|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|
One of the greatest social events we had on San Cristóbal was the New Year's celebration of 1961, held at the navy base. Contrary to what was usual for our group of friends, this party was not held at the officers' club. Commandant Angel Benavides had planned the construction of a combined mess hall and club for the crew of the base, a job that was done with concrete blocks, the foundation, the pillars and beams being made of reinforced concrete. The Commandant himself had supervised the work, seconded by the active and enthusiastic Lt. Jaime Guerrero and the other officers at the base. Construction work and transportation of materials were carried out by the crew, who performed their work with genuine enjoyment, as I witnessed the many times I visited the site.
Once the building, which had a magnificent view of the bay, was finished, the Commandant acted as interior decorator, showing an outstanding artistic sense. As the year was by then nearly over, it was decided to inaugurate the building on December 31. Besides the officers and crew with their respective wives, the guests included all civilian officials, headed by the current civilian governor, don Enrique Vallejo Carranza, a former army officer. Governor Vallejo and I had been friends since 1946, the last year of the army's administration of the islands, a couple of years before Vallejo's retirement. After the blessing by Monsignor Juan de Dios Campuzano, the apostolic prefect, came the endless speeches by officers and civilian officials, among whom Governor Vallejo distinguished himself for his ease with words, speaking well and at length, without the aid of notes. My admiration for his eloquence was however somewhat cooled by thirst and hunger, as the speech of my old friend was not the first of that evening.
Vallejo was our fourth civilian governor in two years. First, we had don Bolívar Naveda, who held the position nearly a year. He was followed by his secretary, don Alberto García, who was replaced four months after his appointment by don Segundo Zapata Vargas, a San Cristóbal settler. Zapata, who took over the governorship on September 20, 1960, gave us much hope, for being the first settler in that position, he brought with him the experiences of many years of struggle with the problems that were peculiar to the islands. From the very beginning, he acted tactfully and sensibly, proving himself very competent in carrying out his duties. Unfortunately, the civilian governor lacked the necessary funds to accomplish most objectives that required money, something that greatly limited his possibilities. In fact, the governor's office did not even have its own building and was located, like the police and the civil registry, upstairs from the local pool hall.
It did not take long before Zapata, being in charge of supervising law and order, made the inevitable enemies. Among those who were most against him, the bar owners were prominent, as he had forced them to respect existing regulations, made years earlier by the navy governors. These demanded among other things that all places selling alcoholic beverages had to close at eleven o'clock in the night. During the time this regulation had been ignored, the noise made by drunks at all hours had often been a great nuisance.
Zapata also tried to organize a fishermen's cooperative together with Monsignor Campuzano and Dr. Miguel Herrera García, the legal adviser to the Second Naval Zone. Another of his projects was to restore the defunct Junta de Mejoras de Galápagos—the Council for the Improvement of Galápagos—which had disappeared due to the lack of proper legislation upon the establishment of civilian rule. However, a military dictatorship had to appear before the Junta de Mejoras could be brought back to life.
In fact, the establishment of the civilian administration had not been carried out properly. No allowance had been made for those previous laws and regulations that had given the navy various duties which normally would belong under civilian authorities. These duties had therefore not been transferred to the civilian administration of the islands. Because of this, the navy continued to be in charge of collecting the tax on dried fish (actually an indirect tax on salt, which was still a state monopoly), the recording of cattle ownership, and the control and authorization for hunting and/or capturing wild cattle. All these were functions that, under normal circumstances, would have had nothing to do with the navy. The result was that, though he had lost his title as governor, the commanding officer of the Second Naval Zone still continued being the most powerful man in Galápagos. Fortunately, most of the navy officers at that time were people with a great sense of responsibility, and I have never known of excesses that were caused by this situation.
Towards the end of the year, Segundo Zapata had left the position of governor to Enrique Vallejo, who was also a San Cristóbal settler. Unlike Zapata, who owned a fishing vessel, Vallejo was a farmer and cattleman. His nomination, though he was an old friend, caused me considerable disappointment, for it was becoming obvious that the governorship had become the plaything of local politics, with the blessings of our representatives in the National Congress and of the Ministry of the Interior. It was an unbelievable situation, for it seemed as if any request having a sufficient number of signatures was enough to oust the highest official of the islands, regardless of his merits. In fact, our elected representatives and the corresponding ministry had turned the governorship and the position of governor into a bad joke. However, Vallejo somehow managed to remain in charge for nearly one year, doing a good job within the limits of the possibilities available to him.
Vallejo showed much less tact than Zapata, and had already many more enemies than the latter before his appointment, so there was not a want of signature lists circulating for his removal. Fortunately, he also had good connections in the government, being an old-time Velasquista—Dr. José María Velasco Ibarra, that outstanding veteran of Ecuadorian politics, was president again—so the signature lists were ignored in Quito.
One problem that interested Vallejo very much was the continuation of the campaign to eradicate wild dogs, which had been initiated and directed by Dr. Arturo Farfán, while the latter was Director of Health in the islands. San Cristóbal, Floreana and Isabela had then fairly large wild dog populations. (Strange to say, there were none yet on Santa Cruz). Dr. Farfán had become interested in wild dog eradication from a medical point of view, when he thought of the disastrous consequences that would inevitably follow the introduction of rabies to Galápagos, with a large wild dog population on three inhabited islands. In fact, a case of rabies had been reported on Isabela; but proved to be a false alarm.
Vallejo however saw the problem from a cattleman's point of view, being concerned about the destruction caused by the dogs to feral cattle. Farfán had chosen Isabela to initiate his eradication program, due to the island's great size and to its enormous dog population. Vallejo found it logical to start on Isabela because it had the largest wild cattle population. Nobody considered that the restrictions on hunting and the absence of diseases were already producing a steady increase in the cattle population, which in a not very distant future could cause irreparable damage to the very vegetation the animals were feeding on. The eradication or drastic reduction of the number of dogs could only hasten the arrival of an environmental collapse. However, neither Dr. Farfán nor Governor Vallejo had success, as they lacked adequate funding to complete their respective projects.
It is to Vallejo's enthusiasm that Galápagos owes its coat of arms and flag,* something the other provinces of the republic already had. One day, he called for a competition for designs and, to avoid any biases, he made all participants submit their drawings under pseudonyms. Though this may have been irregular, Vallejo himself also took part in the contest—I cannot recall under which name—and he won. In fact, as a member of the jury, I also voted for his drawings, not without some hesitation, for all the submitted proposals were very good. Vallejo's however appealed to my imagination.
When it seemed that the governorship was beginning to gain some stability, and Vallejo's opponents had become tired of signing petitions to have him removed, the president of the republic, Dr. José María Velasco Ibarra was himself deposed by the National Congress. This took place on November 7, 1961. After deposing the president, Congress attempted to alter the legal line of succession, bypassing the vice-president, Dr. Carlos Julio Arosemena Monroy. The legislators were at once confronted by the armed forces. The military demanded that the constitution be respected. Thus, the vice-president was sworn in and, a little after, Vallejo was replaced by a cousin of the new head of state, don Antonio Ledesma Monroy, an older brother of the famous “Veneno” Ledesma, that candidate for representative who did not accept defeat.
Don Antonio Ledesma turned out to be a very enthusiastic governor, who took his duties quite seriously. For some reason, neither the navy officers nor the apostolic prefect liked the new governor, a feeling that was mutual. I found this situation rather unpleasant, as the officers and Monsignor Campuzano were my friends. On the other hand, my relationship with Ledesma became increasingly friendly, as we came to know each other better. Fortunately, all sides seemed to accept that my position as agent for the ship did not allow me to take sides; but this did not prevent me from regretting the situation, for Ledesma as well as the others felt a sincere desire to work for the good of the islands. This lack of friendship between the sides could only harm everybody's good intentions. Another person who found himself in a situation similar to mine—even a more sensitive one, in fact—was the chief of police, Lt. Humberto León Polo who, due to his position, was under the governor's orders. He also maintained a close friendship with the prefect and the navy officers.
It was during the Ledesma governorship that I began to be subjected to a mild, friendly but persistent pressure on the part of Monsignor Campuzano and Commandant Alvear, who was then C. O. at the Second Naval Zone. Both of them wanted me to become an Ecuadorian citizen because they were convinced that I would be the ideal governor for the islands. What neither of them wanted to understand was that I considered my Norwegian citizenship a great advantage, precisely because it gave me an excuse to stay away from everything related to politics and public office. I was—and still am—convinced that I was in a better position to serve the islands as a neutral person, who could not be remotely interested in public office. On the other hand, I remembered all too well the problems and complications attached to public office in Galápagos. In fact, I had seen this at close range.
Despite my opposition, I could not prevent being appointed secretary to the Teniente Político (which made me something like a deputy sheriff and public registry official) on Santa Cruz in 1953. My protests were as useless as my Norwegian citizenship, for I was assured that not accepting the appointment would be the same as sabotaging the gradual change from military to civilian administration. Nor was I to receive any salary, which at least freed me from people's envy. But don Miguel Suárez (the Teniente político) and I had some good laughs despite everything, for the whole thing sometimes turned into something of a circus. A sufficient example is the case of two jealous women who had got into a fight on a public path.
To avoid any further incidents between them, we questioned the women separately, by making them enter the office one by one from different rooms. According to what we found out, the attacked woman had defended herself from her aggressor by hitting her over the head with one of those antique irons that are heated with charcoal. It is surprising that, considering the weight of the weapon, she did not kill her attacker or at least cause her a severe concussion. When we asked the aggressor why she had attacked the other woman, she replied without hesitation, “I didn't see she was carrying the iron!”
I was more successful in not getting involved when the elderly Angela Moscoso, owner of one of the bars in Puerto Baquerizo, came to inform me that a number of local people had gathered at her place of business, electing me unanimously as representative of the people before the Junta de Mejoras, which had just been brought back to life by Commandant Alvear, who had by then become our military governor. I must have spent at least half an hour explaining to the good woman that I could not accept this unexpected honor, and I even showed her my Norwegian passport. But she had other ideas, “Neither the law nor the authorities have any say in this. We, the people, want you as our representative. It is the will of the people!” I was deeply impressed by her concept of democracy; but I continued my line of reasoning, and she had to give up. However, I was left with a feeling that I had not quite convinced her.
Some time before this, before the military takeover, Ledesma had accepted my invitation to make the tour of the islands each time the ship came from Guayaquil. We had begun to extend this courtesy to all the governors, and he made use of it with enthusiasm, as he was keen to keep in close touch with all his officials and inform himself personally of the problems on each island. The last evening of our tour, when we were anchored at Puerto Ayora for the second time, and all visitors had gone ashore, Ledesma and I would sit in the dining room of the Cristóbal Carrier, each with a typewriter, writing our respective reports.
These monthly voyages, these nightly sessions and his increasingly frequent visits to my office in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, where we exchanged information and joked a little—Ledesma had a great sense of humor—led to a friendship and mutual regard that were later confirmed from his side when he asked Maritza and me to be witnesses at his wedding. The governor married one of the daughters of the late don Rafael Segovia, the Spanish merchant who had set up the first privately owned store on San Cristóbal. The bride was a buxom redhead who had inherited the good looks of Angela Montero's (her maternal grandmother) side of the family.
On July 11, 1963, Dr. Carlos Julio Arosemena Monroy's rather inept rule was ended by a military junta. Under the circumstances, all provincial governors were replaced by the highest ranking commanding officer in each area. In our case, this was the CO at the navy base, Lt. Com. Fausto Alvear Vázquez. Fortunately, the military dictatorship would follow a moderate line, even respecting the freedom of the press, which is surprising considering the many times the country's newspapers criticized the new government. In fact, all that was restricted was political activitiy, something that did not worry most Ecuadorians, who for the time being were fed up with their politicians.
Our new Civilian and Military Chief (as was his title) and Monsignor Campuzano continued their campaign to persuade me to become an Ecuadorian citizen, and take over as civilian governor, if possible, as soon as we returned to civilian rule. The military junta had no intention of remaining in power for long. I did not budge, but they managed to talk Maritza into accepting the position as secretary to the governor, a position that would normally have made her the governor's deputy. Of course, under the circumstances, the deputy to the civilian and military chief had to be his second in command at the base. Still, Maritza's functions were many and varied, as it would have been absurd for the government to maintain an official for each of the positions normally existing in a provincial government. Galápagos at that time was very much underpopulated. Maritza had to read and sign together with the governor all civilian documents sent out by his office. She was in charge of the civil registry, the registry of properties, and she was the Executive's representative before the Junta de Mejoras de Galápagos, the meetings of which I attended as an unofficial adviser, due to my familiarity with island affairs. In this manner, doña Angela Moscoso and my other supporters could see their wishes more than fulfilled.
The Junta de Mejoras had many projects, such as the construction of a new dock, and a waterfront promenade, works that would have to wait for a number of years before they were actually built. We also had the intention of building roads on all the inhabited islands, a project that had been approved on the government budget. Unfortunately, there is much that ends up in the government budget without there being sufficient funds to carry it out. But it would all come in due time.
Very little is known about the early years of the colonization of San Cristóbal. To the northeast of the old hacienda pier there seems to have been a cemetery, as the sea will uncover human bones at unusually high tides, and similar remains were sometimes dug up during the construction of the houses in that part of the village. None of the oldest settlers could tell me if there had been a cemetery at the place, so it must have existed prior to the settlement established by don Manuel Julián Cobos. I believe that the cemetery could have existed at the time of the whalers and, possibly, at the time of General Mena.
The only information I have been able to obtain about the fate of General Mena's small colony, after his murder by Briones and his gang, is what little is told by Prof. Nils Johan Andersson, the botanist of the Swedish frigate Eugenie, which called at San Cristóbal in 1852. The Swedes found a prefabricated wooden house above the beach and in it a woman and several men, who had come down from the highlands to meet the Swedish ship. When they heard news of the capture and execution of Briones and his gang, they were overjoyed, as these criminals had committed all sorts of abuses on the island.
As we know, the history of the colonization of San Cristóbal is almost as long as that of Floreana. But it seems to have had more continuity than that of the latter, which was completely abandoned several times. We do not know if the few people who lived on the island left San Cristóbal after Mena's death; but it is very likely that they remained. In any case, it was not long before workers of the Compañía Orchillera appeared, establishing a subsistence farm in the highlands, to provide fresh food for the company's workers. This happened in the 1860's. In fact, in 1869 there were ten people living in the area where the village of Progreso stands today, in the six small houses that existed there. All of them were employed by the company, devoting themselves to various jobs, like farming, archil gathering, fishing and hunting tortoises for oil. Some of them may have been General Mena's former employees. The names of these early settlers were Antonio Alejandro, Victoriano Pizarro, José Ramírez, Patricio Cardosa, Tomás Beltrán, Lorenzo Lucín, Juan Chile, Lorenzo Gonzambay Pizarro, Pedro Regalado Banchón, and the last's wife Aurelia Baquerizo. Progreso is thus by far the oldest of the existing settlements in Galápagos.
It is interesting to notice the surnames of some of these settlers, which tell us that they came originally from different parts of the mainland. Beltrán is a common surname in southwestern Colombia, Banchón and Baquerizo are found in the Guayas River area and around Guayaquil, while Gonzambay is originally from the Andean region.
When José Valdizán, the colonizer of Floreana, obtained by auction the concession to exploit archil in the islands in 1870, the Compañía Orchillera was discontinued and two of its partners, don Manuel Julián Cobos and don José Monroy kept the plantings on San Cristóbal, where they had been experimenting with sugar cane. Cobos had been considering a plantation that would be extensive enough to allow a harvest lasting from January to January. However, his plantation had a very modest beginning—a small press driven by two oxen.
At times, Cobos must have despaired, his project appearing as an unreachable dream. There were many difficulties, the greatest that of recruiting labor. Progress was despairingly slow during those early years. A few farm hands, mostly foreigners or people in financial distress, came to the island in search of a better future. It was also possible to get some workers by buying their debts from plantation owners on the mainland. Some workers were simply people who had been deported from the mainland, who here, like in General Villamil's colony on Floreana, formed in time the beginnings of a penal colony with all its problems; but they seem to have been too few in the early years to have caused any serious trouble. The increase of the island's population was very slow until the Floreana mutiny in 1878, when Valdizán was murdered. As has been mentioned, Cobos had about one hundred people removed from Floreana and taken to his island that same year. This brought the population up to one hundred and fifty souls.
Having that many people, Cobos moved permanently to San Cristóbal from the mainland. After ten years, he saw his dream come true. The cane press that was moved by oxen was replaced with modern steam machinery, seven kilometers of rail were laid for the ox-driven cars that transported the cane from the fields. The harvest from January to January had become a reality. To celebrate all this, Cobos changed the name of the plantation from Hacienda Chatham to Hacienda Progreso in 1889. By that time, the population of the island had grown to 287 people, 213 of them men, 54 women and 20 children. This enormous disproportion between the sexes naturally became a cause for great problems in the population's social life.
As a child and later as a teenager, I heard from the oldest men on San Cristóbal many tales of how the old hacienda had been. They told me that the cane fields stretched from the foot of José Herrera Hill, near which the present Progreso cemetery is, past the village, ending a little below the open grasslands, where only ferns and grasses grow. The cane fields covered most of the western, southern and southwestern parts of the moist region, where extensive guava forests dominate today. This guava is interrupted now only by small gardens and banana groves and a few small coffee plantings, besides the large coffee plantation of the old hacienda and that of don Manuel Augusto Cobos, the elder don Manuel's son.
It is told that the guava originated from three bushes growing in don Manuel Julián Cobos' garden. According to tradition, Cobos himself had brought out three small plants from Guayaquil. When these grew larger and the first fruit appeared, don Manuel went to look at it every day, to personally check on its development, while waiting impatiently for it to ripen. But there were other eyes watching that fruit with equal desire. An old laborer, one of Cobos' trusted employees, looked at the guava whenever he went past on his way to the master's house. When he saw it was nearly ripe, he could not resist the temptation and ate it. But he was unlucky. He was seen by someone who reported his action to Cobos. Outraged and furious, the master decided to punish this betrayal and ordered the laborer to be whipped in his presence.
It is said that this punishment made the poor old laborer die of rage and humiliation. However, before breathing his last sigh, he cursed Cobos and his island, swearing that the plantation would be covered by guava. Today, not only is most of the plantation invaded by guava, but also an enormous extent of the lands outside its limits, the foreign plant having in many parts even spread below the lower limits of the moist region. But this happened many years after Cobos' death, so the latter did not live to see the fulfillment of the curse, if there ever was one. However, for the benefit of those reading about this tradition with an amused smile, I have a curious bit of information.
The old cemetery of Progreso, where the poor old man must have been buried, is no longer decorated with the white-painted wooden crosses that stood there so many years ago. But the place is easy to find, as it is located near where the stone-paved yard of the sugar factory is still to be seen. A row of ivory nut palms, the only of their sort in Galápagos, stands between the old graveyard and the road. The curious fact about this place is that it is always covered by a thick, green carpet of juicy grass. I have never been able to understand why the guava has not invaded the old cemetery, for it grows densely all around it.
Manuel Julián Cobos is remembered mainly for his despotic and cruel behavior, which has overshadowed the magnitude of his colonization work. To what extent his defects have been exaggerated, and to what extent there are attenuating circumstances to justify him—at least in part—is something we never will know. Still, one cannot ignore that much of what has been written about him is based on material published at the time of his murder, in 1904, material that originated from the statements made by those who took part in the uprising against him that year and/or participated in the assassination of both Cobos and Governor Leonardo Reina. These people must naturally have been interested in justifying as much as possible their actions before the authorities and public opinion.
On the other hand, it should not be forgotten that it was usual at that time to punish farm hands with whipping, to beat servants and, in the areas far from the cities, even to shoot them. As late as in the 1930's and in such a large city as Guayaquil, my mother was much appreciated by our maids because she never raised her hand to punish them, expressing her displeasure with badly done work only verbally. In fact, the current labor laws, which established the rights of laborers and employees all over the country, are of relatively recent origin, being from the time of the military dictatorship headed by General Alberto Enríquez Gallo, who ruled from 1937 to 1938.
A number of old people who knew Cobos personally or knew even older plantation hands, have assured me that don Manuel Julián was a good master in the beginning, generous and relatively tolerant; but he suffered a great transformation when the island was turned into a penal colony. Though he made use of the cheap labor the penal colony provided, he also felt the need to use terror to keep the bad elements in line. These became eventually a majority on the island. He no doubt remembered what had happened to don José Valdizán on Floreana, and had no intention of seeing the same happen on his island. If this was so, one can say that Cobos was very successful, for he not only managed to survive much longer than his colleague on Floreana, but his work survived him long after his death.
In any case, Cobos must have led a precarious existence, living as he did amidst a population that was largely composed of convicts, protected by a handful of soldiers and a governor, all of them in as much danger as himself. Nor do we know how many of the sentences to whipping, banishments and executions by firing squad were dictated by him or by whoever happened to be governor. In any case, the highest official on the islands must have been in agreement with Cobos, for if he had considered that the way Cobos treated his workers was a crime, it would have been easy enough for him to order his arrest, placing him on the first ship to Guayaquil, to have him tried before a court of law. But this was never done.
The murder of don Manuel Julián Cobos was carried out by one of his trusted men, the Colombian foreman Elías Puertas. According to island tradition, Cobos trusted his foreman so much that one of the administrators of the plantation became jealous. He found his opportunity to poison Puertas' mind at a time when Cobos was absent in Perú for a longer period. Cleverly reading the letters Cobos sent, he changed the text to make it appear as if the master no longer trusted the Colombian. He even showed Puertas the letters and pointed out the paragraphs that he claimed were unfavorable to the foreman, taking advantage of the fact that the foreman was illiterate and too ashamed to admit it. Puertas was soon filled with hate and a desire for revenge against the master whom he had always served faithfully. He felt that he had been badly repaid for his loyalty. Thus, it is said, Elías Puertas decided to make use of the discontent that was rife among the plantation workers of Hacienda Progreso.
There is also a tradition about the manner in which Puertas obtained the murder weapon. One day when he and his master, who had just returned from Perú, were inspecting the plantation, they dismounted from their horses. When Cobos got off his, he lost his revolver without noticing it. Puertas saw it and picked it up as soon as Cobos walked away, hiding it under his poncho. He now had a weapon; the rest would be easy, as there were enough discontented people who would be willing to mutiny. But the greatest caution was needed, as informers were numerous and it is said that the women on the island were fond of going to the master with gossip. Also, the memory of the 1883 conspiracy still haunted the island. At that time, five men had got together—José Salinas, Pedro Torres, Felipe Rodríguez, José Rodríguez and José Antonio Paz—to plan an uprising against Cobos. They never got beyond the planning stage, as they were reported and ended their days in front of a firing squad.
The plan of Puertas and his followers was simple. They would set fire to the cane fields and this would bring Cobos out so they could murder him in the ensuing confusion. After this, the flight to the mainland could be organized. But the conspirators had very bad luck. One of them, the Colombian José Prieto, was tipsy when he came to work in the morning of January 14, 1904, saying repeatedly that he wished to see the cane fields burning one day. A laborer, Víctor Higueras, reported this to Cobos, who mounted in fury and had Prieto seized at once. He sentenced him to four hundred lashes, which would be given him in Cobos' presence the following morning, at seven o'clock.
Learning of this, the plotters became greatly alarmed. They were certain that Prieto would tell everything in one of the pauses that were customary after every hundred lashes. Puertas, being a foreman, had betrayed his position to the extent that he had become the promoter of an uprising. Without hesitating, he went to intercede for Prieto, with the excuse that the latter was his countryman and in truth a harmless person, whose words had been caused by drunkenness. Cobos did not count gullibility among his defects. He was inflexible. Prieto would get all that was coming to him. The plotters met again in the darkness of night to discuss the situation. It was finally decided that they would not set fire to the cane fields. Puertas would make a last attempt to intercede for Prieto, early the next morning. If this did not work, he would shoot Cobos. At that stage, it was his life or his master's.
Next morning, Elías Puertas got up at four o'clock as usual, heading for the master's house, which was close to his own. When he was nearly there, he met Daniel Campbell, one of the administration employees, whom he greeted without the least sign of nervousness. After making sure that Campbell continued on his way, he went into Cobos' house, where he looked up Francisco Valverde, a laborer who was much trusted by the master. He asked him to intercede with Cobos, talking him into forgiving Prieto. The tall, spare Valverde shook his white head. “It's useless, Foreman,” he stated, “the Master is convinced that there is a plot and wants to find out everything. Today there will be big trouble in this accursed hacienda. I would rather die so I could be spared seeing it.”
The foreman pretended to accept things as they stood. After finding out that Cobos had not got up yet, he said, “I want to ask for leave for several laborers and to get instructions for the day's work.”
At that moment, Uldarico García, one of the farm hands appeared. They sent him up to awake the master. Cobos left his room in his underwear, taking a seat in a rocking chair that stood in the main hall. Here, a servant, Carlos Romero, treated an ulcer he had on one of his thighs, which had caused him considerable discomfort during the night. While the servant was changing the bandages, Puertas arrived, wearing his poncho, under which he had hidden the gun. He requested leave for some of the laborers, which Cobos granted unwillingly since he had given some men leave the previous day. Then, the day's work was discussed, and, as if to finish, Puertas asked the Master to reconsider Prieto's sentence. Cobos became very angry. He replied harshly, “You know that my orders must be followed to the letter. Prieto's whipping will take place at seven o'clock in my presence. Those who turn out to be guilty of wanting to set fire to the cane fields will be shot at once.”
It is told that Puertas hesitated a moment. They had been left alone and Cobos was sitting there defenseless. This was the foreman's opportunity. But the years of obedience and respect for this man must have been an enormous hindrance for Puertas to carry out the deed he now must commit. If he did not assassinate his master, it would undoubtedly cost him his own life. Cobos had just confirmed it with his own words. With a great effort, the foreman decided to act. Almost shouting, he cried out, “You'll never punish anyone again! Today you'll die or I'll die!”
Taking out the gun, he shot Cobos twice, wounding him in the stomach and near the mouth. Without giving forth a sound, the Master got up, throwing himself at Puertas and struggling with him. Don Manuel was a large and strong man and, though mortally wounded, managed to throw his attacker to the floor, falling with him. After leaving Puertas dazed and with his poncho in tatters, Cobos got up fast, heading for his bedroom to find a weapon. He must have realized that Puertas was not alone in this.
The foreman's shots had attracted a number of laborers, who came together on the ground floor, trying to find out what had happened. One of the braver ones, Pedro José Jiménez, most likely a follower of Puertas, came up to the main hall while Cobos was heading for his bedroom, and managed to cut the latter twice on the scalp with a machete. The two cuts barely got through the skin, and Cobos managed to enter his room, closing the door and bolting it. Armed with a carbine he had there, don Manuel opened a little window that was in the door, shooting and wounding Elías Ramírez, a laborer who had just arrived. Puertas, now on his feet, discovered that he had no bullets left; but Cobos did not shoot again, so it was assumed he had died. But this was not the case. His carbine had jammed and he could not make it work again.
The mutineers took the opportunity to enter the accounting office, next to Cobos' bedroom, where they helped themselves to all the garrison's arms which were kept there. With some firearms and a good quantity of ammunition, they headed for the governor's house, with the purpose of murdering him.
Later, David Campbell said in his statement that don Leonardo Reina, the governor, could have saved himself. Campbell had gone to warn him that Cobos seemed to have been murdered, and advised him to seek safety. He even offered to accompany the governor into the woodlands. Reina did not wish to go. He was certain that nobody would dare harm him, as he was the highest official in the islands. Besides, he had two policemen for his protection. However, when a rebellious mob approached the governor's house, Reina suddenly realized the danger he was in. He jumped out from a second floor window; but was seized at once. Though some of the mutineers felt sorry for the aging governor, there were others who wanted him dead.
It was a cry from the crowd that sealed the governor's fate. “Shoot him!” someone cried out, and a shot was fired. The governor collapsed, dead from a wound in his throat. A laborer, Gerónimo Beltrán, shoved a knife into his stomach, causing a wound that would have been the end of Reina, had he still been alive. After this, the rebels returned to the plantation house, leaving Reina where he had fallen.
The rebels wanted to make sure that Cobos was really dead. The internal bleeding caused by the stomach wound had weakened him so much that he had not even attempted to escape from his room. However, when the mutineers began to knock down his door, he made a supreme effort, throwing himself out of the window. The fall broke his left femoral bone, leaving him defenseless in the cobble-stoned yard below. Miguel Angulo, one of the laborers saw Cobos from a window and warned the others. All those who had firearms began shooting at don Manuel from the windows. But Cobos had died seconds after his fall.
While all this was happening, David Campbell and another administration employee, Federico Lemberg, sought safety away from Progreso. They realized that there was nothing they could do to change the situation. All that was left to them was to try to save their own lives. Puertas however managed to locate them, assuring them that they would be safe, that he himself guaranteed their security. In fact, once he had carried out his revenge, Elías Puertas became moderate and tried to prevent any excesses on the part of the rebels. He showed on the whole good leadership and considerable intelligence. One of his first orders had been that all the containers of rum should be emptied on the ground, to make sure nobody got drunk and out of control. He also set up guards at the refinery, to prevent vandalism to the machinery. But he realized he also had to give in on some things, for he allowed the sacking of the plantation commissary, and the burning of all the accounts and papers in the office, which were piled up in the yard and set fire to by Carlos and Ricardo Valencia.
Once the two victims were dead, nobody bothered about their remains, except David Campbell, who talked to Elías Puertas about the need to give them a decent burial. The Colombian ordered Federico Salazar and Antonio Ramírez to make coffins into which the two shrouded dead were placed. A short wake was held for Cobos in the main hall of his plantation house, while Reina was taken to the governor's house for the same purpose. As it was in the warm season, both were buried that same afternoon, at five o'clock, in the same place where the five plotters had been executed in 1883.
It was known that the sloop Josefina Cobos was fishing along the coast of San Cristóbal, so Puertas and four other men set out in a boat to capture her. They managed to seize her while she was sailing back to Puerto Chico, as Puerto Baquerizo was called in those days. On January 19, they arrived with the sloop and got busy making ready for the voyage to the mainland. Supplies, water, two hundred sacks of sugar and most of the arms and ammunition were taken aboard. Before sailing, the rebels changed the name of the sloop to Libertad, and appointed as their captain a German called Hansel. This man was supposed to have some knowledge of navigation. The following day, they set sail with 78 men, eight women and four children. The Josefina Cobos arrived to Cabo Manglares in Colombia, where everybody on board was arrested by the authorities and sent to Guayaquil on the British steamer Ecuador. They reached their destination on February 19. Their freedom was indeed brief.
The names of those who took part in the rebellion of 1904 have been forgotten. There are few who even remember the name of Elías Puertas, their leader. But the memory of Manuel Julián Cobos has lasted. His remains were later taken to Guayaquil, where they were placed in a mausoleum that was built by his heirs. In time, he was joined there by his daughter Josefina, who was much later followed by her husband, don Rogerio Alvarado. There was also a place for don Manuel Augusto, the son of the old colonizer. But don Manuel Augusto assured me a few years before he died that he wanted to spend his last years on the island he loved and be buried there. I am certain this would also have been the wish of the old master, but he was never given the opportunity to choose his last resting place.
Don Manuel Julián Cobos' work survived him many years. Sugar was still produced on San Cristóbal during the three decades following his assassination. The plantation passed into the hands of Sociedad Nacional de Galápagos, controlled by the Tous family, in the 1930's, when it had already entered its declining years. The cane fields are now long gone, but the coffee plantation is left, having been improved on and extended thanks to the efforts of two capable administrators, the Italian Andrea Pedrazzoli and the Guayaquilian Gustavo Chriboga. But there is more left on the island than the material work of Cobos, if one is to believe what many islanders tell.
There are those who claim that the old master is still around, riding silently along the roads of the island, those roads that he himself once ordered to be built. There are many who have seen him astride his large, white horse, passing in the moonlight. I never met him, when coming from my frequent visits to his grandchildren, though I often walked those same roads in nights both dark and moonlit, even passing close to the cobble-stoned yard of the sugar mill, with the broken water reservoirs, hidden amidst the guava, and by the enormous remains of machinery that stand like monsters lurking in the darkness of the yard of my friend Román Jiménez.
Farther down, I would pass the ivory nut palms of the cemetery that no longer has crosses on its graves, arriving later to the present day graveyard, on the other side of the road, at the place where the cane fields once began, those fields that José Prieto wanted so much to see in flames that fatal January 14 of 1904. There, under the shadow of José Herrera Hill, the road precipitates itself down a steep slope towards the dry lowlands. Descending, to the right, it is told that there were hardwood posts where the men to be punished were tied to receive their lashes. I have never heard their screams and lamentations, though there are many who claim they have heard them while passing at night. Still, each time I walked that road, the memory of the ox carts and the men driving them was always with me, though they had been long dead many years before my time.
* * * * * * * * * *
In January of 1918, the Jesuit Aurelio Elías Mera Cobo traveled to Galápagos on the old plantation schooner, the Manuel J. Cobos, to check on the state of the settlers' souls. At that time the schooner's skipper was Captain Pedro Campuzano, father of Nelson Campuzano of the Cristóbal Carrier. Among the passengers was don Manuel Augusto Cobos, a young man just back from his studies in Paris and London. The priest remained on the islands for about half a year, and reported that the two inhabited islands, San Cristóbal and Isabela, were excellent places for settlement because of the morality and order existing there.
But things can change quickly. Barely six years later, there was again a penal colony on San Cristóbal and don Manuel Augusto Cobos had to flee to the banana groves to hide from the rioting convicts. Don Manuel had been at the refinery, when he heard shots in the direction of the village, and someone shouting, “The convicts have rebelled!”
Armed only with a revolver, there was very little he could do against what could turn out to be a great number of convicts, some of them evidently armed. Recalling his father's fate, he mounted his horse and rode away to the safety of the banana groves. Before fleeing, he reported his intention to a trusted laborer, whom he instructed to provide him with food and drink, as well as information about what went on in the village. As in the uprising of 1904, the plantation commissary was looted; but there was no Elías Puertas with the sufficient foresight to destroy the alcoholic beverages and the mutineers devoted themselves with great enthusiasm to drinking whatever alcoholic drinks came into their hands. With democratic impartiality they consumed the French wines and cognac belonging to Messrs. Cobos and Alvarado, together with the powerful island rum.
In their drunkenness, the rebels gave one another and took the ranks of colonels and generals, destroyed part of the machinery, set fire to the cane fields and burnt a quantity of papers and documents, including the diaries of don Manuel Julián Cobos, which had been miraculously saved from the bonfire of the Valencias, twenty years earlier. The destruction of these diaries in the fire that was set to the plantation house by the convicts is an enormous loss for those of us who are interested in the history of the islands, as they were the only detailed written source about the most decisive period in the colonization of Galápagos.
After their orgy of drink and destruction, the convicts considered the need to leave the island. One of them came up with the idea that it would be a good thing to take with them the contents of the plantation safe. For this, they had to locate don Manuel and force him to open it. It is significant that nobody had bothered about don Manuel before this. Since the death of the elder don Manuel, there had been a different spirit on the island, as both the younger don Manuel and his brother-in-law, don Rogerio, were reasonable people, though it is told that the latter had ordered that all young girls who had had their first menstruation must be sent to him, so he could relieve them of their virginity. Such an order would not have been possible today, but at that time it was regarded as an honor to the girl and her family. Even as late as when I was a teenager myself it was common that female servants introduced the boys in the house to the delights of intercourse, even in the larger cities such as Guayaquil. (Which probably explains why my mother had such a marked preference for mature, married maids and cooks).
Someone had noticed the regular and mysterious disappearances of one of don Manuel's trusted laborers, so the man was seized and questioned, but said he had nothing to tell. Not even the threat of death could stimulate his memory, for he knew nothing, he claimed. For this reason, the poor man was hung up by his thumbs and tortured, which understandably made him more talkative. Cobos was found taking a nap, his hands were tied, and he was placed on his horse and taken to Progreso, with his own gun pointed at him. Once in the plantation house, don Manuel refused to tell where he kept the key to the safe. A gun was pointed at his head and he was given the choice of producing the key or getting shot.
Don Manuel got the key. The safe contained only a few papers, as don Manuel had had the money taken out by a trusted laborer, who hid it elsewhere and afterwards put the key back in its usual place. Some of the convicts wanted to kill don Manuel to take out their frustration; but one of the others came up with the idea that they could pardon his life in return for certificates stating that they had served their respective sentences and were free men. Cobos had no objections to this, and wrote out the documents without delay.
Armed with these certificates, the mutineers seized the schooner Manuel J. Cobos and forced her master to take them to Esmeraldas, a port in the northwest of Ecuador. Here, they were promptly thrown in jail by the port officials and the police, who found their arrival suspicious and, above all, their releases from the penal colony unacceptable, as they had been written on paper with the letterhead of a privately owned plantation and signed by a private citizen. Thus, like so many other Galápagos escapes, this one too ended in failure.
The 1924 uprising would be the last of its kind on San Cristóbal. When the Norwegian settlers arrived in 1926, the island was a peaceful place quite in agreement with the description given a few years earlier by the Reverend Mera. This group of 83 Norwegians, counting women, men and children, was different from those who had arrived to Floreana the previous year and a few months earlier to Santa Cruz. These latter two groups had been made up of men, who had come with the purpose of devoting themselves, the first one to whaling, the latter to canning fish, spiny lobster and sea turtles. The group that arrived to San Cristóbal was to devote itself mainly to agriculture, with the exception of two or three of its members who had boats.
The Norwegians of San Cristóbal had been organized by Harry Randall, who at the time was 68 years old, and in excellent physical condition, as is attested by his daily horseback excursions over the island with don Manuel Augusto Cobos. Randall was an interesting person, and I have had the pleasure of reading his autobiography, which he wrote when he was over eighty years old. He was originally a merchant marine officer, who left the sea early to begin a career as a pianist and theatrical agent. Randall was also a very popular lecturer. He came from a cultured and well situated family, having received a good education and enjoyed very good connections.
It had been some years since Randall first became interested in Galápagos, and he had collected a great amount of information about the islands. When the enthusiasm for Galápagos was spreading over Norway, he published a book about the archipelago, the first part of which was written by himself. This part, the longest, was historical. The second part was written by two Norwegian journalists, Finn Støren and Per Bang, and dealt with their visit to the islands in 1922. The last part was the work of August F. Christensen, who told about the colony he had just founded on Floreana, which then seemed headed for success. The book presented the more favorable sides of the islands, and would serve later as a basis for the accusations made against Randall by those who felt deceived by him. Shortly after the publication of this book, Randall decided to organize his own colony, choosing Floreana as a likely site, though still keeping his options open.
The Randall project was well organized in most ways. An interesting detail is that the shares of the members did not consist of a fixed amount per family, but was of three thousand crowns per adult, the parents of minors having to pay an additional amount per child, which varied according to age. Committees were elected by the members for various purposes—purchases, administration of funds, etc. This did not however prevent some members of accusing Randall of having made a profit from the project, a rather absurd accusation if one considers that he did not administrate the money.
Despite the sensible organization, this one like all other projects of its kind, encountered financial difficulties due to delays and unexpected expenses. In fact, Randall himself had to provide, from his own pocket, the seven thousand-crown bond demanded by the migration authorities to let the group sail, since there were not sufficient funds left to pay this and still have enough left over for the expenses of the voyage. Randall also had to pay other expenses for the group and even lend money to several of its members.
Randall's group also had problems that the other Norwegian settlers had been spared. Among the member was a small core of trouble-makers who got drunk at every opportunity and started quarrels. They would be the cause of considerable unpleasantness to the other would-be settlers. To this must be added the great disappointment of the Norwegians when they arrived to the islands. This must have been greater than that suffered by the previous Norwegians, for the coast of San Cristóbal must have appeared very desolate indeed. The previous year had been a “Niño year” with an abundant rainfall. Thus, 1926 became a year with a great drought. The San Cristóbal highlands were however green and hospitable, and the springs there still provided plenty of water.
Though both don Manuel Augusto Cobos and his brother-in-law Rogerio Alvarado tried to talk the Norwegians into remaining on their island, the new settlers sent a boat over to Floreana to investigate conditions there. As Floreana suffers more than any of the other inhabitable islands when there is a drought, the report they brought back was very unfavorable. Santa Cruz was not even considered, for Randall's people found it unacceptable to depend on rain for their fresh water supply, and to use brackish water as the only alternative, though the Norwegians who had established themselves on Santa Cruz a few months earlier did not seem to mind.
It is said that Cobos also influenced much in the Norwegians' decision, when they finally chose to settle on San Cristóbal. Both he and Alvarado offered the settlers credit at the plantation commissary, the opportunity to hire labor at reasonable prices and the possibility of renting oxen and carts. There was no problem communicating with the plantation owners, as Cobos spoke fluent English and French, and one of the employees at the plantation was Otto Stöcker, a German with Norwegian citizenship, who had come to the islands with Captain Paul Bruun on the Isabela.
Once the decision of remaining on San Cristóbal had been taken, Randall felt great relief, for he could finally abandon the leadership of the group, and be able to start the coffee plantation he had planned. He watched with satisfaction how a part of the group unloaded the Albemarle, the old ferro-cement ship that had brought them over. Another part of the group was busy clearing land in the highlands, at the place that is still known as “Campo Noruego”—the Norwegian Countryside. It took ten days to unload the ship, after which came the arduous task of transporting everything to Campo Noruego, using carts pulled by oxen and by a tractor that had been brought from Norway. For protecting everything from the elements, they used canvas cut from a balloon that Roald Amundsen had used on one of his Arctic expeditions. The balloon had been obtained at a reasonable price by Randall, thanks to his friendship with the explorer.
The settlers lived for a while in tents, while they erected the fourteen prefabricated houses they had brought with them. Randall, on his part, had become the guest of honor at the plantation, something very much to his liking, as Cobos was an excellent host, and the Norwegian had by then a very poor relationship with most of the people at Campo Noruego. In fact, Randall ended up leaving the islands, for he found distasteful the thought of having to live near people who only wanted to slander him.
The plantings of the Norwegians were unsuccessful. Though most of the seeds they brought with them sprouted, the tender seedlings were eaten by ants, and what little survived was destroyed by the pigs and other animals wandering freely over the interior of the island. Besides, they began planting at the wrong time of the year. Very few of the Norwegians made an effort to adapt to tropical crops and to learn their cultivation from the Ecuadorians. The failure of the Norwegian vegetables was blamed by them on the “useless” soil of Campo Noruego, not on their own inexperience. According to many of them, they had been deceived first by Randall, then by Alvarado, who had told them they could settle on that land.
Gradually, they began to leave the island, until only two families remained in the highlands—the Guldbergs and the ødegårds. These people had understood from the beginning the need to grow the crops that had been successful on the island before, and they managed to learn as much as possible from the inhabitants, finding out that the soil at Campo Noruego was indeed suitable for farming. Both families devoted themselves to growing coffee, raising chickens and growing maize for feeding the latter with such success that they had a surplus to sell.
The ødegårds, Ruth and Alf, left San Cristóbal in 1930, when they were about to make their first coffee harvest, and had nearly four hundred fowl. They did not leave the island because they had given up, for they were doing very well. Nor did they leave because they disliked the place, for they would always remember with fondness those few years on San Cristóbal. The problem was that Ruth expected child and the couple were worried about the sanitary conditions and the lack of medical attention for the coming birth, as this was before there was a physician on the island.
However, the widowed Thorleiv Guldberg and his two daughters, Snefrid and Karin remained there permanently. The son, Frithjof, had been among the first to leave, heading for Argentine. Snefrid also left, but found life in Oslo absurd and stressful. Guldberg never left the island again, and was probably the member of the group who had the best perspectives of adapting. His father had been a missionary doctor in Madagascar, where Thorleiv was born. Though he had grown up in Norway, family memories seem to have given him a good idea about the differences between life in northern Europe and life on a tropical island. He was also one of the few in the group with agricultural experience, having owned a farm in the Dovre region, in Norway.
Guldberg seldom left his property in Campo Noruego, where his only company were his daughter Snefrid and an Estonian engineer, who had worked on the Trans-Siberian Railroad until he had fled from the communist revolution. Arthur Senn, as was his name, was a brilliant mathematician and had an extraordinary ease for learning languages. When I visited the Guldberg property in the 1950's, Senn spoke to me in a most cultured and correct Norwegian, devoid of any foreign accent. It surprised me enormously to find out that he had learnt Norwegian on the island, and he had only practiced it with Snefrid and reading books and newspapers. He usually spoke German with Thorleiv Guldberg.
Karin Guldberg married don Manuel Augusto Cobos, with whom she had three daughters and three sons. The only ones remaining on the island at present are two of the sons—Dagfinn, the eldest, and Tito, the youngest. The others went to California. The second boy, Tony, left the islands on the same voyage of the Cristóbal Carrier that brought us out in 1960. When I lived on San Cristóbal from 1952 to 1953, I used to go to Progreso quite often to visit the Cobos family, who then lived in an enormous wooden house just outside the village.
I recall that doña Karin, who had tried a series of projects to improve the family economy, had begun to raise cattle, having by then some fifty head. This project gave good results, for on my return in 1959 she had so much cattle that she had been forced to move up to the plateau on the higher parts of the island, where the natural pastures grow. When we left San Cristóbal in 1965, she had nearly six hundred animals. After Thorleiv Guldberg's death—Arthur Senn had died several years earlier—doña Snefrid moved up to her sister, and the two of them increased their herd to between a thousand two hundred and a thousand three hundred head, of which about half died during the drought of 1985. The two sisters continued living at “Pampa Mía”—as they called their property—both of them dying in their late eighties.
Don Manuel also prospered. After the financial collapse suffered by the family because of the depression and the loss of the plantation, don Manuel had retained a considerable extension of land that was more or less uncultivated. As so many others, he had lost faith in the possibilities of Galápagos, especially for those lacking appropriate capital, and their own means of transportation to carry their production to the mainland. He made several attempts to improve his situation, going so far as to leave his beloved island to work in Guayaquil. Finally, he decided to extend his coffee plantation on San Cristóbal, which had grown to about forty hectares by 1953. Eventually, this became 126 hectares, a large coffee plantation by any standards. Don Manuel wrote me in 1983 that he wished to sell me his coffee plantation, for he felt it was time to slow down a little, as he was by then nearly 87 years old.
It was the month of November of 1962, and the birth of our second daughter, Astrid, was approaching. Maritza wanted her to be born in Bahía de Caráquez, her home town, so we traveled to Guayaquil on the Cristóbal Carrier, remaining in that city for a few days to visit with my mother. Then, we proceeded by land to Bahía. Because of my work, I had to return almost at once to Guayaquil, to take the ship to the islands. Our second daughter was born while I traveled through the Manabí countryside, among the grotesque and strange shapes of the kapok trees. The dry grass looked like frost in the moonlight, a strange experience in the mild warm season night. Even after all these years, I still feel upset at the thought that I could very well have stayed at my wife's side without affecting in any way the company's interests, for that voyage of the Cristóbal Carrier was one of the poorest we ever had, with few passengers and almost no cargo.
The birth of our second daughter was the subject of many jokes on the part of my friends, and even Monsignor Campuzano could not help making a remark, even if he always was careful with what he said. “But, Jacobo,” he asked tauntingly, “Was there no boy this time either?” Fortunately, I have never suffered complexes regarding my manhood, so I could take it all with a grin.
Though our two daughters grew up mostly with good health in the excellent climate of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, they nearly died of gastroenteritis, an illness that is very common among small children during the warm season. It is frequently deadly for the youngest, as the vomiting and diarrhea cause very rapid dehydration and the intake of fluids is of course very limited due to the spewing. Our two daughters became ill at the same time, and I shall not enter into details about the sleepless nights and the days of constant care, when Maritza and I went about like zombies because of the lack of sleep.
We had had the same problem with out eldest, Ingrid, about a year earlier, which had allowed us to learn something about the illness. At that time, there had been no physician on the island, but luckily the nurse Juanita Gutiérrez, who was stationed later on Floreana, was present and could recommend a cure that was effective. She advised us to buy a one-liter bottle of mineral water, and let out all the gas. In this water we were to dissolve a small vial of injectable dihydrostreptomycin powder. This we had to give Ingrid at the rate of one spoon every hour, day and night. With such a small dosage of the solution, she was able to retain most of it and the antibiotic cured the infection. In addition, the mineral content of the water did her good. Ingrid recovered rapidly.
The second time, we had no dihydrostreptomycin, and started treatment with a combined antibiotic containing streptomycin and penicillin. On the second day, I was changing Astrid's diapers, while Maritza prepared breakfast, and discovered welts on the poor girl's back. The first thing that occurred to me was that she was allergic to penicillin. With a change of antibiotics, the welts disappeared as fast as they had shown themselves, and all went well.
After this illness, we had no more problems apart from Ingrid's escapes to the seashore, and her running away to the other end of the village, where she went to visit the school, to sit in one of the classes pretending to be a pupil. When recalling this, it is hard to believe that it was she who gave us the greatest problems during her first months in school in Guayaquil, where she found it difficult to adapt to the real thing.
Astrid on her part was not so inclined to go out and preferred to play in the garden or on one of the balconies. We were certain there was never a reason to worry much about her, because we always knew where she was—until the day she threw herself from the living room balcony with so much luck that she missed the stone sidewalk by only a very few centimeters, landing on the sandy soil beyond.
Tobías Mejía, my old fishing comrade, who had moved to San Cristóbal after marrying a local girl, was standing at the corner when this accident happened. He told us later that Astrid had climbed to the balcony railing, reclining on it, with her feet in the air, balancing back and forth on her stomach. Suddenly, just as Tobías began to think of how dangerous this game could be, Astrid went too far forwards and fell into the street. Tobías was about fifty meters away and could not be of any help. He watched horrified how Astrid's body bent itself into a ball. This undoubtedly prevented her from suffering any damage from her fall, as she rolled, thus reducing the impact.
I was buying bread for breakfast at the small bakery next to the pool hall, when I was told of the accident. I was given no details and expected the worst. When I arrived home, I found to my relief an obviously scared Astrid. Then I noticed that she held her body bent forward, as if she had difficulty in straightening her back. This worried me greatly, but it also occurred to me that her abdominal muscles could be tense, for they felt very hard to the touch.
While we waited for the physician to arrive, I took her to the garden, where we went around looking at the flowers. I told her a little about each of them. Little by little, she began to forget about the fall and, when we had finished our tour of the small garden, she was walking upright, her little hand firmly holding mine.
At the time there was an excellent pediatrician on the island. Dr. Leopoldo Chattin was then in charge of the public health services. He examined Astrid thoroughly finding nothing unusual. Chattin had an extraordinary ability to gain the confidence of children, being very popular among his little patients. He spent two longer periods in the islands, becoming a member of the Junta de Mejoras during the latter of them.
During Dr. Chattin's first period in the islands, the commanding officer at the Second Naval Zone was Commandant Reinaldo Vallejo Vivas, who came from Manabí, the province where Maritza was born. Vallejo was one of the very few officers who came from one of the coastal provinces, most naval officers being from the Andean region, as strange as this may seem. A very capable, serious officer with a kind heart, he earned the respect and affection of everybody who knew him. He made a brilliant career, becoming an admiral and Commandant General of the Navy before he retired from active duty.
It was Commandant Vallejo who obtained authorization to grant the title of coastal skipper in Galápagos, which was an enormous help to the island fishermen, who, if this had not been allowed, would have had to travel to Guayaquil to take a course and pass the corresponding examination, which would have meant an expense few of them could have afforded. Before the examinations in Galápagos, courses were arranged under the direction of the deputy commanding officer, Lt. Raul Sorrosa Escalante, an officer with a great talent for teaching, who managed to explain the most difficult navigational problems in a clear and easily understood manner. Sorrosa also became, many years later, Commandant General of the Navy, with the rank of admiral, and was later Minister of Defense.
The course for coastal skippers was free of charge and lasted three months. Several officers, including Lt. Sorrosa, who taught navigation, offered voluntarily of their spare time to teach in these evening classes. I was the only civilian instructor on the course and, there being no textbook in my subject, I had to write the necessary lessons and make enough copies of them to send to Santa Cruz and Isabela, where courses also were being held.
My subject was fishing technology and maneuvers, covering all forms of fishing practiced in Galápagos and elsewhere in Ecuador. On the mainland, fishing is frequently done with different gear and commercial species such as prawn are caught, species that are not found in the islands. It also covered, in a simplified manner, the identification of the main commercial species in Ecuador. Like the participating officers, I considered it necessary that our graduates should be able to operate not only in the islands, but also in mainland waters. This was something of great help to those of them who moved later to the mainland, several of them becoming skippers on the prawn trawlers, like the Caicedo brothers from Isabela.
After the skipper examinations were over, I recovered my former freedom and Maritza and I could go in search of treasure with Mrs. Karin Guldberg Cobos. We left our two daughters with Laura, Maritza's younger sister, who was visiting with us at the time, and went off, carrying a metal detector. This piece of equipment had been sent from the U.S. by Tony Cobos as a gift to his mother. Doña Karin had always been interested in pirate treasure, a very common interest on San Cristóbal, where there is a real obsession with hidden gold and silver.
Under such circumstances, it was unavoidable that also my innocent hikes in the woodlands should be interpreted by many as a search for the valuables left by pirates, instead of a passion for nature and a great interest in the botany of the island. In fact, during our first year on the island, I was constantly importuned by a local cobbler, who kept bringing me strange drawings that he had copied from various rocks he had seen when he went into the woodlands for firewood. These “signs” or “letters” were, according to him, clues that led to some pirate treasure. There being such a large number of rocks that caught his attention, it would have been easy to believe that the island was about to sink from the weight of so much pirate gold. Unfortunately, the poor fellow did not know how to read, and any irregularity on a rock's surface appeared to him as some sort of writing.
There is a coral tree (Erythrina velutina) which, as far as we know, is the only one of its kind on this island. It grows beyond the navy base and the Puerto Baquerizo graveyard. Coral trees are rather common on Santa Cruz and in parts of Santiago Island, therefore its orange-red flowers do not attract much attention on those islands; but on San Cristóbal the opposite happens, so it is unavoidable that such a conspicuous tree should be considered as sufficient evidence that there must be a treasure in its vicinity. The absurdity of hiding something valuable and then planting such a conspicuous tree on top of it seems to have been missed by the people on the island. Nor does it seem that anyone has noticed the impossibility of getting anything ashore on this exposed stretch of coast, where the seas break furiously from far out. Despite all this, doña Karin insisted on going there, to take a look around the coral tree, and Maritza and I went along.
As a picnic, it was an excellent excursion, for it was a splendid day; but there were no treasures. Despite the goings up and down into the numerous excavations that exist around the tree, the detector did not give out any signals that could indicate pirate gold, though it uttered some interesting noises outside the holes, which were caused by certain minerals in some of the rocks. Even the optimistic doña Karin had to give up, though she did so most reluctantly. Before going home, we sat down under a white mangrove tree to talk, enjoying the shade, the refreshing sea breeze and the view of the infinite ocean that stretched out before us. We remembered stories about treasures and, when I told what happened to Roberto Schiess, my Swiss friend from Santa Cruz, doña Karin laughed heartily.
Roberto had been invited, because of his knowledge of the islands, to take part in an expedition that came to Galápagos to search for treasure. The expedition was equipped with two very advanced detectors, and arrived on a magnificent yacht with all sorts of comforts. Detectors were then a novelty and it is said that those two were really extraordinary—I understand that their price at least was. Roberto of course, with his great passion for everything technical, decided to put them to the test and find out for himself if they really worked.
One afternoon, the expedition arrived to an uninhabited island, anchoring outside a white sand beach. As it was a little late in the day, it was decided that they should not go ashore until early next morning. Everybody turned in early that night, which Roberto took advantage of. When nobody was around, he took a boat and rowed ashore, where he buried a machete on the upper part of the beach. When he and the others landed the following morning, it did not take long for one of the detectors to produce an extraordinarily loud signal. Full of eagerness, everybody started to dig in the sand, while Roberto Schiess watched them with an amused smile. The disappointment they felt when they found Roberto's machete must have been tremendous. The Swiss was invariably very popular with all sorts of people wherever he went; but for once his popularity took a plunge among his fellow expeditionaries. He was treated with a certain coolness during the following two or three days. I must remark that the expedition found, on all its costly month-long voyage, only the above machete.
However, not everybody seems to have failed in the search for treasure in Galápagos, which undoubtedly can be attributed to the fact that they had precise information and maybe even had a map to help them. The following case confirms this. According to what is told on San Cristóbal, an American yacht arrived to Puerto Grande in the 1920's. At the head of this great bay there is a small cove of great beauty, the calm waters of which are sheltered by an islet covered with great arborescent cacti. In this place, named in the charts as Sappho Cove, a fishing party from Puerto Baquerizo was camping, when this large yacht anchored in the outer part of the bay. The islanders were then making ready to go out for the day's fishing. About noon, while the fishermen were still at work, they saw the foreign vessel setting out to sea.
Somewhat later in the day, the fishermen returned to their camp on the beach to find that the sail they had been sleeping on and their blankets had been thrown aside. At the spot where they had been spending their nights, there was a great hole, in which was a great quantity of broken china and the remains of rotten planking. It must have been a painful experience to find out that they had spent several nights sleeping on a treasure without knowing it was there, and that it had been removed almost from under their noses. The hole is still there, which is not surprising, as one has to dig a very wide one to reach any depth in dry sand. This hole was about six meters in diameter when I last saw it.
I have camped many times by this depression, which cannot be missed on that small flat area of shell sand, between the beach and the rocky terrain that continues all the way to Cerro Brujo and beyond, forming an enormous, desolate lava field almost devoid of vegetation. The fishermen from Puerto Baquerizo often bring their boats to careen at Sappho Cove, for the water is always calm there. Once, I was towed there by don Manuel Gutiérrez, nurse Juanita's father, when the Don Folke needed to have her bottom scraped and painted.
Gutiérrez had a fine sloop, the first in Galápagos with a cabin for the crew. She had been built mainly from island timber, which is quite a feat, as it is hard to find trees that are thick and straight enough for making planking. Gutiérrez used natural curves of white mangrove and button mangrove for the frames, and sawed by hand the guava timber for the planking. To obtain all the materials must have taken much searching in the woodlands. The patience and persistence of this old settler are truly admirable.
At another time, I took Maritza to Sappho Cove on board the Don Folke, the engine of which would give us some problems on the return trip. With us were Ingrid and the first Galápagos judge, Dr. Blasco Alvarado, with his wife. Blasco was an old friend from our engagement days, when he was prosecutor at the court of justice in Bahía de Caráquez, Maritza's home town.
After spending three wonderful days of sun and sea—not so wonderful for me, who spent my time under the hull of the Don Folke, scraping and painting, while constantly cursing the horseflies that were trying to eat me alive—we set out for Puerto Baquerizo, stopping on our way at Puerto Ochoa, a tiny cove fairly close to the former. At Puerto Ochoa there is a small beach of white sand, above which extends a flat stretch of sandy ground. On the latter, we set up our tents, after having cleared away several piles of chiton shells. This multivalve is very popular among the inhabitants of San Cristóbal.
People come down from the highlands to catch chitons in the nights when the moon is full, grilling them on the embers of their campfires. I have never been able to understand why they would go to so much trouble to eat something that has the consistence of vulcanized rubber and the appearance and flavor of an eraser. I suppose there is no way to establish a common standard for tastes. Besides, it is quite likely that the whole affair may be an excuse to break away from the monotony of everyday life, and get away for a day or two.
The last year Commandant Alvear was in Galápagos, he organized a most successful picnic at Puerto Ochoa to celebrate the Navy's Day. The day before, he sent a landing barge from the navy base, loaded with recruits and all that was needed for them to set up a large roof to shelter the guests from the sun, and chairs and tables for the party. On the day of the picnic, most of the guests, the food and the drinks went on the landing barge, while the Alvear family and we came aboard the Beagle II, the vessel of the Charles Darwin Research Station. The ship had arrived the previous afternoon, quite unexpectedly, with Dr. Roger Perry, the Station's director and Karl Angermeyer, the yacht's skipper. A most pleasant surprise, as they were both friends I enjoyed seeing. We had a wonderful day.
Next morning, Commandant Alvear sent for me. When I arrived to his office, he looked as if he were in a vile mood, though he treated me with his usual cordiality. I soon found out that he had sent for the timber and the corrugated roofing, and that the latter was nowhere to be found. “You must help me, Jacobo!” he said with great feeling.
“Of course, Fausto,” I replied without hesitation, before I gave myself time to think about the possible complications my reply could bring me. “You can count on me.”
Of course, I had no alternative. This was a most embarrassing situation for my friend. This had not only been a shameless theft, but was also an affront to the navy and an insult to the highest authority on the islands, as Fausto was then the military governor. In the meantime, I was beginning to realize the implications of my promise. To fulfill it, I could find myself covering the inhabited part of San Cristóbal foot by foot. The thought was overwhelming.
Fortunately, I was able to live up to Commandant Alvear's faith in my ability to find the roofing. I went to Puerto Ochoa with an officer and a group of conscripts in the landing barge. It occurred to me that the thief or thieves could not have gone far with their booty. It was significant that they had not taken the lumber, though it would have been almost as valuable in Galápagos as the missing roofing. Besides, we could not find animal tracks, which indicated that the galvanized sheeting must have been carried away by sheer manpower.—another reason to believe they could not be far away. We knew that no vessels had been in the area, for none had sailed from Puerto Baquerizo during the night. This we had found out from the personnel on duty at the port captain's office. Beyond the picnic area, we found recent human footprints in the sandy soil. They were headed inland, in the direction of a trail that leads to the highlands. Undoubtedly, the roofing had disappeared in that direction.
I asked for the recruits to spread out on both sides of the trail, while the officer and I followed it inland. It did not take long before we found the corrugated sheets hidden in several places among the bushes and small trees. When we gave up the search, we were short only one sheet, which the thief probably had taken home with him. We never found out who was guilty, which makes me think that only one person was involved and that he kept silent about the matter. Otherwise, sooner or later, some rumor would have reached my office, where I learnt about practically all that happened in Galápagos, without having to leave my armchair behind the big desk of laurel de Puná that don César had sent me.
By then, our family had increased with the arrival of our son Eric. He announced himself early, a morning in February, before the warm season's sun had taken the chill off the night's cool air. I had barely time to get Dr. Carlos Vázquez, who was then head of Galápagos health service. Dr. Vázquez had often worked under far more primitive conditions than those in Galápagos, for he had lived in the eastern provinces, where the Andes descend towards the Amazon Basin—the land of the Jíbaros, famous for their skills in shrinking the heads of their enemies into perfect miniatures—a sinister habit they abandoned a number of years ago.
There was no time for us to get the nurse, so my sister-in-law, Laura, and I had to help the physician. All went well and I cannot stop wondering at the calm and efficiency shown by Laura, still a young girl without experience who did not even know how to prepare a cup of coffee. Maritza, as was her custom, got up after a short rest and breakfast in bed. When Miss Mayorga opened the post office, she looked up at our bedroom balcony, as she did every morning, to greet my wife. Then, she asked the question she had been asking during the last two weeks. “When does the baby arrive, Señora Maricita?”
“He came this morning, Estelita,” was the reply. The postmistress thought Maritza was joking. It could not be otherwise, for it was the custom in the Andean provinces from where she came that women stayed in bed a very long time after giving birth. She was not convinced until after she had come up to see the newly born boy, which took her only two or three minutes.
As the two girls had been baptized in Bahía de Caráquez, we decided that Eric should go through this ceremony in Puerto Baquerizo. The preparations were many and the guests numerous, so many in fact that Commandant Alvear and his wife Judith, his godparents, proposed that we should have the party in their home, as it had been built with an active social life in mind, before the officer's club was constructed. To complicate things, on the afternoon of the christening three frigates arrived and all the officers who were off duty were invited to the party. However, all worked out well, for there was so much food that we had enough for a second party in the officers' club the following day.
A few months before my appointment as agent for Fruit Trading Corporation, I met an old San Cristóbal settler, who had come to Guayaquil to sell his coffee. We talked about a number of things, and when going into more detail about his family, he told me that he had divorced his wife. I was greatly surprised. “After all those years?”
His kind face, furrowed by many years of struggle as a fisherman and farmer in the islands, showed a sadness that reached into my heart. “Yes,” he said with a sigh, “after twenty years. What can I say? I had a happy life with my wife and children until these damned friars came around, going from house to house, talking people into getting married. I was stupid enough to listen to them. Before a year had passed, my wife, who until then had been faithful and devoted to our home, betrayed me with a younger man. There you can see, don Yaco, how little a formalized marriage is worth.”
My old acquaintance had first been “married” in the traditional manner of the islands, taking his chosen one into the woodlands. This custom has been declining and is likely to be on its way out. The “groom” gets together food, water and a couple of blankets, and the couple takes off, generally in a period of good weather, for obvious reasons. The friends and/or relatives of the “groom” establish later a sort of logistics and intelligence service for the couple, bringing them food and news. The girl's family however sets out to search for the fugitives, swearing to kill, or at least beat up, the rascal who has kidnapped their daughter, a model girl, an example of virtue, whose great innocence has made her vulnerable to the seductive talk of the shameless scoundrel. I cannot tell what could happen if the outraged parents of the “bride” find the couple, for I have never heard of a single case when this was accomplished by the outraged parents. This makes me suspect that all the demonstration of indignation and a desire for revenge is purely a show, an attempt to keep up appearances, and revere the same established customs which they, the girl's parents, probably also failed to respect in their younger years.
After a week or two the young lovers return, build a shack, clear some land, and begin their plantings. Everything is well. This is of course the manner in which a girl gets “married” the first time. A woman who already has had a man takes her children with her, if she has any, and simply moves in with her new man. If she has her own house, which is frequently the case, the new man just comes to live with her. The stability of such unions is not less than that of a modern, conventional marriage, though in this, as well as in other matters, there are exceptions, though rarely as extreme as the case of the fellow who spent two weeks in the woods with a girl and returned her to her parents, claiming that she had not been a virgin when he took her with him!
That these marriage customs have developed in the islands is nothing strange, as most of the people came from the mainland and had in them a sense that there should be some sort of ritual or ceremony when two people joined to form a family. It is said that one of the plantation laborers at the time of Manuel J. Cobos married couples on the island in exchange for a modest fee. Contrary to the priests—of whom there was none on the islands at the time—this laborer had very liberal views about marriage. He did not hesitate to marry the same woman several times to different men, without the benefit of a divorce between the various weddings. In any case, divorce was unknown in Ecuador at the time, the first divorce laws being introduced in the early 1930's.
When civil marriage was introduced in the country, and the Church lost its monopoly on marriage, it would have been possible to marry before one of the officials in charge of the civil registry; but this did not change the situation much, for it was considered that to be really married one had to have a church wedding. Even today, so many years later, it is still the custom to first marry at the civil registry because it is required by the law, and then do it the “right” way, in church.
It must be stressed that moving together without the benefit of a formal marriage is not a custom exclusive to the islands. In fact, the couples of the poorer classes seldom get married, even when there is no problem in obtaining a priest or an official authorized to legalize their union. Many believe—and I have no doubts that they are right—that the reason behind this situation is purely one of economy. Among the poorer classes there is also a certain sense of pride, and it is of great importance to them to celebrate their marriage with some pomp and a big party. In most cases, this is beyond the economical reach of the couple and their families, so they cut the matter short and skip the wedding.
There is another factor which I consider equally important. During my frequent conversations with servants, I often heard the same argument that was once given me by a cook who worked in my mother's house in Quito. “If I marry, my husband will feel he has a right to beat me up; but if I don't marry him, he treats me better, for he knows that I can leave him whenever I feel like it.”
Not all the islanders shared the opinion my old acquaintance held about marriages that were carried out through the efforts of the Franciscans, as most of the couples continued as before their wedding, without any new problems. In fact, the presence of the good friars can be noticed in many ways, small and great. There is no doubt that their influence has been considerable and, what is more, it has been accepted willingly, even though the islanders are free from the submissive attitude towards priests that is so common among the Andean Indians, despite the fact that so many on the islands descend from these.
I have observed many significant changes after the establishment of the Franciscan missions, such as the disappearance of certain well rooted customs. When I lived on San Cristóbal from 1952 to 1953, the women in Puerto Baquerizo carried out their household chores dressed in a petticoat and a brassiere when the weather was warm. They could be seen in their yards and in their houses, through the open doors and windows, and there were those among them who even went out to the street, to sweep in front of their houses dressed in this informal manner. This custom must have caused more than one sinful thought in the minds of the poor friars. Towards the end of the decade there were barely one or two women who still resisted abandoning this custom which had so shocked the first Franciscans, when they arrived to the islands in 1949.
However, the Franciscans also had to make concessions to the warm climate. The first two missionaries who arrived to lead us back to the path of virtue, Fathers Mateo Benavides and Francisco Castillo, the first one a young, active man, the second and old, kindly gentleman, always wore their habits; but the monks who came in the following years found no difficulty in changing into a sports shirt and trousers of a light fabric. Of course, on special occasions such as religious services or some official ceremony, they would wear their Franciscan habits. After all, it was not necessary to use it daily in places where everybody knew who they were, and treated them with the same respect, whether they wore their habits or not.
This reminds me of a recently arrived Franciscan who traveled from San Cristóbal to Santa Cruz in Miguel Castro's boat. He had only seen Monsignor Campuzano and Father Jaime Campuzano on the former island, both of them always wearing their habits in public. While approaching the landing in Puerto Ayora, on Santa Cruz, the new friar was surprised that he could not see the Santa Cruz parish priest among the many people who had collected near the landing. “There he is, Father,” Miguel informed him. “He's the gentleman with the blue shirt, to the right, at the end of the jetty.”
The good friar was so shocked that he could not refrain his feelings, “But he's not wearing his habit!” he burst out incredulously. Fortunately, our traveling friar also ended up adapting himself to the climate. Less than a week later, when I visited the island, he was also wearing a shirt and trousers like his colleague.
In general, the Franciscans earned the respect of the islanders from the very beginning. When Father Mateo went up to the Santa Cruz highlands, he used to stay at the house of the socialist Sigurd Graffer, a Norwegian Lutheran, who grew to feel great admiration for his guest, after seeing how the latter started to work the soil, planting a small vegetable garden on the Graffer property, with no other interest than that of keeping busy during his spare time. Another Protestant, the American Ernest (Bud) Divine, spontaneously transferred to the Franciscans a partially cultivated property that he owned near where Bellavista is today, which he had recently purchased from Kristian Stampa's widow .
In 1950, with the appointment of Father Pedro Pablo Andrade as our first apostolic prefect, with a total of five priests under him, Galápagos began to enter the path of religion. It was Father Andrade who had the church in Puerto Baquerizo built, as well as several of the chapels that are found elsewhere. I was lucky enough to befriend this cultivated and gentle friar during my stay on San Cristóbal from 1952 to 1953; but when I returned in 1959, he was no longer there. He had resigned from the prefecture after a long illness.
Monsignor Andrade was succeeded by Father Juan de Dios Campuzano, a small, slender and dynamic priest with a lively intelligence and an extraordinary talent for organization. My mother, after having spoken with him two or three times, remarked to me, “He would have made a top company executive. I think he has chosen the wrong vocation.”
Father Juan de Dios remained on the islands from the middle of 1960 to the middle of 1965, when he resigned from the prefecture, being replaced by Father Hugolino Cerasuolo, another able priest, who carried out two of the projects that Monsignor Campuzano had dreamed about—the technical school and the hospital which was mentioned earlier. I had the pleasure of traveling with Monsignor Cerasuolo on his first voyage to Galápagos. This distinguished priest became some years later Archbishop of Loja, in southern Ecuador.
One cannot say otherwise—the Franciscans have done positive work in the islands, giving their attention to the education of the young people, the social problems and even going into such projects as radio and television. Monsignor Campuzano obtained an amateur radio set to keep in touch with his superiors on the mainland. He was lucky to have Lt. Humberto León Polo, the chief of police, there at the time. Humberto had been a radio amateur for a number of years, and gave his advice and help while the station was being installed. He spent many hours helping with the installation and testing the equipment for the Fanciscans, mainly with the assistance of the prefect's brother, Father Jaime Campuzano.
Father Jaime was a holy man. Tall, slender and with mild manners, a most kindly character, he enjoyed the affection and respect of everybody. Even of Humberto León, who nevertheless—doubtlessly because he was a policeman—suspected that the sanctity of the good priest was too good to be completely genuine. One day, he decided to test the Franciscan. Humberto was soldering some connections, and he placed a screwdriver on a hot soldering iron. When he figured the temperature of the metal would be high enough for his evil purpose, he took the screwdriver by the handle, passing it to the Franciscan. “Hold this for me a moment, Father Jaime.”
The good priest took the screwdriver without the least suspicion. He let it go instantly. Humberto, who had looked forward to hearing a blasphemy or some foul language was deeply disappointed. Father Jaime only gave him a reproachful look, saying in a tone of offended surprise, “But, Humberto...”
One Franciscan who deserves special mention is Father León Gordillo, who worked many years on Isabela, the largest of the islands. This spare priest whose grave face became totally transformed when lighted up with his boyish smile, worked tirelessly to improve the conditions of his parishioners. It is largely to his credit that the school in Puerto Villamil was built, where he worked for a long time as principal and teacher. Cut volcanic rocks were used for its construction and the school grounds were fenced in with a hedge of button mangrove, a very common tree in the sandy area where the village stands. That this native plant was used is to be praised, for though its foliage is very beautiful, this species is generally regarded as worthless along with all other wild plants, being cut down frequently to be replaced with species introduced from the mainland.
Father León also left a monastery and a church in a very advanced state of construction, also built of hewn volcanic rock. Its elegant arches and simple columns promised a building of great beauty, sitting by the mission garden with its tall palms. Unfortunately, the lack of funds and the disappearance of the stonecutters who shaped the rocks stopped the project. The stonemasons were convicts, who left the island once their sentences were over. One can easily see where Father León's priorities were—first the school, then the monastery.
Another project for which the dedicated priest struggled was the road to Santo Tomás, inland. At the time of the penal settlement, the police could have built a magnificent road with all the labor force they had available to them. Instead, they set the convicts to work on other projects, most of them of dubious value, as that monstrous monument to human stupidity, the infamous Muro de las Lágrimas—Wall of Tears—that stands behind Cerro de la Orchilla, to the west of Puerto Villamil. This gigantic wall of volcanic stones was built with the effort and sweat of innumerable convicts and even the sacrifice of the lives of some of them. A most absurd waste of human resources.
While don Segundo Zapata was governor, seeing that the road to Santo Tomás was progressing very slowly, as the Franciscan mission was chronically short of funds, he decided to give Father Gordillo a hand. The governor's office did not have any money to offer, but don Segundo ordered that any person on Isabela who was sentenced to pay a fine or received a minor jail sentence should be put to work on the road in lieu of their sentence. Though the road was for the common benefit, many people on the island resented this, mainly those who were put to work, their relatives and their friends.
As could be expected, a campaign of defamation was launched against Father León Gordillo, which culminated in the usual collection of signatures to have him removed from the island. It must have been a bitter experience for this model friar, after he had dedicated so many years to serve his detractors. He had even been willing to offer his life for them, resolutely defending his parishioners during the uprising of the penal colony in 1958.
That uprising is worth mentioning even if only briefly. The penal colony was established on Isabela in 1944, showing once more how little governments learn from history and the little regard politicians have for a population where votes are scarce and people are poor and without influence. The Isabela penal colony did not take long to earn a deplorable reputation, which seems to have been well deserved, though not all the policemen who worked there were inhuman, nor were all the commanding officers monsters. On the other hand, there is no lack of stories about sadists and people with a criminal mentality, among the officers as well as the common ranks.
It was on February 8, 1958, that a convict nicknamed Patecuco—a contraction of Pata de Cuco, “bogeyman's foot”—decided to escape from Isabela with twenty other convicts. These men were living in the most distant of the three police camps, in a place called Alemania, about forty kilometers from Puerto Villamil, which indicates that all of them were regarded as dangerous. In the late afternoon, they took their guards by surprise, making them prisoners. After this, they continued on to Santo Tomás, arriving there by daybreak on the 9th, and seizing the police quarters, a feat they repeated later in Puerto Villamil. Patecuco was an intelligent and careful person, so he had all bottles with alcoholic beverages destroyed in the small store in the village, though he allowed the plundering of the merchandise.
Meanwhile, Father León Gordillo had gathered the small population of Puerto Villamil at the Franciscan mission, standing guard himself at the entrance. It did not take long before several armed convicts showed up with the obvious intention of entering. The Franciscan stepped resolutely in their way, saying, “To enter here, you'll have to kill me first!”
The bravery of Father León, standing there without a weapon, defying the group of armed convicts, must have impressed the latter; but the Franciscan had also a certain ascendancy over the convicts. Among them it was well known that Father León had often defended both settlers and prisoners against the abuses of the police. Besides, it was well known that the convicts who had worked in the construction of the school and the monastery, shoulder to shoulder with the brave friar, had felt great affection and respect for him. During the following days, Father León and his protégés were left in peace.
Two days after the uprising, two fishing boats arrived. These were seized at once by the convicts, who sailed the following day, taking with them two fishermen as hostages and pilots. They sailed westwards, hoping to find a foreign fishing vessel for their voyage to the mainland. Near the southwestern part of the island, they captured a boat from Santa Cruz, which they used as a substitute for one they sent back to Puerto Villamil. Sailing along the west coast of Isabela, they sighted an American ship that was anchored at Tagus Cove. On approaching it, they discovered that it belonged to a naval academy, and dared not attempt to seize it, fearing to meet with well armed men. After traveling around the north of the island, and sailing down the east coast, near daybreak of the 15th, they discovered lights near the coast of Santiago, in the vicinity of Cape Nepean. It was the Valinda, a fair-sized American yacht.
With the advantage of surprise on their side, the convicts had no trouble capturing this vessel, forcing those on board to take them to the mainland, where they arrived near Punta Galera, in the northwest of Ecuador. Here, the convicts went ashore to be captured within a short time by the Ecuadorian rural police.
The Valinda incident hastened the publication of the decree that put an end to the penal colony, a decree which, as we already know, had been approved by Congress without being properly published, for unexplainable reasons. As for Father Gordillo, he continued on Isabela until he had served as the island's parish priest for fourteen years. He became so identified with the settlers, that he decided to become one of their number. In 1965, he resigned his position, married an island girl and began growing cotton near Puerto Villamil, an experiment that may have given him good results, for in that year the warm season brought a good rainfall. Later, he worked for the Charles Darwin Research Station, making considerable contributions to conservation and to the research on Galápagos fauna.
Somehow, we managed to maintain the service with the Cristóbal Carrier, even though there was little cargo during much of the year, and despite the sporadic competition from the navy's transport vessels. During a short period, we received a modest annual subsidy, which originally had been assigned to an airline for making a monthly flight to the islands—a rather absurd idea. The airline continued receiving this subsidy two years after its last flight, which confirms my opinion that the Ecuadorian bureaucracy is just as unbelievable as that of any other country in the world.
Another government aid we received was that of being able to purchase our fuel at government prices—i.e. at cost and tax free. This aid however was not free from strings, as the navy claimed that it was they who gave us this privilege, and they demanded certain favors in return, such as special prices for traveling naval personnel and a considerable discount on the freight for their garrisons. Of course, no ship owner in his right mind would protest against this, as the Merchant Marine Inspection and the port captains are all under the navy. However, there was one consolation: The more services we rendered the navy, the less advantageous it was for them to send out their transport vessels, freeing us to a certain extent from their competition. It must be recognized that the naval personnel stationed in the islands appreciated very much the service of a ship that made regular voyages to the islands, and they were always kind and ready to do us any favors within their possibilities. I have no doubt that we enjoyed considerable good will among the officers and enlisted men in the islands.
From the very beginning, the company managed to establish a reliable service, and we reached the point where we could announce our sailing dates for six months at a time, a program that was followed rigorously, except for two times when the ship needed unexpected repairs. Don César Solano even attempted voyages every twenty days, but the cost was too great in relation to the results. He also set up an agency on Santa Cruz, considering that the island seemed to have a future in the fields of tourism and science; but his decision proved somewhat premature. Don César showed an outstanding talent for public relations, maintaining a very good relationship with the Ecuadorian press, which gave us favorable publicity nationally. Unfortunately, the majority of the tourists came from abroad - being mostly Americans and Germans.
With the purpose of stimulating tourism, our early voyages included remote places, such as Fernandina, Tagus Cove and Iguana Cove, all of them in the western part of the archipelago. It was undoubtedly interesting to watch penguins under the equator, see Galápagos flightless cormorants and the large colonies of marine iguanas sunning themselves on the rocks in numbers that no longer can be seen elsewhere in Galápagos. With great regret, I was forced to recommend that this part of our voyage be dropped, as it turned out to be too unprofitable. Still, there was much of interest left for the tourists without the need of going so far afield.
However, it also became my duty to advise that the visits to Hood Island be dropped. Here, the colony of Galápagos albatrosses at Punta Cevallos was to be made into a tourist attraction. This was the only place in the world known at the time as a nesting site for this species. (Years later, a small colony was found on Isla de la Plata, near the mainland coast). I was afraid that frequent visits by humans could scare away or at least upset these birds, causing them to abandon their nests, with the resulting reduction of this species that has never been really numerous.
When I explained my point of view to Captain Julio Hernández, who was then in command of the ship, both he and the few tourists we had on board supported without objections my opposition to this part of our tour. It makes me rather surprised to learn that Punta Cevallos is now a tourist attraction, though the traffic of tourists has increased enormously and despite the numerous restrictions that exist elsewhere to the free movement around the islands. I cannot feel anything but amazement at the fact that the officials of the National Park and the Charles Darwin Foundation are allowing these visits.
All of us who worked for CETUGA may feel proud for having tried as far as we could to help with the protection of Galápagos flora and fauna. Captain Hernández as well as the crew of the ship gave me their support, as did also Captain Campuzano. On the other hand, the various officials stationed on the islands showed great interest in the problems of nature conservation once they understood them.
In a rather short time, we managed to set up a route among the islands that, without deviating too much from our cargo and passenger run, held a considerable touristic interest. Among our calls at uninhabited places were Barrington and/or Islas Plaza, both very popular, especially the latter. During the period when the salt mine on Santiago was being exploited, we would spend two days at Puerto Egas, on the west coast of the island, loading salt bags, to the great enthusiasm of the tourists, who were carried from one place to the other by don Darío Weisson Egas, superintendent and part owner of the mine, who was a great admirer of the natural beauty of the islands.
I always tried to keep the tourists busy, thus preventing the tour of the islands from becoming boring, even on San Cristóbal, where there is little or nothing left of the flora and fauna they had come to admire. On that island, due to a better road, I took the opportunity to show them how the character of the island landscape changes with the altitude above sea level. This was, in the beginning, a tiring job for the tourists, especially when it was hot and the sun's rays came down like molten lead. Later, a mechanic called Galarza, who lived at Progreso, had the idea of starting a bus service between that village and the shore, which gave us the opportunity of avoiding much of the hiking. In fact, when the road beyond Progreso was reasonably free of mud, we often talked Galarza into taking us all the way to el Junco, where there is a small fresh water lake in the bottom of an extinct crater.
After the tour to the interior, the tourists usually chose to take a rest, go to the beach or wander around Puerto Baquerizo, which gave me a chance to look after my own and the company's affairs. It was on such an afternoon, when the shirt was sticking to my back and the sunshine's reflection on the sand half blinded me, that I met an American couple in their sixties, who had just left Oswaldo Cox' shop, on the corner formed by the inland road and the shore promenade. The sign with the name of the latter street read Avenida Carlos Darwin. “Who's this Carlos Darwin?” asked the gentleman curiously.
“Charles Darwin, of course,” I replied a little surprised.
The American looked a bit disconcerted for a second, then he burst out laughing. “That Bill!” he exclaimed, shaking his head. “Do you know the story he told us? He said that when Darwin visited the island he had a romance with a San Cristóbal girl and left her with child. The boy was named Carlos in honor of his father, and he eventually became a prominent citizen of Galápagos.”
I also had a good laugh, then remarked that Bill had a very fertile imagination, as San Cristóbal had been uninhabited at the time of Darwin's visit. Though our tour had just started, we had already found out that Bill was fond of having fun with people. Thanks to his inspirations and good humor, we enjoyed many pleasant moments during the tour.
The sea lion colony, the birds nesting on the cliffs, and the few land iguanas inhabiting the southernmost of the Islas Plaza were always a source of great pleasure to our visitors—Americans, Europeans and Ecuadorians alike. The fact that this stop is still on tourist itineraries confirms our good choice when making it one of our favorite ports of call. However, one morning, it was here that our tourists went ashore with long faces and an obvious lack of enthusiasm. Sitting in the boat, hunched together, they regarded with sadness the fog that was just beginning to scatter over the cold, gray sea. A nearly icy breeze, loaded with humidity, gave the impression that we were in latitudes far removed from the tropics. Despite the fact that most of the group came from the Midwest of the United States, where winters are very cold, they still felt all of the morning's unpleasantness. On the other hand, though well clothed, a morning like this must have taken them by surprise. To them, the middle of August was not supposed to be like this. I felt it was urgent to do something to improve the mood. With a rather exaggerated enthusiasm, I exclaimed, “And this, ladies and gentlemen, is summer on the equator!”
The mood improved at once, for there was laughter or at least smiles all around. On land, things improved noticeably, for though the unpleasant breeze continued, the fog cleared and the light improved, allowing everyone to take photographs of the strange landscape and the extraordinarily tame animals that inhabit it.
It was at the Islas Plaza that we had what could have been our worst accident. We never used to land on the northernmost of the two islands, for its northern shore consists of cliffs and its southern coast, though partially protected by the neighboring island, is not sufficiently sheltered to prevent an undertow which, together with the large and irregular rocks that form the shore, make landing difficult. One day that the sea was very calm and we had some time left over, some of the tourists talked me into going to the northern island. With the bow near the rocks and the first passenger ready to jump ashore, we were taken by a huge, unexpected wave, which placed our bow on top of a large rock and the stern almost at water level.
There was no time to have the passengers move forwards, for it all happened in a matter of seconds. The next wave entered us by the stern, filling the boat with water; but it also gave us the opportunity to push away from the shore. The situation was quite precarious, with all those tourists, two or three of a rather advanced age, sitting there, with the water almost to their waists, in a boat that could turn over at the slightest sudden movement. To make matters worse, there was an enormous male sea lion swimming around us, with what appeared to be a great interest in getting into our boat. In a strong but calm voice, I ordered in English, “Stay where you are and don't move!”
I cannot say if this order was at all necessary, for the tourists as well as the two seamen who were in charge of the boat showed perfect self-control and good common sense. We managed to bail the boat without any problems, while we drifted near the island. After starting our outboard motor without any difficulty, we returned to the Cristóbal Carrier to continue our voyage to Puerto Ayora.
Another place that was popular with the tourists and that still is on the touristic itineraries, despite the scarcity of animal life remaining there, is Sulivan Bay, on the east side of Santiago. It is a place that offers some extraordinary landscapes, especially Bartholomew Island, which forms the southern shore of this anchorage. The landscape here is totally different from that at James Bay, on the west side of Santiago, also a popular place with visitors.
Once, on Bartholomew, I was surrounded by cameras because of a joke I played on a tourist. I had collected a large cactus pad of formidable appearance with all its enormous spines. I presented it to the tourist, inviting, “Want a bite?”
He just smiled and shook his head. “No thanks. I get all the food I need on the ship.”
As soon as he said this, I put a part of the cactus pad into my mouth, spines and all, while he looked at me with disbelief. I have never seen so many cameras go into action so fast and at the same time. But there was a good reason. The Santiago cacti—there are several species and a number of varieties of opuntias in Galápagos—have impressive spines, some five to six centimeters in length. But they are rather flexible, more or less like bristles, though perhaps twice as thick. I would never have repeated this joke with Santa Cruz cacti, though their spines are somewhat shorter. They are extremely sharp and stiff.
But everything reaches its end. Fruit Trading Corporation had focused tourism from a wrong angle from the very beginning. The first idea they presented to me, back in 1959, had been that they would build a large hotel on one of the islands, which at that time was a rather absurd idea. Fortunately, I managed to convince Folke Anderson, the company chairman, that this was a risky investment, for if the project failed, then he would have been stuck with a piece of real estate that he could not sell. On the other hand, the tourists who might travel to Galápagos would be primarily interested in seeing the animal life, which would require transportation from place to place among the islands. The only sensible way to make the most of what was invested, was to have a ship that was suitable to double as hotel and transportation. If things did not work out, this ship could always be taken elsewhere. Another point that I insisted on was that the tourists should be brought out by plane, saving them the three days of travel each way between Galápagos and Guayaquil.
My reasoning seemed to be well received, for there was even talk about buying a large luxury yacht that had been put up for sale in Greece; but it came to nothing, and we ended by making tourism with the Cristóbal Carrier, while talk continued about greater plans for the future. We never went beyond this, and we continued carrying tourists together with island passengers, cattle, coffee and dry fish. Esmeraldas never reacted to don César's arguments nor to mine. The capital that had been intended for tourism was invested in a cattle project, born from the necessity to find an alternative to bananas, when a disease spread, threatening to wipe out all the plantations in Esmeraldas. However, neither our Guayaquil office nor that in Esmeraldas bothered to inform me of the situation, causing my frustration to increase almost beyond endurance, as I faced circumstances that I considered the results of my superiors' incredible stupidity.
Despite everything, I have no doubts that tourism to Galápagos could have been much improved, for CETUGA could have obtained loans to go ahead in a more rational manner. Enormous investments would not have been necessary. My idea of bringing the tourists out by plane and having a large vessel to take them around the islands is the only way of making tourism to Galápagos, and it was therefore to be expected that others would get the same idea. In fact, this is the way tourism to Galápagos is being done today, and its success proves that I was right; but this is a meager consolation, for as far as I am concerned this evidence came much too late.
After five years of frustration and earning the same provisional salary I had accepted in 1960, I decided that this venture had no future. In fact, I had already considered leaving the islands earlier, but I remained a year longer on account of an offer from the Charles Darwin Foundation, which had shown interest in hiring my services. The only possibility they had at the time on the Foundation's budget was that of manager at the Research Station on Santa Cruz. Edgard Pots, a Belgian friend who held this position had already expressed his intention of moving to the mainland, where he expected better opportunities for himself and his family.
Dr. David Snow, then director of the station, had great plans for me. As most of the constructions had been completed, it was expected that the manager only had to supervise the maintenance and carry out some office work. This, according to Snow, would leave me time to help classify the botanical collections he was making and adding to them so that an extensive sample of the insular flora could be assembled. The ornithologist Dr. Snow had shown considerable interest in the plant life of the islands. On the other hand, as he said, I could also help my friend Miguel Castro by going out with the occasional scientific expedition, for Castro had at the time so much work, that he had no opportunity to take a vacation or allow himself a day off. The Director's idea was most attractive—this was the sort of work that would make me happy for the rest of my life.
Unfortunately, when Dr. Snow left, nothing had happened yet. His replacement, another Englishman, Dr. Roger Perry, had the same ideas about me as his predecessor. He also had the same backing in the Foundation, several members of which had heard about me or, like Dr. Robert I. Bowman and Dr. E. Yale Dawson, knew me personally. But time went by and nothing happened, for Pots kept postponing his departure. Finally, I began to worry about my children's future more than about my own.
In the meantime, the day arrived when CETUGA was closed down and I again became an employee of Fruit Trading Corporation. The Guayaquil office was reduced to a radio operator and a secretary. Don César Solano de la Sala, unwilling to accept a position at the head office in Esmeraldas, had to leave the company. The Cristóbal Carrier was left in charge of Agencia Naviera Ricaurte in Guayaquil, headed by a most pleasant elder gentleman, don José Ricaurte. I thus became one of the very few survivors of the changes in our Guayaquil-Galápagos operations. I found out about these changes a little later, when the dust had settled. If I had held doubts about my future with CETUGA and Fruit Trading Corporation, now the worst had been confirmed. However, I did not panic. Sooner or later, the Charles Darwin job would materialize, and I could, in the meantime, find something else to do. Besides, Fruit Trading Corporation seemed to intend keeping me for the time being, though it was well know in the company that I would never accept being sent to Esmeraldas, should they want me there.
Suddenly, a proposition came from an American friend, Bert Scott, who had entered into a partnership with another friend of mine of the same nationality, Harry Inman. They had started a fishing company together and wanted me to take charge of their operations in Playas, on the north shore of the Gulf of Guayaquil. I accepted, not only because of the uncertainty of the Charles Darwin job, but also because of the future of my children. My own uncertain situation had made me think more than ever about how very limited the possibilities were in Galápagos. They could have got their schooling in the islands up to a certain age, but beyond that there appeared to be nothing. It was best to leave and I had now the opportunity to do so and get paid for it.
It was in 1967, more than two years after we had left the islands, that the Darwin Foundation finally offered me the job at the Research Station. In the meantime, a lady from Washington, DC, Mrs. Cazenove Lee, the widow of a descendant of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, a lady who was greatly interested in nature conservation, had offered the Darwin Foundation a generous annual amount for a five-year period, towards helping to pay my salary. Mrs. Lee and I had met on one of the Cristóbal Carrier tours in 1961. She had received such a favorable impression of my knowledge of the flora and fauna of Galápagos and my interest in their protection, that she kept in contact with me for several years.
Unfortunately, though my desire to accept the position was great, I could not ignore the interests of my family. By that time, I was employed at the Colegio Americano of Guayaquil, teaching science and biology, as well as teaching English at the Berlitz School of Languages. My income was about two and a half times greater than that offered by the Foundation. As far as I was concerned personally, this difference was unimportant, and I believe it would have been easy to talk Maritza into returning to the islands, had it not been for the fact that there were three small children involved, who were not in an age to give an opinion on the matter, and whose interests we had to protect. (Three years later, we would have our youngest daughter, Karen). With great regret, I had to refuse the offer.
I often remember the first night of the voyage to Guayaquil. It was a magnificent moonlit night, and the Island of San Cristóbal could be seen as a shadow against the clear sky, on which only a few stars were visible, most being dimmed by the moonshine. A cool breeze was blowing, something very pleasant after a hot and busy day, during which we had struggled to finish packing and getting our furniture and baggage on board, besides saying our good-byes to many people and settling the affairs of Fruit Trading Corporation. By my side, in the darkness of the deck, sat Eric Shipton, the English explorer, who had recently discovered the only known geyser in Galápagos, in the bottom of an Isabela crater. We had talked about this and many other things. Suddenly, he asked, “If you love the islands so much, why are you leaving?”
I explained to him the circumstances that had caused my decision, stressing the importance it could have for my children's future. I understood that my view surprised him. “If it is for them that you leave, don't expect them to thank you for it. If I were you, I would stay.”
I looked at the south coast of the island, where the breakers could be seen shining like ribbons of polished silver. I took my time in replying. A feeling of loss had invaded me, a feeling of loss for all I was leaving behind, perhaps forever. But when I spoke, my voice was filled with conviction. “I don't expect their gratitude, even if it may be the greatest sacrifice I'll ever make for them.”