This morning we went to the Post Office Barrel, a 200 year old tradition on Floreana Island. For hundreds of years, after the discovery of these previously uninhabited islands, whalers, pirates, and mariners stopped here to look for water and (regrettably) to take the huge tortoises as a source of fresh meat. Floreana had the best water supplies, so it was a common stopping point. An English captain had the idea of placing a barrel where any ship could place letters addressed back to their homes. Any ship that stopped checked for letters that they might be able to deliver, or to pass on for delivery. It could take years for a letter to make its way -- remember, sailing voyages could last several years.
The cruise ships now stop and leave post cards at a similar barrel in the same location. Passengers volunteer to hand-deliver the post cards from earlier cruise ships. As everyone is flying home soon, a card might get there before the passenger. We sent a few, but none appeared to be addressed to anywhere we could deliver them. We’re curious how long it will take. I don’t think the recipients will be as happy as the families of sailors who were gone from home for years.
We continue to see penguins, just a few at a time. One was swimming in Post Office Bay. Yesterday, one was sitting on a rock as we took a Zodiac boat ride around the shore on Isabella Island. We were watching him from a few feet away when he brayed, and almost immediately we saw a second penguin swimming up from under the boat: evidently his mate, whom he had summoned. Both sat right in front of us on a rock, preening their feathers to spread the oil that protects and waterproofs them.
We find these islands beautiful and fascinating, but the contrast with the attitudes of the mariners of the 18th and 19th centuries is strong. They hated the area because it had so little water, and was often very hot. The lava rock was sharp and uninviting. The sight of the sea had no appeal to the men who had spent years on a ship.