Late afternoon on the third day, we anchored near the island of San Cristobal (also known as Chatham) at Wreck Bay. By the time unloading was finished and passengers could go ashore, it was almost dark. Some of us went ashore in a dinghy, hoping to catch our first glimpse of giant turtles and other exotic wild life for which the Galapagos are famous.
One at a time, we were hauled out of the dinghy by one arm and flipped up onto the pier. As we ran down the pier we noticed it was full of huge holes where boards were missing or had rotted away. Reaching safety on the beach, we looked up and saw stars so bright they clustered together revealing almost no sky.
We skipped in the sand like colts set free after being caged for three days, then bounced into the apartment of an ex-colonel in the Ecuadorian Army (whom none of us knew), to pay our respects. He had been exiled to the Galapagos because his army had attempted an insurrection against the Ecuadorian government. After everyone was thoroughly bored we ran out to the beach again, frolicking like the freed beasts we were. Then we were rounded up and taken back to the ship.
Next morning, I woke to a sharp rap on the louvers an inch from my sleeping head.
“Desayuno!” (breakfast), yelled Monserrate, the ship’s Mother Hen steward, supply man, and waiter.
I jumped up with a start, then slithered back under my blanket and tried to go back to sleep. A few minutes later, more knocks on the louvers. When a head popped in through the porthole, I realized there was to be no more rest that morning, so I acceded and quickly dressed.
Terry was having a little problem. Both bathrooms were occupied and she was sort of dancing in place. She dabbed under her skirt with a Kleenex and threw it out the porthole. Then dabbed again and out the porthole. When I realized her problem and how she was handling it, I burst out laughing. She laughed, too, and lost control and wet her legs, which made us both laugh even more, resulting in a small puddle.
As we emerged from our cabin, passengers were loading into the dinghy to go ashore. Terry and I each grabbed a bottle of Guitig mineral water and were bawled out for skipping breakfast by Mother Hen Monserrate, who felt it was his duty to keep all his little passenger chicks in line.
San Cristobal Island had a population of 1,260, most being Ecuadorians. But I never saw more than 25 people while we were there. Half of them lived arriba (up in the highlands), and the rest lived on the beach.
Seven kilometers beyond the beach lay the trail to El Progresso, capital of the Galapagos.
It was winter and the Palo Santo trees were completely naked. On both sides of the trail and far into the distance, the delicate white, smooth branches wove intricate, irregular beautiful patterns. As we reached higher fertile land, vegetation became more lush, though not more inspiring.
Green trees were overladen with ripe oranges. Hungry for fresh fruit after our meat and rice diet of the last three days, I wolfed down two oranges in one breath. Islanders who accompanied us up the hill begged me not to eat any more because oranges farther up the hill were much sweeter. And they were right. With each kilometer the oranges were sweeter.
El Progresso consisted of a few old wooden shacks scattered in a clearing of wild guava trees. Despite being the capital of the Galapagos, there was not even a general store.
All settlements had nurses, but the doctor and dentist stayed at Wreck Bay, as did the Bishop, Naval Commander, and Provincial Judge, as well as the Governor of the Galapagos. Officially, the President of Ecuador appoints a new governor every four years when a new president is elected. But there had been a turnover of governors every few months because of complaints by the inhabitants.
San Cristobal was the only island in the Galapagos with sweet water. Five brooks ran from the highlands all the way to the sea. Pigs wallowed in the brooks, and cattle drank and bathed in them. By the time the water reached the beach, it was polluted. As a result, most residents suffered from intestinal parasites, disease of the liver, and stomach ulcers.
Since the earliest explorers arrived on the Galapagos, domestic animals escaped or were set ashore. Cattle, horses, donkeys, goats, pigs, dogs, cats, and rats run wild on this island as on several of the other islands. Some were caught and domesticated, while others were hunted for meat.