By Ericka Hamburg
The ball missed the goal line and came flying over the cliff to the lava strewn beach, resting among the marine iguanas. They seemed oblivious, but then maybe they were used to it. We were on James island, now called Santiago, in the Galapagos. During his voyage on the HMS Beagle, Charles Darwin chose this spot of sand as a base camp, making observations, taking notes and capturing specimens.
The surrounding waters are dotted with cruise ships, from high-end to humble. After coming ashore, we hike inland over fields of multi-patterned, lunar-like lava, and then return to the beach for a swim.
Crews from neighboring fishing vessels and tourist ships team up during a much-needed break. As competition intensifies, Falta! Papanata! echoes over the field, and the ball flies over the iguanas and lands in a crevice. Meanwhile I’ve entered the chilly shallows to paddle about among cavorting sea lions, imagining Charles D and company, tent pitched, taking it all in in 1835.
“Prepare to be wet all the time,” a well-traveled friend had warned, with suggestions of quick-dry vestments and duplicate socks. And we were, embarking and disembarking, island to island. Each morning’s meeting included landing conditions; whether by beach or rocks, easy or not so. Most challenging was vaulting from the bouncing panga, across a wide expanse of rough chop, to a slippery boulder dotted with comically orange sally lightfoot crabs. I managed not to crush one or slip into the surf.
Despite unresolved political and environmental conflicts, the Galapagos hold their place on ecotourism’s A-list. Growth in the resident population, now over 30,000, has put pressure on fisheries, and intensified competition for jobs in the swelling tourist economy. The introduction of invasive species, and the brutal practice of shark finning to serve Asian markets, are serious concerns.
But even visitors who’ve hiked its well-trodden trails, been touching distance from still-unwary wildlife, and snapped that perfect reptilian portrait may not have the power, right, or attention span to weigh in and affect policy.
Indeed, when we returned to the Samba, laundry that had failed to dry was a major distraction. As the small ship heaved and pitched, I ascended to the top deck to check out the wind-whipped clothesline, where my still-dripping wearables held their place among the dancing socks, hiking pants and shirts. Frigate birds, circling just arm’s length above, eyed me. Was it mockery or checking for a tossed fish?
After dinner, I ascended again to check on my laundry, still disappointingly moist.
But the light, rather than shining down from a starry sky, emanated upwards from surrounding waters. The Samba was encircled by crisscrossing bullets of silver, the phosphorescent trails of creatures traveling at great speed; nature’s show of undersea fireworks.