On the island, there are no directions. All the things which used to guide me: the river, the highway, are gone. The land here peaks up in one high point, surrounded by sea on all sides. Back home, the river pulls South. There is a movement to follow. Even if you are stuck there, the movement implies that there is somewhere beyond. Here, the ocean, like a river all around me, licks back at my feet instead. There is nowhere to go but stay.
For most of my life, I lived in a tiny town a half-hour outside the Twin Cities. I felt trapped like this there too. Before I learned to drive, the place was boarded on all sides. To the East, a highway. The West, a river, then another highway. North, it stretched into homes and then miles of farmland fenced off from trespassers. South, again, a highway. As a kid, there were boundaries I could not transcend. I wasn’t allowed to cross Ferry street, or highway ten. I couldn’t cross the bridge. I couldn’t bike farther than the library. I had some faint awareness that the world was larger than the 3 mile radius around my parents’ house, having been further in the backseats of cars, but these places were not accessible to me, and thus did not truly exist.
On San Cristóbal, I feel this trapped-feeling resurface from deep memory. As I walk to La Lobería, I am keenly aware of the ocean to my right, the road beneath my feet, and the untouchable place to the left. On the Galápagos Islands, only 3% of the land is permitted for urban development. All of the limits were set when the National Park was created in the ‘60s. There are very few places to be that are accessible by foot from the town where we all live. There are no grassy lawns upon which to sit and read. There is only sand, cacti, and concrete.
Locals here talk about Island fever. The stuck feeling. Sandals melting to concrete.
On the equator, there is so little change, not even seasons to indicate a passing of time. There are days when it rains, and months where it doesn’t. The days blur together. A day becomes a month. A month becomes three. Still, when I think back on my time in the Galápagos, I can’t visualize a timeline. It is though there was only one continuous day, punctuated occasionally by the darkness.
The only movement here is the sea. On San Cristóbal, there are maybe five places to be at any given moment. The university, the Malécon, the gym, the beach, and home. I cycle between them. At the beach, I cannot help but feel restless, as the ocean’s pulse pushes me back to the land no matter how hard I try to leave. I grew up on a river, so regardless of how stuck I was, there was always a feeling of movement, an inkling of elsewhere. Here, there is no elsewhere. There is only the sea.
Growing up in a landlocked state, I had nothing as far as experience with the ocean. In movies, the ocean always looked like the great plains—a vast, empty wilderness. A treacherous field of blue. The first time I ever snorkeled on the Galápagos, my entire world blew wide open. I clung to a rock for an hour and watched a barnacle feather out its long, angelic tongue with each passing wave. For weeks, I tried to get as close as I could to the bottom of the ocean to watch the swathes of blue anenomes and impossibly intricate ecosystems pulse and whir. I could never hold my breath long enough to understand them. I discovered, however, many things about the world I had always imagined were totally wrong. There is no such thing as an empty field. Within each place there are interlocking realities, infinitely small.
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My name is Anna Šverclová. I'm a published poet and creative writing major at Macalester College. I love exploring the world around me. You can almost always find me digging in the mud by the river, journal in my back pocket. My writing focuses on my relationship with the world, childhood trauma, and my hometown. I write both for the page and for performance. You can find me at annasverclova.com