Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve in the Air: Off to Mali

On New Year's Eve we will be flying to Bamako, Mali, West Africa, with a layover in Paris. We will be taking a trip organized by Adventures in Rock in collaboration with Women Worldwide. It is a very unique trip which offers a volunteer experience in a Dogon village as well as an opportunity to enjoy the world famous Festival in the Desert, a music festival which takes place in the outskirts of the Sahara not far from Timbuktu.

Our volunteer work will take place in the Dogon village of Kori-Maounde, located on the Bandiagara Escarpment. We will be doing community service projects as well as teaching English classes, while being hosted by members of the community.

We will spend two nights camping in the Sahara at Essakane, the site of the Festival in the Desert. The Festival was begun in 2001 by the Touareg nomads as a way to preserve their tradition of getting together with one another annually to exchange ideas. It has become a large draw for the international community as well, with people coming from all over the world to share in the experience.

American blues music has its roots in Malian music, a fact which has been explored by western performers including Corey Harris and Taj Mahal. Being the blues fans that we are, we are excited by the chance to see traditional and modern Malian music performed in its native land. One of the best-known contemporary Malian musicians was the late Ali Farka Toure. His son Vieux Farka Toure will be performing at this year's festival, and is sure to be a highlight.

We are really looking forward to meeting our fellow travelers: Pamela, Susan, and Tina. I am not sure whether we will have any internet access during the trip, but if we do, we will send an update.

We are supposed to get a snowstorm today, so we hope that our 5:30 pm flight is able to take off. We have our fingers crossed! But an 8 hour layover in Paris will hopefully be enough of a cushion...

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Thanksgiving, Island-Style

For the 8th year, we have spent Thanksgiving in St Thomas visiting our good friend Marty. This time we also had the pleasure of meeting his lovely girlfriend, Joan. We had a delicious (and huge!) turkey dinner at the Toad and Tart restaurant on Thanksgiving night.

The next morning we went on our traditional boat ride: Cap'n Marty's Island Hop. We meandered around the U.S. and British Virgin Islands and spent some time at the ever-wild Willy T floating restaurant enjoying some beverages (and visiting our favorite irreverent bartender, Zeus). Later we swam ashore to the Soggy Dollar Bar for some of their signature Painkillers. After the Island Hop, we enjoyed a dinner worthy of Anthony Bourdain at the Old Stone Farmhouse.

The remainder of the trip was filled with swimming, snorkeling, and general r&r. On Monday we went to Coki Point Beach, a fun and funky beach where both locals and tourists enjoy sun and snorkeling. Once again, we stayed at Secret Harbour Resort, in the East End of the island. The beach there is great for snorkeling and watching the sunset.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

International Rescue Committee

International Rescue Committee is a charity that works with refugees and internally displaced persons in 42 countries. They also have resettlement offices in 24 U.S. cities, where they help newly-arrived refugees establish new lives in America. I have been volunteering with them for the past few months, working with Somali Bantu infants and toddlers while their mothers take English classes. It is a very rewarding experience, though like many charities, IRC is suffering from a lack of funding in these difficult economic times.

There is a really great video on their web site which highlights their work. This season, they are offering symbolic gift baskets to aid refugees for a donation as low as $25. If you are looking to give a charity gift this year, please consider the IRC. 90% of their funds are spent on programs and services, which earns them an A+ from charity watchdog American Institute of Philanthropy.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

New Leaders


As we in the U.S. celebrate the historic election of Barack Obama to the presidency, Bhutan celebrates 100 years of monarchy with the coronation of their 5th king, 28-year-old Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. The new king was educated here in Massachusetts, at Phillips Academy, Cushing Academy, and Wheaton College.

These photos come from spectacular Boston Globe photo spreads entitled The Next President of the United States and Bhutan Crowns a New King.

When we visited Bhutan a year ago, preparations were well underway for the coronation ceremony, which took place in Thimpu.

©REUTERS/Jim Young

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Big Sister

Here is a picture of our godchild Aracely holding her baby brother. The baby's official name is Eddy Humberto, but he will continue to be called by his nickname, Domingo.

Saturday, November 01, 2008


It has been a tradition of ours to send out the lyrics of Tom Waits' song "November" to our Waits-loving friends on the first day of November each year, and I decided to carry that through to the blog this year.

"November" is a dark song from the play "The Black Rider" - a collaboration between Robert Wilson, Tom Waits, and William S. Burroughs.

We saw a production of "The Black Rider" in San Francisco in 2004 and have a review and pictures on our web site. It was fabulous.

I found this YouTube video of another production's "November". The staging looks exactly the same, but the dialogue is in German. The lyrics to the song are in English, though.

Friday, October 17, 2008

A New Arrival in Guatemala

On Sunday, October 12, our dear friends Paulina and Humberto in Guatemala welcomed their 6th child (and first boy) to the family. Our 3-year-old godchild Aracely is no longer the youngest in the family, and she and her older sisters now have a baby brother to dote on. The baby does not yet have an official name, but he is currently called "Domingo", the Spanish word for Sunday, the day of his birth. Congratulations to Paulina and Humberto, and welcome to little Domingo; we can't wait to see you in person!

Humberto e-mailed us these pictures earlier in the week. What an adorable baby - and so much hair!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Kristin Hersh - (Ain't Nothin' But A) House Party

Kristin Hersh and her husband/manager/number one fan Billy O’Connell are always pioneering new ways of getting her music out to her fan base outside the realm of the record companies who have let them down in the past. Their latest venture is the Shady Circle, a series of house concerts in which Kristin performs a repertoire consisting of the Appalachian folk songs she was raised on, as well as some of her original compositions. Tine (Kristin’s webmaster) and Steve were kind enough to invite us to a Shady Circle gig at their house in Franklin last night.

Not knowing quite how long it would take to drive there, we left home early and were the first guests to show up. Tine and Steve’s adorable daughters answered the door, and Billy immediately greeted us and gave us a warm welcome. The girls asked people to fill out name tags. Billy wrote “Mr. Hersh” on his, and Kristin wrote “Mrs. Billy O’Connell” on hers. Kristin dubbed Tine the “Web Ho”, which Tine wrote on her own name tag. Other guests arrived, and the first hour or so was spent mingling, and enjoying snacks and drinks.

Then at around 7:15 Billy called out, “So are we going to do a show or what?” and everyone filed into Tine and Steve’s big, comfortable great room. Kristin sat on a chair in front of a shoji screen with her electric guitar and a small amp. The lighting was subdued and augmented by flickering candles. Guests sat on the floor as well as on couches and chairs. Kristin introduced the set as Appalachian folk songs “about murdering your girlfriend” she had learned during her childhood. Some of these were familiar to us from previous concerts and her “Murder, Misery, and then Goodnight” album, while others were new to us. Billy heckled her good-naturedly, scolding her for not announcing song titles.

Tine and Steve’s 17 pound cat kept wandering up to Kristin as she played, and she commented on the "devil cat" a few times. She did some of her original songs as well, such as “City of the Dead” (!!), “Sno Cat”, and “Teeth”. When Billy mentioned that the amp was buzzing a tiny bit, she talked about a recent show she did where the rain made it sound like an old record album. She thought it was cool: “I’m an old blues guy!”

After slightly over an hour, she closed the set with “When the Levee Breaks” and a request from Billy which he called “Tuesday”. It was a tremendous set – very intimate and the small crowd was absolutely enthralled. You could have heard a pin drop. Everyone was transfixed. After the set was over, everyone hung out in the dining room, eating and drinking and chatting. We got a chance to talk to Tine, whom we have seen at shows for years but have never really spoken to. As the crowd thinned out and Billy was breaking down the equipment, we got a chance to chat with him. He remembered that we had been traveling when Kristin had played with Tanya in Boston last October, so we had been unable to attend. He asked how our trip was, so we chatted about Bhutan. He told us about their recent gig in Mexico, which they totally enjoyed, and upcoming opportunities to play in Beirut and Tel Aviv. We talked about Guatemala, and took the opportunity to show him a picture of Aracely on our cell phone.

We talked about Kristin’s music, and the recent projects she has been working on. It is apparent that he is just as awed by her talent as the rest of us. I was reminded of a line from her song “Juno”: “Her husband of 19 years danced madly at her feet”. That’s Billy. We talked about all of the memorable times surrounding Kristin’s music – the Gut Pageant at the Paradise, Bellows Falls Vermont with the quaint train ride, the show at Hi-n-Dry Studios which was recorded for a DVD release… Billy brought up the show at Club 608 when Kristin tried out a bunch of new songs, some of which (my favorite “Somewhere in America” and Billy’s favorite “Blessed”) never took off because Kristin didn’t think they were real enough. Craig raved about how much we love the new “10-4” recordings Kristin has done, and campaigned to have her record the rest of her catalog in that manner as well.

We wanted to get a nice photo of Billy and Kristin together, so he called her over. We chatted with her for a few minutes, and then Craig helped them to bring the equipment out to the car. We thanked Kristin, Billy, Tine, and Steve for such a wonderful night, and then headed home.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Working with Somali Bantu Refugees for IRC

Craig and I recently watched the documentary film "God Grew Tired of Us", which chronicles the journey of several Sudanese "Lost Boy" refugees from the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya to the United states, where they were resettled. It was a very interesting movie. Although the young men were very excited to leave the refugee camp and come to America, their learning curve was huge. They had never before "used electricity" and wondered if it would be difficult. The escalator at the airport as totally foreign to them, and each almost fell as he stepped onto it. When they got to their apartment in the United States, someone had to show them how to turn on the lights, and how to use the bathroom fixtures. When they first saw a single twin bed, they thought that three of them would be sharing it, and they were happy with that. When they learned that they would each have their own bed, they were amazed. Everything was just so far outside their realm of experience.

Craig and I had always thought that maybe one day we would volunteer overseas, but we hadn't realized just how much support refugees need when they move to the U.S. I decided to look into opportunities to volunteer here, and discovered the International Rescue Committee website. This is a non-profit agency who actually participated in the resettlement of the Lost Boys in the film, and they have a resettlement office in Boston.

Browsing their web site I saw that they were in need of a volunteer child development assistant. I went to the Boston office for an interview, and learned that there was a population of Somali Bantu refugees who had been resettled in Lynn. They had been here for approximately three years, but were having a harder time integrating into society here than other refugees because the Bantu are a pre-literate society. They have no written language of their own, so learning English has been especially challenging.

While the fathers have gotten entry-level jobs and the school-aged children have started school, the mothers have been isolated at home with their young children.
The North Star Program in Lynn has been set up to provide support to the women and children. Mothers take literacy classes while children are introduced to an American pre-school environment.

My bosses were quite supportive and allowed me to shift my schedule so that I can help with the children one morning a week. This past Thursday was my first day. As the mothers and children showed up, it was apparent that the mothers hadn't yet adjusted to this climate. Although it was a sunny day in the 60's, the children were bundled up, as if for winter. One arrived in a full-on snowsuit!

The children ranged in age from around 6 months old to around 3 years. The older children were a bit standoffish, as I was a new face. In general, the children were much more low-key than American toddlers. They were very quiet, never really speaking much in English or their native tongue. This was probably the only place that they ever played with actual toys, and we demonstrated how to use certain things and got them engaged in play. I spent most of my time playing with a baby named Ameena. She was very sweet and content, eventually falling asleep on my shoulder.

By the end of the two hour session, some of the older kids were warming up to me. After an hour and a half of free play, the kids ate snack and then we did circle time with a story and some songs. A couple older kids really got into the songs and Ring-Around-The-Rosey.

Carla, the director of the program, told me some interesting facts, such as the fact that birth dates and even birth years are not culturally significant to the Bantu, so none of the refugees knew how old they were. When they were screened for their entry into the U.S., they went through an age analysis, where their ages were estimated based on knowledge of events during their lives (wars, seasons, governments in place, etc). They are all assigned a Jan 1 birthday, and each year on New Year's Day, IRC holds a birthday party for all of the refugees in the area.

I am very proud to be involved with this organization, and I look forward to seeing the kids again next week!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

November Guatemala Trip with Videos

We have finally gotten our November trip to Guatemala posted on the web site. It was a very special trip because we became padrinos (godparents) of our ahijada (godchild) Aracely.

We have also posted two cute videos.

One is a slide show of the five girls (Vanesa, Paola, Yasmin, Yoselin, and Aracely) set to the Tom Waits song "Take Care of All of My Children".

The other is a frenetic video montage set to "Wiggles" by Rick Wakeman.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Bhutan and India Travelogues are Finally Posted

It's been about 11 months since we visited Bhutan and India, and we finally finished writing/editing/posting journal entries and photos from each day on our web site:

Now it's time to work on Guatemala, Galapagos, and Ohio...

Monday, August 18, 2008

Buddy Guy & George Thorogood

Last night we saw Buddy Guy and George Thorogood at the Bank of America Pavilion in Boston. The last time we saw him was in 2004 when we brought our friend Frank to see him at the Casino Ballroom at Hampton Beach. Having been BB King's bus driver for 20 years, Frank knew Buddy Guy when Buddy was just starting out. The two had a wonderful reunion and Buddy was very sweet and gracious to both Frank and Craig and myself.

When Frank passed away in 2005, we put together some little photo albums and distributed them to folks who were close to Frank. We wanted to give one to Buddy Guy, but didn't have a chance until last night. His guitarist Ric was quite friendly and delivered the photos backstage to Buddy Guy, for which we are very grateful. Buddy did a great set; he was in top form. He played selections from his new album "Skin Deep" (the title track is excellent!!) as well as old favorites such as "Hoochi Coochie Man." He brought local 9 year old New Bedford blues prodigy Quinn Sullivan onstage and they traded licks on "Who's Gonna Fill Those Shoes". Buddy walked through the crowd during "Drownin' on Dry Land", and finished up with a much shorter-than-usual segment of impersonations of other blues guitarists such as Eric Clapton (a falsetto "Strange Brew") and Stevie Ray Vaughan as he raced the clock before he needed to get off of the stage. The crowd was loving every minute of it. From the second row, I was able to get some surprisingly good photos.

After a short break, George Thorogood and the Destroyers took the stage. They blasted through song after song, with special guests such as Barrence Whitfield on maracas and Elvin Bishop on guitar. "Fix Her"..."I Drink Alone"..."One Bourbon, One Scotch, and One Beer"..."Bad to the Bone"..."Move It On Over"...I couldn't stop dancing. By the end of the night, Thorogood comically collapsed on his stomach onstage while the Destroyers took bows, and then got up for one more number. They wrapped him in a bathrobe and he left the stage.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Visiting Guatemala

Humberto, Paulina, Vanesa, Paola

Yoselin, Aracely, Yasmin

We visited our "family" in Guatemala over the long 4th of July weekend. It was a wonderful visit, full of surprises. Paulina and Humberto are expecting baby #6 in November, and we are very excited! It was great to get to spend time with everyone. the girls are growing up so fast. Aracely is a little lady now, about to turn 3 years old. Her hair is so long now and she has gotten much bigger! We visited the older girls in school, and attended the wedding of Paulina's brother Carlos to his bride Vilma. The next day, we attended a family party to celebrate the arrival of Paulina's sister Olga and her husband Juan's new baby boy. We swam in Lago Atitlan and made numerous trips to the colorful market. It was great fun, and we are eagerly awaiting our next visit, when there will be a 6th child to love!

Monday, June 30, 2008

Tom Waits in Columbus

Courtesy of Ticketmaster

Courtesy of Ticketmaster

Tom Waits recently toured PEHDTSCKJMBA (Phoenix, El Paso, Houston, Dallas, Tulsa, St. Louis, Columbus, Knoxville, Jacksonville, Mobile, Birmingham, and Atlanta), a route which coincides with the constellation Hydra ("Look to the night sky for guidance," Tom said in a YouTube press conference announcing the Glitter and Doom tour). Since we do not live in PEHDTSCKJMBA, we decided to travel to see a weekend show, which turned out to be Columbus, Ohio on June 28.

I wrote a post to the Raindogs ListServ earlier, and I don't believe I can really say it any better, so I will include it here with slight modifications.

Wow! I don't know where to begin. We arrived in Columbus and paid a whopping $3 to park (just a little different from Boston!) and then set out to find the Tip Top. We knew we had found the right place when we heard “Tango Til They’re Sore” coming from outdoor speakers. We went inside and immediately met the MatchMan, who had some very nice wares for this tour. (Thanks again!) The juke box kept serving up selections from Raindogs and we had a drink. We soon ran into Ken(adian), Tim (not from Iowa), and Jerry, and made some new friends including Pi and some others whose names escape me right now. It was great to see everyone.

We headed over to the theater, chatted with some folks outside including Jeanine and her friends, and said hi to Stuart. We went inside and immediately headed to the merchandise table. It was a mob scene, but well worth it. There were three different designs of oil stain tee shirts, each available in 3 colors: white, asphalt, and black. They were quite reasonably priced at $20, and the adorable interview “chapbook” was $10. After buying a few items, we went to our seats, which were the third row of the orchestra, just off center. The stage was a delightful tease of what was to come, decorated with bullhorns of all shapes, sizes, and colors.

The show started just after 8:30 and the crowd went nuts as Tom hit the stage. It was amazing how different this show was from the ’04 and ’06 tours. Having a woodwind player seems to provide Tom with the flexibility to do some extremely different arrangements, and we loved every minute of it. Tom stomped his boots, kicking up dust and kicking floor-mounted wood blocks and a pedal-operated school bell on Lucinda and 16 Shells. He channeled the old-school soul singers in Falling Down, and did some great comedic dancing for Cemetery Polka. Cold Cold Ground was amazing, with an Unplugged-style arrangement. It was a definite highlight. I finally got to see November, which has eluded me for 10 shows over the years. Wow! Well worth the wait!
Black Market Baby was a nice surprise, and it was fun to see Sullivan [Waits, Tom's youngest son. Eldest son Casey Waits was on drums] adding percussion on Hoist That Rag and clarinet on other songs. He really seemed to be enjoying himself. The megaphone was used for Chocolate Jesus and a very fun arrangement of Big in Japan.

Tom’s jokes during the piano set were quite amusing, and one of the funniest moments of the night was when a woman yelled something to Tom and he said “I knew as soon as I stopped talking, you would start!” She followed it up with something else, but Tom used his hand as a puppet and said “bababababa” over her. Lucky Day was more subdued than usual, and it was a nice interpretation. It was followed by an Innocent When You Dream sing-along and a melancholy Lost in the Harbor.

Tom then left the piano and kicked into a rocking Lie to Me where he kept repeating the mantra “I have no use for the truth” which was punctuated by the percussion. He got the crowd chanting “Everybody row!” to Misery’s the River of the World. Dirt in the Ground was amazing. During Make It Rain, he summonsed a shower of gold confetti which rained down on him from above. He introduced the band, and woodwind player Vincent Henry hurried Sullivan back onstage. But Tom didn’t introduce him, which caused Vincent and Sullivan to start cracking up. The two of them seem to have a real bond, and Vincent was repeatedly encouraging him throughout the show,

Encores were a soulful Jesus Gonna Be Here, Eyeball Kid with the mirrored hat making for some very cool effects, and the always moving House Where Nobody Lives.

We were quite surprised and delighted by a second encore: Tom singing Time with an acoustic guitar. Time has never been a song that particularly grabbed me until now. It was amazing and literally brought tears to my eyes. It was the perfect ending for the show.

This is the only show we are able to attend on this tour, and we couldn’t have asked for anything more. An absolutely perfect night. Thanks once again, Tom.

Set List

Lucinda/Ain't Going Down to the Well
Way Down in the Hole
Falling Down
All the World is Green
Chocolate Jesus
Cemetary Polka
Sins of the Father
16 Shells
Trampled Rose
Cold Cold Ground
Black Market Baby
Hoist That Rag
Lucky Day
Innocent When You Dream
Lost in the Harbor
Lie to Me
Misery's the River of the World
Big in Japan
Dirt in the Ground
Make It Rain

Jesus Gonna Be Here
Eyeball Kid
House Where Nobody Lives

Second Encore

Monday, June 16, 2008

In Memory of Joe Cook

Mr. Joe Cook Sr.

January 17, 1939 - March 16, 2008

When Craig and I traveled to Mobile in August of 2005 for our friend Frank's funeral, we were immediately embraced by his entire family. Frank's brother-in-law Joe invited us to his house for a fish fry after the funeral. He was a great host and a very sweet man. He thanked us for being friends with Frank and taking care of him during the final 18 months of his life. He showed us family photos and was just a very gentle, loving, kind man. We gave him a small album of photos of Frank, and he was so gracious and told us that he would cherish it, and we knew that he was sincere.

We got a letter from Frank's sister Eloise last week informing us that Joe had passed away in March of this year. We are very sorry to hear this news, and offer our sincere condolences to his family and friends. He was a wonderful man who will truly be missed. We know that he and Frank are now together again, probably sharing a lot of laughs, stories, and reminiscences. Rest in Peace.

With love from Craig and Steph

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Isabela Video

The third in our trilogy of Galapagos island videos (Isabela) has been posted. This one features Sebastian and naturalists Carlos and Omar, as well as an adorable 2-month-old baby tortoise.

Click on the photo to play the Isabela Video

Sunday, June 01, 2008

More Galapagos Videos

We have decided to put together montages of still photos and video from each of the Galapagos islands that we visited. We picked up a great CD called "Super Criollo Blues y Mas" by the Iguanamen of the Galapagos on Isla Isabela. The Iguanamen were fronted by expat Americans Gringo Jeff and the late Gringo Juan. We love the CD and decided to use songs from it as the soundtrack for our videos.

The first video features footage from San Cristobal, set to the tune "Iguanaman." It is just over 4 minutes long.

Click on the photo to play the San Cristobal Video

The second video featuring footage from Isla Santa Cruz is set to the tune "Santa Cruz Blues." It is 4 1/2 minutes long.

Click on the photo to play the Santa Cruz Video

Bhutan Video

We have posted a 5 minute montage of the video footage that we took at the first day of the Shelmakha Festival on October 11, 2007. Dancers dressed as skeletons, animals, demons, assassins, and angels perform ages-old choreography. Women in traditional Bhutanese dress sing and dance as atsaras (clowns) satirize Bhutanese society. Young and old come together to celebrate their traditions and pay homage to the community in which they were raised.

Click on the photo to download the video

Monday, May 26, 2008

(Some) Bhutan Journals and Photos Posted

We are about 7 months behind schedule, but we have posted full accounts of the first 8 days of our Bhutan trip last October on our web site.

Bhutan 2007

More is still to come, followed by India, our Guatemala trip last November, and Ecuador/Galapagos this past April. Phew, we have a lot of work to do!

New Sea Lion Video

Sea Lion Snorkeling Video

Click on the photo to download the video

We have edited together our underwater video clips from snorkeling with sea lions on Isla Lobos off San Cristobal Island in the Galapagos on April 15, 2008. The video is long (6 1/2 minutes) and big (27 meg). If you wish to view it, you are probably better off right-clicking and saving it to your machine. It has sound, and you can hear the sea lions grunting and clicking as well as bubbles rushing past the camera. Special thanks to Sebastian and Pedro for taking us snorkeling here!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Galapagos Trip Part III - Isabela & Quito

On Friday, April 18, we took a slightly larger puddle-jumper plane (9-passenger) from Baltra to Isla Isabela. The Galapagos Islands are located over a magma "hot spot", which creates the volcanic islands. As the Nasca tectonic plate moves eastward, new islands are born. Because of this, the older islands are in the east, and as you move westward through the archipelago, the islands are newer. The newest is uninhabited Fernandina, which is the most westward island and is currently directly above the hot spot. The second-newest island is also the largest: Isabela. Isabela only has about 2000 human inhabitants. There are five subspecies of giant tortoise endemic to this island, and they are isolated from one another by five volcanoes. Because the island is so new compared to the more easterly islands, many places are bare, sharp, a'a lava. The tortoises cannot travel over this inhospitable terrain, so they remain isolated and unable to interbreed with the other subspecies on the island (for now, anyway). As we flew over Isabela, we could see the raw volcanic landscape below, and noticed there was much less vegetation than on San Cristobal or Santa Cruz.

Penguin, Isla Isabela

Our home away from home for the next two nights would be La Casa de Marita, a homey beachfront property which was artistically decorated and had very friendly and helpful staff. We met Marita, the owner, who gave us a warm welcome to her home. We would eat all of our meals on the island here, and Marita's kitchen staff was wonderfully talented.

We changed into our bathing suits and met Carlos, the day's naturalist. We walked down a sandy road to the pier and met Anselmo, who would drive our boat. In the immediate area of the pier we saw a sea turtle, many birds, and some sea lions. Soon Anselmo directed our attention to a flock of penguins. It was amazing to see penguins so close to the equator, as we had previously only seen them very far south, in Patagonia and New Zealand. These penguins had made their way to these equatorial waters via the Humboldt current, and had found the place suitable and decided to stay. They are the world's most northerly penguins, and the second-smallest species. They spent a lot of their time on the surface, and at first glance looked like black ducks. When they submerged they swam very quickly; they were like mini-torpedoes in the water. Sebastian decided that we should take advantage of this opportunity and snorkel with the penguins. At first they were a bit shy and kept their distance. As we snorkeled, we saw many sea cucumbers laying on the sandy ocean bottom, sea lions, parrot fish, sponges, and even a little bit of coral. Eventually the penguins got used to us and swam very close. Our underwater camera did not work for any part of this adventure, but Sebastian stayed on the boat and managed to get some photos with our regular camera.

Marine iguana, Isla Isabela

Next we took a short hike through the craggy lava shore at Tintoreras (named after the white-tipped reef sharks who breed here, but whom we would not see today). We saw many small lava lizards and large marine iguanas here. Lack of food for them on the land has caused the marine iguanas to evolve the ability to dive for food. We saw some swimming in the ocean here and washing back ashore on the waves or climbing on the rocks. We got very close to them, and were able to see several of them "desalinate". When diving, they take in lots of water, and salt collects in their bodies. Occasionally they will expel the salt by appearing to sneeze, and a white puff of salt sprays out of their noses. It is an amazing process to observe.

Beach, Isla Isabela

Isa Isabela has a gorgeous 7-mile expanse of unspoiled beach, and after lunch we walked through the soft white sand to the center of town. We went to Isabela's tortoise breeding center. It was very similar to the other breeding centers we had visited, but it was more personal. One of the caretakers brought out a tortoise egg to show us. The eggs are collected in the wild and kept in an incubator until they hatch. The egg "settles" in a certain way, and the top is marked with an "X" when they collect it. If they don't replace the egg right-side-up, the baby tortoise won't make it. They also mark in pencil on the egg shell the location the egg was found, where in the pile of a dozen or so eggs in the nest it was positioned, and the id number (painted on each tortoise's shell) of the mother. Eggs from the same nest are kept together in their original positions. It was fascinating, and due to the number of juvenile tortoises running around, it was obvious that they had the process down to a science. Then the caretaker brought over a 2-month-old baby tortoise for us to observe. It was incredibly tiny, and the man held him between his thumb and forefinger. It was less than the width of his palm. As he held it up, its legs were going as if it was trying to run, and its little mouth opened and shut to reveal a tiny pink tongue. The little claws on its feet were precious.

2-month-old giant tortoise at Isabela breeding center

This breeding center also had adult tortoises who had been relocated here after a fire several years ago. They had been evacuated via helicopter (that must have been quite a sight!) and some of their shells showed the remains of burn damage. It's a wonder that their skin didn't burn, but they appear to be happy and healthy now, and these same tortoises are reproducing, so the damage definitely could have been much worse.

Sunset at Puerto Villamil, Isabela Island

We then waked on a nice boardwalk over some mangrove swamps in search of pink flamingos. At first we didn't find any, but we did see the white-cheeked pintail, some stilts, and a marine iguana totally submerged except for his head. When we reached town after this short pleasant walk, we did find one solitary flamingo (who reminded us of Lonesome George in his solitariness). We watched him while the sunset painted the sky in gorgeous colors, and we met some other tourists who also came from the Boston area (small world). We had an excellent dinner at Casa de Marita and then went to sleep.

Horseback riding at the crater of Volcan Sierra Negra, Isla Isabela

On our last full day in the Galapagos, we rode horses to Volcan Sierra Negra, which had last erupted in 2005 (several hours after our naturalist guide Omar had been up here with a group of tourists!) Our horses were quite friendly, and in fact rather spirited (in a good way). We had a pretty low-key ride up to the crater, but once we got there, they wanted to run! My horse, Chavero, always wanted to be the leader. He trotted quite a bit and at some times burst into a full-tilt galloping run. I really trusted him, though, and this was the most comfortable I had ever felt on a horse. Craig's horse, Lucero, was very similar, though he didn't mind as much if he wasn't the leader.

Lavascape, Volcan Chico, Isla Isabela

We left the horses with horseman Hoover, and took a walk with Omar and Sebastian across the lava to nearby Volcan Chico. The lava was amazing, with iridescent scoria and "silica hairs", formations that look like very thin-gauge wire, which are formed when the wind sweeps the molten lava into hair-like strands. The lava ranged in color from black to brown to red to yellow. It was like a moonscape. The lava was pahoehoe as well as a'a, and we saw small lava tubes and places where the pressure from below had left a hardened bubble in the landscape. Luckily today was overcast, because if the sun had been reflecting off of that lava, we would have been fried.

Our last night with Sebastian, Beto's Bar, Isla Isabela

We rested in the afternoon (our first down-time of the trip) and then had our final dinner with Sebastian: spaghetti with fresh octopus. Then we walked down the beach in the light of the full moon to Beto's Bar. You can tell you've reached the bar when you reach a tree with glass booze bottles hanging from the limbs. We sat at a wire-spool table on the sand and enjoyed drinks with Sebastian and Omar while watching the locals dance. We had a lot of fun and stayed until closing time.

La Boca del Lobo, Quito

The next day we flew to Baltra where we said goodbye to our dear friend Sebastian, and then continued on to Quito. The temperature on the planes was very hot, and by the time we arrived at the Hotel Eugenia for the second time on this trip, we were exhausted. We almost couldn't muster the energy to head out for dinner. We weren't sure where we would eat, and being Sunday night, not everything was open. We wandered through the Mariscal district, and eventually decided on the funky bohemian looking La Boca del Lobo. It was some of the best food we ever had. Everything was artfully presented and tasted unbelievably good. We enjoyed a couple of drinks, and then headed back to the hotel to pack and go to sleep for an early flight home.