The Galapagos Shipwreck - I

A Not-Too-Enchanted Voyage to the "Enchanted Islands"
[Part One]

Henri van Bentum

Ananda Bodhi asked me to make arrangements to visit the 'Enchanted Islands', otherwise known as the Galapagos.

A large group of students flew to Miami in early May, 1969 and from there to beautiful Cali, Colombia where we spent a few days. AB gave classes and visited the art colony in Cali while I arranged for a bus to get us to the coastal town of Guyaquil in Equador.

A brand new Mercedes bus became available, along with a husky, moustached Colombian at the wheel. Everyone was in good spirits. AB was in the front seat with me next to him.

We reached the border of Colombia and Equador and went through Customs and Immigration. This went smoothly and our passports were all duly stamped. But what was not expected was that our Colombian bus - our beautiful Mercedes - would not be allowed into Equador.

There had been a recent soccer match between the two countries which led to an uproar and the Equadorians were not on a good footing with their neighbours.

Meanwhile, we had paid for the bus and driver all the way to Guayaquil, and had a heck of a time getting (some) of the money back.

That settled, we continued on our journey, but this time in a dilapidated Equadorian bus with metal seats.

Nevertheless, all the students were in a good mood and were singing popular Beatle's songs of the times such as "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds", "All You Need is Love", "Yellow Submarine", "Octopus Garden", and Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind".

Earlier in the trip, AB had warned everyone not to bring any pot or mind-expanding drugs, so he became suspicious about all that upbeat behaviour.

Being the only member of the group who spoke Spanish, AB asked me to tell the driver to stop. He told everyone to get out of the bus and empty their pockets and bags.

The Teacher collected a good amount of the 'forbidden' spirit-lifters - much to the chagrin of all those caught.

Just before the bus stopped, people were singing "Blowin' in the Wind". True to his Irish-imp nature, AB then threw all the pot over a nearby precipice, singing "And the pot is blowing in the wind".

Always on the lookout for something creative or new, the Teacher said he'd like to go to Inca Pirca which he'd read about.

"Es muy pequeno", our driver said. "It's very small", the site of Inca Pirca. We started to ask about the location. The first three places we enquired said they'd never heard of it. Finally at a local post office, there was one person who knew about Inca Pirca but laughed when we said we wanted to visit the site.

He pointed to a postage stamp and said in Spanish, "That's how small it is!" And that we'd need jeeps or horses to get there.

"Henri!", said Ananda Bodhi, "Get me four or five jeeps!"

That took some time but we did corral them, each with a driver. After negotiating the fare, we were on our way.

Inca Pirca was not your everyday tourist attraction, like the more famous ruins of Mexico and Peru. Only one of the drivers knew where Inca Pirca was located.

Torrential rains had put an obstacle in our path - a washed-out bridge. The jeeps could go no farther.

We continued our journey towards Inca Pirca on foot, criss-crossing ice-cold Andean creeks. The rains did not let up.

"Henri", said the Teacher, "see if you can find us some horses." Off I went, into nowhere. Amazingly, I encountered two gauchos on horseback. I told them our dilemma. They were able to get us eight or nine horses. I negotiated a deal, which included the horses, and two guides. This was what I came to call Miracle Number One.

Ananda Bodhi rode ahead of the pack. Some had to carry on by foot, there weren't enough horses for all of us. The day was getting on by this time and every minute counted if we wanted to get back before dark.

After some time, I asked the horsemen if it was far to go to reach Inca Pirca.

"This is it", they replied. I told AB and here we were, literally on top of the ruins of Inca Pirca. Drenched but happy. We made it! The site was basically a rubble of unremarkable stones, and without the guides, we would have ridden right over the site.

"That's all?", the Teacher asked in disbelief. "Si Senor, es todo". Yes, Sir, that's all."

We spent no more than half an hour at Inca Pirca. And back we went to rejoin the jeeps where a few students had stayed behind.

So they were not joking back at the post office, about the size of Inca Pirca.

Nevertheless, it felt like high adventure in the high Andes of Equador.

The scenery was magnificent. In the distance there was a snow-capped volcano, nearer us were waving tall grasses and grains - and once in a while the sun peeking through rainclouds complete with rainbows.

We made it back to the jeeps by dusk. One of the gauchos exchanged his whip (I still have it) for my sunglasses - yes, sunglasses in the pouring rain!

The drive through the Equadorian Andes was unforgettable, and when we finally descended in Guyaquil on the coast, the temperature had changed gradually from 5C to 32C degrees, with high humidity.

Galapagos, here we come!

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