I’ve always been interested in the way a place can tell a story. The site of a certain tree, the smell of wet bark, the hum of a city block. It transports and transforms what is in front of and behind the eyes—it mixes them, and delivers us to a place that is something like here and then..
I’m catatonic and a little stoned. We’ve been laying quietly in what can best be described as a treehouse in a lava field. In the evenings we climb the ladder to the top floor to watch the sun set over the ocean, disappearing behind the corner of the island. I’m not too picky in these situations, but boy do I love when I can see the sun going down into the ocean. It expands and glows like an egg yolk. I feel closer to it, connected to that elemental power that keeps our little blue ball up and running. Thanks for another day, el sol. Namaste.
The midday heat on Isabela is unbearable. There’s no A/C in the tree house, so we crawl into the shade and watch the discovery channel in Spanish. I learn about flamingos being frozen—legs trapped—in a lake each night only for the daytime heat to reach 30+ celsius. It’s a martian landscape right here on Earth, filled with pink warriors. There’s flamingos here in Isabela too, Cristian says that there used to be way more of them, but we walked out to the lagoon and saw a few sunning themselves anyway—strange and psychedelic. These things thrill rather than surprise these days. Maybe I’ll visit that lake someday soon to see it myself, life’s a strange river.
At night, Cristian, who’s a local guide that let me sleep in his place for 4 weeks, comes back around. We rouse ourselves and head to town as the setting sun stirs it back to life; meandering down the sandy streets sniffing out food or a pick up game of fútbol. Tonight we stop by the corner store for some rum and coke. It never seems like a bad idea to get some cups and walk along the miles long beach scanning for no particular spot that just feels right. The man behind the counter is stoic and keeps a notepad for tracking the return of the 20 oz. bottles of Pilsener. You get a dollar off if you trade in the beer bottles. I hunted down a whole bag of them at one point and turned them in, opening up my own line of credit. Something about my name in that little book of his makes me feel alive and integrated. It’s not a big town and now I’m part of it in some small way.
Back in the states I never drink soda. I find it sickly sweet, and after I cut sugar out of my diet when my mom was fighting cancer the second time, there was an added layer. But out on the beach, as the coke gets warmer and warmer and the waves roar in the background like silence, each sip feels like a kiss.
At times I feel like it could last forever, this moment I’ve stolen from the universe. Cristian grew up here in the Galapagos and as we sit in the sand our group grows by one or two like clockwork; brothers, cousins, neighbors. We sit in silence or make jokes in Spanish that the tourist girls don’t understand. The local boys do love their gringas, and I can’t say it’s not reciprocal.
Life stands still in Isabela if you’re there long enough to experience it. The heat and the sand and the streets lull you into a sort of waking slumber punctuated with the absurd, beautiful and sometimes terrifying. Cristian tells me about a guy who got bit by a tiger shark where we swam just days ago. He also tells me about running from park rangers on illegal hikes up by the volcano. He tells me with pride that the guy on Man v. Wild who tried to walk across the silty lava fields of Isabela failed and had to be rescued. Can’t beat this island, not yet. It’s his and he protects it, but he also wants to play on it like a jungle gym. Each year the government takes back a little more of it. If it’s not by restricting hiking trails, it’s by building mansions on the beach. Cristian knows who owns all of them. This ones an ex-president, that one is owned by a Russian lady. I forget what day it is, I forget why people sit in offices, I forget what you’re supposed to do in the middle of the day besides cat nap and wait for it to cool off.
I remember how many Pilsener’s I have on my tab at the corner store, I remember where my favorite place to swim with the turtles and sea lions is, I remember the euphoria of splashing the bioluminescent plankton at night. The water black and filled with god knows what, but the plankton dripping off my hands are like stars so who cares?
I go back to that place and moment often in my dreams and when riding on the bus to the concrete and glass tower I call home these days. I wonder if I’ll ever remember how to forget what day it is and the responsibilities and the pressure of our definition of life with a capital “L”.
I’m not sure, but I think I’ll taste that salty sweet kiss again. Hopefully soon.