It’s been a year since my parents got back from their trip to the Galapagos and they still find ways to weave it into every conversation. Somehow a discussion of whether or not I should continue taking statins for my cholesterol leads to a story of how amazing Blue-footed boobies are. Yeah, I said “boobies.” And though I can make an obscure—albeit forced—connection to the absurdity of Donald Trump potentially becoming our next president and reptiles; it seems to easily spark my dad’s memory of marine iguanas lounging on rocks spitting water at each other. If I had a nickel for every time he whipped out his smartphone to show us the one picture he took of a lizard eating cactus fruit I’d have at least $52.15. I don’t know what’s sadder; that he’s so proud of the slightly blurred image, or that he doesn’t remember showing it to us a thousand times before?
What’s funny is this is par for the course. Everyone I know who’s been to the Galapagos (at least twelve people), have come back from their trips and talk about it incessantly. Don’t get me wrong, I love hearing about the adventures my friends and family go on, but a trip to the Galapagos is different. People who have been seem to wear it like a badge of honor as if going there is some strenuous journey to the end of the earth and back again. No offense folks, but if Darwin could do it…
I’m sure there’s some good old-fashioned jealousy to blame for my antipathy. I too have a trip to the Galapagos on my bucket list and loathe not knowing when I’ll get to check it off, but the more I hear the same old stories of “this magical place” the less interested I am in seeing it for myself. It’s like being turned off from reading the Harry Potter books because everyone in the world wouldn’t shut up about them. I guess I’m just wired that way, and when given the choice, I choose not to join the flock. I’d rather pave my own path than walk in the line of the masses. Jonathan would say it’s because I like to be difficult, as if I get a high from challenging the status quo. But I see it differently. I see it as having an interest in discovering new things. Whether they’ve been truly discovered for the first time by anyone or not, it doesn’t really matter, but what I relish is discovering things myself for the first time.
Knowing how I’ve been turned off by all things Galapagos thanks to everyone spoon-feeding me their own experiences over the years, you can imagine the eye-roll I gave my parents when they handed me a postcard from their trip.
I’d heard about the makeshift self-serve post office on the Galapagos Islands before. Everyone talks about how cool it is. It’s essentially a heap of garbage: tree branches, tires, splintered wooden boxes, hand painted signs, and random other junk collected over the years where visitors can leave a letter or postcard addressed to someone without postage and hope that another traveler will come along, see the address is near where they live, and take the parcel home with them so they can hand deliver it. Though really slow, the system works, because the Galapagos attracts tourists from literally all over the world.
“Do you know what this is?” my stepmother asked.
“It’s a postcard you grabbed from the make-shift post office on the island, right?”
“No it’s…..wait….how did you know about…”
“You’re not the first person to come back from the Galapagos with a postcard to deliver to someone in San Francisco,” I said, interrupting her. “Let me see it.”
It was addressed to an Isabelle Wong who lived on the 2100 block of Washington Street in San Francisco. The card itself was boring. Looked like one of the free ones you get in the cruise ship bathrooms, with a photo of the aquamarine sea on one side and a giant logo of the tour company that printed it on the other.
“Do you know where this is in San Francisco?” she asked.
“Duh!,” I said with a snarky tone and pointed to the address. “It’s here.”
My parents were visiting us in San Francisco that weekend and wanted to deliver it themselves, which I guess is the purest way to participate in the “Galapagos post office experience,” but we were busy hanging out with my nephews and niece and they never got the chance. Instead they asked if I would deliver it.
“Why don’t we just put a stamp on it and USPS that shit?” I asked.
“Because that’s not the point,” she said. “It’s supposed to bring people together.”
“Fine, fine, I’ll deliver it,” I said, knowing that I’d most likely just smack a stamp on it the moment they left.
Nearly a year later, Jonathan and I were doing some spring-cleaning and there it was at the bottom of a stack of papers—the postcard. I felt guilty having kept it for so long. Just because I wasn’t into playing the game, didn’t mean I wanted to ruin it for my parents, the woman who wrote it, or the female Asian recipient. But my parents never asked me about it so I forgot. The date written in the top left was July 21, 2014 and the personal note was short and innocuous.
I’m writing you from the Galapagos and hope this finds you in good health. This trip has been amazing and I only wish I get the chance to share some of it with you in the future.
It was a beautiful summer weekend day in San Francisco and I decided I’d go for a walk and drop the card off. From looking at a map I could tell the address was one of the iconic luxury condominium towers flanking the north side of Lafayette Park. So my assumptions at that point were twofold: Ms. Isabelle Wong was probably Asian, and most likely wealthy thanks to the views from her condo. But that’s all I could muster.
About a block away from her building, I passed a young Asian woman walking her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and for a brief moment, I thought of asking her if she happened to be Isabelle Wong, but by the time I was ready to racially profile her, we’d already passed each other.
What if that was her? What if I get to her building and she’s not there? The closer I got to my destination the more excited I was to actually meet Ms. Wong and yet the more anxious I was about her not being there to receive me.
I entered the lobby of her building and was immediately approached by a doorman in a white collared shirt and black slacks.
“Can I help you?” he asked with a thick accent.
“Yeah, I’m here to deliver this to Isabelle Wong. Does she live here?”
“Unfortunately she out now,” he said. “I make sure she gets it.”
Deflated and disappointed even, I handed him the postcard and turned to walk away. What was I supposed to do? I thought about explaining the entire situation to the doorman but I knew only a fraction of the details would make it back to Ms. Wong and it would probably be more confusing than anything else. I wasn’t going to take the card home with me and try to deliver it again either. This was a onetime thing and it wasn’t at all as exciting as I’d built it up in my head. By the time I got to the end of the driveway I’d realized how lame it was going to be for her to receive a card from the doorman without any context. She wasn’t going to know that her friend Madeline was thinking about her from halfway around the world, and that my parents from San Diego had randomly volunteered to hand deliver it. All that amazing context would vanish because she wasn’t home.
I turned back and entered the lobby again, this time with a little more determination.
“Yes sir,” he said with a look of confusion.
“Any chance she recently left to walk her dog?” I asked, hoping the woman I’d passed earlier was her, because that probably meant she’d be back soon.
“No. She no have a dog.” He said. “She sitting in the park.”
“Oh really? Would you describe her to me?”
The moment I asked the question I realized how crazy it was to think he’d volunteer any personal information about one of his tenants. But I guess I didn’t look too threatening in my aubergine polo and Sperry topsiders.
“Let me show you,” he said, and he escorted me to the sidewalk where he could scan the park benches across the street. “There she is.” He said, pointing up a grassy hill. “On the bench, talking to a woman. Ms. Wong in the black hat.”
“Thank you so much,” I said, excited that the game was back on and we were all systems go.
“Careful,” he warned, “she old.”
He had a good point. I’d have to approach her slowly as not to scare her or with my luck this would end in cardiac arrest and ambulance sirens. The closer I got the more I could tell Isabelle was indeed old. Probably in her late 80s or even early 90s-a kindred spirit. She looked relatively happy, her fragile body in some athleisure-ware. Sort of a country club romp of white pants, a Lulu Lemon black windbreaker, a tennis hat and black Coach loafers. Her curved back seemed to mold into the bench like putty with her elbow resting on the armrest and leg crossed effortlessly over one knee. She was talking to another woman. Maybe a neighbor, or just a friend she sits with in the park. I didn’t know, nor did I care, aside from the fact that it was the other woman who could see me approaching.
I stood over the two of them for a moment, waiting for a chance to interrupt. Isabelle was talking with her hands and didn’t even notice me.
“Excuse me,” I said, gently as not to startle them. “Is one of you Isabelle Wong?”
“I’m Isabelle Wong,” she said, looking up with confidence on the defensive.
I explained who I was and what I was doing there. I gave her the card and asked if she knew Madeline.
“I do,” she said, looking over to the woman she was talking to, “I saw her a few weeks ago actually.”
“Well she was in the Galapagos over a year ago, and she wrote you that note. And my parents were there last October and they meant to deliver it to you themselves, but unfortunately I was a little bit of a bottleneck and it’s taken this long for me to get it to you.”
With her brittle wrinkled hands she turned the card over and took a moment to read the note. “I can’t believe this,” she said, “she never said anything. So this is from where exactly?”
I explained to them both the concept of the Galapagos post office and they both smiled from ear to ear. Whatever they’d been talking about before I approached, it wasn’t nearly as exciting as a handsome stranger approaching from out of the blue to hand deliver a postcard from an island in the middle of the Pacific that was left for her by a friend over a year ago. Certainly not your everyday occurrence.
“And how did you know I was here?” she asked.
I gave her the play by play with the doorman and we chatted some more briefly.
“Well I’ve interrupted you both enough so I’ll be going now.” I said.
Isabelle thanked me and as I walked away I could hear her say, “can you imagine that?”
So many thoughts raced through my head. I wondered what would have happened if I hadn’t been pushy like my friends think I can be at times and gone back to the doorman a second time? If the other woman hadn’t been there, would I have sat with Isabelle and chatted with her myself? What’s Madeline going to think when she gets a call from Isabelle? Is she going to wonder what took so long? Should I have left my email address so Madeline could contact me and thank me for delivering it? Should I have taken a picture and posted it on Instagram? What if Isabelle had no next of kin and she wanted to leave her apartment to the nice young man who delivered her a postcard from the Galapagos? One after another, the ideas came and went like lightning. My heart was beating fast from the adrenaline and though I was walking, it felt like my feet were gliding inched above the ground.
In my own special way it felt like I got to check a box off my own bucket list. It wasn’t a trip to the Galapagos, but the interaction with Isabelle, and the joy my delivery seemed to bring her, her friend, and me; that made it feel like a little bit of that island magic everyone’s always talking about rubbed off on me too. Finally I had a personal connection to the Galapagos and in that moment I wanted to call everyone I knew and give them the play by play. I guess you could say my attitude about that remote cluster of islands had evolved.
Greek Islands Taverna – Fort Lauderdale
For no other reason than the fact that they’re both elderly, my interaction with Isabelle reminded me of my last visit to Florida and the lunch I had at Greek Islands Taverna with my fabulous Great Aunt Ellie. If you haven’t tried her coffee cake recipe, you should get on top of that. She’d never been before so I was happy to take her, and though she only took a few nibbles of the dips and pita, and only ate a quarter of her salad with chicken I could tell she enjoyed it.
“I have to watch what I eat,” she said practically skin and bones, “but this is delicious!”
Ever since my first trip to Florida a few years ago, when I was introduced to “the amazing Greek place” across the street from Jonathan’s aunt and uncle’s vacation home on the beach that everyone was talking about, I’ve been back like six times. Doesn’t matter if I’m headed to Key West, at a wedding in Miami for the weekend, or visiting Ellie in Boynton; if there’s a meal unaccounted for, I’m going to Greek Islands Taverna. And what’s funny is that I thought it was just some hidden gem retired Jews like to go to for their early dinners, but since my first time, I’ve asked people who’ve been to Ft. Lauderdale if they’ve been and the answer is always “Oh my god that place is the best!”
The place is casual and family owned. Opened for lunch and dinner seven days a week, and if I lived nearby, I’m sure I’d be one of the many regulars who hangout for hours like they’re another member of the family. Last time we were there this is what we had.
The pikilia, which is their assortment of four traditional dips: tzatziki (homemade cucumber dip with yogurt, garlic and dillweed), melitzanosalata (baked eggplant, garlic, onion and lemon blended), taramosalta (the lightly whipped caviar spread) and tyrokafteri (feta cheese blended with olive oil and hot peppers) served with delicious pita fresh from the grill.
And if their four dip sampler weren’t enough, you might want a side of their delicious hummus and bread. Their hummus has a peppery lemon note that I love.
Gigantes plaki or the “giant beans” which are oven-roasted with tomatoes, carrots and herbs. I love giant beans in almost any form. These are more mellow than they look, but if you add a little extra salt “opa!”
The horiatiki is their take on the traditional Greek salad made with tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, onions, feta cheese, olive oil and herbs. This is a pretty simple dish, but full of flavor and very fresh. I don’t know what they do to it, but I’m never able to make it taste this good at home.
The roast chicken LaDoregano is amazing. This is the ½ chicken seasoned with lemon, loads of oregano and olive oil. This is normally served with rice and a side of vegetables, but we asked for it with a side of green beans in a tomato sauce instead….not because we knew to ask for the green beans or anything, but because the waitress said it was a good combo. She was right. In my opinion the skin is the best part!
The chicken green salad is delicious and fresh. Again a simple dish, but if you’re looking for something that isn’t too heavy and light on the carbs, the marinated chicken breast is moist and full of flavor with crunchy fresh mixed greens, thick slices of red onion, juicy tomatoes, feta, olives, and more.
On that same token, if you ask, you can get the same chicken salad with a delicious filet of grilled salmon on top. Yum! The salmon is crispy around the edges and slightly undercooked in the center. And they do a great job of getting rid of the bones too.
And you can’t go to a Greek restaurant without trying their gyros. I think it’s safe to say the gyros meat at Greek Islands Taverna is some of the best I’ve had. You can tell it’s hand cut, and the meat is tender and full of flavor, not dried like you get from the Greek restaurant at a mall food court. Again, their pita is fantastic, so that really helps. The tomatoes, rice, and homemade tzatziki makes this casual “street food” something you’ll dream about. It’s so good, it’s the only thing Jonathan’s uncle will order when he’s vacationing in Ft. Lauderdale from DC.
I’m sure the desserts at Greek Islands Taverna are amazing like everything else they make, but the truth of the matter is that their portions are so large that there’s never room left at the end of the meal for anything but the check!