Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos 2016 / by William Bryan

After scrambling off the boat from San Cristóbal and sitting in our hotel for 30 minutes, staring at the wall and waiting for it to stop moving up and down like the ocean, we climbed into a car and drove up into the highlands to a Giant Tortoise reserve. As we made out way inland we ran into a problem: a rope was strung across the narrow roadway with odd looking women holding it up on either side — a Galapagos roadblock.

As the car slowed to a halt in front of the rope we realized what was odd about the ladies in question – they were men. (At this point I should mention that this was December 31st on the Galapagos Islands, not everyone’s first thought for the most exciting New Year’s Eve parties.) Our guide explained as he handed a “woman” a few dollars out the window: every year on New Year’s Eve the local guys dress up as women (oranges for breasts, ratty, knotted black wigs, their mom’s nightgowns, and their little sister’s slippers) and hold up the tourists driving around the island for a few dollars here and there. “It’s to support my family,” they scream in comically desperate voices, but it’s really for beers on New Year’s Eve.

After supporting the beer beggars we wound up the dirt road and arrived at the Tortoise reserve. We climbed out of the car, donned tall rain boots, and struggled through the mud for a few minutes before out guide stopped and, in a hushed tone, said “I see three Tortoises, can you guys spot them?”

I looked around eagerly and saw a lot of tall grass, trees, a lake, plenty of mud to go around, and a few boulders. It took me a second to realize that every boulder that I saw had a wide path of flattened grass leading up to it. Then the boulder nearest us picked up it’s head and started eating.

I’d love to say that Giant Tortoises are fascinating creatures, but they don’t do much other than eat. What’s most interesting is that the prehistoric creatures are still around, very slowly eating their way through their 100+ year lifespans. After finishing up our time with the tortoises we explored a lava cave and then made our way back into town for Santa Cruz Island’s version of New Years.

A local band played rough covers of popular Spanish and U.S. pop songs while a crowd of tourists drank $2 beers and bobbed their heads. After a beer or two I realized how tired I was from the day’s — and week’s — activities so we made our way to back to our hotel and fell asleep at 10 p.m.

Two days later we found ourselves on another sickening boat ride, but this time it wasn’t to get us from island to island, this was a fishing trip (yes, it’s legal to fish in the Galapagos, surprisingly). We trolled around in the deep Pacific waters off the coast of Santa Cruz Island for no more than 20 minutes before the fishing pole nearest me jumped and the familiar ticking of the reel letting out line clacked over the sound of the boat’s engine.

Not knowing what to do I looked around at the crew, waiting for them to take up the pole and start cranking. They all looked back at me and said “Go!” I jumped out of my seat and awkwardly grabbed the pole and struggled to crank, repeating the motion of pulling back on the pole and then cranking as fast as I could while I let the pole’s tip dip back towards the ocean’s surface, before heaving up on it again.

After about five minutes of my struggling a crew member realized that whatever fish we had hooked was much too big for my amateur fishing skills, so he grabbed the pole from my hands and continued the task of trying to tire out the fish. After another 10 minutes we finally had the 50-pound Yellowtail Tuna hooked and in the boat. Best Sashimi I’ve ever tasted.