Over the next few days the time seemed to expand and contract simultaneously. The days went fast but we saw so much, did so much, ate so much… the food on the boat is really good. So much for the diet. But with two walks and a snorkel most days, at least I’m balancing the calories to some extent.
Did I mention I learned how to snorkel for the first time in my life? Not so shabby for a fifty-something. And it’s so, so beautiful, moving slowly or just lying flat in the water above shoals of scorpionfish, rainbow wrasse, pufferfish and yellow-tail surgeonfish. Spotting a green sea-turtle for the first time swimming below me, and following as it rose to the surface, so effortlessly and with such grace. It looked as if it was in slow motion. A magical moment. And if I definitely had go-pro envy at this point as number as of my boat-mates had underwater cameras and videos, there was another side to it too. As a professional photographer, it was actually a real release (once I had let go of the envy) to be allowed to just ‘be’, experiencing everything as it happened without having to try for the perfect shot. Note to self: don’t let my other half know this – it’s what he’s been telling me for years, dammit.
Floreana island is one of the inhabited islands, originally colonised by diverse adventurers, including a drunken Irishman, a self-titled Baroness who disappeared in mysterious and unexplained circumstances, and various political prisoners who were shipped over here in the nineteenth century. The Wittmer family arrived in the highlands in the late 1920s, and their descendants are still living on the island: a testament, according to Silvia our guide, to the pioneering spirit of the people settling here. ‘There was nothing, only one freshwater stream,’ she told us. ‘And Margaret was five months pregnant when she arrived.’ I thought back to my pregnancies, full of complications, check-ups and medical interventions. It didn’t bear thinking about.
We docked at the little jetty, avoiding sleepy sea-lions and wondering at innumerable sally lightfoot crabs massed on the quayside wall.
Into an open-sided bus and then a bone-rattling journey up to Asilo de la Paz in the highlands, which brought more tortoises, flocks of ground finches, pirate caves and a spoof ‘primitive head’ carved by one of the Wittmer family and passed off as an ancient artefact to Thor Heyerdahl, the explorer, who was completely taken in, apparently. When the joke was explained he was not so amused.
Back on board the Mary Anne, having first swum off the beach above actual sharks – small black-tipped reef sharks, non-aggressive, so I’m told. An interesting moment. Some of the sails went up for the afternoon trip, assisted by the more able and willing of our party. I was neither, with back, knees and more recently thumb joints that come with an ageing body. It was fun watching them sweat though.
The boat was a lovely sight as we travelled to Isabela in the afternoon, although it was an abiding disappointment that the engines were never cut. But it looked beautiful. In fact, every time we anchored and went ashore, there was a little rush of pleasure on seeing our boat looking like a proper boat amidst the luxury launches and cruisers that populate the island harbours.
And as for living-on-a-boat: I wasn’t seasick, or dizzy, or dehydrated, although I did drink an awful lot of water. Turns out February is one of the hottest months in the Galapagos, which clearly I didn’t pick up online. Silvia reckoned it was actually pretty temperate at the moment, more like May. Which sparked off a discussion which recurred many times througout the trip: is this an El Niño year or not? Many experts think yes, but Silvia disagreed – not enough rain, she said.
It was great being part of a small group, having discussions and joking around. It brought a sense of belonging that is the polar opposite of the loneliness I had expected to feel as a solo traveller. For me, it was the ideal size, 12 of us plus Silvia, plus the crew. Small enough to feel familiar, large enough to be able to take time out to be alone. And with a really friendly and knowledgable Galapaganean guide available pretty much 24/7 the insight into the islands and their ecosystems was amazing. It was quite surreal to realise that it was only the end of the third day.