A fuzzy grey u-shaped memory-foam travel pillow floated on the water above a stingray darting away from the water taxi making its slow progress towards port.
¿Que es esa cosa?
A perplexed woman leaned over to ask her husband. The locals on the boat furrowed their eyebrows, craning their necks to the side of the boat, trying to understand what the sausage-shaped object bobbing in the waters off the coast of Isla Isabela actually was.
We were making our way to Puerto Villamil, a small village on the southeastern edge of Isla Isabela in the Galápagos Islands, a volcanic archipelago 620 miles off the coast of Ecuador. A few moments earlier, a man spotted a four-foot stingray passing by our boat.
“Everyone look to the left of the boat, there is a stingray swimming alongside it.”
In my excitement, I swiveled a bit too aggressively to my left and heard a popping sound behind me. Two seconds later I saw my airplane neck pillow somersault into the water, landing with a thud above the stingray, which quickly swam away from the assault.
Not only did I scare away the stingray that everyone wanted to see and not everyone had a chance to, but now I had to rely on the kindness of a fellow passenger to fish out my travel pillow from the water. I sheepishly realized I was that tourist.
As the man who saw the stingray helped to fish my neck pillow out with one of his hiking sticks, I felt it was my duty to explain what this thing was and why it was so important to be rescued out of the water. The neck pillow is my favorite travel accessory. If its creator needed a public relations ambassador, I would gladly proselytize on its merits. So as the man with the hiking sticks leaned over the side of the boat and squeezed all the water he could out of the sopping wet pillow, I turned to my Spanish-speaking audience and mutely but enthusiastically demonstrated with hand gestures how to use a neck pillow. My impromptu cabaret performance left the audience more confused than before but I do believe I made a few new neck-pillow converts.
Isla Isabela is sixty-two miles long, physically the largest of the Galápagos Islands but not the most populated. It houses six volcanoes, one of which, the Sierra Negra, is hikeable. An active volcano, it last erupted in 2005. Part of our visit to the island included a six hour hike to the volcano.
Our tour group for this excursion was small, just Michael and me, Marco, a diminutive but fit man from Italy or Spain, who had been traveling for the past month around South America and before that Africa. Marco had an unruly mop of salt and pepper curls on his head and a thick beard on his face, giving him an uncanny resemblance to the Dwarf King from the first Hobbit movie. Completing our quad squad was Joelle, a dark-haired Frenchwoman in her late forties or early fifties. Joelle was quickly rechristened CeeCee, for Constant Complainer. No sooner had she introduced herself than a volley of complaints left her cranky mouth. Every complaint ended with her signature phrase of “ees impossible”.
The boxed lunch provided to us on arrival after the flight to Baltra but before the boat ride to Isla Isabella was not up to her standards.
“We are supposed to eat on zee boat? How? Ees impossible.”
When we arrived at Isla Isabela, we transferred from the speedboat to a water taxi that would take us to the dock. We were instructed to put on life vests. Everyone threw the u-shaped life vests over their heads and secured the straps around their chests. Looking over at CeeCee, I saw her struggling with her life vest in the most unnatural way. Mystified, I kept watching her twist and turn the life vest around her torso. When the boat driver walked past her, she grabbed him.
“Senõr, how does zees work? I don’t understand. I can’t secure it like zees. Ees impossible.”
The boat driver tilted his head in confusion, assessing her contorted life vest, which CeeCee had managed to somehow assemble into a tube top, something out of Project Runway’s unconventional materials challenge. He nervously backed away, letting her know that this assembly was ok, most likely not worth the struggle to try to put it on her the right way.
When we arrived at Isla Isabela, Michael and I stayed at one hotel and Marco and CeeCee were assigned another one a few blocks away. Marco was assigned a third floor room while CeeCee was assigned a room on the ground floor. The next morning, CeeCee was eager to discuss her lodging fiasco.
“Kaysee, my room, no good! They assigned me a room on zee ground floor. I am a woman. I cannot sleep on zee ground floor. What about safety? Marco cannot help me being above me. Ees impossible!”
I don’t think Marco had the slightest desire to play the role of CeeCee’s guardian for the duration of the trip, but he was a gentleman and kept quite.
“Kaysee, your room ok? My room was fumigated! Bugs! Can you believe it? I walk in. I could not breez. Ees impossible.”
“With all zees problems, I told them to switch my room. They told me the hotel is booked! But I don’t see anyone else. It cannot be fully booked. Ees impossible.”
“I said, hey Marco, will you switch your room with me? He said yes and now I feel much safer upstairs on zee third floor. Now if there are problems, I can come down to Marco’s room.”
Marco flinched in response but again, ever the gentleman, did not rebuff CeeCee.
Dinner, included in our tour package, was served at our hotel and Marco and CeeCee walked over around 7pm. Michael and I arrived twenty minutes later and joined them at their table. Marco and CeeCee were starting their entree course, which had the option of grilled tuna or grilled chicken. Each one of us opted for the tuna. CeeCee pointed to her dinner plate.
“I order zee tuna. Kaysee, zees is chicken. They tell me it’s tuna. Ees impossible!”
It did perplexingly resembled a breast of chicken. CeeCee called the chef over to the table to complain to him.
“Zees is not fish. I know fish. I know tuna. Zees is chicken. Bring me out zee chicken to compare. This is not tuna. Ees impossible.”
Bewildered, the chef brought out a piece of grilled chicken. And the difference was evident.
“Senõra, maybe you have not had tuna as fresh as this before. Maybe it looks different than what you are used to. But this is tuna, not chicken.”
Marco, Michael, and I bit into our entrees and quickly realized that this was indeed fish and not chicken. CeeCee however, would not be appeased.
“Yes it looks different but no, zees is not tuna. Ees impossible.”
The chef threw up his hands and walked away.
The next morning, the four of us met up to hike the Sierra Negra volcano. On the ride to the starting point of the trail, CeeCee shared her continued trials with the hotel.
“Kaysee, how did you sleep? I did not sleep. The air conditioning, it did not work. I was so hot. How could one sleep in the heat? Ees impossible.”
When we arrived at the trail, CeeCee badgered our trail guide about the conditions of the trail.
“Senõr, will there be dust? I am allergic and will need a dust mask. Will you distribute dust masks? I cannot hike a trail full of dust without one. Ees impossible.”
CeeCee ended up fishing her own personal dust mask out of her bag and securing it to her face. The mask proved a dual benefit, as she could not talk for the majority of the hike.
Halfway through the first part of the hike, we rested and ate our packed lunch. Admittedly, this lunch was a sad affair. Soggy bread with tuna fish, cheese, and a tomato. I was glad I had the foresight to supplement this with a few of our own items. Biting into a piece of bread, I heard CeeCee fussing with her sandwich.
“Senõr, how can we eat tuna in this heat? It will go bad, it’s very warm. And it has not been refrigerated for some time now. I cannot eat it. Ees impossible.”
I don’t know if she expected our guide to miraculously pull out a gourmet picnic for her, but her complaints fell on deaf ears and she begrudgingly dug into her soggy tuna fish sandwich.
That afternoon, after our hike, we met up to snorkel. The hotel provided snorkeling masks, fins, and a wet suit. As I helped Michael to zip up his wet suit in the back, I saw CeeCee zipping herself up in the front. Michael looked over and told her her wetsuit was on backwards. The snorkeling guide approached CeeCee and told her the same thing.
“Is it ok?”
“No, no miss, it’s on backwards. The zipper should be in the back.”
“Yes, it’s ok? This is fine, ok? Yes? I do this? Because why would the zipper be in the back. I cannot reach it. Ees impossible.”
And so CeeCee snorkeled with her wet suit on backwards. With her head submerged underwater, our small group had a moment of rest from the litany of complaining and enjoyed the silence and the magic of Galápagos.