Arrival in Galapagos

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Our very last minute flight to the Galapagos didn’t take long at all to get there though it was delayed somewhat in departure. The South American coast slipped away and before we knew it several of the islands were materializing below. They are (rightfully) pretty strict about what gets on these islands and so we’d had our bags inspected and organically scanned and they sprayed the plane down with something that can’t be healthy before landing. We had already paid the park fee of $100 and the $10 visa pass to enter and on landing everything was rechecked. They’re also pretty picky about who is on the islands which makes it very unique once you get to the main town in Santa Cruz. It’s a cleaner and safer Ecuador. While we were waiting for our baggage at the airport, a chubby man named Freddy mentioned that he might have a boat for us on Monday which he could couple with a two-day trip to Isabella Island. So it didn’t take long before Bjorn and I were on the hunt for deals and comparison shopping. But that would all wait for our crossing some very strange landscapes with black volcanic rock, desert cacti, and plenty of green and verdant plant life all mixed together. The airport is on a small island all its own and so getting to the small town required a bus, ferry, and then a free ride from Freddy. Then, at last, we could truly claim to be here.

When we arrived in the town Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz, I have to admit I was surprised. The town appeared to be much more developed than I was expecting. I will say now to other backpackers: if you’re thinking about coming here but worried about finding a boat, don’t be. Even if you don’t find a cruise, there are so many places to explore on your own, there are plenty of amenities, and aside from slightly pricier rooms (~$15/person) relative to the rest of Ecuador, food costs aren’t much more than, say, Montanita. We arrived in taxi courtesy of Freddy, and managed to get ourselves a room at the Castro (private bath, hot water, a/c) for $15/night partly because he was hoping to sell us a boat cruise. If we booked the cruise with him, the hotel was free on top of that, so staying was a no-brainer. We walked the town immediately looking for other cruises, deals, and spent the whole evening getting information, comparing, and bargaining until we made ourselves a deal that beat Freddy by $230 although she couldn’t confirm our spot so we agreed to make it official in the morning if nothing changed. Back at the hotel, we told Freddy the bad news – he said it was impossible for her to offer that price but if she had then we should take it and we thanked him and said goodbye. Thirty minutes later he was back knocking at our door saying he’d gotten off the phone and managed to get her price AND shave $20 more off of it – not to mention throwing in our first hotel night for free. So, he took us out to have a firsthand look at the boat, meet a few of the passengers who seemed happy if seasick with their choice, and we made a new deal.

The cost wasn’t cheap – nothing in the Galapagos is – but for 8 days on the Angelique, a Tourist-Superior sailboat with a/c and hot water with all food, activities, and snorkelling equipment included, a two night stay on Isla Isabella including a volcano climb with horseback riding, a visit to a flamingo pond, snorkelling, and return ferry, and our first night’s accommodations free cost us $1130 all in. Considering that most last minute passengers were paying $1200 for just the boat (and those that booked ahead were at nearly $2000 if propaganda is to be believed), we thought we did pretty well for an evening’s work. To celebrate, Bjorn and I had a drink and cheered, for the first time, to Cotopaxi AND The Galapagos. It was Wednesday night, April 7 and we had woke up that morning in Montanita with no idea we’d be in Galapagos and with a successfully negotiated cruise by that evening; that said the timing was a bit tricky. SCUBA trips leave at 7:30 AM and our boat left Monday morning from near the airport (Freddy was taking us out there). That gave me Thursday-Sunday to get in a dive, but we also had two nights/three days occupied with the trip to Isabella Island. And I couldn’t SCUBA Thursday as I had just flown and you need at least 24 hours, so that meant the next day we were headed out to Isabella at 2 PM.

That morning, however, was ours and we planned to go check out Tortuga Bay... that is, after paying Freddy a deposit. Nobody here seems to accept credit cards in spite of the large amounts of money changing hands and so most agencies are pretty happy to accept payments in doses. Most bank cards have daily limits, after all, not to mention some ATM machines. Freddy wanted the whole thing now but finally we convinced him to take as big a down payment as we could muster and quickly so that we could still get to Tortuga Bay. We didn’t have a lot of time but we did manage to make the 45 minute walk out and were not disappointed. Miles of white and pristine beach await with scarcely a soul to be found – in fact, wildlife outnumbered people by a fair margin which is just the way it should be here in the Galapagos. The surf was definitely up but you could walk a distance further to get to a tranquil spot where there were virtually no waves. Just iguanas, pelicans, and you. It was here that I saw just how magical this place was, that these creatures – some of which know planet earth only as a single island in this archipelago – had no fear and in fact even curiosity for humanity. We also ran into Dylan and Connor of Cotopaxi fame on the beach and chatted with them a bit about their stay in the Galapagos after which they treated us to some warm but tasty Scotch and we said our goodbyes. There would be several returns to Santa Cruz island, including our final stop from the boat on a distant Monday to return to South America, but we hurried back along the path just in time to catch our two-hour ferry ride to Isla Isabella.

Santa Cruz Photos

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