Thursday trip to the Galapagos Islands
The alarm woke me at 6 a.m. out of a deep sleep. Showered quickly and packed mostly, then zipped up to the Terrace rooftop where there is a free Wi-Fi signal, and figured out how to put Automated Response emails out to alert potential guests at my upcoming retreat that I will return their communication this Sunday.
My tour company ride was 10 minutes late in picking me up, but he managed to get me to the airport by 8 a.m. through a very circuitous route all around hell and begone! He probably had a perfectly logical explanation for it, like at this time of the morning the normal route to the airport is nothing but a snarl of traffic jams, but I really wondered if he knew where he was going for awhile, because I know the city fairly well now, and it sure seemed like maybe he didn’t.
A couple of tour company workers greeted me at the airport and helped me get the necessary papers for the trip – it all took at most 15 minutes, then I was through security (even my full water bottle!) and into the waiting lounge at the gate. Met up with a lovely couple from Toronto, Kristina and Alan, who are down here celebrating their 10th Anniversary – and we’re on the same cruise tour! They are doing the 8 day tour, and I’m only here for 4 days, which in actuality is really only 3. We chatted away while waiting for our 9:15 boarding call, and I showed them my MagicJack and let them use it to call Canada.
Finally we boarded a bus which delivered us to the AeroGel plane. My seat was 3A, third row back from the front with a window! I’ve never ridden this close to the front of a commercial airlines – made me almost feel first class, even though this flight didn’t have a separate section for that. Kristina and Alan were seated right behind me.
It was a quick trip to Guayaquil, and during the last half hour of approach we were able to see the massive flooding that has devastated just since Monday both Cuenca and Guayaquil, and probably many more towns between those two. The torrential rains that have been happening here in South America are causing a lot of damage everywhere. Even Machu Pichu in Peru is inaccessible now due to massive mud slides that have totally closed off vast areas to access, even for those who live there.
We had to wait on board for about 40 minutes while the plane was refueled and new passengers boarded, then we were up and out over the great Pacific Ocean…for what seemed forever! It is 600 miles from the coast of Ecuador to the Galapagos, but somehow I thought we’d get there more quickly. Our flight lasted about an hour and forty minutes. Just before landing at San Cristobal Island, they announced they were going to spray for bugs, in compliance with the New World Order – oops, mistake – I meant the World Health Organization. So they went up and down the aisles opening the overhead baggage compartments, and sprayed something (no doubt an insecticide) from a yellow can into them. It was a very quick procedure and probably not too much spray dissipated into our breathing area, but I covered my nose anyway and tried not to inhale for awhile until it dissipated, all the while thinking how silly this procedure is. If I were a stow-away bug or insect, I could’ve completely outwitted this attack.
We were greeted at the very hot and humid open-walls airport by our yacht tour guide. Her name is Tatiana and she is the sweetest and most knowledgeable guide – perfect demeanor and education for her job! Once we were all checked through customs we boarded a bus that took us by a huge gaping hole in the mountain where they are excavating soil for structures such as airports and foundations for more buildings, through downtown Puerto Baquierizo and to the pier. It’s pretty sad going through this town, which is quickly becoming a city. All the ugliness of humans stands stark against the backdrop of one of the most naturally beautiful and wondrous places in the entire world.
Walking out to and on the pier there were sea lions EVERYWHERE. Now, I grew up with sea lions, seals, pelicans, large seagulls and large fish. These wonderful animals generously inhabit the regions of California’s coast, not to mention Oregon and Washington’s coast as well, and the Pacific coast of Canada, too. But I have to say that I was pretty amazed at how many there were and how they have integrated so well with humans that they just lie around anywhere totally trusting they have nothing to fear. They line the steps up and down the boat ramps, they lie on anybody’s boat they can get onto and sunbathe and sleep, they lie underneath the boat ramp in the most precarious places where you’d think they possibly could get squished between plank and dock with a sudden wave surge, and they lie on the sidewalk out to the pier where you must step sensitively around them.
Our large rubber boats, like Avons, picked us up and we bee-lined it for our Yacht, the Grand Natalia. Beautiful yacht! Well-maintained highly varnished carved wooden columns grace the main dining area, and all around the ship the wood is prevalent and immaculately kept, which takes a lot of work for those of you not familiar with the damage salt air and water can do.
Tatiana gave us a talk about tour protocol; safety, sanitation, animal treatment, meals, water intake, etc. Then we had lunch – what a spread! There is a mini-buffet where two hot foods are under cover, and the other 4 hot foods are in regular stainless steel serving dishes. The food was actually pretty good, and I ate more than I normally would. We had a little time off after lunch and I got my room organized…it is a beautiful room.
We rendezvoused at 2:45 p.m. at the stern to pick out snorkel gear, then were transported back to the town pier with the Avon, bussed to a cove, and walked a few hundred meters through dunes and plants and sea rocks to the snorkeling location. Again, sea lions everywhere, and a number of interesting looking birds, but sadly there was a group of locals or Ecuadorian tourists who were also using the cove, and they were clearly not terribly eco-conscious.
Nonetheless, we waded out through them and began snorkeling. Saw a number of colorful fish, such as the Parrotfish (which you can see many of in Hawaii or even the north coast waters off B.C. and down to California), Trumpet fish, Panamic sergeant major, Lizardfish, Black striped salema, and so many more. There was even a sea turtle with a 3’ long shell napping on the bottom til 8 of us were hovering over it, looking at it, and of course it got nervous and swam off.
My mask and snorkel were having a wardrobe malfunction (mask leaking and continual fogging, snorkel constant bad leak – couldn’t breathe without taking it off), so I swam in. The visibility was not all the great – maybe 12’ tops, and I’ve snorkeled such incredible places in the world that this, as nice as it was in its own way, was sub-spectacular for me.
Back on shore several other tour guests said the same about it being less than anticipated, and one had even seen what he thought was a human turd float by his mask! Now, since then I’ve seen the sea lions turds, and they are gargantuan and could easily be mistaken for a human turd, so possibly what he saw was sea lion, not human – one can only hope. Also, on the beach there was some plastic and Styrofoam litter – not too much compared to beaches in Mexico and even California and other states, but enough to call attention to the fact that human pollution is everywhere, even here in what is perceived to be one of the Last Bastions of Unadulterated Nature on the planet. Sadly, not so. There are more than 100 tour and cruise ships that ply these waters regularly, and they leak oils and fumes into the sea, no matter how well regulated they might be. And people somehow believe that lime peels are biodegradable in the ocean, so you spy the occasional squeezed lime halves floating around. I say this so that if you have any interest in visiting the Galapagos, you may wish to do so sooner rather than later. It’s quite clear that this place has been under persistent pressure from humans, and while it is still quite good now, it is easy to see that ten years from now it will be much different.
There was a mother seal nursing her baby on the beach, which became the object of much photography from our group. Finally we all took the bus back into town and had 15 minutes to shop (I bought 6 postcards of Galapagos animals and birds to send to my family members), and back to the yacht again, where snacks were served (none healthy, so I barely nibbled on a few salted fava beans and chose my water bottle over their artificial drink).
Shower and clean-up time came next and everyone vanished. The yacht grew quiet and I went up to the top deck where the lounge chairs are and sunbathed for maybe 15 minutes. According to the other passengers, it’s been raining most of their 4 day trip. So I was feeling lucky for this day, but didn’t want to overdue it as the sun is very intense down here and it’s easy to get burned, even for a person like me who can take a lot of sun and very rarely burns.
Back down two flights to the main deck I went to the bar and ordered a cervesa. The beers on this yacht cost $2.50 and are half the size of the beers on the mainland – in other words they cost twice as much and are only half the size! Visited with the bartender and learned he has worked many cruiselines before. Some of them were out of Costa Rica and he almost got to go to Alaska twice but the U.S. wouldn’t let him work on his ship as an employee in U.S. waters. Amazing!
Just before dinner was served, Tatiana had us meet in the sitting area for a briefing. A welcome cocktail was served to each of us (something creamy with rum in it – good thing it was small) and we took turns introducing ourselves. There is a couple from Italy (she speaks English, he doesn’t), a couple from London, a couple from England, Kristina and Alan from Toronto (celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary), a couple from Holland, a young man from Ukraine (a photographer/writer on camera equipment), and myself. A group of 12 very sweet people – what luck!
Then the buffet was open and we all filled our plates and sat at the well-dressed, colorful tables. I sat with the Toronto couple I had met in the airport, and our guide sat with us, along with the Ukrainian man. Interesting conversation and lots of laughter. Dessert was served after they had cleared everyone’s plate – a nice pie-shaped slice of what tasted somewhat like crème brulee. Yum!
Later in the evening the Holland couple began watching the BBC’s documentary DVDs on the Galapagos Islands on the flat screen this yacht has – it was excellent and we watched the first two parts of a three-part series. Then off to my cabin with a very rocky night in store as the yacht motored to the next island –Isla Espanola. My sea legs are not quite adjusted yet.