Half Beaked: My Trip to Galápagos with Mom

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn a vacation, when the polish on my toenails chips off (or disappears completely) in the first few days, I typically choose to either a) get mildly irritated or b) rejoice. This is because I’m either traveling to relax and recover from a tough few months or year, or to set out upon an adventure. I’ll view the blemish as additional decay/a reminder that I was too tired or harried in the prior week to do it properly, or as a badge of honor. It’s dumb.

And yet on my most recent trip, when my 2nd toenail of my right foot suddenly became pale, pink, and … me-colored, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I became aware of it as I removed the flipper from that foot, having just finished my first snorkeling excursion in the Galápagos Islands. That one digit had completely lost its “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” glimmering coal-hued lacquer. And on the big toe of the same foot, there was also a little more pink on the top edge.

Chicken truck

Riding the Floreana chicken truck with Mom, Claire and Eric

This trip was meant to be an adventure: not unusual for Mom and I. A nature tour: a week or more would be filled to the gills with time outdoors, observing, photographing, talking and generally enjoying about every vista and every creature (flora and fauna), we were to see. In this manner, we’ve visited Maine, Alaska, and southeastern Oregon together in the last several years. And, prior to that as a family unit (with my brother and Dad) we visited plenty of other, mostly western locales together.

And yet some complications with the airlines, upon our departure date, conspired to put both of us into the “really needing some R&R” category when we arrived in Quito. By 48 hours into the trip, we were finally both there, together: it didn’t ruin our trip.

And yet, the chipped lacquer. The delayed ability to just roll with the day (and the keel-less boat).

floreana agenda

Exhibit A: a typical agenda

Whatever: I managed let it go. There wasn’t a “determine what the chip means” item on the agenda, anyway, on any day. The scenery was jaw-dropping. And, I did get to soak in a hot spring in the Andes, on that day between when I arrived and when mom arrived.

And so, we managed about six daily costume changes, the acrobatics involved in not flushing the toilet paper, the daily “list” gathering to make sure we all knew what additional 15-45 species we’d spied that day, the comically aggressive rocking of the ship during most nights’ travel to new locales, and, most importantly, the long-overdue time together. I hadn’t seen mom in about a year!

Where did we go?

On Ecuador, mainland

In Galapagos Islands, on board the San Jose

  • Santa Cruz Island: Puerto Ayora, Darwin Research Station, Los Gemelos craters, El Chato Farm
  • Baltra Island
  • Mosquera Islet
  • North Seymour Island
  • Genovesa Island: Prince Philip’s Steps, Darwin’s Bay
  • South Plaza Island
  • Santa Fe Island
  • leon dormido

    Leon Dormido

    San Cristobal Island: Kicker Rock/Leon Dormido, Cerro Brugo, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno & the highlands of San Cristobal

  • Española Island: Punta Suarez, El Soplador blowhole, Gardner Bay
  • Floreana Island: Champion Islet, Punta Cormorant, Post Office Bay, Baronessa Viewing Point, Black Beach
  • Santiago Island: Sullivan Bay, Barolomé Island, Pinnacle Rock

What was my favorite…

… Moment: the minute or two I had with a halfbeak, while snorkeling off Champion Islet, I think. I didn’t have a camera with me, but you can see what one looks like here. An otherwise nondescript-looking, silver, about footlong, long skinny fish that had a lower lip that was a couple inches longer than his upper lip and at the end of it was a very red dot. He was right at the surface, poking that dot above the water surface. Maybe using it as a snorkel? Likely using it to snatch bugs.

galapagos sea lion and friends

Who is more curious?

For most of our snorkeling, we were a little challenged by current surges, underwater, although on top, it wasn’t so choppy that snorkeling didn’t work. The most interesting stuff tended to be along the reef/shoreline but that was also where the sharp stuff was: barnacles, coral etc. that you didn’t want to bang into. So, periodically I’d move away from the edges to relax and maybe see if any ocean life was also out there, relaxing. This was were I found, and observed for awhile, little Rudolph, all alone.

This is what is wonderful about Galapagos: humans get a little more time to hang out with animals of all sorts, right in their own environments. They are a lot less cautious, and so visibly more curious, as many of them don’t have predators to fear.

… Creature: The Nazca booby (see pic at bottom of this post). While on Genovesa Island, where we visited a nesting colony, I got to hear one, to follow one .. walking. With his large webbed feet, he made a little bit of a racket, walking. And it was just so endearing, maybe as I’ve also felt my feet to be a little disproportionately large for me, as well. Flop, flop, flop. Moving right along. This experience reminded me a lot of when I heard an Orca’s breath, on our Alaska trip. We’re breathing the same air, walking on the same ground. It’s moist, squishy, awkward, gross and yet still alive: glorious. We too are figuring out life on earth. Living.

swallow tail gull

Swallow Tail Gull

… Day or Place: Our last overnight on the San Jose yacht. As we prepared to get into bed, I went to the upper deck to grab a few items from the clothes line: it was raining. The boat was already moving swiftly toward Black Turtle Cove, off Santa Cruz. And flying along side the San Jose, clicking alongside her, just inside the darkness, were many of the Swallow Tail Gulls. These birds are endemic to the Galapagos and they feed nocturnally (on squid and small fish): hence the busy evening. They echolocate by making clicking sounds; they have bigger eyes than the average gull and when in breeding season, the eyes are rimmed in red.

… Food: Empanadas! Twice. Once, on the San Jose, and then again, an even better batch at the Rincon de Puembo, during our farewell dinner. Every culture has a dumpling and this one’s a good one.

… Night’s Sleep: at Semilla Verde. This was our first night in the islands and it was our best night’s sleep. Great food, generous host, lovely grounds. It was amazing, falling asleep in a room with tall windows on two sides with a view out over ample, lush grounds. It was even more amazing, waking up there, better-rested and seeing the same view in new, morning hues. Wow!


Feeling like Isak Dineson: The view from our room at Semilla Verde

… Person: Mom! I’m so glad we were able to make this trip, and I was with her on my birthday, on our second day in Ecuador! But, just barely in second were our terrific group of 15 travelers, most of them from Oregon, all of them very good fun to be around, for a little over a week. Our guide, Peter was also terrific, as were the entire crew of the San Jose.

What did we see? Everything, nearly

Tawny Antpitta, Variable Hawk, Brown Breasted Chat Tyrant, Paramo Ground Tyrant, Red Crested Katinka, Collared Inca, Andean Snipe, Long-tailed Sylph, Chestnut-breasted Coronet, Buff-tailed Coronet, Viridian Metaltail, Tourmaline Sunangel, Turquoise Jay, Strong-billed Woodcreeper, Cactus Finch, Medium Ground Finch, Yellow Warbler, Great Frigatebird, Cattle Egret, Brown Pelican, Blue-Footed Booby, Laughing Gull, Common Noddy, Lava Heron, Galapagos Dove, Medium Ground Finch, Small Ground Finch, Small Tree Finch, Galapagos Mockingbird, Warbler Finch, Monarch Butterfly, Galapagos Blue Butterfly, Woodpecker Finch, Galapagos Flycatcher, Galapagos Tortoise, Lava Lizard, Marine Iguana, Argiope Spider

And then after days one (on mainland) and two (in the islands), we added these to the list…


Marine Iguanas & Nevé: Interesting stuff on heads

Magnificent Frigatebird, Lava Gull, Swallow Tail Gull, Galapagos Sheerwater, Eliot Storm Petrel, Ruddy Turnstone, Pacific Green Sea Turtle, Land Iguana, Galapagos Sea Lions, a skeleton of a Couvier’s Beaked Whale, Yellow-tailed Surgeonfish, Guinea Fowl Pufferfish, Trumpetfish, King Angelfish, Bumphead Parrotfish, Nazca Booby, Red-footed Booby, Waved Albatross, Short-eared Owl, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Wedge-Rumped Storm Petrel, Red Billed Tropicbird, Wandering Tattler, Large Cactus Finch, Large Ground Finch, Sharp-beaked/Genovesa Finch, Galapagos Fur Sea Lion, Spotted Eagle Ray, Large Painted Locust, Moorish Idol, Sting Ray, Pufferfish, Hammerhead shark, White-tip Shark, Razor Surgeon Fish, Octopus, Mosaic Moray Eel, Bottlenose Dolphin, Sally Lightfoot Crab, Ghost Crab, Grey Warbler Finch, Green Hawk Moth, Panamic Fanged Blenny, Heiroglyph Hawkfish, Chocolate Chip Sea Star, Hood Mockingbird, Halfbeak (fish), Devil/Manta Ray, Paint Billed Crake (Mom’s the only one who saw this one!), American Flamingo, White Cheeked Pintail, Least Sandpiper, Charles Mockingbird, Floreana Lava Lizard, Pacific Boxfish, Bicolor Parrotfish (red), Blue-chin Parrotfish, Bacalao, Panamic Sargeant Major, Black Tip Reef Shark, American Oystercatcher.

What I liked or didn’t like about what or how I packed

I’m very glad I had…

  • Two sets of lightweight pants and long sleeve, kind of loose button down shirts: that equatorial sun was a real threat to this pale skin!
  • My mix of cameras worked well: a digital SLR (Canon Rebel XT) with a 70-300 zoom, a point-and-shoot pocket camera for wider shots (Canon Elph 100HS), my Google Pixel phone for wider shots or video, and also an underwater camera (Minolta Stylus 770 SW) lent me by a friend. Using latter was challenging, but in the end I got a few shots I liked
  • My new mask and snorkel worked great
  • So did my trail running shoes
  • All of my stuff in a mid-sized backpack so: no carryon, on the way there. It was one less thing to worry about, when air travel plans went haywire

I wish I’d brought…

  • A buff (a lightweight fabric scarf/tube to protect my neck, face and/or head)
  • A sleeveless dress (for on board, in evenings)
  • Full length running tights and a rashguard, for sun protection while snorkeling: the shorty wetsuit didn’t keep my wrists and calves from getting singed on day one
  • A more structured daypack for our excursions: easier access to water

Where will we go next?

Savannah? Morocco? Back to Iceland?


Nazca Muppet/Booby. And her amazing feet.

HEY here are a ton more photos, if you’re interested. This is edited down from over 1000. It’s true.