I am certainly seeing a side of the Galapagos that I am unfamiliar with, but I am thinking that perhaps I do not want to see the 'real Galapagos' anyway. When we travel on the big boats, we visit circumscribed paths with informative guides and learn about evolution and Darwin and look at beautiful tame animals. The islands look 'enchanted' and we have a relaxing 'learning' experience and feel good about participating in helping preserve this part of the world.
Our land tour, in contrast, exposes us to the daily lives of the inhabitants. We see that many of the locals are poor, and live in shacks with dirt floors. They throw their garbage everywhere, and have primitive sewage systems and limited water. They appear unaware of the need to protect their environment and the animals. We saw feral cats and huge rats on Isabela, and dogs were everywhere on Floreana today. When we visited the Darwin Interpretation Center, we learned about introduced species and their devastating impact on the local populations of turtles and iguanas and birds and the endemic plants. It is shocking that so many people live on the islands, and that there has been a population explosion in the past twenty years. Ecuadorians from the mainland come to make a living off the tourists here, and it feels uncomfortable to be part of that process. I am not sure I ever really saw Galapagos in this light when visiting on the boat.
And Freddy has been such a disappointment. He has been representative of what is unattractive about Ecuador, or perhaps humans in general. In his effort to make a little extra money, he has tried to get us in a horrid hotel, fed us inedible food, changed our itinerary entirely so we are seeing far less than planned, and telling us that we deserve no more because we paid for the 'economical tour'. I am trying not to think too much about my disappointment, because in fact we have seen things that I have never seen before, so that this journey has been a new experience for me.
Today, on our visit to fForeana, I expected to snorkel at Devil's Crown and walk at Punta Cormorant. Instead, we motored across from Santa Cruz to Floreana in an hour and a half and landed at a very sorry dock, graced by a few ramshackle buildings, piled into a rusty chiva, and rode up the central mountain to the top. Lava formations were once the haven of pirates and corsairs and later a group of German families moved in. The Germans came in the 20s and 30s and there was all sorts of scandals amongst them. The lcoals believe that the new German family murdered the former Germans and gained land and money and power by their actions, but there was never any proof. Now the Wittmers have oodles of land and a travel company and have done very well for thermselves. One of the travel agencies I visited was owned by the Witmers, along with three touring cruise boats. So much intrigue! Apparently the German families made homes for themselves amongst the lava formations that were once the outpost of pirates!
An Easter Island like head was the most interesting part of our walk. It is believed that the head was carved at the same time as the Easter Island statues, perhaps by Peruvians, perhaps by Polynesians, but the features are indigenous and convincingly so. Peru once claimed the Galapagos Islands because of the evidence of Peruvian people having settled there long ago.
Nearby, the large land turtles were being protected in a large enclosure. They are smaller than the Santa Cruz highland ones, but impressive nevertheless. Rebecca was giddy with excitement as she followed the turtles around, snapping photographs and talking to each turtle as if they were participating in the conversation. We were drenched in mud after our hike to the caves, and slopped through more mud in the turtle pen. Of course the turtles like to dig mud holes and wallow in the mud and water to manage their temperature, so we became part of their existence for a while. They truly look ancient, not in years so much as appearing as if they belonged to the time of the dinosaurs. I find it hard to relate to them, they are simply curious creatures to me, while Rebecca finds them entirely enchanting.
Lunch was at the 'Devil's Crown' Restaurant, which was ironic because we were scheduled to snorkel at Devil's Crown, but ended up eating at a restaurant of the same name instead, far from the actual location. The food was simple but tasty, but the best part was eating under a tin roof while the skies opened up and rain poured. The shack where we ate was primitive. The bathrooms were barely usable, and I did not want to look at the kitchen. One guests found a spider in his rice but kept on eating. The living conditions that we were exposed to were truly devastating. I tried not to look at the dirt and the bare feet and the evident poverty and deprivation all around me. I was glad to leave and return to the sea, where I could avert my gaze from the land and its inhabitants and concentrate on the beauty all around me.
The View From the Restaurant
Our first snorkel excursion was limited by poor visibility. We all climbed back onto the boat and jumped in again at 'Champions' nearby. Sea turtles and sea lions and penguins came to visit. I found the water quite pleasant and warmer than what it was in January. The visibility was not great, but I love being in the water, so it did not matter. Watching sea turtles make love in the sea was painful and astonishing. Penguins torpedoed by one after another, and sea lions wanted to play as they showed off their skills in the water. I am sure there were fish around, but it was difficult to see much, and my throw away camera was full. I must buy an underwater camera for next year (if I ever return, although I am sure I will with the students!)
Our boat companions were not as engaging as those on the Santa Fe during our trip to North Seymour. Our guide Christian tried his best to inform us and protect us and engage us, but perhaps there were too many languages and interests and personalities to accommodate us all, and he was clearly frustrated. Perhaps he aspired to a different type of tourist, maybe more cooperative tourists of a different socioeconomic class. I appreciated his efforts and understood his pain; his preference was to be somewhere else entirely.
Rebecca enjoyed her day, which was a relief to me. She did not share my frustration about not going where I had planned, so I kept my mouth shut and appreciated the experience as best I could. No one met us at the dock and I saw some children playing in the water so I walked in withmy muddy shoes and tried to clean off the caked mud from our hike through the highlands. We wandered home looking at last minute cruises and day tours for tomorrow if Freddy did not come through for us with an island tour. It appeared to be too late to get to Bartolome or Plazas or Santa Fe, so we decided to do a glass bottom boat or a bay cruise. Freddy showed up at the hotel while we were showering and told us we would go to Santa Fe in the morning, so we were excited and happy to end our trip on a boat for the day.
We chose to go to the Kiosk street for dinner, where we ran into Wuni and Christine, the retired history and English teachers from Munich, who had delayed their departure from Galapagos to do more snorkeling and diving. They recommended the lobster in coconut sauce at the 'Esmeraldas' restaurant, and joined us for a heated discussion about politics. Wuni runs a anti-racist website and has much to say about politics, so we conversed for hours, and were the last to leave the street. Wuni and Christine are off to the mainland and further travels tomorrow. Rebecca and I wandered through the town, noting that everything was closed. People go to be early here! It is remarkably safe to walk through the town at all hours. We felt safe, and although I am never exactly sure where our hotel is, I find myself walking in the right direction every night, and we find our way home in the dark no matter where we start and which route we take.
Kiosko Restaurant Area
We hope our last day tomorrow will be a wonderful end to a difficult trip fraught with frustration and obstacles.