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2017-07-05 / Go Pink Boots

Where the Wild Things Are

Jill Gleeson


I admit it. I touched that sea lion’s flipper. It’s a real no-no getting closer than six feet to any of the wild critters of the Galapagos Islands, the volcanic archipelago off the coast of Ecuador that Charles Darwin made famous when he conducted his most critical research there. The animals rule in the Galapagos — it’s their world on those islands, and we just live in it. Nonetheless, when I squatted down to have my picture taken next to the goofy little sea lion eyeing up scraps at the Santa Cruz Island fish market I lost control of myself. I reached out one index finger and gently poked his sleek flipper.

All hell broke loose. That sea lion was outraged. He whipped his head around and started barking at me as if to ask just what in the hell I thought I was doing. And then he trundled down the steps leading into the sea and jumped in the water. I haven’t felt that bad since I accidentally busted my grandmother’s favorite ceramic figurine when I was 8. I resolved to obey the rules, something for which I’m not necessarily known, for the rest of my stay in paradise.

That included making it to the yoga classes I’d signed up to attend. I actually was in the Galapagos not just to come eye to eye with marine iguanas and blue-footed boobies, but more specifically for a weeklong retreat hosted by a company called The Travel Yogi. Prior to my trip I’d taken exactly one yoga class in my entire life and had performed so poorly I’d overheard the teacher saying, “Well, she isn’t much of a yogi.” But the discipline remained a fascination for me and I figured if I was going to give it another shot I might as well do it someplace I’d always dreamed of going. The deal was sealed when I spoke to Jennifer Haddow, the company’s owner, who was super friendly and very laid-back and didn’t seem the type to judge me if I fell over while trying to execute a downward-facing dog.

But that didn’t happen, strangely enough. In fact, I managed just fine. I think this had a lot to do with my uber-patient teacher, Kristin Cork, and the rest of my class, who were supportive. They were all closer to pros than novices, but they cheered my attempts to bend my body into shapes like the half moon pose, which involves keeping one hand and one foot on the ground and reaching the other hand and other foot into the air. It isn’t easy, involving both strength and flexibility, but I did it. I did a lot of the others, too, including corpse pose, which is pretty much exactly like it sounds.

Our yoga classes were usually scheduled morning and evening; in between we’d be released into the wild. Most afternoons we boarded a boat, which would ferry us to one of the other islands in the Galapagos chain. We’d hike over land, under that burning equatorial sun, spying iguanas and giant tortoises, lava lizards and penguins. Then we’d hop into the ocean to cool off, snorkeling with brilliantly colored tropical fish and even whitetip reef sharks. They seemed a lot more sleepy than sinister, mostly dozing on the bottom of the seafloor, but it was a thrill swimming with them.

I loved my encounters with all the animals of the Galapagos, especially that comically cranky sea lion, but as the week drew to a close I realized that the yoga classes were just as diverting as the land in which they were taught. It was something about the way they stretched and soothed not just my body — a good thing in itself, with my Kilimanjaro climb around the corner — but also my mind. The past few years have been the most difficult of my life and anything that can quiet my brain and calm my nerves without a prescription I consider a miracle. If enthusiasm counts for anything, I guess maybe you really can call me a yogi. •SCM

For more information about The Travel Yogi, visit thetravelyogi.com.


Jill Gleeson is getting set for the biggest adventure of her life. Follow her journey on her blog at gleesonreboots.com and via her column at womansday.com.

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