11 July 2011
Galapagos Islands: Days 1 and 2
Day 1: Isla Baltra and Isla Santa Cruz
We arrive at Isla Baltra on South Seymour Island amidst chaos – tour guides screaming for lost tourists and the baggage claim area looking more like a luggage disposal unit. You can tell we’re still in South America.
I step outside away from the mayhem to watch it from afar.
A guide from a different company tells us to board his bus and everyone looks confused. Eventually though, we arrive at our yacht – an older style 30 odd foot boat with plenty of character.
Cachalote. It’s our home for the next eight days. I like it.
Darwin, our guide (yep that’s his real name), greets us on board and we are shown to our cabins. The bunks fit snugly in the cabin and if you breathe in you can edge your way into the bathroom.
I score the top bunk with my very own porthole.
There are ten others in our group: an Indian father and son, who are serious photography enthusiasts; a family of Ecuadorians with the grumpiest teenage son in the world; a quiet young Canadian couple; 3 older Germans and us. Everyone sits in complete silence.
Up comes the anchor and our first stop is Isla Plaza where we are panga’ed off the yacht onto a strange, arid, volcanic rock beach. We get our first glimpse of land and aquatic iguanas, sea lions and bright red crabs that contrast heavily against the black rock.
Darwin is knowledgeable, enthusiastic and extremely passionate about the islands.
My first glimpse of Galapagos. Weird and so wonderful.
When we board our boat, the silence amongst the group has now been broken. We set sail for Isla Santa Cruz where we can go into town. But we opt to stay in and lie on the deck with beers staring skyward, watching frigate birds swoop around the mast.
On the water, I feel truly content. And, that night, for the first time in ages I sleep like a baby with the gentle rocking of the boat.
Day 2: Isla Santa Cruz
At 7am sharp we are woken by a bell for breakfast. Having survived on a backpacker breakfast of bread and ham for seven months, I’m dying for some fruit and eggs.
I greet everyone and get a lame response. Tough crowd.
We are briefed on the day’s events – a morning trip to the Darwin Research Centre, where they have an extensive breeding program for the Galapagos tortoises, and an afternoon excursion to see some massive volcanic sink holes, 20 metre high lava tunnels and tortoises in their natural habitat.
We are anchored in the most beautiful bay – turquoise water, loads of fish and pelicans flocking to a crowd of fisherman gutting fish on the dock.
At the research centre, amongst thousands of tortoises in the breeding program, sits Lonesome George, the last of his kind and a conservation icon. It’s thought he is at least 100 years old and scientists have been frantically looking for a mate.
The babies bred here must learn to roll off their backs before they are released into the wild. I love staring at these pre-historic looking creatures. Their noisy, raspy slow breath and their desperately slow movements make them seem wonderfully ancient.
In town we stock up for Hunter’s birthday. It’s slim pickings but we find enough party gear and booze to make a fuss.
We’re waiting for our ride back when we hear a familiar Australian voice. It’s Tom, a guy we met on our Antarctic cruise who we have bumped into randomly throughout South America – at a football match in Buenos Aires, at a parade in Cusco and El Chalten.
We are back on the boat for aperitifs and dinner, and it’s barely 8pm when I climb into bed.
Knackered but happy.