Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Galapagos day 3 - Isabela Island

Mark and I woke up early this morning, intending to go on a hike. Instead, we were treated to a thunderous rainshower. The sky remained clear as the rain poured out of the sky, pounded down on our tin roof in a cacophonous roar. Morning walkers cleared from the beach, while the sea-green, white-capped waves continued to calmly roll up over the black lava rocks and the soft white sand.

From our balcony, we can look over the curve of the beach, and at a wooden observation deck extending from the shore. We can hear the gentle roar of the ocean, together with the morning chicken caws and the sounds of tropical birds.

The rain would stop briefly, and then pour down again. With time, the sky darkened, the waves grew larger, a small lake formed on our balcony, and water began to seep under our door.

After the rain stopped, we headed on our hike to the Wall of Tears and the western part of this shore. We chose a hike over an opportunity to go snorkeling to nearby islands because we thought we'd have plenty of time for water-based activities on our upcoming cruise. The land barely showed any traces of having been drenched, soaking up the wetness with a parched eagerness.

We followed a narrow roadway, sometimes sand and sometimes crushed volcanic rock (the local gravel). We were treated to views of the beautiful white sand beach that stretched out in crescents, to cool, dark tangled mangroves, to moist wetlands and lagoons, and to dry, desert-like scrubby landscapes with towering cacti.

We passed a beautiful cemetery, marked off with a short wall of black volcanic rocks. The white tombs were very well maintained, covered with plastic flowers, religious statues and prayers. The grave of a 16-year-old girl, who died just one year ago, was at the cemetery entrance, a large photo of her young face in the glass-enclosed case on the headstone.

We visited the Wall of Tears, a sheer walk wall constructed by prisoners who were told to build themselves a prison. In a hot, shadeless, merciless area, one local guide said the reputation of this prison colony made “even the most hardened criminals cry for mercy.”

Our single day in the blistering hot sun resulted in a burn that took several days to heal. While we had to move quickly on the return, we had time to see a flock of blue-footed boobies on a lava peninsula, a lava tube and a wooded pathway scattered with small apples that looked like crabapples, but were in fact poisonous. We tried to take a shortcut by walking along the beach, but when that meant going around a patch of lava, we got stuck on the sharp rocks below and almost lost all our belongings. We decided to turn around and follow the standard path

Throughout the day, we wondered aloud what it must be like to live in a town of 2,200 on an isolated island within an isolated archipelago. Granted, there are must more isolated spots in the world. Boats leave daily at 6 a.m. for the 2-hour trip to Puerto Ayora, from where flights leave daily to Quito and Guayaquil. But for those who don't travel frequently, it's easy here to forgot about the rest of the world, or at least to feel so isolated from it that it doesn't matter too much. Here, one can roll away on the sound of the waves and the beachfront music and feel that yes, everything is going to be alright.

I was able to see a little bit of local life this afternoon when I attended a children's show being put on in celebration of the discovery of Isabela island. We seemed to have timed our visit with the week-long festivities that accompany this celebration. But the festivities in a town this size are only so big. The kid's show was advertised by blasting rock music from a speaker that could be heard almost all the way across town. I approached the sound of the music to see what was going on and I imagine many other attendees did the same.

The MC, dressed in black pants, a black bow tie, and an iridescent jacket, encouraged the children to join him on stage, then led them through a series of games and contests. During the dance contest, the children demonstrated considerable rhythm. Another contest had the kids race to bring back a shoe from their mothers.

When some of the children were reluctant to come onstage, the MC reminded onlookers that they wanted their kids to grow up to be doctors and engineers and people who would do good things. They needed to start by being brave and participatory.

I thought it was nice that the sound of pounding music can unite a community. I certainly envied the children who danced under palm fronds, almost oblivious of the crashing ocean waves behind them – a tropical paradise that was standard, hum-drum living for them. And I was impressed that people seemed to have high goals for their childrens’ futures. What I liked best of all was the calmness and friendliness of people. Quite a few tourists have begun to visit Isabela. Yet no one bothers them and everyone is ready to help. I saw a pair of women lying on the beach. No one selling them anything, no one staring at them, no one bothering them in any way. It’s one of those unique spots where one can find both beauty and peace.

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