Tuesday, May 16, 2006

To The Galapagos, May 6 -13

May 6 2006: After several frantic days preparing, my nephew Alec and I are ready to say goodbye to the western hemisphere. He flew into Guayaquil the evening of May 3rd. I met him there since I had to buy fenders for the boat in that city. No, not chrome ones, inflatable plastic tubes that protect the sides of the boat from dock sides. I bought what we needed and took the three hour bus ride to Salinas where the boat was ready to put in the water. George Stewart and his crew did a fine job of preparing the boat while Ellen and I were traveling inland. Unfortunately for future voyagers coming this way, George and his wife are headed to Panama to set up a boat yard and marina on the Caribbean end of the canal.
The first day out we remain under power making water and charging batteries, getting the feel of open water once more. The second and third days of our passage to the Galapagos Islands we sail smartly in moderate breeze and comfortable seas. The fourth day we motor sail through the afternoon and night to time our arrival in the Islands while it is daylight.
On May 10 we arrive in Puerto Ayura on the Galapagos Island of Santa Cruz, dropping the hook in the early afternoon among other cruising boats and many tour boats of different sizes and shapes. Some are quite posh while others are a bit more pedestrian. Some are sailboats, another has a helicopter on top. One big power boat I recognize from La Paz, Mexico, another from San Diego.
The town of Pto. Ayura is the center of tourist activity in the Galapagos. The town boasts 15,000 residents, with 40,000 living on all the islands. While we are there a supply ship is unloading supplies for the island. It is anchored about a mile from shore and the cargo is transferred to lighters, small barges and boats that can navigate the shallow water at the landing. Many men are employed moving the grain sacks, cement sacks, bottled water, all the stuff they don't grow or raise on the island.
Because Alec has a limited amount of time we can only spend a couple of days in the Islands. One day is taken up getting acquainted with our surroundings, buying fuel, provisions, restaurant meals of fish, shrimp in coconut sauce, ceviche to die for and a few drinks. Fortunately we don't have to violate the three D's rule ("Dink, Dark, and Drunk. You can have two of the D's but not all three") because there are water taxis running people out to boats for fifty cents a ride. We avoided having to worry about the "Dink" because we didn't have the dinghy in the water.
One afternoon we hired a guide to drive us up into the hills inside the National Park to see some of the flora, fauna and geological sites. Our first stop was to see a couple of sink holes about 400 feet deep and half a mile across. The ground drops I guess because there is nothing under it due to the way volcanic activity has left the subterranean geography. We forgot to stipulate an English speaking guide, you see, so some of the explanations went over our heads.
We did stipulate that we wanted to hike, however, so our guide drove the pickup along the road in front of us while we and a couple who joined the outing walked along looking at trees, birds, ferns. We then entered a land tortoise preserve where we walked along a trail on the lookout for these monsters. Throughout the underbrush were obvious trails made by the turtles, a type of game trail I haven't encountered before. These trails were wide and low. We saw several turtles on our walk. They weigh a couple hundred pounds, are about two to three feet across and move slowly and deliberately through the fields eating grass, fruit that has fallen from trees, and various seeds, as evidenced by their scat which we examined with the help of our guide.
As I walk along it occurs to me that the Galapagos Islands are a temple to science and reason. People come here because Darwin figured out something important here and they want to pay homage to the idea, to explore its meaning, to stand in awe. It is in the Galapagos where science and religion meld into one expression of wonder at the mysteries that surround us.
The couple who came along with us were great additions to our outing. The man is an Ecuadorian pediatrician married to a German woman. He grew up in Loja, Ecuador and they live in Germany. Our conversations were in Spanish. He was very helpful in conversation, speaking clearly and helping with my sentence structure. It turned out that the guide is an Evangelist and not too happy with the Catholic Church's attitude toward contraception. The doctor was in total agreement. Both said that one of the most intractable problems in Ecuador was 12 and 13 year-old girls having babies by multiple fathers who do not support them.
I noticed that there was a bearded moss growing on trees and bushes in many places. I noted that it looked just like rain forest Spanish moss that grows in forests in Washington. Our guide pointed out that it seldom rains in the Galapagos and this moss filters its water from the air which is humid. He went on to say that the moss filters contaminants from the air as well and the lack of pollution in the islands affords the population with excellent health.
May 12: We weigh anchor at first light and motor out of the harbor to head west. West to the nearest landfall, 3000 miles distant: the Marquesas of French Polynesia. By nightfall we see the last of the archipelago and see nothing but blue ocean ahead. I will miss speaking Spanish. It has always been a challenge but one full of happy memories of kind and happy people who have time for a little conversation with someone who has time for them.
May 13, today: The sea water here is a deep teal color. Dolphins meet the boat and swim at the bow for half an hour, sometimes turning sideways to look up at me, checking me out. I hear their high-pitched squeals. Conversations? Are they wondering why I don't talk back? We think we have finally found the trade winds. All afternoon we have sailed under spinnaker in steady moderate breeze making good speed. We are smiling broadly and are very calm and satisfied.

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