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Sunday 29 Dec 2013
Isla Santa Cruz, Ecuador

Galápagos: here we come!

Our Galápagos adventure started with a 4.30am departure for the airport.  We’d been given breakfast boxes of fruit and sandwiches, but anyone going to the Galápagos has their bags scanned at the airport to prevent plant or biological contamination, which meant any uneaten food at this point was taken away.  After checking us in and providing us with our Transit Cards, David helped get my Cuenca flight corrected by talking to the lady at the TAME desk for me.  He must have given her the right smile because she waived the $15 change fee.  I was very glad to have that sorted.

We flew with AeroGal in a nice plane with seatback entertainment – better that Ailsa had flying out from Madrid.  Unfortunately, the entertainment only worked as far as Guayaquil, Ecuador’s biggest city, where we stopped to refuel and pick up more passengers.  Because the altitude in Quito is so high, the plane’s engines are less efficient so it cannot take off with more that 70% capacity.  As it was, it took a long time to get us off the ground.  After we left Guayaquil, I tried to continue the programme I’d been watching but the entertainment system had frozen.  

We landed 90 minutes later at Baltra, a former US military base on the northern edge of Isla Santa Cruz.  It was little more than a plateau of volcanic rock with a runway down the middle.  Ignoring for a moment the presence of an airport, it really felt like arriving in a remote place that the world has forgotten.  I won’t make this whole blog into a geography or biology lesson, so scientist friends (Nell, James…) will just have to forgive any inaccuracies as I go.  This is more about recording the incredible sights and feelings as I discovered such an amazing place.

We had to pay a $100 Galápagos Park Fee, but earned an extra stamp in our passports for the pleasure.  Our guide for the week, Fabian Bucheli, greeted us as we came through and loaded us onto a bus for the short ride down to the dock.  A collection of birds circled overhead, including frigate birds and the infamous blue-footed boobies.  Next to the dock we caught our first glimpse of the reptilian life on the island in the form of a male marine iguana.  The wildlife here has not yet learned to fear humans, so it is possible to get very close - although the park rules request you to stay at least 2m away, sometimes it’s the animals who come closer. 

We were ferried out to the M/C Queen Beatriz in two dinghies (pangas) and greeted by the crew with a tray of cold drinks.  The back of the boat had a deck for changing into and out of wetsuits and life vests.  This opened into a large dining room with two big tables and a counter at the back for teas and coffees.  Ailsa and I had treated ourselves to the deluxe twin cabin, which meant we had our own private balcony with a small table and chairs.  The cabin was surprisingly spacious and the beds were comfortable – dangerously inviting after such an early start. 

An enormous lunch buffet was served soon after we boarded, followed by an hour’s cruising around to Punta Carrion on the northeastern edge of Santa Cruz.  Ailsa and I sat on the sundeck up on the roof, getting to know Shane, Sara and Juliette.  Then we changed into wetsuits for our first snorkel of the week.  Mum and Dad had brought me out an extendable pole for my GoPro, which I couldn't wait to try out.  The water in Galápagos is quite cold, so wetsuits are a necessity, but they make it very difficult to dive down when snorkeling.  It took all my effort to stay submerged so it was almost impossible to take a good still photo.  There were lots of grey and yellow surgeon fish, a couple of white-tipped reef sharks and even a fleeting glimpse of a sea lion.  An excellent start to the trip!  My Dad is not a confident swimmer so he chose to watch us from the panga on the first trip, but we managed to get him in the water the rest of the week.  Mum hasn’t snorkeled before, but took to it quickly and loved seeing so much life under the waves.

We had a few hours before dinner while the boat travelled around the coast of Santa Cruz.  I wasn’t feeling great so had a lie down.  I didn’t bring any seasickness pills, having been fine on the three-day Whitsundays trip earlier in the year.  I was starting to think that might have been a mistake.  Before dinner, Fabian gathered us all upstairs for a welcome briefing and cocktail.  He introduced the crew and himself and gave us an overview of the week’s activities.  We were really two groups as half the guests were only staying until Wednesday, when another set of guests would join the boat in their place.  As Tuesday was New Year’s Eve, we were going to celebrate on land in Puerto Ayora, the biggest town in the islands.  This meant those leaving on Wednesday were going to have to get up early after the celebrations!  Fabian’s wife Lucia and his 13-year-old daughter Francesca were staying for New Year, too.  Lucia is a biologist and was good company on the land visits.  Francesca, having been born in the US, spoke excellent English and was good company too, remarkably comfortable and self-composed in an adult group.

I only managed a few bites of dinner, before giving up and going to bed.  Hopefully the queasiness would disappear with a good night’s sleep and I’d find my sea legs in the morning.  It didn't help that we travelled further by night, which turned out to be quite a rough journey as we crossed the open ocean towards the southern coast of Isla Isabela.  I wasn't the only one struggling that night.

 

 

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Zoe's Big World Adventure Part II - #3 Ecuador and Galapagos Islands

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This is the big highlight of the year. Joined by my parents and reunited with Ailsa, we'll spend Christmas in Quito, then travel to Galápagos for New Year, celebrating in style with a week on the Queen Beatriz catamaran visiting the southern islands.

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