A World Apart and Yet So Similar

My family spent all of our summer vacations, and many Sundays in-between, at a cottage on Lower Nemahbin Lake. Only about 40 minutes away from our home in Milwaukee, or, when we moved, Watertown, it seemed like the middle of nowhere. Probably because it was the middle of nowhere to my mom, who was a city girl through and through and hated to drive on the freeway. Now it is considered “Lake Country” where professionals live and commute to Milwaukee, but back then it was the boondocks – farm fields, one grocery store in town and the lakes. The cottage added to the boondocks feel: no indoor plumbing save a cold-water kitchen sink added in the 70s, mismatched furniture, tired kitchenware, one “parents” bedroom downstairs and a cobwebby upstairs where we kids fought over the ancient 5 beds. But to me, it was paradise. (Saying Goodbye to My Childhood )

Fast forward 30 years to Puerto Ayora, my and Matt’s new home on Isla Santa Cruz on the Galapagos Islands. This truly is the middle of nowhere – 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador – but as the largest town on the islands, it is a curious combination of isolation and tourism. We have lived here slightly over 2 weeks and it is apparent that nothing prepared me better for life on the Galapagos than those summers at The Lake.

Glorious View from Our Balcony

Glorious View from Our Balcony

I’m sticky. All the time. The temperature hasn’t dropped below 80º or the humidity below 70%. At the moment it is 7:23 am and the temperature is 81.1º with 79% humidity. I sit, as usual, with a fine sheen of sweat and frizzed out hair. We do have a shower but it is an island, so you are supposed to try to conserve water. (Yes, I realize that seems backwards, but while there is plenty of salt water around, there isn’t a lot of fresh water). So I try to shower once a day although sometimes I break down and have to take another one. At The Lake there was no shower. My mom would heat up some water and give herself a sponge bath, but the rest of us would just go jump in the lake. Literally.

The plumbing is a bit…primitive. It looks nice – huge shower, double sink, jacuzzi tub, but the apartment has cold water. To be fair, our landlord asked if we wanted him to hook up the hot water (sun heated, I think, without the aid of solar panels) so we do have some hot water in the shower, but it has a mind of its own and with the heat, I prefer a cold shower anyhow. We were told to turn the water off as we soap up to conserve water and not flood the bathroom. We wash dishes, and everything else, with cold water. You can’t flush toilet paper; it goes in the bin in the bathroom. So the bathroom smells like an outhouse. A bonus of our apartment is that the toilet is in its own little compartment, so at least that is the only room that smells like an outhouse. I realize that years of mouth breathing in the outhouse at The Lake come in handy here as well, especially when I take out the trash.

Indoor Outhouse

Indoor Outhouse

I live in shorts, sandals and swimsuits. For the first time since I was 12, I walked down the road (to the beach) in a swimsuit. A modest one, mind you, shorts and a tummy-covering top, but even so, it felt like being a kid again. At night it doesn’t cool off, so there is no need for jeans or sweatshirts like in Wisconsin, but we are told that will change. I’m not convinced and love wearing casual summer attire all the time.

There are plenty of bugs, inside and out. We don’t have air conditioning in our apartment, so the windows and doors are always open – day and night. We do have screens, but that doesn’t stop the critters (or dirt) from getting inside. The day we arrived, I noticed that our kitchen counters had tons of microscopic ants and spiders everywhere. I was appalled. I obsessively killed them and bought Raid to assist in the genocide. Now I just smoosh them and keep eating. I store food in plastic bags and sometimes in the microwave because I haven’t seen an ant in there yet. Like The Lake, every night at dusk we are driven inside by the mosquitos. Instead of daddy longlegs, our mosquito eaters here are the geckos. I’ve learned to co-exist with them and they have become a part of our nightly entertainment as we cheer them on while they catch the bugs.

Everything is a bit grimy. The water is non-potable and has a sticky feel. We don’t have a washer or dryer so laundry either goes to the full service laundry (no self serve here) or I hand wash and hang dry. When you pay by the pound, your definitions of clean and hand-washable change. But something about the combination of the detergent I bought and the water leaves the hand wash smelling less than fresh, so I am considering in investing in a washing machine though I worry that the dryer at the laundry may be what is killing whatever is stinking up my wash. I sweep, clean the floors and wipe up the counters constantly, but it is a losing battle against the dirt. I remember at The Lake wiping down the plastic tablecloth covered table after dinner and noticing that it was still sticky. That’s what it feels like wiping down the counters here. And the geckos poop everywhere! It looks like bird poop. I am currently trying to figure out how to clean it off my ceiling without it falling all over me.

Poopy Gecko

Poopy Gecko

We have plenty, but not exactly everything we want. Much to my dad’s annoyance, my mom used to pack two cars to the gills (and I swear at times things were tied to the top) to go to The Lake for 2 weeks even though it was less than an hour from our house. Now I understand. Like my mom, I packed my own things. We have 29 boxes, about half of it kitchen/household wares, in transit from Peru. It has been two months since it left my old home and is currently on a cargo ship. I don’t really expect it to arrive to the island for at least another month, but it will feel like Christmas when it does. Our apartment is partially furnished, so we have the basics but the dishes are mismatched and chipped, the sheets don’t fit the bed and we have one small frying pan and two pots. Unlike my mom, who would never buy anything, I broke down and bought two utensils and some dish towels to tide us over.

Kitchenware

Kitchenware

It is the same with food. We can get plenty to eat, but not the variety we are accustomed to (even less than in Cajamarca). My mom used to bring food from Milwaukee – the brands of pasta and sauce she liked among other things- and turned up her nose at the limited selection at the local grocery store. On the other hand, I embrace going to the Saturday morning market (the earlier you arrive, the lower the prices!) and buying from the farmers, but also look forward to next April when we will be back in the US and can eat lamb or Mexican food or countless other ethnic foods that aren’t available here.

Entertainment is both limited and limitless. There are no movie theaters, concerts, plays, or golf courses. Our internet is sporadic. The town has a minuscule library that I have yet to find open. At The Lake, the black and white TV was only turned on for the late news and Johnny Carson (except when Nixon resigned). Days were spent outside: swimming, canoeing, going for walks, goofing off. At night or on rainy days, we played cards and board games or read a book. So it is here. We have a TV, even cable and a DVD player, but we don’t turn it on often. We can go swimming and snorkeling every single day, there are great walks to take to beaches and in the highlands, and we can stroll though town at night and watch the sharks feed alongside the pier or the sea lions sleep. We play cards and games and just relax. Life is slower here and it is fantastic. Some might find it boring or frustrating, but I find it a return to the best part of my childhood: waking up to the sound of the water on the shore.

Paradise

Paradise

4 thoughts on “A World Apart and Yet So Similar

  1. Great story Kerry! Yes, I have so many friends who refuse to use a porta-potty. Many years of outhouse living prepared me well for that. I tell the story of re-digging and moving the outhouse under cover of night, the old shower stall that was the ‘new’ outhouse, bathing in the lake….my favorite place and memories in the world. Although the place was taken from me, the memories will live on. I love the connection you made between that and this!!

  2. Sounds like vacation to me! My trips to “the lake” in Michigan with my grandma seem very similar to your experiences as a kid. I can remember entire weeks where a bath was the equivalent of swimming in the grimy lake and dodging the floating seaweed. I miss it.

    I wish I could be there with you and Matt. Sounds like exactly what I need sometimes: a quiet place away from the world where I can sit and play guitar.

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