A post from Kimberly Hoover
Monday afternoon we made the familiar landing in the bay of Puerto Ayora in Santa Cruz. We had spent the morning finishing up our final exam for Hugo and packing for the four-day stay on the island. We checked into a hotel right on the water with an ocean view from the balconies right outside each of our rooms.
The next morning, we walked down the road to the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS), to the swanky digs of Lonesome George. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this viejo, George is the last remaining Pinta tortoise of the archipelago and is kept at the CDRS in the breeding center. George was stumbled upon in 1972, when scientists had embarked on a hunting trip with the intention of eradicating all feral goats from the islands. Researchers are hoping George will continue to settle for mating with females of a similar (yet different) species in attempt to bring back a very specialized variety of land tortoise. At the Station we listened to a couple lectures and got to explore the small library tucked away in the corner of the Station. I found a stack of “free books” (Jeri: I seem to have a knack of smelling out free boxes, books, etc. This skill might be because of you?). I came away with a Spanish dictionary printed by the University of Chicago in 1977. A Corn Flakes box, duct tape, and typewriter are the tools that give this book a Frankenstein appearance as well as a restored front cover, which had probably been lost at the hands of numerous Spanish speaking novices passing through the Station. I fell in love with the book even though there are multiple pages attempting escape from the boundaries of the pliable monster jacket.
We had the rest of the afternoon free to do as we please. My friends scampered off to las grietas to test their luck at jumping from the cliffs. I spent the afternoon at a café that I had intended on visiting during both of my previous trips to this island. I finally made it, ordered a cookie and americano, and settled in with As the Sun Also Rises. I returned to this comfortable position thrice more throughout the week and finally finished the book. I’m now hungry for more Hemingway so if you have some of his works just hanging around your place, I’d love to borrow them when I get home.
Breakfast at 0630 started the day preparing for our day trip to the island Floreana. A two-hour boat ride across the choppy ocean got us there in one piece. Arriving in the bay, we were greeted by a school of dolphins! I’ve never seen dolphins before so their animated jumping about had my stomach in thrills. After all of the excitement, our large group funneled into three different chivas (open air buses) and headed for the highlands. Up here we encountered stone faces, a spring that provides the 100 person community in the lowlands with water, and more land tortoises. From the highlands, I rode on the top of the chiva with some of my comrades. Comfort was compromised by sitting up top but the view of the hills and the ocean was worth it. We were a tired group by the time we had lunch, but we had yet to visit Playa Negra. The black sand was blazing under our bare feet and added to our motivation to get in the water. We snorkeled around a bit and hung out in the sunshine. A little penguin visited us on the beach and many jumped back in the water to go swim around with him.
On Thursday, the fourth day of our adventure, our aquatic friends from the marine track of GAIAS went scuba diving at Gordon Rocks and came home with quite the whale of a tale… I mean, shark tale. My dear friends saw handfuls.. no, FISTfuls of hammerhead sharks. While the highlands of Santa Cruz didn’t present any hammerheaded fish, they did provide a relaxing day of exploring in the Scalesia forest. We hiked up one of the highest peaks (not really a peak but a hill) and saw a beautiful view of Puerto Ayora. We hiked down and went to visit los Gemelos, two gigantic holes in the ground that resulted from… a gas bubble from the underlying magma. Our guide explained it like this: “You know when you microwave a marshmallow, or milk?” (Me: No, my mother would never let me.) “When it bubbles up from the heat or take it out from the microwave” (Me: I hope she’s wearing pot holders…) “the bubble falls. That is how these holes were made. The magma is the heat source underground which caused the ground to bubble up, and then fall.” (Me: I would have never thought of that when a marshmallow was blowing up in the microwave. Mom would be so mad….)
Here, in Santa Cruz, is the largest forest of Scalesia trees in the entire archipelago (and since the trees are endemic, the world!). We wandered around, our prof in awe of the abundance of his favorite Galápagos plant, and stopped at a popular restaurant in the highlands where there were also land tortoises… more tortoises. I say that like I’m bored of them but I’m not. I absolutely love the ol’ geezers.
I’ve been rushing through this entire post just so I could get to my favorite part: Thanksgiving dinner. Of course, being on Santa Cruz Island of the Galápagos didn’t quench my thirst for the traditional Thanksgiving celebration. But let me tell you, I had one hell of an alternative. A small group of us went to Café del Mar and sat at a long table. We held hands and went around the table saying what we were thankful for. I want to say that this is not a tradition in my family. I don’t know why but we probably haven’t done this since I was a little, little girl. Nothing brings me closer to people than sharing this kind of emotional experience. After a few laughs and a few tears later, we were digging into the food, silently thankful that we got also garlic bread. I try to express to these people how thankful I am to have met them but I don’t think any words, no matter how big or how powerful they may seem, could adequately reflect how much I love them. Maybe recounting Thanksgiving combined with the ever-present and approaching departure from the islands is making me sentimental as I write this post. But in all seriousness, I have grown so much in the past three and a half months and I owe that growth to these people I’ve been spending almost every day with. They have contributed to a very welcoming atmosphere here on the island and I have discovered an immense amount about myself. To those GAIAS estudiantes reading this, thank you… you have been a very special gift para mi ♥
I don’t know if you believe in magic buuuut Friday definitely had that fantastical air about it. Our group headed to Tortuga Bay, a beach with sand as fine as baking flour. We played in the waves, ran around in the sand, and threw mud at each other. After all of that, all I’ve got to show for it is a sunburnt nose. We headed back to San Cristóbal that afternoon and I got home around 1700.