raving about it – I think they were swimming with turtles among other things).

We were back in the hotel around 4. We walked up from the road instead of being driven (they sent a van down for us but we told him to go back – from his reaction I don’t think that happens often) – it had been a wonderful outing, but one involving distressingly little physical activity (another theme of the trip unfortunately). It took over twenty minutes to walk, which gives you a sense of the hotel's isolation. On the way we found some steps to a cave (it seems to me that every story I read as a kid involved a cave – where have they gone in my adult life?) The concierge, who was off yesterday, was waiting for us at the top and took us for another complimentary drink - it's just that kind of place. Apparently there are just two more families here tonight. The essential pattern of today will continue for four more days, no doubt accumulating into a stunning sense of the Galapagos’ richness, but hopefully of course with no more technological mishaps.

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