Brother in My Backpack: Voyage to the Purple Shores of Galápagos

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Otto strolls down a small beach on Isla San Cristobal, Galàpagos. Photo by Everett Redus.

Otto strolls down a small beach on Isla San Cristobal, Galàpagos. Photo by Everett Redus.

Editor’s Note: Everett Redus, 21, of Baytown, Texas, now one of four surviving brothers, has been traveling south to Patagonia, carrying and spreading the ashes of his slain older brother, Cameron, a senior honors student at the University of the Incarnate Word who was fatally shot by a campus policeman outside his off-campus apartment on Dec. 6, 2013. Sunday marks the two year anniversary of his death.

Friends and family will attend a candlelight vigil Sunday at 6 p.m. at the tree planted in Cameron’s honor on the UIW campus. Click here for details.

The Rivard Report has invited Everett to publish periodic dispatches as he makes his way south and awaits word on a wrongful death lawsuit filed by his family against UIW and the police officer. Read more about Cameron’s life, death, and the aftermath here. Donate to Everett’s trip via his GoFundMe campaign here.

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The last week of sailing from Panama had been rough. We battled a southwesterly headwind that came directly from our destination. When we dropped anchor in the Galápagos, on Isla San Cristóbal, the Alabama needed many repairs. She was as ready for port as I.

My travel companion Otto and I were translators for the numerous officials who came on board requiring this or that. Gaining entry was not at all an easy process. In the delicate and diverse ecosystem, there are many procedures to be taken by any vessel entering the island group. After fumigation, hull cleaning and a thorough inspection were completed with heavy fees attached to each, we were given clearance.

I went to shore and began to take in what had always been one of my dream destinations. Cameron and I had been in Ecuador before and had badly wanted to come here, but just weren’t able to. Now we had made it in a way.

Otto and I enjoyed ourselves thoroughly as we became acquainted with the towns inhabitants – close to 1 million sea lions and a couple humans.  We stayed on land that first night, appreciating the room to roam that you are denied on board.

We attributed all the cuts and bruises we received to sea legs grown unaccustomed to walking on a static surface. It was increasingly difficult to walk a straight line, or sit still without rocking from side to side. What a strange, relaxing sensation to sit on solid ground.  At sea, even in fair weather, you are constantly working your muscles. While walking, standing, sitting, or lying down, your leg and core muscles never stop working to keep you from falling over. It can take many hours to for the body to reset its equilibrium, so the freshly landed sailor must put up with rolling streets and rocking tables for a while.

After the maritime custom carousing we were a little worse for wear, with the aforementioned cuts and bruises and a nasty sea lion bite on Otto’s forearm, which he earned by getting too cozy with one of the happily resting creatures on the dock.

After this improper introduction to the local wildlife, we set out to experience the island in some of its more open climes. I packed a few things into the ditty bag I had sewn from an old sail, and with Otto, my inexhaustible companion at my side, headed out along the shore. We immediately found this place to be different from anywhere else we had been before.

A marine iguana suns himself on a beach in the Galápagos Islands. Photo by Everett Redus.

A marine iguana suns himself on a beach in the Galápagos Islands. Photo by Everett Redus.

The Galapágos are not tropical islands, but are covered with dry brush and rocks. Through these we traversed, spending much more time off the trail than on it. We rounded point after point, climbing across rocks just above the spray of the waves. One had to be careful not to step on creatures that blended perfectly with the stones. You could be right on top of them before you noticed the three-foot long iguana resting in your path. At the last moment they would scurry off and slither into the sea, a feat these reptiles were long believed to be incapable of doing.

After sitting and thoroughly observing the iguanas, we would move on, only to walk right into a group of pelicans and blue-footed boobies that were as reluctant to give up their perch as we were to go back. So a treaty was made and we passed peacefully and reverently through their territory, our faces not two feet away from their beaks, which seem much more carnivorous up-close than they do from afar.

A pelican and blue-footed booby keep watch over the sea. Photo by Everett Redus.

A pelican (right) and blue-footed booby keep watch over the sea. Photo by Everett Redus.

Long breaks were taken to sift through sand shells on the small beaches. Among the many unknown varieties I found, there was one type in particular that piqued my interest. There was an endless supply of thin spindly objects, solid in consistency, brilliant purple in color, and found all widths and lengths. When examined closely, their exterior was finely detailed in a pattern that strongly resembled lizard skin. It wasn’t until later, while diving under the boat, that we learned of their origin. They seemed to be a sort of calcite that grows on the outside of sea urchin spines, eventually enveloping them.

We thought ourselves intrepid naturalists having effectively solved this mystery. This made us eager to go and uncover more, to gain greater knowledge and understanding, but mainly for our own childlike amusement. Our pockets full of these tinkling treasures, we sought out a suitable place to sleep and found a spot as comfortable as any other. By the morning we had formed an intimate relationship with the Galapágos mosquito.

At port it is my intention to stay as long as possible on land, but with so much work required on the boat, this was made difficult. I was sent up the mast to build a platform and remount the radar unit, which had been knocked off by a loose halyard in a squall. We had much sewing to do on torn sails. And the refueling and stocking of fresh water here was more difficult than ever before. There was no barge to pull up to, so the fuel was brought to the boat in in 10-gallon drums, hoisted up by halyards and lowered down through the hatch to me in the engine room, where I pumped them into the tanks, sent up the empty containers and waited for the next ones.

Everett Redus repairs the radar unit on the mast of the Alabama. Photo courtesy of Everett Redus.

Everett Redus repairs the radar unit on the mast of the Alabama. Photo courtesy of Everett Redus.

Obtaining over 500 gallons of diesel in this slow manner took several days. At the same time, the water was brought in five-gallon jugs and siphoned down into the tanks. Using such unconventional methods caused much running about on my part, since every spoken word had to translated to the locals who were being paid to assist us, even though I bore the majority of the work. The fact never escaped my attention that if Otto and I did not speak Spanish, an ungodly amount of money would be paid for someone to come aboard with tour guide English and accomplish far less than us, with our familiarity of the boat and what needs to be done. Knowing this made it increasingly difficult to stomach the fiery curses and reprimands that flowed often from the captain, and even more when it was unwarranted.

The only way to escape from dwelling on injustices was to go to land and immerse ourselves in the indifference of nature. We returned many times to the secluded beach where we had camped. There was nothing unsuitable about that place. We would swim through the surf, trailing behind marine iguanas and sea turtles, or sit peacefully beside the baby sea lion that made such ridiculous noises while waiting for its mother. We went hunting for bones, teeth and other necklace materials, or just lounge beneath our tree hosting hermit crab races, in which I am still undefeated to this day.

There was so much to simply be observed in that diverse place. Studying the birds took up much of my time, just as it has since I was young. I noted all the different manners and methods between the species. The stalky, bullet-like boobies that dove with alarming speed only to surface some 5 seconds later, took two web-footed hops on the water before achieving flight. This was a contrast to the lofty and elegant frigate birds lowering to the surface and nipping a fish with the slightest sideways dip of the head, as if they were wholly terrified of contact with the water. Yet they often shared a branch in the same tree. I only wished to know their language and listen in on their discourse. Does the frigate daintily complain in his high pitched peets of the boobie’s brutish habits and lack of finesse? Thus did my imagination run, and run frequently.

I would have chosen to stay there for a much longer time, but it was the captain’s schedule, not mine, that we kept. I said goodbye once again to my veritable friend, for it was here that Otto left the boat for reasons of his own that I was not wholly unsympathetic towards.

Despite all the wonders left to discover, and the formative state of my island knowledge , I was ready when the captain said we must leave. There was still something strong drawing me out to sea. Though I would learn no more of the Galapágos, my schooling was not over, as it never will be.

The ocean, in league with experience, can be bettered by no other teacher. To this I surrendered myself as we set our prow into the West and sailed into the veil of blue.

The Alabama sails west, Isla San Cristobal shrinking in the distance. Photo by Everett Redus.

The Alabama sails west with Isla San Cristobal shrinking in the distance. Photo by Everett Redus.

*Top image: Otto strolls down a small beach on Isla San Cristobal, Galàpagos. Photo by Everett Redus.

Related Stories:

Two Years Later: A Look Back at the Shooting of Cameron Redus

Brother in My Backpack: A Distant Detour

Brother in My Backpack: A Different Path

Brother in My Backpack: The Color Green

One thought on “Brother in My Backpack: Voyage to the Purple Shores of Galápagos

  1. Everett, you are so generous to take us along with you. Thanks for the captivating details. A wondrous journey – You are in our thoughts!

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