For eight days we live in a strange mix of primitive and privilege. We are stripped down to the minimum — of clothes, comfort, language. They plunk us into puffy orange vests, and we bounce on the water like babies in a pool. There is in fact an innocence to us now, a childlike grasping to our communication. Everything is curiosity and discovery. When we don’t know the words, we try a simpler language. We speak with our eyes and our hands and our laughter.
For eight days we share our lives with strangers. And then of course they are not so strange anymore. For all of us, this is a once in a lifetime experience. What does it mean to inhabit a single moment together? We cross into one another. We are living each other’s time.
The locals say they still feel awe, but I’m not sure I believe them. They are in constant motion, just like the boat on which they live. Cook, sail, clean, repeat. Our vacation is their responsibility, their exhaustion. Our paradise is their status quo.
I’m glad I speak their language, even if I do it poorly. Otherwise how would we have gotten to know that Mario is from the mainland, that Elio has a cold, that Edgar’s son is named Jessie, that Angel once worked for a Japanese man who liked shark fin soup? With my broken Spanish, I hope to become more than just another passenger to ferry, another guest to please, another bed to make. Because to me they are more than just the crew.
When we are back on land, Andy asks, “What will you take away from all this?” At first I don’t know how to answer. The question is too big.
“Adventure,” I say at last. It is trite but true. “Opportunities. They’re all around us, if we have the guts to pursue them.”
He imagines, perhaps, that I am referring to swimming with sharks. Or chasing penguins with my camera. Or speaking Spanish with anyone and everyone because I have to.
But I am not referring to any of those things. Or perhaps I am referring to all of them, plus one more.
I am remembering our night in Puerto Ayora, when Ruben took us to the Calle de Kioscos, to eat his favorite dish, to meet his wife and son. I am remembering the bar we went to afterward, with the Australians and the Italians. I am remembering the empty dance floor.
Loud music, dark lighting, and a room full of people I would probably never see again after the week was out. No risk, and yet still I hesitated. Ruben and his wife led the way, twisting and shaking and spinning, with their spirits full in their eyes. The Italian ladies went out next, shedding inhibition, embracing the moment, as they had done the entire trip. Then there was me, sitting on a bench, sipping jugo de mora.
The girl that sat. That wasn’t how I wanted to be remembered. Or forgotten.
After a few minutes, I got up. I danced. And now I can say it, forever. Even if I never see those people — including myself — again.
I danced in the Galapagos.
That is what I will take away from all this.