Darwin, I'm here!

Trip Start Jan 19, 2012
Trip End Feb 03, 2012

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Flag of Ecuador  , Galapagos Islands,
Monday, January 30, 2012

The 3 of us depart the hotel about 7 am for the short trip to the airport accompanied by Fernando. Gonzalo also joined us for his flight back to Quito. He's starting the process over again with another Road Scholar tour.

The check in process included ecological inspection of all our bags and a plastic cord to seal the checked bags. Fernando handled checking our bags with 'AeroGal' (Aerolinea Galapagos), our airline to the Islands, and another representative had our documentation for the cruise and receipt for the park tax. We headed out to the gate to wait for our 9:15 flight where we chatted with a couple from MN who were also going to the Galapagos after spending a week on the beach. They asked about the highlands destinations like Banos and Cuenca since they were planning a week in that area. Sounds like a fabulous trip!

We were handed large red umbrellas for the walk out to the plane on the tarmac. Take off at 9:30 for the 1h 45m flight. The plane is a very nice Airbus A320 which includes a personal entertainment center, a wonderful headrest at just the right position for a short person like me and a hook for hanging purses etc. Why are US airplanes so backwards? Another breakfast, which of course we eat, and we can see the ocean through the clouds while monitoring flight data on our entertainment screen.

We land at the little airport on Baltra Island. And then taxi back up the same runway (apparently they don't have that many flights) to the small terminal building. We collect our bags, pass through official checking (have you paid the tax?) and then see representatives from our cruise ship, the Galapagos Explorer. They direct us to the bus that will transport us to the ship.

After a short wait for the bus to fill, we start driving. Baltra (also known as South Seymour) is a small, desert like island. It had been a US Army base during WWII. It's not exactly picturesque. I guess it's a good place for an airport. We arrive at a covered waiting area next to a pier. Our ship is out in the bay.

So, our first experience with zodiacs. By the end of the trip, I guarantee we'll be pro's. Get on your life vest and follow "The rules of Zodiac Boarding". First of all, hand off all extras encumbering your agility (backpacks etc)- don't worry, they'll follow you on board- probably. Second, firmly grip the nearest handler by their forearm not their hand. Third, focus on the location of the receiving handlers arm and then grip forearm to forearm. Fourth, as you let go of the security of the handler behind you, step onto the less than stable zodiac and quickly get your balance before continuing down into the safe haven. Reverse the process when leaving...mostly. ***See footnote re: wet landing vs. dry landing.

On to the Zodiac, out to the ship. Get your key, grab your carry-on and be guided to your cabin. CUTE! a tad excessive on the air-conditioning but nice- for one person with minimal luggage.

We're immediately fed lunch, given some time to settle in and then a meeting to give us the afternoon itinerary. We're also given the rules of the park: no touching, no taking, no leaving. Keep to the trails and keep with your guide.

So we're off to Santa Cruz Island for our afternoon outing. Note: this is a dry landing. Follow usual zodiac rules for disembarking. At the pier, we're loaded into a bus for a 45 minute ride across the island to the Rancho Primicias to see the great tortoises. This is a real ranch where the cattle co-habit (somewhat) with the tortoises. When the tortoises move onto one part of the ranch, the cattle are moved to another. The rancher is encouraged to facilitate this process by charging for tours. They get compensation and the tortoises are somewhat undisturbed. The owner also has the usual souvenir shop too. Our naturalist guide from the ship takes us on a tour across the fields, carefully stepping around the large piles of dried grasses- which is...???You betcha! We're able to get very close to them. They really don't care abut us.

We then get back on the bus for a short ride to a very interesting lava tunnel. The tunnels occur when the outer part of the lava stream gets cold and hardens, while the the still hot liquid magma within continues flowing. When the flow finally slows down and then stops, the outer hard shell remains. This tunnel was accidentally discovered by a cow- might be a local legend. Seems I've heard variations on this theme elsewhere.

Anyway, we have to carefully walk down to the tunnel entrance where there are stairs complicated by the lack of light. The tunnel is about 20 feet high and looks man-made. They have strung the occasional light to help us with our underground stroll. It's very cool and damp with the occasional stalactite. We have to stop and turn around after our stroll since the exit is blocked. I guess the ceiling eventually caves in- the life cycle of a lava tunnel.

On the way back to the pier, it begins to rain a bit more seriously. We perform our dry-landing boarding of the zodiac awaiting us, but get completely drenched on the ride back- spray complicated by rain. Fun!
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