As content as I generally am on the boat, even for these extended stretches we are in in the middle of right now, it still felt good to put a couple of tee shirts and my snorkel gear in a pack and hit the ground running (or walking, as the case may be due to an epic lack of cardio fitness at the moment). I had no idea before we arrived here how real this place is. How to explain?
People live here, kids go to school, there are bakeries and hairdressers (both of with I am a recent patron). I don’t know, but I think if you had asked me a few weeks ago about the picture I had of the Galapagos in my mind I would have gone on about highly regulated pathways along which one had to make sure not to tread on an unimaginable assortment of exotic, fearless animals. And maybe a small tourist store or two. This is wrong, and the place is better for it. The people are open, friendly and warm, and the place seems to have nurtured a very natural ecological ethic within itself (more on this later).
So I left Steve in Puerto B.M. on the boat and joined a Dutch couple, Floortje and Jella from the boat Libis, on a speedboat to Puerto Ayoro where we stayed with Emily, an American girl on her boat, Bobbie. Emily and I are the same age, and it was fun to meet someone doing things a little differently than your average bird and to hang with some younger peeps for a bit. Puerto Ayora has much more hustle and bustle than “our” little San Cristobal, and while it was fun to partake in “city” life for a couple of days, Floor and Jella and I all agreed that we were happy with our choice of home port – much more low key and lots of little sea lions ready to play with you as soon as you jump overboard (seriously). That said, the Bobbie Sleepover Extravaganza was a blast.
Pretty predictably, the conversation came around to the wonders of the pressure cooker (I’m pretty obsessed), and Emily mentioned in passing that she had one but didn’t know how to use it. Well, enough said. The Way of the Pressure Cooker has become a bit of a gospel for me, and so naturally I volunteered to deliver all souls present into the light. Up until then, I had only really been baking cakes and cake-y loafs and cooking rice and quinoa for stirfries etc. in ye ol’ PC. I was keen to make a cake, but Emily didn’t have any baking powder or soda and for all our efforts that evening in town all we could turn up was yeast. Well, I thought, thought I, no time like the present.
So with the help of Floor’s bread recipe, Emily’s PC and my nauseating enthusiasm we produced incredibly well risen, very tasty and definitely repeatable cinnamon bun bread for breakfast the next morning.* This put us in good stead for a morning of epic surfing at Playa Tortuga. Once again, if pressed I might have assigned a couple of protruding points a couple of waves in my imagined Galapagos. The reality is hilariously different – this is like Hawaii for biology nerds. There are incredible waves left right and centre (literally) and lots of really good looking Ecuadorian surfer dudes walking around. The only difference is that one literally has to step over iguanas on the way to the water’s edge, and it would not be uncommon at all to share a wave with a turtle, a sea lion or both. Even though I burned my eyeballs pretty badly, it was a total blast and we definitely deserved two ice cream cones we each inhaled back in town.
I set out the next day for Isla Isabella, the largest but least populated of the inhabited islands in the Galapagos. Steve and I had originally thought about making this our home port, but they do not have immigration officers there and so checking in is not an option. Which turns out is okay, because the place is seriously chilled out – potentially too much so for a reprovision-gear-up-for-the-next-passage stop. It is, however, perfect for a day of bicycle wandering.
Armed with my snorkel gear and a bottle of water, I got back in the saddle after many months of yearning. Aren’t bikes great?
My first stop was a naturally occurring pool – at high tide the water covers the reef, but at low tide the reef forms a barrier and swimming things on the inside have to wait until the water comes up again to get out. When I arrived, a group of young folks were finishing up with a swimming lesson – apparently during the school holidays (now), lessons are offered for free for whomever would like to learn. As I prepared my gear, four or five kids were practicing the butterfly back and forth from the small swim dock. Because I feel their pain when it comes to the extreme challenge of the stroke, I suggested to one of the older guys that he try using my fins for a bit. I explained that one gets a lot more force this way. He didn’t need a lot of coaxing, and pretty soon he was butterflying around the bay like an Olympian. Needless to say, the fins got passed around from kid to kid and I had to make do with old fashioned barefoot swimming for my foray out to the reef.
The posse, busy with butterfly, mostly stayed within a few hundred feet of the dock. One boy though, Axel, who was probably eight or ten, took it on himself to be my snorkeling sidekick. So, together we paddled out to the reef where pretty soon we were joined by the requisite baby sea lions and a couple of turtles. All in a normal day for Axel, I guess. For the most part it went like this: I would snorkel around with the mask on, watching Axel and the sea lion play (I’m not joking) until he decided it was his turn for the mask, at which point I would indeed hand the mask over and would follow him as he found the next docile, cavorting sea animal. I would then demand the mask back and he would proceed to play with the turtle. I’m not sure if I’ve ever even heard of someone playing with a turtle. Then we’d move on to the Iguanas (not so playful, but cool to watch all the same). And, whenever our heads were above water, Axel would talk nonstop at me about all the things covering the reef below us. I personally know a few educators who would have died and gone to eco-teacher heaven; here is this kid, who not only lives in a place but also seems to know about it enough to talk about it. If these aren’t the roots for a responsible and concerned population, I’m not sure what are. Ten points for Axel.
When I went to to drop off the bike mid afternoon, the sun had done its very worst on any sense of clarity I ever manage to hold together – the whole world shimmered and I was having flashbacks to hot black empty stretches of road in the middle of nowhere Central America. But in the shaded sidewalk in front of the bike/surfboard rental stall, four or five guys were getting down to some seriously great jamming. With two guitars, a couple of rhythm boxes, a shaker and a harmonica, this indisputably cool scene walked towards me out of the standard dream of an “authentic” travel experience. Now, as my sister will be quick to tell you, I’m not really that cool, at least not in the chilling-like-it’s-no-big-deal-with-hot-latin-surfer-dudes sense of the concept. That’s definitely more her territory. I generally feel paralysed by my pathetic, unresolved internal debates re: participant observer research methodologies and as soon as I start worrying about whether I should be guilty about neo-capitalism (again) the moment to be chill and cool has most definitely passed. So no one was more surprised than yours truly when, bike returned, I pulled up a chair and sat down in the middle to watch.
Believe me, the story only gets less believable, as far as my sister is concerned. When they ask me at a break between songs whether I play the guitar, I try to evade the question (because I’m not that great at guitar) by laughingly mentioning my recent forays into the world of the ukulele. Would you know it, but as quick as I can say ukuleles in ecuador? they’ve produced an honest to goodness uke, and everyone is looking at me, smiling. I think it’s sufficient to say that if Isla Isabella didn’t know and love John Prine before yesterday, they do now. And so, for a couple of hours we swapped back and forth between latino surf groove and John Prine (which came out sounding a lot like latino surf groove by the end of most songs).
If Steve thought (hoped?) I was going to fall out of love with my little ukulele one of these days, I am afraid I now see it as the source for any and all potential cool in my life. Not even he would want to deprive me of that.
I made the trip back today to the home island, and to the boat. Steve’s away on his own tour at the moment, so I’ve got the place to myself. And, even though I obviously spent a couple of hours strumming away in the cockpit this evening (my commitment to my craft seriously renewed), my sister doesn’t have to worry; I’m not about to go marching around town, ukulele in hand looking for cool looking groups of cool people. It just wouldn’t be cool, right? No, instead tomorrow I’ll load up my snorkel gear again and hit the beach, only hoping another eight year old will think I’m cool enough to tell me things in exchange for a few moments of mask time and an eager audience.
*PS. If you’re getting hungry reading about food all the time and would like to transition to trying out some of these tasty recipes yourself, the wait is almost over! I’m in the middle of a bit of a blog revamp, and the new version will have – you guessed it – a recipe section. Cool, right?