If you put going to the Galapagos Islands on your bucket list, go when you are younger. Still, I signed up for this trip when a opportunity came along, and nope, my steadily dwindling royalties did not pay for it. Not that I wasn't warned by the repeated question, "Can you get on and off a boat?" Sure, I can. I was not deterred even by pictures of Zodiacs washing up on beaches and rocky shores. And so we embarked, landing first in the good-sized city of Guayaquil, Ecuador, a city with many parks and enlivened by its painted buildings, which I never knew existed. After a city tour, a visit to a cocoa plantation (very interesting), and buying some of their famous chocolate, we flew away to Baltra Island where the wind was so strong, it nearly blew me off my feet walking from the plane to the terminal, quite a trek. I should have known then this trip would be rugged.
A bus took us to our first experience with a panga, an inflatable boat like a Zodiac. We received instructions on how to board,and I might add, the wind was still wild, which took us to our small but nice ship, our home for the next week. I managed the first boarding okay--step on the canvas side of the boat, step down one step, step down one immense step, and take a seat on the edge of the panga, which if you are lucky will have a handhold to grip for dear life. After a fairly long panga ride, or maybe it just seemed that way, we schooched down to the steps again, balanced on the rim, and were pulled aboard the water-washed steps into the ship by stalwart, muscular sailors. This routine would become common in days to come as it was the only way to get the various islands. There are no nice docks. A dry landing meant clambering over a pile of lava rocks while the guides held the panga more or less steady. A wet landing consisted of sliding off the side of the boat like ill-trained Navy Seals into a foot of cold, moving water and squelching ashore in water shoes while carrying dry footwear. Actually, it was the easier of the two and I did several of these, but bowed out of the dry landings as I couldn't do the lava rock hikes anyhow.
I won't go into all the wildlife we saw: dozens of unique birds in the process of nesting during the dry season, lots of sea life from sea lions to iguanas to turtles. I will only add one caveat: watch your step, lots of guano, and a fair amount of stink on some of those beaches. More often I chose the glass-bottomed boat experience despite having to roll from the panga onto the second small boat and then back again. I only fell once when I slid all the way down the side of the panga, but I couldn't get up--rescued again by our handsome, Hispanic guides, so there was some benefit. We observed rays, sea turtles, fish, but failed to find swimming iguanas. This was the dry season of winter. On land, the lizards just lay there in piles trying to stay warm. The sea lions liked to escort us. And we did see the little penguins and flightless cormorants on the rocky shore.
As usual when I revealed I was a writer of romance, I took the common ribbing and answered a lot of questions. One of which I am always asked: Would they show up in my next book? Well, no. First, my current WIP uses what I learned in Australia. The Aussie Sinner should come out late next year.
Second, most of my characters are composites of many people, a trait here, a special smile there. So, they ask, how about a mystery based on our Galapagos trip where someone is killed by the fruit of the poison apple tree, about the only green bush on the islands this time of year. Most of the foliage looks dead or is cactus. My mind began working and came up with a title, Eden and the Poison Apple Tree, with an amateur sleuth named Eden. They deemed that too cheesy. Then, I thought, what are the exact symptoms of the poison apples? What is the motive to kill in such an isolated place? Not to mention that I'd need to do way more research on cruise ships. And this is why I don't write mysteries anymore. (See Mardi Gras Madness and Courir de Mardi Gras if you want to read my attempts.) So, I challenged them to write a first chapter which I would critique and not steal. Thus far, no takers.
As the trip came to its end, I fell off lava rocks trying to put my shoes on, nearly wiped out my colleagues when the panga driver decided to pursue a whale, which we never saw, and I lost my grip and careened into the others, nearly pushing one into the sea. Pedro put his arm around me to hold me in place on the wild ride so the embarrassment might have been worth it. The sea was choppy, and I made my last and major fail trying to get back on the ship as both ship and panga bobbed wildly. I missed step number one, had to be hauled to number two where I fell again, and then was urged to make the leap to the ship's stairs as I froze trying to match both boats. I think I finally got aboard being pushed from behind and pulled from above when I finally got my feet to move. The ship's young, female doctor checked me out--bruised but not battered. Some said I was brave to go on this trip. I'd say fool hardy. Now I can imagine why someone might kill a person with poison apples--guides sick of hauling old ladies around in pangas. Heck, she was ancient anyhow. No great loss.