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Galapagalloping
Galoping Galapagos

(Jason Elliott)
Today was our second day on Isabel, and the plan was horseback riding followed by a trip to the Wall of Tears.

It’s a rainy day in the Galapagos, recall, it is the rainy season as we head up the long road to the top of the active volcano where we’re going to ride horsed (again, ten fingers and toes, that’s the priority). We put on our rain gear, meet our horses and start down the muddy trail. And by muddy, I mean, melted fudge goopy. But that didn’t stop our horses, which were clearly paid by the trip and not by time because they ran as much as possible on the trial. I’ve ridden hack horses before and usually they’re more interested in the grass than walking, but these guys were acting like they were rounding the final turn at the Preakness. Sander had what can only be called a ginormous smile on his face and was laughing the biggest belly laughs you can imagine. He was talking to his horse (Crooked Eared Katie) and smiling and just having the best time. It was extremely cute, even by biased father standards. His horse was the smallest, but it was also relentless in its quest to be first. So it would go to the front, but then one of the larger horses would decide that there was no way the little horse would be the lead horse and it would start to speed up, then Crooked Eared Katie would speed up, and the this would continue until all the horses were in a full gallop (at one point, near the top, we broke into a run) until the trail would become ungallopable and the horses would slip and slide up the hill for awhile, then the trail would firm up and the horses would start jockeying (Ha!) for position again, rinse, lather, repeat all the way up the volcano.

During the course of all this, Sander did learn some basic horse handling skills, how to move with the horse, and that horsed will try to scrape riders off their back. Crooked Eared Katie went for barbed wire, and mine went for trees. Good times.

At the top the clouds were too thick to see the world’s second largest caldera, so we took a hike down the backside of the mountain. Again, the landscape was striking. On the way back up the hike, we found a large lava tunnel and did some impromptu spelunking. It’s a neat contrast. The outside of the tube is smooth, but you can see how the lava dripped on the inside of the tube (well, “see” is a bit of a hopeful word. Mostly you felt the 10,000 little spikes raking down your back as you tried to crawl through a tube that you were just slightly larger than. I felt like my legs during my tight jeans phase in the late 80’s).

On the way back, we decided that it was too dangerous to take the horses down because it was that muddy, so we helplessly rode them as they ran along the flat part of the mountain, dismounted at the start of the hill and said good-bye to our trusty steeds. It was a nice hourish hike down to the truck through a rainforest that appeared out of nowhere. My main memory here is Sander and Filipe walking along and talking about all the things around them, the bugs, the plants and anything else about nature. As a dad, it was really touching to see Sander walking and talking in a foreign land, to someone he just met a few days ago, and moving so freely and confidently. It’s also a testament to Filipe that he and Sander got along so well. Filepe leads trips down the Amazon, and he can see things that were completely invisible to me, and his knowledge of fauna and bugs was astounding.

As we made the soggy trip back to the truck, got in and started to head down the mountain, Filepe stopped the truck and told us to get out our cameras. In the trees was a Vermillion Flycatcher. Apparently these are on the way out in the Galapagos and seeing one was very rare. But, as you know by now, Sander is the animal whisperer, and things just come out when he’s around.

Once we hit sea-level we were off to the Wall of Tears, or the Place Where the Brave Cry. During the late 1940’s the Ecuadorian government tried to turn Islabel into a penal island. The wall in question was built to enclose a valley, or not, as apparently sections were built and taken down, just to give prisoners something to do. Anyway, those in this Island Pokey were given approximately one liter of water a day, and a sandwich. Not only that, but they had to carry the lava rocks for miles on their backs. Again, and I can’t stress this enough, lava rocks are like giant brillo pads. Walking on them hurts, brushing against them hurts, looking at them hurts. I cannot imagine carrying a huge lava rock on my back. No way, now how. Forget The Place Where the Brave Cry, try The Place Where Anyone Would Cry. Plus, much like the Great Wall of China, if you had the bad luck to die while building the wall, they just paved over you and moved on (Actually, if you were at the island at this time, it’s safe to assume that your luck tended towards the “bad” side).

Filepe told us a story that now, on the island, one of the prisoners and one of the guards are great friends. This completely blew Sander away. He just kept asking, “I mean, how big was THAT apology?”

That night Filipe dropped us off at the end of the beach and Sander and I had a great walk at sunset along the beach. I would offer up pictures, but my camera broke. If anyone knows how to recover pictures off a corrupt data card, please, please let me know. Which reminds me, the Galapagos just ate our cameras. We started with four, two water proof point and clicks, one really nice camera with a dying battery and no charger, and a small hd camera I grabbed on a whim. By the end, the two point and clicks broke, the good camera finally lost its charge and we were down to the hd camera. Weird.

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