Lamia -The Red Dragon of the Galapagos

The wall of tears, was sobbing, a sound like the wind howling through stone. But there was no wind, only a blistering draining heat. The islands born from fire and ice were at the fire stage. Ice would now be a blessed relief. Perhaps that was why the Wall of Tears was crying, worn down by a heat so searing nothing could give any sense of liberty.  And this heat must have been stronger then shackles binding the slaves who built the “El Muro de las Lágrimas”. Something had drawn me back here; the wall had some magnetism for me in my delirious state.

It gave no shade from the sun there were no shadows to protect me even momentarily from the sunstroke I was now suffering from. Huge yellow tipped larva cacti were dotted across the harsh landscape as if grenades had been thrown in violent abandonment. And the explosion of land had been frozen in time with the needles of the cacti a deterrent to all but the totally insane.

Something moved slowly slowly through the landscape, an animal with his house on his back, moving ponderously a giant tortoise.

I needed water. Somehow I had managed to lose the group of fellow cyclists on the way back from our cycling trip on Isabella. Why had I agreed to cycle anyway? And in the 40+ degree heat I was never going to have enough water to stop my dehydration.

I can’t remember if I rashly had said, “You guys go on without me, I’ll catch you up.”  Would I have said that? And would they have left me? It appeared the answer was yes on both counts, because here I was back at the wall of tears alone, and without a bike, but even worse without water.

A searing pain was slicing through my dissolving brain like a knife through melted butter. I had intermittent seconds of clarity when I knew my situation was not good. And then redness blinded me and I could see only hell.

Now in a moment of that clarity I knew I had to go downwards not uphill as my delirium had driven me. I had to go down back to the coastline. Follow the trail back to the sea.

But there be dragons I deduced, red dragons of the Galapagos. I would have to face them if I was to have any chance of finding help. I had seen them on the journey up, when I had water and the last vestiges of common sense still with me. One had been at least four feet long and was a vivid crimson colour. I had stopped to admire them without fear and they had merely observed me without suspicion, interest or as potential food.

The sound of a bird distracted my already addled state of mind. From the corner of my eye I saw a small flurry of feathers. The small bird seemed to be singing louder than his little body would ever be able to accommodate. And he was taunting me. Of that I was convinced. Egging me on to something but I could not explain his true intent.

So blindly I moved down towards the sea. I tripped over something and fell to the black lava ground, the something moved, it was red. Its tongue flickered, licked at my skin. I lay with my face pressed against the black lava stones. The dragon approached closer his skin next to mine the red skin like sunburn.

He splayed his wings as if to take flight, but then he sauntered past me and merely flicked his tail provocatively as he went.

Relieved to establish that I was inedible to a dragon, slowly through gritted teeth I got back up and continued my descent.

I felt the stinging on my sun baked skin, was it the sting of the dragon, or was it the cacti needles? I knew not and cared even less. To the sea, to the sea, to the turquoise sea, like a mantra I murmured.

And as if in tune with me the bird I had encountered by the wall chirped alongside, running like a pygmy roadrunner. Was he encouraging me towards my destination or was he really mocking my stupidity?

The land under my feet began to change; the lava rocks gave way to sand. I saw shade of sorts from a tree, a mangrove tree, one that’s roots were buried under sand that at high tide the lower branches would hang in the salt water of the sea. Was this the coast line I was aiming for? Or had I once again veered away from the path of greater safety?

The sand shifted and moved in front of me. Black creatures – Iguanas slowly retreated from my path. I again tripped and fell; my hands stretched out and I grabbed hold of metal, the handle bars of a bike, the bike I had discarded. I was so numb it would take a few hours for me to realise that I had burnt my hands on the bars, the metal was white hot.

How many hours ago had I embarked on this fool hardy trip? Was the sun any closer to setting?  I collapsed under the minimal shade of the mangrove tree.

It was only a brief respite. I could feel my brains dripping down my face and onto the ground. How many brain cells would I need to continue this journey? None was the answer, for I could not complete this journey back to town without water.

Had the rest of the group seriously abandoned me? Had there been a falling out, or an accident?

Before I had time to consider just why I was out here alone suffering sunstroke the sound of a hungry dragon filled my now empty head. It started out as a dull rattle, but increased in volume and intensity. I was too weak to look for a place of safety or to be precise knew there was no place to escape the red dragoon.

My feathered companion was dancing up and down on the branch of the mangrove chirping ebulliently as if singing, “Now you are going to die, eaten by the red dragon, just by the turquoise sea.”

I lay back under the green leaves, the sunlight piercing through the green creating a dappled effect. And I began to recite Keats. The poem called Lamia, the one with the lines, – “She was a dazzling shape of Gordian hue. Vermillion spotted, golden green and blue: stripped like a zebra, freckled like a pard. Eyed like a peacock all crimson barr’d.”

Lamia moved ever closer, the noise rising to a crescendo of rattling and growling and then, then she beeped her horn. I don’t remember Lamia having a horn. Then there was a screeching sound and the banging of a door.

A shadow loomed over me, blocking the red and angry sun. And then the sound of a voice that I vaguely recognised as coming from Fernando, one of the guys from the Isabella Giant Turtle Breeding Centre that I was working at.

Water was splashed over my face and a bottle was put to my mouth. I felt the liquid flow between my parched lips. Lamia was not a dragon just an old battered jeep that rattled and the radiator steamed constantly.

I was maneuvered into the jeep by Fernando and David. As I slumped down in the seat, I wondered if they noticed that my brains were still dripping albeit at a slower rate down my face. If they did neither of them commented on it.

Later lying on my bed back at the Flamingo Hostel, having been given fluids and dehydration packets, I established how I had come to be separated from the group.

After reaching the Wall of Tears, where I had not climbed the steps to the lookout post, having complained I was too weak for the steps, we had cycled to a lagoon, where we had swum with the seals, a usual occurrence in the Galapagos.  David had moaned all the way from the wall of tears that his bike had a flat tyre. I had offered to swap saying, “I’m too tired to cycle back I will walk with your bike.”

By the time the group had realised I was not trailing behind them I had disappeared. After a brief but worrying search, they had returned as quickly as possible to raise the alarm for help.

Our gracious host at the hostel had at the start of our trip expressed her reservations of me going cycling with the group. She had merely raised a dark Spanish eyebrow at me and had said, “Vas a encontrar en una bici” – “You are getting on a bike?” That and the look on her face had said it all really.

And of course I had confirmed in my dehydrated state that she had been right.

Why had I found myself back at the Wall of Tears? Had the ghosts of the prisoners lured me to a possible death? I don’t know that part of my memory is lost.

My hands from grabbing the handlebars of the discarded bike were red and raw for a few days. The scar from the dragon’s sting remained a livid red for a few days but that too subsided. I recovered remarkably quickly from the sunstroke. As to the number of brain cells that melted beyond repair? Of that I cannot confirm.

There are no recorded sightings of red dragons on the Galapagos Islands. Maybe once there were red dragons, but today there are only two varieties of Iguana’s, the black marine iguana and the more colourful land iguana called conolophus subcristatus. But the Island of Isabella has the sub species called the Galapagos Pink Land Iguana, commonly known as the “pink morph”, which resides near Vulcan Wolf. I was too far from their range to have encountered these in my delirium. Yet I had am sure I had seen them on way up to the Wall of Tears before my sunstroke had started.  The bird that had taunted me through my ordeal was indeed the “mockingbird”.

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