SAN CRISTÓBAL, Ecuador — Ceci Guerrero was all business as she covered marine safety and shipboard rules in our first briefing aboard the M/Y Eric at San Cristóbal , the easternmost island in the Galápagos. It was early Sunday afternoon. “The first time we’ll know anything about the outside world will be at noon on Wednesday,” Guerrero said, when we might get a cellphone signal when the ship stopped to refuel. “Then there’s Internet in town when we get to Santa Cruz on Friday.”
Guerrero seemed a little apologetic, but the enforced disconnect was music to our ears. We don’t take cruises often, but sometimes a ship is the best (or only) way to reach a remote place. We wanted to focus on the ocean and islands around us, where Darwin’s theory of evolution is manifest in the beaks of the finches and the congested snorts of salt-spitting marine iguanas. Visiting the Galápagos feels like witnessing the eighth day of creation. We had no desire to be constantly reminded of what we had left behind.
We still get annoyed when we recall our fellow passenger who rented a satellite phone for a Cruise North expedition in the eastern Canadian Arctic a few years ago. It was our first cruise to a part of the globe so remote that it defied imagination and lay outside the bounds of conventional electronic communication. While we hung at the rail looking for seagoing unicorns (actually, narwhals) or stood transfixed as our ship passed startlingly close to an iceberg, she would pace about on the highest deck, shouting into her bulky contraption. Then she would regale the rest of us with mundane news and celebrity gossip.
But nothing happening in Washington or Hollywood could compare with watching polar bears prowl the crumbled shale shore of a rookery island or listening to the eerie sounds of Inuit girls practicing throat-singing in a remote village.
Morag Campbell, an older Scottish woman and Arctic junkie, said it best. “At home, people are sick and you worry. I have to take a lot of pills, but I don’t even think about it here. You just feel healthy.” We understood why she had taken a cruise to the remote Arctic every year for 20 years. Rarely do any of us get such a break from our overstressed lives.
This time, instead of sailing across the Arctic Circle, we were crisscrossing back and forth across the equator as we hopped from island to island in the Galápagos archipelago. Six hundred miles west of the South American continent, we were anticipating reentry into that state of grace where our surroundings would inspire constant awe.
The Ecoventura expedition did not disappoint. We recalled the Breton fisherman’s prayer, “O God, thy sea is so great, and my boat is so small.” The Eric seemed but an extension of its environment — the vast ocean, the spits of land that rose on the horizon, the utterly exotic wildlife, and the often primeval black lava shores. (We also felt intimately connected to the deeply rolling swells that occasionally made us seasick.)
During one overnight transit we awoke in the middle of the night to see a flock of white pelagic birds flap soundlessly past in the moonlight. Most mornings we rose to calm seas and nearly complete silence. One morning a pod of about 20 Bryde’s whales frolicked around the ship.
On Wednesday when we stopped to refuel, no one aboard could raise a single bar of cell signal, and no one really cared. Excused from having to call, tweet, or Google, we could turn our attention to the world at hand, which we saw more clearly than ever. Between going ashore to see blue-footed boobies in their comical mating dance, sea lions nursing their pups on the beach, and giant tortoises lumbering through a mountain meadow to munch on high grass, we and our 18 fellow passengers hardly missed the “world.”
Evenings aboard ship, we still had some modern amusements. The gadget freaks among us kept their fingers busy with digital cameras, underwater housings, video cameras, and laptop computers — especially laptop computers. At the end of each day we all downloaded photos from our cameras to compare in interminable slideshows — a mildly competitive sport.
By Friday, however, many of our fellow travelers wrapped their laptops in drybags to take along on the zodiacs for a trip to the town of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz. With a population of 20,000, it is the largest community in the Galápagos and home to several cybercafes. We deliberately left our laptop in our cabin. It was strange enough to be carrying cash for the first time all week. We were in the “now” and in no rush to move on to “later.”
Those 937 e-mails could wait until we got back to the mainland.
Patricia Harris and David Lyon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.