Episode One of Five - beginning of our quest to get to the Galapagos Islands. Stage one: Colombia and Equador, 1969

Our mentor, an experienced traveler and I, arranged a journey to visit the ‘enchanted islands’ – otherwise known as the Galapagos.  A group of artists – sculptors, ballet dancers, singers, writers and painters – flew to Miami in early May, 1969 and from there to Cali, Colombia where we spent a few days. I arranged for a bus to get us to the coastal town of Guyaquil, the port of embarkation, in Equador.

'Was able to hire a brand new Mercedes bus, along with a husky, moustached Colombian at the wheel.  Everyone was in good spirits.  Both of us sat next to the driver since I spoke Spanish. We reached the border of Colombia and Equador and went through customs and immigration. This went smoothly and our passports were all duly stamped. 

But what was not expected was our Colombian bus – our beautiful Mercedes – would not be allowed into Equador.  There had been a recent soccer match between the two countries which led to an uproar and the Equadorians were not on a good footing with their neighbours.

Meanwhile, we had paid for the bus and driver all the way to Guayaquil, and had a heck of a time getting (some) of the money back. That settled, we now continued on our journey, but this time in a dilapidated Equadorian bus with metal seats.

Nevertheless, everyone was in a good mood and were singing popular Beatle’s songs of the times such as “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”, “All You Need is Love”, “Yellow Submarine” or “Octopus Garden in the Shade”, and Bob Dylan’s “The Answer is Blowin’ in the Wind”.

Always on the lookout for something creative or new, we suggested we all go to Ingapirca, a little-known place I’d read about.

“Es muy pequeno”, our driver said.  “It’s very small”, the site of Ingapirca.   We asked about the location.  The first three places we enquired said they’d never heard of it.  Finally at a local post office, there was one person who knew about Inca Pirca but laughed when we said we wanted to visit the site.

He pointed to a postage stamp and said in Spanish, “That’s how small it is!” And that we’d need jeeps or horses to get there.

We assembled five Jeeps.

That took some time but we did corral them, each with a driver.  After negotiating the fare, we were on our way.

Ingapirca was, in those days, not your everyday tourist attraction like the more famous ruins of Mexico and Peru. Only one of the drivers knew where Ingapirca was located.

Torrential rains had put an obstacle in our path – a washed-out bridge.  The jeeps could go no farther. We continued our journey towards Ingapirca on foot, criss-crossing ice-cold Andean creeks.  The rains did not let up.

Maybe I could find some horses?  Off I went, into nowhere.  Amazingly, I encountered two gauchos on horseback.  I told them our dilemma.  They were able to get us eight or nine horses.  I negotiated a deal, including two guides.  This was what I came to call Miracle Number One.

Some had to carry on by foot, there weren’t enough horses for all of us.  The day was getting on by this time and every minute counted if we wanted to get back before dark.

After some time, we asked the horsemen if it was far to go to reach Ingapirca. 

“This is it”, they replied.  We were, literally on top of the ruins of Ingapirca.  Drenched but happy. We made it!  The site was basically a rubble of unremarkable stones, and without the guides, we would have ridden right over it.

“That’s all?” we asked in disbelief.  “Si Senor, es todo”.  Yes, Sir, that’s all.”
Ingapirca today - much more developed than in 1969

We spent no more than half an hour altogether at Ingapirca. And back we went to rejoin the jeeps where a few had stayed behind. So they were not joking back at the post office, about the size of Ingapirca. Nevertheless, it felt like high adventure in the high Andes of Equador.

The scenery was magnificent.  In the distance there was a snow-capped volcano, nearby waving tall grasses and grains – with once in awhile the sun peeking through the rainclouds complete with rainbows.

We made it back to the jeeps by dusk. One of the gaucho’s exchanged his whip (I still have it) for my sunglasses – yes, sunglasses in the pouring rain!

The drive through the Equadorian Andes was unforgettable, and when we finally descended in Guyaquil on the coast, the temperature had changed gradually from 5 degrees to 32 degrees Celcius, plus high humidity.    

Next episode (to come) - Galapagos, here we come!


Episode Two of Five: Arrival in Guayaquil and Boarding Ship. Our Quest to the Galapagos continues . . .

We continue with the second episode in our Galapagos quest, 1969, in the port town of Guayaquil, Ecuador. 

 Guayaquil, Ecuador

Our group all booked into the Humboldt Hotel.  The ship that would take us to the Galapagos was called the “Cristobal Carrier”. The vessel had been making the trip for 30 years and was an icon, a legend in Ecuador.  

 I went down to the dock to take a first look at the ship.  There we found an old-looking, wooden vessel painted a dull grey. There were not enough lifeboats. 

In addition to our big group there were also many locals either returning to work or visiting family on the Galapagos.  They had chickens and all sorts of cargo.

Somehow I managed to have them load two dinghies which could serve as lifeboats. It was a Saturday and we were scheduled to sail at 17h00.

A rare-photo of our ill-fated ship, "Cristobal Carrier", 1969

Eventually we were on our way by 19h00.  There was much fanfare and shouts of “Adios!”. We lifted anchor for what was to be another routine sailing for the venerable ‘Cristobal Carrier’.  The upper decks were reserved for us.  All cabins had upper and lower bunks. 

We were happy to be on our way to these enchanted “Darwin” islands, the world-famous Galapagos.I already mentioned our group was an eclectic one with artists, ballet dancers, architects, and writers.

We had a magnificent clear, starry night above.  Everyone’s spirits and expectations were in high gear and we’d all retired for the night.

In the middle of the night, it happened.  Boom!  I was thrown out of my bunk and was suddenly clear awake.  What on earth could that “boom” have been? 

I made my way up to the bridge.  There was no one there. 

The stars were glittering above in the clear sky. Turned out to be 4 o’clock in the morning.

We peered over the railing and had a shock.  It looked like we’d hit an island. The bow rested a good way up on the shore.

Shipwrecked! Would you believe it?  “Where is everyone?” we asked. “No captain, no pilot or officers on the bridge – in fact, nobody.”  The locals panicked.  Some women and children were crying.

The day began to break and now of course everyone was up and about. The “Captain” had left the ship and was sitting dazed on a rock with a bottle of rum in his hands, shaking his head.  He was a tramper captain, and could have stepped right out of novel by Somerset Maugham.  The members of our group didn't panic, but were more in a state of disbelief.

The ship started to list.  I went to get my passport and luggage, as did a few others. Just in time, for now the ship was really listing to starboard.

We got to the highest point of what turned out to be not a very high island. Children were crying, roosters were crowing. Altogether quite a consternation. Then we spotted some triangular-shaped fins in the water, telling us not to go out for a swim!

The radio man, the “Marconi man”, already had contacted the mainland and sent out a SOS for help.

Any hopes of seeing the Galapagos were now smashed.  But our journey wasn’t over.  

Episode Three coming up next.


Episode Three of Five: returning to land and more adventures

Following up from the second episode of our Galapagos ill-fated venture, we move on, back to the mainland of South America:

Being the Spanish-speaking member of our group, I was in communicado with the officials.  We learned a large schooner would come soon from Posorja, a fishing village, to fetch the women and children first.

If then no other vessel was available to help rescue us, the schooner would return for the men.

 Our rescue schooner looked very much like this one

The schooner, with terracotta-coloured sails, appeared to everyone’s relief. All the women, children and the chickens were boarded and set off.

Many hours later, the men were also picked up and transported to Posorja.  There we found all the women and children huddled on the floor of a large fishing warehouse. But not for long, the local people just disappeared, and we men in turn sat down on the floor.

Posorja, Ecuador

All the luggage was forwarded to the Humboldt Hotel. Now we needed to get our group back to Guayaquil.  However, it was a Sunday afternoon.

Our expectations shattered

Using my best Spanish, I managed to get a big truck which was used to transport fish. We negotiated a price with the driver and told it was about a 4-5 hour drive to Guyaquil. I sat in the front, and everyone else got into the back of the half-open truck.

By now it was getting dark, there were no lights, and the rain began.  After an hour the truck came to a halt in the middle of nowhere, pitch black around us.  I asked the driver, “Que pasa?”

“I’ll take a look”, he replied, getting out of the vehicle, lifting the hood and appearing to study the engine.

We looked at the dashboard which showed an Empty fuel tank! Now what?  No gasoline, in the middle of nowhere.

Episode Four - coming up next.