After a full day in Quito, we got on the plane the next morning and took the short flight from mainland Ecuador to the Galapagos Islands. Having gone through a lot in the past 24 hours, it was nice to know we would be heading to a place that had some nice beaches we could relax on.
Halfway through the flight, one of the flight attendants walked down the aisle to spray all of our luggage with a disinfectant spray. This is an extra precaution they take to make sure no one is trafficking any foreign parasites onto this eden-like paradise. Once we were about 20 minutes outside Santa Cruz (not that Santa Cruz), we began to notice some of the smaller islands start to take shape. The airport was probably the smallest I’ve ever been to, only servicing 2 or 3 destinations with only a handful of planes every day. The airport itself is pretty historic, becoming the worlds first “green airport” in 2012. Much of the airport was built using the metal from steel drilling equipment used in the Amazon. Is their anything cooler than shutting down drilling in the rainforest and then using the discarded metal to build a green airport? I think not.
No matter how crazy you think your baggage claim story is, I can probably top it. Instead of a carousel, imagine everyone’s luggage spread out for all to see and then a drug sniffing dog goes to each individual bag to check for contraband. If you’re the lucky contender who’s bag they pick, you have to go into the back room while they rifle through your belongings. Of course I was sweating it out with all my bags of coca tea, not to mention the host of other herbal supplements I take with me when I travel like Yerba mate, ginkgo, licorice root and Guayasa. I ended up making it through (this time) and we all headed out of the airport to get to Puerto Ayora, the main town on the Island.
At most airports, once people get their bags they often go their separate ways and you never see them again. On this trip, we were basically with these people for half the day, as we made the long trek from Quito to Puerto Ayora. After a brief shuttle from the airport, we arrived at a small channel. This separated Isla de Baltra from Santa Cruz. It was about half a kilometer across, and the only way to get there was to board one of the two water taxis. Even after piling luggage on top of the roof, they still didn't have enough room for all of us so a few stayed behind. At this point it felt a little bit like Charlie and the Chocolate factory, each leg of the journey left a few more behind and the group got smaller and smaller to cope with each ridiculous obstacle. First we lost a few to the sniffer dog, then a few couldn’t make it onto the water taxi, but the rest of us soldiered on across the channel on the rickety water vessel. Here we got our first taste of wildlife as a few blue footed boobies flew overhead looking for fish. A few of them dove into the water, which was cool to watch. Many people couldn’t identify these birds without seeing their trademark blue feet, but I knew right away and tried to get a few pictures of them.
We later got onto a bus and started driving down a dusty dirt trail. The island is really not equipped to handle tourists, but they did a good job with what they had. There is basically only one road on Santa Cruz, and its main purpose is to take people from the town to the airport. The bus driver stopped to tell us there was a tortoise crossing the street. “Wow!” I said. “How lucky are we to see a tortoise on the first day??” After seeing about 10 more of them in the course of half an hour, I soon learned that they were actually pretty common here, and they basically just strolled about the island as they pleased looking for fresh vegetation.
When we got to Puerto Ayora, I was actually quite surprised at how big it was. With only 60,000 people living on the entire archipelago, I was picturing the largest town would only be a few thousand but it is actually quite busy! We headed into town just early enough to make happy hour and then we ventured through different neighborhoods to get acquainted to this new place. It was New Years Eve, and in Ecuador they have a tradition of burning the bad spirits of the past year, so they make paper mache mannequins and then set them ablaze at around midnight. Leading up to new years, people like to show off their creations by placing them in different scenes with sunglasses and a cigar or playing poker at a table along with other mannequins. This is really creepy and hilarious at the same time. Sometimes, you really think that they are real until you take a second look.
After walking down the main road for a few minutes, we came to a small inlet where kids were swimming. These kids were only guests at this inlet though, the real owner was a 200 pound sea lion that didn’t like to share his swimming space with anyone. He would frequently come up onto the land to bark at any kids who dared to enter his water. We even saw him get into a shouting match with a little Bijon Frise, which was priceless!
There is really so much going on in this town, you could honestly spend a week just in Puerto Ayora. We knew we would be spending our nights here anyways, so we didn’t worry about seeing too much. We instead headed into the main square were people began gathering for live music and dancing. After we had our fill of that, we walked down the main pier, where a few dozen people were gathering and staring down at the water. We began to notice small little insects flying around the lights at the bottom of the dock. Inevitably, a few of these insects would fall into the water and be snatched up by little fish, so schools began to gather by the lights. Patrolling off in the distance were little baby sharks. Until this trip, I don’t believe I had ever really seen a shark in the wild, but here they were all over. A few golden rays also patrolled for fish around the docks and there were so many sharks and rays that you were constantly in view of at least one. Very occasionally, one of the pelicans perched on the railing of the dock would dive down into the water, inflate his beak pouch like a balloon and catch one of the larger fish. I had never seen pelicans hunt before! I was used to the lazy Florida beach pelicans that would wobble around the pier begging for scraps. What was unfolding right before my very eyes was an entire food chain. In the Galapagos, you can enjoy the full effect of nature. Without much human involvement, you can see events like this take place that you had only since heard about. I knew that if I really wanted to see wildlife that I had come to the right place. I was finally here.