The bruises on my shins tell it all. I am not a boat person. Too impatient to move with the swell of the sea I have spent the first few days colliding with stairs, walls and beds as I make my way around Daphne.
But something has changed. I’m not sure when it happened, but now, instead of lurching around the boat and stumbling into the zodiacs, I am moving around with ease, running up the stairs, and stepping onto the zodiacs with confidence.
I think it started yesterday, when I relaxed as I swam in the clear turquoise water of Gardner Bay, followed by an unexpected family whatsapp session.
Today started early, with a pre-breakfast snorkel session off Kicker Rock. I had been told that this was one of the best experiences of the trip. The morning light shone on the towering peak as we snorkelled below, observing fish, neon blue plankton, graceful turtles and sharks as frigate birds, gulls and boobies glided above us; it was hard to know whether to look up or down. The hour passed quickly as we circled the rock and swam through the channel seeing different marine life on either side. The two zodiacs shadowed us, with crew members Umberto and Jonathon keeping an eye on us.
After breakfast and a short cruise to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the main port of San Cristobal, we farewelled half our group. While they went to the airport, we had time to explore, and access ATMs and free WiFi. San Cristobal, named Chatham by the English, is home to the oldest permanent settlement of the islands and is the island where Darwin first went ashore in 1835.
The port has a lovely feel – not as flash and touristy Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz. I was surprised to learn that there are many government offices here, as I saw no signs of bureaucracy. There are lots of entreaties to care for our world – from a seal made of recovered plastic, (although most souvenir shops automatically give you a plastic bag) to photo-voltaic solar lights on the main pier.
The coffee shop Jose recommended was in a side street, and not air-conditioned. For once, comfort took precedence over coffee quality, and I chose one on the waterfront instead. Sadly, it was between coffee for breakfast and coffee for morning tea, and there was no coffee, so I settled for a mineral water. Anyway, my main reason for stopping was to write postcards and use the WiFi. When some of my fellow passengers arrived about twenty minutes later, they had no trouble getting a coffee, but I was running short of time.
Believing this was our last chance to contribute to the economy of San Cristobal, it was time to hit the souvenir shops. There were many on the main street, all displaying T-shirts of different colours and designs. These varied enormously in price and quality – and finding a preferred pattern in the desired size and colour was more challenging than expected, considering the number of outlets. My original idea of finding matching shirts for my brother and his grandsons proved too hard – but at least they will all have tortoises. (So I thought; renewed inspection reveals one tortoise and two turtles.)
Back on board, we met our new complement of travellers – Canadians, Israeli and English. After lunch we returned to the port to visit the interpretative centre. This was highly informative in terms of the geology, biology and history of the islands. The newbies had a quick look then left to visit the tortoise reserve, while we had time to explore in depth, learning about buccaneers and whalers who made Galapagos home in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and later settlements including a penal colony, agriculture, sugar cane and fishing industries and a US Army base in World War II.
A large display outlined plans for the Galapagos Islands to become entirely reliant on wind power and solar energy by 2017. Sadly, these plans have stalled. Jose told us how hard it is to educate and keep young Galapagenos; his children live on the mainland to get a better education. He described volunteer medical students who were better than the local medical staff. Recently, a colleague had died because only one person knew how to operate an essential piece of medical equipment and they were unavailable when needed.
We walked back slowly to town, passing sea lions in their natural environment – and taking advantage of human structures.
When we came to a beach I exclaimed “We should have brought our togs and had a dip”. Blank looks from those for whom my Aussie slang was meaningless.
Without the swim, we settled for a beer from the beach kiosk. The kiosk bore a large scouts logo, although apparently the scouts only benefit from the sale of the empties, not the alcohol itself.
There was time for more souvenir shipping, coffee and WiFi before the other passengers returned and we caught the zodiacs back to Daphne, observing the sea lions happily basking in dinghies as the sun set.
Although we were offered a ride back to town after dinner, only a couple of the group’s younger members availed themselves of the opportunity. I had my customary early night, listening to the sound of distant music and the barking of sea lions as the boat rocked. gently, relieved that I no longer needed to lurch around the boat like a drunken sailor.