By Cacinda Maloney
Through the eyes of a Galapagos Gringa
Maybe it is just an urban legend to spook tourist from visiting this tiny island in the center of Galapagos, far out in the Pacific Ocean. But from the look in the deckhand’s eyes, it was as real as if he saw her himself. The way his dark brown eyebrows raised up as he told me the story made even me believe him. He spoke of her as if she was alive. The history of this land includes its legends, its myths and now its new people, who have only inhabited the islands since 1593. English pirates pilfered the Spanish galleons carrying gold during that time. But today, stories here can unnerve even the most traveled of all globetrotters with their stories of the Galapagos Gringa even when not told by a pirate, but a regular deck hand.
The legend goes like this:
A wandering spirit called the “headless gringa” wanders Baltra Island (also known as South Seymour Island) late at night and kills lonely men and solo travelers. She was an American girl living on the US military base on Baltra with her serviceman boyfriend. During World War II, Baltra Island was a US Army Air Force Base. Servicemen stationed here patrolled the Pacific for enemy submarines and provided back up protection for the Panama Canal. As the story goes, this American girl was caught cheating by the boyfriend. He killed her by throwing her off a cliff, where her head got caught in the rocks and was ripped off. Shocked, he climbed down to get her body, but there was no head. He then buried her on the island somewhere.
Now that is some story, this Galapagos Gringa!
Granite, I couldn’t find any documentation for this story anywhere!*
Thus the legend definition.
I had seen the edges of some of those rocks on other similar islands and I certainly didn’t want the crush of death, so no visiting Baltra Island for me!
Galapagos Islands – North Seymour Island
As the panga approached this tiny spit of land, I could see the rock and cement stairs that were supposed to be a “dry landing”. I took extra precautions in getting out of that tiny boat and on to shore safely. Once on land, there were two paths, some adventurers going right with Ivan, others going left with Orlando, both are naturalist that have been assigned to the Letty, the Galapagos yacht that I had spent the last 8 days on with Ecoventura. I walked through a well-defined path, with stones marking each side, when I came upon them. Not one, but literally hundreds of Frigate birds were in my path: mothers, fathers and babies in various stages of growth. The fathers were well marked – pitch black with a bright red chin sack. When they were ready to mate, they would blow their chin sack up with air. It can take up to 2 hours for the air to deflate. This was supposed to attract the female frigates. I found it fascinating.
They sat in nests and on branches of bushes along the path. Literally you could reach out and touch them, as typically when you see birds, they always fly away from humans. But this was not the case here. They knew this territory was theirs and they were not afraid of us.
Also along the path were the famous Galapagos land iguanas, some the color of red dirt or a color that matched the rock they were on. As I took steps along the now rocky path, I had to take extra precautions not to step on some form of lava lizard or land iguana.
What I loved about this island is that the animals go about their day, doing what wild animals do, and you just get to watch them in their natural habitat
There is a rule in the Galapagos to stay at least 6 feet distance away from any animal in the Island, and we tried desperately to adhere to it, although many times they were so close, you just wanted to reach out and touch them. I took hundreds of photographs of them, instead.
North Seymour Island was the last island on my visit to Galapagos. It became a remarkable and fitting island to end a fabulous 8-day tour of the Galapagos.
North Seymour Island with its crashing waves that would make any California surfer jealous. It had black rocks, red dirt, prickly pear cacti, yellow-leathered skin land iguanas, and the lovely red-chinned Frigate birds with their cute little babies. The experiences I had on that island are forever engrained into my soul. I rarely say this about a trip, but Galapagos, for me, was a “trip of a lifetime”.
“It is like being in a zoo, where there are no cages and the animals don’t mind if you are there. “—Dr. Cacinda Maloney
Disclosure: My once in a lifetime trip to the Galapagos was sponsored by Ecoventura, but the memories of my wonderful time spent there are all mine own.