Day 5 – Española
During the night the Estrella del Mar motored from San Cristobal to Española. I woke before dawn and followed my usual routine of climbing to the top of the boat to watch the sun rise. Anchored alongside us were several other boats, including the Guantanamera, my boat when I visited in 2008. After breakfast we headed straight to Española’s Gardner Bay, where over a hundred sea lions lay sleeping on a beautiful stretch of white sand. Just north of the beach, marine iguanas – some with red and green coloring – clung to black volcanic rocks.
Day 6 – Floreana (Santa Maria)
The next morning I wasn’t the only one awake early. We left at 6:15am for an early snorkeling outing to Devil’s Crown, a ring of volcanic rocks just off the coast of Floreana. There weren’t any sea lions this time, but we did spot several white-tipped reef sharks and a couple of sea turtles.
I’d been gradually getting to know Orville and his wife Helen. They’d lived all their lives in Missouri, where Orville had been a school principal and Helen had been a teacher. Orville, who resembled Warren Buffet, was 79 (although he looked 10 years younger) and belonged to a generation that still pronounced his state’s name “Missour-ah.” He was a birder and always wore a pair of binoculars around his neck. “Did you hear that James Arness died?” Orville asked me that morning. I told him I hadn’t. “Well when I first heard, we were… Where were we honey?”
“Colorado,” said Helen, who continued to make additions and corrections in the symbiotic storytelling style of long-married couples.
“That’s right, Colorado. Well when we first heard the news I mentioned it to a young fellow, probably I’d say about 30, and you know what? He said he’d never even heard of James Arness! Can you imagine that?” I shook my head in sympathetic disbelief and decided not to disappoint Orville by admitting that I didn’t have a clue who James Arness was, either.
After breakfast that morning we took the panga to Cormorant Point and watched bright pink flamingoes feeding in a lagoon just behind the beach. Then in the afternoon we visited Post Office Bay, where – in a tradition inspired by 19th century American whalers, who, as they departed for the deep Pacific, would drop off their mail to be delivered by the whalers returning home – tourists are encouraged to leave their own (unstamped) postcard and also take responsibility for personally delivering any postcards addressed to places near their homes.
Most visits to Post Office Bay also include a short hike from the beach to a hollow lava tube that plunges into the bowels of the island. Enrique, busy playing volleyball, didn’t seem inclined to lead our group there, so several of us – Larry, Kathy, Patty, Orville, Helen and I – went on our own. The wooden stairs descending into the tube looked a little rickety, and only Larry and I chose to climb down and explore. We didn’t get very far before the fading battery in my mini-flashlight forced us back to the surface.
That night I asked Enrique why he didn’t take us to the lava tube. “It is broken,” he said.
“Yes, this morning one of the stairs broke and two tourists fell, so now the lava tube is closed.” I saw no point in informing Enrique about our rogue excursion, making me guilty of a second deceptive omission that day.
I ate dinner with the two Venezuelan sisters and their 76-year-old mother. None of them spoke English and my weak Spanish dramatically limited our conversation. Struggling for topics, I decided to risk venturing into what might be a sensitive territory (especially coming from an American). “¿Le gusta Hugo Chávez?”
Nina’s face tightened. She and her sister smiled uncomfortably and answered in a way that kept their own feelings hidden. “There are many people who like him and many who don’t,” Nina said carefully. She let a moment pass and then changed the subject.