So we spent a day on our own in Guayaquil, but the next morning our real adventure began. We were picked up in the morning from our hotel by someone from Metropolitan Touring who got us to the airport, got our boarding passes, and checked our luggage to the Galápagos for us (there is extra screening to/from the islands to avoid introducing invasive species). He also told us all about Guayaquil, which is how we learned that the two hills we had been photographing were the city’s origins. He also explained that the reason he was wearing a sweater and that we had seen so many people the day before wearing three-piece wool suits in high humidity and temp near 90° was that it was currently the cold season for Guayaquil. (Note to self: avoid Guayaquil in the hot season; your winter-loving body would probably melt).
Sadly it was overcast when we took off, so I still couldn’t see Ecuador from the air. We had flown in late at night from Miami so all I could see were lights, some down low clustered in town-shapes, but others in sporadic lines much higher that reminded me of the signal fire lighting seen from RETURN OF THE KING. This time there was nothing but clouds and brief glimpses of the Pacific.
We landed on Baltra, which looked a lot like Palm Springs, dry arid, scrubby land. We were met by our guides/naturalists and took a bus to the shore where we got onto a ferry to cross the channel between Baltra and the island of Santa Cruz. None of my pictures from bus windows turned out (of course, and yet I never stop trying). But I did get some pics from the ferry, and these little floating islands of greenery:
At first Santa Cruz looked just as arid as Baltra, but that’s just the north side. We got on buses that took us south across the island, and once we passed over the mountains the other side was all lush green; the change was quite startling. There are farms and fields and a million kinds of flowers, and we stopped for lunch at a particularly gorgeous farm where we ate the first of many fantastic meals. In mainland Ecuador travelers are advised to avoid fruits and veggies, but in the Galápagos everything is safe to eat, you can even drink the water. I can’t recall what we ate specifically – there were surely plantains, every meal had plantains – but there were a variety of fresh juices that were phenomenal.
After lunch we went to see the tortoises. They are allowed to roam free; in fact farmers have rules about how they install fences and barb wire in order to let the tortoises roam where they pleased. The farm where we visited them was very tortoise-friendly; the other animals were penned to let the tortoises have free reign. They were all over the place; it reminded me of that seen from JURASSIC PARK where the dinosaur herds are grazing, all these big gray bodies dotting the landscape:
You can walk up behind them if you do it slowly. Head-on they don’t really like and will hiss at you when annoyed. Mostly they eat, take a step or two, eat some more.
After the tortoises we continued on to Puerto Ayora where the Isabela II was waiting. We got into little boats called pangas and motored out to where she was anchored. This was actually the hardest getting from little boat to big boat we did; the water was so choppy we had to detach and back off before trying again. It might have been scary except the crew are all so clearly competent with their jobs it was hard to be more than mildly nervous. And even then it was just the feeling like if someone were going to fall in, it would probably be me. Every panga trip after that first one was a piece of cake.
Two things would become important later: the first was that this was the night of the full moon (which might explain the choppy waters), and the second was that somewhere between Baltra and the Isabela II my husband’s Twins cap disappeared.
Alas neither of us got a picture of our first glimpse of Isabela II. Once I was on the panga I was focused on not falling off the Panga, and my husband was taking pictures of a National Geographic ship that was anchored near us. I did get a shot of Puerto Ayora before we got on the panga:
I didn’t get seasick, not in those first choppy waters and not even at night when we would navigate from island to island. That was actually quite fun, bouncing from side to side. Alas, the engines were loud and the cabin walls vibrated so even with earplugs it was quite impossible for me to sleep. That first night I slept for an hour or two, laid awake for about four hours while we zipped over the water (I went outside to watch that for a bit, nothing but moonlit ocean all around), then got another two or three hours of sleep before the next day’s adventure began.