The Galapagos Shipwreck - II

Henri van Bentum,
Victoria BC, Canada

(read Part One here)

Guyaquil, Ecuador
We all booked into the Humboldt Hotel. The boat that would take us to the Galapagos Islands was the "Cristobal Carrier". The vessel had been making the trip for 30 years and was an icon and legend. The Bhikkhu, Irwin Burns, and I went down to the dock to take a look at the ship.

There we found an old-looking, wooden vessel painted a dull grey. Ananda Bodhi, ever-mindful and aware, said as soon as he spotted the ship, "There are not enough lifeboats. Henri, tell them."

We knew that besides our big group were also many locals either returning to work or visiting family on the Galapagos. There were chickens and all sorts of cargo.

Somehow I managed to get the ship's agent to arrange for two more boats which would serve as lifeboats.

It was a Saturday and we were scheduled to sail at 1700 hours.

Eventually, by 1900 hours, we were on our way. There was much fanfare and cries of "Adios!" as we lifted anchor for what was to be another routine sailing for the venerable 'Cristobal Carrier'. The two upper decks were reserved for us. All cabins had upper and lower bunks, while AB had a single-bed cabin.

We were happy to be on our way to these "Darwin" islands, the world-famous Galapagos.

Our group was an eclectic one with artists, ballet dancers, architects, writers — a motley mix of Dharma bums.

We had a magnificent clear, starry night above. Everyone's spirits and expectations were high and we'd all retired for the night.

In the middle of the night, it happened: BOOM! I was thrown out of my bunk and was suddenly clear awake. What on earth could that huge noise have been?

I made my way up to the bridge. There was no-one there. The stars were glittering above in the clear sky. It was four o'clock in the morning.

I looked over the railing and was shocked. Ananda Bodhi suddenly appeared. "What's going on?"

"It looks like we've hit an island and we're shipwrecked!" I replied. "Would you believe it? It looks like the bow of the ship is one-third up onto the rocks".

"Where is everyone?", I asked. "No captain, no pilot or officers on the bridge — in fact, nobody."

The day began to break and now of course everyone was up and about. The "Captain" had left the ship and was sitting on a rock with a bottle of rum in his hands, shaking his head. He was a tramper captain, and could have stepped right out of novel by Somerset Maugham or Steinbeck.

The ship began to list. I went below to get my passport and luggage, as did a few others. Just in time, for now the ship was really listing to starboard.

The tide was low but AB ordered us to get to the highest point of what turned out to be not a very high island.

Children were crying, roosters were crowing. Altogether quite a consternation.

Then I spotted some triangular-shaped fins in the water, telling us not to go out for a swim!

In the meantime the radio operator, the "Marconi man" as he was called, had contacted the mainland and sent out an SOS for help and some boats.

Any hopes of seeing the Galapagos were now smashed.

Ananda Bodhi told us to stay calm. Being the Spanish-speaking member of our group, I was in communicado with the officials. A large schooner would come soon from Posorja, a fishing village, to fetch the women and children first. If no other vessel was available to rescue us, the schooner would return for the men.

The schooner, with terracotta-coloured sails, appeared to everyone's relief. All the women, children and the chickens were boarded and set off.

Many hours later, the men were also picked up and transported to Posorja. There we found all the women and children huddled on the floor of a large fishing warehouse. But not for long, the local people just disappeared, and we men in turn sat down on the floor with the Dharma women.

All the luggage was forwarded to the Humboldt Hotel and AB told me to arrange transportation to get our group back to Guyaquil. However, it was a Sunday afternoon.

Using my best Spanish, I managed to get a big truck which was used to transport fish. We negotiated a price with the driver and were told it was about a 4-5 hour drive to Guyaquil. The teacher and I sat in the front, and everyone else got into the back of the half-open truck.

By now it was getting dark, there were no lights, and the rain began. After an hour the truck came to a halt in the middle of nowhere, pitch black around us. I asked the driver, "Que pasa?"

"I'll take a look", he replied, getting out of the vehicle, lifting the hood and appearing to study the engine.

AB looked at the fuel gauge on the dashboard which showed an empty tank.

Now what? No gasoline, in the middle of nowhere!

The rain turned into a downpour and half of our group in the back of the truck was soaked.

AB was not amused and asked me for some swear words in Spanish.

"Caramba! Bandito!"

"Henri! Get out and hitchhike. I am not sitting and waiting here all night!"

And so yours truly, AB's humble 'dharmapala", got out and stood in the pouring rain on a road 'from here to nowhere' with only the headlights on our truck lighting a few feet of the road.

After awhile, a car stopped. I couldn't believe it — a black Mercedes! (They seem to love Mercedes in South America).

A well-dressed gentleman opened the window slightly. "Que pasa?" he asked. "What's the matter?" It turned out he was the former mayor of Guyaquil. (I refer to this as Miracle Number Two).

When he heard we were the hapless victims of the "Cristobal Carrier" he immediately became helpful; he had already heard of the calamity.

Realizing we were stranded (again!), he invited Ananda Bodhi and me to get in the car. I was in the back, the Teacher in front. My companion in the back seat was a large German shepherd dog who growled at me until the Senor ordered "Calma!"

Senor knew friends who lived further up the highway and who might be able to supply us with some gasoline. Also, he spoke English, which was a help for AB.

So we told the students huddled in the truck that we'd be back and were going to find some gasoline. No one believed us! Small wonder. Middle of the night, pouring rain, just coming off a shipwreck.. no way AB or Henri would return!

After awhile the Mercedes stopped at a metal gate.

I was told to go and ring a long iron 'cord' which I had to pull several times. It must have been around 1 a.m. by now.

Finally in the distance two dim lights appeared. I could see two Chinese lanterns, carried by a Chinese man (!) with one long braid swaying in the wind and rain. (I was not hallucinating!)

He was not amused that someone had awoken him at this hour. Then I pointed to the Mercedes and the Chinaman seemed satisfied. He knew the Senor. I asked for some gasoline, and he slowly turned around and went back along the long path to his house.

It seemed like hours, but 15 minutes later he returned with a large yellow can, full of gasoline. (Miracle Number Three).

"Quanto?" I asked.

"Nada, el Senor paga un otra vez." ("Nothing, the Senor will pay us some other time").

Iit seemed as if we had stepped into the twilight of some fairy tale. We returned to the truck where most of the students were asleep, but once they saw the can of gasoline they gave a huge "Hurrah!" and applauded. Our driver was astonished.

Ananda Bodhi and I carried on in the Mercedes and arrived at the Humboldt Hotel very early that morning. During our ride in the car, the radio was repeatedly broadcasting on the national news the disaster that had befallen the legendary 'Cristobal Carrier' en route to the Galapagos.

The former Mayor seemed to be pleased to have had a hand in getting us all safely back to the hotel.

After breakfast however, Ananda Bodhi called an urgent meeting. He wanted all the money returned that we'd paid for the voyage. I believe it was $450 US per person. And, he said, he wanted the money in small notes! The late Irwin Burns, who knew about finances, and I were delegated to get this done.

Mission impossible? First, we had to find out who owned the 'Cristobal Carrier', or who were the ship's agents.

In the meanwhile, both local newspapers had published a tearjerker story, "It was a foggy night, and I could not see my hand in front of me", the captain was quoted as saying.

Foggy? The stars were sparkling in a clear night sky. And when I got up to the bridge, there was no-one there. Furthermore, there was a lighthouse at each end of the island.

So I called the media. Two reporters, one from each local newspaper, showed up at the Humboldt Hotel. We told them the real story. They printed it. (We still have the articles).

Now, mission $$$. I called the various consulates and embassies, (Canadian, American, Swiss, German, etc.) but it was Monday and their offices were all closed.

It turned out the ship was registered under various names and we had a heck of a time trying to find the party responsible and who could authorize the refunds (and in US dollars).

By now, nobody believed the captain and second mate. The print media were on our side, so was the radio.

Cornered and nowhere to turn, the owner's representative arranged for the local bank to fork over all of our money — mostly in five-dollar bills (as AB had requested). I had bought a large leather shoulder bag, and stacked it full of the money.

In triumph and with a big smile, Irwin and I returned to the Hotel.

It was now Thursday. AB called everyone to the hotel patio and handed each and every one their ship-fare back.

Now, what to do with all our extra time? People had return flights home but not for awhile.

I had noticed a sign somewhere that the 'Da Vinci', an Italian passenger ship, would be in port the next day en route to Callao (Lima), Peru. AB told me to go and find out if there was any space aboard the ship.

I found the ship's agent who told me there was room for six passengers.

The Teacher said the idea would be to go from Lima up to Cuzco and Macchu Picchu.

So six of us sailed aboard Da Vinci and the rest travelled by bus, and we all met up in Lima. From Lima we took the train up to the final stop in the Andes — Huancao.

The Train

This train ride was something else! At least three dozen times we shunted back and forth in order to gain the higher altitudes. A superb feat of engineering. Later, I was reminded of this train trip when we boarded the 'toy train' en route to Darjeeling in India.. same principle.

The train was called 'El Tren del Sol' (the Train of the Sun) because two hours of out Lima, we were over the clouds into a sunny blue sky and clear air. Due to the altitude the train carried oxygen tanks.

From the train station we took a bus to Cuzco with its amazing walls built of huge boulders fitted perfectly together — still a mystery today.

After visiting Cuzco and Oleobamba, we took another train to Macchu Picchu. A new world, another era. (This was 1969, long before the site became the heavily-visited tourist destination it is now).

After Macchu Picchu we all separated. Most returned by train to Lima then connected back home by air.

Steven Gellman, Tony Olbrecht (Sonam, who was not on the Galapagos trip), and one more student accompanied the Teacher from Buenos Aires on a freighter around South America.

Thus ended what turned out to be an extraordinary journey supposedly to the Galapagos but instead took us to Cuzco and Macchu Picchu, thanks to the shipwreck of the 'Cristobal Carrier'.

List of passengers' names as reported in "El Telegrafo", Martes 20 de Mayo, 1969:

"Ted Bieler, Mr. L. Dawson, Mr. and Mrs. Henri van Bentum, Miss C. Boudreau, Miss. H. Rigby, Miss C. Kwiat, Mr. B. Cowen, Mr. I. Burns, Mr. N. Kubota, Mr. S. Gellman, Mr. B. Bamford, Miss Marina Hahn, Miss King, Miss A. Lee, Miss J.Reilly, Mr. R. Malham, Mr. S. Palmer. Mr. S. Ennis, Miss D. Leonard, Mr. P. Page, Miss L. Warner, Mr. Ron Olsen, Mr. Scott Maitland, Mr. Ken Brook, Miss C. Jamieson, Dr. B. Goulden, R. Kalemiarian, Mr. Ed Dryer."

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