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The Galapagos

After checking into the Quito Swissotel, I met up with Lynne and Ed at the bar at 6pm, with much laughter all round. Their friends Morris and Anne duly arrived, then we headed for the Theatrum Hotel, which is in a beautiful colonial theatre in the town centre, for an excellent meal (ceviche, saffron risotto with shrimp, sabayon). (The old cities of Quito and Havana were the first cities to be declared world heritage sites.)

The flight from Quito next morning put us down in the Galapagos at midday and then we were transferred to the ‘port’, consisting of one landing with two benches, occupied by the local version of derelicts, i.e. sea lions lounging across both benches, plus a couple of marine iguana strolling about. With much commotion a baby sea lion waddled between the crowds, it was midday and lunchtime after all, and settled in to nuzzling its mum.

Finally on board catamaran ‘Nina’, we headed out toward Bartholomew Island (or Bartholome – all the islands have both English and Spanish names), which is the most recent of the islands, having blown itself out of the seabed a mere 500,000 years ago. This is a scoria volcano (vs the usual basaltic lava volcanoes in this neck of the woods), which our trusty naturalist, “call me Ruly”, decided we should climb as our afternoon exercise – ‘ees not ‘ard’. Only 370 steps on boardwalks.

But, it had to be done, and the view from the top was grand, especially of the shield volcanoes and the little ships parked in the bay far below. Lynne had opted out on the basis of a bad knee! The only wildlife we saw was one tiny lizard and a couple of miniscule crabs, but on the way back our panga (landing boat) pilot took us around the bend to see a couple of Galapagos penguins who hadn’t read their map and were practising crapping on rocks a couple of minutes north of the equator. Oh, and precisely on schedule at 5:30pm, several million mosquitoes arrived for a round of tourist bloodsucking, there being no touro-trash vendors in the immediate vicinity to conduct the usual process (it is a nature reserve, after all).

After a shower, I headed up to the bar to murder a Gin and Tonic but this ship is not a democracy and I was told that cocktails were downstairs, gratis. The supposed libation turned out to be a pink frothy concoction with a suspicious belt of coconut, which the world knows is not one of my favourite ingredients in anything. However, the purpose of the ‘party’ was to introduce the crew (and ourselves), so we were thirteen passengers and eleven crew on ‘Nina’.

We did manage to buy a bottle of nicely chilled Chilean SB, but all round it had been very close to an AFD. At 8pm the decks cleared of any activity, so I retreated to my cabin and set about trying to remember what I’d been doing, and downloading photos so I’d have card-room to photograph wildlife on the morrow.

Sunday I was awakened by the sounds of a rooster crowing, which I immediately incorporated into my dreams until incredulity seeped through and I realised it was Nina’s version of a wake-up call! Next: “it’s 6am in the beautiful Galapagos and you’re all invited up to the bridge to photograph the 0.00.000 as we cross the equator.” Quoi? Pourquoi? I’ve crossed it before, and as far as I know there’s no human sacrifice in the offing to tempt me to get up at this hour. But then the Musac started, so I admitted defeat, abluted in my teensy bathroom and hit the caffeine dispenser.

They lied. The equator crossing wasn’t going to happen until at least 7am. But I tried to do my bit, and nearly succeeded, the shutter missing the equator by .002 of a second, in line with my lifelong philosophy – near enough is good enough.

After breakfast, we set off on the pangas to explore some of the local attractions around the western coast of Isabela Island. Birdies (including blue foot boobies) with accompanying guano, turtles engaging in a clumsy waterlogged version of morning glory (and when a female turtle is ‘engaged’, satellite turtles hang about and when the mounting male gets cramp and drops off the shell, they zip in and fill the breach, so to speak), marine iguana, crabs, sea lions plus a sortie into a rather lovely cavern with brilliant turquoise water.

Back on board we were invited to try out our snorkelling gear. Such is life. I tried it out and didn’t like it, so I tried again. Same result. I don’t like aquariums, so why would I like flapping around in the sea with some dental monstrosity in my mouth and giant nose glasses on my head looking at whatever chooses to pass under or bump into me? OK, so I saw a turtle at close quarters, and some fishy things that hadn’t been dipped in batter and fried, but what’s the point? Show me photos in the magazine and even then I’ll move to the recipe section. And what about the invasion of privacy? These poor critters live in this liquid stuff so that they don’t have to endure the iniquities of the worst species ever dumped on Planet Earth, and what happens? The mongrel homo sapiens set about manufacturing crapulous equipment that allows them to invade the kingdom of the deep. Suffice to say I don’t get it. I informed Ruly that my next snorkelling experience is going to be in the jacuzzi on the sun deck, with a GT.

Back on board, we tucked into lunch then headed for our afternoon hike on the island of Fernandina. Immediately on landing there were marine iguana and sea lions at our feet, which seemed to be the order of the day. The iguana is in no danger of extinction – millions of the prehistoric varmints climb on every surface, including each other. And they spit – initially we thought this was a defence mechanism, but it’s actually to rid their bodies of excess salinity, and they face towards the sun to get their body temperature up so they can metabolise their food (seaweed). During El Nino periods they suffer badly as their food source dries up – it’s estimated 200,000 died of starvation during the last visit by ‘the boy’ (many of corpses had full bellies – they’d resorted to eating brown seaweed, but couldn’t metabolise it – Darwin’s evolutionary process couldn’t speed up to suit).

The sea lions are delightful – playful and curious, and keen on a bit of body surfing. The mothers leave the babies on shore for up to five days while they gorge at sea in order to suckle the young. But it’s a lottery. If mum gets taken by a shark or killer whale, baby starves to death in double-quick time. It’s pitiful to see them crying for their mothers to return. One little girl decided we were good company and progressively snuggled up to our shoes. There are also Galapagos fur seals (which are actually sea lions, but misnamed when they were hunted nearly to extinction for their rich coats), which are smaller and shyer critters than the Galapagos sea lions.

We were corralled into the Nina lounge before dinner, where Ruly gave us a potted human history of the Galapagos. Time management is not his forte, so he spent 40 minutes on the first two slides and 5 minutes on the next dozen. A bit of research in the library filled in some of the gaps.

The Incas apparently knew of the islands, having zipped over on balsa rafts before the rapacious Caucasians got into the act. The first Western interaction came by accident, in 1535. Two of Charles V’s henchmen were in pitched battle in Peru – each determined to out-pillage the other (civil war broke out between the conquerors in 1546), and the route for transporting treasures back to Spain (ship to Panama, then by land across Panama then ship across the Caribbean and Atlantic) was a gold silver mine for buccaneers, so the Bishop of Panama was sent to re-engineer the route via South America. He was also supposed to set the boundaries between the henchmen (Pizarro and Almagro) and review the pillagers’ accounts. Surprisingly, the Bishop (Tomas de Berlanga) was a good chap, one of a group of missionaries who’d protested against the miscreancy of the Spanish conquerors and even questioned the right of Spain to invade the American continent. He was chosen for this delicate mission courtesy of his ability and prudence.

A few days out, the armada was becalmed for three weeks and the Panama current carried them south-west and slap bang into the Galapagos. They were critically short of water by this time, and survived by sucking cacti until they found a few pools of water on one of the islands. Heading for the mainland, the Humboldt current checked their progress again. Luckily the Bishop could use an Astrolabe and realised they were headed toward the central Pacific, so righted their course. It took 24 days to get to the mainland.

The righteous Bishop reported to Charles V that the birds on the Galapagos were ‘so silly’ they had no fear and could be plucked from branches by hand.

Spain had christened the islands ‘the enchanted isles’ but Galapagos (meaning tortoises, an appellation coined by the ne’er-do-wells who stocked up on the poor geochelone nigra species) stuck. The Spanish came repeatedly and named many of the islands.

Enter the English pirates, taking advantage of Spain’s weakness, problems at home, including the war of the Spanish Succession, and consequent inability to defend its vast colonies. William Dampier, among others, left accounts of the islands. Along with Ambrose Cowley and fellow ratbags, he participated in an expedition that took on supplies in Chesapeake Bay, sailed south to the Gulf of Guinea, snaffled a 36 gun Danish ship, renamed it “Bachelor’s Delight”, scuttled their own craft to avoid detection and headed south. A fierce storm carried them almost to Antarctica, before they recovered and rounded Cape Horn and headed north into the Pacific.

A few days later, they met up with fellow pirate Eaton and the ship ‘Nicholas’, and joined forces, heading up to Peru to lie in wait for prospective victims. A week later they fell upon three Spanish merchant ships, with a crummy booty consisting of a giant statue of the Virgin with a mule (that must have been a sight for sore eyes) plus several tons of quince paste! No doubt Bill and his mates were mighty crabby when they learned they’d missed seizing 800,000 gold pieces of eight, which the ships had hurriedly unloaded a couple of days earlier on hearing rumours of the pirates’ presence. The motley crew sailed to the Galapagos and offloaded the quince paste. Bill and Ambrose started the slaughter of the Giant Tortoise (and perhaps kickstarted the Poms’ love of Turtle Soup) – they could be popped in the hold, didn’t require feeding or watering, and could be turned into dinner whenever. In the space of 130 years to the early C20th, 200,000 giant tortoises were snapped up, decimating the population, to extinction on a couple of the islands, but the total slaughter is thought to be more that half a million.

Back to the pirates – Woods Rodgers (with Bill Dampier in tow – how did he ever have time to swing by Terra Australis?), financed by the good merchants of Bristol, rounded Cape Horn in 1708 with two vessels – Duke and Duchess – and sailed to Juan Fernandez Island for repairs and provisions. They arrived at sunset at Puerto Deseado to find a light shining, which they believed to be a French ship, rumoured to be in the area. At dawn, there waited “a man dressed in goatskins who looked wilder than the skins in which he was clothed”. He was a Scotsman who had been abandoned by his captain (Strandling) four years earlier. Bill realised he was Alexander Selkirk, recognised as the best seaman on earlier expeditions.

His story was as follows – he’d been left with a musket, some powder, shot and tobacco, knife, hatchet, bible, mathematical instruments and books! After eight months of fear and sadness, having a fire lit at all times, he began exploring the island and taught himself to run after wild goats with incredible speed (which he demonstrated). Once he caught one on the edge of a cliff and fell into a chasm. On regaining consciousness, he found himself battered and bruised and lying on top of the dead goat, but otherwise unharmed. To amuse himself, he cut his name into the bark of trees and noted the days. Initially he was bothered by cats and rats (previous voyagers had left goats, rats, cats and other foreign species on the islands), but he tamed the cats, which slept with him and kept the rats in order. He conquered his solitude by singing to the goats and cats, and making his clothes from goatskin. When he came on board, he could hardly be understood, and had lost his taste for rum! Needless to say, Selkirk was an invaluable resource to the buccaneers, but they weren’t very successful and returned to England in 1711 with bugger-all in profit for the worthy merchants of Bristol.

Selkirk wrote his memoirs, with not much hope of being published, and showed them to a friend, who suggested they be shown to Daniel Defoe, who was becoming known as a writer. Defoe kept the manuscript for some time, finally returning it with the judgement that it was of little worth. Surprise, surprise, shortly thereafter Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe” appeared to great acclaim and success, with Defoe claiming that the book was based on the life of some bloke he met in a bar. Selkirk died in poverty, needless to say. Bastards rule.

There were several attempts to colonise the Galapagos, most of which included hardened criminals in the mix, so there was a goodly amount of murder and intrigue. None of the settlements ended well.

Then there’s the tale of the Ritters and the Baroness. Fred Ritter was from the Black Forest, fought in the trenches in WW1, was a dentist and married to a musician. He was also a Nietzsche fan and fascinated by the idea of returning to nature. Working at the Hydrotherapeutic Institute of Berlin, he met Dora Staub and they embarked on an affair while planning to escape to their version of paradise – the Galapagos.

Their preparation was a bit of a challenge, even taking into consideration their belief that medical supplies were unnecessary – health being an issue of mind over matter. A rudimentary selection of tools and cooking implement was the sum total of their equipment. As a precaution, mad Fred had all his teeth extracted and one pair of dentures made. After a disorganised journey, they finally arrived on Floreana in September 1929 and inhabited the houses that had been abandoned following the failure of the Norwegian Fish Cannery in 1927. A couple of days later, they set about building their dream home, but now Fred was constantly in a filthy mood, which his strict vegetarianism didn’t help, and no doubt his constant reading aloud his infernal philosophical writings drove poor Dora round the twist. (Dora should have known he was a dud from his Nietzsche leanings, viz: “the contempt for women is the first ethical rule of the philosopher.”)

The first mail to arrive, in May 1930, included sensational articles about their flight from Germany and their modern day Adam and Eve existence. A couple of blow-in Norwegians (late of the Fish Cannery experiment) got the ‘bugger-off’ treatment from Fred, then a German contingent of four young men and one woman arrived. Dora wasn’t averse to some company, especially that of good looking chaps, but the youngsters soon decided the Robinson Crusoe life had whiskers on it. The Hollywood millionaire, Allan Hancock, stopped by on his yacht and gave Dora chocolate, rice and other goodies, while being impressed by the abundance of their garden – plums, bananas, limes, watermelons, sugar cane, corn, coconuts, tobacco, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and other vegetables. Fred and Dora occasionally sent articles to German and English papers about their ‘idyllic’ lifestyle.

A nasty surprise turned up at the end of August 1932, in the form of Heinz and Margarita Wittmer, their sickly 12 year-old son, two alsatian dogs, chickens and lots of boxes. Margarita was five months pregnant. They settled into the Pirate’s cave, near the spring, and with Heinz’ shooting skill and Margarita’s home-making ability, life was ticking along nicely. However, in October, another group lobbed – the Baroness de Bosquet and her three lovers. The Baroness immediately began throwing her weight around, crowned herself Empress of the island and got herself hated by all and sundry in world record time.

After putting up with the Baroness for many months, someone – probably Lorenz, who’d been demoted in the lover stakes and treated abominably by the B and her new favourite, Phillipson (including ritual beatings and humiliation, despite the fact that Lorenz seems to have been funding the whole party) – ‘disappeared’ the Baroness and Phillipson (no trace of them has ever been found). Then mad Fred mysteriously died after consuming rotten meat (strange, given his vegetarian diet). To round out the saga, Lorenz and a couple of pals sailed away to meet a gruesome end on the island of Marchena where he and his Norwegian sailor friend died of starvation, their mummified remains being discovered many months later.

Every other attempt to colonise the joint ended in a bloodbath, including the setting up of what was a highly productive (sugar booze, among other things) concentration camp by one Manuel Cobos, who paid his workers in his own currency that could only be used in his own store, and ritually fined or beat his charges, or had them shot by firing squad, or exiled to meet an almost certain death on one of the islands (one chap, Camillo Casanova, survived for four years before being rescued). But his ‘slaves’ did for him in the end (1904) in an appropriately bloody manner.

All-in-all, this little group of islands has had an unhappy history, as far as human settlement is concerned (hence the title of my main source of reference “The Curse of the Giant Tortoise” – a naturalist version of a bodice ripper if ever there was one). Better to leave the Galapagos to the tortoises, iguana and blue-footed boobies! Besides which, the islands couldn’t be called enticing – they’re mostly wind- and salt-swept volcanic deserts, devoid of fresh water, and with scrubby vegetation, at best.

But back to the animals. We visited all the major islands, so it’s probably easiest to describe the creatures rather than the islands. The first we encountered were the sea lions – just gorgeous – playful and full of fun and curiosity. On Islas Plaza, off Santa Cruz, the babies line the shore at 5pm, just like kids getting out from school and waiting for their mums to arrive to collect them. There were probably 100 pups lining the rocks, looking to the sea in anticipation of their mums arriving. And they’re fearless – crossing our paths at will, except for the bulls, who sometimes took umbrage, as on the last morning on North Seymour Island, when we were admiring a couple of blue-footed boobies engaging in some foreplay, and an enormous sealion went for one of our chaps, who took off like a scalded cat, despite Ruly’s admonition to stay still. I would have done likewise, and subsequently gave the bull a wide berth. And when the mums do come home, they head landward with the pups scurrying behind and yelping in complaint ‘wait for me’!

There’s a bachelor colony on Islas Plaza, where the mature chaps who full of testosterone but not yet up to fighting with the dominant males, gather. Naturalists reckon they’ve been doing their waiting penance in this colony for tens-of-thousands of years – the rocks on which they laze are polished smooth, like marble. They launch themselves out of the sea, then zip up a near-vertical cliff of broken rock about 30metres high in less than two minutes. It would take any experienced rock climber longer.

Being excellent climbers and masters at adapting to their environment, the sea lions also climb aboard any boat or surface that happens to appeal to them. The harbour at Santa Cruz is full of craft, and many of them were hosting sea lions basking on their decks. Any set of steps by a pier had been turned into squatter camps, and they also climbed aboard Nina overnight on a couple of occasions, leaving very large calling cards for unwary passengers and crew. Our minders were paranoid about us stepping in sea lion crap as the stench has a half-life of 500 years.

The marine iguana is endemic to the Galapagos – there are millions of them on Fernandina. Being cold-blooded, they clump together for warmth, in their hundreds, sometimes on top of each other, and can be seen swimming far out to sea. They’re the only iguanas that swim, and they’ve adapted to a diet of seaweed. The first inhabitants came from South America – probably aboard vegetal rafts. Once on land, they lie around with their heads facing the sun in order to raise their body temperature to the level required to metabolise their food. It’s fun to see the baby seals chasing them for an afternoon’s sport. Our first encounters with the marine iguana were salutary. They’re fierce looking lizards, the females are smaller and blacker than the males, who sport mottled green and red upholstery (the ones on Espanola are called Christmas iguana, being bright crimson and dark green).

There are also yellow land iguana, which feed on the fruits and flowers of prickly pear. We came across a male who was obviously stock-piling his larder – we figured he was a real-estate agent bent on proving his wealth to the local ladies in order to improve his chances of landing a bimbo wife. A cute female approached, whereupon he strutted around looking important. But she was a tease, and grabbed one of his fruit and scurried off, with him in hot pursuit, but it was too late – he was in danger of the rest of his goodies being looted if he pursued!

The blue-footed boobies are gorgeous. They’re extraordinary divers, spotting fish from a great height, turning themselves into torpedoes, and hitting the water at incredible speed. Over time, the membrane that protects their eyes gets damaged, and finally they lose their sight and die. Their mating spectacle is just wonderful. The male strolls around the (larger) female whistling, and she honks in response. If she’s interested, they engage in some pleasant nodding at each other, then he launches into dancing, throwing his feet in the air in a silly but cute march. And their feet really are a lovely shade of blue. They were my absolute favourites.

Not far behind were the frigate birds, known as the pirates of the bird world. If a young bird looks to have enjoyed a good meal, the mature birds will harass it until it regurgitates its lunch from stress. Lazy bastards. But the mating efforts of the magnificent frigate bird are fantastic to see. The male sets himself up and blows out his brilliant red sack under his chin to form an enormous balloon. It looks like a spinnaker. If a passing female looks like a prospect, he flaps his wings, and if she fancies him, she drops down beside him and they proceed to get to know each other by virtue of a tad of beak snuggling. But the frigate birds real skill is flying. Whenever we were sailing at full tilt, we had a group of them soaring, diving, swooping, gliding along with us, and luckily, not once did they crap on us.

Then there are the tortoises. And they are giant. Each of the volcanoes has its own sub-species (size and shell shape differences). The most famous of all is Lonesome George, the last of the genus from Pinta Island. He’s about 70 years old and the Darwin Foundation continues to scour the world for a female who may be in captivity (the tortoises were sent off to zoos, and sold by pet shops to private owners before the environmentalists set things right). There’s a lovely tale of some female Swiss naturalist lady setting about masturbating poor George, but he declined to co-operate. We’d seen plenty of the San Cristobal variety mid-week, then visited the Darwin Centre, where there’s a successful breeding program in train for several of the endangered sub-species. The domed tortoise is the largest, weighing in at over 250kilos. They’re vegetarian, with their preferred food being the prickly pear. The males prove their superiority by stretching their necks skyward – he with the tallest neck rules. In the park, I was squatting down taking photos when one chap ambled up to me and proceeded to stretch up to eyeball me at six inches distance, so I slowly stood up, whereupon he turned away, suitably mollified. Our new friend Peter was taking a close-up of a tortoise rear, when the subject loudly farted and dropped a khaki ball of putrid processed vegetation at Peter’s feet! A tiny bird immediately dropped in and tucked into the turd for breakfast. Being in company of these wonderful creatures was a rare and brilliant experience.

Just to finish off on the wildlife – the next chaps are the flightless cormorants – they too came from the mainland, but the food was so plentiful here they didn’t need to fly, so over time have lost the ability to do so. Seems a silly evolutionary oversight on their part.

We also got to see Galapagos Hawks, masked boobies, whimbles, American oyster catchers, ruddy turnstones and all sorts of Darwin finches (so-named because Darwin, having gathered corpses of all the little darlings to take back to England, forgot to label them as to where they were collected and their habitat, so they were useless for the purpose of expounding his theory of evolution to the scientific cynics in London town). But they’re cute and hang about within arm’s reach as a matter of course. One of them qualifies as a mini-vampire – if it needs a drink and there’s no water to hand, it zips in under another birdy’s undercarriage and, after a swift peck, drinks the blood of the victim.

As to the good catamaran Nina, our group comprised 13 passengers. Morris and Anne live in Houston – Morris has been Ed’s buddy for 30+ years, and is a radiologist, thoroughly good company and all round nice guy. He’s been married to Anne for 12 years. She’s a textile specialist and a bit of a cold fish who doesn’t consider she needs to add anything to the party. And she wears nothing but beige and other neutrals, all of which are shapeless shockers, not even qualifying as swaddling clothes. Her general appearance isn’t enhanced by dark hair drawn tightly back into a furry ball, round-rimmed glasses and no make-up. Apart from that, she’s fine.

Then there’s Peter and his wife Cecilia. Peter’s originally from Devon, but after university, took himself off around the world while he decided on a career path, was offered a job with a mining company in Peru, and met Cecilia. They now live in Marbella, and are delightful company. Ceci always wears pearls, except when bathing, and Peter has a very naughty sense of humour.

Susan (60-something) and her son Brian (forty-something) are from Chicago. She still works full time, so she can afford to travel with Brian, who suffered a brain tumour when he was four. The surgeons zapped his spine as a preventative measure, which has resulted in his bones slowly degenerating, so he has a couple of fake hips and knees but is a real trouper and not one to pike on an outing just because he’s a bit discomfited. Good people.

Nicole and Renato are Swiss (German sector). Nicole’s the life of the party and sports a large tattoo of a tabby cat on her shoulder, which cost US$800. Lynne, in her usual New Yorker directness commented “you were robbed”! Renato, an ex-engine driver, doesn’t speak any English but manages to be a hoot regardless. When they retired, they told their son they were going to buy a campervan and travel the world, to which he replied “No, you’re going to stay here and move into a smaller place and not waste the money that you’re going to sign over to me because I need it now. If you don’t, you won’t see your grandchildren again.” So they figured the grandchildren would be happy to see them when they get back to Switzerland in about ten years. Good call. Gene and Joanna from West Virginia completed our congenial party.

The crew has been great, except for the barman, Pablo, who grudgingly provides service to paying customers. The evening we were in dock at Santa Cruz, he informed us the ice machine had broken down (8:30pm). Faced with warm drinks, we demurred. Pablo immediately headed downstairs and was seen zipping toward the dock two minutes later. Lynne had a good time the following day at midday when she said – “so the ice-machine fixed itself overnight, eh Pablo?”. The food was excellent and the chef exceptionally thoughtful, baking me delicious Coeliac-friendly ‘pan de yuca’ bread each morning.

One week is enough in the Galapagos, and you don’t need to go back for a second round. It was excellent fun as experiences go, and Ruly was a great guide who realised by late in the week that we didn’t need everything explained to us in microscopic detail. And, a revelation in my experience of group travel, our group was devoid of the ubiquitous “stupid question asker”. Excellent.

There’s just one item about the Galapagos that I’ve been omitting to mention. No-where in the islands can one flush toilet paper – one does what one must in the paper department then deposits said nasties in the bin provided nearby (cleared twice daily, which is a relief). This is similar to the arrangement endured in cockroach heaven (the upper Amazon) a couple of years ago. Being a spinster is a fine thing under these circumstances – one has to love a partner beyond life to share a little bin full of …oh, forget it.

Back in Quito, our driver told us we’d been upgraded to the Plaza Grande Hotel, which is diagonally opposite the Presidential Palace and borders the main square. Old Quito is a beautifully preserved colonial city (courtesy of UN funding). Late in the C19th, the President was assassinated on the steps of the Palace, by his bodyguard, and then hacked to pieces with a machete. El Presidente had been fast and loose with the bodyguard’s wife – careless in the extreme.

The hotel is one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve encountered, and the service and amenities sublime. My ‘room’ was half the size of my house, the bathroom sprinkled with rose petals. Pity I had to be up at 4:30am to get to the airport for my flight to the USA.

Postscript: Lonesome George, the last of the Pinta Island giant tortoises, sadly died without issue in June 2012. But at least I got to see him, and bought the T-shirt.

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