First of all I am sad to say that my sordid love affair with Military University teaching has come to an end after finally realising the promise of a free Galapagos holiday was a little white lie to get Gringos to teach for free. Even worse was the money sanctioned for my holiday proved too tempting for the English Director who I’m sure pocketed the money herself. Underestimate the greed and corruption, witnessed when scratching the surface of Ecuadorian culture at your peril! Maybe I should take some of the blame though as it was me who failed to secure US visas for the University running team. Who knows?
In a last ditch attempt to get the money owed I made a surprise visit to the University. Unfortunately my cover was blown too soon and I ended up chasing the English Director all over University like a Benny Hill sketch. How on earth a 300 pound walrus look-alike was able to out pace my toned, athletic physique I will never know!
Facing up to the realisation of defeat, tears (so what, I get emotional at times!) swelled up in my eyes, and like the brooding, childish adolescent I sometimes can be I decided in an instance that not even the might of the Ecuadorian Army was going to stand in my way of a dream trip. Anyway, I had wanted to take care of some important business in the Galapagos for many a good month.
The same night after being denied, I packed my bag and along with my trusting girlfriend headed to Quito, hoping by some miracle to catch a fully booked flight early next morning. I certainly didn’t rate our chances of making it, but with a bit of fluke we managed to bag the last two seats with ten minutes to spare, thanks in part to myself shouting obscenities at an Ecuadorian family who had tried to push in front of us. I was one fired up guy! A few hours later we were dripping in sweat in the ferocious heat of the Galapagos sun and had got ourselves a rather exciting itinerary and accommodation booked for the next 10 days.
Santa Cruz, the island where I spent most of my time is a delightful, magical place. The streets are full of international catwalk quality divas, wearing nothing but skimpy bikinis, and even the local English fluent female of the species come without the trademark pot belly, typical of so many other women in this country.
Of course these aren’t the only things the Galapagos Islands have going for them, as they are most well known for Charles Darwin and the ridiculously tame wildlife. It really is crazy how close you can get to them. During the time here, numerous wildlife species were spotted including sea lions, penguins, dolphins, sharks, iguanas, turtles, tortoises, and a vast array of birds (including the legendary Darwin finches) and tropical fish.
Highlights included snorkeling every day, sometimes with two metre long white tip reef sharks near Isla Baltra and penguins near Isla Bartolome, gallivanting with playful sea lion pups at Isla Plaza Norte, watching the mating rituals of blue footed boobies and red frigate birds at Isla Seymour Norte, and of course proposing to my girlfriend.
It wasn't all glory in paradise though. I managed to burn my head the first day, which turned to the worse imitation dandruff I have ever seen. I had to spend the ludicrous sum of $8 on a hat to cover my embarrassment. I also broke my flip flops while returning back to town from Las Grietas (located just outside of Puerto Ayora and a nice little day trip) over 2km of jagged boiling hot volcanic rock. My feet were cut to ribbons by the end.
Some trips didn’t quite live up to expectations, including one day spent going to Isla Daphne with no one else but a group of rather loud, obnoxious group of 7 years olds on a school fieldtrip, all playing with top of the range mobile phones. It was bluntly obvious we had gate crashed their trip to make the tour operator a bit of extra money and with enjoyment levels already at a record low it didn’t help matters that these little brats kept calling me 'ugly' expecting me not to understand their Spanish. I of course took the abuse on the chin and saw it as a great character building exercise.
All’s well that ends well, and I’m remarkably happy to have forked out $1,000 for a Galapagos trip that I should have obtained for free. If we had indeed been given what the University had promised it would have only been a 5 days vacation, two of which was travelling to and from the airport. I doubt such a variety of wildlife would have been viewed.
The extra days also allowed a few nearby beaches to be explored, one of which, La Playa Tortuga, I deemed the perfect place to get down on one knee and ask my girlfriend to make an honest man out of me. With white golden sands, bright clear water, full of fish and the odd marine iguana and not another person in sight my girlfriend said yes. I was a bit disappointed not to have made her cry with my soppy speech and $5 engagement ring (I even managed to haggle 17% of the asking price, which was a great feeling of satisfaction!) but I accepted her excuse of being in too much shock.
Being serious for once, I’m not at all that cheap or disturbed and upon returning back to America in July I will be treating my fiancee (look at me using new words!) to one slightly more expensive, maybe containing a diamond as well if she’s lucky. So after such a nice relaxing trip I’m now back to the cold and rain of the Ecuadorian Sierra, with a preliminary wedding date set for next summer in the delightful little industrial English town of Hinckley, a place once upon a time I had the pleasure of calling home. You would be a fool to miss it!
Anyway, back to the current situation, I already have a full week of teaching under my belt after returning and one disturbing experience that brings much of life here into perspective. A 6 year old student with severe behavioural problems decided to turn into a crazed psychopath of monstrous proportions after not agreeing with my demands of cleaning up the mess he had made. Not allowing him to leave the class until he had done then led to a twenty minute period where I was kicked and punched black and blue. I'm not proud to say I took a pasting from someone 20 years my junior, but I was mightily impressed at my stamina and resistance to retaliating when my very own blood was spilt.
When you consider this child takes daily beatings from his Uncle and is at the hands of further abuse from other family members, including brothers who have left him with abrasions around his neck from where they tied a noose, I should be happy he chose to take this pent-up aggression out on someone who only has love and his own best interests at heart. The following day upon apologizing for his behaviour he broke down and started sobbing uncontrollably. I couldn’t help crying as well. It's hard to watch children you care for act in such disturbing ways. If I am this much of a blubber boy now, I hate to think what will happen when it comes to leaving.
Apart from this though my first week of engaged life has been thoroughly enjoyable.