30 March, 2018: We had never planned to be in The Galapagos for Easter, but now that we were here, we were going to join in the Easter celebrations on the island. We were up at crack of dawn on Good Friday as the fumigators arrived at 8am, a certificate being a mandatory part of the entrance requirements. They arrived early and we had a drink together first - they were keen to hear all about all our travels to the Galapagos. As recommended by the officials the day before, we had arranged on VHF Channel 14 to be picked up by Bone (spelled Bone, pronounced Boneh) in his water taxi. Using our own dinghy was prohibited and it soon became clear that it was a safety measure designed to protect visitors as much as the wildlife - the harbour is heaving with sealions, and while pups are cute, beware protective Mums and aggressive males, as there are five cases a month of bites here apparently. When Bone turned up we registered we were both wearing the same distinctive cross that ends in an anchor with a heart though the middle, mine being a present from my brother Jonathan, just before leaving La Rochelle. It was a sign, hermano! And it was Bone who gave us directions to the local church.
First though, we met up with RAFTKIN and PELIZENO at a local hipster cafe, where the hammocks strung up in the shade reminded Isabelle of cocooning in her circus silks at home... we could be in Hoxton! I was able to order my double-shot non-dairy coffee, made with home-pressed almond milk, and tucked into a break-feast of creamy avocados, relishing sopping up the runny yolks of perfectly poached eggs with freshly baked sourdough, before remembering that it was meant to be a day of fasting and abstinence. Oops!
We walked off the breakfast afterwards going in search of the church and I was surprised to discover it was actually the cathedral, a bright, airy, modern, white-washed affair with sealions carved into the wooden doors, and flamingos, iguanas and boobies adorning the stained glass windows. Inside, as well, the pictures bore testimony to the wonder of the natural world, there was a sense of the building being very much in harmony with its environment.
Mass was at 6.30pm and we returned later that day, dropped off by Bone again, to find people milling around, sitting on the wall outside, enjoying the last moments of the cool evening breeze while they could. About quarter of an hour before the service was due to start, an altar boy strode out with a wooden clacker board that he wielded as he ceremoniously marched up and down the street, calling the faithful to prayer. Five minutes later, we slipped in and took a pew near the back. There were about 50 people sitting down, and it was a bit disheartening to see the cathedral so empty, this was after all one of the most important days of the year in the Church's calendar. I wondered if maybe, in such a location, Darwin trumped the Pope in the survival of the fittest. A spritely Franciscan nun walked up and down the aisle, stopping at the end of each pew in turn. She paused beside us, looking quizzically, and asked me: "Hablas español?" "Pues sí, hermana" I replied, and she graced us with a couple of prayer cards.
The Mass started, and in processed the Bishop, in glorious scarlet with a pink zucchetto on his head, followed by a rather handsome parish priest, also in red, and then 24 penitents in robes, faces covered with pointed hoods reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan. The kids jaws dropped. Well, all of our jaws dropped to be honest. Intellectually, I knew this was part of the Semana Santa tradition that predates, by centuries, the cult of the white supremicists in the United States, and the fact that the penitents were in Lenten purple softened the association, but still, I found it a rather sinister sight and I had some explaining to do to the kids later.
The service was as penitential in its length as its content, lasting a good couple of hours. I noticed the only other gringos slipped out before Bishop Patricio had even started on sermon, while the rest of the congregation, obviously in the know, turned up in dribs and drabs until they numbered over several hundred, standing room only at the back and spilling out onto the street. While the bishop preached, my mind wandered briefly to the story of the first bishop to set foot on the islands, several centuries before. Heading to Peru, his ship had been caught in the doldrums and pulled off course by the strong currents. Running on empty, they sighted land but salvation turned out to be hell on earth as the inhospitable terrain yielded neither food nor water, and several of the crew died. Eventually they found a small spring, enough to tide them over and set sail again, never to return to this godforsaken place. How times have changed.
Our modern Bishop Patricio was like a latter day Oscar Romero, grounded in progressive liberation theology, exhorting the congregation to stand up against corruption, speak the truth at whatever the cost, and throw of the shackles of the passions that enslave us. Passion Friday indeed. Much of this was lost in translation for Francis and Isabelle, while Catherine simply fell fast asleep. It was something of an endurance test, but, as Darwin says, attitude is the difference between an ordeal and an adventure. I tried to chivvy the kids along, observing that it wasn’t every day they would find themselves in a cathedral, on a tiny island off the coast of South America, receiving Holy Communion from the Bishop. Thank heavens for that, muttered Isaballe, we certainly had to suffer for it! Still, the moment we walked into that church we had been welcomed in with smiles and nods from all around, and we felt all the more uplifted for that connection. It was quite some education too, and talk all the way home ranged from cults in religion to politics, both in North and South America.
When we got back to the taxi pontoon, our hearts sank to see the place overrun by sealions, not a sign of a water-taxi, and no response on the VHF. Then, out of nowhere, materialised a group of young naval cadets on a training exercise in vest tops and shorts accompanied by their Captain in a smart, white uniform, like some Latin Richard Gere. Both an officer and a gentleman, he quickly commandeered a dinghy belonging to one of the cruise liners to take us back, and stood between us and a grumpy bull as we boarded safely. Back at the boat, we shooed off the stowaways on our steps, poured the kids into bed (they didn’t need to be asked twice!) and ourselves a restorative glass of red wine. A very Good Friday indeed!