I am staying on Isabela Island. At 60 miles long it is by far the largest island in the Galápagos and also one of the most volcanically active places on earth. Understandably, I didn’t share that bit of info with my family before I set off on my trip.
My home is in the only town, Puerto Villamil, which has a population of 2000. I have to say that these are the friendliest, happiest 2000 people on the planet. I ride around the town on a bike and it is impossible to go more than 10m without someone shouting ‘Hola, Buenos Dias!’ Whilst in England road users have to stop at traffic lights, here you might have to stop to allow a family of iguanas to traverse the sandy streets.
The people here live simple lives with one room houses made of concrete blocks and very few possessions, but they are so genuinely content with their lot. Having said that, living in paradise surrounded by exotic wildlife and miles of pristine beaches, is enough to make anyone feel grateful.
Folk don’t lock their front doors here, and I have no need to lock my bike. When you live in a town this small it is impossible to get away with anything, so there is no crime. I actually feel sorry for the local police. They cruise around every day hoping there will be a major incident but nothing ever happens. As fires, including barbecues, are banned on the island, even the one token fire truck is slowly turning rusty.
Unfortunately last week I got really ill, as did another house mate. It was unclear whether we had food poisoning or a virus, so we were urged to visit the island’s only private doctor. We set off across town in the searing midday sun. I felt so unwell that I staggered my way through the streets and, after what seemed like an eternity, we saw a small white shed in the distance with a Red Cross painted on it.
A young guy opened the door wearing shorts, trainers and a baseball cap. It was only when he donned what appeared to be the remnants of a white coat that I realised that he was, in fact, the doctor. He told me to lie on the couch and lift up my T shirt so that he could feel my stomach. I only knew this was what he said as my other sick mate was in fact a chic, 46 year old bilingual French guy. I then spent an excruciatingly embarrassing 5 minutes with two foreign guys peering down at me, one prodding my stomach and the other translating questions such as ‘When was your last bowel movement?’ For the first time since setting foot on the island I actually prayed for a nearby volcano to erupt, just so that I could get the Hell out of there, fast.
Eventually we were both diagnosed with food poisoning and sent to the pharmacy with a prescription the size of a small novel. We spent so much in the store that we were rewarded with a loyalty card and a small blue plastic pig. I recovered from my illness within a couple of days, but every time I look at my plastic pig the horror of that doctor’s couch comes flooding back. Fortunately I know that when I leave here it is highly unlikely that will come across the doctor, the French guy or the blue plastic pig ever again…