Route map (click on map for larger version)
Floreana (click on map for larger version)
(from Google Earth)
Note: If you want to skip the text and just see the photos with brief descriptions, you can do that here. The first 5 are from Post Office Bay; the next 4 are from Devil’s Crown.
Named for Ecuador’s first president—Juan José Flores, elected in 1830—Floreana is also called Santa Maria (after the flagship of Columbus’s 1492 expedition) and Charles Island. Floreana was the first island to be inhabited by humans. Since it is one of the oldest islands in the archipelago, erosion has been underway for many thousands of years. As a result, soil has formed—and this soil, coupled with a decent fresh water supply from an artesian spring in the southeastern highlands, allowed humans to scratch out a bit of a living on this island. These early settlers introduced many non-native species, such as cattle, donkeys, and goats; as a result, the island’s population of Giant Tortoises was extirpated in the mid-1850s.
Post Office Bay is a small bay on the northwest shore of Floreana and one of the few spots in the archipelago that is visited for its human history. In the late 1700s, whaling was an important industry; ships were often away from their home ports for as long as 5 years. Because of its accessibility, Post Office Bay was a common stopping spot for many of them. In 1793, British navigators placed a large wooden barrel on shore at Post Office Bay as a place to leave messages and mail for homeward-bound sailors to pick up and deliver once they returned home. (During the War of 1812, a U.S. Navy Captain cleverly intercepted messages at this spot and was therefore able to round up a million tons of cargo being shipped in the region’s waters.) The non-spy aspects of the mailing tradition have continued to the present day, now providing a unique way for tourists to send postcards home. Carlos had passed out postcards from the Tip Top fleet the evening before. Those who wanted to could fill them out and address them to wherever they wished. Z and I wrote one to Z’s brother’s family in Cary, NC.
Since it’s a popular spot, we headed out for Post Office Bay a bit earlier in the morning, to beat the crowds. Once we landed, Carlos spun the tale of the barrel at Post Office Bay. He then opened the barrel’s door and pulled out several plastic bags stuffed with postcards. We each took a stack to see if any were from places near where we would be returning, so we could deliver them ourselves. I found one that was headed to Castle Rock—perhaps 30 miles from our home in the Denver area—that had been left exactly one week before. I tucked it into Z’s backpack. Several others found postcards to take along as well. (By the way, the postcard we left for Cary, NC was picked up by a traveler from that area on a National Geographic tour and hand-delivered only about 3 weeks after we had dropped it off. We, in turn, made contact with the senders of the postcard from Castle Rock and met them for lunch later in the month to swap stories and photos.)
The site looked a bit like a trash pile, with pieces of memorabilia and messages left in the area of the barrel (right)—one of the few places that the Parque Nacional Galápagos seems to, at least unofficially, tolerate such “littering.” An interesting stylized portrait of a 1940s sailor, looking almost like a photograph, decorated the back of the barrel (left). Beyond the barrel, the trail passed the remnants of buildings from a short-lived Norwegian fish-canning industry from the 1920s.
Continued on p. 2; click below.