|Floreana, Island of Death|
|2||The Ghosts of Post Office Bay|
|3||The Tragic Year|
|4||The Haven of Peace|
|5||The Early Settlers|
|6||The Search for Saydee Reiser|
|San Cristóbal, Island of Springs|
|8||Return To Paradise|
|10||At the Mercy of Wind and Current|
|11||Life in Puerto Baquerizo|
|12||The Americans Arrive|
|14||The Colonization of San Cristóbal|
|15||Of Treasures and Other Things|
|16||The Franciscan Missionaries|
|17||Tourists and Scientists|
|Santa Cruz, Island of the Norwegians|
|18||Date Palms, Wild Goats, Spiny Lobsters|
|19||The Early Inhabitants of Santa Cruz|
|20||Life of the Settlers|
|21||The Quest for Salt|
|22||The Island of the Buccaneers|
|23||Of Tortoises and Cacti|
|24||Goodbye to Paradise|
In 1959, I made two visits to Galápagos on behalf of the Swedish millionaire Folke Anderson. He owned then three banana plantations in Esmeraldas, the province that forms the northwestern corner of Ecuador. The first trip was with the purpose of making a general report on the islands; the second was carried out because Anderson wished to be updated on the cattle project he had going at Iguana Cove, in the southwest of Isabela. This project, I must remark, was started and organized without my advice, some time before he contacted me. Another purpose of the second trip was to investigate the possibilities offered by the salt deposits on the west side of Santiago Island. Anderson had sent out two geologists some time earlier, but was not satisfied with their report.
When, the following year, don César Solano de la Sala, the Guayaquil manager of Fruit Trading Corporation, one of Anderson's enterprises, offered me the position of agent for the company in Galápagos, I accepted despite the fact that I had been offered two more profitable positions in Guayaquil. Some people may have thought that I was a fool for making that decision, but I had two, to me perfectly valid reasons. One was my love for the islands, the other that I could contribute in some measure to make permanent the only regular and reliable means of transportation that Galápagos had had until that time.
The dream of having a ship which followed a reliable itinerary at least once a month had been dear to the heart of every settler since the first attempt at colonization. Fruit Trading Corporation had made this dream come true—but for how long? The cattle project on Isabela, which was the reason for the ship starting this run, had been recently abandoned, and the amount of cargo and passengers between the islands and Guayaquil was too variable throughout the year, so much in fact, that some trips were made at a loss. Tourism could be made into an income great enough to save the whole operation. We all thought that my help might be of some value.
Don César had by then placed all his trust and hope in tourism, an attitude that was supported completely by my first report to Anderson. But there was a problem neither of us could do anything about. Folke Anderson was involved in so many business projects that he had little or no time for the tourist venture he had spoken so warmly about at the time I had been his guest at Timbre, a beautiful plantation he owned just outside the city of Esmeraldas.
Finally, don César got tired of waiting for some action from head office, and, taking money from the limited funds available at the Guayaquil office, he had extra cabins built behind the bridge of the Cristóbal Carrier. As if this were not enough, he also had a large dining area installed across the front of the bridge, blocking the greater part of the visibility from there.
Though I could not help admiring don César's enterprising spirit and understood quite well his reasons, my seaman's spirit refused to accept the monstrosity into which the Cristóbal Carrier had been transformed, though the ship had never, it must be admitted, been what can be described as beautiful. I recall a visit I made to the waterfront area known as el Conchero, to take a look at the results of don César's instructions to the carpenters. There, I found Captain Nelson Campuzano standing on the river bank, contemplating with obvious distaste what had been done to his ship. Though I shared his feelings, I could not help tell him with the greatest gravity, “I've just talked to don César, and he told me that if this tourist thing succeeds he'll have another deck with a few more cabins added to the ship.”
The good captain turned around as if stung in the bottom by a wasp. The stunned, incredulous expression on his face was sensational. I could not hold back my laughter, a sign of good humor that Captain Campuzano felt no inclination to join in. Looking at me with resentment, he remarked, “After what they've done to this ship, it wouldn't surprise me if they kept adding decks until the damn thing turns belly up like a dead fish.”
Somewhat more seriously, I consoled, “Luckily, we have no storms in these waters, or she would turn belly up as she is.”
It was only two months later that I had to travel on the ship, to establish myself as her agent on San Cristóbal. Despite the aversion that her appearance caused my sense of nautical esthetics, I grew gradually fond of this floating rooming house, and even now, after all these years, I remember her with affection and a certain nostalgia.
Once I was appointed agent for Fruit Trading Corporation, I found myself with a great problem. Maritza, my wife, expected the arrival of our first-born. She had less than two months to go. I was not certain that she could travel to Galápagos in her condition. My mother, who was going with us, considered that the most sensible decision was for Maritza to remain on the mainland until the child was born. Maritza however wanted to travel to the islands and have our child there. On a hot afternoon, while sitting under the awning outside a café, I mentioned the problem to Senator Manuel Pareja, who then represented Galápagos in the National Congress. He laughed heartily, then advised, “Take her along, Jacobo. We have a first rate gynecologist on San Cristóbal. All you should do is to have her checked before you leave, to make sure everything is normal. If there are no complications, you can leave without worries. I assure you that all will be well.”
Next day, Maritza and I went to see a gynecologist, who not only assured us everything was normal, but also told us that it was perfectly safe for Maritza to travel. As for the fact that the Ecuadorian Navy had a gynecologist as a medical officer in Galápagos, this did not surprise me at all. Stranger things have happened on the islands. We also discovered a surprising coincidence—that medical officer happened to be Dr. Arturo Farfán, who was married to one of Maritza's second cousins, a relationship that was to be the beginning of a friendship we always shall remember with the greatest fondness.
On the third day after leaving Guayaquil, we arrived to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, on the southwestern side of San Cristóbal, the island closest to the mainland. Puerto Baquerizo is the administrative center of Galápagos, where the apostolic prefect, the governor, the chief of police, the commandant of the Second Naval Zone, and, at that time, the only physician and the only dentist resided. Despite the fact that it was the place of residence of so many important people, our minute capital had barely seven hundred inhabitants, a fact that also made it the major center of population in the islands at that time.
It was a sleepy, peaceful village, where nothing spectacular ever seemed to happen, so when the ship arrived from Guayaquil everybody got excited. The main street, where nearly all the businesses were located, was a strip of sandy soil that followed the shore of the bay. Much later, it would become a fine strand promenade, and would be covered with a bed of gravel and provided with a concrete sidewalk, improvements that became common to all the streets in the village. Also, a great many of the two-storied wooden houses would disappear, concrete block buildings taking their place. Concrete blocks became popular in Galápagos from the 1950's on, since they are termite proof and fairly cheap.
Our main problem was to get a place to live, for the only house we had left in Galápagos was my mother's, which was on Santa Cruz. My work required that I live on San Cristóbal, as it is the port of entry and departure for all ships visiting the islands. We finally found a place in the street that goes from the old landing to the road to the highlands. Unfortunately, we got it shortly before the ship was sailing, so we were unable to unload the considerable amount of furniture and luggage we had brought along. However, I made arrangements to have a boat and people ready to unload everything on our return from the trip around the islands. Thus, we left on our cruise without worries, in the knowledge that all our needs would be taken care of in due time.
We had a most interesting and pleasant cruise around the islands, for the weather was excellent, and we visited several remote areas, such as Punta Espinoza on the northeastern side of remote Fernandina, and Iguana Cove, on the southwestern side of Isabela. My mother and Maritza could enjoy watching sea lions, marine iguanas, penguins, flightless cormorants and other equally unique animals, which my mother had not seen for years and Maritza saw for the first time. Maritza's running across the slippery rocks of the foreshore at Punta Espinoza was a cause of much concern to my mother and myself; but luckily no accidents happened, and we can claim with good reason that we had a most enjoyable time.
During the voyage from Guayaquil, and the cruise around the islands, I made two new friends. One of them was a young Belgian, Gym Bowens, the scion of a prosperous family, who had a most pleasant personality and the best of manners. He became so charmed by Galápagos that he remained there for nearly a year. The other person was a young Swiss ornithologist, Dr. Raymond Lévêque, the first director of the Charles Darwin Research Station, which at that time did not even have an office to its name. In fact, it was even in doubt where its buildings would be erected.
Raymond kept mostly to himself, and my impression at the beginning of the trip was that he spent most of his time sleeping. It was obvious that he was not seasick, for he did not miss a meal and showed an excellent appetite, though he did not seem to benefit greatly from it, since he was rather thin in his younger years. It was on the second day of sailing from the mainland that I found out that Raymond was actually an early riser. I had mentioned to Captain Campuzano that I thought our Swiss passenger slept remarkably much. The skipper laughed. “Ah, Meester Pájaro (Mr. Bird)!” he exclaimed, using the name given to Raymond by the crew. “You're wrong there,” he explained. “He gets up very early, going up on the flying bridge as soon as there is enough light to see. There, he spends all his time, watching the sea birds with his binoculars. He only comes down to eat, or when it gets too dark to see anything.” He touched his temple eloquently with a finger, remarking in a compassionate tone, “Poor boy!” Then he shrugged. “But he seems quite harmless.”
When I told him who Raymond really was, he looked puzzled, then he smiled, dismissing it as one of my jokes. When Hugo Sarmiento, the supercargo, confirmed what I had said, he was greatly surprised. “What's the use of wasting so much time to watch some birds that aren't even edible?”
Realizing that I would waste my time trying to explain to the good captain the merits of ornithology, a subject I was not particularly interested in anyway, I shrugged, leaving the matter as it was.
Bowens and Lévêque remained on Santa Cruz when the ship called there the second time, on its return voyage to San Cristóbal. Once we got to this latter island, we had no problems settling into the house we had rented from Manuel Agama, a retired male nurse from the Ecuadorian Army, who worked as a health inspector, and owned a kiosk near the landing, where he sold soft drinks, beer and sandwiches. We could now begin our new life.
We found the island in a feverish activity, as an electoral campaign was in progress. On the one side, Senator Manuel Pareja was fighting for reelection, with Dr. Pedro Isaías as his list companion for the chamber of deputies. Against them stood Lorenzo Tous Febres-Cordero for senator and Atahualpa Chávez Gonzalez for deputy. Don Lorenzo was commonly known as Lorencito (Little Lorenzo) to distinguish him from his father, a Spanish businessman who had been established in Guayaquil for many years, whose name also was Lorenzo. Lorencito was, among other things, the owner of the old Cobos plantation in the highlands.
There was also another candidate for deputy, an independent. He was a light weight boxer, known as Veneno (Poison) Ledesma, who ridiculed the other candidates, and joked about his own chances. “If I keep coming back for every election, I'll end up as deputy one day. In the last election I got twenty votes, while I only got seven in the one before that. At that rate, it's only a matter of time.” Then, he would laugh happily. He could however been right, for he got thirty-six votes in 1960, but he did not return to try his luck in the next election, four years later.
For the arrival of Tous and Chávez—the latter a prosperous Guayaquil businessman—Ledesma wrote on one of the rafters of the shed at the entrance to the pier, with large, black characters, BIENVENIDOS, MILLONARIOS—“Welcome, Millionaires”. This jocular greeting was later read, translated, and mistakenly interpreted by the recently arrived American settlers as a hearty welcome from an impoverished population, expectantly awaiting the benefits that might be brought by American colonization. So much can one be mistaken.
In fact, on the day we returned from our cruise of the islands, the first group of thirty Americans arrived. They were headed by Captain Donald Harrsch, the founder of this cooperative of eighty-three families. Their purpose was to create a perfect society, living a communal life, free from selfishness and exaggerated ambition. They were buying the freezing plant and the buildings that Tous owned on the northeastern shore of the bay, as well as the old plantation, all of which would provide them with an income. Since these people, among whom I made some very good friends, deserve more than passing attention, we shall tell more about them in a separate chapter, further ahead.
As was to be expected in the warm season, the house we rented from Agama became an infernal experience, something I had already guessed when I noticed the lack of a ceiling. The rafters and the corrugated steel sheets above them were in full view. The heat that came from those metal sheets could be almost compared to that of a furnace, and our only relief were the large windows, which we left open all day long and into the early hours of the night.
But everything has its price. Through the windows came quantities of dust from the street and, though the women of the house spent much time cleaning it, all our belongings were covered much of the time with a thin layer of grayish powder. Another problem caused by these windows was the total loss of privacy, for everybody who went by looked through them, often sticking their heads in, to spend a few moments talking with whoever happened to be around.
Our friendship with the Farfán family—the physician and his wife—as well as my position as agent for the ship, led naturally to a friendship with the officers of the Second Naval Zone, a group of most pleasant people, headed by their commanding officer, Lt. Com. Angel Benavides Chávez and his wife Mariquita. They were a most charming couple. Among these good friends, we shall always remember with warm feelings Lt. Jaime Guerrero and his wife Gloria, a young Colombian lady from Cartagena, who became like a sister to Maritza. Thus, our life was filled with social activities to such a point that I can truly claim we have never before or after been to so many parties in such a short time as during that stay on this sparsely populated island, far out in the Pacific. One could almost say that the officers' club at the Second Naval Zone became like a second home.
This club held many pleasant memories for me as it had been built while Lt. Com. Alsacio Northía Delgado, one of the best governors the islands ever had, was commanding officer. Northía was an old friend of mine, who in time became an admiral, and was, at the time of his death some years later, Commandant General of the Navy. There is even a street named after him in Puerto Baquerizo, something no other governor has been honored with.
Two incidents, both rather ludicrous, always come back to mind while recalling this period, perhaps because they are so typical of places like Puerto Baquerizo. At night, when the evening air had cooled and the last visitor had left us, we would close doors and windows, to seek the safety of the mosquito nets, after the much needed shower to eliminate the day's dust and perspiration. However, there, right in the middle of the village, there was always some traffic, so there was often some rum-laced voice singing out of key under the window of one of the local girls of fifteen years or older who was still unmarried. But this did not happen every night, as was the case with that wretched portable record player, the first of its kind in Galápagos.
This contraption, to me of evil memory, was undoubtedly a cause of great pride to its owner, whose identity I never attempted to discover lest I commit homicide. I am certain that the machine served its owner as a passport to join all the drinking parties in Puerto Baquerizo without having to pay his share, for there was not a night when we did not hear the accursed record player, as it was carried from place to place around the village, serenading all the single females in the place, as well as those whose husbands were out fishing.
It surprised me no end that there was not a single indignant father who came down, machete in hand, to chase away the serenaders, for the only record they had—and they played only one of its sides—was rather offensive. It was one of those tearful Mexican corridos, tasting of tequila and pulque, the chorus of which called the female to whom it was dedicated “an evil-gutted woman”. It is possible however that nobody, not even the owner of the machine, had paid attention to the actual words of the song, totally fascinated by this electronic marvel. Fortunately, one night, we did not hear the confounded record again. We never found out if everybody had tired of the wretched song, if the record broke or if the record player gave up the ghost.
Another annoying night noise, which soon was to cause us amusement, was the direct result of the electoral campaign. The first night we slept in Agama's house, we heard as if someone were rubbing himself against the thin wooden wall that separated us from the street. Had it been on the mainland, I would have shown more caution, going out, weapon in hand, through one of the doors, and sneaking myself towards the source of the noise. But we were in Galápagos, where I never had reason to fear anybody, so I went straight to the window, opened it and stuck my head out. Outside, it was as dark as could be, and to make matters worse, we had just turned off the light, so my eyes had not had time to adjust to the darkness. Without being able to identify them, I saw three men, one of whom was smearing the wall with what smelt like paste. The second one was holding what seemed to be an electoral poster, ready to hang it up. I also found out soon what the third man was supposed to be doing, when he poured something from a gallon jug into an aluminum cup. The potent smell of local rum hit my nose. Offering me the cup, he invited, “Have a drink, don Yaco.”
The fact that he called me by the name that most of the old-timers used for me indicated that he had known me for many years; but I never found out who he was. Anyway, we all drank to one another's health as the cup made its round, with the required stops at the gallon jug. After this ritual of friendship, I went to bed, falling asleep, never thinking of how shockingly strange this island world must seem to my young wife, a world where social differences are much more subtle than on the mainland. So subtle in fact, that an outsider may think that they do not exist at all.
Much later, we were awakened by a noise not unlike the first one; but this time it was not mere curiosity that brought me to the window. I was greatly annoyed at being awakened at three o'clock in the morning. I was certain it must be the people from the rival party to that of my friends with the jug of moonshine. Maritza, who feared a violent reaction on my part, was greatly puzzled at my sudden laughter, which exploded as soon as I had looked out through the window. Outside was a donkey, so busy tearing down and eating the electoral posters, that it did not even react to the unexpected manner in which my head had appeared near his. This routine of sticking posters on the walls was repeated night after night, as were also the visits by the numerous donkeys roaming the village, none of them able to resist the smell of fresh paste and moist paper.
The elections were something of a circus, and though Tous and Chávez made the rum flow like water, organized dances, and squeezed innumerable brown hands, callused by hard work in fishing and farming, they could not succeed. However, they did win a surprising number of votes, thanks to the great activity displayed by my old friend Gustavo Chiriboga, Tous' plantation manager, and his wife Gladys, who fought hard to send don Lorenzo to Congress. Knowing him, they also knew too well that they were fighting for Gustavo's job. Jobs were not exactly plentiful in Guayaquil, while they were nonexistent in Galápagos.
Knowing him, it is not hard to understand that Lorenzo Tous felt deeply hurt by the electoral results. He felt so thoroughly rejected that he swore he would never set foot again on the islands, an oath he kept at least during the five years we remained in Galápagos. And the ultimate insult was to have been defeated by “that nigger” as he called Pareja in private (the Senator had just enough African blood mixed with that of his Amerindian and Spanish ancestors for it to be noticeable). It was a terrible blow to his pride. Coming from the aristocracy of Guayaquil and having a Spanish father, he was very much a snob and a racist.
The electoral campaign must have cost him a tremendous moral sacrifice. I can still see him standing in the back of the plantation pick-up, driving slowly through the village, on his way to the highlands, greeting the populace with a big smile, which gradually became more and more forced, until it turned into a rigid grimace. I also remember the effort he made—a very obvious one—when he had to shake hands with some laborer or fisherman at one of his political rallies. Lorenzo Tous the younger was ill prepared to treat his inferiors with some degree of equality. He lacked the natural hypocrisy that allows the professional politician to feign a heartiness he does not feel.
There is no question that Manuel Pareja had one decided advantage in the suspicion many on San Cristóbal felt about Tous' real intentions. There were many who thought that he wanted to go to Congress with the sole purpose of taking back those lands inside the plantation's old boundaries that had been invaded long ago by squatters. This suspicion was however based on a lack of knowledge of the conditions set by the government at the time the property was transferred to the Sociedad Nacional de Galápagos (read Lorenzo Tous Sr.). The arrival of the American colonists, who as everybody knew were supposed to buy the plantation, only seemed to confirm these unfounded suspicions.
But one cannot in fairness claim that this was the only reason why Pareja won. His personality and his numerous friends among the settlers were undoubtedly the main reasons for his success, in this as well as on previous occasions. Jovial, informal and easygoing, he had an incredible memory for facts, dates and names, making it possible for him to remember the names of practically every settler in the islands, something I had the opportunity to admire personally when we travelled together. Furthermore, Pareja, in the six years he had been in the Senate, had accomplished more for the settlers than any previous representative.
At the time, he had several important projects going, some already approved, other under discussion. Despite strong lobbying from interested parties, he had obtained the closing down of the penal colony on Isabela, though this last was claimed by our first civilian governor to be his doing. This gentleman, don Bolívar Naveda, who had been appointed governor at about the time the convicts were being returned to the mainland, used this claim in an attempt to enhance his standing among the settlers, probably with the thought of running later for senator. However, Pareja's struggle to rid us of the penal colony was too well known, as it had been going on for a number of years.
In fact, I recall well that Pareja and I had had long talks about the subject, about two years earlier, when we both were guests at the home of Captain Nathaniel (Mike) Mann and his wife Betty, a most charming American couple, who were then living in Machalilla, a small town about halfway up the mainland coast of Ecuador. The Senator told me then about the progress that was being made in gaining a full civilian administration, and that the removal of the penal colony had already been approved by Congress, though there had been a delay in publishing the resolution in the Registro Oficial. He said, “No matter what happens now, they cannot delay it more than a year after approval, for that's the law.”
This matter of claiming other's merits as one's own is as common among Galápagos politicians as it is among politicians elsewhere in the world. In fact, politicians prosper all too often on the public's poor memory and their own shameless willingness to risk gambling on this same lack of memory, something which could presumably backfire. One typical example is that of the road crossing Santa Cruz Island, to join Puerto Ayora on the south coast to the shore nearest the Baltra Island landing strip. This road as well as the extension of the landing strip were projects that Senator Pareja had fought for in Congress, obtaining their approval; but the road was postponed for lack of funds, giving the later Senator Alfredo Isaías the opportunity to claim not only its construction but also the idea behind the planning. Alfredo was a brother of Pedro, Pareja's ticket partner during the 1960 election; but he lacked Pedro's sense of decency, a sense that seems to be rare among today's politicians. We shall return to this later.
But we have come away from the elections we were dealing with. As we have seen, the 1960 elections were won by Senator Manuel Pareja and his partner don Pedro Isaías, something that don Lorenzo Jr. had trouble accepting. Atahualpa Chávez took the whole business with a great equanimity, befitting a traditional British genleman. His fine, dark face showed, when he left the islands, the same friendly attentiveness that he had shown on his arrival. But Tous looked somber and was surely in the process of planning his revenge. There was little or nothing he could do against the settlers, though he certainly counted as a big punishment that he would no longer honor us with his rare and sporadic visits, when he expressed that he would never set his feet on Galápagos again.
Unfortunately, the only effective revenge he could manage was against the faithful Gustavo Chiriboga, the leader of his campaign who had worked well for him so many years, and had continued the work of the Italian Andrea Pedrazzoli of improving the coffee plantation and extending its area. Gustavo was called to Guayaquil, where he was deprived of his position as plantation manager, after being accused of running it for his own profit. Don Pedro Isaías took charge of his legal defense without charge, saving him from a worse fate than unemployment, for Lorencito had decided to see Gustavo in jail.
Pedro Isaías' death in a plane crash a few months later was considered a great loss to the islands. His seat in Congress was taken over by Atahualpa Chávez, who was the candidate with the next greatest number of votes. However, this example was not followed by Lorenzo Tous a couple of years later, when Senator Pareja had to resign because of poor health. When Tous was informed that he had to take over as senator, he expressed harshly, "I'm nobody's deputy!"
Thus, we were deprived of having a senator until the next elections. But we never got another man like Manuel Pareja. Our next senator, when the time came, was Alfredo Isaías, Pedro's younger brother, who owned a knitwear factory in Guayaquil. It was told that someone had commented to his father about how unfortunate the latter had been with such a son. The person making the comment had been thinking about one of the older Isaías' sons who was reputed to be a homosexual. Old Isaías agreed that he had been very unlucky with his son. But then his visitor mentioned the name of the supposed homosexual son. Old Isaías protested at once, "No, I'm proud of him! He is a very good businessman. I thought you meant Alfredo, for he is hopeless and stupid!"
I shall never forget when Alfredo Isaías spread the rumor that he had obtained from our company that we would carry the mail to the islands freight free, and that the postal clerk accompanying the mail bags would only pay for his meals on the ship. Fortunately, I had received a telegram from don César Solano de la Sala, our Guayaquil manager, in which he notified me that this concession had been approved by our head office, “as requested by yourself and Governor Enrique Vallejo”, which was the real story.
Another instance worth recalling was when we were honored by Doctor Carlos Morán Vera's visit. This noted Guayaquilian surgeon was then director of the Military Hospital in Guayaquil, being a colonel in the army's medical corps. He was also one of the leaders of the Evangelist movement in that city. At the time of his visit to Galápagos, Dr. Morán was Director of Social Assistance for the coastal provinces, and in this capacity he had come to look for a site for our first hospital. As we had a military government at the time—the Junta presided over by Admiral Ramón Castro Jijón—Alfredo Isaías was teporarily deprived of his senatorial seat.
When our former senator learnt of Dr. Morán's voyage to the islands, he could not resist the temptation to make good use of this outstanding opportunity to collect potential votes for the next election. Wherever we called around the islands, our enterprising politician made certain that he was seen by Dr. Morán's side, leaving him only long enough to spread the news that, though he no longer was serving the islands' interests in Congress, he had not forgotten “his people”, whose welfare was the main goal in his life. Evidence of his love for the settlers, according to him, was that he had persuaded the military government to build a hospital in Galápagos. As the first step to carry out this project, he had arranged to have the Director of Social Assistance sent out to the islands to find a construction site. He could do nothing less for his dear islanders.
But there was one problem our enterprising politician had been unaware of.
Dr. Morán happened to have a mind of his own. His idea about where the hospital should be built did not agree with that of Isaías. The distinguished surgeon had taken a careful look at Galápagos chart, discovering at once certain important facts. Santa Cruz is the most central of the inhabited islands. Its inhabited part is almost equidistant to the other inhabited parts of the archipelago. It is also the one closest to the Baltra landing strip, so it would be easier to get a patient with complications to Guayaquil from Santa Cruz than from any other part of the islands. He had also discussed his ideas with people whom he trusted knew enough about the islands to give him sound advice, like Captain Campuzano, Monsignor Campuzano (no relation to the former) and myself, all of us having confirmed the soundness of his ideas. Furthermore, he had learnt of Monsignor Campuzano's intention to build a hospital on San Cristóbal. Nobody realized then that the Franciscans' hospital would not be built in several years, and that it would be finished under Monsignor Hugolino Cerasuolo, Campuzano's equally capable successor, who some years late became archbishop of Loja, a town in the south of Andean Ecuador.
Thus, while Dr. Morán visualized a hospital in Puerto Ayora, on Santa Cruz, Alfredo Isaías—on the basis of the potential number of votes, as San Cristóbal had then over half of Galápagos population—could only imagine it located at Puerto Baquerizo, the insular capital. Worse still, he had already assured people on San Cristóbal that they would soon see a hospital built on their island. Therefore, when he heard of Dr. Morán's idea for a location, he was incredulous, surprised, shocked and dismayed. When he recovered, he set out on a most annoying campaign to talk Dr. Morán into changing his mind. The surgeon explained to him with his characteristic patience, time after time, the reasons for his choice, stressing that, as Director of Social Assistance, it was his duty to consider the interest of all islanders, not only those on the island with the largest population—which in a few more years would be Santa Cruz, something nobody could have imagined then. But Isaías missed entirely the mild reproval that was implicit in the physician's words.
It was also my fate to become a victim of Isaías campaign; but not for long. He had naturally noticed that Dr. Morán and I had become good friends and talked much together, so he tried to use me to help him convice the surgeon to change his mind, though I made it clear enough that I was also in favor of the Santa Cruz location. However, I lack Dr. Morán's kindness and patience, and I promised myself, “I'll get the bastard off my back!”
Upon arriving to Puerto Ayora, I met Marina Fuentes, whom I had known since 1946. She and her second husband had been my hunting companions in the early 1950's and we had made a number of excursions into the woods together. Thus, there was a high regard and much friendship between us. Marina was also head of Isaías' electoral committee on Santa Cruz. She happened to have a strong inclination towards solving problems by attacking them head on. I told her about the hospital and that Dr. Morán wanted to build it on Santa Cruz. This made her very happy; but she became furious when I informed her, with the worst of intentions, “Alfredo Isaías is struggling hard to have it built on San Cristóbal.”
Her only remark was, “When he comes ashore, I'll fix the son of a whore!”—she who always talked about our senator with almost religious reverence! But she must have talked to him in strong terms, for though he continued pestering Dr. Morán, he stopped bothering me. I never found out what Marina Fuentes said to him. In any case, as has been mentioned, the hospital was built on Santa Cruz several years later.
During much of the cruise around the islands, Dr. Morán and I got even with Isaías, tormenting him with among other things insinuations that he was visiting the islands on some sort of political campaign. Since all political activity had been strictly forbidden by the military government, our former senator denied emphatically that he was doing anything of the sort—he was on a vacation, and had taken this opportunity to visit his many friends and acquaintances in Galápagos. Both Dr. Morán and I would look at each other and smile whenever he said this, making him uneasy. Whenever this conversation came up, Isaías would look around, as if afraid that we might be overheard. He must have suffered greatly for, after all, Dr. Morán was an army officer, and my close friendship with the military governor of the islands was no secret.
Even so, the politics on Galápagos were still rather innocent. It has become worse in later years. I constantly receive news about senators and other politicians who have become involved in corruption, who take the side of illegal fishermen and otherwise show no respect for laws, rules and decency. During the times I describe here, the politicians were dishonest in a way, especially when they bent the truth in order to gain votes, but they were not as dishonest and shameless as so many of them have become in more recent years. It appears that economic gain is placed above everything else, even the obtention of votes, if the amount of money is great enough.
When we came from Guayaquil, we had brought a small cabin cruiser, twenty-four foot L.O.A., which don César Solano had given the name Don Folke, undoubtedly to arouse Folke Anderson's interest in the project of building up a small fleet of such vessels for the tourist trade. Unfortunately, she had been provided with an overhauled engine that was in a deplorable condition. Overhauled engines can be all right if the work has been entrusted to a good mechanic; but the job had been done by a “cheap” one, who did such a poor job that it cannot be described as anything but disastrously bad. The engine was to be a constant source of trouble and expense, and it is not at all exaggerated to claim that it had been far cheaper to buy a brand new one. However, don César had been a victim of his own optimism and a tight budget, the latter doled out to us by our head office in Esmeraldas, which was manned by people who saw the world in terms of exportable bananas. Anything else appears to have been beyond their understanding.
The only relatively long trip I attempted with the Don Folke was a total failure, and it could easily have been the last one of my life, had not a series of favorable circumstances been there at the right moment, and had I not been provided with the necessary experience to identify them and make good use of them. Never has my knowledge of Galápagos, their winds and their currents been more useful to me, nor have my years at sea served me better.
I had left the cruiser on Santa Cruz to have the engine levelled and properly installed. This had not been done in Guayaquil, most likely because the man who had overhauled the engine was afraid it would be tested before he got paid. The installation was to be done by an old Swiss friend of mine, don Roberto Schiess, who had lived many years on Santa Cruz. Though Roberto was a plumber by trade, he had an instinct for all sorts of machinery which had earned him the reputation of being a mechanical genius. While I was on San Cristóbal, trusting there was nothing to be done on the engine itself, my friend was finding a number of things that were frightfully wrong, despite the fact that we had been assured that the work done in Guayaquil had been quite thorough.
When I had the opportunity to travel to Santa Cruz on the Symbol, a yacht belonging to Ernest (Bud) Divine, an American friend who was a long time resident of that island, I went with him, as the time Roberto had said he needed to get things ready was long past. The day after our arrival, Roberto and I set out to give the Don Folke a test run, to make sure all was well for my return trip to San Cristóbal. This led to a series of unpleasant discoveries. We found that gaskets were missing entirely from places where they should have been, a number of old parts—obviously much older than the engine itself—had been used, and there were also a great many bolts and nuts of venerable age, not a few of them in an advanced state of corrosion. It took us several days to get things more or less straightened out, and the engine—at least to all appearances—was finally working.
All these unpleasant surprises were however relieved by a great party held at the home of Zouzou and Miguel Castro, with a great number of guests, including Roberto Schiess and his wife. There was much good food and drink, and I had a most pleasant time, since nearly all of those present were old friends. I had also known our hosts for many years. Miguel is a son of Captain Rafael Castro, who had arrived to the island in 1937, and had been a neighbor and friend of my father. Zouzou was the daughter of a Swiss couple who had arrived to the island in the 1940's. I had met this last family in Quito, in 1945, while my brother Eric and I were going to school there.
The day I left Puerto Ayora, on the south coast of Santa Cruz, we sailed at four o'clock in the afternoon, after I had sent a telegram to my mother and my wife, telling them that I expected to be home about nine that evening. Before sailing, I took aboard ten gallons of brackish water, something that earned me a few supposedly funny remarks from several fishermen who were in the area of the Pelican Bay water hole. This did not bother me at all, for I always travel with a good water supply. One cannot tell what might happen at sea. And in Galápagos, there are very few places where one can hope to find drinking water. Two other people came with me—Carlos Soto, an overweight shopkeeper and trader from Puerto Ayora, and a farm hand from the San Cristóbal highlands, whose name I cannot recall.
All seemed to be going well. As night fell, I chose a star to guide us for the remainder of our trip, and soon the abrupt shape of cliff-girth Barrington, the island we had set our course for earlier, was swallowed up by darkness. About then, I wondered what surprise awaited me for supper in Puerto Baquerizo. I would soon find out, I told myself, for the three hours or so that we still had left to get there would soon pass.
Leaving Soto at the wheel, I went to check the oil. My optimism vanished instantly. The oil level was unusually low. The gauge showed a pressure that was far from adequate. I poured into the engine all the oil we had, which was not much, then checked the gauge again. The pressure showed only a slight increase. “No supper at home tonight,” I thought, returning to the wheel and lowering the speed.
“What's up?” asked a slightly worried Soto.
“We're losing lots of oil somewhere,” I told him, setting course for the coast of Barrington. “I'll try to reach an anchorage before this pile of junk burns out. If we manage to get there, I'll cross the island tomorrow morning, pile up brush to make a huge bonfire and light it tomorrow night, so they can see it on Santa Cruz.”
“If we can't anchor, what then?” Soto's question showed surprisingly little concern.
“We'll talk about that when the time comes,” I told him a bit curtly.
Carlos Soto is not an excitable person. He asked no more, accepting the situation as it was. Nor was the other passenger unduly worried. He turned over and went back to sleep. He was extremely apathetic. Better this way—no hysteria. Then the engine began to make an unpleasant banging noise, stopping abruptly before I could turn it off. There was nothing we could do. We were adrift and helpless. I tried to locate some landmark, but Barrington was by then a nearly shapeless mass of darkness, against a background that was barely lighter. I shrugged. It made no difference. We could not move by our own means without an engine. We would not have supper on San Cristóbal after all. “Let's have something to eat,” I suggested. Soto agreed with obvious enthusiasm.
Lighting a lamp, we seated ourselves on the bunks in the minute cabin, to eat fresh bread, cheese and boiled spiny lobster, washed down with powdered milk dissolved in brackish water. As dessert, we had a bar of cooking chocolate each. Carlos Soto offered to take the first watch, and, as I lay down in one of the bunks, I felt how the cruiser shifted under his great weight, while he went onto the cabin top, wrapped in a blanket.
When Soto called me, the moon was out, the evening breeze had died, and the sea was so smooth that it looked like a pool of oil. The tall, perpendicular cliffs of Barrington seemed so near that we could almost touch them. Sitting on top of the cabin, I gazed at the island, feeling a steadily increasing frustration at seeing it so close and yet so impossible to reach. My frustration was however short-lived. An alarming sound had reached my ears. A great quantity of water was sloshing heavily back and forth in the bilge. Throwing aside my blanket, I set to work bailing with the help of a tin can and a bucket, as we had not had time to install the bilge pump.
Finally, with the sweat running into my eyes and my back hurting, I threw the last bucketful over the side. We had to keep an eye on that water, I told myself, for there was enough of it coming in to make it serious. Luckily, we would manage to keep afloat by bailing three times a day; but we had no way of knowing it at that point, so I decided to keep an eye on the water level during the rest of my watch. But I kept looking at the island. If we could approach the shore, follow it until we reached the little cove on the northeastern side...
There seemed to be no current, and there was no wind blowing. However, that wide and heavy hull of ours was hard to move with no other aid than an oar. But I could not stand sitting there any longer, doing nothing. I took hold of the only oar we had, planted myself on the stern deck, and began to paddle with all my strength.
Sweaty and tired, I finally decided to give up my hopeless efforts. But I suddenly got the impression that we had moved a short distance after all. A surge of energy went through me as my hope increased, so I went on paddling, until it was time for Soto to take over. When he got on deck, I told him to keep an eye on the bilge and gave him the oar, asking him to use it. He looked surprised. “Why don't we all row? Have you forgotten the two shovels you took aboard on Santa Cruz?”
“That's a great idea!” I exclaimed with enthusiasm. I had completely overlooked this possibility, though I had at times used less conventional oars than shovels—as when I came ashore in Las Cuevas, Floreana, paddling with a broom. With three men rowing our chances of reaching an anchorage increased, if I alone had been able to move the cruiser a short distance.
I called our other companion, who objected strongly to rowing, telling me in no uncertain terms that he was a passenger, so I had no right to order him around and put him to work. Since my request had been put to him more like a proposition, I became very surprised and indignant. “Did I charge you or Soto anything for taking you along? Do you expect him and me to work like a couple of slaves rowing, to save your wretched hide, while you lie there sleeping?” I asked in a surprisingly reasonable tone.
He neither answered nor moved from where he stood. Taking one of the shovels, I presented it to him. My voice must have been both hard and threatening, for I was very angry at such a negative attitude. “You're going to start rowing right now, you son of a bitch, or I'll feed you to the sharks!”
My threat must have sounded genuine enough, for Soto looked startled, and the man took the shovel without another word, getting to work with remarkable good will. By then, it was three o'clock in the morning of April 14, which was an Easter Thursday. The three of us rowed hard, without stopping, until daybreak. We watched how the tall cliffs of Barrington changed their colors, from dark gray to grayish brown, with wide streaks of golden tan where the rays of the rising sun hit them. Seeing the land in greater detail, I realized with disappointment that all our efforts had been in vain. There had been a current after all, and it had carried us towards the western side of the island, away from the cove we had hoped to reach.
I regretted with good reason that I had sent a telegram to my mother and my wife to tell them that I was on my way. They had expected me that evening when I thought I would arrive in Puerto Baquerizo. Since I could not inform them that I would be delayed, their worry was naturally great. My mother made a great effort to appear calm, though she had experienced windless days aboard my father's sailing vessel, when we in 1932 drifted helplessly towards Marchena. Almost two years later, our friend Nuggerud and the German Lorenz would find their death on the same island. We had been much luckier, saving ourselves at the very last moment from being smashed by the breakers against a cliff.
Maritza had never experienced such situations, but had heard enough stories about disasters among Galápagos. She also made brave efforts to remain calm. Both she and my mother lay sleepless that night, listening for my steps, while they wondered if they would ever hear them again. When I had not yet arrived the next morning, the officers at the naval base and their wives began to visit them, to give consolation and support to the two women. At the same time, the radio messages came and went among the naval garrisons of the islands.
Our disappearance also caused much concern among the settlers. Both Soto and I had many friends, as had our fellow passenger, whom we had named "the Sleeping Beauty" because he slept day and night. That so many islanders constantly came to enquire about news made a great impression on both my mother and Maritza, as neither had lived on San Cristóbal before. They did not realize that I had lived there several months during the 1950's and was known to most of the population.
We ourselves, who lay adrift out on the sea, had the advantage of knowing what was happening to us. Though our situation was far from safe, we were spared their terrible uncertainty. We had in fact even a good appetite during breakfast, though there was not denying a certain taste of defeat accompanying it. When Soto took his watch, I slept soundly, for I was more tired than I had realized. However, when I woke up, I felt completely renewed. It is likely that the boat's motion caused by Soto, who was coming to take over my bunk, disturbed me. He was entering the cabin as I got up, and reported that he had bailed the bilge. We seemed to be taking in water at the same rate as before. “The water comes from somewhere in the stern,” he informed. “There's a leak under the fuel tank.”
I looked at our companion, the San Cristóbal peasant. He slept soundly in the other bunk, of which he had taken permanent possession. I have never seen somebody with such a capacity for sleeping; but I made no remarks. Soto must have guessed my thoughts, for he shook his head with a slight smile, as he took over the bunk I had left. I shrugged, then went outside to take my seat on top of the cabin.
The day was still as splendid as it had promised to be when it was born. The sky was of the purest azure, against the background of which a few white clouds drifted lazily, headed for some remote and unknown destination. The sea was still calm, and had taken on a cobalt blue hue. The sun shone in all its glory. Life would indeed have been beautiful on that glorious day, were it not for that feeling of helplessness and frustration that possessed me. My mind went around in circles, trying to find a solution to our predicament. But there seemed to be none.
After a couple of hours, I realized that the current was slowly carrying us westward. This meant that we had two possibilities ahead of us. We were either headed for Polynesia, with the certainty of dying of thirst on our way there. Or we would end up on the desolate southeastern coast of Isabela, which was slightly better only because we would perish much sooner. It all depended on the exact angle at which we were drifting, which might later be modified by the breeze that would start blowing later in the day. Our chances, I decided, were quite dreadful; but, even so, they could have been worse. Had the engine stopped some time later, between Barrington and San Cristóbal, the current would have carried us inexorably towards the northern islands, as it did with the Norwegian Nuggerud in 1934.
The sea looked cool and tempting, and I was missing my morning shower. I slipped cautiously over the side to take a dip, being extra careful not to make a splashing noise that would attract sharks. No dorsal fin was in sight, but these animals do not always announce their presence. While I hung from a rope with the water up to my neck, a slight breeze began to blow. I climbed aboard, sitting down again on the cabin top to think and let the sun dry me. The breeze would become stronger, at least strong enough for us to use it if we had had a sail and a hull with a different shape. “Damned boat!” I exclaimed under my breath. Had the hull been deeper, an improvised sail could have helped us reach Santa Cruz. Though moderate, the breeze could have carried us to Puerto Ayora before the day was over. In 1950, my brother Eric and I had sailed all the way from Punta Núñez in a heavy, almost flat-bottomed boat, and we made it. However, its hull was deeper than that of Don Folke and our course was somewhat more favorable.
Though I greatly doubted the results, I decided to improvise a leeboard by lashing one of the sides of the engine box to our port side. My leeboard turned out to be useless. The plywood section was too short. Greatly disappointed, I unlashed it and, while pulling it aboard, it slipped from my hands, falling into the water with a loud splash. While I watched it drifting away, two dorsal fins appeared, followed by their respective tails, as a pair of large white sharks moved in to investigate the edibility of plywood. Suddenly, my recent refreshing dip took on rather unpleasant associations.
The failure of my leeboard did not prevent me from setting up my improvised sail. Taking a small tent, I rigged it up on the after end of the cabin. If nothing else, I could at least claim with good reason that we had tried everything possible. Our bow had until then been pointed towards Barrington. Now, it began to turn slowly until it took a position parallel to the Santa Cruz coast.
It occurred to me that we might be able to reach some point on the Santa Cruz shore. Puerto Núñez seemed a likely place, though its entrance is strewn with reefs. I tried not to think about the coast of tall cliffs that stretches from inside Puerto Ayora almost all the way to Punta Núñez. The seas break against it with great fury. To reach it would mean not only the end of the cabin cruiser, but also our certain death. There is no way one can climb up the vertical rocky walls, in the unlikely event that one survives being thrown violently time and again by the foaming breakers against the jagged stones at the foot of the cliffs.
Unfortunately, all I could do now was to wait and watch, to discover which way we were carried by the breeze and which by the current. There was a small hope growing in my mind that it might be possible to somehow make use of these two forces, if one could combine them in the right manner. Of course, I was well aware of the danger there was in miscalculating the force and/or direction of one or the other—or both. I tried not to think of the consequences.
When I went into the cabin to get something to eat, I had seen enough to feel slightly optimistic regarding our chances of saving ourselves by our own means. Still, the risk of failure, with all its implications, was ominously present. On the other hand, it could be equally risky to just sit there, hoping to be picked up by someone else, while the current carried us away. In fact, nobody went out to search for us until the following day, when we probably would have already ended up on the exposed, rocky southeastern coast of Isabela.
While we ate our meal of bread, cheese, bananas and milk, I explained to my companions that the wind was carrying us more or less in the direction of Cerro Colorado, on the northeastern side of Santa Cruz, though we might reach some point south of it. This could possibly be controlled to a certain extent by lowering our sail, letting the current take over, bringing us closer to the Santa Cruz shore. In fact, if we got close enough, the slant of the current could even carry us directly towards the shore. I was certain that we could soon be in a position to choose our anchorage with a certain amount of freedom. The man from San Cristóbal had no comments to offer, and Carlos Soto agreed to all I said without offering any objections. After all, neither was a seaman. While they returned to their berths, I went back to my observation place on top of the cabin.
After going past Puerto Núñez, I took down our sail, leaving the cruiser completely at the mercy of the current. A little later, I realized we were approaching the Santa Cruz coast faster than I had expected. Still, I was worried about making a landfall after dark, for the moon would be up some time after midnight, and a good visibility was essential for our safety in such a reef-infested area as this, open to wind and wave. I spent two very tense hours watching our approach to the coast.
However, the luck that had smiled on us most of that day had not abandoned us. Late in the afternoon, the hope of finding an anchorage before dark became rapidly stronger. My companions, no doubt guessing that we were close to the critical moment of landfall, had come out of the cabin. Soto, practical and full of common sense as ever, had installed himself in the bow, from where he could watch the shore and the calm, transparent waters near it. Because the sea was so unusually calm, there were hardly any breakers to tell us the location of most of the reefs. At least two thirds of these were undetectable from a distance. Suddenly, Soto's voice sounded the alarm. “A reef! We are going on a reef!”
I glanced over the side. Under the incredibly transparent and clean water, I could see every detail of the rocks and the seaweeds on an elongated reef we were drifting over. I made a feverish estimate of our situation, though there was actually little we could do about it at that stage. There was enough distance between ourselves and the shore to justify hoping for a channel between the coast and the reef. Still, this could be otherwise. But we had to gamble on it. On the other hand, we also had to gamble that our shallow draft would take us across the reef.
Quickly, I got up the improvised sail, while Soto and the man from San Cristóbal manned the shovels. Taking the oar, I stood in the stern, paddling and steering at the same time. Our gamble paid off. Soon we were anchored in six fathoms of water, halfway between the rocky shore and the reef. We had found a channel and we were safe—if the sea remained calm until we could get to a better anchorage in the morning. While the golden glow in the west turned to red, then giving way to the night's darkness, we finished eating and turned in. There was no need to keep watch. The only danger we could expect was that the seas should start breaking on the reef. If that happened, the violent movement of the hull would wake me at once.
The night after leaving Academy Bay on Santa Cruz, while we slept peacefully between a reef and the coast near Puerto Núñez, the situation began to appear serious to the authorities. It was then that Commandant Angel Benavides decided to send out the patrol boat to search for us between San Cristóbal and Santa Cruz, should we not appear during the night. He visited my mother and Maritza to inform them about this. After he had left, the two sat a long while in the living room. Neither felt like going to bed. Outside it was dark, inside hopeless.
Suddenly, an unknown face appeared in the window. The skin had the color of copper, the high cheekbones gave the face an Oriental appearance. The inscrutable eyes that looked at the two women were dark and almond-shaped. The face looked like a mask that had been wrought in a metal of warm color. His gaze moved to Maritza. Without changing expression, he asked softly with a foreign accent, "Have you heard something from your man?"
Both my mother and Maritza were surprised at the unexpected appearance that had materialized from the darkness outside. But they recalled having seen the man before, remembering who he was - my friend Camilo Calapusha, and Indian from one of the tribes living where the Andes meet the Amazon region. This was the same evening when Dr. Arturo Farfán had told my mother that he was worried about Maritza's health and our unborn baby. The baby was moving much more than was normal, even if Maritza appeared calm. Unfortunately, she overheard what the physician had said, something that increased her worry.
It was Good Friday. The day was just being born. I woke in a good mood, for I felt that things were working out to our advantage. All we had to do now was to get the Don Folke into a sheltered anchorage, where I could leave my two companions while I headed for Puerto Ayora to get help. I woke the two of them, explaining that it was urgent to get going before the slightest breeze blew up. We already had one unreliable factor to deal with—the current. So close to land it would be affected by the tides. It was bad enough to have this to cope with so near the shore, where the margin of error—even the smallest—could spell disaster. We were not far from Puerto Núñez, the anchorage I had hoped to make, and the only sheltered place within reach. But we had yet to get inside.
Most of the entrance to this little cove is straddled by a reef, with the entrance channel on its western side. We were to the east of the cove. With our limited mobility, I feared that an attempt to reach the channel could be too risky. Fortunately, there was a narrow stretch of calm water between the reef and the point nearest us. It seemed to be a narrow channel that a shallow draft vessel like the cabin cruiser might barely negotiate. With the anchor aboard, we set to work with the oar and the shovels in an attempt to enter Puerto Núñez. Though I was in no way certain about the strength of the current or its exact direction, I held our course towards the point to compensate for any drift towards the reef. On the other hand, the low tide left us very little space in which to squeeze through, reducing any margin for error.
Though the current turned out to be strong and dragged us towards the reef at the entrance, we somehow managed to get into the stretch of smooth water. I felt hopeful and even a little triumphant for a few fleeting seconds. Then, from the corner of my eye, I caught sight of a huge wave that was coming our way. It had built up quite suddenly, almost behind us. Swearing angrily, I urged my two companions to double their efforts, while I paddled madly, pushing the oar into the turbid green water time and again with all my strength. I felt the cruiser rise under my feet. A foaming crest rose to port, so close that I could have touched it by extending my left hand, had it been free. We passed the rocks of the reef with barely a few inches of clearance.
But we were far from safe. Looking over my shoulder, I sighted another breaker which came directly astern. The others saw it too, for they started to paddle frantically before I had a chance to say anything. We had no choices. Our broad and heavy stern would receive the full impact of this great wave, if it reached us, and we would sink then and there. To turn the Don Folke around, so that we could meet the oncoming threat with our sharp bow, was out of question without the aid of a powerful engine, for we had only seconds to do so. Then, the wave reached us. But nothing happened. We had managed to get past the end of the reef, and the current had pushed us behind it, giving us shelter just at the right moment. The spent wave lifted us gently, helping us into the little cove.
On San Cristóbal, the infinitely long night had become a new and beautiful day. But the day's brilliant beauty was not noticed by my mother and Maritza. They were still waiting, though everything seemed to indicate that they did so in vain.The patrol boat left as promised and extended the search to Isabela and Santa Cruz, when they did not find us near San Cristóbal. Two fishing boats went out from Santa Cruz, one from Puerto Villamil on Isabela. While I was on my way from Puerto Núñez to Puerto Ayora, my two companions saw the patrol boat passing far outside them without seeing them, as the white cabin cruiser was invisible against the background of the white shell sand beach. Besides, everybody counted on our being adrift somewhere out at sea. A cabin cruiser cannot go anywhere without an engine.
In the meantime, I had begun my hike from the small sandy beach, after swimming ashore. I knew well what lay ahead of me. It was not the first time I had hiked between Puerto Núñez and Puerto Ayora. The hike is a long one, and on a sunny day it is very exhausting. Along the low coast, it is possible to make as many stops as one wishes to go into the sea and take a refreshing dip, thus relieving oneself from the heat and reducing water consumption; but along the tall cliffs that begin a little beyond Punta Núñez, this is impossible. When I came to the cliffs, the sun had reached its greatest intensity, and had just begun its descent, so I had it right in my eyes during the remainder of the hike.
Half blinded by the strong light, I marched through the forbidding landscape, stumbling over the jagged, overheated rocks, dodging the young opuntias with their cover of long, sharp spines. I walked among the older opuntias with their reddish brown trunks, and the formidably armed giant cerei. All the time I was half suffocated by the heat and the intense aroma of palosanto (Bursera) and Croton. The only touch of color in that landscape of grays and browns were the yellow blossoms of the muyuyo (Cordia lutea), the color of which stood out against the green background of their papery leaves; but the small muyuyo trees only enhanced the dreariness of the landscape, for they were few and scattered. As if to worsen the effects of the heat and thirst, I could hear the sound of the sea, breaking against the foot of the cliffs, far below, totally outside my reach, reminding me tantalizingly of the cool waters of the little Punta Núñez lagoon, where I had taken my last refreshing dip.
At long last, I arrived to the point where I could see, although at some distance, the end of my journey. Where I stopped for a moment, the tall cliffs descend in a steep slope, to give way to the low shore that curves in an enormous arc, forming the head of Academy Bay. I stood there for a while enjoying the cooling afternoon breeze that had just started to blow. The thunder of the sea below overcame all other sounds, and the foam rose up to me from the waves that ceaselessly attack the blackened basaltic wall in a vain attempt at breaking it down.
In the distance, at the very head of the bay, stood the houses of Puerto Ayora. I could have stayed there forever, gazing at the cliffs on the other side of the bay, the green mangroves of the low shores, and the far away village. It all appeared unreal when seen through the haze that rose from the breakers. But time was against me. I could not continue standing there. This is not the sort of terrain one can negotiate in darkness. Drinking my last mouthful of water, which by then was warm, I descended the steep slope.
That same evening, four fishing boats lay ready to sail from Puerto Ayora at daybreak. On San Cristóbal there were three that expected to sail that night. The patrol boat had orders to leave again next morning. In the meantime, I was on my way to the port captain's office in Puerto Ayora. I hoped to reach there before the radio station stopped its contact with San Cristóbal. I felt relieved when I saw a large group of people standing inside the port captain's office, at the door of the radio room. One shouted to the operator, "Don't cut the contact! He's here!"
I had arrived just when transmission was going to be ended. At the same time, I discovered that someone had already decided I was dead. Zouzou Coray, Miguel Castro's wife, turned around just as I was walking in. When she saw me, her face turned pale and someone had to help her into a chair. We never commented this, but she must surely have thought that I was a ghost.
My entrance into the port captain's office brought many congratulations at home. Both my mother and Maritza were incredibly happy, since they had been about to lose all hope. I feel most grateful to our friends at the naval base in Puerto Baquerizo because they made sure my mother and Maritza learned of my arrival to Puerto Ayora as soon as possible. I also feel deeply moved whenever I remember all the people who were worried about our fate during that regrettable maiden voyage of the Don Folke.
After my arrival to the port captain's office, I went with Zouzou and Miguel to their home, where I enjoyed a cold shower, a good meal and a good bed. While we were sitting at the table, Miguel informed, "I'm sailing to Pinta tomorrow. On my way there I'll take you and your boat to San Cristóbal."
Zouzou and I laughed at this. Pinta is in the far north of the islands, while San Cristóbal is in the southeast. This detour would delay Miguel two days. But this was the way with friends in Galápagos in those days.
When recalling that trip of the Don Folke, I cannot help thinking of the rapport one gets with nature when living in close contact with it for some years. There is no doubt that my time at sea and my life in Galápagos were essential in allowing me to identify and make use of the favorable circumstances which made it possible for us to reach Puerto Núñez by our own efforts. It seems as if part of my mind made the right estimate of the direction and strength of both wind and current, combining the data in the manner most favorable to our purposes. In fact, the experiences from a trip that was made about a year earlier seem to confirm my faith in the effects of a long and close contact with nature for perceiving almost instinctively useful information from the surrounding environment.
When I made my shopping list for that other trip, I naturally included a chart of the islands, parallel rulers and a compass, all of which I regarded as indispensable for my cruise around Galápagos, as I expected to be out of sight of land several times, and considered the possibility of night travel. Our Guayaquil office got me all I asked for in my list, except these navigational aids, claiming that they were not to be had in the country's main port. Unfortunately, I had arrived from Bahía de Caráquez, in the Province of Manabí, where I then lived, on the eve of our voyage to the islands. There was no time for me to make my own inquiries. Thus, I had to leave with what had been bought for me—food, fuel, and a few other minor items.
The ship left me at Iguana Cove, on the southwestern side of Isabela, after stopping at several other places around the islands. From here, I left with a small cabin cruiser that had been provided by the company, totally at the mercy of my memory. I did not trust it completely after having been away for nearly five years. However, this did not worry me too much as long as visibility remained good; but if this failed to be the case, I thought my memory might not be sufficiently reliable. Everything went well until I reached that leg of my cruise that is briefly described below.
It happened that Carlos Soto, the trader, came along on this part of my cruise, in addition to a young engineer by the name of Mayorga, who was planning to raise cattle in Iguana Cove, next to the Fruit Trading Corporation project. Soto joined us at Puerto Baquerizo, on San Cristóbal, with the purpose of getting to Santa Cruz, where he had opened a grocery store. We did not sail to this latter place directly. First, we followed the San Cristóbal coast up to the northeastern end of Puerto Grande, where we anchored near Cerro Brujo, a conspicuous mountain next to the sea, the jagged crest of which is visible from a great distance.
Nothing unusual happened during this part of our trip, except that we had to wait for a while before landing in the little dinghy we towed behind us. Two beautiful killer whales were swimming playfully between the cruiser and the shore. We decided to let them go by before we landed. After all, their common name is not exactly reassuring. As soon as they disappeared out to sea, Mayorga and I headed for land, where we inspected the salt pans behind the steep beach, and took a look at the desolate lava fields. Then, we got aboard, retracing our route, to head for Hood, the southernmost of the islands.
Here, we anchored very close to a white shell sand beach, in Gardner Bay, on the northeastern side of the island. Though we were very close to the shore, we had over seven fathoms under our keel, but the bottom could still be seen in all its details, the violet-tinged water being surprisingly transparent. Soto did no wish to go ashore, and Mayorga only took a stroll on the beach. However, I went inland, hiking across the narrowest part of the island, a rather tiring undertaking more because of the heat than the terrain, which consisted mainly of loose stones and dry soil.
Except near the shore, where there is a barrier of tangled, thorny bushes, the vegetation was rather open, probably because of the destruction wrought by the wild goats. There were arborescent cacti, palosanto trees, and a few other species that are common in this kind of terrain and altitude around Galápagos. All this vegetation was rather scattered. I found none of the trotoises that belong on Hood, for the few remaining ones survived in areas that are harder to reach, towards the center of the island. A recent drought had caused a great mortality among the goat population, and their dried carcasses were scattered in many places.
When I returned to the beach, my two companions were on the cruiser. While I waited for Mayorga to come with the dinghy, I discovered with a shock that Soto was cooking with our kerosene stove on top of one of the gasoline drums that we carried. At that moment, he was frying some fish that he had caught from the cruiser. A terrible vision appeared in my imagination of what could have happened if our twelve hundred liters of gasoline went up in flames within the narrow confines of the small cabin cruiser.
I suddenly saw—luckily only in my mind—how I was left abandoned on that uninhabited, inhospitable island, slowly dying of thirst, after having seen our boat blown to the sky in a burst of flames, taking my two companions along to a better life, and with them our supplies and those precious containers of fresh water, in an explosion like that of a miniature atomic bomb. The hope of being rescued was not the best on Hood, for this was before the days of tourism, and the fishing season, which used to bring a number of boats from San Cristóbal to Gardner Bay, had just ended.
Luckily, nothing of the sort happened, nor could I feel angry with Soto, for he had prepared a fine supper of boiled rice, fried fish and cucumber salad, this last, like the fish, provided by our well fed merchant. The black coffee, strong and tasty, was enjoyed with great pleasure, accompanied with cigarettes—I had not yet given up smoking at the time. Then, after admiring an impressive sunset, we turned in, sleeping soundly to the movements of the waves that rolled heavily against the coarse, white sand of the beach.
We had breakfast at daybreak, sailing as soon as everything had been put away. The bay and its lovely conic islet, its violet-tinged water, its sea lions and marine iguanas were left behind. My landmarks for our trip were Hood itself, San Cristóbal and, later on, Barrington then finally Santa Cruz, our destination. A haze that covered the sea did not worry me at all, though it hid San Cristóbal completely. As soon as the sun started to warm up the air, it would be gone. Normally, this would have been the case; but this time it did not happen.
Hood vanished in the haze, while San Cristóbal remained invisible throughout the whole trip. Slightly worried, I began to feel doubts about the whole situation; but only for a few seconds. I glanced over my shoulder, at the long, lazy waves that came rolling in from the southeast, against the starboard side of our stern. Nearly without thinking about it, with a naturalness that still makes me wonder, I adjusted our course, using their direction as a reference.
The visibility continued to be as bad as in the beginning. After a long while, I began to worry once more, for there was no land in sight anywhere. Suddenly, I saw the sea breaking beyond our starboard bow. So far from land, it could only be McGowen Reef, to the southwest of San Cristóbal. I felt happy. Not even with the help of a compass could we have improved our navigation. We kept on past the reef, and in due time we sighted the tall cliffs of Barrington. Soon after, appeared the coast of Santa Cruz, with the charcoal streak made by the cliffs that form the eastern shore of Academy Bay.
Years later, in Australia, I read that the Polynesians used the direction of the waves as a navigational aid even on long voyages. Together with their knowledge of certain stars and constellations, this was one of their most important methods of finding their way when they explored and settled the enormous extension of the Pacific that is inside the Polynesian Triangle, which has the Hawaiian Islands as its apex, and the stretch between New Zealand and Easter Island as its base. I felt very proud to find myself unexpectedly in the company of such accomplished master mariners.
About a week after my return, Maritza woke me up to tell me that the first contractions had come. We waited until we were certain that her time had arrived. Then, I hurried to get Dr. Farfán, who lived at the far end of the naval base. These must have been the longest two kilometers I have walked in my life. Fortunately, the doctor and I arrived on time, though we had made a detour to fetch the nurse Olga Martillo, a first cousin to Carlos Soto.
When we arrived, Maritza was walking back and forth in our bedroom, watch in hand, timing the intervals between her contractions. My mother, who was showing a serenity she was far from feeling, looked at her from the doorway. Though I was in a hurry and filled with worry, I could not help noticing the anguish in her blue eyes. Mother had experienced great earthquakes, violent political uprisings and other dangers, showing incredible cold blood; but a woman about to give birth was more than she could bear. This was probably because her own births had been difficult and painful. As soon as she was certain that we did not need her help, she went into the living room with an expression of both relief and worry.
In fact, we even had to decline some competent help. Our landlord, Manuel Agama, and "Coleguita" Tamayo, the owner of the local pool hall - both former army nurses - had offered their help. They showed with their offer the human solidarity that was so common among the older settlers, which was already beginning to disappear. Besides the doctor and the nurse, we had good help from Luz Griselda Hurtado, the only child of doña María Yépez, owner of the Bar-Restaurant "Miramar". We shall tell more about the latter.
My main duty was to hold Maritza's hands, while she squeezed them hard each time she had a contraction. Though everything seemed normal, the birth took too long, and the doctor had to use the foreceps. Ingrid, as she was called, was a child with great vitality and had good lungs, qualities that would be repeated in her two sisters and her brother when their turn came to enter the world.
Agama's house became unbearable with a newborn baby. The dust entering from the street became a constant reason of concern, as it was a potential source of contagion, aside from the fact that it made everything in the house dirty. We also continued suffering from the great heat, and we knew well that when the cool season arrived that same galvanized roofing that heated the house so enormously would bring us an unpleasant cold. In the cool season too the southeastern trade winds become constant, and would blow down our street, bringing in greater amounts of dust, despite the fact that we could close our windows.
But the chances of moving looked dim. It seemed that we would never get another place to live. We even considered the possibility of moving to my mother's house on Santa Cruz, an idea that appealed to both her and Maritza. But how could I meet the Cristóbal Carrier when she came from the mainland? Her first port of call had to be San Cristóbal, as it was the only port of entry to the islands. A new engine in the Don Folke would have solved the problem; but don César, who answered my letters systematically, paragraph by paragraph, always skipped the parts where I mentioned the need of a new engine or anything else concerning the accursed boat. It was eventually shipped to Esmeraldas, after a very long time, many repairs and a lot of expenses.
When Maritza left for her home town, Bahía de Caráquez, we still had not solved the problem of getting a new place to live. She had promised her parents that Ingrid would be baptized in Bahía, as she was their first grandchild. Still, there was a very weak hope that we might get another place to live. León Buenaño, a farmer in the highlands, owned a house by the shore. This house had been painted and fixed for the arrival of don Bolívar Naveda, when the latter came out as governor. I suspect that Buenaño liked the idea of his house serving as a residence to the governors of Galápagos, for he made all sorts of excuses to avoid giving us a definite answer on whether we could have the house or not. Then, it became known that Naveda's secretary, who had been acting governor, had been confirmed in the position. The new governor, don Alberto García, father-in-law to Ingeborg and Rolf Wittmer, had already an apartment he was quite satisfied with. Thus, shortly after Maritza had left, my mother and I could move into the house by the sea.
There, by the seashore, we enjoyed a fantastic view over most of the bay. On the ground floor there were premises for an office, right next to the post office, which was in the same building. It did not take long before don César sent me two beautiful desks made of laurel de Puná, a lovely wood of a green-yellow color with brown streaks in it. These came with their respective chairs in the same wood. A little later, I received a huge sign to place above the entrance, which informed that this was the office of Compañía Ecuatoriana de Turismo Galápagos S. A., the new subsidiary of Fruit Trading Corporation which would handle the island activities. CETUGA, as the name was shortened, would survive less than four years. It deserved a better fate, if we consider the efforts and enthusiasm that were given this project by don César, the ship's crew and myself. But the support and enthusiasm we met with at head office, in distant Esmeraldas, unfortunately never took a useful form. The problem was most likely that we did not produce export bananas, the only thing these people seemed to understand.
Later, Maritza and I set up a small drugstore on the ground floor, a business that was run mainly by her. I also became agent for Cordelería Nacional, a Guayaquil enterprise for which I purchased century plant fiber. The company provided machinery to the producers, who paid for it with a part of their production. This business was a source of income to a number of the island's inhabitants, since the five machines that were in operation needed about half a dozen workers each—people for collecting the wild leaves and cut off the spines on their margins, besides the two men who operated each machine. This century plant had been introduced to several of the islands in the 19th century and is similar to sisal, to which it is closely related.
In a small community like that of San Cristóbal at the time, some thirty jobs are noticeable. This activity appealed so much to don César that he asked me to write a report about the possibilities of setting up a plantation; but, as happened with all our projects, there was no reaction from Esmeraldas, which was the same as having no funds to get things moving. It could have proved a profitable venture, while at the same time providing an income to many of the islanders.
With the new house, we of course got new neighbors. In the office next to mine was the post office, which was in the capable hands of Miss Estela Mayorga, the daughter of a sculptor who shaped twisted roots and branches into weird beings with deformed bodies and a demonic appearance. Just beyond, lived Segundo Puga, an enterprising young man, whom I had known for many years. Puga devoted himself mainly to buying coffee and dried fish to sell on the mainland. I recall that when he was a teenager he used to sign himself “Segundo Pérez”, using his mother's surname, as his mates at the freezer plant across the bay used to shout at him, “Hijo de Puga!”—“Son of Puga!”, which in Spanish sounds much like hijo de puta, son of a whore, a rather common and most offensive insult. Young Puga was also the representative of Senator Isaías, which made him devote much of his time to political propaganda with no profit to himself.
The house where young Puga and his family lived belonged to his parents, an industrious indigenous couple from the Andean highlands, who lived in Progreso, inland. Their Progreso home was a typical indigenous house, with wattle and daub walls—actually the indigenous houses are made of adobe, but the island clay is said to be unsuitable for making unbaked brick. Their floor consisted of hard packed soil and the roof was thatched with sugar cane leaves. Inside, the house consisted of one big nearly unfurnished room of the utmost austerity, in the Incaic plebeian tradition.
Taita (Father) Puga and his wife are a typical case of what could be termed “false poverty”, a common phenomenon among the indigenous people who have attained economic independence, leaving behind their condition of peones (laborers) to become free farmers or traders. Frugal and hard working, they may save up considerable amounts of money, which they invest in jewels and land, as they distrust the banking system. Few of them improve their manner of living, such a change usually taking place in the following generation, which frequently enjoys a better education and feels the urge to leave behind the austere way of life of their ancestors for a more comfortable standard.
There were many stories circulating about Taita Puga's love for his hard earned cash. One of them was about how he lost the sight of one of his eyes because of an infection. It was told that Puga could have saved his eye if he had made a visit to Guayaquil, to get treated by a specialist; but it seemed to him that the expense of such a voyage was too much of an extravagance just for saving the sight of one eye. After all, he had two of them. His remark, “To view what is to be seen here, one eye will do.”
Another story is that of the cardboard box in which Taita Puga kept his money. The sugar cane straw that sheltered the Pugas from the weather naturally gave protection to a numerous domestic fauna, such as cockroaches, rats and mice, animals that lived happily in such an environment, where there was hardly any human traffic. Taita Puga, no doubt having in mind this same fact, had hidden his cardboard box among the bundles of leaves that made up his roof. One day, probably with the purpose of making a deposit in this secret account, he took down the box, discovering with dismay that the inhabitants of his roof had destroyed partially, and in some cases totally, a part of the paper money he kept there. It is said that the amount he had saved up by then had grown to around fifty thousand sucres, a quantity that in those years was a lot of money. However, his sons were unable to convince the elder Puga of the convenience of opening an account in a Guayaquil bank. His indignant remark, “To entrust my money to complete strangers? I'm neither crazy nor drunk!”
On our other side, we had the garden of the Bar-Restaurant “Miramar”, the property of Luz Griselda Hurtado's mother, doña María Yépez, a short and plumpish Amerindian woman. This kind woman could have been anywhere between forty and sixty years, as she had no wrinkles nor any gray hair; but it was told that well over thirty years earlier two good-looking young Norwegians had had a gun fight over her, in a jealousy drama that fortunately resulted neither in deaths nor wounds. I never had the opportunity to find out the truth about this, for I dared not ask doña María about it. She was a lady for whom I felt great respect and affection, having known her since I was a child. What I can witness to is her skill as a gardener, for her plants prospered admirably, all of them loaded with flowers, amidst the arid landscape surrounding them. They were a continual source of joy and admiration to all who walked by.
Our neighbor was one of the earliest citizens of Puerto Baquerizo, for she had been one of the very few people who had lived there before the Americans installed the water pipeline that came down from the highlands all the way to the end of the pier. The pipeline, laid to provide fresh water to the American base on Baltra, during the second world war, gave life to the village, inducing many people from the highlands to move to the seashore. Most of these were fishermen who had been living inland because of the lack of fresh water in the bay.
Doña María's restaurant was very clean and, though very spare in its furnishings, quite pleasant. So much in fact, that many of the members of the American colonization group made it their social center. In fact, our neighbor was an exception to that “false poverty” that has been mentioned. She liked to keep a living standard that was more European than indigenous, though she did not deny her ancestry, like so many of her race have done once they attain a certain level of prosperity and assimilation. I remember well her lengthy conversations in Quechua with the keeper of the navigation beacon, Samaniego, and the pride both of them showed in their ability to speak their ancestral language with fluency, even if both had adopted customs that were different from those of their racial brethren in the highlands.
I spent many a pleasant moment at doña María's restaurant while I lived in Puerto Baquerizo in 1952-53. I went to her place several times with Thor Heyerdahl and his archeological expedition (Prof. Arne Skjøldsvold, Dr. Erik Reed, Karl Angermeyer and Erling Graffer), who were staying with me while they waited for a ship to the mainland. At that time it was hard to tell when a ship would arrive to the islands.
Some time after these very pleasant guests had left, I was visiting with doña María to have a chat with her. There was a group of seamen there from a small ship that had come out to the islands to fish grouper for salting. They sat around three tables which they had drawn together, drinking the island's high octane sugar cane distillate. At the head of the far table sat a slim, small man with fine features and gray-green eyes who seemed to be the ship's master. He watched me with obvious curiosity. This was nothing strange. I was standing near enough for him to hear me speaking a fluent and educated Spanish with a Guayaquil accent, something that did not match very well with my platinum blond hair and gray-blue eyes. It did not take long before a seaman came over and informed me, “My commandant wishes you to come over and have a drink with him.”
The title told me that the skipper was a former naval officer, who was working as a merchant marine master to supplement his pension, which in those days was a rather meagre income at best. I had until then managed to keep away from such drinking parties, and told the seaman that I was a teetotaler and could unfortunately not accept this friendly invitation. The man was speechless for a while. It was obvious that he was shocked at my refusal. Finally, he managed to mumble incredulously, “Do you really refuse to accept to have a drink with Commandant Morán?”
I became aware of having made a terrible mistake, but recovered at once, smiling at him. “I'm very sorry, but I didn't recognize him in this bad light. Of course I would consider it a great honor to have a drink with him.”
While I followed the now contented seaman the few paces towards the table, I saw the gray-green eyes again, realizing suddenly that the captain was “el Gato” (the Cat) Morán, the hero of the Battle of Jambelí, that was fought in the Gulf of Guayaquil. I had heard much about him and all of it pointed to the fact that he was a brave and patriotic man, who deserved both respect and admiration. Unknowingly, I had spoken the truth when I had said it was a great honor to have a drink with him.
Morán had been in command of the old Calderón, a nondescript cargo ship that had been built in the mid-eighteen hundreds. It had been purchased towards the end of that century, after sailing under the Chilean flag with cargo along the Pacific coast for a lifetime. The old steam ship was fitted with four guns, one in the bow, one in the stern and one on either side, and renamed Cotopaxi, a name she would carry for numerous years. Since the Ecuadorian navy was the state's stepchild until the 1940's (as was also the airforce), the Cotopaxi was patched and kept going through the years, as there were no funds to replace her. I cannot say for sure if it was the frustrated wish for a new ship that led to her being renamed Calderón, but she was sailing under that name the two or three times we were allowed to travel with her between the islands and the mainland.
In 1941, war had broken out with Perú, the Peruvians invading a considerable part of Ecuador. The army suffered great defeats, despite the fact that it had been enjoying the lion's share of the defense budgets through all the previous years. Still the army had only obsolete weapons, a situation that was true of all its other equipment as well. Perú on its side had greater forces that were much better equipped. The war was a terrible experience for Ecuador; but the Peruvians did not manage to take Guayaquil, which was one of their main goals. A small tugboat with a gun in her bow defended Puerto Bolívar, on the Gulf of Guayaquil, from an air attack, managing to damage several of the attacking planes. But the big battle took place in the Canal de Jambelí, near Puná Island, which has a central position in the inner part of the gulf. The Canal de Jambelí leads up towards the mouth of the Guayas River, which was at the time the only waterway to Guayaquil, the country's largest city and main port.
Commandant Rafael Morán Valverde had been out patrolling with the ancient Calderón, when he met a Peruvian cruiser heading up the Canal de Jambelí. The Peruvians signaled for him to surrender. The differences between the two ships made it clear that this was the only sensible thing to do. However, Comandante Morán saw matters from a very different angle. He ordered one of the guns to be fired. Nothing happened. The ammunition was old and useless. Still, he made two more attempts before he managed to send a missile into the cruiser, hitting her at the waterline. It is not known what other damages were made to the cruiser (the Peruvians never told), but the Peruvian ship had to be towed to Callao for repairs and never came back.
The resolute officer was decorated, but he was otherwise given little attention. There were enormous problems in the country because of the lost war and the disadventageous treaty that Ecuador was pressed into signing, giving away much territory. But there was a world war going on and the United States and some of the other countries in the area were keen on getting the matter settled quickly. The weakest party had to bow and accept the loss and humiliation. The expediency with which the agreement was handled left several border areas unsettled, a fact that would cause many serious problems in later years. These culminated with the war of 1995. But this time the Peruvians did not manage to invade the areas they had expected to take easily over, something Alberto Fujimori, the Peruvian president, had counted on would give renewed prestige to his discredited government. Ecuador still had much smaller forces, but was well equipped and had soldiers who were well trained in rain forest warfare. This time the peace agreement was fairer.
In 1941 there were rumors circulating that claimed the president himself was a traitor, something the opposition was quick to take advantage of (if they had not originated the rumor themselves). Dr. Carlos Alberto Arroyo del Rio, the president, was an honorable and respected Guayaquil lawyer. He had most likely done nothing else than his best with the limited means at his disposal. I was introduced to him in the 1950's by Senator Clemente Yerovi Indaburu, and got the impression that he was, like Yerovi, a true gentleman of the old school. There was something sad in his eyes, which made me believe that he still felt deeply hurt by the way he had been treated after the war. Yerovi himself was a very respected politician who some years later was asked to take over the government from Admiral Castro's junta and stay in power a year, while new elections were being organized. He was then the only politician whom everybody trusted, which tells much about his excellent reputation.
But back to Commandant Morán. As I approached the table, he rose and asked me to sit next to him. He poured me a generous drink, we drank to each other's health, and then he asked my name. When he heard it, he became eager, asking, “Are you a son of Captain Lundh?”
When I had confirmed that I was, he told me that my father had been a good friend, and that he had been very sad when he read about his death in El Comercio, the largest newspaper in Quito, where one of the editors, don Gerardo Chiriboga, had written a small but very nice article about my father's death. Later, I would meet several older naval officers who had counted my father among their best friends, who treated me with great kindness when they found out that I was his son.
That time was the only occasion in which I met Commandant Morán, but the pleasant older gentleman made a great impression in me and I recall our meeting as one of my best experiences. Unfortunately, the old warrior did not live long enough to experience all the honor that was to be showered on him in later years. The Calderón was placed many years later on land near the naval workshops, by the Guayas River, and a park made around the ancient ship, with a bust of Commandant Rafael Morán Valverde near her. A few years ago, some stamps came out with a picture of the commandant in full uniform. One can see on these stamps a good looking and fit officer who is considerably younger than the one I met on San Cristóbal that balmy evening in 1953.
On her return, Maritza was very happy because of our new home, and we soon began to create a garden in the narrow strip of land behind the house. It is incredible how much we managed to get into that limited space. We built small paths of white sand, bordered with black rocks. I brought down ferns from the highlands, and Christian Zuber, a French writer, journalist and traveler, sent me seeds from Paris so I could plant vegetables and flowers, all of which grew successfully in our little garden, where the petunias blossomed extraordinarily, the radishes became plump and juicy, and the tomato plants, for which very little space remained, were tied to the stone wall of the house, up which they climbed to a height of two and a half meters, bearing in time a great quantity of large, red and juicy fruits. All this happened in a soil that seemed to offer the saddest prospects for horticulture, as it contained a great amount of shell limestone, so much in fact, that it effervesced as soon as a little lime juice fell on it. But, little by little, we built up some very good soil.
We went often on walks along the road to the highlands. Maritza, little Ingrid and I would go, as well as my mother, when she was with us. While the ladies attended to their exercise, I devoted myself to collecting donkey manure in a waterproof bag I carried with me for this purpose. I also collected dead leaves. All this went into our garden, as did a certain amount of spoilt oranges and limes, the inevitable result of the way these fruits were sold on San Cristóbal, where one had to purchase them by the sackfull, due to their abundance and exceedingly low price. These citrus fruits were very good for lowering the alkalinity of the soil, due to their acid content; but they also produced a great number of orange and lime seedlings, the main roots of which are long and resilient, and thus very hard to pull out. It appears that even such small advantages have their price...
The cost of living on San Cristóbal, then the island with the highest such in Galápagos, was modest when compared to that in Guayaquil. The rent for Buenaño's house was about a third of what we would have had to pay in the city for a house of the same size. Of course, conditions were somewhat more primitive and the comforts inferior to what we would have demanded as a minimum in the city. Still, we had a few luxuries that were then unusual in Galápagos—a bathroom downstairs with running water, and equipped with a modern toilet instead of the usual pit with a wooden box over it, an arrangement that can be suffocating in a tropical climate. Our sewer pipes emptied into a fissure in the rocks under the house. This fissure ran diagonally under Buenaño's property, crossing that of doña María Yépez, who also made use of it, before disappearing out to sea.
There was even electricity in the houses of Puerto Baquerizo, but the light was so poor that Commandant Benavides claimed one needed a flashlight to see if it was on. This of course precluded the use of such domestic equipment as refrigerators, electric irons and washing machines. In fact, more than once, I tried to talk Maritza into using kerosene lamps, the light of which was far superior to what our light bulbs could produce; but, since the top floor of the house was made of wood, she was afraid to use anything having a flame. Still, she had no second thoughts about the kerosene stove I had bought on Santa Cruz, the only island where such stoves were then available.
The stove was purchased at a store owned in partnership by my American friend Divine and Jimmy Pérez, a Guayaquilian who had lived more than twenty years in New York. Jimmy had arrived on an American yacht, the owner of which decided to head for Easter Island, instead of continuing on to the Marquesas and Tahiti, as originally planned. When Jimmy found out what Easter Island looks like, he decided to remain on Santa Cruz, where he still lives. He now has a small hotel, besides the store he began with Divine and later took over. In fact, Jimmy is a born businessman. When I told him that the island market for kerosene stoves would soon become saturated, he smiled happily, rubbing his hands. “Can you imagine all the kerosene, wicks and spare parts I'll be selling?” he burst out with enthusiasm.
Jimmy's real name is Juan Aníbal, but his friends in the States had problems pronouncing his name and, practical as Americans are, they renamed him Jimmy. Apparently, this happened rather early, as Jimmy had not yet learnt enough English to explain that Juan is Spanish for John, and that they might have called him Johnny or Jack. Everybody knows Jimmy on Santa Cruz, and it is not even necessary to mention his surname for people to understand whom one is talking about. If I claim that he is one of the most popular persons on the island, I doubt I exaggerate.
It had always been a big problem to get servants in Galápagos, especially in recent times. The majority of islanders considered it demeaning to do housework outside their own home. However, with some difficulty, we managed to get a girl from Progreso. She did not last long. Though she went home on weekends, she missed her family too much during the week. Finally, we reached an agreement with a local woman who was willing to wash our clothes, and one of her daughters would come after school to help with some of the housework. This arrangement proved so satisfactory that it lasted during the years we remained on the island.
Another problem we had was the supply of fresh milk. We could only get it occasionally. At an early date, we decided to do without it and get powdered milk from Guayaquil—the powdered milk we could buy on the island was often rancid. We also sent for other supplies from Guayaquil, including vegetables, when these were out of season on the island, which happened for about half the year. Our Guayaquil purchases were made by Hugo Sarmiento, the young supercargo of the Cristóbal Carrier, a very reliable and helpsome gentleman, who earned the affection and regard of the islanders during the few years he sailed on Galápagos.
It was not that there were no stores in Puerto Baquerizo, but all too often we were unable to get all the things we wanted. Prices were frequently unreasonably high and, in some cases, the quality left much to be desired. In addition to the navy's commissary, which also served the civilian population, there were several stores, all of them dating from the 1950's or later. At the corner of the road to Progreso and the waterfront was a store belonging to Oswaldo Cox, a non-commissioned officer. This was run by his wife, as Cox was still in active service. Farther up the road to Progreso was a business belonging to Sergeant Freire, a former army man. Across from Cox, on the other side of the square that was shaded by some large and ancient mesquite trees, a shop was opened by don Lucas Alza Palma on the ground floor of Ensign Samaniego's house. (Samaniego, already retired, had for many years been in charge of the local lighthouse).
Following the waterfront towards the northeast, was Raul Jeria's store. He was the biggest merchant in Galápagos, having also a store on Santa Cruz, where he also set up a small hotel a few years later. Like Cox, Jeria had been in the navy and had made use of the opportunities offered by the island. With the low prices of food and the free lodgings offered by the navy, he made use of the money he thus saved to buy coffee, dry fish and lard, all of which he shipped to Guayaquil. With the money thus obtained, he had supplies and fuel sent out to him, selling these to the settlers at a good profit. Lucila, his wife, ran the business and appeared as its owner while Jeria was still in the navy.
When I lived in Puerto Baquerizo, from 1952 to 1953, I had never heard of Raul Jeria. When I returned towards the end of 1953, I got to know a small, miserable shanty, where a woman, dressed in the long, wide skirt used by indigenous women in the Andes, sold a few supplies. These were mainly rice, sugar, beans, wheat flour and California sardines in tomato sauce. In the back of the premises, which apparently served as storage space, there was a great number of five-gallon tins of lard, ready for shipment to Guayaquil.
This product was scarce on the mainland at the time, while production was unusually high on San Cristóbal. Jeria made a lot of money on this situation, but even more from the illness and death of the Spaniard don Rafael Segovia, who had a well-assorted store in the ground floor of his house, near doña María Yépez. At the death of Segovia, a man who was loved by the islanders and had married one of Angela Montero's red-headed daughters, his widow was unable to run the business, and left the field open to Jeria. When I came back to the islands in 1959, Jeria owned a prosperous business in the ground floor of his two-storied house, at the same site where he had started. He had not yet opened his Santa Cruz branch, but did so two or three years later.
A little distance beyond Jeria's shop stood the highest house in Galápagos, a four-storied wooden building that had been erected with the purpose of making it the first hotel in the islands. It had been built by a man called Falconí, who had been a farm hand at the plantation, but had a more enterprising soul than most people of his condition. He had obtained permission from the navy to take down several of the barracks that had been left behind by the Americans on Baltra.
Normally, people got permission to take down one such building per family, after the navy had realized the enormous cost in maintaining the base in its original condition. But Falconí got several of them, as his hotel would solve the housing problem for many of the government employees such as teachers and the various officials. However, the hotel was far from successful. Finally, he rented small apartments to some of the public officials who were sent out to the island, among them our good friend police lieutenant Humberto León, who lived on the third or fourth floor, something that made it a tiring effort to visit him and his wife during the warmest hours of the day.
Falconí had also kept for himself extensive premises on the ground floor, where he had set up a restaurant, where I never saw any food served, but where beer, soft drinks and local rum seemed to do well. It was here that I one day had to listen to Falconí's lamentations about how little understanding the governor had shown him. This was in the early 1950's, when my friend Alsacio Northía was in command of the naval base and military governor of the islands. “I can't understand that such a progressive man doesn't want to see what I mean. He gave me permission to bring over all this lumber from Baltra so I could build this hotel, and then he denies me permission to bring out three women from Guayaquil, so I can liven up the place, and make life more bearable for those poor bachelors at the navy base. It's a big shame that we haven't been able to make enough progress to have some whores on the most populated island!”
While we were living in Puerto Baquerizo, there was no reliable meat supply on the island. There was a slaughter house made of concrete blocks, with a cement floor, near the shore. When we saw a pig or a yearling calf tied to the mesquite tree outside it, we knew that there would be fresh meat next morning. The price of meat was ridiculously low in our eyes, used as we were to Guayaquil prices. Usually, we would purchase a whole hind leg, so we could salt a fair amount of meat, which we left in the brine, instead of drying it in the sun as was usual in the islands. If kept in the brine, the meat remained juicier.
It may seem strange, but it was easier to get fresh fish outside the fishing season. When the fishermen were at home, some of them would go out to the neighboring shores, coming back with small catches of mullet, grouper and, occasionally, bonito. Some would work along the foreshore, catching spiny lobsters. The fishermen usually stopped by our house, as they were certain to sell a good part of their catch and get paid in cash. What could not be used the same day was salted, especially the mullets, which after a few days in brine were pickled in sugar, vinegar, sliced onions and spices to make an imitation of the pickled herring that is so popular in the north of Europe.
As we have seen, the supply of vegetables varied greatly during the year. The same happened with the fruits, though to a somewhat lesser degree. The fruit season lasted for about eight months, as they ripened by stages, beginning at the lower altitudes and gradually reaching the areas near the timber line. This happened with the oranges, the limes and the guava, which all grew wild. There were less abundant fruits than these, such as avocados, pineapples, plantains, bananas, papayas and grapefruits, these last being rather scarce. As far as I can remember, only don Manuel Augusto Cobos, son of the former owner of the island, had grapefruit trees. There were also some fruits that one had to go and harvest oneself, as nobody bothered to sell them—like rose apples, mombins, and Japanese medlar, all of which, like the oranges, limes and guavas, could be harvested for free along the roads, where these fruits grew wild. When the fruit season was over, I used to get a limited amount of limes from several trees I had found in the bush, in the upper reaches of the dry region. These small trees were never completely without fruit.
The vegetable season started some time after the beginning of the cool season, when the drizzles begin to soak the ground, giving it enough moisture for planting. The southeastern trades bring with them a great amount of clouds, which are pushed against the island and forced up the mountain slopes. If the island is high enough, these clouds will be cooled sufficiently to reduce their capacity for holding water, producing that endless drizzle which makes it possible for the island farmer to grow things. Of course, this natural phenomenon is not present on the lower islands, and usually gives limited benefits below 250-300 meters altitude on the higher islands.
This period of the highest rainfall in the highlands also happens to be the driest period in the lowlands. Also, the lee side of the islands has a dry region that extends farther up than on the windward side, since the clouds pass overhead, leaving most of their remaining water high up. It is interesting to observe that the mountain range that extends from the southeast of Isabela to the area of Iguana Cove, in the southwest, blocks most of the clouds, causing the volcanoes north of the Perry Isthmus, on the same island, and the great central mountain on Fernandina Island, all of them formations of considerable altitude, to be relatively dry up to their summits.
Unlike Santa Cruz, San Cristóbal never had an abundant nor a varied production of vegetables. In fact, even during the season, we often had to supplement what we could get on the island with what could be brought out from Guayaquil. At present, Santa Cruz also suffers from this problem, because little or no agriculture is carried out there anymore. The farmers have gone entirely over to raising cattle, an activity that was barely beginning on that island in the 1960's, and like tourism, developed rapidly in the following years. On San Cristóbal people had long since been engaged mainly in raising animals. In fact, it had gone on for so long and to such an extent that those who grew anything had to put up good fences, as pigs roamed freely, feeding on guava, and the cattle and horses did the same when not feeding on the natural grasses of the highest plateau region.
In Ecuador it is against the law to have animals running free, and one has the right to kill any animal that enters cultivated ground; but as everybody on San Cristóbal had loose animals, the law could not be applied. On Santa Cruz, an island that was basically agricultural, the law was always applied and people had to keep their animals fenced in. It is undoubtedly therefore that it is still usual on Santa Cruz to have cultivated pasture and good barbed wire fences, though this practice seems to have been declining in recent years.
However, on San Cristóbal the law was strictly applied in Puerto Baquerizo to the local pig population. The reason for this had nothing to do with agriculture. During many years, Puerto Baquerizo suffered from a great abundance of chiggers, minute animals that dig into the skin, especially on the toes, where they burrow to lay their eggs. Pigs are probably the greatest carriers of chiggers, and to put an end to this plague it was ordered that any pigs seen running around in the village should be shot on sight. It is remarkable that when this problem was still at its worst, around 1947 and in the early 1950's, I often walked around barefoot in Puerto Baquerizo without getting a single chigger. In fact, I came to believe that they disliked the smell of my skin, until I got one—the only one I ever had—during a visit to Bahía de Caráquez, despite the fact that I wore socks and shoes at all times.
But returning to Puerto Baquerizo. I remember a hot afternoon when I was on my way to the pier. Suddenly, I saw our former landlord, don Manuel Agama, running towards his kiosk near the lighthouse. He opened the back door of his business, coming out at once with an old Mauser rifle. Before realizing what was going on, I heard a shot, discovering at the same time its target—a beautiful black pig, which collapsed soundlessly in the dust of the street. This was the only member of the species that I ever saw moving freely through the village during the five years we lived there.
Christmastime in the islands is a period of high temperatures with little resemblance to the Yuletide of northern latitudes, except for that ancient pagan custom of the Christmas tree, which is supposed to be a watered down memory of the time when the Vikings hung human sacrifices on the sacred trees near their places of worship. Of course, having left Norway at the tender age of three and a half years, I remembered no other Christmases than the warm ones; but something remained of the customs that had been picked up at home—without a tree there could be no real Christmas. In fact, many Ecuadorians are of the same opinion and the traditional crèche frequently occupies a place secondary to that of the tree, having even disappeared completely from many homes, which is to be regretted, as it is not only a beautiful tradition, but also more in agreement with what is being celebrated on this date.
Our first Christmas was one of the two or three we celebrated in Galápagos with my mother. She and Maritza were both worried about the problem of getting a tree, but that year as well as in the following years we obtained beautiful trees, as the successive agronomists at the experimental farm let me select a branch from the enormous cypress that grew there. In fact, I noticed a disappointed expression on the face of at least two commanding officers at the naval base when seeing for the first time the tree in our home, as our trees were usually better than those of the navy. The reason was of course that I selected the tree myself, while the commandant sent some of his men up to fetch one in the truck.
Getting the tree was not exactly a pleasure, even if a part of my excursion consisted of a delicious chicken meal at the current agronomist's home. (All of those I knew were very hospitable). What I disliked greatly was what followed—I had to carry the tree ten-twelve kilometers to get it home, while suffering the season's full heat. However, one is willing to do a lot of unpleasant things to make one's loved ones happy.
Though it may appear difficult to obtain gifts in a place like Galápagos, times had changed so much that we had several merchants and these always brought out merchandise that was suitable for the season, including toys and some items that were fit for the grown-ups as well. On the other hand, we also had our good friend Sarmiento to do some of our shopping in Guayaquil, and there were the gifts sent by my brother, those brought out by my mother, and those sent by Maritza's family. None of our Christmases on San Cristóbal left anything to be desired.
If I remember correctly, it was our second Christmas in Puerto Baquerizo, when my brother sent Ingrid a doll that was larger than her. It talked when a cord in its back was pulled. At the time, such dolls were a novelty in Ecuador; but its voice was somewhat shrill and it could only speak English. Anyway, Ingrid soon lost interest in her doll's ability to speak, though she continued feeling a great affection for it. She would take it with her through the house and even into the garden, though this would often be difficult because of the toy's size. After attempting unsuccessfully to carry it in her arms in a more or less motherly manner, Ingrid soon discovered that the best way of transporting it was by grabbing a good hold of the doll's hair and dragging it after her.
Every year we managed to get a fresh ham to make the traditional roast, which is one of the favorite Christmas foods in Norway. Another one is the rib roast, but suitable ribs were difficult to get and keep. Potatoes were no problem and we even got hold of a head of cabbage and the corresponding caraway seeds, to prepare the sour-sweet cabbage that must be served with the ham roast. This detail of the caraway seeds made my mother happy, as such seeds had previously been unobtainable in Ecuador. Quite by chance, I had discovered them in Supermercado El Rosado, in Guayaquil, a business belonging to a Mr. Czarninsky, who was then Israeli consul.
Several of the American families who arrived with the colonization group became our good friends, whom we remember with great affection. This group will go down in history as the last project of its kind, as the lands that are still unoccupied are now part of Galápagos National Park, which makes it impossible to obtain lands for this sort of project. On the other hand, there are extremely few settlers who are willing to sell their properties, and those few who do demand prices that are usually far above what is reasonable.
My first contact with the Americans was made in Guayaquil in 1959, shortly after the colonization group was founded, when I was introduced to a mature gentleman of distinguished appearance called Clarence Elliot. He was one of the officials of Island Development Company and, according to his own words, that enterprise was very interested in developing Galápagos economy—fishing, agriculture, cattle raising and tourism.
I got the impression that Clarence Elliot was uninterested in learning anything about Galápagos other than what he had already read himself and what little he had seen during a brief visit to San Cristóbal. He was however friendly and quite willing to talk about his own projects both times I met him. All the people I know in Guayaquil who had met him had the same impression—Elliot represented a large enterprise with considerable economic resources. Nobody imagined that this was actually a cooperative with means that were more or less limited, the members of which would make up the labor force for their own project. It was not that Elliot lied; he simply left out enough to give a distorted impression of the truth.
I understood that Elliot had been to Quito and Galápagos together with his son and the company's chairman, Captain Donald Harrsch. Their purpose was to buy the old Cobos plantation and Lorenzo Tous' freezer plant in Puerto Baquerizo. I warned him that there could be problems with the plantation because the sale of this property to Sociedad Nacional de Galápagos, an enterprise then belonging to Lorenzo Tous Sr., which had rented the plantation for some years, was approved by the government on the condition that the lands never be sold to enterprises or individuals of foreign nationality. I also warned him of an Ecuadorian law that forbids ownership to foreigners less than fifty kilometers from the seashore or from international boundaries, which of course would include the whole of the insular territory. I also informed him that this latter law had never been applied in practice. Besides, I warned him that the freezer plant in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno had not been in operation for several years, which meant that the machinery would need a complete overhaul.
None of these things seemed to worry Elliot, who assured me that the company lawyer would arrange everything relating to the transfer of the properties, and that he had been assured by Tous that the freezer plant would be handed over in working order. I shrugged mentally, limiting myself after this to listen to what Elliot claimed the enterprise would do for the progress and prosperity of the islands. When I found myself face to face with reality, standing on the deck of the tuna clipper Alert on that sunny and beautiful morning of March 16, 1960, I did not at once associate this old fishing vessel, whose wooden hull had roamed the seas for thirty years, with the impressive projects of the distinguished gentleman with graying hair whom I had met some months earlier in Guayaquil. Reality was so different, and Don Harrsch, chairman of Island Development Company and master of the Alert, did nothing to adorn it. He as well as the other members of the group told me of their goals and the means they had for reaching them. There was no bragging, but there was still a visionary glow in their eyes, as if they were about to fulfill the dreams that would give a higher meaning to their lives.
It had all started with Donald Harrsch himself, who had lost his job as master of a tugboat in Seattle harbor. As so many dreamers, he was an idealist and he had long felt a desire for creating a society that was just and equitable, in some place far from civilization, where the members of such a society could struggle together towards a better life, emphasizing human values and placing at a lower level the desire for gain, a desire that seemed to have taken over our modern society. While he was unemployed, he could think over his project in more detail and he decided to make it come true.
Placing an ad in a Seattle paper, he invited those sharing his ideas and having an adventurous spirit to join him. At first, few people joined the project, contributing the two thousand five hundred dollars which gave them a share in the cooperative. The amount was the same regardless of the number of family members or if the applicant was single. These early members held their meetings in the basement of the Harrsch home. But it was not long before the group grew, making it convenient to legalize the enterprise and rent an office. The group received the rather fanciful name of Filiate Science Antrorse Island Development Company.
It had been some time since Harrsch had decided on the Galápagos Islands as their goal. He was convinced that they would find there a good foundation for their survival, catching spiny lobster and tuna, growing coffee and producing most of the food they needed. Later, he expected to expand their activities to include tourism and cattle raising. A sociologist at the University of Washington, Dr. Stuart C. Dodd, became interested in the Harrsch project and gave him much advice, though he never joined the group, which grew to include eighty-three families. Though the original goal had been to recruit one hundred families, no further members were taken in.
It was not long before Harrsch and Elliot could make their trip to Ecuador, where, after a brief visit to San Cristóbal, they made an agreement of promise of sale with Lorenzo Tous Jr. for the purchase of Hacienda Progreso for one hundred and ten thousand dollars, and the freezer plant at Puerto Baquerizo for two hundred thousand. This second amount may seem somewhat steep when compared to the price of the plantation, but the “freezer plant” included several dwellings, the workshops, storage buildings and an excellent dock, besides fuel and water tanks. A deposit of thirty thousand dollars was paid on the plant and the adjacent buildings, an amount that don Lorenzo, in a generous gesture, returned to the Americans when the group broke up.
According to a Los Angeles publication, the plantation had 64,000 acres of coffee, which is an exaggeration. This would make about 25,600 hectares, and the plantation had at the time about two hundred thousand coffee trees, which would cover some 172 to 200 hectares, depending on how they are planted. According to the Acuerdo Ejecutivo 115 of December 3, 1937, which defines the boundaries of the plantation, the hacienda has a total area of 11,172 hectares, including the 8,371 which were then supposed to be under cultivation.
Island Development purchased the hundred-foot tuna clipper Alert at a price of 13,500 dollars cash and the hundred and thirty-foot freezer vessel Western Trader at a price of 32,000 dollars, also in cash. The former of these vessels sailed from Seattle with thirty people on board—seven families, consisting of eleven minors and nineteen adults. Harrsch, as has been stated, came as her master.
When they arrived to Galápagos, Don Harrsch had counted on taking with him a cargo of twenty tons of spiny lobster on the return voyage to the United States, where he expected to get a net profit of forty thousand dollars from the sale of this cargo. I cannot tell if he had had the foresight to secure a fishing permit for this purpose; but it would have been of little use, as his arrival to the islands coincided with the fishing season and all the competent fishermen were unavailable. Furthermore, those with the greatest experience in lobstering were working for don Miguel Seminario, a Guayaquil businessman, whose efficient and well organized lobster fishing operation went on throughout the year. The few people with Harrsch had no experience in this kind of fishing. As if to deprive them of the slightest hope of profit, the freezer on the Alert also broke down. The alternative of buying and/or catching lobster for the ship's next voyage also proved impossible as the freezer plant in Puerto Baquerizo needed extensive repairs before it could be operated.
Thus, the Alert, after a brief visit to Santa Cruz, sailed on her return voyage to the United States, while the first small group of American settlers installed itself in the Tous buildings, along the northeastern shore of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. It was expected that a new group of settlers would soon arrive on the Western Trader, which should have sailed from San Diego a week after the Alert had left Seattle. But all that arrived were the news of continuous delays regarding the future settlers' visas. This is very difficult to explain, for those who came down on the Alert had had no such problems.
The Western Trader remained several months tied up to a dock in San Diego, and there were many who found no other explanation for what was happening than the 1960 elections. There were many people on the political left who had protested loudly against the Americans, seeing the Harrsch project as a sinister scheme cooked up by the United States government to take over Galápagos, “in the same manner as was done by the Yankees with Texas” as it was expressed, showing a real or pretended ignorance of the facts of Texan history. However, there were also a few on the left who saw this in an entirely different light, interpreting the colonization project as a rejection by a group of United States citizens against their country's capitalist system. These people heartily approved their intention of establishing a cooperative society on Galápagos.
The government's cautious action—if such it was—caused enormous problems to the would-be colonists, contributing in no small measure to their failure. Trusting that they would not have to wait longer for their visas than those who had traveled on the Alert, those on the Western Trader had given up their jobs, and many of them had even sold their homes and most other belongings. Thus, seventy-eight people found themselves living—men, women and children—in the narrow confines of a ship that had not been designed to carry more people than a very small crew. The weeks turned into months, and frictions and antagonisms developed, the effects of which would last until after the group arrived to the islands. This desperate situation was also the cause of great unexpected expenditure, for Island Development had to face all their expenses, since these people had paid their shares in the group and been told to make themselves ready to travel.
Three cases of infectious hepatitis caused panic among the people on the ship. The sick had to be hospitalized, while the whole group received shots of gammaglobulin. Then, when their visas finally arrived and they were about to begin their long awaited voyage, they received news that they had to pay high duties in Ecuador on their equipment and even on their personal belongings. This is something I cannot understand, for Ecuadorian governments had always been flexible with colonization ventures. On the other hand, agricultural and industrial machinery were normally freed from import duties by a request to the corresponding authorities, a procedure that was very common and not at all complicated.
It is obvious that there must have been a lack of information from one side or another, and that the problem had not been properly handled. In any case, much potentially useful equipment was left behind. In addition to this, twenty-eight of those who had been living on the ship had to be left behind. Port officials in San Diego, who had been seeing these people coming and going along the docks for months, suddenly discovered that the ship lacked the capacity to carry them all. Of course, the greatest blame belongs to the group's organizers, who should have found out earlier how many people would be allowed to travel on the Western Trader.
When the ship finally sailed, she carried as her master Lloyd Van Kirk, a former naval officer. He was a competent man, but not one dear to the settlers, who appear to have resented his efforts to maintain a semblance of order aboard. The voyage lasted seventeen days, which is a good time for a vessel like the Western Trader, especially if one considers that she was towing a landing barge, the square bow of which made a great resistance with all the water she pushed in front of her. This barge, the Buzo, was to be used for lobster fishing.
Whether the person in charge of the food was allotted too little money or he/she failed to figure out their needs, Van Kirk had to face a lack of supplies for the last few days of the voyage, and it became necessary to resort to the jars of baby food, which had been purchased in a surprisingly great quantity. This did little to improve the state of mind of the future settlers.
The tensions that had accumulated in San Diego became unbearable during the voyage; but even so, there were those who preferred to face another equally unpleasant voyage rather than to remain in Galápagos, after seeing the desolate coast of Puerto Baquerizo. I spoke to a young housewife who was seated on the cargo hatch of the Western Trader, the day after her arrival, and she replied to my question about whether she had been ashore, “I have no intention of going ashore on this horrible island. I can see the whole bay from here, and it's frightfully dry. My husband and I have decided to return to the States on this same ship.”
I was surprised that a person who seemed intelligent could make such a drastic decision without finding out if there was a real reason for doing so. “But don't you want to see the highlands? It's quite different up there from what you can see here. It's green and fertile. There was even a sugar plantation up there, which was one of the largest in Ecuador. The soil is good, though a little hard to work because it's very clayey.”
Her lovely blue eyes filled with anguish. “We dare not leave the ship. We're sure that if we do, some of those who came on the Alert will take our places, and we won't be able to return home.”
I found this attitude among several of those who came on the Western Trader, though a number of them did go ashore to wash their clothes and take fresh water baths; but not without leaving part of their families on board, to “watch over our places” as none of them doubted that the settlers from the Alert were anxious to leave the island.
However, when the Western Trader sailed for the States, there were places left over on the ship. Some of those who had arrived remained in Puerto Baquerizo, and the previous group did not show any intention of leaving yet. Those who left had every reason to regret attempting a return voyage. The old freezer vessel lost its screw outside the coast of Guatemala. After being towed to Salina Cruz, the Western Trader was tied up for months at a dock in that Mexican port. As was the case with the Alert, this bad luck ship never returned to Galápagos.
Bad luck and the mistakes made because of a lack of vision and an incomplete knowledge of the islands and Ecuador in general, led inevitably to the shareholders deposing Donald Harrsch, even though any one of them would most likely have made the same or worse mistakes in his place, and for the very same reasons. But thus is the way of the world. If there is no outstanding underling to use as a scapegoat, as happens in too many companies, the most prominent head has to roll. Alex Reuss was then elected chairman, to be soon replaced by Galen Kaufman, who was one of those living on San Cristóbal.
The choice of Kaufman was an excellent one, but it came unfortunately too late. A sensible, pleasant and very intelligent person, he was also well educated. When he had joined the group, he had been working as a fireman in Seattle, though he had a university degree in pedagogy. One of the things I regret regarding Galen Kaufman and his family is that I did not cultivate their friendship from the moment they arrived to the island; but my relations with the Americans had been concentrated mainly on the group that lived near the freezer plant, all of whom had arrived on the Alert. My friendship with the others had been more superficial. Still, I have some very good memories of Galen Kaufman and his family.
He and I became good friends after an excursion we made along the coast to Manglecito, the place where the great bay of Puerto Grande begins. From there, we turned towards the interior of the island, covering the worst terrain I have found in Galápagos, where good terrain is a rarity in the lowlands. During this hike, I discovered in Galen an excellent companion, considerate and willing to take more than his share of the difficulties in a hard journey.
The last part of our excursion was quite hard, for not only was the terrain difficult, but the weather was hot and, having taken more time than we had expected, our water supply became low, though we had taken with us a large quantity. Despite our care in using it, we had barely half a canteen when we were coming out of the dry region. When we camped towards evening, on the last day, we hung the outside tent between two branches and placed the main tent with its plasticized floor up, to catch any dew that might collect during the night. Then, we crept into our sleeping bags. At daybreak, we had collected a little over half a cup of dew; but it had a pale orange color from the dye of the canvas, and it had a horribly bitter taste. Though our thirst was great, we threw it among the rocks.
Somewhat higher up, we came across some open vegetation, where there was a great number of scattered manchineel trees. Their thick branches were covered with moss and other epiphytes. Among the latter, there was a great number of Tillandsiæ, bromeliaceous plants that collect water at the bases of their leaves. We managed to collect a couple of cups of the precious liquid, even though it had not rained for a long time. The water was dirty with the remains of half decomposed vegetation and many minute insects were swimming in it. Fortunately, I carried a completely clean handkerchief which we used to filter out the worst part of the solids. The resulting liquid had a dark brown color, and its flavor was a combination of tannin and topsoil. Still, we downed it with relish.
A couple of hours later, we arrived to a small house, where a friendly Andean aborigine invited us to have a glass of fresh milk, while we rested on a wooden bench at the entrance to his house. After we left, we took a path that went in the general direction of Progreso, but we only walked about a hundred meters. We were both still tormented by thirst. Seating ourselves below a group of wild orange trees, I showed Galen how we peel oranges in the coastal lowlands when we only wish to suck out the juice. We both then devoted ourselves with great enthusiasm to this task, armed with our hunting knives. When we finally rose from our respective rocks, we had each left a large heap of sucked out oranges on the ground. Incredulous, I counted my pile, discovering that I had sucked twenty-two oranges. Galen's heap must have contained a similar number.
After this excursion, Galen Kaufman and I discussed many problems and interchanged many thoughts about a number of things. At that time, his sojourn on the island was rapidly nearing its end. The final disintegration of the American colony was becoming a reality. Galen invited me to join the group, contributing my knowledge of the islands and the possibilities for surviving there in lieu of the payment for membership in the group. Unfortunately, the remaining funds of the project were now too low to save it. Also, very few of the members still believed in the Harrsch project. As early as in October 1960 a small group had already left the islands. In the following month, other members went away. A short time after this, two families, the Stewarts and the McGoughs moved to Santa Cruz. The few who remained when Kaufman invited me to join the group were only waiting to enjoy a little longer what they had come to consider a long vacation, before packing to make their return voyage to their homes in the Seattle area.
I participated actively in the moving operation of the Stewarts and the McGoughs, because the port authorities demanded that the Buzo carry a master who was familiar with the island waters. As I happened to be the only person trusted by both sides, I found myself recruited overnight to make this unexpected trip. Fortunately, this did not interfere with my activities as agent of the Cristóbal Carrier, so I could sail with a clear conscience, with the clearance papers in hand, aboard a landing barge that was filled up with baggage and domestic articles, with two families on board, totaling eight people, including children and grown-ups, in addition to my two crew members, my friends Eddie Niles and Lowell Sutton. It was a splendid day, with a clear sky, a soft and refreshing breeze and a brilliant sun. The sea was calm and the current favorable. One could not ask for more. However, we made a slow passage since the Buzo was overloaded and her flat bow pushed a wall of water in front of her that was more than a meter high.
Luck was with us all the way, so that we even arrived to Academy Bay in the afternoon with the high tide at its maximum. This allowed us, with the help of my Belgian friend Gym Bowens, who guided us through the reefs, to take the barge all the way to the beach below his house, which made unloading much easier. I had fished and bathed often at that beach, but had never approached it from the sea in a boat.
We anchored the Buzo bow and stern, then unloaded the most necessary items for the two families to camp ashore, while we three crew members slept aboard. I shall never forget Eddie Niles' astonished expression when he got up the following morning to discover the Buzo sitting on her flat bottom nearly fifty meters from the nearest water, where I was taking my morning dip. It seems that he had not yet discovered the difference between high and low tide in Galápagos.
We made use of the low tide to unload everything that was aboard, sailing as soon as the tide was high enough to get out again. We set course for Puerto Núñez, with the purpose of spending the night there. When leaving Puerto Ayora, Sutton took out his fishing rod and a metal box containing all sorts of hooks and lures. While he was going through the complicated process of selecting something suitable from this vast array, I tied a white rag to a big, rusty hook, secured it to a solid swivel and to a strong, thick cotton line. Sutton looked at me with disbelief, as I threw this gear into the water, securing the free end to a cleat. My friend shook his head and went back to selecting an appropriate hook and a lure for whatever he intended to catch.
While Sutton was still securing his minute hook to a swivel, my line tensed and a beautiful dorado jumped out of the water in the wake of the Buzo. I asked Eddie, who had been watching us with an amused smile, to slow down, while I hauled in my fish, under Sutton's astonished gaze and Eddie's mirthful one. When I got my catch on board—almost a meter and a half of delicious fish, that would provide us with a fine supper after a stroll ashore in Puerto Núñez, Sutton put away his gear in the metal box, looking rather discouraged, while he said, “Jake, you don't know what you've done to me. I've invested several hundred dollars in fishing gear and you ridicule me by hauling in that beautiful fish, using only a white rag and a rusty hook!”
I murmured something about cultural collision. In Galápagos we used what we had available, regardless of what the experts could claim as adequate for a given job. Besides, we considered that a large hook was needed to catch a large fish, something I still regard as logical. We did not practice sport fishing in the islands. Fish was for food or for commercial purposes, not for sport. This last is something the tourist business has come up with during recent years.
Next morning, we stopped at Barrington, where I went inland, while my two companions walked along the shore, admiring the tameness of the sea lions. Above some cliffs, I met a goat herd. I shot a young female, killing her instantly, as I usually aimed at the space between the ear and the eye. While I was gutting the animal and cutting off the head and the shanks to lighten the load, I discovered a beautiful Galápagos hawk watching me from a palosanto tree, waiting patiently for me to leave so it could feast on what was left of the goat. These beautiful birds have always symbolized to me the Galápagos of my childhood, and their gradual disappearance before the human invasion has been the sure sign of the changing environment as man's presence has increased. Like the island dove, these birds only survive in a few uninhabited places.
The American colony continued its speedy disintegration. While the Stewarts left Santa Cruz, the Millers, Tuckers, Suttons, Harrisons and Bakers in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno packed their suitcases to return to their country. The San Cristóbal group, who had continued their long vacation, did not have the same problems as many of the others, as they were in a comfortable economic situation, and had kept their homes in the United States. They had joined the cooperative with the thought that if things went wrong they had at least had an interesting experience. Far worse was the fate of those who had sold all they owned to invest the proceeds in the project, and did not even get to see the islands.
The McGoughs stayed about three years, making a modest living from lobster fishing. Eddie Niles also moved to Santa Cruz, after purchasing the Buzo. He devoted himself to catching lobsters and fishing grouper, the latter for salting and drying. Once in a while, he got a charter trip with tourists and, several times, I secured his services for excursions to Tortuga Bay, where there is a large beach which is one of the most beautiful in Galápagos. However, both the McGoughs and Niles ended up leaving the islands, something they did with much regret. It is told that Roger McGough was seen on the stern of the Cristóbal Carrier, looking at the receding coast of Santa Cruz in the moonlight. His thin, bearded face showed the pain in his heart, while tears ran down his cheeks. I can well understand him, as I felt the same pain when my turn came to make that voyage for the last time.
The fate suffered by Donald Harrsch's project was the same that had been the lot of all the cooperatives organized to settle in Galápagos. All had the same weaknesses as the Norwegian ones that came in the 1920's. However, Harrsch and his people arrived at a more favorable time, when there was much better transportation, medical and dental services, reasonably well assorted shops, radio communications, etc. But the mistakes were the same and brought the same negative results. All these cooperatives had enough capital to get going only if things worked out according to plan, without unexpected difficulties. Unfortunately, in all cases, such difficulties did not take long to appear and were of such a serious nature that they left the economy of each project motally wounded. Another crucial weakness was the complete absence of people who knew the environment in which they would be working.
The members of all these groups were, in general, people who had the best intentions to struggle to get ahead; but none of them had the experience necessary to do so in a place like Galápagos. And, like the Norwegians, the Americans who came ashore from the Alert and the Western Trader did not lack the necessary enthusiasm. The first who arrived started at once to repair the houses near the freezer plant, adapted the upper floor above the workshop for a communal dining room, and built latrines along one of the sides of the dock, as not all the buildings had toilets. They also improved the trail to the village. After this, as it was not the right time of the year for planting, they sat back to wait for the arrival of the Western Trader.
It must have been a hard blow to them all to miss the opportunity of making their first profit from the lobster shipment on the Alert; but this did not discourage them. In their spare time, which increased gradually, they rediscovered the art of conversation and recovered their taste for reading. Some of them spent nearly all their evenings at the Bar-Restaurant “Miramar”, where doña María Yépez served them beer and local rum, chicken stew with rice and a number of other dishes, which to them seemed exotic, while they danced to an orchestra of two guitars and a couple of maracas—all of it at prices that seemed to them ridiculously low.
Despite language problems, the new settlers became friendly with the inhabitants of Puerto Baquerizo, who for many years had felt a liking for Americans due to their good memories from their contacts with the military from the base at Baltra and the crews of the tuna clippers from California. When the time came for the periodic communal work to clean the fresh water installation—the dam, the reservoir and the pipeline—the Americans participated with enthusiasm, an attitude that, like many others, confirms their interest in works that were for the common good. (This kind of communal work is called minga in Ecuador. In pioneer areas like Galápagos, where the inhabitants did not pay taxes, mingas were organized to maintain roads, piers, etc. The practice originated undoubtedly in the Indian communities of the mainland, where it was practiced by the Incas and others).
It is not easy to understand if it was the disappointment of all that went wrong or the confusion caused by finding themselves suddenly in an environment that was totally strange, but, looking back, it surprises me how little the Americans actually did to establish themselves once they had settled into their houses. I have the impression that, though they consciously had the best of intentions of forging ahead, their subconscious minds were against remaining, causing them some sort of psychological blockage. But I shall not go any deeper into the subject, as it would be pure speculation on my part. I would rather continue with the facts as I saw them or heard them told.
There was an attempt at growing vegetables in the highlands, within the area of the coffee plantation. The time of the year was not the best, but there was a brook nearby, providing the possibility of irrigation. Since the domestic animals that roam around in the highlands never went to the coffee plantation, where there is little if anything to interest them, the Americans did not bother to fence in their plantings. Somehow, animals manage sooner or later to discover new sources of food, so it did not take long before the pigs made a nocturnal visit to the vegetable patch and ate all that was there.
The Americans did not give up. They made new plantings, but this time they erected a fence of guava branches and trunks, like those used by the people on the island, only that theirs was twice as high. It was obvious that they had no intention of giving the animals the slightest chance to repeat the damage they had done the first time. They did save their plants, but it cost them a lot of effort to enter and leave their little vegetable garden, as they had to climb the fence like monkeys, having failed to make a gate.
The failure of the Harrsch colony was most regrettable. Even the two small groups that remained to the very end—the one on San Cristóbal and the other one on Santa Cruz—would have constituted a positive addition to the population of these two islands. Their presence was a good example of civic spirit. Unfortunately, the dream of Donald Harrsch turned to nothing, at least as far as the Galápagos Islands were concerned. However, the former tugboat skipper was not discouraged by this one experience. The last I heard about him was that he was organizing a colonization project similar to his first one, but this time his goal was the Upper Amazon. I never found out if it was carried out; but wherever you have gone, Donald Harrsch, I hope that fate has been kinder to you there than in the Enchanted Islands. I am certain you deserve it.