Climbing aboard a yacht with an assortment of young backpackers from Chile, Colombia, and Argentina, we all make ourselves comfortable for the quick journey to Isla Salango over choppy waters. The guides point out the locally famous rock formations that look like King Kong and a giant turtle.
15 minutes later, the boat sidles up to the rocky coast of the island. Eager visitors cannonball into the bottomless ocean, wondering what sea creatures they will see from behind their goggles.
In an attempt to conquer my fear of deep waters, I buckle up my life jacket and ease my way down the four-step ladder. On the bottom rung, I have a panic attack and cling to the boat in terror.
The guides’ prodding and reasoning is fruitless, and they eventually help me scramble back onto the boat. After recovering, I snap photos of the tops of snorkeling heads and admire the pelicans and albatrosses that are soaring overhead and pooping on the side of the coast’s mountain.
After a long hour, the sightseers scramble aboard with their new finds – coral, starfish, and other bits and pieces that they’ve robbed from the ocean.
I am shocked that they show such little respect for a protected area. What use would an ocean find be to them? Back home, they will show it off to disinterested friends and family, and then it will sit on a dusty shelf, abandoned and unloved, until it is tossed into Sunday’s garbage.
“Why are you letting them take that?” I say to one of the guides, pointing to the treasures left on the bench. “They’re robbing the ocean, and if you keep letting people do that, in a few years there will be nothing to see here.”
“I know,” he says, in artificial agreement. “But they want to take it.”
I proceed to give him a mini lecture on the consequences of his lie-down-and-take-it attitude. But the look on his face is one I have seen before. It is the false nod of concurrence men give annoyed women until they’re done ranting and raving.
I sigh in irritation, feeling helpless in the face of such apathy and passiveness.
Unfortunately, the evidence of ignorant consumption practices doesn’t end here. We pull around the side of the island to a tiny beach to relax for a few minutes before we head back to Puerto Lopez.
To my dismay, the beach is absolutely littered with trash – empty water bottles, styrofoam plates, and napkins are strewn all over the island, left by unconscious visitors.
I give myself a headache trying to figure out how people can possibly take a boat trip out to a destination promoted for its natural beauty and animal spotting opportunities, and then contribute to its ruin with their nasty garbage.
Highly agitated and confused, I bring a plastic bag from the boat and stuff it as full as I can with trash to take back to town.
On board I say, “How can people throw out their garbage like that? It’s pure laziness!”
Again, I receive the look of mock agreement that strives to mask the real sentiment – indifference.
Zooming back towards Puerto Lopez, I allow my irritation to fade and give way to gratitude that I had the opportunity to see the island before it’s closed off to the public for good.