What does this picture have to do with stamp collecting? Read on for the full true story
Back in the early 1980’s, I had the privilege of working in the Galapagos Islands, also known as the “Islas Encantadas” or Enchanted isles. I was given this incredible opportunity by my calculus professor at UofT, who was friends with someone at Galasam Tours in Ecuador & they were looking for a foreigner with a master’s degree in Science (I had my MSc in physiology at the time). In the span of 10 days, I had all my shots, visas, work permits & I was in Guayaquil, Ecuador meeting with the representatives at Galasam. They were wonderful. They showed me around, arranged for all the permits to get me to the Galapagos and enrolled me in the Darwin Research Center for the rigorous Certified Galapagos Guide program, which lasted 6 months. During that time, I would travel with a certified guide all over the islands “learning the ropes”. After I received my certification, I was able to take tourists & dignitaries on guided tours of the islands onboard one of the Galasam owned yachts. No one is permitted to go to any island without the presence of a certified Galapagos Islands Guide. During my time at the Galapagos, I met over 1,000 people from all over the world, some of whom I still maintain contact with (are you reading mark & Andrea?) and visited some at their homes years after I returned home to Toronto (at that time). I have so many fond memories of my wonderful time there.
So on to the philatelic connection. On one of the Islands, Floreana, there is a very famous post office, at a place no other than “Post Office Bay”.
This is a unique post office. No stamps are required on your envelopes or post cards or parcels. The way it has worked for over 100 years is that visitors to the post office would look inside the post office barrel for any correspondence destined for their home country. They would then take the letter/post card/parcel to their home & mail it to its final destination. They would also leave a letter or card at the Barrel post office if they wanted & someone else would mail it to them. You would never know in advance how the letter would reach you or how long it would take.
While working at the Galapagos islands, as a guide, I had opportunities not available to most tourists or visitors. I could go to any island and I visited every island in the archipelago many times. I took over 4000 photos during my stay there. Remember this was way before digital cameras. I used a Pentax SLX camera using good old Kodak High definition film
Film was hard to get a hold of & when I would visit Quito or Guayaquil, I would purchase 2 dozen rolls of film at a time (which would last me maybe a few weeks). There was no way to process the film in the Galapagos, so I would need to arrange to send the film home to Toronto. Whenever there was any Canadian visitor on the yacht I was working on, I would ask them to take the film home & send it to my parents where they would process the film. I never saw a single photo I took for two years until I returned home after my stay in the Galapagos.
Now to the real story. At one point in late July, 1983, I had used about 20 rolls of film & there was no one who could take the rolls home for me. So I decided to place a package at Post Office Bay in the hopes of someone delivering it for me. Two weeks later, a group of US tourists were aboard, and we got along famously. One of the passengers was aboard with his fiancée at the time (they were later married). His name was Philip, a United States Marine First Lieutenant, and had just finished his Surface Warfare Officers’ School (SWOS) in Newport, RI. He was heading back to Newport right after their vacation in the Galapagos. After dinner one evening, he pulled out the package of film that I had deposited into the Post Office Barrel & told me he would make sure it got home for me. He had picked it up while we were at Post Office bay the previous day & I had not seen him take it nor did he tell me till the next evening.
The trip ended, we exchanged addresses & I thought nothing more of it. I knew that Philip would get the job done for me. The United States Marine Corps always does. And that he did, but in a very unusual way.
Years later, I found out the real story as to how the parcel had gotten to my parent’s home in Toronto.
When Philip returned to Newport, he was immediately ordered to Okinawa ( Camp Butler I think) and went there the next day. With him, he had my 20 rolls of film. A few days after he arrived at Okinawa, a friend of his was on his way to Germany to Camp Panzer Kaserne, for re-assignment. So Philip gave the films to his friend and asked him to personally ensure the films were delivered. When his friend arrived in Germany (I do not remember his name unfortunately, although Philip did tell me at one time), he put the films away in a safe place. When he finally had the time, he remembered he had promised Philip to deliver the films. While visiting a friend in a nearby town (Herrenburg if I recall correctly), he met a friend the who was in the RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force) stationed in Lahr Germany. He asked if he would mail the package for him when he flew back to CFB Borden (which is about 45 minutes from my parent’s home).
This RCAF officer, personally delivered the package to my parent’s home, about 9 months after it left the Galapagos.
When I returned from the Galapagos, the package was there (in its original lead lined bag) with the hundreds of other rolls that I had sent home.
It was only after several years later, that I had learned of the circuitous route that the parcel from Post Office Bay, Galapagos had taken to get to my home in Canada:
Post Office Bay, Floreana, Galapagos Islands
Newport Rhode Island, USA
Camp Butler, Okinawa, Japan
Camp Panzer Kaserne, Germany
Camp Borden, Ontario, Canada
And lastly to Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
My friend Philip passed away several years ago, but we maintained casual contact over the years.
He was a friend & a true Marine
PS: For several years after my return, I regularly presented slide shows of the many photos I had taken to classes where my children attended school, and tried to teach them about conservation & the love of nature. I still have those photos & may post some on my site in time if there is any interest.