September 11, 2007
I had already been to two different sets of islands off the Pacific coast of South America called "The Poor Man's Galapagos." They were both interesting places to visit, but I still hadn't satiated my appetite for the unique nature that exists on these tropical islands, so I decided to check out the real thing once and for all.
I flew about 1000 KM over the Pacific Ocean this morning to the small island of Baltra, where the Americans built an airstrip during the Second World War to protect the Panama Canal. They relinquished the site after the war, and it is now used as the main starting point for tourists in the Galapagos. My first look at the Galapagos from the airplane revealed nothing but some dry vegetation and a few boats in the small channel between the islands of Baltra and Santa Cruz.
At the airport, a dog sniffed everyone's luggage, ostensibly to search for foods that may disrupt the ecosystem rather than for drugs. From there, I had a short bus ride to the channel, a boat ride across to Santa Cruz Island, and another bus ride to Puerto Ayora, the largest town in the Galapagos with a population of around 10,000. On the way, I passed a few small settlements where people were raising cattle, growing bananas, and partaking in other farming activities typical of the tropical lowlands. I knew all along that the Galapagos were part of Ecuador, but the strange thing was that the islands still felt like Ecuador. Somehow, I expected the islands to be remote both geographically and culturally, but the latter was not the case.
The bus dropped me off in the middle of Puerto Ayora, and I liked the town right away. There was a harbor full of small boats used for fishing in the area and for tourist cruises around the islands, lots of friendly locals doing regular stuff like playing in the park and playing volleyball, and little souvenir shops everywhere without any signs of aggressive salesmen. The town wasn't anything like the tourist trap hellhole I imagined it would be. In fact, most of the tourists appeared to be from Ecuador, so it barely felt like a tourist town at all, which was a major surprise. I even found a hotel room for $5, which was way cheaper than expected. The only problem was that the room had no glass in the windows, and I had to listen to a nearby rooster that was crowing every five seconds. OK, maybe I'm exaggerating. It was more like every three seconds.
Daniela, the girl I stayed with in Fortaleza, Brazil back in February, agreed to meet me in the Galapagos for a cruise, but she won't get here for two more days. In the meantime, my main job was to find a good last-minute deal. I went to a bunch of travel agencies in town and soon had four deals to choose from that were in our price range. The problem with choosing one of the cruises was that they all went to different places, and all of those places sounded like they'd have different wildlife to view. It looked like the guide, the boat, and the itinerary would all be a big crapshoot. I'm going to try to book one of the cruises in the morning and hope that luck runs in my favor.
Just for a teaser, I put some of my favorite photos that summarize my Galapagos trip here.