We left the Galapagos the 2nd of June 2015 and arrived in Nuku Hiva, Marquesas June 25th. Since arriving, our lives have been full to the brim with amazing local experiences, but before I blog about these more recent experiences, I want to recount a couple more special things that we enjoyed while we were on Isla Isabella before I forget.
The marine iguanas were the absolute favorite wild creatures that we saw, perhaps because they were literally laying around everywhere we traversed: on paths, on docks, in streets, on rocks, etc. They are wild and prehistoric looking, and yet it turns out are incredibly vulnerable. From what we learned, these cold-blooded creatures eat algae off marine rocks, but swimming in the tepid water lowers their body temperature significantly, so they must spend a great deal of time out of the water sunning themselves. And if they expend too much energy moving about, the effort could actually kill them, especially if they are chased.
We spent a lot of time observing these interesting reptiles and taking pictures of them sporting various yoga positions. If you got too close, they’d warn you to stay back by snorting projectile saltwater spray. Yuck! Once while snorkeling, I witnessed an iguana swimming through a group of unsuspecting snorkelers. Its movement was similar to a snake, using only its tail to slither through the water. Its head stayed above water, its feet did not paddle but limped alongside its scaly body. Yet when it ran, its legs propelled him rapidly over the land; its long, wiggly toes gripped the sharp lava along the waterside and along the wall with surprising agility. We found the iguanas to be excellent climbers and often witnessed them sunning on rooftops.
Landside, we spent a day bicycling 5 miles to the wall of tears (Muro de las lagrimas), to the tortoise-breeding center, and to the flamingo habitat. We rented three extra bikes so that all five of us could ride together, including Uncle Bill. The bicycle ride was partially carved along the beach. A couple miles along the path, the setting turned into wetlands with a coastal group of lagoons and mangroves scattered about.
Three miles in, the path headed uphill changing into a wild semi-arid landscape with the addition of cactus and succulents. Along the way, we came upon a medium-sized wild tortoise trying to cross the road. We accosted it with cameras and it immediately hissed exhausted air by pulling its head back deep into its shell. Wild! Arriving at the wall of tears was a bit anticlimactic. Yet considering the sad story of its construction, it was worthy of seeing for historical perspective. During the late 1940’s when a penal colony was established on Isabela, prisoners built the wall out of chiseled black lava bricks as forced labor. Tragically, many suffered and died while building that non-essential wall; work created out of spite by the sadistic warden. When the truth came out, the entire colony was disbanded.
After our insightful visit, the ride back was all downhill and enjoyable. The tortoise long gone, had disappeared into the brushland. Before entering town we biked a side street leading to the Arnaldo Tupiza Tortoise Breeding Center, reported by fellow yachters to be superior to Darwin’s tortoise exhibit located at the more popular Puerto Ayora on Isla Santa Cruz. At the Tortoise Center, we found ourselves completely alone among the tortoises of all sizes. Bryce and Trent had a blast tempting the larger tortoises to come alive by offering them green vegetation to nibble. These large clumsy creatures clambered over each other like World War II tanks, trying to get at the proffered leaves.
It was amusing to watch them stretch out their long necks and waddle in their odd fashion on four wide-stretched legs. The exhibit offered sights from the smallest newborns to the largest active breeders. We were later told that a female lays about 160 eggs in one batch, and when protected at the Breeding Center, all 160 typically survive to be reintegrated into the wild near the remote volcanoes. Nice odds! After our tortoise visit, the flamingo habitat located nearby was, in comparison, not heavily inhabited. Those flamingos present were an exquisitely bright salmon color…healthy and prospering. It was an altogether great day of sightseeing!
For the surfers aboard Kandu, Bryce and Trent found the only local surf site just east of La Playita by the lighthouse. Before attempting to surf, they consulted with Puerto Villamil’s local surf instructor and bike rental owner nicknamed “Junior” who spoke English well and confirmed that La Playita was indeed the only nearby surf location and was generally safe. Very beautiful, the site sported an all-sand beach and a surfer’s shack.
The waves, however, were generally large, blown out, and arrived one after another with little time in between to get prepared. Bryce and Trent felt safer and enjoyed themselves more when locals showed up, including Junior, who was the only local who surfed in a wetsuit, possibly for jellyfish protection. With no jellyfish present, the water temperature for Bryce and Trent was perfect: no wetsuits required having hailed from the much colder waters of Ventura. One day in particular was especially exciting. There were several local surfers out bobbing in the waves when Bryce spotted a shark near the surface. He waved at a nearby local surfer and pointed to the shark. The local surfer hailed the other surfers then instantly paddled over to Bryce and propelled him from his own board into a wave toward shore, then paddled over to Trent and likewise thrust him out of harms way. All the surfers immediately made their way back to shore and quickly exited the water. Bryce and Trent went out to surf the morning after, but due to another shark sighting, swiftly returned to shore. When local surfers race out of the water, it’s wise to follow suit.
During the short 15 days that we were visiting Isla Isabela, in between making necessary repairs for Kandu’s upcoming 3000-mile voyage to the Marquesas, Eric worked additionally to arrange a Skype exchange between their local middle school and Ventura’s Cabrillo middle school. Arranging for a dependable wifi connection at the school site was a challenge. But with the help and dedication of the staff and our beloved friend and yacht agent, JC DeSoto, they succeeded and tested the connection before the event. With a torrential rain pouring outside and off the large roof, the English teacher situated her English students for two half-hour sessions to take place in an open-air classroom. The young teenagers enjoyed asking questions of one another about life and free-time. Being quite modern, we discovered: that the Galapagos students enjoy access to mp3 players, smart phones, and video games just like their Ventura counterparts, and that the two groups share a love of surfing, water sports, and soccer or “football” as it’s called in the rest of the world. The Skype session ended with the middle schoolers playing ‘rock, paper, scissors’ together – evidently a universal game.
I got a chance to sing at the local Catholic Church one Sunday morning. Their lovely folkloric Ecuadorian-style music and choir were simply accompanied by a drum and other percussion instruments; the singers seemingly found their pitch out of thin air. I, on the other hand, carried my pitch pipe to be sure that I sang on the correct pitch when I sang Schubert’s ‘Ave Maria’ during communion. The acoustics were terrific. My voice carried beautifully through the grand hall and after the service, the priest and parishioners enthusiastically thanked me for being a part of their worship. I wished that I could have participated with the choir too, but the choir members performed everything from memory, not even reading their lyrics from a score. Since I don’t speak Spanish well, I couldn’t easily join in, except on the universal ‘Alleluia.’ The church itself was relatively new and modern looking with great tall beams supporting a wide, lofty roof. One side of the church was beautified by large stained glass windows, each displaying an image of one of the special animals that glorify the Galapagos: penguin, marine iguana, blue-footed boobie, giant tortoise, and seal. The opposite side of the church displayed the images of Christ during his persecution, exquisitely carved in wood. The alter was equally impressive. An enormous and beautifully rendered carving of the same animals as represented within the stained glass, now depicted together, supported a large, exquisitely finished, wooden tabletop. I felt privileged to be able to sing in such a lovely and holy setting within this world-renowned archipelago.
It was difficult for Kandu and Uncle Bill to arrive in the Galapagos. The passage from Mexico to Galapagos was unpleasant and challenging, battling shifting winds, mixed seas, and constant thundershowers, as well as boat issues. Eric indicated beforehand that the crossing would be a challenge, but we both felt we’d already given up too many bucket-list destinations to give up this one too. That said, the challenge in getting here made it easy to cross off Easter and Pitcairn Islands in favor of the simpler Marquesas-direct crossing. I’d still like to see the moai on Easter Island someday. Who knows . . . maybe we’ll fly to Easter Island from Tahiti? The sour memory of the Mexico to Galapagos crossing will certainly fade. What will remain will be the wonderfully amazing experiences on Isla Isabela and in Puerto Villamil, etched in our collective memories, having provided our family a direct relationship with this unique and diverse part of the world. Documentaries and movies do the earth and animal sciences justice, but these modern story-telling tools overlook what it’s like to live among these wonders. Experiencing such things as a normal part of life is an extraordinary circumstance we hope the boys will forever appreciate.