Tag Archives: Galapagos

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.

Disgruntled Groveling

23 Mar

Hello folks! I’m going to attempt to sound more cheerful that I was in my other blog post from this morning. Because there are happier things to talk about here! More exciting things!

Things that also maybe sort of kind of possibly involve that super awkward thing called “money”…

No! Please don’t go yet! I promise I’m going to try to be funny in writing this! Then you don’t have to give money, either! You just get to laugh! Laughing is good, right? RIGHT?

I am only one largeish cup of coffee into today’s caffeination, I swear.

Aaaanyhoo. First exciting thing: books! I have them! For you! Wooo! So, what are these books? Well, these books are writing-containing-things that I’ve talked about on this here blog thing before, except now they’re even cheaper! Why? Because I decided that I wanted to make my books cheaper, actually. More accessible. Especially my memoir about life with (and moving towards without) an eating disorder and depression and other mental health stuffs. Because I wrote it in the hopes that maybe it would be helpful for someone out there. As a place to find sympathy. As a place to direct the friends and parents and extended relatives with their bagillion questions for answers. Perspective, more so, really. You can throw statistics and diagnostics and symptoms at people all you want, but that’ll still only tell them what a disease is, not what it’s like. So that’s what I tried to do with my memoir. Show people what living inside an eating disorder is like.

So. Lower prices. (Some of my poetry + short story collections are even less than $3 now!) More accessibility. Good stuff. Check out what’s available on Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=miceala%20shocklee

Also, heads up, my memoir is almost half as expensive if you get it direct through LuLu, because Amazon hasn’t updated the price change I made:

http://www.lulu.com/shop/miceala-shocklee/drop-dead-gorgeous/paperback/product-20635940.html

 

Other exciting thing! I’m going to the Galapagos in two days!!! It’s literally a dream come true for me. Yes, I’m a writer, but I’m also a biologist. Who loves animals. And nature. Especially cool nature. Do you know how much cool nature there is in the Galapagos??? All of it. ALL of the Galapagos is cool nature. I’m seriously not kidding.

I’m lucky enough to get to go on a mostly-completely-paid-for science research-ish type trip to the Galapagos through a class I applied for and was accepted into at Caltech. We spent the entire term, 11 weeks of it, talking about evolution and geological history and 16S RNA genome mapping stuff and LOTS and LOTS about the Galapagos. And this Tuesday, I get to wake up before 6 am and head out to LAX with the rest of my class to hop (well, probably more like “sleepily bedraggle”) onto an airplane that’ll take us to Quito, from where we’ll be sent off straight to the Galapagos!

So, like I said, very exciting. Me, a biologist, gets to go to the Magical Land of Biology. Dream come true.

Also, as I said, the trip is only mostly completely paid for. I did still have to pay for my own flight. Which means that I am $700 of life savings short and recently graduated. I kinda get these knots in my stomach whenever I’ve thought about my bank account over the past few days…

But oh man! I set a “GoFund Me” page to hopefully help make some of the stress-knots stop attacking my insides! In return for donations, I’m writing Galapagos-y things (poems, flash fiction, pieces, short stories, etc.), printing them out all pretty-like when I get back, signing them, and sending them off to donors! The more stress-knots you slay, the more literary goodies you get!

So, um, if you think you would like to help fund my scientific writerly trip to the Galapagos, that would be super nice! But no pressure. Really. It’s cool. Money’s tight. I get it. I like smiles too!

It’s really hard to ask people for money. Katherine Fritz on her blog has called it “shameless whoredom.” I’m calling it “disgruntled groveling.” Because I’m kinda sitting here in my chair all tensed up as I write these paragraphs in which I presume to suggest that maybe if you like my writing you could possibly help fund it and my dreams and travels but if you can’t it’s really okay and you can forget I ever mentioned it okay bye please keep reading.

Here’s that link you can totally forget about to the GoFundMe page thingy that’ll be up till some time tomorrow:

http://www.gofundme.com/53r4wo

Okay. That’s enough being balled up in a whole-body stress knot for the day.

I swear, I was going to make this post more positive…

Um. Here. Have a puppy.

A Down Payment for the Galapagos

6 Nov

You know that dream you concocted back when you still had braces and watched more cartoons than romcoms? The one that adopted some kind of mellow, benevolent halo as it faded into background nostalgia and watched over the more practical ambitions that you formed as you learned to relinquish excitement for feasibility? The one that when you’re by yourself and you know nobody else is listening you still venture to tell yourself in a small, hopeful whisper, “I’ll get there someday!” Yeah, I’m talking about that dream.

Mine has been to go to the Galapagos.

For over a decade, I’ve fantasized about gawking at Galapagos fur seals and seeing marine iguanas in person and walking the same landscape that’s been a mecca for the mind of biology for almost two centuries. And now, thanks to a Caltech course I was accepted into, I have that chance. I’m not on cloud nine. I’m pretty sure I passed cloud nine like a month ago. I don’t think they even have a number for the cloud I’m currently floating on.

But… there’s a problem. While Caltech is covering most of the costs, I’ve still gotta pay for my own plane tickets. Which, if the demigod of finances is feeling kind, estimates to somewhere around $800.

I’m a soon-to-graduate college student eking out what’s really just an allowance by freelance writing. I don’t have $800.

But between the masses – or at least, the part of the masses that cares about me and/or my writing – I think we do have $800. Which is why I’ve started a GoFundMe called “Send Miceala to the Galapagos!” I really hate asking you all for money (seriously, I’m flattered that you all even take the time to read my blog, and for those of you who have gotten versions of this post through multiple channels, I’m so sorry about the spam), but I can’t really do this one alone. But I’m not asking you to donate completely for free! I’ll write you things in return!

If you are interested and able to donate, you can find out the whole story on my GoFundMe page: http://www.gofundme.com/53r4wo

For those of you who don’t donate, I hope this post hasn’t turned you off my blog. I promise I don’t enjoy panhandling. You all deserve better posts than that. You know, posts with actual content…

But for those of you who do donate, thank you so much. Because this is something that I’m excited about. And I’m glad you think it’s worth it, helping make a down payment on my life dream.

 

Oh, and here’s a picture of a blue-footed booby:

blue footed booby