Hope everyone had a great holiday and New Year. It’s been a busy couple of weeks here. Lindsay got here on the 15th, my family got here a week after and we have had a full schedule of activities the whole time. So while I have been a little too busy to write any posts, the good news is that plenty of stories came from these two weeks. I’ll start with our time on the Galapagos Islands, which was quite possibly my favorite part of my time in Ecuador.
My parents, sister and Lindsay wanted to plan a trip that stood out during the Christmas break. We weighed some options and decided on the Galapagos. This was a great choice. The islands are heavily monitored and preserved, and several parts of the islands require a tour guide to show you the areas. Even if this wasn’t so, I’d highly recommend having one anyways; the islands are small, but it would be hard to get around and know what to look for without an expert. Especially since the main attraction is to see how evolution shaped the wildlife between the islands.
After a couple days exploring Quito with my family, we got up early to catch our morning flight. Surprise….it was delayed. My curse with Latin American airlines continues. ‘Fortunately’ we were only delayed for a couple hours, and eventually made it in the afternoon. As soon as the flight was getting down, it was easy to tell this place is different than anything else. The airport is located on the small and uninhabited Baltra Island, which is just above Santa Cruz. Because of its lack of accessibility, several parts of the infrastructure in the Galapagos are put together for interesting reasons. For example, Baltra’s airport was built by the United States during World War II to protect the Panama Canal. This airport and other projects helped build the tourism industry. Tourism in the Galapagos isn’t as old as some may think, only going back around 40 years.
After we landed, we took quick boat ride to Santa Cruz across a small stretch of water that could have been covered by a bridge (another example of the Galapagos’s lack of infrastructure). Then we took a taxi ride to Puerto Ayora, a port city on the southern shores of the islands. Since we got there late, we didn’t get to do much exploring the first night. But we still had plenty of time to enjoy the vibe of the area. It felt like a beach city, with plenty of small shops open selling plenty of things I didn’t need to buy. There were also several restaurants with outside seating to enjoy a couple of drinks and enjoy the island views. The highlight that night was a stop near the fisherman’s wharf area, mainly because that’s where the animals hang out and wait for scraps from the fisherman. Without even looking far, it is hard to miss sea lions, pelicans and land iguanas hnging out among the people. The saying about the Galapagos was true, “You don’t have the chase the animals, they come to you.”
We got some rest for the morning and then met our guide and the others in our group who’d be with us for the trip. Our guide’s name was Milton, he was born and raised in Galapagos and has been giving tours for several years. He was amazing and his enthusiasm would get you ready to go every morning, which was especially helpful when you’re waking up on a small boat at 5am. In fact, Milton’s mantra for the trip was “Be Optimistic and Enthusiastic.”
Our big stop of the trip was the Charles Darwin Research Center to see the famous land tortoises. This is a great place to start, as the tortoises from all the different islands are bred there and visitors can really see the differences between all the tortoises. Milton explained the scientific names, but then gave us simpler terms to describe how the tortoises adapted to their islands. Depending on the species of tortoise, they would have ’elephant’ or ‘giraffe’ adaptions. If the island had more thick brush, the tortoises would have stronger and lower shells to help them bulldoze through the shrubbery (these are the elephants). If the island had food in high up locations, the tortoises would have a higher up shell, which enabled them to stretch their neck even further (the giraffes).
The research center has been a miracle for the different species of tortoises, and many that were close to extinction have seen their population start to come back. Unfortunately, not all were saved and we learned the story behind one of the most famous tortoises from the islands, Lonesome George. He was a Pinta Island tortoise that died in 2012 after 102 years of life. After his island’s food supply was decimated by feral animals like goats that were brought in by sailors, researchers believed the whole species has been wiped out. When one day in the 70s, Lonesome George was found the walking around alone on the island. While several breeding attempts were made, George never reproduced. He has become a symbol of the island, and is now on display in the museum. He’s also inspired books like the classic, Hey Hey, Where Did Everybody Go?
After that visit, we made a trip to see the turtles in their natural habitat, while people can own land they can not move the animals. So some landowners with tortoise friendly land have open up their property for visitors to get an up close view of the tortoises. Like many animals here, they don’t mind humans, so you can often find them ready for pictures, or doing their favorite activity, laying in the mud.
That night was our first on the boat. After meeting the crew and having dinner, we headed to Isabela overnight. There were several ways to see the Galapagos, but I highly recommend a cruise like ours. You don’t have to worry about packing and repacking into different hotels rooms if you’re island hopping. It did take a night to get used to being on a boat, but it definitely saves time to wake up and already be docked at a different island. This was just the beginning of the trip, and next week I’ll go over some more interactions and stories with animals. I had a GoPro to get footage of scuba diving, but unfortunately the SD card I bought from a beach front store on the islands might have had issues…..should have seen that coming. As for not, hope everyone enjoys the New Year. #VidaLaVic