Floreana, a Book Review

floreanaIf you hear “Galapagos”, you will probably think about giant tortoises and iguanas, and Darwin and his theory of evolution. But there’s another side to the Galapagos Islands that is less known yet absolutely fascinating: the history of the islands’ first settlers. Especially the history of the first inhabitants on Floreana Island seems to come straight from an adventure story filled with murder, sex, and mysterious disappearances.

Margret Wittmer, in her book Floreana, describes her decision to emigrate with her husband and little son from Cologne, Germany to Floreana in 1932. In this time, the only other two inhabitants on the island were the German Friedrich Ritter and his partner Dore Strauch.

What follows are struggles to cultivate their own food, rivalries between the two families of settlers and the mysterious deaths and disappearances of the “Baronessa,” an Austrian woman who wanted to build a luxury hotel on Floreana, and her several lovers. In her book, Margaret emphasizes that she doesn’t know anything – keep in mind, though, that other accounts hold her at least partially responsible.

The following years are rather quiet in comparison. For a long time the Wittmer family (with two more children being born on Floreana) are the only settlers. Their daily lives center around growing crops for their survival and taking care of their animals. They receive visitors from all over the world and observe the slow but steady growth of tourism – from very few rich people on their private yachts to a growing number of cruises that stop for a visit. Rolf Wittmer built one of the first yachts for tourists, the Tip Top (now there are 3 more “Tip Top” yachts) and Margret Wittmer served her German food well until her old age. She passed away at the age of 95 in 2000.

Visitors today can see the cave where the settlers first lived, Post Office Bay, which has served as a “mail office” since the 18th century, the beach where maybe the Baronessa was fed to the sharks, and of course the Wittmer guest house and restaurant.

 

Wittmer, Margret (2013 [1961]). Floreana: A Woman’s Pilgrimage to the Galapagos. Moyer Bell.

In 2013, the documentary “The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden” was published, which recounts the strange happenings on Floreana, with the voices of Cate Blanchett, Diane Kruger, and Josh Radnor:

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