Postcard secrets from the Galápagos Islands
In January 2007, I was invited to take part in an exhibition in Quito, Ecuador. On completing this project I seized the opportunity to travel to the Galápagos Islands – a volcanic archipelago straddling the equator, more than 500 miles off the west coast of mainland Ecuador.
During my boat tour I visited an island called Floreana. In previous centuries, Floreana provided safe anchorage and a plentiful food supply for the buccaneers and whalers who roamed the Pacific. I learned that seafarers who frequented the island would deposit their correspondence in a barrel lying on the main sandy beach. Subsequent travellers would sort through the barrel and deliver any items that were addressed to their next port of call. In this way, an informal, free postal service was established, and the stretch of beach became known as Post Office Bay.
To this day, an old barrel mounted on a pole functions as a makeshift letter box for the island. It is situated on a sandy track that leads up from the beach, sitting amid a collection of driftwood and debris that has been personalised by passing travellers over the years. Tourists are now invited to place a postcard without a stamp into the barrel, in the hope that a future visitor will one day pick it up and deliver it to its intended destination.
I intended to deliver them as soon as I returned to the UK, but more than two years passed before I had the time and funds necessary to realise my plan. In the summer of 2009, I set out on a journey to personally hand-deliver each postcard to its destination. I travelled by train and bicycle for almost three weeks, staying at little B&Bs and cheap hotels along the way.
While I was planning my trip, the postcards seemed to be brimming with potential – imbued with the prospect of an adventure that I was yet to have. I also perceived a certain poignancy in the humble, handwritten messages; they ossified a moment of absence between the sender and the recipient, and the slowly fading salutations spoke to the fact that all human relationships are subject to entropy and the passing of time.