Transit to the Galapagos Archipelago: Guayaquil to Baltra to Santa Cruz to Floreana.In retrospect, I seem to have known as little about the Galapagos as is possible to know. For instance, I sure didn't expect that the airplane we would use to fly out there would be a big passenger Jet (let's call it a 737, it may have been a different 6 seat across passenger Jet). I have these pictures in my head of these very dry desert islands with cactus and tortoise and not much else going on. Surely no one would live there all year round? I guess I could have read the travel brochure more closely, but that sounds a lot like reading the instructions before you try to put the entertainment center together, and all guys know that that is cheating. (Editor's note: now he has more credits for agreeing to join me on this adventure, given what he thought he was getting into)
So, we meet up with the other 14 people on our tour and do a quick trip out to the airport. We are just traveling from one airport to another in Ecuador, so no special paperwork. Our baggage allowance does go down from 50 pounds to 44 pounds. You know why? Because we are now metric and 44 pounds is 20 kilos! The airplane ride is pretty standard, except the part where they fumigate the cabin to stop pesky insects from invading the island paradise (Ok, this was really just the flight attendants going through the cabin with an aerosol can and spraying a couple of spurts into each overhead bin. Sounded a lot more sinister when they announced it over the intercom. (I was not at all crazy about having Ecuadorian insecticide sprayed over my head, where was my gas mask?) When we touched down at the airport on the Galapagos, the scene out my window was exactly what I was expecting. Nothing except cactus and dead trees and volcanic looking soil. A flat land of nothing. Perhaps that is a volcano in the distance. The airport is a big open air like structure. Three large wind turbines spin in the background generating electricity. Inside the terminal, it is unexpectedly cool, with large, slow moving ceiling fans and a lot of open space up high for the heat to leak out. Someone put some design effort into this place. It has a very modern yet stark feel about it. Once again, there is a focus here on keeping exotic invasive species (especially plants) out of the islands. Don't bring in any fruit or seeds. We go through another inspection. Our guide tells us to make sure and tell the inspector to leave the yellow plastic zip ties that secure out luggage closed in place (no tocar?). Because, otherwise, we would need to redo inspection between each island (and we are going to be going crossing a couple of islands today).
|at the airport|
|Power for the Airport, and our bus arriving|
A big bus takes us from the Airport for a ten minute ride to the little ferry site that is on the brochure. We pass a number of cement foundation sites in the desert and I realize that this must have been some military installation at some time. It turns out the US military had an air base here during WWII. Makes perfect sense to adopt that as the big airfield for tourists. I mean, the dang thing has already scarred the landscape. There is the ferry and the straight. I have been wondering about this. Are all of the Galapagos islands separated by little quarter mile straights? (Answer: No). We get off the bus and onto a 20 person little “ferry”. It is really more of a little water taxi. Certainly can't carry a car or our bus, for instance. Just us and perhaps our lugage. Two rows of wooden benches facing each other. A very simple and manual process. Our two guides and one tour leader (all three will be taking good care of us for the rest of the trip) make sure that our carry-on bags get slung up onto the wood roof of the boat. And our taxi driver fires up the 20hp outboard and coaxes the entire contraption across the little straight to the landing doc on the other side. We are already seeing interesting birds. A number of Pelicans. What is that? A frigate? A booby? A seagull? We will find out later. The land on the other side of the straight is identical to the land on the island we just left. Is all of the Galapagos this desert like place? I will find out later that the airport island (Baltra) and the island across the straight (Santa Cruz) were actually part of the same volcano. A laval flow created the entire volcanic desert thing and then a Tectonic plate shift opened up the straight. That straight was then further carved by the ocean current.
|The Straight from the Bus|
|This is the airport side after we departed.|
|El Rancho Manzanillo|
The ranch were we stopped, El Rancho Manzanillo, had a large outdoor restaurant with a thirty foot high ceiling to shade us from the sun. We were offered beverages and our lunch orders were taken and then we immediately walked out into the farm yard to see the giant tortoise evident from the porch. And there they are. Just like I remember from riding on one when I was five back at the San Diego Zoo. Big lumbering things the size of a coffee table. Most of the people were photographing the ones close by so we wandered out into a neighboring field to look at another one off by itself. You have to watch were you walk, the things that I thought might be ant nests were really lava bolders with just the tops peaking up above the soil and grass. I didn't get too close to my new tortoise friend so as not to bother him. I took some pictures. Next I became aware of other animals in the area. I could see and hear a goat over to my right, and also over there, behind the trees, was a cow. I couldn't see the cow, but I could hear it's strange Moo. It would Moo one short Moo, and then wait like 20 seconds. Then another Moo. My partner came over and we were chatting.
“What is that noise?” she asked.
“You mean the Cow?”
“Doesn't sound like a Cow to me”
“What else could it be?”
“I don't know but I don't see a Cow. Where is this Cow?”
“Over there. Perhaps behind that big Rock”
“That Rock is moving”.
This is when I figured it out and started laughing. “Oh,” I said. “It must be a couple of Tortoises...... ah.... making love, that's the noise they make.”
“And how would you know that?”
Our Naturalist guides informed us that tortoises mate pretty often. The male has a concave stomach to assist in his mounting the female. Their sex organs are in their tails and the process can last 3 to 8 hours. They also said that if the female isn't interested, she will try to discourage the male by walking under low hanging branches and knocking him off.
At this point, there was some screaming and yelling. I thought it was one of our other tour mates objecting to the rampant Tortoise Sex, but in reality it was someone finding out that some of those Lava Rocks really were ant nests. Biting Ant Nests- our guide called them Fire Ants. On sandal clad ankles. Yikes. This must be fairly common as the nice lady running the restaurant had a big spray bottle of home remedy that she pulled out from behind the Bar and applied to our unhappy fellow travelers.
After a very nice lunch of hot soup, plantains, and fish (I believe it was Wahoo) we jumped back into the bus and continued across the island, heading down to the port town of Puerto Ayora. I am now starting to get the impression that there are a large number of people living on the islands. Lots of inexpensive houses up and in progress. Some of them looking like they have been in progress for a while. Everything looks rather haphazard until you get right down to the port, where there is a cluster of nice shops and Hotels.
We are taking a “Speed Boat” to our final destination for the day (Floreana Island). To do that, we first must pass through biological inspection again (good thing we still have orange zip ties on our luggage) and then another of those little 20 person water taxis to take us out to our speed boat. Here is an interesting contrivance. Perhaps forty feet long. Enclosed Bow. Roof running from the raised Captains seat back to the stern. Dual big outboards. Two wooden benches with seat cushions facing each other and a small bench across the stern. Seven people on each side, four across the stern, a couple of miscellaneous crew and guides strewn in the bow with luggage or on the floor at ease. Certainly no extra room for stowaways. Everyone was handed a nice new and big life jacket, to use as a back cushion. This was apparently the boat's main safety feature. Before getting on we were all encouraged to be using some anti-seasick medication. My partner and I had already applied our Scopalamine patches and the tour guide had some dramamine that people could access. Using the medication was highly recommended.
|The water Taxi|
|Our Captain. He is so Cool|
Then, as we approached Floreana, my partner spotted some activity out to Starboard, which she and everyone else on the boat referred to as “the right”. (She was watching the horizon the whole way, as that helps if you're feeling queasy). She had found our first major biological find, a huge pod of dolphins (common?) out swimming and playing. These guys were having a ball launching themselves into the air. They were going 5 or so meters out of the water. A couple of body lengths into the air! Wow. The captain slowed down and drove over (carefully) into the pod and we all laughed and gasped and took pictures. Our guides said this was a lucky and not common find and meant we were going to have very good luck on our week long island adventure. I think we got a couple of pictures that may show more than just fuzzy things in the air in the distance. Let me see.
|There are our cabins, around the bay, over there. Somewhere|
Ok, so our luggage has gone off down the dirt road into town. Our guides say it is time to walk to our hotel. Actually, they point at it, it is off across the bay, that quaint set of cabins right over there on that black stone lava “beach”.
|Arriving at the Floreana Lava Lodge|
We do, later, figure out how to be cool, lying on our bed with the 2 small windows open and the fan blowing right on us. Won't be good if the power goes off.