A Year of Wonder

 Tales from a recovering dromomaniac who fell off the wagon

Dromomania (the compulsive urge to travel) is an incurable disease.  It’s always there in the background, gnawing away at my resolve and encouraging me to visit dubious websites.  Websites that titillate me with promises of adventure and freedom.  My throat becomes dry, I sweat, my heart races.  Trembling fingers click between exotic images.  I try to pull away, to avert my eyes, but it’s so hard to resist my cravings for white water rafting, jungle treks, safaris, new cultures – even high altitude hiking.  Before I can stop myself, I’ve whipped out my credit card and the downward spiral begins again.

But as I get older, it becomes harder and harder to juggle this passion with my responsibilities to my family and my scientific career.  Just one more adventure, I begged, and then I’ll stop.  Does anyone believe this?

Still, one more adventure is what I got – and this time I took Christi, my future wife, with me: six months in South America and six months in Africa.  Unplugging ourselves from the suffocating clutches of society mid-career was actually an enormous challenge; almost a deal-breaker, in fact, but my dromomania burned oh so bright and the open road remains an irresistible temptation.

What follows is a retrospective look at that journey, one day at a time.  All 365 of them.  The inspiration for looking back is the little chap I hold in my arms.  He stares at me transfixed as I regale him with stories of my adventures.  Is it my imagination or does he genuinely look forward to this night-time ritual.  Is dromomania hereditary?


San Francisco (USA) to Quito (Ecuador) Day 1

Mt. Cotopaxi and Quito airport, Ecuador, South America

We chose Ecuador as the starting point for our Year of Wonder because it is the gateway to the Galapagos Islands and that destination was high on our list of places to visit.  Ecuador also uses the $US so we thought it would be an easier transition from our cozy lives in San Francisco to the rough and tumble of life on the road, which does take a bit of getting used to – even for a dromomaniac.

Slightly regret the fact that we didn’t spend more time perfecting our Rosetta Stone Spanish, though, because it became rapidly apparent that English speakers are pretty thin on the ground in Quito, the capital.  We fumble through our frustratingly inadequate phrasebook, looking for something to enlighten the airport taxi driver that after 12-hours of traveling we would love to go to our hotel, the cozy Hostel Santa Barbara.  Amid much gesticulation and despite some terrible pronunciation on our part we somehow get the message across and his bemused face eventually breaks into a smile.  His tires screech and we’re off.  Driving practices in Quito are, it has to be said, frightening.  Observing red lights and Stop signs appears to be optional rather than obligatory.

 At a little over 9,000 feet, Quito sits on the slopes of the great Andean mountain range, surrounded by active volcanoes such as the beautiful, but deadly, Mt. Cotopaxi.  And the Andes will be our home for the next few months.  To help acclimatize to the rarefied atmosphere of the mountains and avoid ‘soroche’ (altitude sickness) Christi (a pharmacist by training) delves into her portable box of tricks and retrieves a bottle of Diamox.  Diamox is used to treat everything from glaucoma to seizures and even periodic paralysis, so soroche should pose few problems.  The only downside to taking Diamox is that carbonated drinks (think beer and soda) taste terrible.   But at least we’re in South America and adventure beckons.

 Blog post by Roderick Phillips, author of Weary Heart – a gut-wrenching tale of love and test tubes.

Centro Historico Quito Day 2

Centro Historico, Quito, Ecuador

We plan to spend most of the day in the Centro Historico – one of the largest, least-altered, and best-preserved historic centers in the Americas.  Before this, however, we need to visit the Happy Gringo travel agency in La Mariscal (the main … [Continue reading]

Oswaldo Guayasamin and the equator, Day 3

Bloody Tears by Oswaldo Guayasamin, Quito, Ecuador

One of the delights of travel is to be surprised, to be continually surprised, in fact, at the richness the world has to offer.  Christi and I experience that today during a visit to the Campilla del Hombre, the palatial museum in Quito housing the … [Continue reading]

Otavalo market and Cayambe, Day 4

Indigenous Quechua woman, Otavalo market, Ecuador

Quito and most of Ecuador is situated in the southern hemisphere, yet 60 miles north of the capital  in the northern hemisphere lies the highland town of Otavalo which is famous for its eclectic market.  And it’s an agreeable assault on the senses: … [Continue reading]

Quito to Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island, Day 5

Sally lightfoot crab, Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island, The Galapagos Islands

On our way to PUERTO AYORA... One challenging aspect of travel in foreign countries, and especially in countries where you don’t speak the lingo, is actually figuring out how to get around.  This really distinguishes the traveler from the tourist.  … [Continue reading]

Scuba diving Floreana Island Day 6

Pacific Green Sea Turtle, Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

Scuba diving off Floreana Island... Tomorrow we begin an 8-day cruise around the Galapagos Islands, but today Christi and I are going scuba diving in the waters around Floreana Island with Scuba Iguana (l love these names).  A few years ago I … [Continue reading]

South Plaza Island, Day 7

Swallow-tailed gulls, South Plaza Island, Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

The wildlife of South Plaza Island beckons... The boat we have chosen for our 8-day Galapagos adventure is the 14-passenger MV Samba.  It’s small in comparison with some of the leviathans that cruise these waters, but fewer passengers should mean a … [Continue reading]

Santa Cruz Island, Day 8

Back to Santa Cruz Island... Apparently the captain has spoken with the owners and the boat will be fumigated while the passengers enjoy a free lunch at a waterfront restaurant in Puerto Ayora.  Cool.  As we walk around the Puerto Ayora harbor, we … [Continue reading]

Española Island, Day 9

Wave albatrosses, Española Island, Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

It’s an 8-hour ride across open water to our next destination, Española Island and I feel every movement of the ship’s bow. Today sets the tone for the whole cruise.  We’re up at 6am, breakfast at 7 and by 8am we’re out the door. The sea-lions, … [Continue reading]