Galápagos: Behind the horizon


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Text: Ilan Greenfield

Images: Jorge Vinueza

The silence of the bay is born in the depths of the ocean. Like a hole in Ecuador’s geography, like a town that broke its anchor, calved off from the continent and was lost in the sea and which we’ve only recently found: adrift, without any bridges, barges or roads to connect it to the world…

Much has been said of the pioneering international colonizers that made Galápagos their final frontier, citizens of the world who abandoned their homelands to make Galápagos their country without a country. But the political reality of Galápagos tells a different story.

Ecuadorians woke up one day, as if from a long dream, detached from their history, convinced that this was an Ecuadorian colony after all, that this world was theirs, and not a mere rocky outcrop emerging from the abyss.

Darwin was little more than an ephemeral ghost; “evolutionary” rhetoric seemed light years away; conservation went straight
over their heads; the animals — sea lions, boobies, giant-billed finches — were curious dogs and cats from an estranged wonderland.

Thus, the Ecuadorians on the remote island of San Cristóbal stretched out their limbs before a new day, without suspecting a thing. “Ojones, ojones… lisa, lisa” (local fish names) called the fishermen on the dirt streets, as they would have done in their Manabí hometown villages, waking the town from its slumber.

Radio Encantada echoed from every speaker in every house and truck, a ubiquitous soundtrack…

One could walk from one end of the bay to the other listening to the news or a song without missing a beat: there were no other radio station on the island and everyone tuned in to it. Old wooden houses still stood next to the new cement homes. Puerto Baquerizo Moreno was a modern Ecuadorian town, improvised, first, from an uncertain past, and always seeking to fill the gaps with concrete.

Older ladies recalled how they would drink lemonade made with brackishwater, and how over the years, it didn’t affect their stomachs at all. They also told how they’d stitch clothes from potato sacks. There was a cinema: a tiny room with a projector and plastic chairs. The planes arrived twice a week and the rest of the time, the runway wasn’t off-limits: kids would scamper over it, like the frigatebirds in the skies above.

These memories of life on the island of San Cristóbal was compiled during a recent conversation with my friend Gonzalo Fernández, drummer of Swing Original Monks and founding member of the first band in the Galápagos’ history, Arkabuz.

Among the many anecdotes and stories he recounted, perhaps the most poignant reflection of all was when he told me, with great conviction, that the future had already reached the beaches of San Cristóbal, where he grew up. That nothing else will come and that everything will continue just like this, intact forever, the tide returning it all to the bottom of the ocean, taking it far down into the depths until losing itself behind the horizon, a horizon that envelops all, the infinite fish tank that in the end regurgitates what has been and repeats the stories of what will come.

Like that kite in the endless sky, that rises and rises into the air but is still tied to one’s hand, the vision, the message, the evolution of the species themselves, everything is part of the merry-go-round of island life; the future will remain intact until the day this island finally sinks into the sea.

It is perhaps the best way to describe what it feels like to be in San Cristóbal, Galápagos: the final frontier. A final strand of hope. Last paradise.

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