Wednesday, 22 May 2013

I've been where the streets are paved in gold

Don't get things twisted, I'm not talking about the gold measured in karats, I'm talking about some of the softest golden sand you've ever had the pleasure of digging your feet into. It's everywhere and it's amazing.


While in the Galapagos islands, I stayed with my friend's beautiful family on the island of San Cristobal.  One of the joys of the Glapagos is how the biodiversity differs from one island to the next.  So with that in mind, we were off to Isabela island with cousin Henry as our guide.  We took two boat rides.  One from San Cristobal to Santa cruz and another from Santa Cruz to Isabela.  The ride from San Cristobal to Santa Cruz was probably one of the most enjoyable boat rides I've ever been on.  The water was perfectly still, the sun was shining and the dolphins were swimming along side the boat.  The ride from Santa Cruz to Isabela was a whole other story: Wind, big waves, and some technical difficulties that left us bobbing in the water for a while, which of course meant that several travelers were afflicted with sea sickness.  ICK!

But finally we had made it to Isabela and had hitched a ride to our bed and breakfast.  Isabela is so incredible that when we were shown to our room, we actually jumped and squealed with joy! That was eembarrassing when the inn-keeper opened the door again to ask us a question. The main road from the dock is paved, but the streets in town are made of sand.  And it made such a difference to my urban psyche.  One, there is no rushing anywhere for anything.  Have you ever tried to walk quickly on light fluffy sand?  It's almost impossible.  Two, there is no visual break between grey cement sidewalks and black tar roads.  It's just sand stretching as far as the eye can see, as if you were always on the beach. And who can't help but feel calm on the beach? There's only one small downside.  You'll want to walk around barefoot, but the sun will heat the sand to a rather "warm" temperature, so you might not find it very comfortable come mid-afternoon.
Henry introduced us to Selso, who would be our guide for the day.  Selso is fascinating. He has spent his life moving between the islands in the Galapagos.  Once he starts to feel that an island is becoming too populated, he moves on to a less populated island.  This is the part of the story that concerns me, it's quite the conumdrum that is faced by eco-tourism.  Tourism exists in places like the Galapagos because it allows people access to natural wonders and gives them a different connection and appreciation for nature. BUT tourism is also the reason that areas are becoming overdeveloped and polluted.  So there's a delicate balance, if one can be acheived at all between going and appreciating a natural or cultural setting and disrupting what you revered about it in the first place.  Selso was really clear that although he takes great pride in his home and likes to be able to show it off, the increased influx of tourists worried him. 

Selso guided us to the wall that was constructed by the prisoners who had once inhabited Isabela.  My friend's mother who was born on Isabela to parents who worked at the prison had a very vivid memory of the wall being built.  I asked if the intention was to build something, but apparently the wall was just used as a form of punishment.  The prisoners were just told to pick up the heavy boulders from point A and stack them at point B, eventually creating a wall.  I lifted one of the smaller stones and those suckers are heavy.  I can't even guess as to how much one of the larger stones would have weighed.  No wonder there were so many injuries and deaths.  The wall stands today in the middle of a field with nothing surrounding it.  It is a solemn reminder of Isabela's history, but is also quietly and hauntingly beautiful.   

From there on, our tour got a lot more fun, as we explored caves, watched marine iguanas sunbathing and visiting a tortoise sanctuary.  Selso was extremely entertained by how fascinated I was by, well, everything.  He kept joking that I was just asking to be chased by an iguana.  Ha, can you imagine? That would've looked so funny! And I would've secretly been really scared.  What do you do when you're being chased by an iguana? 

We arrived at the sanctuary just in time to watch the feeding.  Now, I don't know about you, but when I'm hungry and the dinner bell rings, I can't wait to get to the dinner table.  Hundred year old tortoises aren't in such a hurry.  It actually looks like they're moving in real life slo-mo. Mind you, I wouldn't be in a hurry either if I was a hundred years old and carrying my house on my back. 

The icing on the cake of our visit in Isabela:  My friend discovered that she had a cousin who still lived on the island and he offered to take us on a boat ride. He parked the boat at a tiny little island and we had an impromptu picnic of fresh ceviche as we watched the penguins swimming just off the shore.  I know what you're thinking, I read this in a book or saw this in a movie once.  But I didn't, it happened in my own real life and it is as unbelievable writing it now as it was experiencing it then. We then got back on the boat and got close enough to the penguin colony that we could jump in and go for a little snorkel with the penguins.  (side bar, I have a terrible fear of birds and this is NOT generally my idea of a good time BUT, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and well, YOLO, so I jumped right in.) I'm so glad I did because it was spectacular! 

As we boarded back on the boat, the sun began to set on our time on Isabela.  We only had one evening left to relish in the beauty and calm of Isabela before another early morning boat trip.   It's been a few years since this visit, but every now and again I think of Isabela and hope that I will get to visit her again and that she will be just as I left her.

Henry has since sustained an injury while out at sea, and I'd like to take this opportunity to wish him well.  I'm thinking about you buddy.