Stories from the Galapagos Islands
Signs mark the location of Post Office Bay.
Trip is Not Complete Without Traditional Stop
Before leaving the Galapagos Islands, I made sure to stop at Post Office Bay on Floreana Island. A stop here is a tradition that goes back to whaling days.
Centuries ago, great whaling ships would take to the seas to hunt these magnificent creatures. It was common for the ships'crews to spend years at a time catching whales. While at sea they would process the whales for their oil, which was very valuable. Once a ship's hold was full of whale-oil barrels, it returned to port.
The location of the Galapagos Islands was a natural stopping point for the whalers. Here they could pick up water and food. Unfortunately, the food was often giant tortoises, which would eventually become extinct on Floreana Island and elsewhere.
Since the whalers were often gone for long periods of time, they became homesick. Communication with those back home was a problem.
So they devised a clever solution: they left letters in a certain place on Floreana. When ships stopped on the way back to England, the United States or any other home port, the letters would be picked up and delivered without any postage.
In some cases, letters would take years to arrive at the destinations. The place on Floreana where the letters were left became known as Post Office Bay.
Juan Salcedo, the naturalist and guide on the tour boat the Samba explains the history of Post Office Bay.
The best part of this historical tale is that the system is still working. Every year, thousands of Galapagos visitors drop off letters and postcards in Post Office Bay.
"Who has brought postcards to mail?"asked Juan Salcedo, the naturalist guide from our boat, the Samba.
Everyone, including myself, raised hands.
"First go through and see if there are any postcards you wish to deliver,"Salcedo continued.
He explained:"If you find a card you want to take, remember, the tradition is hand delivering the postcard. Sometimes, people take cards home and put a stamp on them, but that's not in the true spirit of the tradition."
I sifted through the stacks of postcards in the barrel, hoping to find just one addressed to someone in Nebraska. I found many addressed to places in California, Texas, New York, Washington and other states. But for Nebraska, I had no such luck.
Kansas City was the nearest location to Nebraska. After a few minutes of deliberation, I decided against the idea since I still had several weeks of travel ahead for me.
I addressed a postcard to myself. It was a little experiment to see if the postcard would find its way to my home in Fremont.
I placed the postcard of a giant tortoise in the stack that I had just searched. Next, I slipped the stack of cards inside a plastic bag and placed the bag back inside the old wooden barrel.
It's a long way from Post Office Bay to Fremont, Nebraska. But 2½ months later, the postman delivered a postcard to my home address. It didn't take years, but someone took my postcard, put on a stamp and mailed it from someplace in Colorado.
Even though the postcard didn't find my home in the true spirit of the tradition, it still found its way to Fremont, Nebraska. Given we don't have any seaports in Nebraska, I'll take the delivery as a win.