Friday, December 23, 2016

2016: Year of Personal Growth

You know how businesses like to say that if they aren't growing they're dying?

I think it's the same with people. For me, I need to consistently be experiencing and learning and growing, otherwise I feel like I'm dying. Because what is the point of life if we aren't able to somehow get better at it and enjoy it more as we mature? Nobody wants to be the person who peaked in high school.

Chilean Plains & Mountains
Beginning in late 2015 I made a significant life decision to give up the normal world of job, mortgage, bills, stress. I wanted to learn more about myself and more about humanity in order to grow into the loving, understanding person that I want to be. The normal world of busyness and bills often leaves little room for personal understanding and growth.

In 2015 I overcame my fears and set out on a new path. The fears were many. Fear of failure. Fear of running out of money. Fear of Mexican drug lords and Colombian cartels. Fear of malaria and zika. Fear of not being in control. Fear of the unknown. 

It turns out that fears are mostly poorly informed ideas bouncing around in our brains. As a result, it was a rewarding decision for me.

Magellan Strait

Looking Back at 2016

2016 was an amazing year for me. It was full of thrilling and eye-opening new experiences, often involving new friends. See the archives of this blog for stories. It was also an odd year that I lived differently than any other year in my life, and different from the lives of virtually everyone I have ever known.

It began for me in El Chalten, Argentina in the shadow of glorious Mt. FitzRoy. Patagonia was always a place that existed only in my dreams, but there I was, hiking among her peaks and gushing with gratitude.

2016 was spent entirely on the road, traveling through South America and making my way up to Mexico. I mostly stayed at hostels, sharing rooms with friendly strangers for about 10 US dollars per night. I mostly ate out, something I had hoped to avoid and a place where I hope to improve in 2017. And I mostly had a wonderful time that I hope to continue until I get tired of it.

Here are the goals I set one year ago, with a note on each about my progress.
  1. Finish writing book and accompanying support website/marketing and begin making money. STILL IN PROGRESS. My business idea has evolved a bit so this is still in progress. I did successfully launch a website with some information on it that has been downloaded by 30 people so far. But I'm still a ways away from making money. Need to crack down more on this in Asia in 2017.
  2. Extended bicycle trip in Latin America DONE! I spent a few weeks cycling north through Chilean Patagonia in 2016. Touring on a bicycle is an excellent way to give a person a new perspective on the world. Every hill is a mountain. Every breeze is friend or foe. Streams are like family and mountains like gods. And all food is the best food ever.
  3. Have an Ayahuasca experience in Peru DONE! Ayahuasca is an ancient plant medicine that the local tribes have used for dozens of generations. It is a hallucinogenic that is used in healing because it pulls our inner self and inner demons out of the depths and forces us to reconcile with them. And as a hallucinogen, it also opens up doors to everything we don't yet understand about the universe. I enjoyed the experience and wrote about it here.
  4. Attend a yoga or meditation retreat DONE! The 10-day vipassana silent meditation retreat was intense and difficult and frustrating and wonderful and mind-expanding. Nothing is better for personal growth than meditation, and I got a massive dose of it here. So beneficial to be able to see that ideas in our head are nothing, actually, until we act on them. Therefore we can simply notice negative thoughts when they arise and let them go away without being acted upon. Powerful stuff. I don't get angry or frustrated anymore, except an occasional snap when alcohol weakens my awareness.
  5. Keep improving my self IN PROGRESS. This goal will always be "in progress". 
In 2016 I did a good job with my goals around inner growth and personal development. I did okay with my business goal. But what's alarmingly clear to me as I sit here with more fat around my belly than one year ago, is that I did not focus enough on my physical health.
Albatross soaring over Galapagos Islands

7 Billion Realities

I think the concept I'm most happy about understanding in 2016 is that there are 7 billion different realities on the planet, one for each person. For what is reality, but a brain's perception of the world through all of it's built-in lenses and filters. Our life experiences create our unique collection of lenses and filters. Hence, the world is seen differently by each of us. That's how smart people can differ so much on political views, for instance. Fortunately, there are a lot of overlaps in the different realities. These overlaps allow us to have mostly functioning nations, laws and fantasy football leagues.

The super cool thing about 7 billion different, but overlapping, realities is that reality lives within each of us. That means that we control (our) reality and therefore have the ability to change (our) reality. A most excellent truth.

This understanding has helped me stress out less when other people's views of the world differ from my own.

That's it for now. I'm sitting in the super cool city of Guanajuato, Mexico. A buddy from Montana is flying down to join me for Christmas weekend. Life is good.

I wish you all the best in 2017 and beyond.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Photo Dump from Colombia, Panama, Mexico

Just getting caught up here with some photos to share. I'll begin with the most recent.

I'm writing this from Piste, Mexico which is just a 20 minute walk from the legendary Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza. I was there yesterday morning and sat enthralled with the architecture. To wit...

Sunrise over Chichen Itza
The architecture is exquisite
Chichen Itza

Note the serpent head at the bottom of the stairs.
Serpent stairs

It was really hot so nice to get into the shade.
From the shade

There were a lot more buildings than the main temple, but that one is in the best shape. These ruins are all over the Yucatan and Guatemala and there are many that are still just big mounds of earth. When they were found they were all overgrown with trees and grass and dirt and didn't look like much. Archaeologists had to put many of the stones back together to achieve the original look.

This wall of skulls at the sacrificial platform may have scared the bejeesus out of rival tribes, but, alas, it didn't deter the Spanish and their horses, swords and smallpox.
Wall of skulls

Back to Ecuador. This church is built over a deep river canyon in a small town right on the border of Ecuador and Colombia. I took a couple hour detour from a 28-hour bus ride to go check it out. Not pictured is the super cheesy LED light show they lit up the church with at dusk -- purples and greens and oranges and blues. It was really tacky.

Hanging out in the World's Craziest Hammock in Minca, Colombia. Nice view.

Now on to Panama. This is the sailboat I was on for 5 days with a dozen other people. We sailed from Cartagena, Colombia to Panama through the San Blas Islands. Really beautiful trip and I only got seasick once.
Sailing to Panama from Colombia
One cannot drive a vehicle from Colombia to Panama because of the Darien Gap -- a gigantic area of jungle and swamp that is essentially impenetrable by all except for drug runners and geurillas.

Here's Panama City at low tide.
Panama City at low tide

The bicycle I used for 3 days in Tulum, Mexico. Pink and rusty and the chain came off every time I went over a speed bump. But so fun to ride a bike!!
Bicycle in Tulum, Mexico

My campsite the past 3 nights within walking distance of Chichen Itza. Cost me $2.50/night at a sweet, vintage hotel. This place felt like in the '60s it probably hosted Sinatra and Dean Martin. These days it's mostly empty and could use some love. Now everyone is bussing in 2 hours from Cancun for day tours of the ruins.
Vintage Piramide Inn in Piste, Mexico.

 Hasta luego.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Benefits of Fasting

I recently shared the fact that I did a 4.5 day water fast, where I ate nothing and drank only water for 4 days and 13 hours. But I didn't do a good job of sharing the health benefits.

Why would someone do such a thing?

Now I've done more research and will share with you what I have learned. Mostly I listened to a few podcasts where top research doctors were interviewed about their latest findings. I didn't do further research by reading complete studies or anything like that. And sometimes the interviews are over my head. But what I'm sharing here is a simplified overview of recent findings.

Important Note: This data here is all from one source for the ease of this blog post. I've heard and read similar things elsewhere, but frankly this is not a professional blog so I'm not interested in spending hours crafting each blog post, especially since while traveling I often don't have the best wifi connections. My goal is to present you with some new discoveries and let you do further research if you are interested. 

  1. Improved immune system. Fasting for 4-5 days kills off damaged white blood cells. Then, when you begin eating again, your white blood cells are regenerated and the new ones are more youthful.
  2. Reduces inflammation around the spinal cord. Inflammation in our bodies causes all sorts of problems.
  3. Helps beat cancer. Fasting combined with chemo is more effective than chemo alone.
  4. Lowers blood pressure significantly more than just cutting out salt, for instance
  5. "Turns on" stem cells. I don't really know what that means, but I think we are all learning that stem cells are powerful contributors to healing potential in our bodies.
  6. There's diabetes benefits, too, but fasts should be done under a doctor's care.

And here are the related show notes from the discussion, copied and pasted directly from Found My Fitness YouTube:

Published on Oct 1, 2016
Dr. Rhonda Patrick speaks with Dr. Valter Longo, a professor of gerontology and biological sciences and director of the longevity institute at the University of Southern California. Dr. Longo has made huge contributions to the field of aging, including the role of fasting and diet in longevity and healthspan in humans as well as metabolic fasting therapies for the treatment of human diseases.

In this conversation, Rhonda and Valter discuss...
• The effects of prolonged fasting, which refers to 2-3 day fasting intervals in mice and 4-5 days in humans.
• Dr. Longo’s work on the fasting-mimicking diet, which is 5 day restricted diet that is meant to simulate some of the biological effects of prolonged fasting while still allowing some food.
• How clinical trials have demonstrated efficacy for this diet for type 2 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and cancer patients.
• Fasting as an inducer of differential stress resistance, where it can simultaneously make cancer cells more sensitive to death while also making healthy cells more resistant to these same death stimuli (such as chemotherapy) which might otherwise induce cell death amongst healthy cells as collateral damage.
• Fasting as a biological state which humans historically experienced with extreme regularity and we may ultimately need in order to mitigate various disease states.
• The effects of prolonged fasting on the immune system, namely, how it clears away damaged white blood cells via autophagy and how this causes hematopoietic stem cells to self renew and make more stem cells and also produce new blood cells to fully replenish the white blood cell population.
• How prolonged fasting causes a shift in the immune cell population towards one that is more representative of youth by normalizing the ratio of myeloid cells to lymphoid cells.
• The positive effects of prolonged fasting and the fasting-mimicking diet on markers of systemic inflammation, blood glucose levels and other aging biomarkers.
• The conclusions of Dr. Longo & Dr. Marcus Bock’s research comparing 1 week of the fasting-mimicking diet followed by 6 months of mediterranean diet to six months of a ketogenic diet in people with multiple sclerosis.
• The strange, somewhat paradoxical role of autophagy genes in cancer progression and some of the open questions surrounding the exact role that these genes are playing.
• Dr. Longo’s high level thoughts on metformin as an anti-aging drug.
• How the growth hormone/IGF-1 axis is one of the most important genetic pathways in aging from yeast to worms to mice to humans.

▶︎ Visit ProLon FMD:

▶︎ Visit L-Nutra:

▶︎ Follow Dr. Longo on Amazon for his new book (coming soon):

A Brief History of the Panama Canal

For some of you, when you hear the word Panama your mind instantly flashes back to the anthemic PA!-NA!-mah in 1984 and David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen flying across the stage wearing neon spandex. Enjoy:

But for most of my esteemed readers, you instead think of the economic wonder that is the Panama Canal and the interesting political history involving the USA and Jimmy Carter France?

I had the pleasure of visiting the canal yesterday. They have a nice museum and the story is told well in both Spanish and English. There were lots of tourists there, most came via bus from cruise ships. We got to watch a massive cruise ship go through one of the three locks along the 80km route.

I recommend visiting if you find yourself in the neighborhood.

  • 1513: Spanish explorers are introduced to the narrow isthmus that is now Panama and realize it's a great place to cross between oceans
  • 1819: Spanish government authorizes the building of a canal
  • 1881: French begin construction of the canal, lead by the guy who had recently completed the leadership of the digging of the Suez Canal
  • 1880s: Construction extremely difficult and many workers die from malaria and yellow fever
  • 1902: French admit failure and sell their ownership of the rights to dig to the USA
  • 1914: Canal opens but is controlled by the USA
  • 1964: Protests by Panamanian students over the USA landholdings, a corridor along the entire route of the canal. Riots ensue. 9 die and 600 injured.
  • 1977: USA President Jimmy Carter signs deal to turn over ownership of the canal to Panama on Dec. 31, 1999
  • 1999: Panama takes ownership amidst great national celebration
  • 2016: Expansion of the canal is complete, allowing it to now accept even larger cargo ships
Wikipedia has more stats, including over 5,000 workers died and over 1 million ships have passed through the canal.

Monday, November 7, 2016

One Year in South America

I sit in a hostel in Cartagena, Colombia. Cartagena lies on the Caribbean Ocean at the northern tip of South America and has a very Caribbean vibe to it. In one year of traveling I've moved from a Patagonian (Chile) port city that sends boats to Antarctica to one with a heavy Cuban influence.

One year ago I flew from Denver, CO USA to Buenos Aires, Argentina with a goal of seeing the world. I was driven, in part, by this quote from Mark Twain:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”

Mostly, though, I was driven by curiosity -- exploration and discovery (both internal and external) are things I value greatly. I love the constant discovery of new places, delicious food, interesting people, gorgeous landscapes and different cultures. There is no boring routine when traveling like this. There is no knowledge of what might happen next. It's like every day is Christmas morning and I'm constantly unwrapping gifts full of (mostly) wonderful surprises.

Those values are still close to my heart.

When I left I really didn't know how much I would enjoy constant travel, living out of a backpack, and sleeping in hostel dorm rooms. I wasn't sure if after 6 months I might have had enough of this lifestyle. What would it be like to be homeless?
Magellan Strait as seen from Patagonian Chile

After traveling constantly for one year I can say that I really enjoy it. Sure, I still fantasize about having a home base in the mountains near a ski area. And, yeah, I miss my friends and family. But right now I still want to continue to see the world. The daily sense of wonder and discovery is just too amazing to stop.

I also want to better understand different cultures and different points of view. You may be reading this in the USA on or around Election Day 2016 when it seems like nobody has the capability of understanding how other people came to have their belief system. The people voting for the other candidate seem crazy or out-of-touch or just plain stupid.

I thought that way once, too. But the experiences I've had have helped immensely in my personal growth. Try sitting in complete silence meditating for 10 straight days without challenging your own belief system. Try spending a week in the jungle drinking ayahuasca in a traditional medicinal plant ceremony and not having your inner fears and wounds held up in front of your face, demanding to be reckoned with. Try easing into the growing majesty of Patagonian peaks like Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy without being overcome with gratitude for all the people who helped you get there. Try spending 20-hour bus rides talking with citizens from every corner of the globe and not developing a greater empathy for everyone, including Trump supporters.

Traveling and allowing myself the time for personal growth has been amazing.

Plains and mountains in northern Chile

At the end of January I will be flying to Japan where I will accomplish two important tasks. First, I will be starting the Asia portion of my adventures. Very exciting (and a little daunting because..damn..that's a gigantic continent to try to tackle). Second, and perhaps more importantly, I will be skiing the now world famous powder snow of northern Japan. Ja-Pow! I haven't gone skiing in two years and can't wait to remedy that.

Also, I'm developing a small business that I hope will allow me to help people while continuing to travel or live anywhere in the world. It's brand new version 1.0 and my goal is to help adult children of dying parents better manage the stress of that difficult time.

In early December I have some dedicated time set up in Playa del Carmen, Mexico with a group called Nomad House to focus on building out the business. The service will be growing and evolving over the coming months. Please share it with anyone you think could benefit.

Here's my travel map so far. I update it as I move to new destinations. Click it to see my route and get a little info about the places I've been so far.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Quit Lying to Yourself

I don't know if you noticed, but I began my previous post by admitting that the headline about doing a "5-day water fast" was a slight exaggeration. The truth is that I only went 4 days and 13 hours until I broke my fast.

Why would I start a blog post in such a way?

It's not very catchy. It doesn't pull the reader in. It certainly doesn't generate more eyeballs or clicks or likes or shares.

I did it because it's the truth and because little lies can build on themselves, even if only within our own minds. Lying to ourselves changes our perception of the world, tiny little bit by tiny little bit, causing us to see and experience things differently than the people around us who we think are having the same experience.
photo from Valley News Live who has a good article on this

Last week a study came out whose results were shared by The Guardian, The Daily Mail, ABC News and FOX News (amongst many others). The study finds that:
   'When we lie for personal gain, our amygdala produces a negative feeling that limits the extent to which we are prepared to lie,' explains senior author Dr Tali Sharot from UCL's Experimental Psychology division.'However, this response fades as we continue to lie, and the more it falls the bigger our lies become. 'This may lead to a 'slippery slope' where small acts of dishonesty escalate into more significant lies.'
Read more: 
Once again science is proving what wise humans have known for generations. From The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevski
The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him.
Telling small lies, whether to ourself or to other people, desensitizes us to telling bigger lies. As we are seeing right now, politicians tend to be great examples of people who can tell a lie with a straight face and totally believe it themselves. They could probably even pass a polygraph test. Why? They've been doing it all their lives. It's who they are.


  1. to stroke our ego
  2. fear of the truth
  3. anxiety
  4. to avoid responsibility
  5. to cut corners
  6. etc.

I began learning about this a few years ago when I read Practicing Radical Honesty by Dr. Brad Blanton. The book goes into far greater detail about all of this -- lying, honesty, culture, brain science, happiness, ego, etc. I'll let you explore more if you're interested.

As for me, I want to be the most authentic, caring, curious Kirk Ahlberg I can possibly be. And how can I achieve that if I'm lying to myself?


Friday, October 28, 2016

I Just Did a 5-Day Water Fast was more like 4 1/2 days. But they say that at 3 days is when you've burned through your ready reserves of glucose and that's when the fast really begins.

I'd done a few 24-hour fasts in the past 6 months after hearing a lot about the health benefits, but it was just a couple weeks ago when I was informed of this study that it can yield a dramatic improvement for high blood pressure, my Achilles heel. My bold in the abstract.


One hundred seventy-four consecutive hypertensive patients with blood pressure in excess of 140 mm Hg systolic, 90 mm Hg diastolic (140/90 mm Hg), or both were treated in an inpatient setting under medical supervision. The treatment program consisted of a short prefasting period (approximately 2 to 3 days on average) during which food consumption was limited to fruits and vegetables, followed by medically supervised water-only fasting (approximately 10 to 11 days on average) and a refeeding period (approximately 6 to 7 days on average) introducing a low-fat, low-sodium, vegan diet.


Almost 90% of the subjects achieved blood pressure less than 140/90 mm Hg by the end of the treatment program. The average reduction in blood pressure was 37/13 mm Hg, with the greatest decrease being observed for subjects with the most severe hypertension. Patients with stage 3 hypertension (those with systolic blood pressure greater than 180 mg Hg, diastolic blood pressure greater than 110 mg Hg, or both) had an average reduction of 60/17 mm Hg at the conclusion of treatment. All of the subjects who were taking antihypertensive medication at entry (6.3% of the total sample) successfully discontinued the use of medication.


Medically supervised water-only fasting appears to be a safe and effective means of normalizing blood pressure and may assist in motivating health-promoting diet and lifestyle changes.
A reduction of 37/13?! That's amazing! Everyone talks about how salt causes high blood pressure. But the truth is that reducing salt in one's diet only brings down the systolic (first) bp number by about 3-5 points. That's not nearly enough for me.

So I decided to give fasting a shot. Alas, in Medellin, Colombia (where I did this) it is not easy to find a blood pressure cuff, so I was not able to test my bp before and after.

I began by just committing to fasting for a day or two, but it was going pretty well after two days so I decided to keep going. I found a nice hotel with good wifi for $45/night and re-started my old Netflix membership. For me to resist the temptations of food and drink I need to lock myself into a comfortable place away from the demons alcohol and sugar and greasy, fried Colombian empanadas.

I ate zero food and drank only water from Saturday evening to Thursday morning. I watched a lot of Netflix and rested mostly, taking a nice long walk each day. One benefit of fasting is that the time allows your body to heal and focus on things other than digesting food.

On Day 2 I quit taking my bp pills and on Day 3 I realized that was a good idea because I was feeling a little faint when I would stand up -- a sign of low blood pressure. My doctor told me that feeling faint regularly while taking the pills would mean that I could stop taking the pills. I do not want to be taking blood pressure medication for the next 50 years.

The morning of Day 5, though, I think my blood sugar was also getting quite low. I wasn't feeling good and as I did more research I realized that everyone says a fast of more than 3 days should be accompanied by a physician or at least access to measurements of vitals like bp and blood sugar. As I walked past the free hotel breakfast I noticed it was the most extensive free hotel/hostel breakfast I had seen in months! So I dove in.

My eyes were bigger than my stomach, though, and I didn't yet realize the importance of slowly weening oneself off the fast and back onto solid food. I ate too much granola/yogurt when my body really just wanted fruits and vegetables that are high in water content. Lesson learned.

Today I'm on my second day of recovery and feeling great.

During the five days I rarely felt hungry. Once or twice each day my stomach would grumble. I'd just take a big drink of water and was fine.

Part of the benefit of a fast is mental training. I'm a stronger, more resilient person now because I realize that every time my stomach grumbles I don't have to cram something into it. Over the years I've learned that when I get hungry I really only need a banana or an apple to curb the hunger. In my youth I would eat a huge meal of mostly unhealthy food every time I was hungry. It only took me forty-some years to figure this out.


  1. Fasting definitely reduced my blood pressure. However, I'm not sure by how much or for how long it will stay at this level.
  2. Fasting is uncommon among people I know, but cutting edge science is learning more about the benefits.
  3. After this positive experience, I want to do it again in 6 months or so, but do it with at least a blood pressure cuff handy so I can gauge my actual results.
  4. Benefits of fasting include improvements in:
    1. Hypertension/high blood pressure
    2. Diabetes (type 2)
    3. Anxiety
    4. Depression
    5. Weight loss
    6. Cancer risk
    7. ...and more
Curious? Want to learn more? Here are some places to start.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Bogota, Colombia

I recently spent about a week in Bogota, Colombia. It's a nice city and has come a long way from the drug cartel days of the '80s. The city has a lively bicycle culture, a beautiful historic city center and lots of terrific street art.

Here I am hanging out with the other cool cats..

..and then with Mona Lisa

Colombia's Coffee Region: Salento


After a week in Bogota I was joined by Debora (her photo above) for a few days in Colombia's famous coffee region and it was gorgeous. We could have easily stayed at our rural guest house (or finca) for a week or more just basking in the glory of the land. The above photo is sunrise as seen from the hillside of the guest house property.

Here's the charming compound in which we spent three nights with excellent food and much peaceful birdsong:


The landscape near Salento, Colombia is spectacular -- green and verdant with cloud forest and streams and these amazing wax palms, a natural symbol of Colombia. This is also coffee country. Colombia is one of the top international producers (by volume) of coffee along with Brazil, Vietnam and Indonesia. I only began drinking coffee a few months ago after touring a coffee farm in Costa Rica, so the tour we took outside of Salento was very informative for me. And please excuse my horrible paragraph structure here. When I put photos on the right side or the left side of the text like this I can't figure out how to make line breaks inside this text region without shifting the entire photo down along with it. But anyways.. back to coffee. I learned that coffee grown at a higher altitude tends to be a bit more acidic than that grown at lower altitudes. I also learned that the longer coffee is roasted (i.e. dark roast vs. light roast) the less caffeine it contains. So lightly roasted coffee has more caffeine than dark roast, but the longer roasting tends to give it a stronger flavor.


We went on a beautiful 5-hour hike in Valle de Cocora which is famous for these wax palm trees that can grow up to 200' high. The cloud forest yielded some haunting photos like this one...

and this one...

We took many photos..

And enjoyed the local wildlife..


Another fun activity in the region is the Colombian national pastime called Tejo. Tejo is a game kind of like cornhole or bocce ball, but instead of tossing a round ball at another round ball, you throw a metal stone-like weight toward pockets filled with gunpowder. Yes!! 

Your game of cornhole with those bean bags? 
Bean bags are for children.

And, of course, there is also beer.

 Debora demonstrates fine form while scoring a macha..

Macha is the term when your metal stone scores a direct hit on one of the three small packets of gunpowder, causing it to explode with great noise and erupt in flames. It's awesome.

Debora scored 4 machas to my 1 (I was robbed on so many occasions I can't even begin to tell you), but I came out on top on the scoreboard due to my consistently keen eye and accurate throws. Games are played up to 27 points, and we played best 2 out of 3. I dramatically scored my only macha on the contest-winning final toss of the second game. Fun times

Citizens of The United States! 
Put away your cute bean bags and cornhole game and get with gunpowder! What could be more American than that? #votetrump2016

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Optimist Daily

Want more positive news in your world?

Sick and tired of news sources that focus on negativity (in order to make us fearful so we keep tuning in and they make more advertising revenue)?

Then check out The Optimist Daily.

You'll have to sign up with an email address, but they never email me. After you log in once the cookie should enable you to just view it every day.

I've made it my home page so every morning I get a dose of good news.


Monday, September 26, 2016

Galapagos Islands: Holy Amazingness

If you've heard about the Galapagos Islands it is likely because of all the unique animals that live there and how they helped Charles Darwin craft his groundbreaking book Origin of Species. Giant tortoises and blue-footed boobies are among the most popular of Galapagos' wildlife. But there's also the sea life.

The islands sit at the confluence of several Pacific ocean currents, the same currents that first brought humans to the islands in the 16th century. These currents also deliver a high amount of plankton which is a foundational nutrient for many of the planet's sea dwellers and sea birds. They're all here, too.

And it's AWESOME!

Upon my arrival at San Cristobal Island I was greeted by sea lions hanging out on every corner. Chilling on the boardwalk, 

sitting on the sidewalk, 

and frozen in place in a park as a slide for children of all ages.

So I headed out to SCUBA dive at Kicker Rock because there were rumored to be hammerhead sharks out there. Alas, I saw no hammerheads, but did notice a couple white-tipped sharks and sea turtles through the hazy visibility made by thick plankton.
The SCUBA dive was a little disappointing, but it was good to get back to it 6 years after my last (and first) dives in Indonesia.

I'd heard through the backpacker circuit that one could book a last-minute multi-day boat cruise around the Galapagos and save a lot of money. Many of these cruises cost $3000-$7000 when booked in advance. Since I have time on my side I gave myself 9 days on the islands hoping that I could find a 5- or 6-day cruise that fit inside that window.

And so I did.
A few days after I arrived the Domenica was leaving for a cruise and I was welcome to join for the discounted price of $1700. It was totally worth it. 

The boat held 11 passengers in nicely appointed cabins like mine.
We had three excellent buffet meals every day and a naturalist guide who took us on walking and snorkeling tours around the islands. 

Each morning found us at a new island where at 8am we went ashore for a walk of around 90 minutes. These walks took us past amazing bird colonies, giant tortoises, sea lions and more. We had 2 or 3 more excursions each day that included snorkeling, kayaking and more hiking. There was also a hot tub on the boat. 

Giant tortoise: one of the poster children for Galapagos. Alas, they don't let you ride them anymore.

As I go through life I'm finding that one of the parts of life that I value most is the opportunity to spend time with other animals in their native habitat. Many of my most cherished memories are from times spent in nature when animals were present. Grizzly bears in Glacier National Park, wild orangutans in Indonesia, komodo dragons, manta rays, bugling elk in Yellowstone.

Now I can add to that list.

Sally Lightfoot crabs? Yes, please. This vertical wall was crawling with 'em.

Cruising albatross...

The albatross are not nearly as graceful when on land. But their 10' wingspan is impressive. Watching them soar about mere feet above my head reminded me of the condors in Peru.

These frigate birds wowed me around sunset one evening cruising on the boat. At times I think I could have touched one, they were so close. Their wingspans are about 8' and when I was in Rio de Janeiro I saw them soaring through the sky high above. But I never saw them land. They've been recorded to fly over 40 miles without flapping their wings.

This is a young frigate bird sitting down. In Rio I never saw one of these birds land. My guide and group are in the back.

More sea lions. They look like seals to me, but are sea lions. I don't know the difference but these ones migrated here from California a long time ago and are a bit smaller. A trip highlight was swimming with one of them while snorkeling. It was darting all around me, playfully. I hope to receive underwater pics to share that were taken by others on the boat trip.

UPDATE: Here's a video of me swimming with a young sea lion. This was awesome.

Soaring pelican.

Cruising pelican. This bird is about 2' off the beach and there were a couple of them that were cruising back and forth right in front of me. Fantastic.

Land iguana. There are also marine iguanas that go swimming. This guy was big.

These are nesting swallow-tailed gulls with chick.

And now...drumroll please....what you've all been waiting for...

Blue-footed boobies!

And here's a downy, baby, boobie. So c-u-u-te.

The animal interaction was amazing. We were allowed to get within 6' of all these critters and they were all totally cool with it. Seeing so many gorgeous creatures so close was really fun. I also had wonderful snorkeling experiences and I hope to get some underwater photos from my companions to share with you in another photo dump. Cuz there were sharks and penguins and turtles and more.

I never knew I would be such a fan of the sea birds. They are big with 8'-10' wingspans that make them super fun to watch. Seeing albatross and pelicans and boobies soaring freely was phenomenal. I could sit and watch them all day long.

Being close to these animals out in nature feels to me what living is supposed to be about. It is so easy for us to think that cities and concrete and cars and glass and steel are what life is about. But, for me, I'll take the seas and skies and plains and mountains and all the non-human animals that populate them. It makes me feel more alive and more human during my brief existence on this planet.

I don't really feel like writing more right now, but I'll probably throw up another Galapagos post within a week or so. I also really enjoyed living on the boat and should write more about that.

List of animals seen up close and personal:
blue footed boobies
masked boobies
red-billed tropic bird
giant tortoises
sea turtles
white tipped shark
galapagos shark
sea lions
marine iguanas
land iguanas
many, many colorful fish