Galapagos Islands Travel Adventures
Gail Howard's Adventures in the Galapagos Islands
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The Cristobal Carrier anchored off the Island of Santa Cruz, also known as Indefatigable or Chavez. (Each of the islands in the Galapagos has an English name as well as a Spanish name.) Rising abruptly from the clear emerald water was a tall craggy cliff of lava. Giant barrel cactus covered the crest of the cliff.

On shore, Santa Cruz seemed much more inhabited and lively than San Cristobal. At least it seemed to have more inhabitants. But, only 490 people lived on Santa Cruz. It had the largest foreign colony—Norwegian, American, Belgian, Swiss and French.

As we walked inland, every person we passed on the trail said hello. Some stopped to chat. We passed a graveyard that had a dozen or more graves crudely marked with chunks of lava. Some of the fancier ones had cross-shaped sticks marking the grave. Many were tiny graves of children. We asked the cause of the deaths and learned that few natural deaths occurred on the islands. Most of them were either accidents or “accidents.”

We followed a trail of crushed coral to another beach. A broken field of black lava met the clear emerald water. Big red crabs ran busily about. They are known as “Sally Lightfoots,” or as sajapas to the locals. They fear man, probably because they are such tasty morsels and are hunted for food. A scarlet crab scurried across a rock near my foot and dropped into a narrow cleft in the rocks. Other than crab-hungry humans, their enemies are predatory birds.

Crabs seldom enter the sea, but are always moistened by the spray, and live on seaweed and algae. They butt their heads together to show each other limits of their domain. Their fights are only ritual. One finally gives in and scampers off, humiliated. The victor does nothing once his opponent admits defeat.

Part of a boulder seemed to move and then was still—an iguana. Big and scaly and horny, it sat blinking at the sun. Jacob P. Lundh (Jake Lundh), the agent for the Cristobal Carrier, who was showing us around, caught a baby marine iguana. I wrapped my hand around its tail for a photo and how it squirmed—snapping and twisting menacingly to escape my firm grasp.

On the way back to the dinghy, we met Forrest Nelson, who was from Long Beach, California. He had lived on Santa Cruz for 18 months and was station manager of UNESCO’s Darwin Research Station. (In 1835, Charles Darwin based his Theory of Evolution on his observations of how birds in the Galapagos varied from island to island as they adapted to their environment over generations.)

Nelson was building 10 cottages to rent to scientists for $4 a day with meals while they stayed on the islands to study. He was also building a house for himself and his young pretty wife Friedel, who was born on Santa Cruz.

Down the trail we met Eddy Niles and Udo Becker. Of the 100 Americans who formed the Island Development Company (IDC), Eddy was the only one who remained. The colony, organized by Donald Hirsch, had come to Galapagos from Seattle the year before, in March 1960. Each family had invested $2,500, for a total of $250,000.

The company made a down payment on a refrigeration system, the largest in South America built for tuna fishing, and also on a coffee plantation. Lorenzo Tous owned both. The refrigeration system required $100,000 to make it usable. Unfortunately, tuna boats no longer came to the Galapagos. Fishing was better elsewhere.

The coffee plantation didn’t actually belong permanently to Tous. His father had won it for a period of 25 years in a card game from a man named Cobos. A dreamer planned IDC, and the dream became a fiasco.

Eddy’s 15-year-old wife was the first to leave. She ran off with an Ecuadorian laborer to Guayaquil. The rest of the company gave up, too. They had expected to exploit the natives, but found nothing but hardship in a wilderness where all men are slaves to existence. Eddy bought their equipment and he alone remained.

Eddy was tall, lanky, and slightly under 30. He spent every moment and every cent he had repairing the refrigeration boat he bought from IDC. The boat, El Buzo, was a renovated landing barge. If a propeller broke, Eddy had to make the new blade himself. There were no parts for anything on the islands.

He lived in a little clapboard house on the bay with jagged lava cliffs behind it. Sharks’ teeth and pages of Playboy magazine decorated the walls. Eddy wanted only to be friendly and happy.

In the States, Eddy had belonged to a motorcycle club and still wore his leather jacket. He owned only one pair of shoes which gave him blisters because his feet were not used to being shod. He’d had enough of girls, he told us, “Been burnt too many times.”

Eddy had a homily for every situation: “My Mommy called me son because I was so bright,” “I’m so hungry, my stomach thinks my throat’s cut,” “I can’t carry a tune in a bucket.”

One afternoon, Eddy took Friedel and us in his dinghy to see some beautiful channels that cut through sheer lava rocks. As we sped across the water, enormous mantas or giant rays, larger than our dinghy, would rise from the water, flap their wings in the air, and crash back down with a glorious splash. No one knows whether this leap is made to shake off parasites, or to come down upon a school of fish for food, or just for fun.

In the channel, brown pelicans and blue-footed boobies—birds with bright baby-blue feet, legs and bills—squatted on the guano-whitened lava ledges. Occasionally, one plunged like a dive-bomber for a fish. Pelicans hunting for fish cruised along the water, barely skimming the surface, then suddenly sat back and stuck out their feet on the water to brake for a screeching stop. Others paddled through the water as if peddling submerged bicycles.

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© Copyright 2006-. Gail Howard.

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