The past week on the Galapagos was a whirlwind. I barely remember leaving the airport seven days ago! I guess my tan and the 500+ pictures that I managed to fit on my iPhone by deleting numerous infrequently used apps will have to serve as mementos to spark my memory.
Based on what I do remember, all in all, I’m very pleased with my activities where Charles Darwin and The Beagle had their ground-breaking adventures almost two centuries ago. I started off with a bit of a hiccup because my insanely cheap ticket ($160) unfortunately put me on the wrong island. I did get to meet up with a friend who is studying in San Cristobal to send her off on her programs’ tour of the islands. Unfortunately, because of their unusually large group, all the boats from San Cristobal to Santa Cruz were full- where I needed to be! Taking a page out of the book of a German friend of mine I thought, what the hell, why not just ask if I can join my friends already oversized group on their journey to Santa Cruz? Low and behold, the asking thing really worked! Not only did I get to hang out with a bunch of cool kids from the GIAS program, bum a free inter- island ride (usually $30), but their boat left an hour early so I even got to join up with my group in Santa Cruz to go to the Charles Darwin Center to see some giant tortoises and iguanas before dinnertime.
After the research center we took matters into our own hands and went looking for German Beach and Las Grietas (crevasses) for some potential cliff jumping. Unfortunately the water was pretty low so we only jumped from halfway up the cliffs, but the water was perfectly clear and all was well. As you might imagine, I considered my first day a success.
We started out the next day on another 2-hour island hopper towards Isla Isabela, the largest of the islands. From there we hopped on a chiva (an open-air bus) to check out a lagoon with some of the few flamingos that have blown over to the Galapagos. Dinner was delicious and we took a bit of a walk on the beach afterwards, although the guide told us that there were sharks at night so we couldn’t go skinny dipping 😦 The night came to a cozy ending with a beer in hand at a bonfire at the hostel across the way from ours where I made friends with Fernanda, a fashion designer from Brasil.
Our third day was dominated by a massive hike in the highlands to the Volcán Sierra Negra. The climate was a confusing mixture of wet/cold and extreme hot/dry. I believe that the walk was 18km (~12miles) round trip over a lava flat, exhausting! Here’s a shout out to my wonderful mother who bought me hiking shoes with a metal rock plate that made the trek infinitely better! The journey was a cruel sort of beautiful and we all came back with gnarly shoulder burns. Despite the high intensity of the hike we still had a full afternoon planned. Possibly my favorite part of the trip: we toured around the bay on Isabela to see the tintoreras (white-finned sharks) and marine iguanas. That was followed by some of the best snorkeling I have ever done. I saw three spotted eagle rays, some other kind of ray, an eel, a sea turtle, parrot fish, urchins, sea cucumbers, and so many other species that I don’t know the names!
Day four we were all exhausted. Luckily we were headed back to Santa Cruz and we got to spend the morning resting before our bay tour. On the tour, we took a small boat and looked at birds along the rocks, including blue-footed boobies, did some first class snorkeling, and attempted to swim with sea lions in the loberia (pretty much a fail that ended with some major scraped knees and sea lions laughing at us from the shore).
Halfway through the week we decided it was time to splurge and take ourselves out for lobster. Four lobster-virgins tried the seasonal rock lobster of the Galapagos at a fancy restaurant called Garrapatas (fleas). They were exceptionally large and even more expensive, so we decided to share two. We also tried some of the best shrimp. Ever. It was cooked with coconut and passion fruit. Yum!
On our fifth day, we adventured inland to visit the twin volcano craters, Los Gemelos. It is shocking how much the climate and vegetation change as you go towards the center of the islands. The coastal zone is mostly rocks and mangroves, the arid zone is all brush, cactus, and succulents. The transition zone. Next up the scalesia zone is very moist and full of lichens and scalesia trees (that’s where the Gemelos were). The last three zones weren’t very clear, and the dominant vegetation found there classifies them. Most of the islands don’t have a high enough altitude for them anyways.
The Gemelos were some pretty awesome collapsed craters. Everything was misty, covered with lichen, and quite chilly. On the way back down, we stopped by a tortoise ranch where giant tortoises hang out so tourists can pass by and pirates won’t pack them on board as nonperishable, low maintenance food stuffs like the used to back in the day. In general the turtles are pretty low key and even boring, but I really love watching them eat! Next we hiked through a lava tunnel (not for the faint of heart or claustrophobic). It was a good way to geek out a bit on geology though. It also went well with our week-long motif of the Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (there were 8 of us, and only one guy)
The afternoon activity didn’t go quite as smoothly, for me at least. We went to Tortuga Bay, the notorious, white sand beach on Santa Cruz. The biggest setback was the weather: pure clouds and wind the whole time! We were shivering on the glistening beach. Besides the weather, I went and got all sorts of sick and I’m honestly surprised that I made it all the way back on the 30-45 minute walk. I barely made it to the hotel, and passed out at 6 pm and slept until 7 am the next day. I definitely had a fever and was tossing and turning all night.
Fortunately, I came around to the land of the living once again by the next morning. This was our last full day without anything planned for the tour (free day) and I decided to check-out one more island. I took an all day tour to Isla Floreana (previously Santa Maria or Charles). I ended up sleeping on the boat ride over there, the chiva up the mountain, on the beach, and finally on the boat ride home. The things that I was awake for included: a tour of another tortoise reserve, a historic site where we learned about the pirates that used to run the island, a bit of snorkeling with a sea turtle, a super cool post office where people can leave post cards for others to pick up an take home to their home country and send, and some penguin sightings along the rocks. Even though no one else from my group came, I had a good time getting to know the Polish/Spanish newlyweds, the old guy from Germany, the two Scotsmen, two fellow Washingtonians, and the journalist from Beijing on my tour.
We ate out on the local vendor street to celebrate our last night on the Galapagos and save what little money we had left. Annie and I bought 2L of sprite and drank almost the whole bottle between the two of us! The street food wasn’t quite the same as the lobster we ate a few nights before but it did the trick. And try as we might, no one had any energy to go out or even hang out upstairs on the terraza because we were all so wiped out from a long, eventful week.
The seventh day, last day, día de salida, was not quite a day of rest. I had to get up nice and early once again to catch my last island hopper back to San Cristobal. A huge pod of dolphins stopped by to send me off and they were jumping all around our boat. On San Cristobal I made a beeline for Playa Mann to catch a few more rays of sun before calling it quits. I was pleasantly surprised by the clear skies and the beach full of playful sea lions. They came so close that they were nipping at my feet in the waves, which was a bit unsettling because I was in their element. Fortunately it was all fun and games and I thoroughly enjoyed my last minutes on the beach. On my way to the airport, I stopped for an obligatory ice cream- my last after a week of snagging sweet treats at every opportunity. Even though my flight was delayed about an hour, all I could think about was how much I wanted to spend just a few more hours on the beach or a few more days in the archipelago. I realize that this might be my only trip to the Galapagos and it sure was amazing, by I also hope that I will come back someday and get to know even more of these lively islands. I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to take this trip- best birthday present ever!