Being a rare invasive species in the Galápagos

April 21st, 2012

by Lauren Russell, graphics editor

A group of us first met Javier, a 20-something Galapagean with braces and moderate English proficiency aided by gestures, at the club El Neptuno on Sunday night. We had gone to support Kathryn as she filmed her subject, Violeta, pole dance. As we watched Violeta twist and bounce between the pole and a neon portrait of Jesus on the wall behind her, Javier introduced himself to videographer Mika and me. I could barely hear what he was saying, but he asked to take a picture with us — a funny role reversal for the group of photographers.

The next day, designers Ashlyn and Rachelle met Javier at the beach, and he showed them the picture of Mika and me with him. He remembered Mika’s name and asked to be reminded of my name. When the design and development team took a beach trip to La Corolla on Tuesday, Javier spotted us as we were walking on the dirt road, and he said he was on his way there too. He knew my name. I recognized him by his braces. He got off his bike and walked it beside us to the water. At the beach he told us where to swim, and pointed out aquatic iguanas blending into the lava rocks and sea turtle heads popping in and out of the water. When we had had enough sun, he accompanied us to our lunch of chicken sandwiches and sodas, where we saw Julia trying to bring back lunched for three to the videographers who didn’t have the luxury of taking lunch breaks, much less a beach break, that early afternoon. Julia paid for waters and then didn’t get them, and Javier was there to translate and save the parched throats of the newsroom.

That Thursday, Rachelle and I went to a bar called Iguana Rock and, of course, were greeted by Javier.

“I saw you walking,” he said to me, yelling over the music and moving his arms back and forth to illustrate me walking. “You were with that guy with the… how do you say?” moving his hands on his chin to signal “beard.” He asked what Jon’s name was even though he hadn’t met Jon. He danced with us to what is internationally known as club music, i.e. Rihanna and Usher and others of the like, until we left to rest up for tomorrow’s work. We knew it couldn’t be goodbye for long.

We next spotted Javier on Saturday when we were rewarding ourselves with ice cream after our video showing. Someone had seen him earlier that day and told him about the showing, and I was surprised to not see him there. He said he would have been there if he hadn’t had to help his sister that day. Javier took down a few emails and the url for our project so he could stay in touch.

I never asked him why he was so fascinated with us and kind to us, but I suspect he craved knowing the unfamiliar as we, a group of journalists who had jumped at the opportunity to go to a foreign place where most of us didn’t speak the language, craved the unfamiliar. During my summer internship in Beijing, I remember going to a bar after several weeks of not seeing anyone not of Asian descent other than my roommate and myself in the mirror. I was tired of stares and photographs with strangers on the street just because I didn’t have straight black hair, and I missed being an undistinguishable female on UNC’s campus. Yet, at the bar, I couldn’t help but stare at the Caucasians.

As we took pictures of blue-footed boobies and sea lions on park benches, the unusual in our eyes, Javier turned his intrigue and camera to us, the pale English speakers with intimidating camera equipment, some of which resembled a Mars rover. Thanks, Javier, for reminding us of what anomalies we were and treating us with such kindness.