We are meeting Arnie from Norway at 6:30AM on a street corner to share a cab to the airport. The three of us had met the day before at a small sporting goods store, while purchasing mask/snorkel, and found out we were taking the same eight-day Galapagos tour on the Sea Man, departing Monday. Upon arrival at the airport, we are to meet our travel agent from Safari Tours to collect our airline tickets. As our departure time became closer, and we still had no airline tickets, we tried not to panic. We were doing a fine job of remaining calm-our travel savvy must be kicking in-Scooter went to call the tour company and I got in line to purchase new tickets. The time had come to purchase new tickets if we wanted to be on our boat, there was 10 minutes to departure…American Express-not able to be processed, Visa-not able to be processed, Master Card-not able to be processed! The coordinator for Sea Man Tours was now panicking trying to get us on the flight. Just by chance, her boss was there and able to write his own airline tickets for TAME airline–we were on our way and would deal with the double airfare when we returned from the cruise.
The Galapagos Islands are located on the Equator, 970 kilometers off Ecuador. There are six larger islands and 12 small islands and approximately 10,000 people live there. Our flight was into Baltra, one of two airports, were we met Jorge our guide, and the rest of our travel companions quickly because we were all sporting stick-on Sea Man patches. At first glance, the group appeared to be very likeable, friendly and international. There were 16 of us, mostly between the ages of 25 and 40 from Switzerland, Germany, Australia, Japan, Norway, Canada, Norway, Denmark, England and Scooter and I. It is refreshing to have the international flavor because everyone is eager to meet, swap stories and gather travel advice.
Our bus ride from the airport is only 10 minutes to the boat dock. The Sea Man is anchored off shore so we load up into Pangas, small rubber boats, and go to check out our accommodations for the next eight days. There are compact cabins with large bunks, closets and private baths. I am very pleased with the cabins, bathrooms and the boat overall–we wandered around the three levels of the boat before lunch is served. We seem to have plenty of crew-captain, co-captain, guide/naturalista, barman, chef, and various other crewmen. After lunch we motor to Bartolome, a small island off the coast of Santiago/San Salvador Island. This island is volcanic and has the most famous vista of the Galapagos-a large bay with a volcanic tower. We set out to climb up the extinct volcano at midday surrounded by black rock–it was really hot, but beautiful and unique.
Back to the boat and into the water for a snorkel. We felt fortunate to have gotten on such a friendly boat full of people whom we got to know fairly well over the eight days–some more than others. Cam, Dawn, and Louise were traveling together for five months in Ecuador, Peru, and Columbia–they were great fun and kept us very entertained with witty commentary throughout the cruise. They were also knowledgeable and experienced travelers and passed on some really useful travel info to us about southern Chile, Argentina and Lima, Peru. We hope our paths will cross again, maybe on their next visit to Florida.
The Sea Man is a motor yacht about 65 feet long, not too glamorous but functional and fast. The majority of our travel was done at night–all night. Most of the guests selected this particular boat, out of the 100 allowed to operate in the Galapagos, because of its extensive itinerary–it travels to
Santa Cruz, Puerto Ayora
The flora and fauna we were able to be up close and personal with included:
Sally Lightfoot Crabs
Fur Sea Lions
Galapagos land tortise
Slipper and spiney lobster
Many tropical fish
Every destination we went had something unique and fascinating to offer. We fell into a pattern each day of eating breakfast at 7:00AM after the boat arrived at its location for the day. Breakfast usually consisted of eggs, bread, and unidentified fruits and juices. Everyone would join around the table ready for the day’s first hike or land excursion. Attire is very casual, in fact we all wore basically the same clothes for 8 days, because all the guests on the boat for were on extended travels with limited wardrobes so a T-shirt, shorts, bathing suit, sandals, tennis shoes and something to wear around the dinner table is all that is needed. Wet clothes were hung out to dry on the top deck. Shoes were never worn on the boat and were kept in box in the back of the boat. Our two pangas were always ready and waiting for us off the back of the boat for the brief ride to land. Once on land, our guide, Jorge, would talk about the island’s specific flora and fauna–sometimes interesting and informative, sometimes not. We strolled around each island, on a trail, at a leisurely pace, stopping every few yards for photographs, videos or observation of nature. On just one or two occasions there did not seem to be much to see but we had to be off the boat for a couple hours each day so that the crew could clean the boat and the cabins.
When we returned to the boat it was usually a 10 minute turn around to get your suit on and get in the water for a snorkel. AHHHH, the water feels so good in the heat of the day and sunscreen is required After an hour or more of snorkeling and/or beaching, back on the boat to the comfortable upper deck lounge–this was the social area. Half of it was under cover and half was open to the sun and stars. This spot was were we got to know each other, dried our clothes, took siestas, enjoyed the happy hour, and when it was time for bed every lounge chair was taken. Soon lunch is served by a bow-tied and vested waiter, Rodrigo. It is usually our largest meal of the day, as is customary all over South America. The meal is also, always hot, fresh, and plentiful. Then it is time for siesta in the shade as we move gently to our afternoon destination.
This is beginning to sound like summer camp. Our afternoon outing included a variety of activities-snorkeling, hiking, going to town, and the post office. Then shower in a tiny stream of water and get freshened up for happy hour journal writing. The day is finished off with dinner and good conversation. Some nights we were in our bunks or lounge chairs by 8 and one night well past midnight–big night in Puerto Ayora. The bunks were a bit warm at night but at least the boat was moving and we had small fans in each room.
There were a couple notable diversions in our otherwise serene schedule:
Scuba diving with the sea lions–fantastic
Evening at the discoteca in Puerto Ayora trying to learn the mirange
The last supper on the boat was very special
My birthday night rum party -I was wished happy birthday in several languages
MONDAY MARCH 9
Even our final day on the boat was active with a morning panga excursion through the mangroves to track some sea turtles and then pack up for airport departure. We said our thank yous and left sizable tips for the guide and crew, paid our scuba diving bill of 50.00 per dive and our nominal bar bill, collected addresses from friends we made and packed.
Our flights today included Baltra to Guayaguil to Quito to Lima, Peru. We left Baltra around 11:30 and arrived in Quito about 3:30 including a “transito” in Guayaguil. I learned how to use a phone center today–this an office that many cities and airports have to make long distance phone calls, it is very simple, you write down what number you want to call, they dial it for you and then send it to a small telephone booth, where you then answer the ringing phone for the connection. You talk as long as you want, hang up and then get presented with a bill. It is expensive but easier than fiddling with coins, cards or tokens. We were attempting by phone, while still in Ecuador, to resolve our double plane ticket dilemma with Safari Tours. They were very understanding and requested that we call back from Quito and they would have an answer for us.
Back in Quito, we had just 2 hours until our flight to Lima. Scooter, of course, went in search of a quiet place with an electrical outlet so that he could do some computer stuff and I went in search of a telephone token to check with Safari Tours to hopefully, collect a refund of $650. The gentleman at Safari was accommodating and had immediate answers for us regarding our lack of tickets and credit card refund–that was easier than I imagined.