Monday, July 25, 1988

Flying through the Andes from Quito to Lima, Ecuador Journal

At Guayaquil, the tectonic force of the Nazca Plate and the Cocos Plate disrupts the land. Isolated dome stratovolcanoes of Ecuador, not how I envisioned the Andes. Such enormous differences in structure, like comparing the coastal range to the Rockies or to the Cascades. Yet the name of our California andesite is derived from the Andes.

The plane takes off between the two ridges barely clearing the volcanoes. I find myself praying for safe passage, heart in throat, such vast girths. I am in awe. Cotacachi, near Otovalo, and sublime symmetrical cone Cotapaxi, Mt. Fuji's twin sister. Cotopaxi means "Neck of the Moon" and is worshiped as the “rain sender,” home of the gods. La Avenida de los Volcanes is aptly named.

One of the world's highest volcanoes, Cayembe shrouded with clouds, is the second highest in Ecuador, at 19,347 feet. But the tallest, Chimborazo at 20,548 feet, is perpetually hidden in cloud cover. Chimborazo is a massive double volcano. It was once thought that Chimborazo was the highest mountain on Earth.

Chimborazo means Snow on the other side. In Quechua it's called UrcurazuUrcu is mountain of ice. Chimborazo is the Taita (Father) and Tungurahua is Mama, hence Taita Chimborazo and Mama Tungurahua. Pachatata and Pachamama. A reference we'll hear again and again.

At the Equator, snow level begins at 15,000 feet. It is winter here, cold on the equator. We wear our winter clothes, and still we're cold. My blue Ecuadorian sweater weighs several pounds, I am glad for its warmth.

San Francisco de Quito, at 9,350 feet, is nestled between two long Andean ridges, and the páramo, the high semi-alpine grasslands or moors between timberline and snowline—with myriad strange plants that grow nowhere else in the world. Situated north-south in these pockets, is the old city. Quito, with its colonial architecture,  considered to be the most beautiful city in the Andes.

South of Guayaquil, and Ecuador, the terrain changes dramatically from coastal jungle to coastal desert. One bids goodbye to the equatorial Andes and its massive stratovolcanoes.

The contrast between Lima, Peru, and Quito is as startling as the cold weather. Lima sprawls on for miles at sea level along the coastal desert. The Cordillera Niegra at 15,000 feet on north-south block fault,  El Callejón de Huaylas. We are still on the avenue of the gods, la Avenida de los Volcanes. The Cordillera Blanca, long north-south block-fault ridges spreading out.

Escarpments and cirques, vast glacial walls. Cirques in every color of glacial blue imaginable, like blue-eyed tropical water beneath all that white. The Andes begin to look like how I imagine them to be in my dreams.

Beneath the plane, high ridges, eroded desert mountains, infrequent torrents, El Niño leaves scars, memories of riverbeds, and flashfloods, like Baja, like Death Valley, like Los Angeles Basin.

Lima is surrounded by real shantytowns, the Rímac River, the Babbling River, is a pit of burning garbage and devastation. I don't want the plane to land. The city center of Lima is inland. Lima is landlocked, while Miraflores, the place of flowers, is a long beach that we will escape to, and find blood blooming in the gutters of the Chorillos Tunnel. We have descended into the belly of the beast. Into hell. God help us.

revised, added 10/16

*Rímac from the Quechua, rimaq, meaning "speaking" nicknamed El Río Hablador ("the talking river"). —Wiki

Sunday, July 17, 1988

Sweet potatoes and Taro, Galápagos Journal

In the Galápagos I saw taro plants on old volcanic terraces, and caves are very much like in Hawaii. Sweet potato, a Polynesian staple, how did it get here? Easter Island? According to our guide, José, there's only one variety of sweet potato, related to morning glories. Anthropologists think the Polynesians got the sweet potato from Ecuador, or Peru – or it even came from tropical America, bringing the sweet potato with them to Hawaii—and the plantain too.

no date  7/88
added 10/16



Poor old Lonesome George,
the last Pinzón Island tortoise,
straddling a tortoise-shaped boulder
in hopes that it was a female.
I noted it was pahoehoe, female lava.
The last of his species, George has a long wait
while biologist yentas frantically search
for a suitable mate. A $10,000 reward
for a female Pinzón tortoise is offered.
Something that even money can't buy.
Rumors of tortoise droppings cited on Pinzón,
but no tortoises. Meanwhile George, 
knowing the end is near, clamorous up his rock
and gives a lovesick moan, has another go at it,
hissing like a hydraulic jackhammer,
thrusting for all he's worth.

7/17? 1988
added 10/16
minor revision



One begins to see subtle differences
among each of the islands.
The owner of Solymar shoos away the rat,
saying, She has no fear of man.
And she is a protected species, a rice rat.
He says, You should hear the guest scream
when she comes out at dinner time.
Old habits die hard. You can tell
by her accent she's a Norwegian rat.
Should I tell him that rice rats
are extinct on Santa Crúz Island?
The first family to stay here, were they
lonesome for their Old World rats?
Did they bring them with them?
Or did the rats boldly jump ship?

added 10/16

Angermyer's, Puerto Ayora

Pelican Bay, Puerto Ayora

We stay in the upper story of the old water tower at the Angermyer farm outside of town, on Avenida Charles Darwin, as the hotels are full. We were told La Señora*, whom we were told we simply MUST meet, is traveling. I meet Franklin, her son, he looks familiar. Someone I once met. It turns out he married a friend and lived in Sausalito. Temporary residencies. I remember him, with his impossible blue eyes and gold-filled teeth. We used to go down to the dock and admire his boat. We were crazy about the water and desperate to learn to sail. He said, I would have taken you sailing. Why didn't you ask? But we were so young and too shy to speak.


*Johanna Angermeyer may be Franklin's mother, she lived in California during the 1950s and 60s (Sausalito?), and moved back to Puerto Ayora to meet her uncles, but later married an Englishman and moved to England. She lives in Vilcabamba, Ecuador. 


Bartolomé Island.
Yesterday we swam with penguins,
poor, misguided polar birds,
lost enroute from an ice flow 
somewhere in Antarctica, 
who decided paradise 
look pretty good after all.
The water is fricking cold 
for being at 0° latitude, 
in the frigid equator.
No wonder they feel at home.

added 10/16

Saturday, July 16, 1988



I can't help but think of how this place
must have been like, paradise, 
a Persian word. To die 
with the names of God on your lips 
and go directly to paradise.
Which led me to religion,
and Charles Darwin, son of a preacher, 
who turned Christianity on its ear 
with his finches and theories on evolution.
But he couldn't shake loose 
the bindings of his upbringing. 
The ink black marine iguanas, 
he called them "the imps of darkness."
Was he that contemptuous of those little dragons 
snorting salt sea spray spumes 
as they basked on the hot lava rocks?

added 10/16

Wednesday, July 13, 1988

Post Office Bay, Floriana Island, Galápagos Journal

At Post Office Bay, Floriana Island, I collect postcards from strangers addressed to my home town, Lagunitas, and more cards to Tiburon, and Bolinas—to hand-deliver. It is the custom.

One card from an unknown traveler, is addressed to my old biology teacher Al Molina, from the temporary address of 0° latitude. Degrees of separation.

I retrieve mail from an old biology teacher who entrusted a messenger with the postcard, like a baton in a slow race played by ships traveling from one port to port, on airplanes, and by way of the gringo trail, spreading the word.

Some 200 years later, we reenact the whalers' mail system on this barren island in the middle of the Pacific. The garúa,  the winter mist blurs the definition of sea and sky, time and space.

I sent a postcard to my friend. I write on it, the person who delivers this will marry you…




At Santa Fe we learn to swim with seals. 
Fur seals roll and play tag with us, 
one holds a stick in its mouth like a dog. 
They are as curious about us as we are of them.
Their large eyes beckon, and their graceful dance 
is like an underwater ballet.
We keep an eye on the beach masters.

At Corona del Diablo, a jagged crater 
filled with sea creatures and coral caves 
and myriad fish beyond description,
I sneak away from the group, 
and swim under a sea arch to a secluded beach.
Water, an incredible blue that defies description.
I revel and frolic, having escaped my companions,
and the over-crowded boat. A bull sea lion spots me,
hits the water, charges me three times.
Three times I fight him off, rolling in a knot,
with my flippers ever in his face.

In my wetsuit, I look more seal than human.
I can't tell if he's guarding his beach
or if he thinks I'm part of his lost harem.
But I nearly drowned trying to escape.
I tell no one, afraid of reprimand.
And realize there is safety in numbers.

Corona del Diablo 
not sure of any of these dates
added 10/16  revised


Snorkeling in the richest sea garden
Coral, caves, passengers.
A sea lion attacked me three times. 
Either he thought I was a seal, 
or he was defending his turf. 
I kept turning my flippers 
and kicking his face, 
gasping for breath 
hoping that I'll survive. 


Tuesday, July 12, 1988

In a small boat, adrift, between Islands, Galápagos Journal

Leaving Puerto Ayora in a small boat

Yesterday we saw albatrosses and flying fish accompanied the boat. I rode the bow of the vessel, more panga, than boat, straddling it like a horse, the chattering dolphins brushing my feet as they surfed the crest.

Suddenly we stopped short, stalled in open water. A rope from a Japanese fishing boat used to catch sharks, wrapped itself around the propeller. We were adrift in this frigid, Antarctic current. Too many people in an open boat.

There is nothing between us and the invisible equator, there was nothing but water between us and the equator. Nothing but frigid water between us and Antarctica. we were adrift in a small boat between islands. The ocean, a vast bell curve.

How large, the sea, and the connections between two things: a marriage and consummation of rope and propeller. The first mate diving again and again to cut the rope free. I hold the rope of the panga, tossing like a small horse and these deeper than blue waters.

The sea rises and troughs valleys and mountains shifting like the aging confidence in the motion faster than the eye can see. These undulations and escarpments.

I think of high school classmate Jeff Aloha, adrift at sea in that sailboat, The Spirit, waiting for death. Is this how the sea seemed to him, adrift 43 days without water, and five companions, one or two who lived to tell the tale, but not Jeff with those beautiful blue eyes, those Finnish Viking eyes.

And on our boat, The Ancucho, Michel's eyes. startling glaciers, the sea would rob us for that color blue. The jealous sky brings the garúa, the ever-present list. We take turns getting seasick, barfing off the other side. As the diver frees the propeller from bondage, we all cheer. One piece firmly wrapped around the propeller, stays, a reminder.

The boat makes its way to Española Island, two and a half hours away, we are overloaded with a cargo of gasoline, vapor settles in the cabin. If not death by water, perhaps fire?

These volcanoes beneath the Nazca plate, the ever present hunger from the belly of the earth. We are only so much bait for the sharks after all. The dolphins that ride air and bow are gone, like the albatross.

There is so much to record, and so little time. As I write this, I look out to sea to keep from getting ill. I write without looking at the pages.

The hieroglyphic fish with what looks like Japanese writing on their sides, have no translation for this. We impose our desire for patterns, desire for order upon this revolution of events and call it a plan. A grand scheme in this need for a god.

Random elements of the universe converge upon us as we carve and withhold the patterns to fit in like the Southern Cross or the Big Dipper, or on the equator you can see both. Polaris is below the horizon. Only by stars or compass, ferrous oxide enlightenment, can we get our bearings?

Shadows fall like clothes about our feet and we stumble along naked at last waiting for the seed to swallow us in dreams, for what is real? The time we spend earning money, too exhausted to go to to some exotic places on the gringo trail?

I was going to say, on the road like Kerouac but he didn't come this far south. We are well out of native waters tracing back the origin of order in the Galápagos, checking out the feasibility of diversification. We have a list to check off endemic species, ourselves, transient as the fish.

We come in big silver planes and then complain about our meals: arroz con pollo day in and day out, while the street children starve. Minute variations of the sea and the sameness of sea, the pale turquoise water.

Every once in a while one can feel the engine miss, our confidence is only skin deep. Like the colors of our skin on this boat, we are well represented nations ride with divergent speciation and adaptability of gene pool. Should we land on a deserted island to begin anew?

I am reminded of a story where a disease struck, nearly everyone died—Earth Abides. A new society formed. The brightest of children of this new society did not survive, only the most able.

The accidental mixture of people on this boat, the brightest of us all going to sea in a small boat, like the owl and the pussycat, who is most able? A strange marriage of sea and sky, the gray on the bell curve of sea and sky is like a toy rope and the shadow of meniscus and if the boat goes down, this  writing will melt off the page, and words will float out to sea to recombine into a new story.

added 10/16


Blue-footed boobies sky-point
and whistle, reenacting an ancient ritual
in a slow courtship dance
where they majestically wave each blue foot
up and down for optimum exposure
and offer token bits of wood and stone
to their mates for their insubstantial nests.
A scooped out depression, hollow ground.
They eye us, bobbing their heads
like wise professors, or pompous bankers.
And point to the sky as if to say,
See how my feet are like the sky. 
Española Island
added 10/16 revised

Sunday, July 10, 1988


Eight days in Puerto Ayora,
we're trying to arrange a tour,
we begin to recognize many faces,
the names of captains, and their boats,
even the marine iguanas.
One series of leads took us
back to the very same captain, Jaime
four times in one day.
Eight days in Puerto Ayora
begins to feel like purgatory.
We walked the length of the town
15 times in one evening.
We begin to know each store.
Each embedded stone in the road.
False leads, tourist agencies book
all the boats months in advance.
It's hard for an independent traveler
to arrange a tour, or anything, for that matter.
We pay $22 a day for our bravado,
while vacationers pay $45-$200 a day
for a guaranteed spot in paradise.
Hotel keepers worship the dollar here.
Money does buy everything.
Hotel Galapagos has hot water
showers at two dollars a head.
A meal costs much less, you can buy
four breakfasts for one shower.
Meals are arroz con pollo, or pollo con arroz.
Take your pick. To spice things up,
we alternate between the two.
We keep our record straight
and trade bills with ridiculously high
denominations that equal four cents, US.
Efficiency is an independent attitude here.
Eight days in Puerto Ayora.

added and revised 10/16

Thursday, July 7, 1988

Lava Tunnels, Puerto Ayora

Since arriving in the Galápagos we've seen very little of anything, other than the back streets of Puerto Ayora. It is difficult to to rent a boat here. All the tourist tours have them reserved on a perpetual calendar cycle. We've had almost as many deals fall through in almost a week of days. We've been here for six days, waiting. In desperation, to escape Puerto Ayora, we went on an underground hike in the lava tunnels. Inside, I encountered my own fear, my own death. It is strange to be trapped under the earth like that. Underbelly of the world at zero degrees latitude.
July 7? 1988
Added 10/16
minor changes

Sunday, July 3, 1988



Today I straddled the equator,
I stood in the middle of the world,
where I balanced with a foot
planted in each hemisphere,
where north and south become one,
where there is no separation of seasons,
where my bilateral body was equidistant,
where days and nights are equal,
where the garúa, the jealous drizzle
hid the volcanoes from our sight,
where we were enveloped
in a perpetual fog of misery,
Neptune's kingdom below us,
the sun's fiery eye, watching us
on any given Sunday.

added, revised 10/12/2016