“Feliz Fin del Ano”! (Happy New Year or End of the Year as we call it here)
In Ecuador, the focus is more about what happened the year before and saying good bye to it rather than looking forward to the next year, though we do that too. For example, people who want to travel in the coming year will at midnight walk around the block with a suitcase in their hand. If they really want to travel they might fill the suitcase with bricks.
What almost everyone does is build a human size doll called a “muneco”, using some sticks for a frame, old clothes stuffed with straw or newspaper for body, legs and arms, a paper mache head, stuffed old gloves for hands, old shoes for feet. You might set a hat or sun glasses. You then write a list of everything you are saying good-bye to, the good and the bad. You might put this note in a pocket of the muneco if you prefer it be private or pin it to the chest if not. At midnight you put a match to the year you have just finished and watch it go up in flames. At midnight the streets are lined with these homages. (see photo of 2014 ascending to the heavens).
As is normal for this time of year I work through Xmas and the end of the year with our Galapagos Tours. We limit the number of groups we can handle to three. I need to be available to back up our guides, coordinate contingencies (lost luggage, missed flights, hotel snafus, etc.). In the last eight years there has not been one when one of our guides didn’t “go down” (get sick, have family emergencies, etc.). So, I plan on it, expect that I will have to personally escort visiting “hearts” through their once in a life time experience of the Galapagos. Most years I also get to do at least a part of this with my son, which as you can imagine is a Christmas present in itself. This year was no different.
Santa Claus also brought me two wonderful families; one of which is
producing a movie of their time here. You can see the movie trailer at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-6bpNgTeB4
Maybe five times a week, for the past ten years I have been swimming out into the bay to where the ships are anchored. It is not uncommon for a sea lion to follow me all the way out and back or to see rays and sea turtles and of course all kinds of fish. People have said, “You’re swimming an awful long way out.” It’s only a couple hundred yards. “Aren’t you afraid?” In ten years I had never seen anything to be afraid of out there until the other day. What I do is swim out to this spot where there is a rock at the bottom, about a square meter, shaped like an arrow head and it sits on a sand bed which gives it a nice relief, about forty feet down. What I like to do is swim down and touch it. It’s kind of like my destination. Forty feet is pretty deep if you are snorkeling, I have to clear my nose a few times before I get there and then rather than sprinting back up to the surface for air, I just let myself gently float up. It’s relaxing and I’m pretty sure uses less oxygen. So there I am floating gently back towards the surface when coming from below, my mask is filled with the vision of the bottom of a shark’s nose, then mouth and underside of head. His white belly scrapes mine, his side fins and my arms tangle together for a moment. Then he levels himself, right at my waist, within the grasp of my arms, we separate and he just sits there about ten feet off, looking at me, a seven-eight foot, I’m not sure what, except that it wasn’t a white tip or Galapagos shark. I’m still floating toward the surface and he’s just staring at me, making up his mind about what to do next I imagine, so I swim at him. He turns and jets away. I keep floating toward the surface eyeing the direction he went. At the surface, check to see if I’m bleeding anywhere, sometimes you don’t feel things in those situations. No blood, I swim in. But that was weird. All I can figure is he thought I was a sea lion and he was going to come at me from below and strike, but changed his mind at the last possible instant; sea lions don’t “float” to the surface from that deep. Seemed like a pretty small, aggressive shark to be attacking a sea lion as big as me. I remember the thought crossing my mind to wrap my arms around him. I absolutely could have done it when out bellies scraped and then as he was getting himself level. That is the only time I have ever seen any kind of shark out there. I would have preferred a different kind of shark and a little more distance. My fisherman buddy said, “Be more careful next time.” And he smiled his “you silly gringo” smile. These guys have some stories, killer whales checking out lobster divers in the middle of the night, all kinds of wild things beyond your imagination. Just so you all know, the shark mentioned above is a pelagic shark, doesn’t live here. They show up around this time of year as the water temperature is changing and are responsible for the only two shark attacks in the last ten years, both of which happened just before sunset to surfers who were out at remote locations. The sharks generally feed at night. My encounter I imagined happened because it was early in the morning. There is a very common saying here, “In Australia, when someone yells ‘Shark!’ everyone gets out of the water. In the Galapagos when someone yells ‘Shark!’ everyone gets in.” We have some pretty docile sharks here and no visitor has ever had a bad encounter. We routinely look for white tipped reef sharks, small hammer heads and Galapagos sharks to show to our guests, during their Galapagos tour. It doesn’t happen all the time. Contact us at www.cometogalapagos.com Happy New Year! Siempre Amor From The Galapagos