Before I explain about our entanglement with the Galapagos police, I should describe my life prior to landing on this idyllic island.
I lived in Liverpool.
Liverpool, as many people know, is a beautiful city in the north of England stuffed with culture, humour and fun.
But it is still home to around 430,000 people. If you were the sort of person to go hunting for trouble, you could probably find a fair bit in Liverpool.
Not me. I lived there happily and peacefully for two years.
Not once was I rushed to hospital.
Not once were the ‘bizzies’ (police) called to arrest me.
So it is astonishing that I have experienced both in the five weeks I have lived in the sleepy capital of a small island with no more than 8,000 residents.
The trouble began on Santa Cruz (I use the word ‘trouble’. They used the word ‘scandal’ here, but I think that’s exaggerated)
Pippa and I stayed for two extra nights on Santa Cruz following our trip.
But soon it was time to return to our own little corner of paradise so, like dutiful volunteers, we bought tickets home to San Cristobal.
They cost 25 dollars each and were on a boat called La Cholita, which we chose because it advertised comfy seats, air conditioning and a plasma TV.
It did have comfy seats, air conditioning and a huge plasma TV.
We could see them quite clearly from where we sat, soaking wet and dumped in the rear of the boat with the diesel fumes, crates of mail and the rather grumpy crew.
Our friends at La Cholita had oversold their comfy seats.
I laid flat on the floor – it was the best way to avoid seasickness – and wedged my head under my hat for the entire two-and-a-half hour journey.
Pippa and our Canadian friend, Peter, whom we had met that morning, half stood and half squeezed onto some benches. They were drenched.
Peter’s girlfriend, Marina, suffered the worst of it – she curled herself into a ball against the side of those bloody comfy seats and nearly fainted from seasickness.
When we finally docked, Peter ran to find a hostel while Marina and I struggled up the gangplank and waited until the colour crept back into her cheeks.
Pippa went straight to La Cholita’s office.
When I found her there, 10 minutes later, she was arguing with the hefty owner.
The conversation, all in Spanish, was going in circles.
We had paid $20 dollars to sit outside, the woman insisted.
We should have insisted on sitting inside, she said.
Oh yes, we should have shoved the locals and the kids out of their seats.
Well, we should have complained to the crew, she said.
We did. They passed the buck to you.
We should go back to the Santa Cruz vendor to complain, she said.
Great idea. Can we buy a ticket on your boat?
Well, it was never specified that we would sit inside, she said.
No, you just advertise the seats, air conditioning and TV for fun.
Pippa – near fluent as always – eventually asked for a goodwill gesture of $5 each and an apology and said that would be the end of the matter.
Chubby gave a bark of sarcastic laughter.
(It has to be said she objected more to the apology than the cash)
“It’s not my problem and it’s not my fault,” she smirked.
“We’re not leaving until this is resolved,” Pippa snapped.
“Have a seat,” Chubs hit back.
So we sat.
Pippa told me that before I arrived, three customers had entered the office, listened to the conversation and left without buying tickets.
That had apparently irritated The Boss more than anything else.
It was a small consolation as we slumped in her office.
But you’re probably wondering why we bothered to sit at all.
I agree. Once money is out of my wallet, I consider it spent. There was no hope of a refund. We’d lost this woman three customers and quite possibly ruined her day. It seemed pretty even to me.
But I was shattered. We had an hour to kill before dinner and neither of us had the energy to walk up the hill to our house.
Besides, this accidental sit-in protest was actually my first sit-in protest and I was interested to see how it would unfold.
Oh, how it unfolded.
Chubs continued to look smug for a while and went about her business.
But as the minutes passed she started to become agitated.
Soon she started muttering about calling the police.
Honestly. Just days earlier Pippa and I had been discussing the island’s boys in beige.
They never seem particularly busy and always have time to be polite.
(That means smiling and saying ‘Hola’ every time we walk past)
That said when the officer, one of two, walked into the office five minutes later, I couldn’t help but notice he had a handgun and pepper spray wedged into his belt.
And so the farce continued.
But the policeman, far from taking the side of his fellow islanders, was surprisingly courteous to us.
We remained seated. We smiled a lot. Pippa spoke quietly and politely and always asked permission to interrupt (we’d deliberately decided on this strategy)
Our opponent, by now, had called in members of her family and some crew members who all spoke at once.
She was clearly incensed – screeching and flapping her arms around like a giant bird.
The entire saga was recounted.
At one point, a woman was summoned on the phone from Santa Cruz to throw in her opinion.
Tickets were produced. Arguments were repeated.
A random but very sweet volunteer from Austria, whom neither Pippa nor I knew but who spoke excellent Spanish, appeared and intervened on our behalf.
The policeman began to look increasingly bored and, weirdly, faintly apologetic.
Still, it was clear nothing was going to be resolved and we decided to leave, but not before the officer had written Pippa’s name and Chubby’s details in his notebook and not before the Austrian, Sebastian, had translated my favourite line:
“She says you made a scandal in her office.”
But I did start to regret the episode on the way home.
It’s a tiny island and I didn’t want any trouble for Paulina, whom we both adore.
With typical timing, we arrived home drenched, exhausted and deflated to meet a new volunteer, Izzy, who is staying with us for the next few weeks.
Her arrival meant a ‘welcome visit’ from Paulina.
“We have to tell her,” I muttered to Pippa at the dinner table.
“Can you do it please?” she whispered.
Paulina listened intently while I explained.
“Why didn’t you call me?” she demanded.
“I would have come and fought for you.”
Our mouths dropped.
“But you live here,” I said eventually.
“We didn’t think you would want any trouble.”
Apparently we were wrong.
The house phone rang later that evening.
Paulina said her lawyer husband, Benizio, would like to make a complaint to the naval authority and could Pippa write a statement?
I shook my head in disbelief but Joss, who is used to our ways, nodded wisely.
“That lady won the battle,” she observed, as she boiled a saucepan of water for tea.
“But she’s not going to win the war.”
Oh that’s an excellent story. Get stuck in.
Looks like you have provided a bit of fun and entertainment for your local mates – nothing like going to the barricades to help out a visitor. As locals they must be mortified at your treatment.
You are quite right, at least we have a story to tell! Unfortunately, that kind of thing is pretty much a way of life here. I think they thought it was pretty unusual for us to create such a fuss!