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Celebrating our anniversary with a tortoise
Jon and Joan's Excellent Adventure in Ecuador

Last ladder to the top, it is a long way up there!Last ladder to the top, it is a long way up there! (Joan Curti)
This morning we arrived at Santa Cruz. Of the 16 members of our Millenium family, 12 are leaving to continue their journey throughout South America, only two are heading home. We all hop on a bus to a private farm in the highlands where Galapagos Tortoises live. On the trip, we watched the foliage turn from stunted, brown and dormant to thick, green, and tall, a great example of how fertile the highlands soil is. I have seen pictures of tortoises and knew they weighed up to 500 pounds but when one first came into view, it was so impressive. We all crowded around the tortoise for a good view and watched in silence as he slowly lumbered away. The only sound I heard was the constant click, click, click of camera shutters and softly whispered wows. Spotting a guava, the tortoise slowly bent his head and picked it up in his mouth, the pink insides of the fruit squishing out around his mouth. We could see lots of little gnats flying around his head as he chewed. In a small, muddy pond three more tortoises stood motionless, their heads tucked into their shells while a pintailed duck moved across the surface of the water, wagging his head back and forth like a dog’s tail. Searching for food, finches hopped over the ground, from branch to branch on low bushes, and even picked seeds out of fresh tortoise dung. We had thought we would see a few tortoises, but there must have been at least 15. We all took turns taking each others pictures behind the tortoises. We posed for one with Jon’s fingers saying two and my fingers nine for our 29th anniversary. Walking across an open field with few trees to see more tortoises, well-camouflaged Darwin’s finches popped off the ground and took flight in various directions away from us. On seeing us, a few tortoises tucked their head in, and a few others breathing sounded like Darth Vader, perhaps indicating we should leave them alone.

Jon and I explored the deceased tortoises’ shells and the different geometric patterns of the shell tops. Jon backed his legs into a shell and lifted himself up on all fours as a tortoise and exclaimed the shell was heavy, giving him the feeling what it would be like to wear a tortoise shell all the time.

When we arrived back at the dock, we said good byes to all our family members. It is amazing how quickly I felt I got to know them and enjoyed their company. I thought the next group couldn’t possibly be as great.

In the afternoon we met our second Millenium family, from Switzerland, the United States, Israel, Holland, Brazil, and Sweden. Together we visited the Charles Darwin Center. The baby tortoises were the most interesting because of the size. It was hard for me to get excited about the rest of the zoo animals because it was so much better to see them in the wild.

Walking back to the dock, we wandered through different art galleries. There were many temptations, but no way to get larger items safely home. I guess I prefer to live with the memories of our experience, something my aunt calls “food for the soul.” She is so right.

At dinner Jon told the four people we were sitting with that it was our 29th anniversary. Two of them congratulated Jon and shook his hand, the third shook both of ours. Jon laughed and asked why they weren’t congratulating me, and one said in surprise, “Oh, you’re married to her?” We all had a big laugh but I am still not sure if they misunderstood what he said or if they thought Jon had left his wife at home and brought his girlfriend along.

When I get home from this trip, one thing I plan on doing is to learn Spanish. At our table, Peter spoke three languages, Uri and Bridget spoke four languages, and Martin spoke six languages (he is also a language teacher). Jon and I speak one language. My experience on this trip has been amazing, but it is also eye opening. I feel I bring my experience to a different level if I could carry on a conversation in Spanish. Bridget told me that just before this trip she had gone to language school for five weeks in Cuenca and now speaks conversational Spanish. It is definitely something I would like to try.

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