Saturday, October 17, 2009

Galapagos I of III

Shelley spent the morning and early afternoon telling Fredi she was loved before they dropped her off at their friends' place. "Do you think she'll be mad at us?" Shelley asked Brian. "No" he replied "But she'll be out of her skin happy to see us when we get back." We proceeded to the airport and got on our plane to Guayaquil a day earlier than we had originally planned and with only the most minor of trepidation. "Poor Fredi!"

While waiting at the airport Shelley oldest daughter sent a text message from Canada about some sensitive banking information. "Good timing" we all agreed but managed to settle the problem through texting on our cells. That process is so much slower for us than it is for kids whose cell phones are an extension of their fingertips.

We stayed at the St. Rafael ($34) in Guayaquil as our flight to the Galapagos was first thing the next morning. Whereas the St. Rafael seemed clean although plain the last time we stayed there, this time it seemed a little seedier. Still, we would probably stay there in the future because the price is right & the location is wonderful. Note: Guayaquil has it´s own distinctive odour; somewhat reminiscent of papaya with that sweet smell just before decay.

We arrived at the airport the requisite 2 hours early and ended up standing in line for almost the entire 2 hours as they were having computer system problems. Fortunately, at the last moment all was well and we got on the plane to find out we´d been upgraded to first class! Brian took a disproportionate amount of pleasure in this. The flight from Cuenca to Guayaquil took 21 minutes in the air. The flight from Guayaquil to Baltra took an hour and 45 minutes. On both flights AeroGal fed us better than we were fed on our International flights to and from Canada.

Arriving in Baltra you see desert scrub land, flat everywhere with boulders littering the ground. Flat leaved cactuses (called Opuntia Cactus) are ubiquitous, they're huge with many leaves like giant ears, standing there looking like scare crows. It immediately makes you think of a Clint Eastwood movie. Apparently Baltra was at one time a U.S. military base set up to protect the Panama Canal during World War II. The personnel on the base didn't call the Island Baltra they called it "The Rock". This is because if you dig out one rock on Baltra there's 2 hiding beneath it.

In order to enter the terminal from the airplane, we had to pass through a shoe disinfectant system and on the plane before we landed, they sprayed disinfectant into all of the overhead luggage compartments. We lined up first with all the Gringo´s and then were directed to the Nationals' line because we have our Cedulas. The difference is that visitors pay $100 and Nationals only pay $6 for the park fee. There is also a $10 fee for entering the Province. This process took us the better part of an hour. The Police were there with a sniffer dog who took great interest in everybody´s luggage. We don´t believe he found anything though.

We all loaded onto a bus that would take us to Puerto Ayora in 3 stages. The first bus is provided free by the airlines. Next you pile on to a small ferry, a flat bottomed scow ($0.50) to get to the Island of Santa Cruz. We then boarded a second bus ($1.80) to get across Santa Cruz Island to Puerto Ayora. The vegetation was desert scrub with Halloween trees (white; sans leaves) and cactuses. About half way across Santa Cruz as we rose in elevation, suddenly the vegetation got green and lush. Brochures tell us that there are 7 distinct micro climates on the Island. Getting closer to Puerto Ayora, the ocean came into view, tourquois blue and beautiful with many Galapagos cruise boats dotting the bay.

After an hour or two and a tasty lunch, we climbed aboard a 30 foot high speed cruiser to take us to Isabela Island ($30). The boat sat about 20 people on wooden benches around the inside perimeter. We were all issued life jackets and told to wear them but the moment we left the harbour & were out of sight of the Coast Guard we were allowed to remove them. We had to put them back on, however, as we approached the bay at Isabela.

Brian remarked, “It´s ironic that we´re allowed to take our life jackets off out in the open ocean where we´d most likely need them.”

The trip took about 2 hours and was not terribly comfortable. We ended up with 2 victims of mal de mer (sea sickness) and were lucky there weren´t more due to the domino effect.

At last we arrived on Isabela and were greeted by our guide Javier who took us to our hotel (San Vicente) in a colourful jitney bus. After we dropped off our luggage he took us on a walking tour of the town, including a flamingo lagoon with one resident flamingo who apparently has a broken wing. The local dogs have harassed the flamingos so much they've all taken off to quieter locales, so our broken winged friend is the only one left. (And yes, it was a brilliant pink!)

Javier then took us down to the beach. On our beach walk we encountered tidal pools, seals, iguanas, crabs & pelicans. We left Javier to his own devices and dropped into a quaint thatch roofed bar at the end of a pier. Our group consisted of ourselves, a young man from Denmark, a young woman from London, England, another young man from the Cayman Islands & a New Yorker. We were the “oldsters” of the group but for our entire time together they treated us with respect, some humour & made us feel very welcome despite our age differences.

After a refreshing hour spent at the bar we trekked back to our hotel where supper was served as part of our package deal. The food was comida tipica but nicely sauced and quite tasty.

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