Next day, the Cristobal Carrier anchored at Floreana Island (also known as Isla Santa Maria), the bleakest of all the inhabited islands. Most of the 27 people who lived on Floreana were the Wittmer family, who came from Germany in 1932.
Margret Wittmer wrote a book titled Floreana, which both Terry and I had read. Margret and her sister from England served us homemade coffee liquor. They were building a new house, which for the islands was quite fancy.
When we asked why they chose Floreana, they confessed that if they were younger, they would move to another island. When they first came from Germany, boats passed by so seldom, they didn’t have much choice. They came to an island completely uninhabited except for the Ritter couple.
Dr. Freidreich Ritter, a dentist from Germany, had his teeth extracted and replaced with steel plates so he would never be tormented by dental complications while far from civilization. A philosopher and vegetarian, he brought with him a female disciple to this island wilderness. After a few years, this vegetarian doctor died strangely—of meat poisoning. The island’s reputation for feuds and violence caused people to say, “When a man falls out of a tree, everyone wants to know who pushed him."
A few months after the Wittmers arrived, an Austrian middle-aged flapper, Baroness Eloise Von Wagner de Bousquet, sailed in to Floreana from Paris with two boy-toy lovers, Rudolf Lorenz and Robert Philipson—and a pistol to keep everyone on the island in line. The baroness proclaimed herself Empress of Floreana.
One night, she mysteriously disappeared with one of her lovers on a yacht that came in the night. The yacht was seen by no one but her other lover, Rudolf Lorenz, who left on the next boat that called at Floreana. It did not sail far. A fishing boat found the mummified body of Lorenz washed ashore on Bindloe Island in the Galapagos. The disappearance of the Baroness is an unsolved mystery. Only the Wittmers remained on Floreana.
The Cristobal Carrier returned to Santa Cruz before heading back to Guayaquil. Our goodbyes to Eddy and the Nelsons were interrupted by Friedel Nelson’s insistence that we stay with them until the Cristobal Carrier returned the following month.
“There is so much you haven’t seen,” she pressed. “Every island is different. And you can stay with us while you are in Santa Cruz.”
Eddy offered, “I’ll take you around the islands, anywhere you want to go. You just pay for the diesel, the food and a cook. You’ll sleep on the boat.”
Terry and I turned to each other and made an instant simultaneous decision: “Why not?!”
We collected our baggage from the Cristobal Carrier and said farewells to our pals on board who watched in utter amazement as the dinghy carried us back to Santa Cruz.
Twenty year-old Friedel was born on Santa Cruz. She hoped one day to escape the small island and head for the bright lights of some big city in the United States. When 45-year-old Forrest Nelson sailed in from California, Friedel swam out to his yacht and so impressed Forrest that he married her.
The marriage backfired for Friedel. Instead of being her ticket out, Forrest decided to stay and make Santa Cruz his home. She married a man more than twice her age who ordered her around like a servant. Friedel was not his slave, however. When, on rare occasions, she rebelled, saying, “Do it yourself,” he backed off.
Her life was not easy. Friedel cooked, cleaned, did chores, painted boats, took orders, acted as translator for him with his workmen, and put up with Forrest—all drudgery because the work was not lubricated with love.
As we planned our trips with Eddy, Friedel asked to come with us. We were delighted to have her join us. We hired Antonio Sotomayor as our cook. He had been a sea captain in these parts for 30 years and knew his way around the islands. Sotomayor was not happy to be earning a cook’s wages since he had a captain’s license. But Eddy was our captain and El Buzo was our ship.