Friday, October 23, 2015

Robbery on the High Seas

Map picture

Today we were set to visit a small island off the coast of Peru, named Lobos de Tierra. The island is home to large colonies of sea birds, and as such was a large source of guano deposits. In fact, by 1863, it is estimated that over 7 million tons of guano were removed from the island, and sold to the mainland as rich fertilizer. Only small deposit remain today, and our visit was not to see guano, as fascinating as that might be, but to visit the large colonies of the Blue-footed Booby and the Peru Pelican that nest on this small desert like piece of land.

Now I must confess that for whatever reason, I had a crisis of confidence this morning and became quite agitated and nervous. What would cause such behavior? Well, I could not figure out what to wear. You would have thought I was dressing for the prom rather than merely going ashore to a small island.

So first I had the issue of what shoes to wear. We were advised that they would try to have us step onto small stools in shallow water, and hopefully step onto a dry sandy beach. Well, did I wear shoes for a wet landing, or a dry landing? Then I had the issue of clothes. Until now the weather has gone from downright hot and humid to just hot, and then to warm. This morning was a different animal; it was 66 degrees when we awoke, and there was a strong wind. I reasoned that I would be too cold in shorts, so I decided on jeans – but wait, what if the sun came out and the temperature really did rise to 73 degrees as forecast? I’d probably be more comfortable in shorts, particularly if there was a wet landing, or I got wet on the ride over from the rainclouds ominously gathering on the horizon. But, if I wore shorts, then I would need white socks. I mean all this could drive a fella nuts! In the end, I dressed in jeans with my black compression socks, and put on my hiking boots. Then I was freezing in my microfiber shirt so I changed into a warm polo, at least the first time.

Before long, doubt started to gnaw at me. Maybe I was dressed too warmly, and if so, on the long walk along the desert like island, I would be too hot, and if my jeans got wet on the landing, then I would be walking around with wet jeans and squishy socks. Squishy socks! Oh my, that won’t do, and so for the 100th time, I asked Lisa her opinion, and I could tell she was tiring of this game, so with the clock ticking against me with our departure from the ship set for 9:30 am, I decided to completely change my clothes! Gone were the jeans, gone were the black socks, gone the warm polo, and the shoes just were not the right ones. By the time I finally got recycled, it was past our departure time and yet, nothing had happened. Curious?

Well it seems that even though the ship had all the proper paperwork and permissions which would permit us to visit the island, the people on the island refused to recognize them as valid. The “people on the island” as it later turned out were a motley group of men who were still doing a small business of mining guano, and in the process had been given the assignment by officials to serve as the gatekeepers. Our 9:30 am departure slipped to 10 am, and then to 10:30, and as time dragged on, we were simply advised that we would be so advised when arrangements could be made. Phone calls went up and down the food chain, but apparently the miners were standing their ground. Just before noon, an announcement was made that in a spirit of good will, the miners had been invited to lunch, and by the way, we now had clearance and would go ashore after lunch.

Now, I have heard different stories, but I think most people on board suspect that it was not just a free lunch they wanted, but perhaps some other “considerations” too. So in short, the Silver Explorer was submitted to extortion, or as I call it, “robbery on the high seas,” before we could be permitted ashore by a group of guano miners.

Moving on, we finally took our zodiacs ashore, to find a barren desert like island that we were told at one time was covered by guano rising 30 ft. above the ground. Today only small deposits remain which were not visible from our vantage point. We set out in small groups to explore the surrounding area. The shore side was literally covered with Blue-footed Boobies, so much so, that it was a challenge to walk without hitting one. These adorable little birds live their entire lives at sea, with the exception that they come ashore to mate and raise their young. We got to observe and film their elaborate mating behavior, as well as watching them waddle around on their big blue web feet looking for a partner. While on land they may look comical, but at sea they are absolutely amazing. They will dive straight down in large groups on their prey, entering the water at speeds approaching 100 mph. Also on the island were a large number of Peruvian Pelicans. We could see them flying everywhere, however, they were much shyer, and I never actually got near one on the ground.

We had a guide that would walk 10 paces, then stop and talk for 10 minutes. He kept repeating this over and over. It was very boring and so I broke away and headed in the direction of the abandoned building from the old mining days. They were actually quite interesting, and included the twisted remains of the old railroad which was used to haul their product to the long dock nearby.

Having walked for almost an hour on rocky terrain, I was rightfully tired and went back to the ship joining Lisa who had given up earlier.

Well, this is expedition cruising at its best! Unpredictable and interesting which is what we enjoy so much.


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