Ecuador and the Galapagos Part 2: To the Islands!

 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Our day started early at 5:30 AM. We were to meet our cab at 6:50 to take us back to the airport, so naturally Prontosaurus (Greg) wanted to get up at the butt-crack of dawn. For once, we got ourselves going in an orderly fashion. We even had time to sit down and have a cup of coffee and continental breakfast before our cabbie showed up.

We checked out of Patio Andaluz (we barely knew you!) and put Quito in the rear view mirror. The drive to the airport was a little scary, because there was a very dense fog. Our cabbie navigated it flawlessly and put us out at the terminal well early of our required check-in. Our tour operator was waiting for us at the door and escorted us to the SICGAL, the System for Inspection and Quarantine in the Galapagos (the acronym makes sense in Spanish). The Galapagos is a national park in Ecuador, and they take its protection very seriously. All persons headed for the Galapagos must undergo a thorough inspection of bags to avoid the introduction of any invasive plants or animals. All of our bags were xrayed, and the checked bags were fastened shut with plastic lock-ties. We were given a declaration to complete and give to the inspector upon arrival at the Galapagos Islands. The tour operator met us again after the inspection and gave us our boarding passes, boat tickets and final instructions. I went into the airport bathroom and put on the seasickness patch. I’m taking no chances!

Our flight was on time. The flight to Guayaquil was about 30 minutes in the air, and in that time the crew managed to deliver a free muffin and a hot cup of coffee. Avianca 1, United 0. The same plane was taking us on to the islands, so we were told to stay in our seats. I was surprised that the plane was so large. Somehow I had in my mind that we would be taking a puddle-jumper to the islands, but this was an Airbus 330 with over 100 passengers.

The flight from Guayaquil to San Cristobal in the Galapagos was about 1 1/2 hours. Everyone on the plane was full of excitement, and the atmosphere was electric. The people in the row ahead of us are going to be on the same boat as we are, and one of their children is Genene’s age. Perhaps Genene will find a friend, which will make her parents happy but lonely. We got a cup of coffee, a small hot sandwich and a diet coke, all free. Avianca 2, United 0.

About 15 minutes prior to landing on San Cristobal Island, the crew passed through the cabin and opened all the overhead bins. All planes headed for the Galapagos are treated to protect the fragile ecosystem of the islands from damaging non-native plants and animals, even microscopic ones. The flight attendants (who are all beautiful women, by the way, wearing bright red dresses with the make-up to match) opened all of the overhead storage bins and sprayed an aerosol in the the bins and on each bag. I could smell the bug killer.

The plane landed smoothly, but we all chuckled because the pilot took up every inch of the runway. The plane began its taxi with a sharp turn, and we could all see the drop-off to the ocean. There was no margin for error. Most tours begin and end on San Cristobal because it is one of the few islands with an airport.

We deplaned onto the tarmac and went inside and through the control area to the national park. Our carryon bags were opened and checked by hand to make sure that we were not carrying seeds or food on any other contraband that could damage the ecosystem of the islands.

We gathered our duffel bags from the baggage carousel, found our Ecoventura guide and boat mates, and waited outside for the bus to carry us to the boat. It was hot and steamy.

Are we there yet?

Various dive groups and tour operators lined this area:

The passengers of the Flamingo:
I’m hot and tired!

 

The bus ride to boat was short.

Are we there yet?

First glimpse of the harbor through the bus window:

These guys were lounging around all over the docks.
The pier:
The sea lions have no fear of people and lay around all over the steps, piers, and sidewalks:
Crabs are plentiful:
Another view of the pier:
Try going down these steps:
We were met at the pier by our guides, who passed out life jackets to everyone. We loaded into two pangas (zodiaks) for the ride through the harbor to our boat:

It was a short panga ride to our home for the week, the Flamingo I.

First glimpse of the Flamingo:

A sea lion and a heron hang out on a boat:
I’m king of this boat!
Our guides told us that the sea lions can be a menace in the port. Sometimes a large male will sit atop a boat and call to his mates. They sometimes swarm on a smaller boat and sink it.
A closer view of the Flamingo:
The panga drivers pulled up to the rear of the boat, and we unloaded one by one. We alternated sides when unloading to keep the panga balanced. Hands are slippery with sunscreen, so we were told to grasp wrist to wrist as we step off the panga to the boat.

We had a buffet lunch and initial briefing. We met the 17 people who were sharing this adventure with us: a couple from Austin (originally from Great Britain) with their 11 year old grandson; a couple from Boston with two girls,11 and 10; a couple from Vancouver with their 11 year old daughter; a couple from Portland, Oregon with their 14 year old son and 11 year old daughter; another couple from Boston (but who formerly lived in Dallas) with their 12 year old son. I was so excited to see all the kids of similar ages and interests. It did not take the kids long to start talking to one another and forming their own pack.

We met our guides for the week, James and Hernan. They gave us some of the ground rules for dealing with the animals. We are supposed to keep a 6-foot separation from us and any animal. We must watch where we put our feet to avoid stepping on any creatures or plant life. If the animals come too close to us, we are to “do the Michael Jackson walk” and move back away from them. It’s hard to imagine that the animals will be this close. We are also to take nothing from the island. If we pick something up, we are to put it back down exactly where we found it. We are to avoid stepping on any vegetation. The guides apologized in advance and told us that they were going to be “quite bossy” in enforcing the park rules.

After lunch, we were given some time to unpack. The cabins were small but nice. Genene and I shared one cabin, and Greg is around the back side of the boat in the other. Our cabins are side by side, and they are the only cabins that open to the outside. We had originally thought that the doors to the room would open from the inside, but that was not to be the case. We can knock on the wall if we need anything.

The crew put us all through a safety drill and showed us where our life preservers were in our rooms, where to muster, and what the alarm would sound like. They told there would only be this one drill, and if we heard that alarm again, it would be a real emergency.

At 4:00 PM, we took a panga ride back to shore and rode a bus for a short distance to a local swimming hole.

The black lava rocks are beautiful:

Vegetation grows right up through the rocks:

This little lava lizard posed for me:

 

Sea lions were lounging on the black lava rocks and swimming in the water with the locals:

A view of my intrepid traveler at the local swimming hole:
The sea lion played peekaboo with the kids:

 

Birds stroll close to us:

A “mom” sea lion and her baby lumbered by and settled down for some family time:

“Mom” laid on the shore nursing her little one, and they were both completely oblivious to humans. They do not regard us as predators, and we could get close enough to hear the suckling sounds. The kids enjoyed watching the sea lions in the water and getting their feet wet.

Slurp, slurp:
Can you see the two sea lions that the girls are watching? They blend into the lava rocks quite well:
Watching the nursing sea lion:
These two look as if they are sharing a joke: “This sea lion walked into a bar….”
Covered in sand:
Our guide told us that the sea lion mothers go out to hunt for several hours a day, leaving their babies on the shore. When they come in, the pups line up, and each mom identifies her pup based on smell. This is one reason it is important not to touch the babies:
Can you see the little hermit crab strolling across the beach? Also, take note of the incredible number of shells. It was tempting to pick up a pocketful, but I did not want to end up in jail so I resisted the urge.

On the walk back to the bus, we ran into a marine iguana. I would say he was about 2 feet long, head to tail.

I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille:

 

We rode the bus back into town and spent a couple of minutes souvenir shopping. Genene had her eye on a little leather wallet, and Greg and I each got a cold beer and sat out on the park benches in the shade.

More sea lions hanging out:
Beach bum:
I like to imagine the lives of the people I see along the way. I wonder what these folks do and how they make their living with this small boat?
On the panga headed back to the boat:
Sunset and the Flamingo:

 

We rode the pangas back to boat and splashed water on our faces and went to the lounge area for the captain’s welcome.

Genene took an opportunity to relax for a moment in the cabin. What a view from our window!

 

In the lounge, our guides James and Hernan were waiting to tell us about tomorrow’s activities. The lounge area has two large flat screen televisions, onto which the guides project a powerpoint presentation. They showed a map of our sailing route, photographs of things we should expect to see, an itinerary of events, and a description of things we should bring for each trip. They told us whether each landing will be wet or dry and what kind of shoes to wear. After the presentation, the main itinerary is written on a white board. The guides encouraged us to take a photo of the board each day so that we could refer to it. Everyone has an iPad or iPhone, and there are some nice cameras hanging off of necks all around. In fact, our guide Hernan takes photographs for National Geographic. How cool is that?

We are headed to Genovesa Island, which is a voyage of several hours.

The captain made his entry, and he is a handsome fellow and much younger than I would have imagined. He thanked us for coming aboard and told us that the Flamingo was to be our home for the week, and we were to all be friends sharing the adventure together. I do not think that will be hard. He introduced us to his crew, and there was a pink champagne toast (for adults) and orange/cherry juice for the kids. Directly after the toast, a delicious dinner was served: mozzarella and tomato appetizer, a choice of octopus or filet mignon for the main course, and a warm Chocolate ganache dessert to die for. The Gordons are in heaven!

We are awestruck at how nice and interesting all of the passengers are. The dinner tables are 4-tops, and there are just enough tables to seat everyone aboard. That means that the families who are “threesomes” have to mix it up. We have been sitting as a family, but we will need to change that. I am sure the kids will start wanting to sit together, and that will leave us some opportunities to sit with adults and visit.

After supper, the kids played hide-and-seek on the top of the boat. We let them go. After all, how far lost can you get on a boat? The Flamingo pulled up anchor, and we were underway!

It was completely dark with open water all around. The stars were amazing. Genene came in tired and ready for bed. The hum of the boat motor lulled Genene to sleep, and I followed close behind.

One thought on “Ecuador and the Galapagos Part 2: To the Islands!

  1. Oh thank you so much Lori. Multiple times daily I ponder your adventures and have most expectantly anticipated an update. You have not let us down! Thanks

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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