Extraction from the islands....

Trip Start Jan 04, 2008
Trip End Apr 08, 2008

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Flag of Ecuador  ,
Friday, March 21, 2008

I spend a few days beyond my boat tour in Puerto Ayora, a tiny town on Santa Cruz in the Galapagos.    I want to see what kind of environmental work is going on here and just hang out on the beach a bit after my time on the boat.  But the first thing I have to do is get over seasickness....or actually landsickness.   I feel worse coming back to land, where there is no rocking, than I ever felt on the boat.   Keep thinking I'm going to be sick so I don't eat much and just move slowly.  But the second day on land is fine and I check in with Sea Shepherds, a group of envt'l activists with a reputation for extremism.   I spend a long time talking with the folks there and find that they feel most useful in providing assistance to the National Park Service in achieving their conservation goals.  They're also buying search dogs trained to sniff out illegally poached things like shark fins and sea cucumbers.   The aquatic area of the park is enormous and it's difficult to patrol so Sea Shepherd is working to facilitate that.  I guess they just recently found a whole stockpile of illegal goods heading out of the country...I hear that Japan is the biggest offender...they provide the market for not only sea cucumbers and shark fins but seal penises.    Now the cucumbers get eaten, the shark fins are used to make soup and for their supposed healing ability...but the seal penises?  Don't know what they're used for.  But the ecosystem gets turned upside down with the uncontrolled harvest of all three...
I also spend time with Wild Aid...a group that's been here for quite some time....led by this British wild-grey-haired man who is very willing to share his knowledge and experience with me.  Wild Aid also works with the Park Service....they put out some very explicit magazines and pamphlets outlining the problems....I speak with a scientist from France who has been studying the fresh water supply on the Galapagos...that's really interesting to me...the islands restrict population growth...they have a very limited supply of water, inadequate sewage treatment, plus they deal with the issue of salt water infiltration.  I'm realizing that there is this whole undercurrent of envt'l concern beneath all the visible tourism.  
I'm really excited about spending the day with a bunch of scientists at the Charles Darwin Research Center.   I get some great interviews.... many of the scientists are other than Ecuadorian, but there are also a significant number of locals working at the center.   I'm told that the inclusion is very intentional...if anything is to be accepted by locals it needs to be initiated by locals.   And it is the enthusiasm and drive of the employee more so than the academic background that results in successful projects.   I meet with people trying to control invasive species....and what a task that is!  But in this self-contained ecosystem the goal is to eliminate non-natives.   So there are massive weeding projects and a nursery for native veg plus PR in the community to ensure that all plantings are with native plants.  
I move over to the folks working on the marine reserve and learn all sorts of stuff....too extensive to go on about at this point but detailed in a video interview.   I'm so impressed with the scope of the work done here and with the sincere intention and commitment of the staff...AND with their willingness to dialogue with me and show me around.  Their work makes me think about the world's capacity to become one interwoven ecosystem, bounded only by climatic regions.  The Galapagos is very intentionally striving to maintain its ecological uniqueness....one of the few, maybe the extensive area on the Earth with the ability to do so at this point.   I'd love to spend more time here...to volunteer for 6 months, a year....if I could...maybe down the line...it's an option...
But for now it's off back to Quito...to reconnect with Lisa...and to go to the infamous Holy Friday celebration....I've seen pictures....want to be there in person for the parade thru the streets.  

March 21 Holy Friday...
So it's the Friday before Easter...and it may seem that I keep reporting in on these religious themes...well one doesn't have to search hard to realize that Catholicism is a cornerstone of life here...the uniformity of religious belief as compared to the diversity in the US is striking.  And the integration of that religion into all parts of living.   No separation of church and state...or church and anything else.   So the parade....
Quite a scene...I guess there are other places in the world that celebrate similarly but I've never seen anything quite like this.  Lots of men dressed up as Jesus and carrying these heavy weight crosses for miles in the street...barefoot and sweating...worn down...crown of thorns (looks more like barbed wire) and all...exhausted by the end.  Others with long railroad tie-like pieces of  wood across their shoulders...some with chains around their ankles...everyone has their burden...and I believe there's a sort of atonement going on here for past regressions.   And then there are just loads of people, mostly men, with purple hooded robes on with eye holes...kind of freaky given our history of similarly pointed-head white robes in the states.   Well you check out the photos and see for yourselves...maybe you've been to such an event already...But on this day in Quito, there are throngs of people in the streets....everyone is out...not only for the whole very serious religious theme going on for Semana Santa  but also to socialize and to festivalize... Quito at its best as far as I'm concerned...must be time to move on...

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