Possibly the most magical moment of the whole trip to Gorgona was the trip home. The little coaster we had travelled in had dropped us off and moved on, southwards and apart from one other supply ship coming north, nothing had arrived at the island, and no-one had left, in the four days we had been there. Now we were to stay on the beach and wait for the returning boat. We were promised that we would see its lights in the eastern evening, board, and travel overnight back to Buenaventura.
We gathered in the gloom at the little shelter on the beach. There is no natural harbour on Gorgona, which is why we had done a ship-to-ship on the way in. Now, this shelter was all that protected us from the windy channel between here and the mainland. It covered a set of smaller boats and some fishing equipment, and we made ourselves as comfortable as possible on our makeshift chairs – buckets, boat sides, logs and masts.
We all took it in turns to peer out in the gloom. Several lights were visible of many coasters ploughing up and down the Colombian Pacific Coast, but it was obvious that these were all miles away and travelling parallel to the coast, none heading out towards Gorgona. The evening drew on, it was getting quite late now, and I was beginning to suspect that we might not be going tonight. Each little pin prick of light, lost and rediscovered in the tossing waves, was analysed by us shoremen, and rejected as they moved further up the coast or disappeared from view over the horizon. The crowd left sitting started talking and joking. Four days had gelled us well together and even in my broken Spanish, I found myself joining in to the conversations.
Then our attention turned to a pin prick of light which did not move across the sea in the same way as the others, but appeared almost stationary. We realised after some time that it was indeed getting larger, and decided that it must be our boat. There were moments when we thought we had deceived ourselves again, but then, unmistakably, it was growing larger and larger. The single source split into two and we could discern other lights on the boat. Then, all at once, a series of floodlights came on across the bridge and the whole bay was lit up. It was a magical moment as we realised that our rescuers had come, and for all our respect and love of Gorgona built up over the last few days, we knew this was a good moment to leave.
Activity increased on the shore now as the fishing boats were made ready. We found ourselves paddling across the coral shingle in our bare feet, shoes tied around our necks and rucksacks on our backs, the black water hiding our toes as we headed out to the boats, but the water still deliciously warm and soothing. It was after midnight when the last person had been hauled aboard the coaster, the flood lights were turned off, final good byes said and the coasters engines roared into life as we headed into the channel once more.
That was a beautiful evening. I don’t remember going inside. Graeme was very tired and spent the night in the cabins aft. I remember little, but there was a small amount of room on the deck that wasn’t taken up with cargo of one sort or another. At the bottom were piles of timber, ready cut, deep dark tropical timbers (possibly illegal although I wasn’t going to argue while on the boat). Above them green bananas and plantains of various sorts, and I was perched on a sack of hard oranges. I lay there looking up at the sky, marking the progress of the little lights on the sea, or watching the clouds drift in and out over the stars and a huge yellow moon, almost full. The boat made steady progress and apart from the engines, the main noise was the constant lap lap lap of the water as it hit the bows. I must have drifted off for I woke when it was almost light, a softening mist lay across the sea, and the outline of the Andes was clearly visible in the middle distance. I could see the main South American coastline and the heavy jungle coastline looming up. All at once we were rounding the corner of the coast and entering the grey harbour of Buenaventura.
What a contrast to our previous journey on this boat.
Of the rest of the journey, well it was a bit of an anticlimax coming back to the realities of civilisation and the noise of Cali. We said some tearful farewells at the bus station and Graeme and I clambered into our taxi for his house. But our minds were still full of four wonderful days.
The island had not the rarities of Galapagos, or the beauty of Caribbean Islands, the corals of the east, the ruggedness of Scotland, or the scenery of some Atlantic islands. But it had a wonderful air about it, and although the circumstances for its preservation were due to the utmost cruelty, you felt that here at least some of Colombia’s rich diversity was being preserved properly.