Don’t drink and Snorkel. Or maybe do, hell I’m not your mom.
After a few days on Ecuador’s mainland, we decided to hop over to the Galapagos Islands. I suggest not looking out the window on your descent into the airport. Why? Because the airport and landing strip is so teeny tiny that you assume that you will never actually be able to land on it, and you will entertain serious thoughts of your own death as the plane glides lower and lower over the water.
You’ll concoct your own eulogy in your head that you hope is used at your funeral, listing your accomplishments (I won the long jump in 6th grade) and contributions to mankind in general. When you’re sure that there is no possible way that you’re going to make it, you’ll start making compromises with God. And soon enough, you’ll regain feeling in your knuckles, which have turned white from holding on to the arm rest so hard.
The next day we went snorkeling. Early. We got ourselves down to the dock just barely in time to board the boat. On the way to the boat, Annie fell and busted her ass and I dropped my sunglasses into the ocean, which one of the crew members jumped in and salvaged for me. While everyone watched. I feel like I’m always accidentally reinforcing negative stereotypes about Americans.
We headed toward Kicker Rock, where apparently there are a shit ton of white tips, hammerheads and other stars of Shark Week. Maybe it was growing up landlocked, but sharks scare the living bejeezus me. My two traveling companions, however, were very excited to swim toward their impending death.
Our snorkeling instructors were young Galapagoans (that’s probably not right) who answered every question with a completely reassuring “it’s fine.” After a quick tutorial (those seat-belt demonstrations on the plane took longer), they dropped us in the water and told us to stick together, and they’d see us on the other side. Now I know what they literally meant was the other side of the rock, but I couldn’t help feeling as if they were leaving us to meet our maker, jaws style. We started paddling around, and at first we saw the usual suspects: fish in technicolor, whipping through the water. But soon, one of our fellow swimmers raised her head and did the universal sign for SHARK. I almost did the universal sign for I JUST SHIT MY BIKINI, but I kept it together and looked down and there, in the cold water, about 10 feet below us, were sharks. Here’s a little taste of what we saw
It was right around the moment of seeing the sharks that I have to admit that my animal instincts kicked in. I am somewhat ashamed to say it, but I started intentionally swimming on top of people to get away from the sharks. And not just any people, specifically the guy in our group with a bum leg. He had told us all before we arrived that one of his legs was pretty weak, and that he might not be able to be in the water for that long. I thought for sure this guy was the zebra who gets separated from the rest of the group by the hyenas, then is slowly devoured, while the camera cuts away to the rest of the herd running on. But alas, we made it through with all of our limbs intact and got on the boat just as it started to rain.
Apparently you can’t snorkel when its raining. Our itinerary included a couple of more dive spots, but first we would have to wait out the storm. The three of us were more or less keeping to ourselves, chatting about what we had seen while swimming and thinking how lucky the gimpy guy was that the shark wasn’t hungry. Soon it started really coming down and one of the instructors told us we could hide in one of the hulls on the boat to get out of the rain. Before long, the same instructor came back with a bottle of Ecuadorian rum and asked us if we wanted a drink. We answered of course! We thought, why not, one shot, the rain will pass, and we’ll be back in the water before you can say Old Monk (my favorite Indian rum…seriously, its like glory in a glass). Later, when I went to live in India, this same alcohol would made a significant reappearance in my life, but at the time, I just thought it tasted good.
Long story short, it kept raining for a very long time…and so did our drinking. The longer we were down in the hull, the more instructors came down, the more banging on the ceiling and yelling traditional Spanish drinking chants for us to drink (my favorite, translated as “one more and we won’t be able to have sex tonight”). I know what you’re thinking and yes, this totally could have turned into a lifetime movie of the week, but the guys were very un-predatory and eventually the rain let up If there’s one thing I remember from my high school years at the pool, it’s that you’re not supposed to drink and swim. However, apparently this rule doesn’t apply in the pacific ocean, although the instructors did warn that it would be more difficult to navigate with alcohol in our system.
This was an understatement. I felt like I was swimming with beer goggles on…on top of regular goggles. It was disorienting and occasionally scary as I tried to keep track of the boat, the instructor, myself, and any would-be attacking sea lions. Sea lions are super protective about their territory, including underwater, and will bark if they feel you’re starting to cramp their style. Over the next hour, one sea lion, in particular, was not too happy about the fact that a bunch of snorkelers were straying into his backyard, and so like an old man sitting on his porch with a BB gun, he continually threatened us to get the hell off his property. Finally we returned to the boat and drove back to land. As we made our wobbily way off the boat, a couple of the instructors asked us if we wanted to hang out with them later that night This being Sunday, buying or drinking alcohol was illegal, but they knew a guy who knew a guy who didn’t care. So we changed clothes, climbed in a truck and partook in a pretty great adventure.
Again, I understand that this may not have been the safest idea, but really, when have the safest ideas been that much fun? As we made our way up the mountain into a small town, we drank and played music for the guys that they had never heard of (I personally congratulated myself for spreading Wilco and the Avett Brothers around the southern hemisphere). Once we arrived and the initial shock that a bunch of american girls had turned up had subsided, we watched a men’s volleyball match, ate delicious, hot chicken, and played soccer with 15 barefoot, hilarious, adorable kids. We talked to people in our broken spanglish, danced local dances, and generally had a blast. After a little more driving, a lot more drinking, a dinner of rice, beans and really good meat (ending with plates being broken, and us apologizing profusely), we headed home. I woke up the next day thinking what an amazing day that had been, and what had began with a little rain had turned into an adventure I will remember for the rest of my life. Even as I continued to violently throw up for the next hour, I had to think it was worth it.