Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Galapagos

 When I was sixteen, my dad gave me a copy of Dove. In the book, a young Robin Lee Graham, while circumnavigating in a small sailboat, makes a stop in the Galapagos. He and his girlfriend anchor along abandoned coasts, dive for endless lobster, and enjoy the natural abundance of this archipelago. If Max and I had sailed here in the 60s or 70s, I imagine we would've experienced something similar and even entertained the daydream that we were the discoverers of this benign and enchanting group of islands. Maybe if humans had behaved a little better, we could've had that experience. Sailing to the Galapagos in 2015 means passing a gauntlet of national park regulations, paying a high price to stay in one anchorage for no more than 20 days, and using an agent to navigate the complex regulations. For us it has also meant experiencing the most abundant and breath-taking biodiversity of our trip, the most colorful and imaginative landscapes, and interacting with an impressive community charged with the complex and difficult task of protecting one of the world's most valuable ecosystems from the tourism that also sustains it. Being here for three weeks, working with the students at the Thomas de Berlanga school, and doing some tourism of our own, has taught us that humans and nature can live alongside one another quite peacefully. The problem is that everyone has to follow a lot of rules.

Within a short time of arriving, we had a considerable number of people board our boat to complete paperwork and inspections. They vacuumed corners of the galley floor, looked through the boat, inspected the gray and black water discharge, asked to see a garbage and engine maintenance log, and then dove on our hull to make sure we were not introducing any new species. Our agent reminded us more than once that the US government spends millions of dollars each year trying to manage the zebra muscles and Asian carp in the Great Lakes. The process of passing the park regulations and being welcomed into the port took two days and cost about $1000. If you include the fumigation and the hull cleaning we had to do in Colombia, then the price is to closer $1200 for our three weeks in the Galapagos.   At times this did feel overwhelming, expensive, and time consuming. In the end it was worth it. These three weeks have taught us valuable lessons about how to build a culture that truly and deeply cares for it's ecosystem, provided us with incredible experiences, and changed our trip into an effort to build that type of culture wherever we travel, and hopefully where we settle when we return. That being said, it couldn't hurt the Galapagos to be a bit clearer about the rules (or enact a no wake rule in the harbor). Seriously, this anchorage feels like being in a blender at times.

Puerto Ayora, the main port of the Galapagos, on Isla Santa Cruz, is a quiet town hugging a turquoise harbor. All boats are anchored at the stern and bow, water taxis zoom people back and forth ($.80 in the daytime, $1 at night), endless tourism offices and restaurants line the streets, while seals and iguanas sleep on town docks and benches.  It is unquestionably safe, and the cleanest place we have been. The air is cool and dry which has been a huge relief after Colombia. For cruisers, the grocery stores are expensive, there is no pump out, there are laundry services all over town, and a vegetable market that is great (and pretty cheap). It is important to remember that you are on an island very far from the mainland and that everything has to be imported. The anchorage here is very beautiful and we have seen a lot of sea life just from the boats. Turtles, manta rays, sharks, and many swimming iguanas.

Our work with the Thomas de Berlanga school was so rewarding that we have decided to continue working with schools in each port we visit. We gave three presentations at the school that revolved around the idea of going out and accomplishing difficult dreams using our trip as an example. It was good, but we would like to make it more about the environmental history of the Hudson River and relate it to whatever human behavior, or past behavior, is affecting local waterways in the areas where we visit. This may be the impact of tourism, mining practices, toxins in the water, or plastic pollution. Hopefully, we will be able to get kids out sailing in each place that we go, teaching them to use their waterways, and that what is used, tends to be cared for more. We are excited and empowered by this project. It reflects something that Max and I really believe in and the philosophy that we would like to return with to the Hudson Valley. We are indebted to the community here for making this possible, and specifically to Luis Fernandez (aka Champi), his wife Cristina, and their awesome kids, Emilio and Adrian.

Election day in Galapagos

Max dives deep into the turquoise of Las Grietas, a sort of channel between cliffs where ocean water has been trapped. We found this at the end of a short walk that also took us by pink, orange, green salt pools and into a cactus forest unlike anything I have ever seen.

The iguanas on Tortuga Bay's long beach are completely unafraid of humans. They swim in the surf and sun themselves on the beach or the lava rocks which they quite resemble.
Blue-footed Boobie at Tortuga Bay

A peaceful lagoon filled with turtles and Boobies at the end of Tortuga Bay.

Our cockpit with Champi and his two sons, Emilio and a sea-sick Adrian.

Max teaches the local surf team about the points of sail before going out.

Max and I did three presentations at the Thomas de Berlanga school!!

And then we had a jugo at the school's outdoor cafeteria.

Emilio philosophizes at the tiller.

Father pursuing son sailing away on Tortuga

Son deep in concentration

White tipped shark

The man that made our stay in Galap. possible.  Champi and Fam

The threatened Land Iguana

Benefits of invasive species

Laura surfing with sharks, iguanas, seals, and sea turtles

First real tortuga encounter

The Famous Marine Iguana