Arriving in Galápagos my expectations were pretty low. I know I have said this before, I can be a little pessimistic. Pessimists are either right or pleasantly surprised. Cindy, as always is much more optimistic. Based on all the fees, red-tape, and the hoops we had to jump through to get here, I had envisioned a third-world environment with a money-grubbing government. I further envisioned a sort of Ecuadorian low budget theme park where people are loaded in a decrepit jeep and taken to see giant tortoises and blue-footed birds like an open-air budget Disney park. I was wrong. It is really quite beautiful here. I am pleasantly surprised. And hate to admit to Cindy that I was wrong.
We are only allowed to visit three islands while here. We are free to take tour boats to any island but are restricted with our vessel. This is true for any vessel visiting these islands. We have a 60-day visa and have plenty of time to enjoy our stay. Our first island is San Cristóbal. This island houses most of the government operations and hence our check-in point. It is also the only island where we can purchase fuel. There is basically one town to speak of on the entire island that is home to the approximately 8,000 residents.
Our first day here we needed to make a minor repair to the boat. Not a big deal and we had the parts we required aboard in our spare-part inventory. We were pretty tired and doing the necessary repair work took a ton of self-discipline. Taking long naps throughout the day had much more appeal. We continue to try to “seal proof” our boat. And, we continue to be out-smarted by the seals. One seal, in particular, has a tremendous fondness for the coach top over our after cabin. I hear it get on in the night. I’ll poke my head up. It slinks off as soon as it sees me. I get the pissed off seal side glance.
Our first impression of the little town is, wow! It is very touristy (in a good way) with tons of restaurants, bars, and services. It is very picturesque. The narrow streets and sidewalks are brick paved and many of the restaurants offer al fresco dining on the sidewalks. We purchased a local SIM card since the Claro data is much cheaper than Google Fi. We found a place to get ice cream. Our priorities are always in the right order. Later, we found our agent’s office where we prepaid for our fuel to be delivered and we booked a couple of tours. I had the initial impression I would need to open up my wallet here and toss money into the air. I was wrong about that too. The tours were reasonably priced. The fuel was a little expensive at $3.90 per gallon but, heck look where we are.
There is no fuel dock here. Our agent arranges for fuel to be delivered to the boat by water taxi. We can use our jerry cans or theirs. We didn’t have enough jerry cans for the full 90 gallons ordered so we opted to use their 15-gallon cans. They turned out to be very worn but clean inside and that is all that matters. 15 gallons of diesel is heavy, 105 lbs each (48 kg). We used a halyard and a winch to lift the 6 jerry cans aboard. A long time ago, I invested about $5 in a silly little siphon jigger sold at Harbor Freight thinking perhaps one day we might be on a tiny island somewhere where fuel is delivered in jerry cans. Cindy (because she is so organized) knew exactly where to find in on the boat. It’s been stored for about 8 years. By placing the brass end into the jerry can on the deck and the other end into the fuel filling port for our diesel tank in the cockpit we can transfer the fuel. We move the hose up and down in the jerry can the siphon is started and gravity takes care of the rest. No need to suck on the end of the hose to start the siphon. Best $5 I ever spent.
Armed with our cameras and with our agent’s assistance, we hired a taxi driver for a morning to give us a tour of the island. I know this sounds very extravagant but we have found this is by far the best way to find the hidden gems on islands we visit. And, this proved to be the case once again. Carlito, our driver, spoke enough English to get his information across. What he lacked in language skills he more than made up for in personality.
Our first stop: Giant tortoises. We in Galápagos and this is at the very top of our must-do list. We learn there are almost as many giant tortoises on San Cristóbal as people. There are about 7,000. While it may seem like a lot, during their heyday the population of tortoises was over 100,000. 97% of these really crazy looking animals still live and roam freely on the northern end of the island away from tourists and protected in a national park. The other 3% live pretty darn well in a large natural sanctuary. They get generously taken care of but must put up with tourists taking pictures in exchange for their residence in the sanctuary.
We arrived at Centro De Crianza De Tortugas Terrestres sanctuary and signed in. Each visitor must agree and sign a form stating they will stay 2 meters away from the animals and agree to stay on the trails. However, nobody explained to us what to do when a giant tortoise is coming toward us on the trail. They really do not seem to mind humans. We watched one tortoise sort of push a lady’s tripod out of its way and forced her to back up. Of course, this all happens in slo-mo. It’s really quite funny to watch. I am amazed at how active the tortoises are. The only other giant tortoises I have seen were in a zoo and seem to be in a constant state of hibernation. Not here. We saw tortoises who were obviously on some sort of mission to be somewhere.
The sanctuary is free. I am feeling a little bit guilty now about dissing Galápagos for the high entry fees. Our next stop was Puerto Chino Beach. This is a hidden gem. From the road to the beach is about a ¼ mile walk and Galápagos has provided a great hard surface trail. This serves two purposes. It makes the walk easier and also protects the surrounding vegetation by keeping people on the path. Ok, now I am feeling really guilty since this trail must have cost a fortune. At the end of the trail is an OMG beautiful beach.
Carlito turns out to be a bird whisper. As we walk the trails, he makes bird noises. The response is amazing. At one point he stops, makes a few bird calls and all of a sudden we are surrounded by little finches. A little further down the trail, he starts to imitate a mockingbird. Sure enough, we were joined by a couple of mockingbirds. Amazing!
The island of San Cristóbal is arid. Cacti are everywhere. Carlito explains how the cacti are very slow-growing and many of the larger ones we see are well over 100 years old. We even see one cactus growing out of black lava rock.
Once we left Panama, we spent two weeks on the boat without setting foot on land. The first week was in Las Perlas, and then the passage to Galápagos. Now we are back on land, I can smell the greenery. Walking to the beach, Cindy and I take in all the smells. For people who live on land full-time, this sensation is a little difficult to explain. You have to experience it. It’s remarkable how walking down a trail can smell so incredible. I try to explain to Carlito how I can smell everything. He looks at me like I am crazy.
We arrive at the beach and Carlito tells me it is safe to climb the rocks for a better view. Cindy has a little trouble due to a knee issue so she opts to hang on the beach with Carlito. I set off armed with my good Nikon camera. The trail up the rocks is a little bit tricky but not too bad. I sling my camera over my shoulder and place it in the middle of my back. My plan is to fall face first and protect the camera at all costs. This camera has a lot of miles on it and is a workhorse. At the top of the rocks is a sign indicating it isn’t safe to go any further. Snapping few pictures of the beach I move for a better angle. This is when I spot my first blue-footed booby bird. I quickly snap a picture. I have learned over the years to get one picture first and only then do I try for a better or closer angle since the subject tends to take off. The booby eyes me carefully but stays perched on the rock. I pass the sign and venture into the danger zone. Moving very slowly so as not to startle the bird, I get into position and capture this awesome picture.
More to come soon….