Guest Post: Framilymoon

The thought of summarizing or even trying to remotely describe our Framilymoon (Framily = friends that are family.  Moon = this trip was Megan and Alex’s honeymoon) week in the Galapagos aboard the Archipel I (read my post 8 days + 7 agencies + 6 people = 1 boat for more information on how we booked this cruise) gave me total anxiety.  I knew on the very first day, on our very first excursion from the ship, that this task was going to be impossible. Even now, almost three weeks from disembarking, I still haven’t fully digested the trip because it was that incredible.  I was with my best friends on an amazing catamaran (we all highly recommend the Archipel I by the way) for 8 days and it was the adventure of a lifetime.  We saw every animal we sought out to see, spent each day experiencing a new and different place under and above water, and made bonds and memories together that will absolutely last a lifetime.  Each moment was more than memorable, they were unforgettable.

Hopefully now you can see why writing a post about this week was daunting for me.  So, I did what I always do in times of need.  I turned to my best friends and husband for help.  I had originally asked if anyone wanted to write a guest post on their own.  However, we decided a better idea would be to write a guest post as a collective effort and simply (or not) summarize our favorite part, memory, or whatever we wanted to write about.

I have immensely enjoyed reading all of their summaries, what this trip meant to them and favorite parts of the unforgettable time we all had together.  It just reaffirms how lucky I am to have such monumental, fun, weird, supportive, and all around amazing people in my life.

MEG

Pinning down a favorite memory of our Galapagos trip is not only something that is difficult for me to do, but something that I realized when sitting down to write this, that I am unwilling to do. How can I chose between moments like these: laying on the top deck of the boat in the middle of the night with my best friends, watching the sky light up with endless shooting stars across the Milky Way; standing speechless on the edge of the boat as we felt the spray from the largest creature that exists on the planet taking a breath above water; swimming alongside sea turtles, sea lions, sharks, sting rays, and penguins all in a 15 minute span of time; holding a cold beer as we watched the sun disappear behind the unobstructed ocean horizon.

You get the picture.

The moments compound on each other, each just as amazing and new as the one before it. Each day we woke up in a new place, throwing on our clothes and rushing outside as quickly and as early as possible to see what unique landscape awaited us, which rare wildlife we would see, what adventure we would take on. Every day was new, every experience was the first (except the four giant tortoise breeding centers we went to. Those were the exactly same). It is a feeling I can’t remember having before, one that I can only compare to what it must have felt like when we were children learning the world for the first time, taking everything in like a sponge. Your senses are in a perpetual state of stimulation, and your neck can’t turn fast enough to take in everything around you before it’s gone. This is what made the Galapagos what it was to me, the thrill of constant discovery, and the opportunity to do it alongside my best friends.

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AL

Growing up, the Galapagos Islands were this far-off land of mystery and wonder. A place that people dream of but can’t visit like Peter Pan’s Neverland.  In school, the islands were always concisely described as the birthplace of Darwin’s theory of evolution but hardly anything else was written about them. However, by word-of-mouth and a little bit of research, you begin to discover that there is no place like it on Earth and everyone should visit once in their lifetime.  After our eight day trip, I can confidently say that the Galapagos Islands are the most magical place I’ve ever been.  Like anything that is magical, mere words cannot describe it. There is an energy, a feeling, and a presence that exudes from this place and I feel fortunate enough to have tapped into it for just a week. 

During our trip, we were blown away by the diversity of landscapes each island possessed. Hikes were a geologist’s and ornithologist’s dream but as a nature novice, nothing compares to what we experienced underwater. During our nightly briefings, the six of our faces lit up when we saw snorkeling on the next day’s agenda. We’ve all snorkeled before and we are all SCUBA certified and yet this experience has topped any that I’ve ever had in the ocean. 

My favorite underwater adventure occurred on our last day while snorkeling along the coast of Isabela Island.  I decided I wanted to take my time during this dive and found myself in the back of the pack as I slowly kicked my way along the shoreline. Maybe it was my pace, maybe it was this particular stretch of rock and ocean, but I seemed to witness every type of creature on the Galapagos spectrum. Fish of every color and size huddled in schools, protected their coral homes from nosy neighbors, or curiously said ‘hello’ to the GoPro camera. Like Finding Nemo, I caught myself telling small stories in my head about each unique little creature. Later, Megan hollered my name to follow a Green sea turtle just off a steep underwater cliff. Amazingly, as we shadowed this probably 100+ year old turtle, Meg and I caught a glimpse of a massive manta ray floating 50 feet below us. 

It’s the unpredictability that I truly loved. Even though the one small snippet described above was my favorite, others that followed attest to the wonderfully unpredictable nature that is the Galapagos; like a flightless cormorant diving for food, a penguin bobbing mere feet away from me, and a sea-lion and her pup bumping their whiskery snouts on my GoPro (all in one dive I remind you!)

Lastly, there is no better feeling than snorkeling with your wife and four best friends. Every panga ride back to the boat, we giddily told our own unique experiences below and consensually remarked, “GUYS! HOW GREAT WAS THAT?!”

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CHRISTIE

After our final excursion on our last day in Fernandina, we had to navigate for many hours to get back to the airport.  It was late afternoon which made for a beautiful time of day to sit on the front netting of the Archipel and have some celebratory beers.  Even though I was having a fantastic time that day, I couldn’t shake the feeling of being nostalgic already and upset that our amazing week was coming to an end.  I would have to soon say goodbye, again.  I hadn’t seen some of the most important people in my life for 6 months before this and the week had gone by way too quickly.

I decided to give a horrible impromptu speech that lead to me saying pretty much nothing and crying.  After this, a few other passengers on the boat came down to chat with us and I found myself zoning out and staring into the distant ocean.  As I was trying to pull myself together and enjoy the time I did have left with my friends, I noticed something strange.  There was a black box jumping out of the ocean.  I thought I was seeing things until I saw it again (later to find out there is a certain type of manta ray that does this) and behind it, I saw mist coming up out of the water.  At this point, we hadn’t seen a whale which was something all of us, especially Meg, really wanted to see.  I thought there was no way and I better not say anything unless I was completely positive of what I was seeing.  Seconds later, I saw this mist rising up a second time.  Interrupting whoever was talking, I pointed into the distance describing what I had seen.

It ended up being 2 maybe 3 blue whales.  BLUE WHALES!  The largest animal in the world. All of the staff on the ship ran out to the deck and we could feel their excitement too.  Our guide told us that in 15 years of giving Galapagos tours, he had never seen one.  They are completely rare to see.  Although we could mostly see their dorsal fin coming out of the water and the mist from their blowhole, I think I speak for myself and everyone else that we were the most awestruck we’ve maybe ever been.

Seeing those blue whales reminded me of how we were all where we were supposed to be in that exact moment.  It was a sign that it was meant to be.  Those whales made me get over my sadness funk  and have a great last night drinking glug mugs with my husband and best friends.

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DAN

Our trip to the Galapagos is hard to put into words.  Putting accurate descriptions of thoughts, feelings, and emotions to the experiences we had over 8 days is nearly impossible.  We swam in a small cove with sea lions, so close to them, I felt like one rather than an observer with a snorkel and goggles.  We traversed such foreign landscapes, it seemed as though we were on another planet.  We saw tortoises so enormous, it seemed they shouldn’t be able to move as gracefully as they did.  Each night we would go to bed, and somehow the next morning we would arrive in a new spot in the archipelago that seemed completely different than the prior stop.  We successfully coordinated group jumps off the second floor of our ship into crystal clear water, that somehow were no less intimidating, no matter how many times we got the nerve to jump.  Our alcohol smuggling efforts produced a near endless supply of boxed wine, aka Glug, which we would drink and watch the stars on the top deck each night.  We became so accustomed to our afternoon siestas, that we groaned when we didn’t see it on our Activity Board for the next day.  By some sort of miracle, we spotted the elusive blue whale, something our guide had never seen in his 15 years of work.  Somehow, each subsequent day impossibly proved better than the previous one, and after 8 days of snowballing into a trip of a lifetime, you can’t help but wonder how you got so lucky to experience all of this with your best friends.

There is no way I can convey the feeling I had during all of this to anyone accurately, and is something I have struggled with this entire trip.  After living through 6+ months of incredible experiences, all I want to do is share these experiences with the people that I love.  No matter how hard both sides try to communicate and understand what is being said, you can only come to a common understanding, a mutual meeting of minds.  But what this lacks is the indescribable, more nebulous parts of an experience; that feeling in your heart and soul you have while actually in that experience.  That feeling of nothingness and everything at the same time, as you look out at a gorgeous sunset, while standing on the top deck of a catamaran, getting ready to jump into the ocean as your mind floats through all of the once in a lifetime experiences you had that day.  That feeling of looking to your left and right, and seeing that everyone else getting ready to take the plunge knows and understands exactly what you feel at that very moment without needing to say a thing.  That feeling of taking the jump, everything floating away and wanting nothing more than to be in that very moment.  To have shared in this feeling, that part of an experience you can’t describe or relay to anyone else, with 5 other people that I love most is what the Galapagos meant to me.

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MATT

Usually, I am getting excited about what next prank I will be able to play on my friends for April 1st. This year, it was different. This year, I took off from the cold weather of Chicago and headed to Ecuador, to one of the most beautiful and unique destinations in the world: the Galapagos. Famous islands that we have all heard about, either from Darwin’s studies on evolution, or maybe from Master & Commander with Russell Crowe. Here I was, all excited about traveling some 3,000 miles away from home to this place I have only been able to picture from books, movies or my dreams. A cool part of this trip is that we met up with 2 friends, #paintingmyspiritingold and #iamahippynowthatIhavelonghairsandIcanspeakspanish, who have been traveling South America for the past 6 months. In other words, everything was set up to be an awesome trip. And it was!

Everyday, we would wake up in different places, some mornings in a small harbor, some mornings in a bay with no other boats around us. Just an island, untouched by humans. I literally felt like a pirate in a treasure hunting expedition (my child mind took over myself some mornings and evenings…).  Although here, the treasure was not gold, but wild life, amazing landscapes, and good times with good friends!  We saw 21 different species of animals: dolphin, tortoises, iguanas, sea turtles, bunch of birds (cuicui)! We swam and played around with sea lions aka the kitties of the seas (for the rhyme). But the most astonishing animal we saw was undeniably a blue whale (thanks #paintingmyspiritingold for the spotting).

The islands were amazing too. One of the best hikes we had was on Isla Isabela, on a dried lava desert, in front of the 2nd largest volcano still active in the world. There and on some other island, I would just wait for everybody to get away from me, out of my “hearing reach” (sorry for the Frenglish), and just stay there. You would not only see an amazing landscape, you would also only hear nature. No sirens, no cars horn, nothing. Just the wind, the birds, and myself. It is such a unique feeling! I could also write a novel about snorkeling, but I will keep it simple: I love snorkeling, and snorkeling in the Galapagos made me love snorkeling even more. That’s how much I love snorkeling. Once again here, the feeling of being in clear blue water, diving and be completely free of your movement and most importantly be surrounded by so much marine wild life (rays, fish, sea turtles, EVERYTHING!!!!), is another unique feeling.

So yes, this trip was awesome! And there is one thing I came back to Chicago with: now knowing that giant tortoises walk 2 miles per day, it set a new threshold on me. I can’t be lazier than a giant tortoise. So if you read me on this point, YOU blog reader, check out your health app, and look at how many miles you walked as of now. If it’s less than 2 miles, stop reading this blog, and go for a walk!

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BEX

Hi Painting My Spirit Gold readers! I’m very excited to be guest-posting today. Thanks, Christie for letting me babble here for a change. I hope I can rise to the pressure of having so many readers! I’m used to about four on my own little corner of the internet.

How else can I describe the trip of a lifetime with my best friends as anything other than pure joy?  Despite reading every little bit I could find on the Galapagos and talking it to death with my traveling companions, resurrecting it, and then talking it back to death, I was unable to set any expectations for this trip. Even pre-trip Rebecca knew deep down that any pre-set expectations would be blown out of the water.

This trip meant a lot to me for a number of reasons.

  1. First and most obviously (and importantly!), it was the opportunity to spend a week of non-stop (except for the not-so- occasional sea lion barking for our attention) quality time with my favorite people on this earth in one of the coolest locations on this earth. I was finally reunited with my best friends after six long months of emails, Whatapps, and broken, pixelated Facetimes.  Seeing them again for the first time was beyond joy! So much so that Christie and I, upon seeing each other on the plane, completely threw our “What is Acceptable Social Behavior” handbook out the window and awkwardly hugged over an unsuspecting German woman, who got a very intimate introduction to our armpits. I’ve always cherished the time I have with my friends; whether we’re sitting around a table sharing a bottle (or two) of wine or if we’re traveling the world and sharing an unforgettable experience. I can’t think of a better group of people to share either with.
  2. I remember learning about the Galapagos Islands, Charles Darwin, and his finches for the first time in grade school. (My elementary school even got two finches for the library; they both died in short order.) I distinctly remember thinking, “How can a set of islands unlock so much information? How can the animals of this archipelago evolve with no fear? How was Darwin, upon visiting these islands, able to push out into the world a wholly new way of looking at nature, biology, and human beings?” As a child, I spent many friendless hours paging through books about every animal in existence at the library. Who wants to read a 230 page book about 3-toed sloths? Fourth grade Rebecca does. Later as an adult, I found myself alone in China. What did I turn to, to cope with my loneliness? Animal documentaries, because there’s no amount of melancholy 60 minutes of honey badger bad-assery won’t cure. You want to know a random fact about an animal you’ve never heard of? I’m your gal! The animal kingdom has been my constant companion through life. Being able to journey to Wildlife Mecca was the culmination of nearly three decades of a slow, burning obsession.
  3. I have recently been really struggling with my attitude towards work. I often find myself struggling with seeing the point in what I do, asking myself why I’m spending so much of my life doing something that at best frustrates me and at worst makes me feel indifferent about life (What’s the saying? The opposite of love is indifference?), and, worst of all, wishing my days away instead of savoring them. This trip reminded me of why I do what I do. It was the pay-off I needed to find some meaning in the life of a corporate drone.

I realize I haven’t actually described the trip itself at all. I’m not the strongest writer and I’m afraid my words fail me in my endeavor to capture the true awesomeness of this trip. When someone asks me how the trip was, I usually sigh out the words “it was great…” and smile dreamily into the distance. This is usually the point that the person slowly inches away from me with a look of alarm on his/her face.

So in closing:  The trip was great.. *smiles dreamily into the distance*

(Your cue to scroll away)

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