Ecuador · Sea · Uncategorized

Stranded: The Floreana Saga

Originally published on 19 August 2015.

Beautiful Floreana! This day was a very special one. Steve and I got to experience a REAL remote island in the Pacific! We rose early, went down for breakfast at the Galapagos Suites, and before we knew it, we were being picked up by our private guide! His name was Marcos, and he was very knowledgeable about all of the islands! And he actually learned English by just listening to people and picking it up on the fly. His English was awesome! His family was one of the first to settle on Santa Cruz, and they started the first restaurant there. He is a native Galapian (Galapagoan?) if ever there was one!

We walked to the ferry, and immediately had our bags checked for fruits and vegetables. They are very particular about what goes on or comes off of the islands here, even among the islands! We waited only a few minutes for our water taxi, which took us and about 12 or so others to the waiting ferry. It’s 29 miles from Santa Cruz to Floreana, and the trip takes a little over two hours. August is a rougher time on the high seas. The first question anyone asks you before going is, “Do you get seasick?” Fortunately for Steve and me, we are not prone to seasickness. Also, Marcos made sure we sat in the back, near the engines (the heaviest part of the boat with the least sway). The three of us were fine, but several other struggled with seasickness. Me? I was too busy being terrified we would tip over!

The waves were so high, and this was not even a terribly rough seafaring day, or so we were told! There were a couple of times I was certain we’d tip over and sink down. So glad I was wrong! Steve held my hand, I prayed, and I sang whatever church songs came to my head! It’s funny how many church songs have sea references in them. “We Have an Anchor,” “Here We Are but Straying Pilgrims,” and “Be Not Dismayed Whate’re Betide” to name a few! Those were some of the ones that got me through! Plus I had to pee so desperately, I was distracted from the constant motion. That was also not the best part of the ferry ride!

But then we made it! And it was worth the journey. When we anchored off the shore and waited for the water taxi, Marcos told us some good news. They are one of the only islands with a fresh water source, so we can drink the water and brush our teeth in the sink, and the entire island has free wi-fi! So exciting!

Our first glimpse of Floreana!

We left our bags with our hotel hostess and set out for a fun excursion to the top of the mountain! There’s a Giant Tortoise center up there. The tortoises were a gift to the Cruz family (who own our hotel and were some of the first Ecuadoreans to settle the island, no relation with “Santa Cruz” Island). The tortoises were so big! And they really are cute creatures, too. They’ll just move at their own pace, eat, look at you, eat, and repeat. It’s difficult to spot them at first. They sort of look like rocks until you know what you’re looking for!

So sweet!

We hiked around a bit more and saw the caves where some of the first settlers–Germans with the surname Wittmer–lived. They had livestock up there, fresh water, and the most amazing view! We could see cutouts in the rocks where they kept the animals. The cutouts were in the shape of guns, a gate closure, and other storage spaces. We even saw their cave house!

Cut-outs in the rock where they kept their guns!

So, Ecuador officially claimed the Galapagos Islands in February of 1832, but a German man named Ritter and his “lover” and a German family, the Wittmers, were the first permanent settlers to any of the Galapagos Islands. They came around the 1930s, and they settled on Floreana! Maybe they already knew, or maybe they found out when they got there, but this island had its own water source, which is a great thing when you are settling somewhere! Ecuadoreans came to settle here in the 1950s or so.

But this island is only sparsely populated by just 165 people today. Why, you may ask? Murder. Not so long ago, there was a woman who lived here–Margaret–and apparently she killed her competition, the Baroness who came to the island with her two lovers to start a hotel. She said, “It was her or me.” And that was her reason. Marcos told us about a movie called The Galapagos Affair that tells the story. I can’t wait to rent it! He said there have been lots of things written about the incident, but none of them tell the truth except this movie! Anyway, no one wanted to move to Floreana after this incident because they were afraid of this woman. I believe Marcos said she died in the 2000 at 95 years old.

And we’re walking! We got back to the truck that had brought us up the hill and made our way back down the bumpy road to lunch! It was typical Galapagos fare: fish, rice, veggies, and fruit. And they always start with soup! Then we headed just outside of town to our hotel… A cabin on the black beach!

We stayed at the Floreana Lava Lodge: 10 individual cabins on the shore, complete with drinkable water, a humongous bed, and a/c! To get there, we walked across a black sand beach (a mix of lava ash and regular sand). The best part? Our cabin faced west–toward the sunset that would be coming in a few hours! The shower didn’t exactly drain, but everything else was just about paradise!

We had about an hour to relax and unpack, then it was time to set out for the sea! We grabbed our snorkel gear and met Marcos on the boardwalk in front of the cabins. But we were maybe not quite prepared for the hike ahead. The trail to the beach we would be visiting started out nice and smooth… Then became rocky… Then rockier… Then we were practically climbing over them! But it was completely worth the trek. The white sand there was beautiful! And we could see all the way through to the bottom.

My Love

I tried to use my snorkel gear, but #1, I’m not good at it. And #2, something was wrong with it because when I breathed in, I got a mouthful of saltwater! No big deal, though. Steve could use his goggles, and I could see plenty from the top! We even made a turtle friend… Ferdinand! He was so cute. He came to the surface to breathe and say hello many times. And even a few times the next day! He was great fun. Sorry I didn’t get a picture of him. He was too fast!

We swam around for an hour or so, talked with Marcos while we dried off, and hiked back to our cabin to freshen up and watch the sunset before dinner. I’m so thankful for my fresh feet! They can take me anywhere again!

Sunset on Floreana

After watching one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen, we set out for supper! We had to take the “torch” (flashlight) provided in the room because there are no streetlights on the path back to the cabins, which made for some beautiful star gazing on the romantic walk back!

Supper was incredible! Lelia, the owner of the restaurant, made us soup, yuca fritters (like potato fritters meet hush puppies), mahi mahi (wahoo fish), veggies, and a brownie with coffee ice cream for dessert! Everyone we’ve encountered has been kind, courteous, and hospitable, and they seem quite happy to have guests!

Suppertime!

Marcos suggested we go for a walk after dinner. It was already pretty late for us, but we’re good sports, and maybe there would be more to see at night! And sure enough, there were rays at the dock! A group of about 6 were swimming around, along with some sea lions and fishes! After Steve and I went back to our cabin, Marcos told us he had seen a sea lion giving birth! But I’m not too sorry we missed it. :/

The next morning was Sunday. And also my birthday! What better way to spend your birthday than with the one you love on a remote island in the Pacific? We went for a birthday run on the dirt and rock road (the only road on the island!) and met Marcos for breakfast. He wished me a happy birthday, and we feasted with a view of the ocean! Breakfast fare here has been similar at each place we’ve been: toast, jam, butter, eggs or ham and cheese, fruit, juice, granola, and yogurt.  And of course, coffee! The coffee here is so good!

Nice view for breakfast.

After breakfast, we had some free time. First order of business: check out the post cards! Floreana was the post office island once upon a time. And it still operates as such! There is actually a barrel “mailbox” where you can put a post card or letter in, even without a stamp, and if someone comes along who lives nearby, you can deliver it to them! Legend has it, Margaret (the murderer) used to sit and look through everyone’s mail every day. And we actually found three bound for Northern Virginia! One for Oakton, one for Clifton, and one for Vienna. All are within about 20 minutes our home from Reston! What are the chances? I took those and will deliver them when I get home! We also found about 10 post cards with $4 worth of stamps on them, all bound for Germany. I won’t be delivering them in person (though that would be fun!), but since they’re stamped with such expensive stamps, I decided to actually mail them in Puerto Ayora. What a fun thing to do on my birthday! I love post cards! And what a beautiful place to look through them, at the pier, with a view of the ocean and unique animals all around.

The day was a bit overcast, but the water was fairly calm, so next we decided to take on the black sand beach! We cut through the Wittmer Hotel’s beach to get there, laid out our towels, and had so much fun watching the animals and the waves! Sea lions were everywhere–some in the ocean, many laying on the beach! We were told they attack, so we kept a safe distance. And guess who came to say hello… Ferdinand, our sea turtle friend! He stuck his little head up to breathe and say happy birthday! What a delight! The water was cold, but we got in anyway. Well, just from the waist down. The lava ash grains were bigger than typical sand, and they got in my water shoes with no way out! That made for an uncomfortable walking experience back to the cabin, but in the meantime, we enjoyed the peace and serenity of an unpopulated beach somewhere in the Pacific. It was wonderful!

Time for lunch! Lelia outdid herself by serving soup, chicken, potato tortillas (looked like what we would call a patty or fritter, not the flat Mexican tortilla you may have in mind!), yuca fritters, plantain chips, salad, and fruit with ice cream!

While there, we also heard that our boat back to Santa Cruz was delayed, but that we’d be getting a faster boat! We were supposed to leave at 2:30, but with the new boat, we’d leave at 3:30. No big deal. Usually you’re not allowed to leave the island after 3:00pm because the Ecuadorean navy doesn’t want anyone out on the high seas after dark, and some islands are several hours away. They were making an exception for us, thought I didn’t understand exactly why. It would be about an hour and 40 minute boat ride, and supposedly less rough because of our going with the current instead of against it. Sounds good to me!

So we went down to the pier with plenty of time, and we watched the animals for a while. We saw a mama and baby sea lion that Marcos told us was born last night. They were so cute! You could tell poor mama was exhausted and didn’t want to do much. (Although from our observation, we noticed that the sea lions mostly loved to lay in the sun all day!)

Mother and pup

Her poor little pup was still blind, so he or she was having a hard time finding its way to the food. It didn’t help that mom was covering the food with her flipper! The pup almost made it, but it kept going farther and farther to the right… Until it fell off the steps! Mom got up to rescue her baby, and it took a while, but they finally made it to a safe place.

3:30 came and went. No boat.

4:00. No boat.

But there! In the distance! It was a flock! A flock of… Flamingoes! Four of them, flying through the air! Ok, since I didn’t even realize that flamingoes could fly until just two days before, this was a major highlight! I was so excited! They came out to show off for my birthday!

Flying flamingoes!

See them? Sorry my camera doesn’t have a better zoom!

A little after 4:30, a boat finally arrived! We saw it speeding our way, and everyone waiting eagerly gathered to be the first on board. But the navy, whose rule is that no boats leave after 3:00pm, needed to talk with the captain. Again, the boats are not allowed to go out between islands after 3:00 because they may have to complete their journey in the dark, and it’s just not allowed. But they made an exception for us! Later we found out that Marcos had told the navy guy that Steve and I had a flight to catch the next morning, and we couldn’t miss it! I don’t know if that’s the reason we got the exception, but we were thankful! Sure, it would have been really nice to be “stuck” on that beautiful island for another night, but since we had more on our schedule for the next day (and Marcos’s fiancee had come hone early from the mainland to surprise him), it’s really better if things stay on track!

So we waited while the water taxi went to pick up the incoming passengers from the boat. And then all of us (about 15 or so) crowded around to board the water taxi and get on our way. Marcos made sure we got prime seating at the back of the boat again, where the motion would be less dramatic. The boat had two engines instead of one, and so it was a faster ride, but a wetter one as well! About half way through, Steve and I switched to the other side of the boat (still at the back), which was shielded from the spray, but the exhaust from the engines got stuck there, so because of that, neither of us felt that great by the end! I could tell the ocean wasn’t quite as rough as the day before, but oh my, it was not actually smooth either!

We did get to watch the sunset from the boat, so that was really quite lovely. But then I realized how far we still had to go in the dark. When we made it into Puerto Ayora, a water taxi came out to meet us and transfer us from the boat to the dock. We were so glad to be on something sturdy after a long afternoon! When we arrived, both Louis and Liz from Galapagos Alternative were there to greet us and to apologize. Again, so above what was necessary! They even said the owner of the boat company was so sorry, she wanted to buy us dinner the next night! They also provided a complementary taxi ride to our hotel, and when we arrived, our hostess had put a bottle of Chilean red wine and two glasses on our bed! Everyone knows I don’t drink, but Steve had some with dinner (leftover calzones from two nights prior and a couple of energy bars), and we were able to do a little church service with communion and a sermon online after dinner, too! We had something like crackers with us, and the Divinely-provided red wine saved us from having to go out after dark to find grape juice somewhere. It all worked out so well!

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