Galapagos Islands Travel Adventures
Gail Howard's Adventures in the Galapagos Islands
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After a three-hour, wave-slapping ride in Eddy’s awkward flat-bottomed boat, we reached Duncan island (also known as Isla Pinzon), which rises out of the water in a formidable cone. Friedel cut a fast jagged path ahead through the thorny cat’s claw brush that covers the island, oblivious of being slashed by thorns. Eddy, too, scampered ahead of us. Terry and I cautiously made our way on this difficult trek, lured by the possibility of seeing a huge Galapagos turtle.

As the sun started to set, Terry and I headed back toward the boat. Hiking down was more difficult than hiking up. Thorny branches ripped our skin. Lava rocks rolled underfoot. In spite of being up so high on the lava cone, we could not see the boat below. We were lost. We continued in the only direction we were sure of—down.

At last we saw the boat, but found we were on the wrong side of a ravine. I decided to climb up, back track, and come down on the other side. Terry chose to go through the ravine. Periodically, we would call to each other, but soon we could not hear each other’s voice, only the arp-arp-arp-arp of sea lions. I continued screaming, “Terry!” She finally heard me as she climbed around the jagged edge of the ravine. She was frightened and her knees were trembling from exertion when she found me on the beach sitting with the sea lions.

The sun had gone down and the wind was cold. Friedel and Eddy were still in the thorns. Eddy had warned us that it would be a struggle against a strong current to get back to El Buzo in the dinghy. Waves had filled the dinghy and an oar had floated off to sea. Terry and I used the remaining oar as a pole to push the boat away from the rocks. We both used all our strength, but it would not budge. We thought perhaps it was caught in seaweed. Just as we were making headway, the current brought us back.

From El Buzo, Sotomayor shouted frantically in Spanish and made scooping motions. The wind carried his voice back to him and we could not understand his pantomime.

Suddenly, Terry had a flash of genius and realized we should pull up the anchor. We did—to Sotomayor’s relief. That ended his shouting and dancing. With each poke of the oar, we lurched closer to the boat and finally were back on board.

It was dark and Friedel and Eddy were still in the thorns. We asked Sotomayor if El Buzo had a horn, or if he could start the motor, so they could hear us in the dark to get their bearings. This great sea captain did not know where the horn was—or even the starter.

After awhile, we heard Friedel’s voice, faint but clear. She was alone. In rapid Spanish she asked Sotomayor to row over with a flashlight so she could look for Eddy. She ran down the steep slope, letting boulders fly, thorns etch bloody jags, to reach the boat to get the flashlight before it became pitch black.

Terry and I waited on deck in the dark. Sea lions streaked by our boat. Phosphorous from the plankton in the water made their trails look like comets. They dived under the boat, splashing and spluttering. Then up would come a head and arp-arp-arp-arp.

Now pitch black, it had been over an hour since we had heard voices.

Finally, Sotomayor rowed Eddy and Friedel back to the boat. Their arms and legs were covered with blood from the thorns. Eddy was surprised, relieved, and grateful to be back. He was looking for shelter for the night when Friedel rescued him with the flashlight.

We pulled in the line and on it was our supper, a big grouper. We filleted it and fried it on the spindly legged gas stove that somehow always managed to sway with the boat without tipping over, no matter how stormy the waves.

The only sign of life we had seen on the island was one feather. Later we learned that when naturalist William Beebe and his expedition came to Duncan Island in 1923, they camped there for a week and found only one tortoise—which they took away with them!

So much for Duncan island—a hunk of rock, a patch of thorns, and one feather.

During the night, the sea lions played with the red buoys, and the lines were tangled in the propeller. In the morning, Friedel put on her diving gear (goggles and fins) and cut the lines while we shooed the sea lions away from her with boat hooks. Water in the lagoon was turquoise, clear and cold. Freidel surfaced, shivering, her teeth chattering. We hauled in the anchor and set course for the tiny island of Sombrero Chino.


Traveling between islands, we always had plenty of company. Schools of dolphins playfully raced ahead of our craft. The faster we went, the more they liked it. Hundreds of them leaped out of the water in front of our boat and on both sides of it. When we sped up, they swarmed around us. When we reduced speed, they left us. No sport for them if we didn’t go fast.

We hiked up the smooth lava-crusted cone of Sombrero Chino. The crater was rimmed with fuzzy yellow cactus. Volcanic ash covered the bottom of the crater.

Later, we passed the rocky cliffs that form Sullivan Bay. The sun cast long strong shadows on the intricate formations of the volcanic surface. It was a side we had missed when the Cristobal Carrier had stopped there before.

On the cinnamon-red sand was one lone old mangy pathetic sea lion—pathetic because he rolled and grunted as if he had all sorts of old-age infirmities. He was in agony. As I approached to sympathize with him, he tried to rush toward me to attack, but his misery ended his half-hearted attempt. He moaned some more and his stomach made rumbling noises. He was the biggest sea lion I ever saw. He probably had come here to die.

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© Copyright 2006-. Gail Howard.

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