Attitude, Darwin once wrote, is the difference between an ordeal and an adventure. These words had particular resonance for LA CIGALE during our time on Isabela, as one by one Xavier, then Isabelle and Francis dropped like flies, struck down by a nasty stomach bug doing the rounds around the cruising community. It wasn't until our last day on Isabela that Xavier and Francis were able to get out and about, and we decided to take it gently. While the girls took their papa for a magical trip back along Sendero de los flamencos up to the tortoise sanctuary, Francis and I hired a couple of bikes in Puerto Villamil and headed to the Muro de las Lágrimas - the Wall of Tears - built by political prisoners and convicts between 1945-1959. It was a construction that, like the Panama Canal, resulted in thousands of death in the process. But while the deaths of Canal labourers were caused by misadventure and malaria, and the end result a testimony to human endurance and enterprise, this senseless wall was designed simply to inflict cruelty on those constructing it, and now bears witness to man's inhumanity to man. Lest we forget. Doesn't really sound as though we were taking it easy, does it?! But Francis and I were interested in the history, and the ride itself we was a mere 5km (half the distance to Fort San Lorenzo in Panama - click here for post). In the end, it was more of a pilgrimage that could well be called El Camino de Lágrimas, throwing up a number of hurdles along the way, and we fell at the last one.
We had known in advance that the terrain would be a bit sandy at points, gravelly at others, too much for the narrow wheels of our Brompton bikes, and so we hired a couple of mountain bikes for three dollars an hour. "Siguen todo recto!" advised the bike shop owner. It was already 4.30pm in the afternoon and we had a good hour before it started to get dark. We could make it there and back in that time, no problem, right? Wrong. I had underestimated just how thick the sand was - the track ran parallel to the beach for the first couple of kilometres and had drifted over so much we quickly ground to a halt and walked. And then it turned out the 5k actually began with the sign at the taxi drop off point for walkers go any further, a couple of kilometres along, so in reality more like 7k. We also took a few minutes out looking at the ominous grey clouds on the horizon before we freewheeled down the hill of the Camino de Tortugas, for while we were excited at the prospect of seeing tortoises in the wild, as the name indicated, the tree-tunnel was less inviting, lined as it was with manzanillo trees. The manzanillo is a tree we knew well from the Caribbean whose small apple(manzana)-like fruit are deadly poisonous, but worse, if it rained as it threatened, the water would turn to acid as it passed through the leaves. Well, it hadn't rained here yet, and we could always make a dash for it. Once through the tunnel, the sheer beauty of the views caused further delay as I stopped to take photos at the miradores or look-out points along the way, still thinking we had time on our side.
Despite the slow progress we were making, it was great to be out there just enjoying ourselves, living in the moment, and the parts where we had to get down and walk made for quality Mum and son chat time. It always amazes me how much Francis, and I believe boys in general, open up when they are alongside, say on car journeys or hikes, or chatting with lights out at night, rather than face to face. I think it is because on such occasions, there is no pressure to speak, we can simply be. We kept going. Just five more minutes, I kept on reassuring him, it's only 2k to go after all. It was only after the third time I promised this that I realised the signs weren't indicating 2k at all, but flagging the 20k speed limit! By this point we were 45 min into the journey. As some locals overtook us I called out, asking how far was left. It turned out it was only 15 minutes to go, but that would mean an extra half an hour there and back. On top of that I then learned there was a half an hour walk along the wall to the cliff at the end when we got there if we really wanted to appreciate the experience. Time was running out - it was low tide this evening, the rocks are a nightmare for dinghies returning to anchorage, as we had found out when cuffing our propeller on a rock the night before. In the dark downright it would be downright dangerous for those like us, unfamiliar with routes weaving round. It was time to call it quits.
It was only when we were on the way back that Francis let his relief show. To be honest, Mum, I'm still feeling wiped out and I think that last bit would have finished me off, but I didn't want you to have to go on a bike ride on your own and thought I'd keep you company. Despite that relief, he was still crestfallen on my behalf that we hadn't made it to the Wall. Eventually, though, I managed to convince him that it wasn't the destination that mattered to me, but the time out with him, and that whatever happens in life, whether we succeed or fail, it's the journey, and giving it our best shot, that counts. Not quite the philosophy of survival of the fittest, but I like to think it's an attitude to which Darwin would have subscribed.