Tag Archives: explore

Adventure In The Great Wide Somewhere

7 Mar

I have always wanted a Tardis. I have not always known the name for it as such. But to see all of time and space – and, if Dr. Who is any precedent, to have uncountable many adventures while doing so – is what I have, and will always, desperately want. I want it so badly it hurts.

But I was not always a Whovian. The seat of my yearning was not always a mad man with his box. No, my wanderlust came with other names – a wardrobe, a letter upon my eleventh year, a snag on my finger in the bookstore with an oath to follow, unicorns with amulets, wrinkles and tesseracts. My mind has always been an amalgam of Ella’s who have more adventures than their Char’s, Wilma’s who make incredible wishes, Sara’s who create kingdoms out of attics and words and poverty, Mary’s who find gardens tucked away in, well, space and time.

It’s always been books, of course.

Sometimes people seem to think that books make people sedentary dreamers. Perhaps this is true, for some. But for me, all it did was make me yearn for adventure in the great, wide somewhere.

I’m going there on Sunday.

There have been so many, many times in my life when I’ve had the thought, “I wish I could do [something].” But there’s always a barrier. Time. Money. Health. Sanity. Money. Energy. Money. It’s hard to make our own adventures in a world where experience belongs to the old and expediency to the wealthy. It grinds a bit, settling for the smaller scope and pretending you feel like you’re doing something more. There’s always that answer to keep us in our place, “Now’s just not the best time.”

I’ll just wait until things in my life become more certain. Then I’ll know better what I’m dealing with. Then I’ll be able to better move around the pieces.

This is reasonable. This is good. This is clear, logical, totally appropriate thinking.

But I personally realized that unless I was suddenly very, very lucky, I was never going to go anywhere. There was never going to be a “best time.” There was probably never even going to be a good time. I wasn’t ever going to be able to have it all. I was going to have to risk something. I just needed to figure out what I was willing for that to be. Money. Job security. Time. Not feeling alone. Absolute certainty that everything would work out.

Adventure means risk. You’re going to have to be willing to lose something. That’s what all those books I read growing up had shown me, right? You want the world. What are you willing to give it in return?

Sure, adventures aren’t inherently about taking stupid risks. I mean, we’re talking about my wanting to go exploring, not saving the world from the forces of evil. I can at least make the risks I take calculated.

And so I am. Five months ago, I saw something that I wanted. A bookstore. Of course, a bookstore.

In Portugal.

But… it was the bookstore, in a way. We’re not talking corporate white walls with B&N logo slathered everywhere (though B&N is lovely and I buy books there and that’s all well and good). We’re talking… well, we’re talking about that library that Belle found in the Great Wide Somewhere. Bookshelves on the scale of glory. Red carpet and graceful bannisters and dust hanging like history in the light shafts, giving the place an irrefutable air of magic and tales as old as time.

It’s called Livraria Lello, by the way.

I found the place while doing random internet browsing. I wasn’t searching for anything in particular. I was just flick flick flicking, procrastinating my time away while breathing between grad school apps.

And then there it was. The most beautiful, magical bookstore I had ever seen. Because it looked like the one I had grown up dreaming about. The one that I had always, always wanted to be real.

It was a bit like finding a wardrobe.

But… Portugal. That was so far away from ocean-locked United States. It would be soooo expensive to get there.

Sigh. Put it on the mental docket. “Places I desperately want to go before I die.”

*PANIC PANIC PANIC PANIC PANIC PANIC PANIC*

YOU DON’T KNOW WHEN YOU’RE GOING TO DIE! YOU CAN’T JUST DO THAT AND EXPECT TO ACTUALLY BE ABLE TO EVER GO THERE!

Holy moly, Anxiety Man! You’re right!

Sometimes my mental demons have a point. Knew there had to be some kind of reason I keep them around.

So. I sat there, staring at my screen. Doing some calculations in my brain. Thinking about time and energy and money and certainty and dreams.

And I’m going to Portugal tomorrow. And then France a few days after that. And then a few days more and I’ll be in Ireland, where I’ll be volunteering with that project I’d wanted to be part of since something like a month after I left Burning Man. The one about art and community and fire and redemption.

You know, things that sound like magic.

I am going adventuring, tomorrow.

Sneaky things, Tardises, when they go looking like plane tickets.

Other Worlds: the Galapagos Islands

7 Apr

Ecuadorian flag island pic

Before I left for the Galapagos, I’d decided that when I got back, I was going to write a novel about it. Something with conservation and evolution and a plethora of landscapes. Something sci-fi with the Galapagos as the basis for world-building. It was to be a novel rooted in the fantasmic biological complexity of life. It would feature land and sea and maybe even air as homes for its characters. I was going to call it Other Worlds. I had most of the vague notions for it swimming around in my head. All I had to do, I thought, was go to the Galapagos, actually see and explore the islands, get their dirt under my fingernails. You know, go visit and so solidify my understanding of the place.

Ha. That, lovely readers, was quite a misguided notion.

Jeff leant me his underwater camera for one of the snorkeling trips. I'm kinda in love with the footage I was able to get.

Jeff leant me his underwater camera for one of the snorkeling trips. I’m kinda in love with the footage I was able to get.

I have now gone to the Galapagos. I saw, I explored, I got so much dirt under my fingernails. I swam with sea turtles, I paddled a panga through mangrove swamp, I even climbed volcanoes! I watched the mating dance of the blue-footed boobies, saw flamingoes fly, shared a rock with a marine iguana pile, and got bitten far too many times by fire ants. I was a voyeur to lava lizard courting, I learned how to distinguish the invasive from the native guava, I watched two frigate birds joust above our boat and shouted in delighted surprise as a manta ray jumped from the water and managed three flips before crashing back into the ocean. I counted rorqual whale spouts, chirped at ground finches, and can now tell the difference between a’a lava and pahoehoe.

All that, and the list isn’t even half done. And yet after nine days in the Galapagos, I know that while my understanding of the islands is certainly greater, it is by no means more complete. Definitely one of those “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know” kind of things. I was constantly overwhelmed, in the most beautiful and wondrous of ways. There were times I actually felt like I was giong to explode from the sheer amount of coolness around me. The perpetual flow of strange and interesting and beautiful and curious and dangerous – I’m seriously flabbergasted as to how I didn’t just pop.

“Other Worlds” would certainly be an apt term for a book shaped around the Galapagos. My conception of the islands was completely blown apart by going there. On a map, the islands look so tiny. Barely even crumb-sized, next to the giant swatch of continental pizza that is South America. (I swear I’m not hungry. I seriously just ate. I have no clue where the food metaphors are coming from…)

Here, I've provided a handy figure for you.

Here, I’ve provided a handy figure for you.

Sure, I didn’t get a chance to visit all of the islands (oh, don’t worry, Galapagos 2.0 is totally already on my to-do list), and the islands I did explore were some of the larger ones, but still – the Galapagos islands are freaking hugeIt’s absurd, the amount of diversity, of flat out differentness (shut up, differentness can use fake words instead of their real versions if I want to) present on one island. At times, if I hadn’t known we were just visiting a different side of the same island, I would have sworn we had to have gone to another island. Another latitude, actually. There was no way we were at the same place. For example – lava fields, forests of Palo Verde trees, desert landscape where frigates nested among dry bark and cacti… all on Santa Cruz. And then there’s Isabella, where one half of the island is an expanse of miles and miles of uninhabited desolation, and the other half of the island is tourism central. Kitschy souvenir shops, cheap bars, untended trashcans and litter along the road… Really, the sense of complete separation of the two terrains speaks to how well the park officials and naturalists are doing at keeping the junk of human existence out of the National Park land. It’s not even a policy of “pack in, pack out” – because there are some items you just aren’t allowed to pack in to begin with. No gum, no liquids other than straight-up, plain-ol’ unflavored water, no food of any kind whatsoever, prepackaged or otherwise. Wrappers, foil, plastic – any chance to leave trash behind is almost completely eliminated.

Almost completely. Unfortunately, there was still the occasional stray chapstick cap or dropped pencil (yes, I did backtrack a quarter of a mile to retrieve a pen I’d lost; don’t worry, the pen is now safe and sound back in my apartment, not leaching chemicals into Galapagos soil or anything). Any time we did encounter an errant invader that we couldn’t reach to clean up ourselves (some trails are covered by a boardwalk), Ernesto, our naturalist, noted it so that he could inform the park officials that removal maintenance was required.

Trail maintenance! For the tortoises, of course.

Trail maintenance! For the tortoises, of course.

 

Honestly, the Galapagos is doing a damn good job of keeping human mess to a minimum, largely thanks to the efforts of naturalists like Ernesto. The man, he’s amazing. Having been a naturalist for over 20 years, he basically knows everything. Sure, it’s because he’s studied the material, but it’s more because he also sees the reality, week in and week out. Ernest knows what the papers in scientific journals say about the Galapagos, but he also knows what he sees for himself, in real time, on the ground. And he’s not afraid to explicitly point out when there’s a difference. (Like when he pointed out the carpenter bees that “don’t exist” on Isabela…) I don’t think I’ve ever seen so beautiful a combination of book-smart intelligence and real-life common sense in one man before.

And the winner of this season’s “Miceala’s Idol” is…

Ahem. Anyhoo. I’ve barely just started to tell you all of my adventures, but already I’ve rambled quite enough for one blog post. Sorry for the delay in this first report back, by the way. I honestly just hadn’t known where to start. There’s so much.

But no worries. I have started, and it’s like the floodgates have opened. There will be more.

You might just have to wait a bit for it.

Goodnight from Santa Cruz Island.

Goodnight from Santa Cruz Island.

The Last Day

24 Mar

Well, lovely readers, this is my last day in the US before I head out to the Galapagos. This time tomorrow, I’ll be on a plane to Quito. Or to Texas, where I think we might have a layover… In any case, I won’t be in California, and I won’t be in Missouri, and I won’t be in Florida (those other two places in the US I tend to frequent). I’ll be going some place entirely new.

Honestly, right now, I don’t have any profound words of wisdom about this last day before embarking on the most exciting stint of travel in my life to date. I don’t think it’s quite sunk in yet… I’ve just been sitting here, at the table, in a vague state of shock and awe which might in part be attributable to the Spotify station I’m listening to (which is basically the “here, let me play soft mellow Indie-ish music that will lull you into peace and then tear your emotions out through your soul” station).

Things haven’t really felt “settled” for a while now, anyway, so it’s kind of hard for me to be jolted out of normalcy right now. The past two weeks have been so much in flux, so strange on their own… I’m in school, I’m packing, I’m studying and taking finals and writing a thesis, I’m driving to Santa Monica and back every other day to move my stuff or hang out with Kim, I’m almost finished with school forever, I turn in my thesis, my boyfriend leaves for his visit to Miami, Kim leaves for San Francisco, it’s just me, shuttling back and forth between Caltech and the apartment in Santa Monica in some kind of waif existence, I hang out with new people, I’m at the beach for the first time in months, there are new streets everywhere, Kim’s back from San Francisco but now I’m living in the apartment too but I’m also leaving in two days and packing again for a different trip…

Everything has been strange for what feels like such a long time now. A weird mix of me moving on but also retaining connections from my life “before” and not quite having a new platform to step onto and a weird stasis time of exploring some islands on the other side of the equator to prepare for… There’s been so much difference lately. And those things I’ve clung to, trying to maintain some sense of solidity, of continuity in my life – they’ve mostly been those odd, transient connections made to people I know and people I don’t know over the internet. Chatting with people on facebook, reading the tweets headed by familiar names that I started following back when I still had a room in the dorms at Caltech, visiting the same sites like Tickld and the OhJoySexToy webcomic because it’s a voice, a community that’s cropped up like mist or smoke in my memory… I’ve been carrying the pillow from my boyfriend’s couch that he let me take eons ago around from room to room, clutching it between my chest and my knees while I clasp the first stuffed animal thing he ever gave me back when we first started dating in my hands, a physical proxy for his existence, a reminder that he is still connected to me, that this thing called “us” is still alive in the universe…

I’ve been lonely. There’s been a lot of strangeness – which in some ways I crave – but I haven’t had anyone, really, to share it with. I require another mind, another body there with me to turn the mere slipping by of seconds into experience. I think that’s why this trip to the Galapagos feels like a step back towards “realness” to me. I’m going with classmates I’ve interacted with all term, professors who have been to the Galapagos before and have a level of familiarity with the place they’ll bring. We’re not just being cast off on the sea to who knows where.There’s a structure – an itinerary – a tangibleness to this exploration, something to bring it out of the realm of ephemerality and wayfaring into the place of wanderlust, something I can hold onto more. There’s a someplace we’re going to. A something we’re going to do. It’s adventure. A real kind of magic. Not just… hand waving.

Well then. Maybe some of the words were profound. They were true, a lot of them, at least. So readers, if you don’t hear from me for a while, don’t fret – I’m just galavanting about with marine iguanas! Or sitting on a plane being bored. Either way, I’m still here. I’m still real. I haven’t gone away. I’m just going to be in a different realness for a while. I guess I’m leaving this blog behind, for you all, as the anchor to me, the thing of attachment or proxy or reminder or whatever that I’ve been searching for, for everybody else, for a while.

I’ll see you around the third of April, lovely readers.

Bon voyage.