Bibliography Texts

Leon Mandel—Field Museum
Galapagos Expedition

Leon Mandel

Leon and Carola Mandel visited Galápagos on the yacht Carola, named after Mrs. Mandel. During an enroute stop in Havana, Cuba, they were joined by six members of the “Museum group”—presumably scientists from the Field Museum. Voyage participants alternated in writing a report of each day's activities, which Mr. Mandel subsequently compiled in a 60-page booklet. The participants are named in the booklet, but their affilations are not given. A few excerpts mentioning various Galápagos settlers are presented here. Variations in spelling (Finsen, Finson, for example) are as written in the entries.

February 4th, 1941
Carola Mandel [at Academy Bay, Isla Santa Cruz]

We arrived at Academy Bay in the southern part of Indefatigable, or Santa Cruz, Island at 9:30 in the morning.

As soon as we anchored, we saw a little row-boat coming out to meet us. After a few minutes, the Teniente in charge of this small community came on board bringing with him an extremely colorful figure, a man about seventy years old with a long white beard. His name is Olaff Finsen, § and he is an Icelander; a sailor who came to the Galapagos nine years ago. He had been living, among other places, in the United States for a number of years prior to coming to the Islands. He acts as an interpreter for the very few boats that arrive here; today, mostly American warships that occasionally cruise around the Islands.

§ Entries by Carola (above) and Leon Mandel (below) refer to Olaff Finsen and Olaff Finson, respectively. The same person is identified as Oloff Finson in the Galápagos Field Monograph published by the U. S. Navy Department Office of Naval Intelligence. Elsewhere he is consistently identified as Walter Finsen.

I decided to go on shore and arrived at a landing that looked like a dock constructed of stones. I found all the town waiting to see what, or who, was coming.

Among the twenty-five Ecuadorian natives, was a man completely different in personality and appearance. He looked about fifty years old and was wearing very clean, and well pressed, shorts and shirt, and more than that, he had shoes on.

He came forward very politely to bid us good morning in excellent Spanish, with a slight foreign accent, and invited us to visit his house. I was very anxious to see how these people can possibly exist, and accepted his invitation immediately. His place was about two hundred feet from the dock. We entered by his front garden where he had some papayas, figs and bananas. Climbing some steps built of large stones we found a terrace made of gravel and ornamented with a large circular stone in the center, which was used as a table. Around this terrace were many skulls of wild pigs, turtles and goats that are found on the Island. He took me to the back yard, but did not ask me to enter his one room house, which looked quite nice from the outside. It is constructed of wood with a zinc ceiling, as are all the others on the Island.

He told me that he had bought this place from the widow of Nuggerud, the Norwegian sailor who was found dead on Marchena in 1934, after the famous episode of the “Baroness” and the Ritters.

My new friend said that he had been born in Alsace-Lorraine, lived in Spain several years, and finally decided to come to the Galapagos about eight years ago, bringing his wife and daughter. I asked his name, and was greatly surprised when he handed me a calling card which said:

Carl Kubler
Isla Santa Cruz

It was getting close to luncheon time and, to my sorrow, I had to finish this interesting conversation. He urged me to come back to see the rest of his “estate,” all of which he had built himself.

He accompanied us halfway to the dock and then, seeing the Teniente and some people waiting for us near the launch, he excused himself, saying he would much rather not mix with anyone. He added very seriously, “You know, everyone who lives in the Galapagos is a little touched in the head, and I am not an exception.”

The Teniente was waiting for me with a lovely present, a live giant land turtle which we had been trying so very hard to find without success.

My interest in Kubler increased a great deal when the Teniente warned me to be careful with him, saying that he was a very odd and mysterious “gringo,” and his main objection to him was that he had never invited anybody to enter his house. I have found that in the Galapagos they call all foreigners “gringos,” while in Central and South America we reserve this “courtesy” only for North Americans.

Rud, Walters and Lambert § left at two in the afternoon for Barrington Island, about thirteen miles away, where they are to camp overnight.

§ Rudyard Boulton, Leon L. Walters, Peter Lambert

Leon and I went on shore about the same time to collect birds and, naturally, I had the idea still in mind of seeing the interior of Carl Kubler's house. Kubler hurried to the dock when he saw us arriving on shore. He accompanied us on our shooting expedition, taking us through his entire place. He has fenced off, with stones, about two acres of land; we saw, between patches of wild vegetation, many different kinds of vegetables and fruits that he had planted. He had also dug some small wells to provide semi-fresh water.

The most ingenious part is the method by which he obtains fish. There is a lagoon at one side of his place. He has built a stone wall with a small wire door around part of this lagoon. When the tide is high he opens the door; after a few hours, closes this door and when the tide goes down it leaves, within this pool, many fish and only about six inches of water.

On the way back, as if he were reading my mind, he said that he would like to have us come in his room and look at some wild animal skins that he had cured.

We could not have been more amazed that we were upon entering a very clean room. It was furnished with a nice bed, a table, and a chair which he had made himself. There were all kinds of souvenirs from many different countries around the walls, and three oil paintings!

I learned some more about Kubler's life when he told me that he was very unhappy because his wife had left, taking their daughter, now thirteen years old, with her. They are now living in the mountains, about four hours from his place, with three young Germans who have a nice chacra or farm. He finished his personal history by saying, “I do not think that I will stand for this much longer, I will fix it soon.”§

§ Kubler's wife Marga and their daughter Carmen. The three young Germans were the Angermeyer brothers: Fritz, Karl and Gus. Later, Carmen married Fritz and shortly thereafter Marga divorced Kubler and married Fritz's brother Karl. Apparently, Kubler lost his chance to “fix it.”

In addition to this interesting gossip, we brought some nine different birds and lizards back to the boat.

Leaving this Island, I could not help but have the feeling that, perhaps, there is mystery and tragedy around all the few people who have attempted the crazy adventure of living here. Is there not even something odd about those who take a trip to the Galapagos?

February 5th, 1941
Leon Mandel [probably at Santa Cruz after returning from a day trip to Barrington Island (Isla Santa Fe)]

In the evening we entertained Teniente Salvador and Olaff Finson on board and gathered more Galapagos gossip. Finson put it best, “Pueblo chico infierno grande.” Translated “Little town, big hell.”

February 8th, 1941
Bill (Captain William) Gray [at Isla San Cristóbal]

Another boat unloaded a batch of grouper and some crawfish, following this a launch came bringing Mr. and Mrs. Wittmer of Floreana frame [sic, fame]. The Wittmers came out from Germany about nine years ago and disembarked at Post Office Bay to start life anew where no human could molest them.

It seems that they arrived just in time § to figure quite prominently in the world-wide notoriety and scandal connected with the Ritters, the Baroness and her two lovers. This is a long and interesting story according to the published accounts of the affair; Mrs. Ritter [Dore Strauch] having written a book about it entitled “Satan Came to Eden.”

§ The Wittmers did not arrive “just in time” to figure in the affairs of the Ritters and the Baroness. In fact, they had been living on Isla Floreana for a few months prior to the arrival of the Baroness.

Apparently the Wittmers and the Baroness turned this remote island paradise into a hell on earth—the Wittmers being the only survivors of this tragic episode in the history of the islands.§

§ The Wittmers played no part in turning the island into a “hell on earth.”

Mrs. Wittmer had been seriously ill and had been brought to Progreso for medical treatment.§ She had been expecting another child and had been attacked and trampled by a large goat. She was very seriously injured, but, fortunately, the Commandante happened to arrive at Floreana on an inspection trip about a week after and finding her in this condition rushed them to Progresso.

§ There is no record of Margret Wittmer being seriously ill in 1941, of being attacked by a goat, or of visiting Isla San Cristóbal. Heinz Wittmer did travel there, alone, in April 1940, and returned to Floreana a few weeks later. At the time of the Carola visit in February 1941, Margret's last child (Ingeborg Floreanita) was already four years old.

It seems that the couple had been waiting several days for some means of transportation back to Floreana where they had left their children. The Commandante had offered the use of the launch but there was not enough gasoline available to make the trip, some one hundred and twenty miles and return.§ They came on board in a frantic effort to thumb a ride back to their island home. We had scarcely enough gasoline for our own use, but when Mrs. Mandel heard the pathetic story she gave them a drum of gas and oil. She also gave them a large assortment of first aid supplies, and the Wittmers were two very happy people when they left the boat.

§ The prospect of the Wittmers leaving their children alone on Isla Floreana is remote, and the distance between Islas San Cristóbal and Floreana is about 60 miles, not 120 miles. Perhaps the writer referred to the round-trip voyage, not the distance between the two islands.

During their stay aboard they told many interesting tales of their nine years struggle for existence on the Island of Charles, otherwise known as Floreana.