Last Friday, I went to watch the annual Galapagos Fiestas kickoff parade in downtown Puerto Ayora. The Fiestas are a weeklong celebration commemorating the Galapagos becoming a part of Ecuador on 12 February 1832 and when the Islands were declared a province on 18 February 1973. Coincidentally, it is also Charles Darwin’s birthday on 12 February (1809). The Fiestas begin on Friday with a parade and end on Sunday with a rodeo.
I sat on the white curb next to the cotton candy vendor, across the street from Cafe Hernan, where everyone was buying the traditional Hernan ice cream cones. I say “traditional” not because the ice cream is homemade (it is dispensed out of a machine), but because it is one of the few places where you can buy a fresh ice cream cone. The Hernan ice cream machine is a local institution, frequented by tourists and locals alike. The choices are vanilla, chocolate, mixta (a combination of both), or when available, my favorite, rum pasas (rum raisin).
Preparations for the parade and the nine days of fiestas begin weeks ahead of time. Every village chooses a beauty queen and constructs an elaborate float with a Galapagos-related theme to carry their queen. The little girl on the float, pictured above, is dressed as the familiar Galapagos frigatebird. This bird is such a prominent part of the Galapagos landscape that a local musician, Mathias Espinosa, even composed a song called Fragata Pirata (pirate frigatebird in Spanish).
There are five species of frigatebirds. The two species that live in Galapagos are the Magnificent Frigatebird (Fregata magnificens) and the Great Frigatebird (Fregata minor ridgwayi). Both have earned their Spanish name pajaro pirata (pirate bird). They steal their food and even harass other birds until they regurgitate their recent meal. Sea lion placenta is another frigatebird staple.
A variety of activities take place during Fiesta week including various sports events. On Tuesday, there was a swimming race from La Lobería island (the sea lion rookery) to Puerto Ayora (approximately six kilometers). Yesterday, there was a swim from the island of Santa Fe, approximately 26 kilometers away, to Puerto Ayora. A friend of mine was the only women of the two people who swam the Santa Fe race. They started at 7am, and she arrived in Puerto Ayora at 5:45pm. Each person had a small boat escorting them. The people who organized the swim said a boat would arrive to supply the swimmers with food and water, but the supplies never arrived. My friend decided to continue with the little water she had and a few drinks and snacks donated from the boat operator’s personal supply. Upon her arrival, she informed the person who interviewed her about what had happened.
Live music and movies are also a part of the fiesta week. Each night a film is presented at a different location in town. One of the movies shown this year was The Motorcycle Diaries. It is a great movie about Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s life-changing motorcycle trip through South America with his friend. This past week the streets have been livelier than usual with streetvendors selling a variety of things to eat and people dancing to live music. The Galapagos Fiestas give you a nice taste of Galapagos culture.