The Galapagos Affair

The remote island of Floreana, Galapagos. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Floreana, Galapagos; Monday, March 12, 2018

Floreana might be the coolest Galapagos island you’ve never heard of. This morning, Lindblad Expeditons-National Geographic  National Geographic Endeavour II was at anchor off a landing site known as Punta Cormorant, just in time for an early morning walk that disembarked at 6:30am.

When you go ashore, you have to move two little pegs on a board at the stern of the ship by the zodiac embarkation platform. This lets the crew know you’re either “onboard” or “ashore”, as the ship operates on a keyless system. You don’t even need a key for your stateroom door, as doors are left unlocked (but can be locked from the inside).

The Walk of Life

National Geographic Endeavour II, at anchor off Floreana early in the morning. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Hot, humid and sticky, the sun had barely broke over the horizon when we set out on the ship’s zodiacs for shore. Despite the early hour, this walk was quite well-attended, and it served as an excellent way to start the day. Someone remarked that it was Monday morning. If only every Monday could begin this way.

An easy 400-metre long trail leads to a secluded beach area, where giant sea turtles lay their eggs. I didn’t see any, though once again, evidence that they’d been there is easy to find. In the case of the giant sea turtle, it leaves tracks that look like a Caterpillar Bulldozer came through the beachhead just before us. These disappear into nothingness as the tide erases them from the sand, leaving the turtles to escape from our prying eyes and clicking cameras.

Nothing like an early-morning stroll through the Galapagos! Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

This gorgeous early-morning walk also stopped at a lagoon along the trail’s halfway point, where dozens of pink flamingos were lazily ambling about its brackish (though highly-reflective) waters. You’ll want your binoculars or telephoto lenses for this one, as the flamingos are quite a way off.

We came back onboard just as breakfast was starting at 8:00am in the Restaurant, and I had time for a quick shower before popping downstairs for some fruit and an omelette. Breakfasts onboard are fantastic, with a great selection of hot and cold items, served up with at least one local specialty each and every day. I really appreciate that little touch of authenticity.

Through a wooded trail…Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

…we spotted flamingos…Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

…before arriving at the beach. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

After breakfast, most guests hit the waters for some snorkeling, though I admit I stayed onboard to read my book. And that’s okay – you’re free to opt in or out of activities as you see fit. And the choices for this morning were plenty: guests could take in a glass-bottomed boat ride; go for a Zodiac cruise along the shoreline to search for wildlife; or go deep-water snorkelling in Champion Islet.

I popped up onto the ship’s upper Sun Deck to watch the action. National Geographic Endeavour II has one of the best sundecks. Simple and uncluttered, it provides plenty of seating and sun tanning opportunities, as well as great views forward, aft, and on either side.

I also enjoyed re-acquainting myself with Floreana’s bizarre history.

The Baroness of Floreana

Guests from Lindblad Expeditions stroll along Champion Islet, Floreana. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

In 1929, Dr. Fredrich Ritter ran off with his lover, Dore Strauch, and left Berlin, bound for Floreana. Both wanted to leave the civilized world, and the remote, barren confines of Floreana offered just such an escape. Apparently unconcerned about the sun, the two walked around naked frequently, only dressing when visitors came. And visitors did come.

Word made it back to Europe that the good Doctor and his lover were living a freewheeling lifestyle in the remote Galapagos, and newspapers of the time lured other curiosity-seekers to the island.

One of the new arrivals was an eccentric Austrian woman named Eloise Wagner de Bousquet. Highly unbalanced, she arrived with an entourage of farm animals and her two lovers, Rudolf Lorenz and Robert Philippson. She promptly declared herself “The Baroness” and began parading around the island with a pistol and a bullwhip and little else.

Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

When she wasn’t terrorizing Dr. Ritter, The Baroness was coming up with half-baked plans to build a resort on the island for the ultra-rich. Construction started, but the entire job was done in a hasty and slipshod manner and eventually consisted of just four posts and a tarp roof.  She continued to antagonize Ritter and Strauch and the few other inhabitants on Floreana and played her two lovers off each other for her affections.

In 1934, just as she was really ratcheting up the crazy, The Baroness disappeared, along with her boy-toy Philippson. They were never seen or heard from again, and their remains have never been found.

The National Geographic Endeavour II awaits…Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

…and provides a great vantage point for some wildlife watching and sun worshiping. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Plenty of outdoor seating…Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

…lines the decks. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Lorenz, meanwhile, was pretty eager to get off Floreana once it was clear neither would be coming back. He bribed a passing Norwegian fisherman to take him to the mainland, but he didn’t get far: his skeletonized remains were found several months later on a neighbouring island.

Now rid of The Baroness and her lovers, you’d think Dr. Ritter would have stripped back down to his birthday suit and resumed a life of just letting it all hang out. But that’s where you’d be wrong. You see, Dr. Ritter keeled over and died suddenly after eating spoiled chicken soup. Which surprised a lot of people: the good doctor was a staunch vegetarian.

Fortunately, we weren’t having chicken soup for lunch.

Sent From Post Office Bay

Heading ashore…Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

…to Post Office Bay. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

After lunch, the choices continued. The kids – of which there are many on this voyage – were invited to design their own postcards in the early afternoon up in the Library aft on Deck 4; while the adults rested or socialized in the lounge. There’s good reason for this: after a barrage of cool activities this afternoon, including zodiac rides, kayaking, paddleboarding, and free time at the beach, all guests would go to Post Office Bay.

Post Office Bay began in the late 1700’s, when British captain James Colnett set up a mailing outpost on Floreana. One of the few islands with a fresh water source, Floreana was a natural provisioning site, and the mail outpost served as a way to send letters back home. Incoming ships would drop off sacks of mail, and outgoing ships would transport it to England or America.

Mail is still sent and received here the old-fashioned way. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Although the original barrel has long since been replaced, this tradition has carried on for over 200 years. Today, tourists – not whaling ships – drop postcards off here in the hopes that someone on another voyage will stop and pick them up.

Here’s how this works: everyone gathers around the mail barrel and sorts through the postcards, looking for those with addresses corresponding to the state or province that you’re from. When you find a postcard that is in or near your own town or city, you set it aside and take it back home with you.

Sort through the postcards to see which ones are geographically close to you (close enough to hand-deliver, that is!)…Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

…and be sure to leave one of your own. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Now, the catch: tradition stipulates that this mail has to be hand-delivered to the recipient. So, I found two postcards from the area where I live, so I’ll be taking a few road trips in the coming weeks to deliver them to their owners. One lady from our ship took a postcard from Newfoundland, Canada, with the rationale that she’d always wanted to visit and this gave her the perfect reason to do so.

I also left a postcard in the mailbox at Post Office Bay. I chose a postcard with a great picture of the National Geographic Endeavour II (the nicest-looking vessel in the Galapagos, I think!), so we’ll see if that works its way back to me.

Sunset over Post Office Bay…Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

…as guests return to the ship. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Evenings here onboard are very pleasant. We had cocktail hour in the main lounge at 6:45pm, followed by dinner in the main restaurant at 7:30pm. After that, David Attenborough’s Galapagos – Chapter 1: Origin was shown in the lounge. I couldn’t quite make it. Exhausted after a long day of sun and adventure, I turned in just as we dropped anchor for the night off Puerto Aroya, on the island of Santa Cruz.

Another gorgeous Galapagos sunset. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Our Voyage Report onboard Lindblad-National Geographic’s Endeavour II in the Galapagos Islands continues tomorrow as we explore Santa Cruz Island and the Giant Tortoises of the Galapagos. Follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog.

To The Galapagos Islands with Lindblad Expeditions

March 10, 2018San Cristobal, Galapagos; Embarkation
March 11Espanola, Galapagos
March 12Floreana, Galapagos
March 13Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz, Galapagos
March 14Santa Cruz, Galapagos
March 15Bartolome, Galapaogs
March 16Genovesa, Galapagos
March 17, 2018Baltra, Galapagos; disembarkation and onward journey home

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