Booby-Gazing

Commentary: Alphabet Soup

It felt so stereotypically lesbian: My partner and I saved our money, conspired with a travel company, got our documents in order, wrote some big checks, and each took a week off work so that we could go look at boobies.

We could have accomplished something similar to this by spending a week at the Michigan Womyn’s Festival or, perhaps, by booking an Olivia Cruise. But adventure beckoned, so instead of spending our week away with thousands of bare-breasted lesbians, we spent our time with thousands of rare animals, including three varieties of bird called boobies.

For this endeavor, we traveled south a few thousand miles, landing somewhere around the Equator, and retraced some of the steps of Charles Darwin as we traipsed around the Galápagos Islands, sleeping on a 20-passenger (plus crew) boat at night. We’re pretty tame travelers, so it was the craziest thing either of us has ever done. Kim is pretty well-traveled but I’ve only been to English-speaking countries, including Québec in Canada, where everyone speaks English even if a lot of them pretend they don’t. Neither of us had ever been on a package tour that describes itself as an “adventure cruise.”

It turned out to be just our speed of adventuring — mostly leisurely walking with a little bit of hiking, a lot of snorkeling, some ruggedness and choppiness, but nothing heavy-duty or life-threatening, despite my mom’s decision to worry about us retroactively when she heard about some of the conditions we had dealt with. “You mean you didn’t wear life jackets the whole time you were on the boat?” she said upon my return, with obvious disappointment in her voice like I haven’t heard since my brother got a midterm D notice in the ninth grade.

(My brother would insist that I follow that statement up with a report that he raised his grade to an A or a B, I forget which, by the time the quarter ended.)

When we booked our cabin on our “adventure cruise,” we were tickled to learn that we were assigned to the Booby Deck on our boat. There is no shortage of jokes about boobies that would keep even the most jaded middle-school mentality amused, and we probably went through all of them. While we examined blue-footed boobies and red-footed boobies on the islands, I made joking asides to Kim about brown-nippled boobies. She’s a little more mature than I am, so I often snickered alone at my humor.

Planning our adventure cruise gave us all sorts of excuses to buy appropriate gear in the weeks leading up to our trip so we would be suitably attired and accessorized for the activity and terrain we were about to experience. I bought a few pairs of “adventure pants,” including one pair that zips off to shorts — sort of dorky, but when you’re on a real adventure, they’re actually incredibly hip to wear. I am pleased that I did have reason to unzip the legs one day, converting them immediately to a more appropriate adventure look given the change in temperature that morning. I even bought an adventure-worthy CD/mp3 player, because I am that adventuresome.

On the more practical end, we bought “off-road” and “all-terrain” athletic shoes and had Tevas for the island landings that required us to disembark into water that was sometimes knee-deep, or thigh-deep, depending on how tall you are. We bought adventure shorts and adventure hats, and brought a few adventure bandanas for unspecified and somewhat mysterious reasons.

I wore mostly T-shirts and adventure pants or adventure shorts on our outings. The fair-skinned Kim, in an apparent lapse of judgment, packed only v-neck shirts, meaning she had a bright pink triangle burned onto her upper chest after our first day in Ecuador. How gay!

The bandanas came in handy during our travels for two purposes: Kim wore one around her neck, like a scarf, to protect her pink-triangle sunburn area from further damage (we joked about her wearing an “ascot” as a tribute to the dandy man of yore). I found mine to be the perfect device with which to wipe off the booby poop that pelted us when we took a motorboat trip along the cliffs of one island. It turns out that these birds do not appreciate being stared at for very long and seem to make human target practice a sort of retaliatory game, especially when faced with people who might be inclined to go home and make relentless fun of their name.

We quickly found Ecuador to be a welcoming destination, with a gay travel office around the corner from the Quito hotel we stayed in for a couple of nights before flying off to the Galápagos. None of our fellow travelers on our cruise — mostly American or Canadian, with a couple of French guys and an Australian woman thrown in — batted an eye at the lesbian couple in their midst, and most of them had us figured out before we even sat down to a meal with them.

There was a charming moment at breakfast one morning with fellow passengers Sandy and Larry, a couple from Tulsa who were as nice as anything. When Larry asked us if we lived near each other, Kim told him we are partners, and Sandy said, “I was just about to kick you under the table.”

How do straight men know what their wives’ kicks under the table mean? And what good would the kick have been after the question was already out of his mouth, floating above the table between us and them? Regardless, Larry sheepishly apologized, we assured him that it wasn’t a problem, and we all laughed it off.

Since we spent most of our time focusing on animals — boobies, frigates and a bunch of other kinds of birds, sea lions, giant tortoises, sea turtles, iguanas (marine and land), and brightly colored crabs that stood in marked contrast to the black and gray rocks they scuttled across — there wasn’t much opportunity for anything gay-specific to be a focus. Surely some of those crabs and iguanas were partnered with crustaceans or reptiles of the same sex, but we weren’t able to ascertain this.

I tried to be a grown-up, restraining myself from smirking and making comments to fellow passengers when our naturalist guide talked about the islands’ dykes — the geological kind. And it took some effort, but I kept almost all of my booby jokes to myself and Kim.

Kristina Campbell is happy to share her online vacation photo album for anyone who wants to look at boobies without being accused of viewing Internet porn. E-mail her at kcampbell@metroweekly.com. Alphabet Soup, which is almost never about anything as crass as boobies, appears biweekly.

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