Friday, March 19, 2010

Galapagos Journey Begins

Arrival at Baltra

What have I done????!!!!!! It did not take long to realize that Rebecca would have much preferred a luxury cruise and 'roughing it' was NOT going to work. I am trying to prevent a disaster, and it will take all my skills to turn this around. I am feeling rather desperate and hopeful at the same time.

The morning started well. We were packed and ready to go when the alarm sounded, Eric and Maya drove us to the airport in good time, our tickets were legitimate and our luggage passed inspection, the security gauntlet was benign, and we had time for coffee, an email check and a bathroom break before our plane began to board. There was a little snafu when our tickets were taken and we were on our way to the plane, when we were all shepherded back into the terminal for no clear reason, but ultimately we arrived in our seats on our plane for an unremarkable flight to Guayaquil and then to Baltra. Rebecca and I caught up on our lives and the time flew.

I could see immediately that the island looked very different than it had in January, with green shrubs and small trees covering what was once brown and dry. Santa Cruz was the same, as if it had recently rained and rained.

We were relieved to find 'Freddy' waiting for us, urging us to get into the bus to the ferry across from Baltra to Santa Cruz, onto the boat and then into a taxi for the ride across the highlands of Santa Cruz to Puerto Ayora. The sky was overcast and clouds threatened, which made it comfortable during what would otherwise would have been a hot and sweltering ride. We stopped at a roadside restaurant to pick up Janeth, the other half of our tour team. We were a little confused when we stopped at a fleabag hotel where our suitcases were to stay during lunch, but then suddenly Freddy wanted to show us a room. We objected and pointed out that our itinerary had us take a boat to Isabela for three nights and that our hotel in Santa Cruz was the 'Casa Natural'. We looked at the rather horrible room anyway, and suddenly Freddy produced a letter from 'Ecomontes Tours' apologizing for the change in itinerary, because the boat from Isabela to Santa Cruz only leaves at 6:30 AM and we could not leave from the island in the afternoon Sunday as planned. Our three days in Isabela would shrink to one and a bit, which was not our plan, but it appeared we had no other options.

Port at Puerto Ayora

Lunch at Kioskos in Puerto Ayora

Rebecca speaks and understands no Spanish, so she was getting agitated during the discussion about our rapidly unraveling vacation. I tried to review the changes during lunch, but was distracted because Rebecca cannot eat wheat or milk or shrimp or butter due to allergies, and everything offered at the restaurant was inedible for her. We did find something acceptable to eat, but in truth, nothing was really edible for either Rebecca or myself and we left rather unsatisfied. I tried to talk to Janeth and Freddy about losing our day in Isabela and adding our extra day in Santa Cruz and asked to go to Bartolome or Plazas or another island on the extra day while staying on Santa Cruz, in the hopes of turning things around. I still hoped and believed things would turn around for us; they simply HAD to get better!

Rebecca meanwhile was clearly disappointed and I was feeling guilty for having chosen a lower price option. Had I chosen a different, perhaps more expensive tour, it would most likely have been better organized, or at least the food would be edible.

The two hour boat ride to Isabela was excruciating, all the worse because we will have to take it again on Sunday to return to Santa Cruz. And what would it be like to motor over to Floreana, or North Seymour or Bartolome? I closed my eyes and tried to absorb the bumps. The ocean was huge, the waves massive and the boat small, unable to absorb the impact of the waves.

I missed most of the ride with my eyes closed, but we passed the 'quattro hermanos', four impressive rocks sitting together. This is supposed to be a good snorkeling area. The skies were full of clouds and rain threatened but never came while we were on the boat. A few frigate birds flew overhead with a couple of gulls. Puerta Villamil's harbour was picturesque, with mangrove trees gracing the shore and lava islands peeking out of the water. Pelicans and frigate birds flew about and I felt reassured that I was in the Galapagos again.

Sally Light Foot Crab

Brown Pelican

Sea off Isabela Island

Our hotel was better than expected. We joined a group of 'overflow' visitors from the 'Hotel San Vicente'. "La Laguna' is newly completed, modern, clean, comfortable, with a television and air conditioner. We had a little balcony looking out over a small lagoon full of ducks and a few flamingos. We met our guide 'Dario', who spoke broken English but oozed with enthusiasm. He was to take us for a tour of the major nesting sites of the flamingos on the island, but we saw a small body of water in an old gravel mine with two flamingos with their heads buried in the mud. We drove by the major turtle breeding centre, but it was too late to enter.

Flying Flamingos

Basking Marine Iguanas

Happy Iguana


Yellow Warbler

The streets of Puerto Villamil were drenched in water after what must have been an intense downpour. We wandered along a beautiful sandy beach with marine iguanas moving slowly and Sally lightfoot crabs scrambling over the black lava. Our dinner was at a hostal a few blocks away and it was unremarkable but edible; I am not sure what I expected, but I realize now that I have been utterly indulged during my trips to the Galapagos and that is my expectation all the time.. I will not overeat here!

Beady Eyed Crab

View off Isabela

I like being in the town and watching the locals walking, visiting,
playing, wandering. They are not overly friendly but answer questions when asked and are helpful with directions. It has the casual feel of an island town. We tried internet at a cafe nearby but could not do much because it was so slow.


Rebecca is thus far unimpressed with this magical place, and I want it to be incredible for her, but I cannot make that happen. Eric suggested that the price of the six day trip was too good to be true, and I have read that you get what you pay for in the Galapagos, and I am afraid that my concern about price is the cause of Rebecca's disappointment, and that had I splurged and chosen a luxury yacht with a great itinerary, she would have been thrilled. As it is, I will make a huge effort to salvage the week for her.

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