Galapagos - nature in action

Trip Start Oct 25, 2007
Trip End Apr 17, 2008

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Flag of Ecuador  ,
Thursday, December 20, 2007

Writing about your first visit to the Galapagos islands is quite difficult - I don't know where to begin, which of the many wonders of nature takes precedence over the others... I kept a daily log of which islands we visited and what wilf life we saw in the hope that it would later aid me in my blog entry, but now I am stuck in front of the blue screen, not knowing what to say and what to leave out.

Galapagos is a truly enchanted place and anyone who has visited will tell you that its well worth the mucho dinero you will spend to get there. For a first time visitor, a cruise seems to work well. Local regulations require you to have a guide in order to visit the non-populated islands, and you can't sleep over on them so it seems a bit hard to figure this all out on your own if you have not been to each of the islands at least once before and know exactly where it is you want to spend the majority of your time.

The islands are fairly spread out so its essential to have a reasonably fast boat. We came across some 100 to 500 person cruise ships, and gosh was I happy not to be on one of those boats. One day when we were visiting the Charles Darwin research center a lady stopped us on the street and asked us if we were from her boat, and I thought to myself, "it would be so weird to not know the people that I share this amazing experience with". Our boat held 16 passengers but the most we had was 14, and that was only for the first half of the cruise - some of the guys left mid way through my itinerary and after we picked up a new lot, we were left with only 9 passengers. I asked the guide Louis how the locals felt about such large cruiseships being allowed to tour around the islands (a fairly recent occurrence) and he told me that they are strongly opposed to it because the owners of these ships are not from the Galapagos and neither is the majority of their crew, so in effect they are taking away revenues from the local community. There are 9 such ships at the moment, but I'm told the Ecuadorean government is not issuing new permits at the moment.

The group was great and this added to the overall wonderful experience. There were Sebastian and Per from Sweden (I actually knew them from Quito where they witnessed my spectacular fall down the hostel stairs and had to support me for the rest of the evening), Lisa - also from Sweden, Tanja from Slovenia (we sniffed each other out real early LOL), Martin from UK (he was probably the most animated character of all and a constant source of good humor), a mixed French/Spanish couple, a German couple, Osmany and her mom from Colombia, two Latvians and two Americans. Apart from Osmany's mom and Elizabeth's dad (one of the two Latvians) we seemed to all be in about the same age group - and even those two were so young at heart that I can't say they were left out in any way. Martin and I had the amazing luck to be alone in a cabin - yes the cabins are quite small; adding to that the rocking of the boat and its impossible not to bump into each other when inside. I didn't get sea sick too much but I did end up taking a few of the tablets I had brought with me, particularly on longer trips or right after dinner.

I'm not going to bore you too much with the names of all the animals we saw, except to mention some of our best moments. One day as we were taking a walk we came across a sea lion that had just given birth to a pup and had eaten its placenta. Perched on a bush just a meter above its head were two Galapagos hawks, just sitting there waiting patiently to eat any remaining placenta that the new mother might leave behind.
The sea lion's face was still covered in blood and she was whaling, probably in pain, probably in anxiety, and trying to scare off the hawks that were just a jaw snap away from her. The hawks were undeterred. This all happened right on our walking trail - it was quite a sight!

On other days we snorkelled with sea lions (including a close encounter with a beach master and a bunch of curious and playful juveniles who would do loops around me in the water), Galapagos penguins (also very curious creatures, and even faster than the sea lions), all sorts of rays and colorful fish, an octopus, Galapagos and white tipped sharks, and countless sea turtles who would let you swim right up to them and pet them under water.

The blue footed boobie birds were one of my personal favourites, they do this adorable mating dance where the male whistles and raises its silly feet in the air and spreads its wings out for the female, and the female yaks back at the male.

We ran into a baby waved albatros, unusual for this time of year on the islands, and I accidentally took a photo of one of its parents circling high in the skies above us, probably worried about the fate of its baby. I only discovered that I had this albatros photo in the evening, while we were relaxing on the deck and recounting the day's adventures. As we were sitting there on the rocks admiring the baby albatros, a small finch flew right by the albatros and the latter decided to snap at it with its beak, thus almost snipping the wings of the poor little frightened finch. The young albatros reminded us all of Big Bird from Sesame Street - tall and shaggy with a bit of a silly bird look to him. We ran into another baby albatros, it was sitting close to a blue footed boobie bird along the path. The blue footed boobie decided to stretch and so it expanded its wings, similar to how they do during a mating dance. The baby albatros glanced over and, as if in mockery of the boobie bird, opened up its wings to the full potential of their over 2 meters long wingspan - and flapped them around until the boobie had felt intimidated enough to fly away... with its tail between its legs, I could swear...

On our last evening, as we were sailing back towards Isla Santa Cruz, I was gazing out towards the vast ocean and I caught sight of a dolphin doing somersaults in the air (not just jumps, actual 360 degree flips in the air), truly amazing.

On the last morning we went out to visit two salt water lagoons nearby the airport and were lucky enough to find a few flamingos there, skimming the waters with their curved beaks for scampi or other food. Flamingos are probably the most graceful birds I have seen, especially if you catch them in flight. I still don't quite understand how their skinny body can support that long swaying neck and strong beak.

Of all the islands we visited, Isla Espanola was my favourite. The snorkelling around Pinnacle Rock is simply superb, I hear there are other great places as well. Anyone going to Galapagos should definitely make the effort to go snorkelling every single day (yes its tiring and yes the water is cold so you need a wetsuit) as some of the best experiences are under water. Buy your under water camera in advance - your boat might sell them but at a ridiculous mark up. Also, I found the Charles Darwin Center to be a big tourist trap, and seeing Lonesome George was not as thrilling as one would expect - land tortoises are slow, clumsy, somewhat boring creatures. Puerto Ayora is full of souvenir shops and teeming with tourists and I did not like it one bit. And one last thing to note here - the internet service at the airport is $5 per half hour, which is absurdly expensive - refrain from encouraging such daylight robbery if you can!

A little about the boat, Amigo I, and the guide, Louis. The crew were quite friendly as a whole. The food was good although tuna got to be a bit boring after a while, and having pineapple (with chocolate sauce, how weird) or melon for dessert almost every time also lost its appeal on day 3 or so. The cabins were maintained very clean at all times. The one issue I struggled with (well, besides the fact that half the crew will want to become your "boyfriend" if you are a single female traveller like myself) is trust.

One evening I brought out my CDs to the deck so we could dance some salsa. After everyone else had gone to bed I hung out on the deck a bit, and before going to bed I checked in the CD player to get my CD out - it was missing. I asked for it many times, but kept getting the run around from all the crew members. In the end I complained to the captain and he told me that it must have "been confused somewhere with the other CDs". Imagine what an insolent thing to say. This after Martin's CD player and CD disappeared as well, only to turn up (and only after repeated requests and after the captain personally started looking for them) in the kitchen - the CD player on a high shelf and the CD in the crew's CD case. The captain explained these as well with "confusion". While I was on the boat, the cell phone of one of the German passengers also disappeared, never to be found. No excuse or apology was offered to me. I finally went to speak to the guide, Louis, to let him know that I intend to tell my travel agency and the school I booked through, and that I expect a different kind of reaction from the captain as he is in charge and should be able to "unconfuse" my CD.

You understand, its not about a $1 CD that I bought in Ecuador, its about the principle and the trust you put in the people who serve you - for a very high price mind you, its not like this cruise is cheap or anything. Louis promised to talk to the captain, only to come back a day later and make fun of me in front of all passengers for being so insistent that they find that CD. Not only that, later he came up to me to ask me to give him a good evaluation because, he said, he wanted to keep his job... totally changed his tune when it was evaluation time. And when Tanja gave him honest feedback that his English is not good and he needs to work on improving it, he got really snappy at her.

So there, you have been warned about the Amigo I boat... I'm having a hard time recommending it, despite the fact that everyone was friendly and the guide was personable most of the time and the itinerary seemed good to me.

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