Moments of beauty to last a lifetime

Sometimes I think of what Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote, “Oh world, I cannot hold thee close enough!” because when we go to magnificent places and see nature at its best, I want so much to capture those moments, those feelings.

One of the most magnificent places I have been is the Galapagos Islands.  Six hundred miles west of the coast of Ecuador, these islands hold treasures of nature seen nowhere else.

The feelings of peace and serenity wash over me seeing this beautiful landscape.

The vegetation is unusual and very special.

I think the lava gulls were enjoying the scenery as well.

Imagine the feeling of calmness in this setting.

Every island, of course, needs someone in authority.

 

Our walks on the island are always guided by licensed naturalists, trained by the government of Ecuador.  They tell us interesting facts about the flora and fauna and make the tour very enjoyable.

 

And we are left with images like this.

Machu Picchu

When in Peru, one of the most beautiful and impressive places to visit is Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu was an Incan city whose location had been unknown until 1911 when discovered by Hiram Bingham. Hiram Bingham was educated at Yale (BA) and at Harvard (PhD). He was appointed a lecturer in South American history at Yale. After Bingham discovered Machu Picchu, he and his team excavated and extracted somewhere between 4,000 and 40,000 (depending on who is counting :-) ) artifacts– including mummies, ceramics and bones. He later served as the Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut and after that, as a US senator.

Machu Picchu is a very beautiful location, accessible by walking the Inca Trail (about 4 days’ journey) or by railway. Our travelers, for some reason, seem to favor the railway. We pass through the Sacred Valley on our way. The valley is so named because it was a rich and fertile source of food. The Incas, using clever agricultural methods, domesticated and cultivated over 1,500 varieties of corn and more than 4,000 varieties of potatoes in the Sacred Valley.

Method for acclimating plants to altitude

There is a lot to see in the Sacred Valley and I will write about it in the future, but first, let’s go to Machu Picchu. Here you see my colleague Rita and me relaxing on the train on the way to Machu Picchu.

The ride is very pleasant and lasts under 2 hours, and we arrive at Aguas Calientes. We are greeted by the requisite Peruvian market,

but we restrain ourselves because we are ripe for adventure. We ride a small bus to the top of the mountain (about a 15 minute ride)

and this is what we see:

Everywhere we look there are magnificent structures framed by lush mountains.

The sights we see are incomparable. The city was built by the Incas some time around the year 1400. These stones were transported without the benefit of use of the wheel, which the Incans did not have. They also did not have animals capable of hauling these huge boulders. It is thought that they must have used large numbers of men who pushed the boulders up inclined planes.

The truth is, to truly enjoy it, you must see it for yourself. You won’t be disappointed!

Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, and Peru

Girl with her pet, in Cusco, Peru


Come join us on a magnificent tour.  It is not only beautiful and exciting, but people find it to be a spiritually significant tour as we see the unspoiled creation of the Galapagos Islands, not to mention the Amazon Rain Forest and amazing Machu Picchu.

 

Details of the itinerary and the cost are on this page….

Who was that masked man?

At about 8:00 p.m. Monday, I left my home for the airport for the trek to South America. I met my colleague who also will be working on the tour with me. After an easy check-in, we boarded the plane close to on time and settled into our seats. The configuration of the plane was 3/3/3. She and I had the two aisle seats on one row in the center section. For a long time it appeared that the middle seat might remain unoccupied. The only tell-tale clue was someone who had walked past us and when asked by the flight attendant where his seat was, he replied, “it’s the jump seat.” Yes, the plane was that packed, and so in a while we greeted the person who was to sit between us on this 15 hour trip.

He was a young man who had come to Israel as a tourist and to visit friends. He is an English teacher in Sao Paulo, and his English was pretty good. Of course, over the duration of the flight, we had some time to talk. When he heard that we had some hours in Sao Paulo, he wrote down for me information about where we should go and how to get there and back.

When finally we reached Sao Paulo and ascertained that our luggage had been checked through, he said that perhaps instead of taking the bus that he had originally recommended, we join him in his taxi that he had ordered. He said that they would be passing through the center of the city and it was not a problem to drop us off.

Of course we agreed. He told us that this taxi driver was wonderful, very reliable- and that’s why he had him pick him up at the airport. As we rode, our friend told us about Sao Paulo—what a huge city it is! He also told us a lot about the Jewish community which has 5 non-ultra-Orthodox day schools! He didn’t know how many ultra-Orthodox day schools there are. One school, established by Safra for his sister’s children, hires teachers who will teach in English so the children become fluent in English and are able to study abroad. Of course the children also learn Hebrew.

He and the taxi driver (who spoke no English) talked about our taking a bus back to the airport and about where we might find the bus. Then the taxi driver suggested that he transport us back to the airport for less than we would have to pay for a bus. Naturally, we agreed. After all, our friend had told us that the driver was reliable.

As we neared the center of the city, the taxi driver suggested that he keep our carry on bags for us. The truth was that our carry on bags were pretty heavy and we knew that it would make things easier for us. He told us that he would not be transporting anyone with luggage and that our bags would be safe.

We had his business card and we had the recommendation; it sounded good. As we left the taxi, we agreed to meet at the same location at 3 p.m. As we left, the driver gave us an umbrella to use since it was drizzling.

We walked through the park and then saw across the street an amazing building that our friend recommended we visit. It was the Museum of Contemporary Art. Museum of Art, Sao Paulo There was a long line of people waiting to get in. I went to ask how much a ticket was. It turned out that today, entrance to the museum was free.

The exhibit was wonderful. There were both European and South American artists represented and the exhibit was well narrated in English as well as Spanish. There was even a wonderful exhibit and video on the restoration of one of the pieces that was exhibited.

After our museum visit, we just walked and looked at the city. Close to 3 o’clock the two of us started to think about what we had done—leaving our carry-on bags (each containing our notebook computers and all of the information relevant to our tour) in the taxi of a person we didn’t know. Yes, we had his card and I had taken a photo of his license plate (because I wanted a photo of a Brazilian license plate), but how much good would that do us if we wanted to be on a plane in 2 hours…

We waited from about 10 minutes to the hour. We watched taxi after taxi pass. We began to doubt ourselves and then, on the dot of 3 o’clock, the driver pulled up to the curb and took us to the airport. He charged exactly what he said he would charge and our carry-ons were completely intact.

It was perfect.

Our only question… we never got the name of our benefactor from the plane. Who was that masked man?

Galapagos Islands, Part 12 of the Ecuador, Galapagos, Peru Tour

The islands are alive. One feels there like a visitor and often like an interloper. On Espanola Island, we encountered a greeting party. Of course we saw the sea lions who as always were playful and fun. They always are either playing or lazing around in the sun. Maybe that’s why I find them so amusing. They live a life most humans would envy. These guys were taking it easy.

Seal lions on a break

Sea lions on a break

We also were greeted by marine iguanas

Marine iguanas

Marine iguanas

But most surprising was the blue footed booby welcoming committee. About every 10 feet, there was a couple of blue footed boobies standing along the trail. It was as if someone had placed them at their posts. Here they are:

Blue footed booby welcoming committee

Blue footed booby welcoming committee

Another couple

Another couple

And another

And another

The big treat, though, was to see the albatrosses. In June, they were everywhere. In January, there had been only one or two sighted. So here is one, up close and personal:

An Albatross

An Albatross

Even closer

Even closer

Of course, once again we saw the Nazca boobies, really beautiful white birds.

Nazca boobies

Nazca boobies

Unfortunately, our visit to the Galapagos had to come to an end, but next is a glimpse at Lima, Peru!

Galapagos Islands, Part 11 of the Ecuador, Galapagos, & Peru Tour

One of the most amazing things about traveling to the Galapagos is the sense one has of not needing to speak. The landscape, the animals, and the birds are all just there for us to enjoy. Each time we went to visit another island or another location on an island, it was a new experience even though sometimes we would see the same animals and birds over and over again. Each time was special.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

This bird has to be one of the most magnificent sights I have ever seen. And, like the other Galapagos birds and creatures, he was not frightened by the humans and held still for a good number of pictures.

Cactus trees

Cactus trees

Lava Lizard

Lava Lizard

Another amazing critter!

Nazca or Masked Booby

Nazca or Masked Booby

The Nazca Boobies are very beautiful and what is even more exquisite is a very young Nazca Booby. They are fluffy and white. Here’s a mother and her baby.

Nazca Booby and baby

Nazca Booby and baby

Flamingo

Flamingo

In certain light, it seems as if the endemic flamingos glow. They do not. They get their beautiful color from the sea animals that they eat.

A cooperative Blue Footed Booby

A cooperative Blue Footed Booby

And yes, that is really the way they look. They tell me that it really attracts the girls (girl boobies, that is) which is a good thing.

What you can’t possibly imagine is how completely amazing this place is and how right the world seems with this beautiful life just living and thriving in a tranquil landscape.

And once again,

The Land Iguana smiles in approval

The Land Iguana smiles in approval

Galapagos Islands, Part 10 of the Ecuador, Galapagos, Peru Tour

We traveled to a number of islands and several locations on Santa Cruz Island. In each place there was tremendous beauty. For example, here is a swallow tailed gull.

Swallow Tailed Gull

Swallow Tailed Gull

I was very excited about the prospect of seeing blue-footed boobies. Even having seen a number, they still fascinate me. This is a picture of the first one we saw. He/she didn’t feel like cooperating with us, but at least didn’t fly away.

Uncooperative blue-footed booby

Uncooperative blue-footed booby

We saw this very beautiful bird.

Yellow Warbler (Canario Maria)

Yellow Warbler (Canario Maria)

A frigate bird

A frigate bird

Frigates are completely black as they fly through the sky. They look almost the way you would expect ominous black birds to look, except watching them fly was just beautiful. However, when they want to impress each other ( and particularly the female of the species) they can puff out a sac that is bright red (and actually, quite impressive.) Unfortunately, I didn’t get any good pictures, but you can see some magnificent pictures of magnificent frigates here.

I tried to identify the next bird with my handy-dandy identification guide. Unfortunately, the birds in my pictures are never in the same position as they are in the guide, and so I am just guessing that this incredibly gorgeous bird is a Royal Albatross.

Royal Albatross (?)

Royal Albatross (?)

A land iguana

A land iguana

These guys always smile. I know that they must just be the happiest characters.

And no island trip is complete if one doesn’t have a chance to see sea lions. This time it was a nursing mother and her nursling.

Sea lion baby snack time

Sea lion baby snack time

The Galapagos Islands, Part 9 of the Ecuador, Galapagos Islands, Peru Tour

Our first outing to an uninhabited area was to Bachas Beach which is located on Santa Cruz Island, but is far away from any human habitation or signs of civilization.

Bachas Beach

Bachas Beach

In the background you can see our ship, but otherwise, it was only we and nature. Bachas Beach got its name from a mispronunciation of the word “barges” as during World War II, US ships docked there in an effort to protect the Panama Canal.

As we walked onto the beach, I was overwhelmed with the peace and the natural beauty of the place, but looking further, it became clear to me that the island was full of life. Do you see it?

Life on the Island?

Life on the Island?

If you look carefully at the two pictures, you may be able to see some very small red/orange objects. They are Sally Lightfoot crabs. These crabs are strikingly beautiful. And they are everywhere. The entire rocky coastline is alive and moving!

A Sally Lightfoot Crab

A Sally Lightfoot Crab

Taking a walk

Taking a walk

Up close

Up close

Here I was, on the fifth day of creation. I couldn’t believe it. The crabs did not shy away from the camera, nor did the Lava Gulls, who posed for pictures.

Lava Gulls

Lava Gulls

The Galapagos Islands are all about seeing and listening, and not so much about speech. In fact, one of the things I loved the most were the long silences when no one was speaking and when I was alone in this magnificent natural environment.

Lava Gull

Lava Gull

We saw some other creatures too. Here are two of them:

Greater Flamingos

Greater Flamingos

At first they were shy, but once they noticed that we were silent, they stopped hiding.

Our Flamingo Friends

Our Flamingo Friends

And who was there to say goodbye once our magnificent visit came to an end?

Sea Lion

Sea Lion

More fabulous creatures to come….

The Galapagos Islands, Part 8 of the Ecuador, Galapagos, Peru Tour

Finally we arrived at the Darwin Research Station outside of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island.

We have arrived!

We have arrived!

Our visit there was fascinating as we saw species of plants and animals that we had never seen before. One of the animals we came to know and love was the land iguana, a reptile so clever that it has learned how to eat cactus pads and get not only fluids from them in the dry season, but food value from them as well. Land iguanas vary from island to island in the Galapagos. They can grow to be as much as three to five feet long! Here is a land iguana eating a cactus pad.

Land iguana at lunch

Land iguana at lunch

The major concentration at the Darwin station is the giant land tortoises. They too vary from Island to island with different shapes of shells and other remarkable differences. At the Darwin Station, scientists are concerned with preserving all of the existing species. There is, unfortunately one tortoise who is partnerless… Lonesome George is the last known existing tortoise of his kind. He was identified on Pinta Island and was brought to the breeding station in 1972. Since then he has waited in vain for a female Pinta Island tortoise. You can read more about him here.

We enjoyed seeing these enormous tortoises. Unlike what was permitted in the Galapagos Islands years ago, people are not allowed to ride on the tortoises. In fact, we are not permitted to touch them. The government of Ecuador takes very seriously the importance of preserving these islands and their air, land, and sea inhabitants– But we can take pictures!

Wow!

Wow!

My husband and his new pet

My husband and his new pet

and here’s something I thought I would never see:

Up close and personal!

Up close and personal!

When our tour of the station was over, we were satisfied and happy. We got back to the boat for a delicious kosher dinner and a restful night’s sleep, lulled by the gentle waves of the Pacific. What a wonderful day!!

The Galapagos Islands, Part 7 of the Ecuador, Galapagos, Peru Tour

I can’t remember a time when I was more excited about a non-life-changing event than I was on the morning we left for the Galapagos Islands. Births and weddings of course have long lasting implications that change entire futures, but visiting a new place? But it was not just that it was a new place. This was to be the adventure that would be unlike anything that I or anyone I knew had experienced before– something I had only dreamed of.

Our luggage was inspected thoroughly before we got onto the plane. Because the Ecuadorians are concerned that the Galapagos Islands remain a living laboratory, as untainted as possible by civilization, there is always concern that people might be bringing things that will destroy the unique ecology of each of the islands. For that reason, no plants, or seeds can enter the islands. Similarly, when we travel from the Islands to the boat, the bottoms of our shoes are washed off before we enter the boat so that we will not transport seeds from one island to another.

We flew from Quito to Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city and then on to the Galapagos Islands. Before we landed, the interior of the plane was sprayed.

The first thing we saw when we landed at the airport in Baltra was this tree.

Galapagos cactus

Galapagos cactus

We thought it looked unique. It seems to grow quite profusely in the Galapagos Islands.

The archipelago consists of 15 main islands, 3 smaller islands and over 100 rocks and outcroppings. Once we had claimed our luggage, we went by bus and ferry and bus to the ship’s landing in Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz is one of the 5 islands that are inhabited by humans.

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz

From there we walked along the pier. I thought that we would see our ship, a small cruise ship that takes a maximum of 100 passengers.

The pier

The pier

It was raining and happily, it was the only rain we experienced during our visit there.

What I didn’t anticipate was our mode of transportation to the cruise ship and subsequently to each island. The islands are to remain unspoiled and so large ships do not dock near them, but stay removed from them so as not to pollute or to carry anything that might upset the ecology of the islands. So it was like this that we reached our ship.

The dinghies

The dinghies

And here is a picture of the ship

The Galapagos Legend

The Galapagos Legend

Once settled in, all of us were ready for our first big adventure. Late in the afternoon, we set out on our dinghies to visit the Darwin Research Station.

Imagine our surprise when we came upon a whole welcoming committee of marine iguanas who graciously posed for pictures!

Marine iguana

Marine iguana

and friend

and friend

The Marine Iguana is the world’s only sea-going lizard and is found only on the Galapagos Islands. We found them fascinating. We almost forgot that they were not what we were there to see. The Darwin Station is most concerned with the giant tortoises. You’ll see them next time…