After four days on the cruise, we’ve grown used to the routine of waking, eating breakfast, and then hopping onto a boat bound for our next activity. The beach today at Post Office Bay is whiteboard and unassuming, resembling many other beaches in the Galapagos. Likewise, there isn’t much new flora and fauna here; marine iguanas lounge on the rocky seashore, while sea lions frolick in the surf and waddle about on land. After a brief walk, we’re greeted by an unassuming barrel perches on a pole in a small clearing. “Welcome to the first post office in the Galapagos,” says our guide.
Back before there was any kind of official government support on the Galapagos, homesick whalers and voyaging vessels (who were mostly British) set up a barrel here in the Galapagos where they could drop their mail. Homebound vessels would then stop by and pick up all of the accumulated mail, and individual captains and sailors would deliver it by hand once they arrived back in England. There were no postage fees, and delivery relied entirely on the kindness of strangers. The practice was so beloved that even today, the mail barrel still sits in Post Office Bay, now collecting the post cards of tourists and travelers who visit the island. And now it’s the tourists and travelers who deliver them. Post Office Bay makes you the guardian of mail bound all around the world.
Grinning, our guide begins pulling stacks of postcards out of the barrel, handing them to us and asking us to read the destination off of each postcard. We begin shouting off locations: “OSLO, NORWAY??” “Anyone going to MINNESOTA?” “How about WASHINGTON, D.C.?” “PERTH, AUSTRALIA or TAIPEI, TAIWAN?” There’s a postcard going to Auckland, New Zealand, so we grab that one to deliver when we arrive in January. There are also postcards that aren’t going anywhere: messages to lost lovers, deceased friends, and future children abound in the collection. Many messages say “This was for you,” or “Finally made it,” or “Hope you come here, one day.” So the Post Office barrel doesn’t just serve as a mailbox, but as a point of catharsis and conclusion for a lot of people. It’s a way to leave something here in the Galapagos, to say sorry, to give thanks, to express hope, on what is the trip of a lifetime for many.
We also have a chance to leave our own postcards; because everything about this cruise is absolutely perfect, the guides have brought postcards and pens for everyone. I scrawl out a quick note to my lab at Yale, though I’m unsure any visitor would even be able to make it past the security gate with this story. “Who would you like to see here on West Campus?” “The Isaacs Lab. I’m here to deliver a postcard, from the Galapagos.” But who knows? Buoyed on the kindness of strangers, maybe it will get there.