September 14, 2007
Galapagos Cruise Day 1
To begin our cruise, Daniela and I had to go yet again back to the airport in Baltra. The itineraries for the cruises are laid out with the assumption that passengers will fly in, do their cruise, and fly out without doing anything independently. Of course, since we had gotten the last-minute deal, we had a little more work in store for us.
The Friend Ship was a small, tourist class boat holding just sixteen passengers and a crew of seven. As we were waiting to board the ship, we met the other passengers. Most of them were Dutch, German, and Israelis, and all were young, fun, backpacker types. We also met our guide, an Ecuadorian named Wilmer, who sounded Chinese when he spoke Spanish. Everyone seemed to be in a good mood, so it was a fun atmosphere as we boarded the ship.
The Friend Ship wasn't as nice as the Marco Polo, but she certainly was adequate for cruising around the islands. The showers weren't very hot and there was a lot of engine noise in the cabins, but at least there was air conditioning (almost a necessity at the bottom of the ship near the engine room), and we had all the coffee, tea, and drinking water we could drink for the duration of the cruise. This was called a "budget cruise," but it actually cost more on a per-day basis than my cruise to Antarctica. I had ridden on much worse boats, but they generally cost around $10 per day, whereas this trip was much more expensive. However, I just reminded myself that I was there to see the islands, not to ride in a luxurious boat, and the cost/quality thing never affected me.
The first place we landed was Bachas, a beach on the northern part of Santa Cruz island. I was amazed as soon as we landed. The water was crystal-clear, the sand was white, and the only other creatures lurking in the area were not human in origin. Besides the masses of crabs, pelicans, frigates, and small birds, there were blue foot boobies constantly diving into the water looking for fish right in front of us. We walked around a bit and also found a lagoon with some flamingos. It took a long time to let the atmosphere of this paradise sink in.
Bachas also gave us our first chance to try out our snorkeling gear. I heard the water of the Galapagos was normally cold, but it was warm enough for me to swim in today without a wet suit. I was blown away by all the stuff swimming around me. Right away I saw thousands of fish, some tiny and swimming in huge schools, others huge and solitary, but always colorful. As I swam around some more, I caught glimpses of a few sting rays, some starfish, and even a lobster, along with the constant barrage of algae-covered coral. I had no idea the ocean was so filled with life. It was like watching a nature documentary happening right in front of me.
Later, we boarded the ship and headed to another bay where we watched a beautiful sunset. While we were steaming, the chef was preparing tonight's supper by cutting up fish and throwing their guts overboard. This caused quite a commotion as at least thirty birds fought over which one got to eat the delicious free meal. The birds flew with us for over an hour and constantly came close enough for us to reach out and touch. It was like being in a Hitchcock film, minus the whole being pecked to death thing.
The first day of the cruise was amazing for Daniela and I. Another one of the passengers told us that according to his guidebook, the Friend Ship had received a lot of complaints about the staff and amenities, but apparently it had changed ownership recently and everything went great. I can't wait to see what is in store for us tomorrow.