Boxing Day

Southbound from North Seymour Island to refuel at Balta.

Yesterday was about as unlike Christmas as I can conceive of. Woke early (as usual) to a steady downpour (unusual), and stumbled around the cabins offering “Feliz Navidad” to the crew, most of whom had forsaken Christmas with their families to staff the ship. Jobs on a ship like this, I gather, are hard to come by. Vanessa, our crew director, did manage to slip away for midnight mass with her family, who I gather had come over to the island, at least for the evening. And Manuel’s wife also lives on Santa Cruz, so he got to escape for a little while. But Eduardo, Diego, Marcello, Xavier and the rest spent their Christmas eve and day tending to their American customers. We were as gracious and appreciative as we could be, but to them, we’re customers, not family.

As the morning rain gave way to hot and muggy, we went ashore with Billy to explore the Darwin Research Station at the edge of town. Tortises – little itty bitty ones smaller than your hand, big guys that seemed as big as a  VW Bug (but realistically, weren’t). Billy cut us loose after the tour for a walk back across town to the dock, with an hour and a half for souvenir hunting. In the sweltering heat, everyone’s kids were pretty much toast at this point, despite the infusions of soda and ice cream, but we staggered through the gauntlet of tourist beach shop t-shirts and carved tagua nut trinkets with surprisingly little collateral damage. Even found a supermarket where we could buy macaroni for Andy, as an offering against her gradual wilting in the absence of her favorite foods.

Yeah, about the kids. I guess we hadn’t put enough thought into the fact that they wouldn’t have tons of unstructured time where they could romp about. Well, they do have it on the boat at measured intervals: between the morning activity and lunch, between the afternoon activity and dinner, etc., but they’re both going to go back to school exhausted and feeling like they’ve not actually had a vacation. Jem shows the stress in subtle ways, but being rebellious and obstinate. Andy shows it by bursting into tears when you ask if she’s going swimming. Or ask her anything, for that matter. Yes, they’ll look back on this as having been a fabulous life experience, but right now, they’re miserable a little more that 50% of the time.

Afternoon of Christmas day was on South Plaza Island. Low, flat and arid as all hell, but strewn with pretty red succulents (which the land iguanas eat), the leftover pieces of small birds (eaten by owls), and fur and skeletons of baby seals (no eating involved – they just “didn’t make it”).

On the cliff edge at the highest point of the island, the kids found the scattered bleached bones of a sea lion and decided to play “CSI Galapagos”, reassembling them in the approximate order that the sea lion had had them. Lots of puzzlement over whether this one was a flipper or scapula, or that one was a hip or shoulder, but the result looked at least like something that might have once lived on earth. Lots of time time spent admonishing others not to step on that iguana – which igua…? AAACK!!! – oh, *that* iguana.

This morning, another hike – this one on North Seymour. The feature here was more boobies than… oh heck, my imagination boggles to think of how to end that sentence. But we spent a lot of time watching courting rituals up close to the path (4-5 feet): the female sits looking uninterested while the male does his slow motion Charlie Chaplin one-leg-up-at-a-time dance. Picks up a twig and shows her: See? We could use this to build a nest! Aren’t I a grand provider? She grunts in response. He continues a bit then, not looking like he’s getting anywere, slowly high-steps a dozen feet away. She gets up and follows, then plonks back down, looking again uninterested, but a little less so, and the dance repeats.

Billy reminded us that boobies don’t actually build nests, but both male and female retain vestigial behaviors of picking up twigs and small useless rocks and setting them down near their mate, to demonstrate, uh, something. Sort of like the way men buy small useless rocks to give to their mates and…

Anyhow. Beside the boobies were frigate birds. Bazillions of them, swooping and swarming over the cliffs, stealing twigs from each other mid-flight, and stealing fish from the boobies when they could manage it. The word of the day?  “Kleptoparasitic”.

More snorkeling – chased a small shark, buzzed by a squadron of diving sea lions (one of whom came up belly-to-belly with me, sniffed in my face, then shot off into the green like a rocket, clearly having decided that I wasn’t that interesting after all.

And now, after lunch, we’re kicking back. Xavier and Rambo have outdone themselves with an Ecuadorian spread, and those who aren’t sipping coffee-sugar-milk on the back deck have rolling into their cabins for a nap. Our life is soooo rough.

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