This morning we took a walk on Isla Rabida. These Galapagos Mockingbirds were having a turf fight on the beach.
Then in the afternoon we visited Isla Sombrero Chino. On the left you can see a newer black lava flow, and then a somewhat older lava island covered in cactus.
Since today was our 13th wedding anniversary, we put a bottle of wine – the last we had – in the fridge and had it with dinner. After dinner everyone on the boat donated their five favorite photos from the trip and Melissa assembled a slideshow for the group.
Today we took a walk on Playa Espumilla on James Island. Our guide tried to convince us that it was cool that this was the one place we would be allowed to wander the beach alone. Given that on the 4 night cruise we estimate that we got a total of 8 to 10 hours of his time, and other than that he was nowhere to be found, we figured this “walk alone” thing was really just another way to avoid working.
On the beach we discovered a nest of turtle eggs that had been broken open when the tide came up and washed some of the sand away. We asked our guide whether we could do something to save the eggs, many of which were intact. But he said that once the sea water breached the nest it would kill the eggs because it is too cold for them.
There were also a couple of Galapagos hawks that were so unafraid that they let us get right up next to them and take pictures.
Later in the day we went to Puerto Egas (aka James Bay) on James Island and again walked the beach. There were tons of baby sea lions there.
We also saw tons more Iguanas. They were everywhere – piled atop one another. So much so that you had to be careful where you stepped or you might plant your foot right on one.
We saw a number of birds including a Yellow Crowned Night Heron.
And Great Blue Heron.
This little lizard was happy to hold still for pictures – odd because most of these little guys scamper away when you put a camera right up to them.
The landscape here continues to be more desolate that we had imagined before we got here.
Today we went for a walk on Sullivan Bay on James Island and Bartolome Island. We’ve noticed that despite being right next to each other, the formation of the islands appears to be totally different. Yesterday at Playa Las Bachas the beach had all these lava rocks scattered across the beach as if a volcano had spit them out.
Then at Sullivan Bay, an underwater volcano spewed this river of lava across the landscape making it look like a moonscape.
In fact you can see where the lava was flowing and bubbling.
Yet on Bartolome Island right next door, you can see lots of craters and the rock is mostly brown pumice type rock rather than black glassy lava.
And occasionally you see lava rocks with bright pink and yellow mixed in.
And tomorrow we will see James Island that appears sedimentary in nature.
And then later the bright red rock at Isla Rabida.
Wish we knew why the islands developed so completely differently. Alas we have such a lame guide on this trip that he tells us all about how the Galapagos Park service moved a pathway from where it used to be to another location, or how the park used to let the guides go places they don’t anymore, or if you’re lucky, he might point out a lava tube, but appears to have no information on how it got there. Sigh. This is our guide, Alfonzo.
This morning we headed to the airport where we were to meet the guide for our cruise boat – the New Flamingo.
We were well aware this was the “economy” option. However, the lack of planning was bad even for a third world country. Here are the various stupid things that occurred just today:
We were told to meet the guide at the airport at 10am. We were told this was to coordinate with other inbound passengers. Sure enough there were two flights that arrived at 10am and 11am both carrying a passenger for the boat. But there was another flight at 1pm that also was carrying passengers for the cruise. Fortunately for us, the 1pm flight was late and the guide decided not to make us all wait for the flight now due at 2pm. But apparently the original plan had been for us all to stand around for three hours.
When we got to the boat, they told us they needed to go to the fuel dock and refuel for our trip. We were told to go to our cabins for 10 minutes as we were not allowed to be roaming around the boat while they were refueling. We teased them that no way would it be 10 minutes – but they assured us it would be that short. Uh huh. We can’t fuel our boat in 10 minutes. 25 minutes later they let us out of our cabins. Why they hadn’t done this in the morning before we arrived at the boat was unclear.
When we got to the boat they fed us lunch, for which the apologized for the meager offerings. Apparently the food for the cruise had not yet been loaded aboard due to some screw up. Wasn’t clear precisely what the screw up was – we were told that the food was unloaded from an airplane and taken to the wrong port on the island, but we were also told it was still on the airplane that was inbound late.
We had been told there would be snorkel gear aboard the boat. This is a 10 passenger boat and we are filled to capacity. There are four wetsuits. One men’s XXXL, one men’s XL, and a couple of shorties (short sleeve and short legged). One of the crew members tried to convince Melissa that the men’s XL fit her fine despite the gaping gaps around her arms, legs, and neck that were just going to let cold water pour into the suit. We elected not to snorkel in the cold water despite this being the only activity offered twice a day for several hours per day.
We went ashore for a walk along a beach with the naturalist guide. He told us that it would be safe to bring cameras. Mike and Holly were smart and left theirs behind, but Melissa took hers along. That it didn’t get soaked was just the luck of the draw. They took us to and from shore through the surf on the dingy – which we do every day so no big deal. But for the fact that you’re gonna get wet. That the boat didn’t put all the electronics and cameras in a dry bag to keep everyone’s stuff safe was mind boggling. You can bet that just because they assured us our camera would stay dry didn’t mean if it got wet they were going to pay to replace it. We later asked for a dry bag and they told us that yes of course, they had dry bags aboard. A black trash bag was produced.
Since two of the passengers were on a late flight, the boat dropped us on the beach for the guided walk, along with snorkel gear for those that wanted to snorkel. Fortunately we were smart enough to realize that no one was going snorkeling in this particular bay – it was rough – with three foot white caps making swimming difficult to say nothing of trying to actually snorkel. But the boat then left us there to return to port to pick up the late inbound passengers. So we had nothing to do but sit on the beach for a couple of hours waiting for the boat to come back because local park regulations won’t allow visitors to do anything other than walk up and down the beach – no exploration beyond the high water mark is allowed.
At dinner purchase of wine and beer was supposed to be offered. But none of the crew speaks any English, and our English speaking guide apparently doesn’t consider it part of his job to come and make sure everything is going well aboard the boat. His job is to do the walks on shore – twice a day for an hour each. When we aren’t actively engaged in a nature tour, he makes himself unavailable by heading for the crew quarters. So we couldn’t figure out if the wine and beer were supposed to be a “help yourself” and write down what you use on the whiteboard next to the liquor cabinet or if we are supposed to be served by the crew. We did eventually managed to figure out that they had no wine, but there was beer for sale that they were happy to provide.
While the four of us are comfortable aboard the boat and could likely react to any emergency, some of the passengers have never been aboard a boat before. No safety briefing. Not even a “here’s where the life jackets are located”. Turns out the life jackets are in your cabin – where you probably can’t get at them in an emergency during the day when you are up on deck. And they are tied up with string such that it’s not clear whether you could quickly get them lose from where they are hanging or if you would end up hopelessly frustrated by a tangled knotted mess.
Onto the boat itself… again, we knew this was the “economy” boat. But there are no toilet seats in any of the bathrooms. We kid you not. And our toilet leaks so badly that the bathroom floor is always soaking wet. They run the generator aboard the boat to supply power to the electrical systems, but they turn it off at night. Which turns off all the lights. So if you get up in the middle of the night to use the head, you have to do it in the pitch black dark. Where the bottoms of your PJs promptly get soaked. And if you aren’t careful, you will fall in due to the lack of seat. All while you are feeling about trying to find the toilet paper. Was it on the wall to the left or right? Fun times.
Ok, enough whining. On to the good stuff…
We did go walking on Playa Las Bachas on Santa Cruz Island and got to see these cool flamingos fly by. It was named Las Bachas – which means barge because a big barge sank when it hit the beach.
Mike and Holly went diving this morning. We had planned to go to Isabella and repeat yesterday's tour now that Dave feels better, but since it was such a lame tour, we decided we would just hang out in town and watch life go by here in Port Ayora.
Tomorrow we board a boat for a 5 day tour of the Galapagos. So we will be completely off the grid!
Last night Dave got quite ill. He though he might have a kidney stone that had gotten infected. He was in a lot of pain and was running a very high fever. Fortunately we had antibiotics with us. By this morning he was still sick but the fever wasn't nearly as high. None the less, he was in no shape to go with Melissa, Mike, and Holly on today's trip to Isla Isabella.
All the islands here in the Galapagos are supposed to offer different wildlife. So we were looking forward to seeing new kinds of critters.
First a word about the Ecuadorians attempt to keep each of the islands pristine and not introduce any foreign animals or plants. Trying to keep the islands as a safe haven for the animals that are there for future study would seem a worthy goal. However, their execution is utterly lame. We get in line for the ferry where in theory our backpacks are supposed to be searched. They ask us to open the backpacks - so we open one compartment (these backpacks have 6 to 10 compartments each). They peer into the one compartment and ask whether we have any plants or animals. We say no. They then close the one compartment they looked into, and get out a big yellow zip tie and start to zip tie the compartment shut. But wait, that's the compartment with the camera. So we ask if they can zip tie some other compartment shut. Sure thing, no problem. So they zip tie a compartment they haven't even looked in. As lame as this is, realize its even lamer because yesterday we were allowed onto the dock without being searched because we weren't going to another island - only getting on the dive boat and then coming back to the same port. So in theory we could have been carrying seeds of any sort with us, and handed them to someone with a half-assed sealed backpack once we were past security. Yes, I suppose that maybe all this is for show to emphasize the importance of not taking stuff across. Because as an actual security process its just silliness.
We boarded the ferry, and after a two hour ride across, the guide met us on the other side. Lots of iguanas wandering around everywhere.
We hopped in cabs and headed off to see the flamingos. A 5 minute ride from town the taxi's pulled over next to a giant gravel pit. Inside which were some flamingos.
Then back in the taxi's to the turtle preserve where the guide hustled us through the facility, reading us the signs that were already in English. This is him holding a turtle egg.
The goal of this facility is to repopulate the tortoise population - devastated by volcanic eruptions. A tortoise released into the wild at 6 years of age will almost always live to adulthood. So they keep them here when they are little and their shells are soft - when they are most vulnerable to being eaten by the giant rats that live here.
They have several different varieties here. Note how these have shells that look like they were squashed flat.
Then they drove us back to the pier and let us wander around for an hour. This was basically a waste of time as there was little to do at the pier. And finding a place to sit could be a challenge as these guys thought they owned the place.
Then it was back in the taxis for a trip to the restaurant where we were given 20 minutes to eat our lunch. While at lunch another person in the group realized he had left his camera in the taxi. They called the taxi and the driver said no problem he had the camera and would bring it back. Alas it never showed up. Later they called him again and this time he claimed he never found it. The guide seemed unbothered by this and wouldn't pursue it - despite the fact that the couple was on their honeymoon and all their honeymoon pictures were on the camera. They begged to just get the memory card back. Alas it never showed up.
Then back in the taxis to go back to the pier where we boarded another panga over to the other side of the bay (100 yards away) where we were told we could snorkel. Melissa and Holly opted out - having frozen half to death in the cold water yesterday. The rocks here are from a lava flow - and the rocks are actually super interesting. You might have thought the guide might tell us something about them.
It was a pretty bay though.
Then it was back on the panga to the other side of the bay again to where we got to see some sharks stuck in a trench. Then back to the ferry to go back to Santa Cruz Island.
We did get to see some cool creatures. But all in all, it was a pretty lame tour.
This morning we got up early and headed for the dive shop for our Galapagos dive adventure. The first dive we saw nearly zilch. And it was COLD water. Holly and Melissa both came up frozen. We warmed up a bit between dives, but we both debated whether getting so cold a second time was worth it if we weren't going to see anything. As the video shows, we saw tons of stuff!
This morning Melissa got up early and headed into town. She's been frustrated at not being able to blog - held up by the fact that we took a ton of video footage in the Amazon, and the You Tube videos are taking forever to load - even at the fastest internet cafe in town. The hotel internet is so slow its silly. But we've learned this is because the only part of town wired for fast internet is right in the port. Where the hotel is, high speed isn't even available. So she spent a good part of the day waiting for video loads, and finally just leaving the laptop behind the desk at the internet cafe while we went to see the sights. Fortunately the laptop was still there when she returned, and the video had finally finished uploading. Whew.
The fish market was in full swing when she reached the town. All kinds of fish were for sale along with tons of lobsters.
The pelicans and sea lions seemed un-bothered by the tourists coming to the fish market to take pictures. They were just hoping for handouts when the fish were cleaned.
In the afternoon we hopped in a cab to see some of the Island of Santa Cruz. First stop was to see the volcanic craters here on the island. A couple of them collapsed leaving giant cauldrons. The landscape here is strange. Much more barren and desert like than we expected. Though there are places like this that are green, but still somewhat sparse and strange looking.
Then it was time to go see a giant tortoise preserve. There are tons of tortoises everywhere.
Apparently grass is their favorite food.
The tortoise preserve also had some lava tubes, one of which we were able to go down into.
After that it was time for beers and food.
On our way back we spotted a bunch of iguanas hanging out on the sidewalk. They blend into the lava rock bricks so well that you might well step on one if you aren't careful.
Everyone was pretty wore out from the Amazon trip and from traveling for two days. So we decided today we needed a "down day" to sleep in, do laundry, catch up on email and blogging, etc. So we didn't do much of anything interesting unless you consider dropping off the laundry three doors down from our B&B interesting. Besides it is Sunday and most of the places in town are closed today anyhow.
Later in the afternoon a water truck came by and filled the B&B's tank, which as it happens sits right outside our room. Unfortunately the driver got distracted - we think talking up the gal at the front desk - and overflowed the tank. Which then sent water rushing into our room thereby flooding it. The B&B staff was on it in a heart beat with mops sweeping the water out of the room. But it was a fluke that none of our electronics - computers and cameras and so forth - were in the way of the flood. Everything critical stayed high and dry. Only some clothes and such were soaked.
We awoke early this morning and headed to the airport for the trip from Lima to the Galapagos. Upon reaching Guayaquil in Ecuador, we discovered why all the guidebooks say you have to plan extra time there to make your connection to the Galapagos. After clearing immigration and customs, you take your luggage back out into the unsecure part of the airport where you get in a line specifically for the Galapagos that x-ray’s your luggage and makes you fill out forms that certify you aren’t carrying any foreign plants or animals to the islands. They then seal your bags shut, you pay a Galapagos fee of $10, and then get back in the line to recheck your luggage with the airline. It took us 90 minutes from the time our flight landed till we were again back through security and awaiting our connecting flight to the Galapagos.
Then when we reached Isla Baltra in the Galapagos, we found another round of paperwork and beauracracy. You paid another $100 per person to enter the Galapagos (payable only in cash). Why this wasn’t combined with the $10 fee we already paid wasn’t clear. Then we had to pick up the bags. The flight we were on was mostly filled with locals. They would just run you right over if you let them. Dave had to remove his backpack in order to wedge himself into the lineup to get the luggage off the slides. The another x-ray machine – this time for your carry-on bags as the checked luggage still had the seals on them. Then we boarded a bus – another elbow fight to get aboard. By now we were realizing the only way we would ever reach our destination was to become as pushy as the locals. We arrived at the boat dock to take the short 5 minute ferry ride to the next island where we were staying. Yet another elbow fight to get our luggage stowed and get aboard the boat. When we reached the dock on the other side, Melissa hopped off without the bags (we were getting a tad smarter by this time) and grabbed one of the last remaining taxis. There she waited for the rest of the gang to show up with the bags. We piled in and headed for the hotel.
Along the way the landscape was surreal. Started out like a dessert prairie with cactus and changed before our eyes to a lush green jungle like climate – all in the span of a 20 mile drive. We saw our first giant turtles grazing in one of the fields alongside the cows. We thought we had seen big turtles at sea. Nope. Not even. These turtles are HUGE. This one we found just walking down the side of the road.