Today we’re going to the Galapagos Islands. TODAY! GALAPAGOS! This day has been a long time coming.
However. First thing this morning, I was sitting down for breakfast at the hotel when a sudden, sharp pain shot through my knee. It feels like a ligament/tendon strain of some sort, and though it hurts significantly whenever I bend it, it’s worse when putting weight on it. Going up or down stairs is bad, but walking level is relatively okay. I’m sure it’ll be fine. FINE, I say.
I’m looking forward to finally seeing the Islands, but my stomach and the open water don’t get along very well and I’m not sure how I’m going to fare on the Galapagos touring boat. There will be ocean, there will be waves. I’m hoping for the best, but I’ll be spending 6 days on this thing, 24/7, and I can’t help but wonder if I’m facing a week of high-side-hurling. I’ve done that before and I’m ready this time with two different kinds of medication, accu-pressure anti-nausea wrist bands, and lots of advice on how to beat sea sickness. Fawn actually asked us all to stop talking about it in the weeks leading up to the trip, saying it would likely only make it worse. So here we are just a couple hours from boarding, we’ll see how it goes…
A 2 hour flight and a bouncy landing brought us to an airport on Baltra Island, one of 50 in the Galapagos archipelago, this one used at one time as a U.S. military base. The plane was surprisingly large, a 3-and-3, but the airport itself was tiny, with just a few rooms and waist-high outdoor walls, baking evenly in 30C (86F) degree heat.
Having landed on a small island in the middle of ocean, I expected the boat to be close by, but after having our luggage loaded on the back of an open truck, we boarded a transfer bus to take us South across the island to the Itabaca Channel. From there, a short ferry ride took us to another bus that drove another hour South across Santa Cruz Island. Finally reaching the far shore, we transferred to a panga (Pangas are like zodiacs, small inflatable boats that sharks like.) and travelled 10 minutes to the tour boat.
The boat, called the Domenica, is really nice, more luxurious than I was expecting. It’s a 90 foot yacht with two jacuzzis on the top deck, and down below, a large dining room with glossy hardwood floors. Griffin and I are sharing a room that is bigger than many hotel rooms I’ve been in.
We were introduced to Peter, our guide, and after lunch he gave us our first briefing on the afternoon itinerary and rules of the Islands. Being a unique ecosystem, the rules are quite strict. Stick to the paths, don’t touch anything, don’t take anything, don’t leave anything, anywhere. Next up, our first excursion! It was a quick panga ride to Santa Cruz Island where as a group we landed and saw our first taste of the Islands’ wild life. Marine iguanas, the very same prehistoric reptile from the cover of that book I had as a teenager, were scattered about the boat landing. They were large, heavy-looking, and paid us no attention whatsoever. I had heard that because the Islands are protected and the animals are used to seeing humans, they don’t feel threatened, and rarely seek cover when approached. The iguanas proved this true and although they watched us sharply, they didn’t move an inch. We walked on and toured the Darwin Research Station, an animal retreat where they aim to reintroduce threatened species back into the Galapagos wild. Continuing on, we saw wild sea lions, pelicans, a whack of finches (among Darwin’s most famous subjects), and pterodactyls. Well, we later learned they were Frigate birds and not real pteranadons as I had hoped.
We took all this in on our first walk, and got to know one of our fellow passengers. Kate is a marine biology graduate from Australia, traveling 10 days through The Galapagos. She’s an experienced diver, with great stories about sharks and rays, including fake stories about the scars she has (the real stories aren’t as cool). She asked me to use her camera to take a photo of her with an iguana, specifically a ‘Crikey’ Photo. She explained that she and a group of her friends pose a particular way, the crikey pose, with animals they encounter when traveling. It was both hilarious and awesome.
It’s hot, the first real heat we’ve felt since arriving in Ecuador. I can see already that my camera gear will be great to have in a place like this, but heat plus HEAVY equals “I damn well better get some good shots while we’re here”.
After the tour of the research station, we were free to wander. Generally that’s uncommon, wandering around the Galapagos, but a few of the islands are inhabited, sporting (very) small towns with marinas that accommodate visiting sailboats, yachts and chartered boats like ours. Kate had been to this area before, so she took us to the two best places on the waterfront – the fish market, and the ice cream shop.
At the fish market, the fishermen were cleaning their haul, cutting, filleting, keeping the good and discarding the bad. At their feet, begging for scraps, was a flock of brown pelicans. Standing, waiting, necks craned up to watch for scraps, each and every one of them were vigorously shaking their tail feathers with anticipation. Not to be outdone, there was a sea lion waiting there too. He was just like a dog, sitting right at the fisherman’s heel, nose up, waiting for scraps to fall from the table. A short ways away, there was a second sea lion asleep on a bench. Griffin casually sat with him for a while, like a buddy, because Griffin’s cool like that.
Taking a break from the smell of the fish, we went to the ice cream shop, a place with a small deck that served some great gelato. Well, I guess gelato is always great, but when you’re 1000km (600mi) from the mainland, it’s even better.
Now back to the dock to rejoin our group. A volleyball game was going on and Kate explained to us that it’s a daily gambler’s game. The court was lined with men cheering and booing every play, each with small pieces of paper in their hand. I don’t know how much money they had riding, but it obviously mattered.
Through all this, my knee is still very sore. The tendons above my knee cap hurt like hell and they can’t support my weight. I’ve been hopping up stairs as best I can without looking ridiculous, but I think that’s inevitable at this point. It’s worse now than this morning, so I’m hoping it doesn’t get worse still.
Back on board the Domenica I got to know Allan, a guy with some serious photography gear. We talked shop, compared lenses and said all the nerdy things that photographers say when they get excited about gear. He’s a good guy, modest. I’m hoping I will be able to see some of his photos when this is all over.
Learning everyone’s name will be a challenge. We’ve moved from the introduce-yourself phase to the I-forget-your-name-already-and-I’m-too-embarrassed-to-ask phase. I’ll have to glean the names from conversations, even though I know some people have probably forgotten my name too.
I had almost forgotten that when you arrive at your travel destination, it’s a melting pot of travellers from places in the world that seem ridiculously far away, but are in fact no farther from this common ground than your own home is. There are many accents in this group and I love that.
At 6:45pm each day we’re to meet for the day’s recap and get the itinerary for the following day. Tomorrow sounds very promising: sun, water, land, animals, fish, birds. Well, that will likely sum up every day around here, but I’m looking forward to the details.
End of the day now and I’m sitting on my bed in my cabin aboard the boat, which is swaying crazily. In fact I feel like I’m in a giant, boat-shaped hammock. The sea sickness? Thank God for those pills I took. So far so good, which is surprising considering the boat is listing like she’s had a few too many cervezas. The bathroom door is rolling open and closed and the blinds on the window keep reaching out in to the room, only to change their mind at the next wave and clatter back against the window. 10 bucks I roll out of bed tonight.
(March 8, 2012)