The Eagle Has Landed
As our plane made its final descent into Baltra, just one of many islands making up the Galapagos, it seemed as though we were landing on another planet.
The landscape looked like a cross between the surface of the moon and a nuclear test site. It’s incredibly flat and arid with not much on it except cacti and the Seymour Airport. It was anticlimactic and crazy hot. We were there at the end of February, and the temperature upon arrival was a balmy 30°C.
Inside the blissfully air conditioned airport we stood in line to get our passports stamped and pay the park fee. This is where you get your first glimpse at how popular Galapagos is as a tourist destination. Our plane was a full size jet filled to capacity and several of these arrive and depart daily. Galapagos is definitely not a well kept secret.
Once outside again, we boarded a tiny ferry to travel the short distance to the island of Santa Cruz.
Travel Tip #1 It’s All About the Benjamins
Bring cash ($$ US) for the multiple boat taxi rides you’re going to take. Our tour was supposed to be all-inclusive but some transfer fees were included and some weren’t. We never knew when we had to pay, and we were caught by surprise a couple times. Be prepared and always have cash in small denominations.
A lot of the big boats used for day tours are anchored far from the pier, so smaller boats are used to get you there and they’re not free. Bring cash to ensure you’re not waving good bye to your travel companions as they head off to swim with turtles and penguins.
Once on Santa Cruz Island, we had a transfer to our hotel in Puerto Ayora provided in the form of a little truck named “Scorpion”. Scorpion had seat belts that hung limply in the backseat and a rear door that I held closed while we hurtled down the highway at 120km\hr. I’m nervous travelling in any vehicle I’m not driving, and this was nothing less than terrifying. We asked our driver to slow down a little and he laughed and said “BOOM! Accidente!” while laughing like a maniac. Can anyone say “Adventure”?
After safely arriving at our hotel, we dropped our bags and headed over to meet the tour operator who was to give us our itinerary for the week and take us for our first tour that afternoon. We were met at the door with a huge CLOSED sign. This is not uncommon to see in the afternoons in South America, so we waited for them to come back after the afternoon siesta. We waited, and we waited, and we waited….
Travel Tip #2 “Island Time” is a Thing
Time is a relative thing on the Islands. If somebody says they will meet you at 2pm, what they really mean is anytime between 2 and 5pm, give or take an hour. We ended up not getting our itinerary until late that day, and unfortunately it was too late for us to go to the Tortoise Reserve and had to reschedule.
We also had an issue a couple days later when nobody arrived to pick us up for a day tour. We thought we had the wrong spot or missed the boat due to a communication error. Later we were told the guide was running a bit behind and we should have waited. I thought an hour was a bit excessive but apparently it’s common. If you find yourself in that same situation remember: it’s not you it’s them. Be flexible and everything will work out.
Puerto Ayora: Population 12,000
This is where we got our first taste of wildlife on the Galapagos Islands. Not literally of course because I don’t think you’re supposed to eat the tortoises, but you realize that the Galapagos creatures are everywhere!
I nearly sat on the first sea lion I encountered. He was resting on a bench in the shade and seriously, words cannot express how cool it was to see him. He was about 4 feet long without a care in the world. Even when I got up close and personal with him he was super unconcerned with me being there.
The iguanas, on the other hand, are a different story. Those little guys aren’t exactly mean, but they don’t like you getting all up in their personal space. Step a little too close, and one of them might conveniently clear his nostrils of sea water in your direction. Cheeky little buggers. More on the animals in my next post!
Travel Tip #3 Don’t Touch the Animals
This is a tough one. It’s incredibly inviting because you’re so close to all these critters and, if you did touch one, it probably wouldn’t freak out too much. That being said, it’s really not a good idea. Yes you’ll likely see other people doing it but that doesn’t make it right. Humans carry diseases and germs that could be harmful to them and I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be responsible for the deaths of multiple sea turtles. It’s also against the rules of the National Park and that kind of shitty behaviour will get you kicked off the island.
And for the love of god don’t try to feed them. They already have enough to deal with when tourists try poking and prodding them. They don’t need you trying to hand feed them your ham and cheese sandwich too.
Adele and I were fortunate to be in Ecuador during the national election. This was really cool to see how other countries do politics. In Ecuador, you can start voting at the age of 16, but once you turn 18 you MUST vote or you will no longer be a citizen. No alcohol is sold the day of or leading up to the elections, and candidates enthusiastically campaign in billboard trucks blaring party promises at 2am. Ecuadorians are incredibly passionate about their elections as they are about most things in life. I freakin love South America.
Travel Tip #4 Stay Away from Large Political Gatherings
We did the exact opposite of this. Once the results of the elections were announced, Ecuadorians took to the streets to show their support of their new leader. We stood on the side of the road and watched hundreds of people go by waving flags and singing. It was super awesome. Galapagos is a friendly place so we weren’t super concerned, but I wouldn’t recommend doing this in all countries. Have you ever watched a Jason Bourne movie? Then you know how fast things can get ugly. Survey your surroundings and move away if things start looking a little tense. You don’t want to be caught in a political shit storm without an umbrella.
Well if you’ve made it through my ramblings this far that’s awesome! I really loved travelling this part of the world and I look forward to sharing more with you. Next post I’m going to break down my top 5 Galapagos experiences. Maybe. If I can get it down to just 5.