The Day of Many Airports

Eastbound, airborne out San Cristobal. Billy dropped us at the airport, handed us our boarding passes and sent us on our way. Now the Bailar/Hong-Dixon-West-Cohn clans are enroute to Guayaquil, connecting to Quito, where we’ll wait for our connection to Lima, where we’ll arrive some time late at night in an exhausted, overtraveled heap. Four airports, three flights, six cranky kids and ten frazzled adults. But we’re still having fun. I think.

You know that point you get to, somewhere about 7 days into a trip, where you first feel “done”? The initial adrenaline’s worn off, and you’ve not yet gotten into the long distance runner’s pace. Loss of sleep is taking its toll, and you look at the day’s itinerary thinking “Oh, great – another [island, temple, spectacular vista, exotic species, etc]. Ho hum.”

Well, we got there yesterday. Crossing back over the north end of Isabela on our way back, we stopped for snorkeling and a hike at James Bay on Santiago, then on for a hike and snorkeling on diminutive Rabida. Rabida was vivid, but I honestly can’t remember what the heck we saw or did at James Bay – I’ve got to check the camera to jog my memory.

A long distance runner knows this point well. It’s the point where you’ve got to turn inward, accept the losses, and just keep going. If you’ve done it enough, you know it’ll get better. You’ll find your pace; sleep will come, and you’ll soon be engaged and fascinated again with your travels. We’re not there yet, not nearly. Hopefully, a day of being plugged into portable electronics while alternately sprawled in waiting room lounges or crammed into pressurized metal tubes shooting across the sky will help. Hopefully, but we’re not counting on it.

Anyhow – yesterday. Since I can’t remember James Bay, let’s talk about Rabida. The vivid  red sand looked unreal. As fine as dust, blowing across the beach and the couple of dozen sea lions we shared it with. We started with a wet landing, hauling our snorkeling gear ashore in mesh bags and stuffing it on the rocks at the edge of the sand, after which Billy led us on a short trek of one of the bluffs. The guide books talk about Rabida’s flamingoes, but the lagoon they used to inhabit went off kilter a couple of years ago. Temperatures rose, and the brine shrimp died off, taking with them their stiltwalking predators. Nowadays, the lagoon appears uninhabited, emitting a vaguely unpleasant odor from its green, brackish waters.

Coming around the first bend from the beach, we came across the very recent remains of a baby sea lion in the middle of the path. Two juvenile galapagos hawks stood watch in a bush a few paces away while a mockingbird tried to get through the fur to the ever-prized moisture within. Not an appetizing sight, buone that reflected the full circle of life on these islands.

Up to the crest of the hill through Martian desert dust, counting finches flitting among the cactus and sandalwood trees. Amusing ourselves at the “stop here” sign posted mere inches before a sheer cliff wall that plummeted into the sea below. Regional trials for the (locally-appropriate) Darwin awards?

By the time we made it back to the beach, the mockingbirds had made some progress on opening up the sea lion (Andy: “Ewwwww!”), but were now under the gaze of *four* hawks in close watch who seemed waiting only for someone else to finish up the hard work before swooping in. We didn’t stick around to watch.

Back down to the water, everyone geared up for snorkeling as a pair of zodiacs from another ship approached the beach. I’d already had an unbeatable day of snorkeling the day before (ref: manta and bat rays), so decided to try simply hanging out on the beach and watching the unfolding sea lion-tourist ballet. They looked… just like we did: piling onto the sand, pulling out cameras and beach towels like marines securing a beachhead, pointing fingers and telephoto lenses at the various mother-child sea lions and squealing (did *we* squeal?) “Oooh look, look, look! That one’s nursing!”

Eventually, they too filed off onto the path toward the ex-sea lion and ex-flamingo lagoon, and I was left alone to mind the beach by myself. It was a nice quiet moment, constantly punctuated by the braying of baby sea lions (“Moooooooommmmmm!”), barking of mother sea lions (“You stop chewing on that nice man’s snorkel!”) and grunting of the scattered alpha males (“Hey! You! Yeah, you! No, the other you! No.. Oh, never mind.”)

The dinghies eventually started sweeping the area around the down-current point to retrieve snorkelers, then swung back to the beach to pick me up, along with our scattered, dust-covered and sea lion-chewed gear.

[postscript: currently waiting in the embarkation lounge in Quito at 7:30 pm, having spent all day in airplanes/airports. We’ll probably get through customs in Lima around midnight, then on a plane to Cuzco way too early tomorrow morning. Current challenge is that the agent who arranged our tickets appears to have booked the Dixon clan on a different flight to Lima – one that left at 8:00 this morning. Uhhhhh – Gregor’s working on it.]

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