Mornings are quiet and slow, like a full-bodied stretch. More often than not, a fine drizzle covers the island and the early risers walk through it with confidence, knowing it to be temporary. Sea lions blanket the beaches, breaking the silence with all manner of belches and roars and deep-throated coughs. The sky is punctuated with large seabirds keeping an eye on the transparent water, searching for breakfast. Blazing crabs crouch and jump from rock to rock while taciturn iguanas do their best to blend in, usually piled on top of one another.
If there are guests at the hotel, I wake up early to help serve them breakfast. If not, I sometimes wake up early anyway to walk the malecón, or boardwalk. If I face the northwest, gazing past the moored ships, the rocky headlands, and the endless ocean, I am looking towards home. Thousands of miles away, people I love are hitting snooze on their alarm clocks or putting curlers in their hair. Turning my back to the Pacific, looking over the low buildings of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, I am facing the direction I will be heading once I leave this sleepy town, the mainland of Ecuador and the countries to the south of it.
The pace does not pick up much as the day progresses. Stores that opened only a short while before close for a few hours for lunch and a siesta. Humans and sea lions (or lobos marinos) alike find benches to recline on, the former chat quietly, the latter move only in order to situate themselves more comfortably. The sea lions are everywhere, and the mindful stroller knows to watch out for them underfoot as they don’t take kindly to being stepped on.
As ungainly and clownishly as these creatures (the sea lions, not the humans) move on land, their movements underwater are more graceful than anything I’ve seen. I have had the pleasure of being able to observe them from the ocean floor during scuba sessions, where they come close enough to bite my floating hair and watch me curiously and without fear. I can’t even explain how beautiful it is to breathe underwater and, looking up, see the bubbles race towards the air, the sunlight refracting through the water like molten gold, while the sea lions dart and spin through sunbeams like birds on the wing.
The beauty here, on this outpost of land that inspired the theory of evolution, is something to be felt more than seen. It sits at the back of your throat. You sense it behind your knees, in the pit of your stomach, it climbs the vertebrae of your spine, and curls up at the base of your skull. I wish I could leave a piece of my consciousness here, so that I could come back to it in a moment and relive the tranquility and corporeal beauty of it. I want to swallow a part of it and carry it with me. I want to sink into the sea and become as all-encompassing as it is, touching both home and this island at once.
Night steals silently in, turning the sea from aquamarine to indigo, the stars slowly wrapping themselves in brilliance like mantles. Wind swoops in from across the water, washing away the scent of human activity, breathing freshness into the dusk. I watch sea lions lumber onto the beach; the pups nuzzle against their mothers seeking food and comfort. People close up shop and wander the streets, calling out to one another in passing. Tourists and locals alike have a Pilsener at one of the handful of bars. But usually before midnight, silence returns like the prodigal son, and everything begins again.
I found this quote by the poet Robert Pinsky in the book I was reading today while sitting on the boardwalk with my back to the sea. I wrote it on my arm so I could immediately commit it to memory.
When I had no roof, I made audacity my roof.
That about sums up this whole trip.