I would love to say this entry is my one-year anniversary entry from the beginning of the trip. I really would, and I guess I could, but it would be a lie. The actual anniversary is on the 8th. However, I can't guarantee I'll have Internet access to post on that day, and I don't want to be late, so I guess we're celebrating preemptively? Yay? In any case, with one year rolling around, we're getting ever much closer to the end of the trip, but before we look at that, we continue our work in the Galapagos sun. (And trust me, there's plenty of sun.)
I think it was Thursday that I started having some revelations about my time here. Well, okay, revelations may a bit of an overstatement, but the fact remains that I've figured some things out. I'm very much in the camp that believes that everything that happens is exactly what you need at the time. 'Cause here's the thing: this whole adventure is ending not with a bang, but with a...well, not a whimper, but somewhere in-between, I guess. Now, I keep making comparisons between my time here and my time at Askari, mainly because they both involve doing conservation work to restore a beautiful natural area to the way it was before mankind came in and screwed it all up. And we use machetes. However, it is different in many, many ways. Where to begin? Well, first of all, the volunteer dynamic is much different, because people are coming and going so frequently, that you don't really get the same sense of community within the group. Yeah, you get to know some people, but at Askari, you felt like family. There is also the language issue (when the guy in charge doesn't speak English, that is), but the main differences - which I've realized is why my daily photo counts are low relative to the same number of days at Askari - is that, first of all, there's not nearly as many animals around. Sure, there are some tortoises and birds, as well as some sea lions in town, but every day at Askari was literally defined by animal sightings. And animals, being wild and unpredictable, meant that things could go completely wacky for a day. Like I tell people, some of my favorite/best anecdotes from the trip come from there. Second, and more simply, our work was a bit longer and somewhat more varied at Askari. Not that I'm saying I want to work longer hours (in this heat, I don't). It's just different. At Askari, you'd only have the later part of the afternoon and evening free, and since the community there was so self-dependent (we couldn't just go to town, nor did we ever really need to), we spent a lot of time with each other. It was a very dynamic environment, one to excite the senses. That's not what we have here. By lunchtime, we're done, and have the day free. Most people just read, write, or go to town, until it's maybe about an hour before dinner, at which point we gather at the table and have a discussion that lasts through the meal. But for a big part of it, it's a much more solitary, and downplayed, experience. It seems like there's always at least someone in one of the four hammocks around the hacienda. But here's the thing: while it doesn't make for the most exciting blog entries, it's still nice. In its own way, it's nice. I've been making a big to-do that this is the end of my trip, and I am winding down physically, mentally, and emotionally. In some way, the wrap-up is almost beginning before my last few days in Guayaquil (the express purpose of which is to do little other than upload photos and prepare myself to come home). By being in a place where my senses are not being excited - or at least not excited in the same way as at Askari - it is helping me to finish up the trip in a good way. If I had been at Askari right before the end of my trip, I might want to come home, even though I need to.
Long story short, don't take the lackluster events of this series of blog entries as indicative of things not being good. It may not be an action-packed finale, but it’s exactly what needs to be happening at the time.
Anyway, musings aside, Thursday began with another early wake-up, and a relatively light breakfast. (Truth be told, everyone was getting quite jealous of the vegans and their big bowl of breakfast fruit; it seems often that they were getting better and more filling meals than the rest of us.) Anyway, the primary job for the day was to feed the tortoises. So, I believe a bit of context is required. First of all, if you ever visit the Galapagos yourself in terms of just being a tourist and not a volunteer, do not feed the wildlife. It's disruptive, makes them dependent, and as the signs say, they can feed themselves. The reason we blatantly ignore this edict is because the tortoises...well, they really can't feed themselves. See, they were not always on this land. They had previously been held in some kind of special preservation center, back when the island really wasn't habitable for them anymore. Once Jose and the rest of Hacienda Esperanza had managed to reclaim enough of the land from the invasive plant species, the Galapagos government provided the land with a number of tortoises (whose ages ranged from 25 to over 100), where they now live and move about. However, decades of being somewhat dependent, and the land not being fully plentiful with their food source, they really do need to be fed about once a week. So, the workers go and collect the tortoises' favorite food, a large-leaf plant called otoy. They then take it up to the Buena Vista de las Tortugas, where we dump piles of the stuff for the tortoises to gorge themselves for the upcoming week. And that was the task for the day.
Anyway, to accomplish this, half of us would go up the hill, and the other half would go in a taxi to pick up the plants. I was in the group going up the hill, so we just walked up for the half-hour it took (noticing that even this early in the morning, it seemed a bit hotter than before), and then took a rest in the hammocks at the top. We waited there for a good long while - twenty, thirty minutes maybe - before I figured that the other group must have arrived. I mean, I didn't know for sure, but how long could it take. I then asked Lucia, the only person who had done this before, where we were supposed to go, and she said... down. Yes, we walked all the way up the hill just so we could go down the other side. "Was there any disadvantage for the people who took the taxi?" I asked as we made our way down. Thankfully(?) it was a much steeper incline, and so we got down pretty fast. We then saw our timing was pretty good, as we saw people bringing in the otoy. We walked down the long path to get to the truck, and saw that it had already driven off. In its place was just a large pile of plants. Not wasting any time, I took as much as I can carry. And because I don't underestimate my abilities - let's be honest, I overestimate them - my "as much as I can carry" was about 60% more than what anyone else had, and included a lot of roots, which, being quite solid, weighed a lot more than the leaves and stocks. A couple of the other volunteers looked at me, one literally saying, "You can't carry all that," as if that wouldn't strengthen my resolve. The two workers (who I believe were Jose's cousins?) just laughed pleasantly and nodded, calling me the group's caballo de trabajo (workhorse). And indeed, I did manage to carry all the stuff to the base of the hill, at which point I went to get more (including an absolutely massive root piece which weighed down on my shoulder like a lead brick). Once I came back with the second and last load, it was time to bring stuff to the top of the hill, which I did twice. The second time, I again got the massive root piece, as well as three others, and balanced them on my two shoulders. Not gonna mince words, it was heavy, but/and it was also clear that/why nobody else wanted to carry them. However, it got worse when I got to the top, because just as I was going to unload, one of the workers told me that I had to take my stuff down to the other tortoises, which were down about halfway on the other side of the hill. So, I had just taken all these heavy things up a hill, and then had to go down another one (which was pretty damn precarious, mind you) without taking a break. And I could still feel the weight of those roots on my shoulders when putting on my backpack later in the day. But luckily, once I had unloaded, that was it for tortoise feeding.
As far as I could see, there were only four tortoises present, but I was assured that there were at least ten on the island. However, none of them, including the pair down the hill that were ostensibly anywhere from 50-100 years old, seemed big if compared to some tortoises, but were nowhere near to being the giants I had envisioned in my mind (and had seen before in Africa). Even so, they were cool in their own ways. However, they seemed extremely shy, retreating into their shells at the slightest provocation. Perhaps some of them are old enough to remember the travesties that had befallen their species, and were still shell-shocked by it (pun intended and apologized for). In fact, only one of them seemed to like the prospect of eating enough that he'd (she'd? I'm not totally sure) come out of his shell to eat some of the otoy. Bronn, Sarah, and I were taking pictures of these two when I noticed some blood on the ground. I looked up and saw a nasty wound on the leg of one of the tortoises. Like, it almost looked as if it had been bitten. And it was fresh, too. I took a picture to show to the workers, in case it could be an issue. We then went back up and took a break, which really ended up being a pretty long break (considering our impromptu photography session was part of it).
Eventually, we began our second task for the day, which was removing mora from the upper part of the hill. There wasn't much; you had to walk from plant to plant, so I felt it was relatively simple. At one point, I got to the barbed-wire fence separating the land granted to the Hacienda, and the land that was still untamed national park. The difference was startling. On the un-granted land, there was enough mora bushes tangled up to make Brer Rabbit blush. On the granted side, almost none. You could tell the system worked. And it also made me glad that I wasn't here when the whole place was like on the other side of the fence. I was told about an early volunteer girl who had been at the Hacienda for four months, and pretty much every day of those was spent clearing fully-grown mora. I don't envy that girl. In any case, we got some nice views out of the work, and we finished relatively early (10:45, or there-rounds), and after resting a bit more, headed back down to the Hacienda.
I tried showing the tortoise injury photos to Jose and the rest, but after an initial exclamation of surprise, nobody seemed to be terribly concerned. Maybe this is something that happens often? I dunno. Anyway, back at the Hacienda, I relaxed in the hammock for a bit (which is where I came to the "revelation" mentioned earlier) before going inside and doing a little bit of writing before lunch. We then ate - which I did voraciously, because I was really hungry for some unknown reason - and then I waited around for a taxi to head to town. Eventually one arrived, and Bronn, Lucia, Julie and I headed over. I had a couple different objectives for the day. The first was to, along with Bronn, book a Kicker Rock snorkeling trip for Saturday. I ended up booking at, like, the one place I had not been to before, as they were the only $80 place that was open. After getting that set up, we decided we might want to rent an underwater camera. We found a place that offered this, and we decided to split the cost ($25 for 24 hours, which is pretty reasonable) and share the photos. I then went back to the supermarket with the intention of buying more of the stuff that I was planning on going through in the next week. Mainly, this meant apples and Maria cookies (and this may be just a nostalgic thing - since Maria's were one of the go-to cookies in my home during childhood - but I think those things are great). Sadly, their apple section was completely pillaged, with only six sickly specimens left. I ended up getting some overpriced strawberries instead. As for the Maria cookies, they just made me upset. Last time I came to this grocery store, the cookies cost $0.89, instead of the $0.80 on the label. Okay, I can chalk that up to transport costs. But here, the lady literally cleared off the price on the register, and typed in $1.00. She literally raised the price in front of my face! I know there's a local price and a tourist price, but this was just so goddamn blatant that I was about to complain. However, I'm not nearly as eloquent in Spanish, and getting into an argument over eleven cents is the kind of thing where you think that maybe you should just let go.
We then walked back over to the nearby cafe, which had not only changed their WiFi password (which is understandable), but also raised their minimum price for receiving said password. I ended up getting a piece of pineapple cake and some ice cream, which was just some soft serve on a plate. I used the WiFi to check my email, make sure everyone knew I wasn't washed away in a tsunami, and post the last entry. I kept using my laptop until the battery died, and then stayed on my phone until about 5pm, when everyone decided to leave. During that time, I started to think that roommates Lucia and Julie didn't like me all that much. Lucia had some precedent (with her being terrified of me for no apparent reason a few days before), but Julie I could only imagine got some of that resentment via same-room osmosis. Not that I'm really bothered; it's more that I'm fascinated when people dislike me without me giving them specific reason to. Anyhoo, we got a taxi back to the Hacienda (who tried to charge us considerably more than the normal rate, but was able to be talked down). When we got back to the house, I relaxed for a bit, and then began writing, which I did for quite a while, until heading out into the dining room, waiting for an already very late dinner (it was past 8pm at this point). Dinner conversation seemed to revolve around the face that we'd only have half our workforce on Friday, as everyone else was leaving. It also was brought up that four new guys would be coming in (which I knew), and the fact that they would be coming into my already-small room didn't make me terribly excited, so I already made my plans to move into another room. Now I just need to be prepared to act upon those plans. We continued talking until about 9:45, when everyone started prepping for bed. (Although before I could go to bed, I was asked, as the resident not-scared-of-insects guy, to remove a two-inch spider from the girls' room. It was a tricky proposition, as he was fast and skittish, but it all worked out fine.
Also, throughout all of Thursday, I was noticing that my right eye was quite bloodshot. My only guesses were that I had gotten sunburned in one eye, or I was getting something akin to pink eye. Only time would tell if it was either. (Spoiler: it was neither.)
Friday was a day of transitions, but it began as every other day began, with the sun rising, the rooster crowing, me waking up, and having something good for breakfast. We actually were quite pleased to see a big bowl of fruit available for everyone, and not just the vegans. (It's the little things, y'know.) Now, we were thinking there was only going to be half-contingent working this day, because Sarah and Ben were leaving for their kicker rock trip, whereas Bronn and Lucia were just going into town to check into their volunteer housing. However, somewhat unexpectedly, at 7am a taxi drove up, and we got four new people. Now, I had known that there would be four new people showing up on Friday. However, I had assumed that they'd be showing up later in the day. I had also assumed - well, actually, we had all been flat-out told - that it was going to be four guys (four Chinese guys to specific), and that they'd all be sharing my room. I wasn't looking forward to this possibility, because even though my room has six beds, it is not made for six people and the stuff of six people. Two it can do easily. Three, sure. Five? No, siree. So I was pleasantly surprised to see that of these four individuals, only two were guys. Also, none of them were Chinese; in fact, they were all Danish. There was one couple, Elizabeth and Matias, and two others, Lina and Sebastian (the latter of which is built like a Greek god, I'll just note). Until we had people moving out, they'd be splitting up into the guys' and gals' rooms, but before that was even really going into effect, it was time to work! And hey, those Danish people could help us! So before they had any time to unpack, or even stop to consider what they were going to need for the day, they were being corralled into the back of the pickup truck (95% of all taxis on San Cristobal are pickup trucks; it's easier to accommodate more people and stuff). And with a wave to Bronn and Lucia, we were on our way.
So the task for the day was a little bit different than normal. Instead of heading up to our usual haunting grounds of La Buena Vista de las Tortugas, we were heading to the town of Puerto Chino (which oddly translates to "Chinese Port"), on the opposite side of the island from the main town. Our work was going to be community work, specifically working on the local farms, the idea behind which would be that tourists care, and also to help the farmers who are too poor to afford real labor. Our task specifically took us to the yucca tree field, which was overrun by several different types of grasses. With our machetes, we were going to have to cut away pretty much everything that wasn't yucca. Now, while there is some inherent satisfaction in knowing that you've helped some local people, I have to say that this still felt like the most immediately unrewarding day thus far. For one, it was easily, easily the hottest day we've had so far, and making matters worse was the fact that there was no breeze whatsoever. You couldn't even hear a leaf rustle, it was so still. And so we were absolutely baking, and my clothes became drenched in sweat. I do think it was probably a bit worse for the new folks, who had not thought to bring more than a small half-liter water bottle. So by our first break, they were quite in need, and I found the aqueous bank of Andrew Schnorr's CamelBak was again making loans to all those in need. (This wasn't so great for me, though, because I could have used every single drop myself.) And then there was the fact that we were working on a farm that really didn't have much going for it aesthetically. When on top of the hill, you could look out whenever you were feeling a bit exhausted, see an amazing view of the countryside or coast, and smile, thinking, "Yeah, this is worth it." No such inspiration here. It was just hours of cutting grass. And you couldn't even go nuts and swing with reckless abandon, because you risked hitting the yucca trees. Long story short, it was hard. When we had a break, I had to take the initiative to get back to work, and it was only after another five minutes that everyone else could muster up the resolve.
When we were finished, everyone was completely exhausted and sweaty (my clothes, in particular, were all a shade darker than they'd be in more relaxed work). We then walked to a nearby shop and (I guess) restaurant of the community. There, we saw a group of locals sitting around, playing cards and drinking beers. I don't know if they were doing some work elsewhere in the farms, but you got a feeling that the romance wasn't really there when instead of working hand-in-hand with the local farmers, you're just doing your work while they're relaxing. In any event, we all were attracted to the fridge full of cold drinks. I borrowed a buck from the Finns to buy myself a very satisfying Diet Coke. We then hung around, playing with a couple local puppies until lunch was served then and there. It was a simple vegetarian pasta dish, unfortunately served without aji chili sauce to spice it up. (That's one thing I'll note about South American food in general [with probably Peru as the exception]: it's horrifically flaccid in terms of spice, and hence I don't think I'd ever rate it too highly on my favorite food types specifically because of that.) We then began walking on a little post-lunch excursion. Our first stop was a tortoise reserve that I didn't even know existed (as it's only mentioned in passing in any guides I've found). Basically, tortoises are raised from birth in a variety of environments (changing as they reach certain sizes/ages) to help integrate them into living in the wild again, but only if there is an area where it is appropriate for them to live (such as the reclaimed areas on the Hacienda). We saw young yearlings, hardly four inches long, to some that actually legitimately looked like the giant tortoises they are supposed to be. It was a very nice surprise, I gotta say.
Afterward, we walked to Puerto Chino beach. It was about a twenty minute walk from the tortoise reserve to the parking lot of the beach, and then it was another twenty minute walk from the parking lot to the beach proper. It was just a really long, winding, and unshaded pathway that we had to go down to reach the prize. But hey, at least it was a prize. The beach was a lovely place: it was pretty much a cove, with outcroppings of rocks on either side. It contained a fine white sand, you could walk out a hundred feet or so and only be up to your chest in the water, and the waves were what I'd call perfect boogie boarding waves: not too big, but big enough to have fun with. There were also two sea lions just swimming and playing in the shallow water, not really caring about the people there. And that may have been the best part; there weren't many people there to begin with. There were maybe about four or five groups there, so there was not even the slightest sense of crowding. Once we arrived, the first objective was to find a shady spot, which we did in a small camping ground, completely surrounded by finches. Finches, just sitting...watching...waiting. Anyway, everyone got into something more appropriate for being in water, and after a good slathering of sunscreen, we went out into the waves. The water was cool and refreshing, and a nice counter to the heat of the sun. However, as anyone knows, this can make you feel invincible to the sun's rays, which will end you up with completely broiled skin. So I enjoyed the neat waves while I felt comfortable doing so, and then went up to the rocks to see some blue-footed boobies and get a good view of the area. The two new Danish girls joined me (and, complete tangent, I should note that as of this moment, it is five Danish folks and one American; needless to say, every time they speak in their native tongue, I will assume it is about me), but again, because they didn't have enough time to really think about what they were getting into, they didn't bring sandals. I did, so I lent them - well, one of them - mine. And I could feel the cost of chivalry with the heat on my feet. But still, I figured I could handle it better since, well, I can generally handle stuff well. Once we got our views and failed to attract the blue-footed boobies close enough for a great photo, we went back down and just hung out in the shade until everyone was ready to leave. But after finishing the long march back up the pathway, we found there were no available taxis in the parking lot. So we just waited there for another, I dunno, 45 minutes in the hot sun while one was summoned. (Well, I hid myself in the shade of a parked truck.)
When the taxi arrived, I hopped in the back, and we drove home. As would be expected when standing in the bed of speeding pickup truck, it got pretty windy, so I was thankful (yet again) that my leather hat cord had protected it from being blown away). We ended up arriving at the Hacienda at about 4pm, where I got cleaned up, got my photos of the day's activities on my laptop for sharing (since none of the Danish folk had thought to bring a camera when we left in the morning), did some note writing (which is my initial blog entry prep, and basically is what these entries would read like if I posted on Buzzfeed), and then went outside to read in one of the hammocks. I continued doing this - breaking often to have conversations with other folks in the hammocks - until dinner, where everyone got together and talked. Apparently, the new Danish folk were going to be cooking for themselves for pretty much their entire time here, meaning that after the Canadians and Finns left, the only people getting food cooked for us would be Julie and I, which made me think we might be getting higher quality stuff. Anyhoo, there was talk about going out to town to go to a bar and nightclub. The new Danes decided to pass, as they were all tired (understandably so, and since I did the same on my first day, I couldn't judge), and so did Ben, who was tired as well. As for me, I wanted to go out, to wish well all the folks leaving, but since I had to get up the next day, I didn't want to stay out too late, so I wanted to leave as early as possible. Unfortunately, since some folks had to pack, we didn't end up leaving until 9pm. As such, I was just sitting around, twiddling my thumbs for an hour until the taxi arrived.
The taxi ride over was actually one of those beautiful moments that happens infrequently and without expectation. There were too many people to sit inside, so I had to hop in the back. I was the only one back there, so I figured I'd just lie down. And so we drove for ten kilometers in the balmy warmth of the night, with me lying down in the back of a pickup truck, watching the stars in the sky. Aside from a few moments where the poorly-paved road caused some serious jostling, it was an incredible and intimate experience, and (not joking) a tear almost came to my eye. I could have stayed like that forever, but had to get out once we reached the bar. There, we met Lucia (Bronn was already in bed at his new volunteer hostel), and sat down at an outdoor table. Everyone except me got a drink (I wanted to get a milkshake, but they were out), and we just sat there for a couple of hours, talking. All the while, I was looking around at the people patronizing the bar. Aside from the obvious scumbags that were frequenting the pool table (which I described as bolsas de escoria), the whole place was just filled with...I dunno, just too much misappropriated youth energy. There were some locals there, but the majority of people were foreigners, which seemed to either be students at the island university (which I can guess is probably not the most intensive in terms of academics) or volunteers living in town, doing whatever. I don't know what exactly it was about it, but it just made me laugh how pathetic everything seemed. For example, the blonde girl taking off her hipster glasses, replacing them with some aviator sunglasses, and posing as though taking a drink from a giant inflatable bottle of beer for a photo. That singular moment made me remember how goddamned different I always was with most people of my own age range. But I had this weird notion come over me, a piece of bad high school poetry: "Everyone here is just ghosts in my eyes. And I'm just a ghost in theirs." We inhabit the same place, and see each other, but it's basically as if we don't exist, and they'll never remember me, and I'd say I'd never remember them, except that I'm writing about them here. But the point remains.
Anyway, we stayed at the bar until midnight, having discussions that ranged all over the place (though one thing I found interesting is that it was basically divulged to all of us that the Canadians' relationship was ending after this trip, because it turns out it was only a few months old and just wasn't working out; I'd call this the "Amazing Race Effect", because it always seemed as though there were fresh couples on there that end up separating, because what better way to test your compatibility than by traveling - not only do you have to deal with stress, but you have to deal with someone else dealing with stress). Anyway, when the clock struck, I tried getting us all to go home. However, Jose - who had spent most of the time silent, occasionally noting at the number of chicas in the bar, and cheers-ing anyone with a bottle/glass - suggested we go to the nightclub with him and his son. I was partially looking out for the other people in the group, so I recommended to Sarah that she should probably head back, since she had to wake up earlier than I did. However, the "it's-my-last-night" mentality is a strong one, so she asked me for half an hour. I agreed, so we all went to the nightclub. Once inside, while everyone else was getting drinks and "dancing" by moving their shoulders around, I made the most of the situation by dancing... my kind of dancing. As is common, it got a lot of attention, I had one dance off, and I think the DJ even called me out. I was also hoping that I could show the locals, who are obsessed with cervezas and chicas, that I needed neither to enjoy myself. (I don't think the message got through.) But, once 12:30 hit, my presence changed on a dime from "the wacky guy dancing with his flip-flops on his hands" to "the serious guy saying it's time to leave". I again tried to extol the virtues of getting a good night sleep when you have to wake up in five hours, but there was some resistance from Julie, who wanted to stay later. Knowing I wouldn't see either Sarah or Lucia ever again, I gave them a proverbial tip of my hat (the real thing was back home), and got a cheap ($7 for past-midnight is cheap) taxi back to the Hacienda, where I just went straight to bed.
I woke up early the next morning to the sound of music and what I assumed (correctly, I later discovered) was goat carcasses being removed from the fridge near my room. I tried falling back asleep, but before I knew it, my alarm went off and it was time to get up anyway. However, it wasn't the brightest of starts to the day, both literally and figuratively, because for the first time since I arrived in the Galapagos, it was raining. And it was raining hard. Thankfully, it dissipated at the Hacienda by 7:30, but I was concerned that there was rain all over the place, and that this would churn up the sea water and reduce visibility. (Also, that there would be additional rain during my snorkeling attempts.) I was able to push that thought out of my mind, though, with a truly grand breakfast, consisting of eggs, some sort of deli-sliced meat, toast, queso fresco, something I can't remember, and fruit. I didn't know what the trip would have in store for me, so I ate what I could. All of a sudden, I heard the taxi arriving. It was a half-hour early, which wasn't good for the Danish group, who were supposed to join me, but were still eating breakfast. Thankfully, the driver was willing to wait, and so we all headed to town together, which meant it only cost a dollar per person. Once we arrived, I wished them well for their day (they were going to meet up with the rest of their tour group - thirteen additional girls - who were doing social volunteer work in town), and then headed off. I walked to the diving place, where I met up with Bronn. We got our equipment, and then waited until our scheduled departure at 9am. As it turns out, this departure was just from the shop, and we walked over to the dock where, after some more waiting, we got on a boat. Even though it had just been the two of us at the shop, the boat had a full contingent of twelve passengers, so I can only imagine multiple agencies contribute to the passengers of each boat.
We had to wait a while for it to be our boats turn to get permission to depart, at which point we headed out to an area where there were some sea lions. Apparently, despite the fact that my body is exceptionally buoyant (making it difficult for me to dive), I was among the best swimmers in the group. Aside from Bronn and I, there was a group of Canadians who were competent, but constantly worried about the temperature of the water (which was cold, no doubt, but not that cold), and a group of older Ecuadorians, who actually couldn't swim at all, and thus needed life jackets, floatation rings, and the like. As they guide, Miguel, probably was concerned about the overall abilities of the group, he had us snorkeling in some shallow water to see how everyone fared. It wasn't too bad, to be honest; some of the sea lions came out and were swimming around us. One actually went through my legs at a point. Unfortunately, not all were quite as friendly, and some lady who seemed like a guide for the Canadians, was actually bitten by one. Not deeply, but still, yeesh. After this, we got back on the boat, and made our way out to Kicker Rock. It was a wet ride for the people in the back, as the splash from our own wake kept getting thrown upon us. (I even used my snorkel mask for a while to help keep my eyes clear.) Once we reached the rock, guide Miguel began yelling at us to get into the water. He proved to be an exceptionally rude guide, especially to Bronn and me, often yelling at us to do things while we were in the middle of doing them. Anyway, we got into the water, and looked around the rocks. There was a large variety of fish, and a larger variety of colors. In fact, it was probably more colorful than the Great Barrier Reef section I visited. It was pretty nice, and Bronn and I swapped possession of the underwater camera we had joint-rented. Unfortunately, we weren't able to swim through the crevasse between the two rocks, as the current was too strong for the abilities of a lot of the group. Instead, we just into the boat, drove around to the other side, and hopped in again. Now, one of the main appeals of Kicker Rock is the possibility of seeing hammerhead sharks. Now, I didn't see any hammerheads. In fact, I only saw one shark in total, and it was distant, partially obscured, and swimming away. However, this wasn't too much of an issue for me, because I had an even better encounter when Bronn and I separated from the rest of the group. There, we came close to a giant sea turtle, which I almost consider a cooler animal than a shark. And when I say "close", I mean that for over a minute, I was swimming in sync with the guy, less than a foot-and-a-half away. It was awesome, and very reminiscent of a similar experience I had in Maui. The sea turtle surface three times, and then eventually swam down, down, too far and fast for us to follow. At that point, we had to get back on the boat.
We then drove to our second destination of the trip, Manecitas Beach (which may not be the actual name, but is pretty close, and I'm too lazy to look up the real one). I spoke with the Canadians on the way, in particular one girl who seemed worried about what her major should be in college. I assured her that it didn't matter, and wasn't worth worrying about before your first year, unless you really want/need a professional job. Anyway, when we reached the beach, we had lunch (on the boat - no food was allowed in the national park). It was...decent, I guess, but nothing worth writing here. We then had a half-hour to do whatever we wanted to on the beach. Bronn and I took a walk with our camera, and headed down the shore. At one point, on a rocky outcropping, we saw a couple of huge iguanas that just necessitated attention. We got close and took some pictures. Then, I decided to tempt fate by getting a little bit closer. Unfortunately, I'm guess Mother Nature felt I was getting a little too close, and so she added some extra moss to the rock I was stepping on. At that same moment, my long-suffering guardian angel was on his first break of the trip (that, or he just got tired of my BS), and so I slipped stupendously. Arms flailing, legs going in odd directions, hat flying off, the works. My hat was okay, but I didn't come out unscathed. I got a big bruise on my rump, and a cut on my right hand, but my left foot got the worst of it. I had a cut on the tip of my big toe, one incision on the heel of my foot (which has since proven the most annoying), and a couple oozers on the side of my bony ankle. Thankfully, nothing seemed irreparable, but my main issue now was walking with a foot of open wounds along a beach covered in sand and, worse, shards of broken shells. It was a delicate process, I'll tell ya that much. Still, I managed to get back to where everyone else was, and sat down in a shady spot (I was determined not to get burned, as the Canadians had been practically radiating heat when they returned from their own Kicker Rock excursion). Unfortunately, this had its own problems, as we were getting attacked by horseflies. I'm not sure if you've ever been bitten by a horsefly, but take my word for it: it hurts. Thankfully, it's so painful that you can feel it in progress, and get immediate, sweet revenge. After killing off several antagonists, Bronn and I spoke more, until it was time to get back on the boat. The cut on my heel was already being problematic, as there was sand stuffed into the skin pocket, like a pita sandwich. I needed to use the water and some vigorous scrubbing with some sea moss to get it out.
We drove back to the port, and that was the end of the trip. It was 2:45, so we were technically earlier than the advertised 3pm return. It's kinda funny, it was shorter than what was promised, and we had fewer dives than promised (one real one, instead of at least two), and I got injured during the whole affair, but on the whole I was pretty happy with how it all turned out. The couple of really nice encounters we had, combined with the fact that we had the foresight to get the underwater camera, really made it a neat little trip. Well worth the time and money, I felt. In any case, we immediately went to return our masks and flippers to the diving shop, but found that pretty much every other place at the moment was closed, since Saturday siesta lasts a lot longer than normal day siestas. I even tried going to the WiFi cafe, and found that they weren't opening until "3pm" (which ended up being 3:45). In the meantime, I was just sitting around, waiting and getting a cheap but welcome ice cream bar in the heat. Bronn, meanwhile, went back to his hostel to look at other things he could be doing (and, in a small-world kinda way, he had met the thirteen Danish girls that were traveling with the other four Danes). Then, unexpectedly, Julie came and sat down with me. I asked her how her night had gone, since she hadn't come home. Her answer was...not terribly encouraging. Apparently, she had left the nightclub at 3am (all other volunteers had left before then). When they couldn't get a taxi, she went with Jose to an apartment, where she tried going to bed. However, Jose, full of beer and Galapagos machismo, tried multiple times to make a move on her. It got so bad that she ended up sleeping on the floor to get out of the situation. Now, this story obviously took everyone who has heard it (who I think you can assume is everyone named from here on) as horrific in its own way. The general consensus is that while Jose may not have had any malevolent intentions, his actions were unacceptable on multiple levels, and its due in large part to the really uncomfortable culture that seems to be widespread amongst all men in the Galapagos (and while I can't personally vouch, I've heard it’s similar for mainland Ecuador). The general idea is that "I'm a man, I gotta be manly, and get all the women, and so I just have to go for it." It's obviously not one that I could ever get behind, but this particular case is made worse by the fact that Jose is forty-plus, and Julie was younger than me. Also, him being our boss? Yeah, that's an issue and a half. Needless to say, it's hurt all of our perceptions about the program, or at least the leadership of the program. I personally feel that it's partially an issue of non-action (in the sense of people not holding Jose and the other locals off, telling them that their constant jokes and encouragement of womanizing doesn't fly), so I wrote a letter (well, a speech), which I'd have to trust Google to translate, to read to Jose to let him know that this kind of stuff wasn't okay. I would only do so if everyone else felt comfortable with it, because I didn't want to make things harder for the other volunteers. But yeah, while I'll continue my term here for purposes of helping the island, I'm not sure you'll be finding any glowing reviews of Jose (or his son, who I also heard was making some forceful moves at the nightclub) any time soon.
Unsurprisingly, Julie was feeling a bit melancholic, so I offered to get her a coffee at the place we were at. Unfortunately, the cafe may have good WiFi, but otherwise it's notoriously terrible, as proved by the fact that despite the lengthy menu, the only thing being offered at the time was cold drinks from the fridge. Not wanting to spend any more time there, we transferred to a table at the store next door, which had a much more lenient owner, and offered very slow, but actually free, WiFi, enough to check emails. We spoke a little while longer, and then the Finns showed up to join us. They had moved into their hostel for the day, and were now planning to enjoy a few days on the island before taking a boat to Isla Isabela. And, after a bit more time, Bronn rejoined us, and we all just chatted for a while. (We also said hello to Julie's father [I think], who she was Skyping with.) The group had been planning to get pizza at 6pm, and I was originally planning on passing, since I felt like I should get back and clean up, but it was already 5:30pm at this point, so I decided to stay. We then tried to find a pizza place, because with Ecuadorian time, it would take a half-hour for any order to be prepared. Unfortunately, "Ecuadorian time" also has to do with open hours, and we were told the pizza place wouldn't be opening until 7pm. The others decided to go get a beer until then, but this was pushing it pretty late for me, so I just decided to go back to the Hacienda. This proved easier said than done, since there didn't seem to be nearly the number of taxis as there was during the week. Also, I've heard that if you don't have a girl in your party, it's much more difficult to convince a taxi to take you, and I found that to be true. I was walking - well, limping - through town to find a taxi, and when I got to one, they would give some give some excuse as to why they couldn't take me. The most egregious one was a guy that I'm 80% sure I've actually driven with before. He said he didn't know Hacienda Esperanza. I said it was near Hacienda Tranquila. "No se." ("I don't know.") I said it was 2km after the town of El Progresso, literally one of three actual towns on the island. "No se." He said, and then rolled up his window and drove off. It ended up taking me a half-hour to find a taxi that was willing to take me, and he actually did so without trying to overcharge me.
Back at the Hacienda, I decided I should first move into my new room (the Finns' old room), so I hauled all my stuff over, piece by piece. (I definitely seem to have more stuff when it's all unpacked.) I then took a shower, only in the middle of which did I realize that I had forgotten my towel. Thankfully, I was alone for the moment, so I could make it to my room without any concerns of modesty. Back in my room, I finally got to make some good use of my first-aid kit (the first time since South Africa, I think?). I sanitized all my cuts, and then double-sanitized them using high-alcohol-content swabs (and hoo boy, that stung). I then bandaged it all up. Unfortunately, now I was finding that it was hard to walk on that foot, not just because of the cut on my heel (which was at the moment, like a pita sandwich of blood) but because it seemed as though I might have twisted my ankle before and not realized it. I looked around my room, and saw a broom. I unscrewed the handle to make an improvised cane/walking stick, and then spent the rest of the night hobbling around like some old kung-fu movie guru and/or Yoda. I looked into my options for dinner, but was feeling especially lazy, so initially poured myself some cereal and was content for that to be the meal of the night. However, one of Jose's brothers (Eduardo, I think?) came in and offered to heat up some already-made pasta and potatoes for me. After eating, I hobbled back to my room, where I wanted to write, but just had no energy to do so, so just hung around and watched some videos. I spoke to a couple of the Danish folk who came back for the night, but they had to get to work moving their stuff into a new room, so I let them be. I then just relaxed a bit more until my eyes couldn't stay open anymore.
I was hoping to sleep in until 9am the next morning, but the light and sound outside meant that I was getting up at 8am. Still, it wasn't horrible, as it meant that I was able to have breakfast with everyone. And my foot was feeling somewhat better. Not enough to walk normally on, but enough that I didn't need my makeshift walking stick. During breakfast, it seemed like everyone was planning on going to the distant beach, the one that requires a two-hour hike to get to. I had been considering this throughout the week, but since I had at two beaches in two days, I wasn't particularly insistent on getting there. And now with my foot, it was sort of a foregone conclusion that I'd be staying home. So I thought I'd make the most of it. I started out by playing my harmonica in the hammock, something that's been long overdue. I then did some laundry in the shower, which I promptly hung in laundry line in back (at which point I immediately became resentful of two pairs of panties using up four of the best clothespins. Once I was finished with that, everyone was gone. So, I went in, and just relaxed, keeping as much pressure off my foot as possible, and then wrote. And I spent most of the day writing. In fact, I'm pretty much fitting in a good 30% of the day in these couple sentences. It...it wasn't the most eventful of days, you guys. At lunchtime, Eduardo came back in and made me a fantastic meal (I think he's probably the best cook on the Hacienda), and then I just spent the rest of the afternoon writing and checking my laundry (and struggling to keep Ardia the dog from getting inside the house). Eventually, a cloud came in with a light rain, and I had to rush to get the remainder of my dry laundry inside before it got wet again.
Folks who had gone to the beach began trickling in at 5pm. The general consensus that I heard from them is that the two hour hike each way was extremely challenging, and that the beach was not necessarily worth it (well, it varied from "maybe worth it" to "definitely not"). Apparently, though, the worst part though is that they were misinformed about when and how they were coming back. They thought they'd be returning at 1pm by mule to have lunch. Instead they headed back by foot at some later point (probably after 3pm), and so none of them had eaten. As such, Sebastian, the first one back, asked to "buy" dinner from Jose (remember, it's not included for them) and to have it made "pronto". When the rest came in, in various shades of red, they sat down with the same sense of exhausted resignation. In any event, we spent the next several hours at the table talking. I lent my laptop to help with some photo transfer, dinner was had, and more talking was done. I found it interesting that the Danish folk didn't seem quite as impressed by my adventures when I mentioned them in passing as almost anyone else on this trip. It's not like I'm trying to sound impressive (well, maybe a little bit), but there was never a real rise out of any of them. My guess would be that their trip into the Amazon forest was their own buffer: it seemed like the ultimate adventure that nothing could quite live up to. That, or maybe I'm getting weaker in my anecdote telling? Who knows, but it mattered little, because there was a sudden influx of mosquitoes in the room when we were talking, possibly spurred on by the moister environment. Once we all got some repellant on, we continued talking, which somehow got me showing Askari photos at one point. Once everyone was packing up to go to bed for the night, I looked over some of the photos again, and then looked through my two end-of-the-month videos. Such nostalgic feelings; I really do miss Askari in some ways. But we're not at Askari, so gotta focus on the present. Specifically, the one week left in the Galapagos. It may very well prove to be an interesting week, but we'll see.
Oh, and I should note that I know Bronn's name is actually Bram, but I like Bronn better, so I'm not going to retrofit my old posts, nor will I reflect it in future posts. Because.