Our readers share tales of their rambles around the world.
Who: Susan O’Keefe of the District and her son Quinn
Where, when, why: I won a one-week trip to the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador through work and was able to take one guest. It was a no-brainer that I’d bring along my 12-year-old son Quinn, who loves anything that lives in the water. My husband and other two children grumbled, but they understood. Quinn has swum like a fish from the age of 3, wrote his first biography book report about Jacques Cousteau and loves to wade in ponds in search of frogs. The trip was aboard the Lindblad ship National Geographic Endeavour.
Highlights and high points: We were both blown away by the wildlife. We’d heard about the blue-footed boobies, but Quinn was fascinated by the mating ritual of the male frigate birds. They have a red wattle-like skin beneath their necks that inflates to the size of a balloon. A fellow traveler remarked that the frigate’s showy mating ritual is no different from a guy pulling up to a date’s house in a red Porsche. For me, the biggest highlights were the 100-year-old giant tortoises that we spotted in the highlands — and watching Quinn swim with young sea lions. He became one with them and seemed completely in his element.
Cultural connection or disconnect: In the charming town of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island, we came upon an open-air fish market where men were filleting large tuna fresh off the boat. Quinn was struck by the pelicans and sea lions that gathered in the market and stood right next to the men, hoping for a scrap. One of the fishermen caught Quinn watching him and placed a piece of fish on his elbow, and a sea lion jumped up and ate it. We all laughed. It was a small moment, but one we won’t forget.
Biggest laugh or cry: There were several kids on the ship, and Quinn quickly made friends with many of the boys. They’d play chess, stargaze and dine together. One young girl had some developmental challenges and at times had to leave the ship’s nature talks to cough. She was incredibly friendly. Toward the end of the trip, she came up to Quinn and hugged him and said, “He’s my best friend.” He gave her a high-five. It was a joyful (teary) moment.
How unexpected: Everything about the destination surprised us. Only 180,000 people visit the Galapagos annually. To step on any of the islands, you have to be accompanied by a naturalist or an approved guide. Most are uninhabited, so you need a boat to get there. I thought that we’d have to search for wildlife, but it was everywhere, and the animals and birds were completely oblivious to our presence. It really was experiencing nature as it is, sometimes difficult when glimpsing a dying sea lion pup that had lost its mother and could no longer get milk. The other sea lions won’t adopt the pup, so it eventually perishes. It was heartbreaking to hear their haunting cry.
Fondest memory or memento: Sharing this excellent adventure with Quinn. I have wonderful moments tucked in my memory: the time Quinn grabbed my hand while snorkeling to pull me to see a starfish he’d spotted; riding the monorail to nowhere in the Miami airport just to kill time and laughing hysterically; and my photos of an aspiring marine biologist smiling from ear to ear.