Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Galapagos, Day 1

We took a taxi to the airport through morning rush hour traffic, but got there way early anyway. After having our bags scanned by Sigcal (the folks on Galapagos want to make sure you’re not bringing in anything organic), then paying for our tourist card ($10), we checked in for our flight, then went through security (um, I guess that’s what it was, but I didn’t have to take my shoes off or fish out my 3-1-1 bag, or dump out our water, so I’m not sure).  We left right on time, and finally got an aerial view of the city we’d been traipsing around for the last couple of days. It was so much bigger than we thought!
After a quick stop in Guayaquil for more passengers and refueling (they really want to make sure you have your seatbelt unfastened during that bit), we were off across the water to San Cristobal, the nearest of the islands in the Galapagos.
After our bags passed the sniff test, we were free to go meet our group and our naturalist guide for the next week.  We bumped into a nice couple in line to get our tourist card in Quito, who were then in seats directly behind us on the airline. After a brief chat, we realized we were headed to the same boat!  What luck!  Norman and Norma are from Ottawa, and we would get to know them quite well over the next week.  Once our guide Enrique gathered us together and herded us onto a bus to the dock, we were on our way!
Welcoming committee at San Cristobal
This guy, and a bunch of his friends, were waiting at the dock as our welcoming committee.  We practically had to climb over them to get in the zodiac (or panga, as it’s called here) to tender out to our boat.
This boat?
No, this boat:
Right after climbing on board we had our briefing, telling us what we’d be doing for the rest of the day, and then we had some lunch while we sailed up the coast to Lobos. 
After lunch we got organized: unpacked our swimsuits, got fitted for wetsuits (the water is only 65 F, so we all opted for wetsuits except for a couple of Tasmanian fellows who toughed it out without one) and snorkel fins, as we brought our own snorkels and masks.  After we arrived we got back in the panga and jumped into the water directly from it.  Our first snorkel was eventful—we saw sea turtles, stingrays, and lots of fish. 

After about an hour we headed back to the boat from the panga, and then sailed back to the harbor at San Cristobal where we anchored for the night.  Some frigate birds followed the boat back with us, hoping to steal a meal.

Before dinner we had an opportunity to take the panga back into town and walk around for an hour.  As we were still getting our sea legs, it seems like a good idea.  The town is called Baquerizo Moreno, and it was just about as sleepy as it could be.
Just as the sun was setting we headed back to the Estrella, our home sweet home for the next 8 days.  Here is a look at our tiny cabin—not pictured is the small adjoining bathroom, with a handily small shower. It keeps you upright if the boat starts to rock while you’re in it.
Our first day was a big one, and we were exhausted. We did, however, take some sea sickness pills (Bonine) before going to bed, which was a very good thing, as the boat started motoring up the coast for our second day around 2 am.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Galapagos, Ecuador

We’ve just landed after one of the most superlative weeks of our lives, and that’s not a hyperbolic statement. More to come, including descriptions and what we saw when, and what it means. But for all of you voracious readers who want pictures, here’s a little preview.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Otavalo, Ecuador

Despite the fact that we got to our hotel in Quito after 9pm local time (same as Central Time, in case you're wondering), we decided that we should try to hit the ground running today and go up to Otavalo to see the Saturday market, where all the local weavers and artisans come to sell their wares.

It wasn't easy to get there, as we didn't hire a private driver or sign up for a tour. Instead we took a taxi to the bus terminal at the far north end of town, then hopped the next bus for Otavalo, along with everyone else. There were two other English-speaking women on the bus. But we got there just fine, and enjoyed the view on the way.

It was a little jolty, but we both swayed ourselves to sleep as our bus wound its way first up one side of the switchbacks, and then braked all the way down the other.

Once there, we realized two things: 1) whomever does the weather forecasts for Ecuador is a monkey with a typewriter, and 2) that we really should've brought sunscreen and hats rather than our rain jackets and scarves.  So the first order of business was to buy some sunscreen.  After that, we explored the market.

After wandering around with my scarf over my head for a while, David finally convinced me to look at some of the straw hats. They're what people in the US call a panama hat, but they're actually made in Ecuador.  I got a little experience in bartering and the nice lady who was willing to bring me hat after hat to fit my giant head threw in a hatband as well.

There were some of the most beautiful weavings I have ever seen; of beautiful alpaca, soft soft wool; blankets, scarves, tablecloths, runners, rugs, shawls, ponchos. I wish I were able to bring back something for each of you--there were plenty of things to choose from.

We bought a small zippered bag to put in my purse for things like sunscreen, advil, toilet paper and chapstick (strangely enough, all things we forgot to bring with us) from this woman and her beautiful daughter, and chatted with them very briefly. After we bought the bag I asked her if I could take her daughter's picture, and while it took a little hand holding and convincing, she rose to the challenge. It was clear, even through the language barrier, that her mother was showing her the ropes--how to sell, how to dress, how to smile.

Feeling that we'd accomplished our missions, we sat down for a shared disappointing ham sandwich and two pieces of delicious pie at the Shenandoah Pie Company, which was recommended by the guidebooks.

We sat for a while in the cool of the cafe, just watching the world go by.  There was a neat painting of a bicycle with an umbrella that I was trying to take a picture of, but I managed to get some interesting local color as well.

Then after some more walking around and staring at things that won't fit into our bags, we wandered back to the bus station to head home.  

On the way to Otavalo we apparently were lucky enough to get the first two seats on the bus assigned to us, and a driver/conductor who didn't want to play a movie. This time, not so lucky.  The seats were very tight, with virtually no leg room.  If that weren't bad enough, we sat on the "wrong" side on the way out, so our view (while spectacular) was the same as the one we had coming to Otavalo.  But the best was yet to come. They put on a movie, initially in English but eventually switched to Spanish, thankfully, which was the worst movie ever. Actually, I said that and David made me clarify. It was the worst movie I've ever seen on a bus, so far.

I had actually read about the fact that they tend to play violent, bloody movies on these buses, so I told David to bring his headphones and music player. That was a godsend, because even though the movie was dubbed, it was really hard to tune out. All I can tell you is that it involved Liam Neeson, a plane crash in the snowy wilderness, and a band of rag-tag lumberjack-like men getting picked off one by one by hungry wolves. As the credits rolled right when we pulled into Quito, and the battery in my music player gave up the ghost, I noted that the name of the movie was "The Grey."  If you ever come across that title, for the love of God do not rent it.

And here I thought picking the bus with the blue-eyed Jesus on it would save me from violence.  I guess I should be grateful that he brought us back in one piece. His eyes must have been on the road.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Lana's Daily Journal

I've decided to keep a daily journal here to document or day-to-day details of our trip. There is a page at the top of the blog called "Lana's Daily Journal." You can check that to see our progress--I'll be updating the page and putting the newer entries at the top of the page. If you're signed up as a subscriber or to get emails of the blog entries, it probably won't show up, so you'll actually have to hit the blog to see them. When we publish a new blog entry I'll let you know of recent updates to the page, but check back if you want to see where we're at and what's up. I hope you'll follow along!

And so we bid a fond farewell

Years ago, David’s generous mother offered to take his brother and us to New Zealand.  It was one of the best and most memorable trips we’ve ever taken, and it really cemented our love of travel.  At some point, as we were driving away from a town we’d visited, David’s mom mimicked Lowell Thomas’s travelogue closure speech, which always ended with the same kitschy phrase,  along with the name of the place, and some particular attribute, like “And so, we bid a fond farewell to the Rotorura, home of sulfurous stench.”  It became a catch-phrase for the remainder of the trip, and we still intone it while we’re traveling, as we move on to the next destination.

In the past, it’s always been goofy and fun.  Now, as we’re saying goodbye to the really wonderful family and friends that surround us, knowing we won’t see them until late next year, it’s harder.  On the road trip, we’ve stayed in touch via email, and video chat, but it’s not quite the same—there never seems to be time enough to catch all the way up.  This week we’ve been home we’ve been lucky enough to spend time with both our families and have touched base with a few friends, but we’ve just run out of time to say all those in-person goodbyes.  This is the part of this year of travel that’s without a doubt the hardest.

But that’s why this blog has been so important to us. Because we know that wherever we are, you aren’t so far away.  We’ve learned a lot from the challenges we faced keeping the blog updated in the U.S., and we plan to do some a little more day-to-day journaling here to keep this up to date, as much as we can. We also will continue to post our photos and stories from our road trip, so look out for those.

One of the other things we learned while we were gone is just how isolating long-term travel can be. You may know what is going on with us, but we’re out of your loop.  We’ve appreciated every email, every blog comment, every response or like to a Facebook or Google+ post.  They really bring us up when we’re feeling low. Please please continue to chime in with comments here on the blog (it’s easy, just click on the “Add a comment” at the very bottom of each post), or on our Facebook or Google+ pages or posts, or just email us ( and let us know what’s going on in your world.  This blog is our tether back down to the earth, and we want to keep up with everyone else’s lives.

Our bags are packed, our itinerary printed, and our guides books at the ready. And so we bid a fond farewell to weekly Wednesday dinners with the Bump family, endless games of cards and dominoes with the Abernathy family, our annual pumpkin carving party for all our wonderful friends, soft poodle snores, snow quietly falling outside the window at the cabin, and so many other things.  May it all be there for us until we return.

Much love,
Lana & David

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Corning, New York

We drove out of our way (as much as you can say that, on an 11,000 mile road trip) to see the Corning Museum of Glass, in Corning, NY, which I have wanted to see for years.  Neither of us were disappointed.  The town is fairly small, with a vibrant, revived old town area.  Corning, Inc. is still headquartered here, and the town reflects that with an interesting mix of engineers, factory technicians, and artists.  It reminded Lana and I a little of our respective hometowns, where HP and Kodak brought a large number of newcomers into rural farming towns.
We stayed overnight, and arrived at the Museum not long after they opened; we were just in time for the first hot glass demonstration of the day, where two glassworkers were making a pumpkin.
Above, the gathered glass has already been rolled in frit or ground up pieces of colored glass, which gives the pumpkin its nice flecked appearance.  Then it is shaped by pressing it into a ridged die and is placed back in the furnace briefly before a puff of air is added and captured, so that the hot glass heats it, expanding the air, and inflating the gather into a much rounder shape.
Another glassworker has impressed ridges on a smaller, solid gather of glass, and the first glassworker is joining them together; hot glass bonds better to cooler glass, which is why the stem is red-hot.  The stem will be a vivid green when cooled.
Working quickly, the stem is stretched out, and then wrapped around a form, to create the twisted appearance of the stem.  The form is removed, and the stem is curved, and touched to the cooler pumpkin body in a few places to bond it.
Finally, the stem is cut off with heavy snips.  It’s amazing to see glass blown, twisted, stretched and cut like it’s clay.  The two glassworkers are talking to us the entire time, describing what they’re doing, and why.  Once they snipped the stem off, they snapped the pumpkin off the steel blowing pipe, and placed the pumpkin in an annealing oven to cool down at a controlled rate until the next day.  Then they turned to us, and told us that they were going to raffle off the pumpkin they’d made the day before.  Lana had a feeling she was going to win the pumpkin, but the first ticket called was not hers.  However, they were also raffling off a beautiful blue vase, and the woman who’d just been called chose the vase.  Lana and I looked at each other, still hopeful.  The next number called was one of our tickets—both of them in Lana’s hands by now.  There was never even any question as to who would get it.  She looked like she’d just been called for the Price is Right:
We couldn’t have had a bad time at the museum, but we certainly got a good start!  We spent some time in the industrial section of the museum, where there were exhibits on Gorilla Glass, bullet proof glass, fiber optics, Pyrex cookware, etc., before moving into the artistic gallery sections.  The glass gown is life size.  The original positive casting was made around a live model, and you can still see her navel in the body-shaped hollow center of the final glass casting.Glass Gown
The galleries contained a wide variety of glass art—some technically impressive, if not to our tastes, but most  were quite beautiful.
Some were impressive and beautiful; these fruit were two to three feet tall, and each must have weighed hundreds of pounds.
The museum also has a staggering array of glass history on display, and it’s only a fraction of the collection they have accumulated.  This glass tabletop was fashioned in the 18th century from fragments of ancient Greek and Roman glass mosaic.
While fascinating, the historic section overwhelmed us eventually.  That’s when we stumbled across the Glass Lab exhibit, which was our favorite, and that’s saying something.
20120923_131444_SGP4_2012-09-23 13.14.44

The exhibit consisted of a variety of glass art pieces, designed by a variety of artists and designers, most of whom hadn’t worked with glass before, and created by several of the glass artisans from Corning (including one of the gentlemen in the demonstration we saw at the beginning of the day).  You can have an appreciation of the pieces much in the same way as the other pieces in the various other galleries, but this one had one further element which made us want to stay all day.  On a large white wall, they were projecting clips from each artists’ session with the artisans, so you could see what the artists conceived, and how the pieces were executed. It made for a very visceral, in-depth exhibit. You could watch a piece being made, and then go and find it in the gallery, get up close to it and examine the piece, now that you had the “backstory,” as it were.  They also had kiosks with touch screens where you could scroll through the entire set of artists, and watch on a small screen the clip of the creation of any particular piece by that artists.  We could have sat there for the rest of the day, watching clips and finding pieces.  
20120923_131349_SGP4_2012-09-23 13.13.49
The grouping of pieces you see above were conceived by a single artist and executed by several artisans over the course of a couple of days.  Intestines, kidneys, stomach, liver, heart, lungs and brain were made, as well as several large eyeballs of varying eye colors.  We thoroughly enjoyed this exhibit, and it was a great culmination of the museum, combining the the artistic aspect with the technical aspects of glass making.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Home again, home again, jiggity jig

We left Oklahoma City before the sun rose this morning to try and get ahead of a storm that was planning on bringing thunderstorms and tornadoes between Oklahoma City and Wichita through Sunday. We didn't get ahead of them, but we did make it through them, and a few more along the way.  All of the driving was worth it, however, when we got to my folks and were greeted with this.

It's good to be back.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Papa’s House


We were lucky enough to meet someone very special in Traverse City, Michigan.  We previously mentioned that our friend was gracious enough to arrange for us stay at his grandfather’s house while we were there.  If the calendar on the wall is any indication, then Papa died in May of 2011.  But his presence, his spirit is alive and well in his home.  It seems as if he’s just around the corner visiting the fire station and will be back any minute.  And by looking around at all the love in that house, you wish he was.  More than that, the home feels familiar.  It’s of an age and décor that both David and I remember from our own childhood visits to our grandparents’ homes. It even smells (in a good way) like being at our grandparents’ houses.

It didn’t necessarily feel like this at the time, but we’ve since talked about how it was something like a museum. We’ve been through other museums (most recently the Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis) that capture a moment in time, and preserve history in some way.  This was an entirely more personal history, but we felt its impact just the same.

We never met Papa, but here is what we know about him, after having spent some time in his home, abiding with his memory.


He was a fireman. More than that, he was the Fire Chief. At one point he was a sheriff’s deputy, and was involved with the police department as well.  The man literally wore many hats.









He liked to golf.  There were lots of golf mugs, and golf humor on the walls.  He collected antique fire truck toys.   And we think he played the vibraphone (there were a set of them in the basement).  He struck us as a man who was full of jokes, laughter, and love.


He loved his kids, his grandkids, and his great-grandchildren.  There were pictures of them everywhere, in every room. The photos were in places you would always see them, like above the sink in the kitchen, on the fridge, on his desk, next to his favorite recliner in the living room. 


Everywhere we found little notes of love that had been given to him by people—we assume family but they’re not signed.  Little slips of paper or post-it notes that said “Love you Papa!” and “Sending smiles your way!”





Thank you Papa, for letting us stay.  And thank you, Brian, for introducing us to Papa.