Friday, May 28, 2021

Rum in the Galapagos

Forty five years ago today, I celebrated my birthday - on the Galapagos Islands. I should have a diary entry for that day as well as for all the days in the two months that I’d been travelling in South America, only my journal was in a bag that was stolen some weeks later. This lost diary is, in fact, the only significant break in my adult diaries, otherwise running from 1974 to the present day. Nevertheless, I have a few diary-like letters (sent to family and friends) which go some way to filling in that gap. Here is one covering not only my rum-infused birthday on the Galapagos Islands (28 May 1976), but my being laid low by hepatitis.

10 June 2021
‘[Lima] I am laid up with hepatitis. To start at the beginning I had odd days on the Galapagos Islands when I felt completely wiped out for some reason. When I got back to Ecuador I took a long ride through the night to the mountain city where I had left some possessions. On the way I felt very tired, terrible sometimes. I was with friends who had had hepatitis but they weren’t sure about my symptoms. I decided to head for Lima in the night - two nights and a day of bussing constantly. I would normally have stopped at many places and probably hitchhiked and taken a week to get here, but I felt the need to be in a big city. When I got there, I went first to the British Embassy to get my letters. They told me of a hospital which was expensive but clean. It was a long way away, and once there I had to wait a long time. But a doctor confirmed I had hepatitis. He said I must stay in bed for at least two weeks. No walking, no alcohol, no chocolate, little grease, lots and lots of rest.

It was terribly depressing to walk out of that hospital in a completely strange city, having been told that I must not walk but must stay in bed for weeks or else it will get worse. What to do, where to go, I had no idea. I am not sure if my insurance will pay for the accommodation and food while I am laid up, but I have assumed so and am staying at a hotel three times more expensive than my norm. It has a little cafe where I can eat most of my meals, so I won’t have to walk too far.

So it is Thursday 10 June. I sit in the little cafe on the first morning of my self-imposed rest. Ironically, I feel very well, but I am pissed off beyond all measure. It would help if I a friend who could get me odd bits and pieces from the shops. My books are all read. I’m told hepatitis sometimes lasts for months, but, because I feel good, I am hoping that a week of rest will be sufficient. Even a week without reading material will drive me crazy.

I do know a young guy who lives in Lima. I met him for a few days in Panama. I will ring him today. Also I’m expecting other friends to be travelling through Lima soon. I just hope I can contact them. Any way there is no need to worry, I’m looking after myself and resting against my nature. And I have faith that it is only a mild attack - and in 10 days I’ll be fitter than a lion.

I did get to the Galapagos Islands which was something else. As I may have mentioned it is very expensive for foreigners to go there: the aeroplane ticket is more than twice as expensive than it is for Ecuadorians. There is also a cruise, but the cheapest is $250. I spent a restless night or two deciding that it was not worth it for that price; and then I decided to hassle around looking for a cheap way to get there. I went to the worst and largest city in Ecuador, Guayaquil, and investigated various possibilities: the navy, the air force, different cruises, cargo boats. Dejected and beaten I tried one last thing. I went to loads of different travel agent until I found one that didn’t seem to know about the tourist law. Keeping very cool and doing things very carefully I managed to get an Ecuadorian return air ticket for $65 as opposed to a tourist ticket for $145. Both going and returning I had frightening moments as my ticket was checked (thinking the mismatch between the ticket and my obvious appearance as a tourist would get me into trouble), but it was fine.

It’s expensive on the islands too. To get the best deal one has to hire a boat, to cruise round the island, and fill it with eight people. It is a very touristy scene, but nothing can be done about it. I spent one week in the main settlement (it’s full of characters from all over the world) waiting for people to fill a boat, and the other week travelling around the islands. They are all tips of volcanoes, sticking out of the sea, some old, and some new just 100 years old (a mass of cracked black lava). There is a lot of beautiful emptiness, but of course the main attraction is the wildlife that is not so wild.

Sitting in the little port of the main village I saw the following: a pelican or two sitting on a post fishing, a heron (a giant blue one) doing nothing, lots of 2-3ft long marine iguanas crawling around the rocks, thousands of little lizards, mocking birds that will land on you, lots of beautiful fish in the clear water, and a seal. Around the islands, I saw: thousands of sea lions and seals all without fear of humans (one can swim with them), penguins, fearless land iguanas up to 4ft long (landing on their island these enormous lizards come trundling down to meet you), hawks and doves that come within two feet of you, and flamingoes. On the boat trip we ate only fresh meat killed the same day: goat, tuna, durado (white fish), lobster and crab. And, of course there are the giant tortoises - enormous things. They are threatened by the introduced animals like the rat and goat, and are therefore being cared for and protected by the research stations where one can see them at all stages of their life.

Heh, I’m 24, how about that. I’ve never been 24 before. We had a little celebration in the Galapagos. The Islands had run out of beer so we got drunk on rum.’

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