Flight to the Galapagos was uneventful except that the monopod for my camera disappeared on the way (it was sticking out of a pocket so it may not have been theft). Even though we’re not business class on our South American flights, we’ve had 100% success so far in getting exit row seats. Cameron carries a lot of credibility when he says he needs the leg room.

The airport is on a small island (Baltra) that is on the north side of Santa Cruz island. We took a very short very ride to Santa Cruz and then a 45-minute taxi ride to Puerto Ayora which is the main town. The geography of the island is pretty amazing. The lowlands are extremely arid. The landscape near the shoreline is very brown and covered with dry grasses and large cacti. The elevated interior of the island is essentially a rain forest. Here, the trees are covered in moss, the ground is always damp, and there is an almost perpetual cloud cover and mist. These two landscapes are separated by about 15 minutes of driving! I took a couple not-very-good pictures to try to show the contrast. Later in the day we went to see some interesting places on the island – a farm bordering the national park where tortoises wander from the national park to feed, some lava tunnels, and a collapsed caldera. The tortoises were pretty fascinating (see photos). They’re very large and slow and for the most part, very old. The age of a tortoise is hard to ascertain, but we know they can live to about 150 years. There is at least one sub-species of tortoise for each of the 5 major islands that make up the archipelago – all with unique characteristics to help them adapt to their respective environments. The tortoises in the pictures are typical of the highland tortoises found on Santa Cruz.

Friday and Saturday we went diving. Besides ourselves, our group consisted of three Russians returning to Russia from skiing in Argentina, a couple on honeymoon from the UK, and a girl finishing a 13-month solo trip around the world from the UK. The Galapagos islands is one of the premier diving spots in the world and has an extremely rich range of underwater life. Much of this is due to the Humboldt current which flows by the islands at this time of year bringing with it a wealth of nutrients. The Humboldt current is also very cold, so we wore full-body 6mm wet suits. All in all, we were pretty happy with our dives. The sea was pretty rough at a couple of our dive sites and we didn’t get to see whale sharks, manta rays, hammerheads, or whales (the trophy sights of diving here), but we saw sea turtles, batfish, sea lions, and lots more (see photos). There are sea lions everywhere here. They’re extremely curious and playful. It’s not uncommon to have a six or seven-foot animal doing a loopty-loop around you underwater at a distance of 10 inches or so.

Our last day we went on a tour of North Seymour island – a piece of rock about 2 square kilometers that supports an virtual explosion of life. It’s a nesting area for Blue-footed Boobies, one of the iconic animals here, as well as for frigate birds. We also saw land and marine iguanas and lots of baby sea lions with their mothers. Blue-footed Boobies are pretty amazing actually. They’ll cruise over the ocean in groups at 50-80 feet and when they spot something to eat, they tuck in their wings and dive bomb, entering the water at a near-perpendicular angle. When a large group of them dives all at once, it’s pretty spectacular. Like many of the animals here, they don’t have a strong fear of man, which makes them vulnerable. That said, we were pretty impressed with the measures taken by the National Park to protect the wildlife while still allowing tourist access.

Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed our time here. Since Cameron speaks fluent Spanish, we spent a lot of time out of the tourist areas. We were frequently the only non-natives in the places we ate and usually drew a lot of stares. Our meals usually cost us about $8 each with drinks and tip included, which is about half the rate in the tourist restaurants. The people here are not wealthy, but they’re uniformly friendly and helpful. As an example, I left my rain shell on the boat our last full day on the islands. We were scheduled to leave at 10 am the next morning and I had no way to contact anyone who might be able to help. We mentioned this to the front desk manager of our family-owned hotel as we checked out. He promptly started making phone calls to get the mobile number of the lady who had arranged the tour for us. When she didn’t answer, his father (the hotel owner) drove us to her house. She wasn’t home, so he tracked her down through friends and got from her the name of the boat we had been on. He then personally drove us 45 minutes to the other side of the island where the boat was anchored, found by word-of-mouth the man who maintains the boat, who in turn found a dinghy and went out to the boat to retrieve my jacket. Unbelievable.

We’ve been in La Paz for two incredible days now. We’ve had some experiences we’ll remember for a long time but it’s been very difficult to find Internet access faster than 56kb. We’re off to Noel Kempff Natl. Park early in the morning, but I’ll try to provide an update on our experiences in La Paz when I get back.

4 Responses to “Galapagos”
  1. Kathy says:

    Okay, so now I am REALLY jealous. The Galapogos Islands have always been one of those “faraway places I’ve been dreaming about in a book that I took from the shelf” as the song goes. I’ve always longed to visit there, explore nature’s unique and rare diversity and will probably never be able to do so at my age, but at least you have given me the opportunity to see and experience it through your eyes and dialog.

    The photographs are wonderful – especially some of the underwater shots like the star fish and eel (must have been a bummer trying to upload at 56kp). It’s also nice that Cameron speaks the native language because you’ll maximize your cultural experiences and resulting memories. As long as you have some Pepto when traveling through South America, etc., you will probably be okay. :)

    I hope you tipped the hotel owner’s father or otherwise bowed in homage to character and consideration you would rarely find in this country. “Unbelievable” aptly describes him.

    I’m looking forward to your next report. Be safe yet daring.

  2. Seal Family says:

    Very cool pictures!! Ethan and I felt we were looking through a National Geographic! And the geography lesson is great, too. Although we have several maps, we may have to get one with more detail to find all your travel spots! We look forward to your next post, as we enjoy our armchair travel experience.

  3. justin says:

    Thanks for the update. I enjoyed reading it, and I’m looking forward to the next post.

  4. JLow says:

    Josh said Boobies ;)

    Perhaps he’s trying to boost his page rank.

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