Visiting Isla Santa Cruz in the Galápagos Archipelago

Cruising Lifestyle (continued)

The Virgen de Monserratte unloading an infinitely varied melangé of cargo at Academy Bay. You can actually travel on this ship as a passenger, from the mainland to the Galápagos or from island to island.  

The crew using the ship's boom crane to unload sacks of produce (onions or potatoes?) into a small barge alongside.  

Stern view of the ship.  

One of the small barges being pushed to shore by an even smaller outboard-powered skiff.  

A barge being unloaded at the town pier (not the tourist pier but the working pier).  

I scanned a label from a Pilsener beer bottle. Pilsener seems to be the most popular beer on the island, but the beer itself is produced in Guayaquil on the mainland and imported by ship.  

As I waited, I watched a crew of men loading paving blocks into a dump truck. All the town's streets are paved with these simple gray concrete slabs, and they are all imported from the mainland. About the only things produced locally are fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, and some lumber. Literally everything else, from toilet bowls to telephone poles, apples to automobiles, tables to tennis balls, must be imported from the mainland. Lacking a major airport, all imports arrive by freighter. The process is complicated by the lack of port facilities, so freighters must unload at anchor in the harbor and ferry cargo ashore in small barges.

For the past several days we have been observing this laborious process. The ship's crew uses the freighter's boom crane to hoist cargo from the hold, crates generally on pallets and loose items in a cargo net. The items are deposited into small barges not much bigger than fishing skiffs, which being engineless are propelled to shore by an outboard-powered skiff lashed alongside. The barges are parked at a small pier next to the water taxi landing where they are laboriously unloaded by hand. Boxes, bags, cans, furniture, lumber, even the paving blocks are passed up to street level one-by-one by laborers in the barge. Over time, a huge mass of goods accumulates on the pier, and pick-up trucks arrive frequently to cart away merchandise—a load of metal goods for the hardware store, a shrink-wrapped chest of drawers for a family, a couple of glass door replacement panels for a business, and so forth. A crane is available but used only when absolutely necessary, for example to unload an automobile from the barge.

The tourists and townsfolk must like their beer—the freighter disgorged several full bargeloads of Pilsener beer (the local favorite). At least they recycle the bottles. As trucks showed up to cart away full cases of beer, they deposited cases of empties on the pier eventually building a neat rectangular mountain of empties. Meanwhile, the workers kept transferring paving blocks, working quickly and efficiently. Blocks would be passed up to street level, hefted and tossed into the truck, caught and pitched forward, then caught and dropped into place by the last man. It must have been backbreaking work and very exhausting in the midday sun—the ethic of hard work is obviously alive and well here in the Galápagos.

With our own provisioning complete we went back to the boat and had a lazy afternoon. Since we had been transacting official business, everybody had been wearing long pants which made us all hot and tired. The heat really takes a lot out of you, and we weren't even unloading paving blocks.

Earlier we had decided to eat out tonight, our last night in Puerto Ayora, so we water-taxied in just after dusk. As we walked along the waterfront (1.2 miles each way) we stopped to check out restaurants and read their posted menus. A couple of places that had looked interesting in the afternoon were now playing grating or nondescript rock-and-roll music so we passed them by. In the block past the laundromat we had earlier seen an interesting restaurant, but at night it was less interesting due to inept lighting that caused both bright glare and dark shadows. Regardless, it was our choice so we entered and were seated. The waitress was a pretty blond, unusual in Ecuador, but it turns out she was a college student from Oregon waitressing for the summer. The dinner menu was surprisingly sparse, but Marcie and I ordered the shrimp with garlic sauce and rice and David ordered spaghetti with chicken in white sauce. When the food arrived, the shrimp dishes looked beautiful—colorful, very appealing, and carefully presented. It was absolutely delicious, with tasty shrimp in strong garlic sauce (it can't be too strong for me). We each had two glasses of beer and were feeling pretty good—good food, good company, and the seafaring adventure about to continue.

After dinner, we walked about halfway back and stopped at an ice cream parlor (actually a nice restaurant but they featured ice cream and that's all we got). It was good but at $1 a scoop a little expensive. Walking the rest of the way back, we saw all the townsfolk out in the pleasant evening air—children playing in the playground, men sitting talking, people in restaurants eating and chatting, individuals, couples, and families strolling along, perhaps with a destination in mind, perhaps not. As we passed the Catholic church we heard beautiful singing pouring from the building, worshipers singing praises as part of Santa Semana—Holy Week, the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. Just half a block later the music of the choir was supplanted by the typical bouncy beat of a Latin song blaring from a boom box, then after another half block the song faded into the background noise of a contented town on a pleasant weekday evening. It was indeed a pleasant evening, and we all enjoyed our last night in Puerto Ayora.

Back on the boat, we were getting ready to retire in preparation for an early morning departure when David called a meeting in the cockpit so we could discuss a problem situation. The wind had shifted to an unexpected direction, and the combination of wind and tide had caused boats in the anchorage to move around and make the geometry a little difficult. The sailboat behind us had drifted over against its bow and stern anchors so it was now directly over the location of our stern anchor on the bottom. This could complicate retrieving the stern anchor tomorrow morning. Furthermore, a dive ship had anchored off our port bow without a stern anchor and if the wind shifted could drift dangerously close. David decided to take in our snubber in case we had to maneuver in a hurry. We also decided to stand regular watches through the night to monitor the situation and head off any trouble. Since it was the 8:00 p.m. to 12:00 midnight watch, my normal watch, I took the first watch.

The adventure continues in the next section as we sail and motor to Isla Isabela.

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