The Galapagos Independently – Santa Cruz
So, we bid Hostal Revolution a fond goodbye, hopped in a taxi to Quito airport and began the journey to the Galapagos. We had to go to a special Galapagos first then onto normal check in. I managed to get elected Queen packer by some Australian backpackers who were astonished at my 11kgs back pack – they had double that! If I had carried that much, I’d have ended up on my back with my legs flailing around. I will have to publish a packing list.
Lunch at the airport turned out to be exceptionally expensive for Quito, so if you are ever here, eat first. Then onto our plane. There were a lot of “gringos”, but Greg and I had 3 seats between us, so it was a comfortable ride over. I was trying to guess how many gringos were doing a cruise and how many were travelling the Galapagos independently. My answer came when bumping into the same people over and over again on the islands. I managed to snap a couple of shots of the islands as they came into view from the plane.
First I guess a little bit about the The Galapagos Islands (most of which I didn’t know, even though I wanted to come here for so long). As lifted directly off Wikipedia…
“The Galápagos Islands are an archipelago of volcanic islands distributed on either side of the Equator in the Pacific Ocean surrounding the centre of the Western Hemisphere, 563 miles west of continental Ecuador, of which they are a part.
The Galápagos Islands and their surrounding waters form the Galápagos Province of Ecuador, the Galápagos National Park, and the Galápagos Marine Reserve. The principal language on the islands is Spanish. The islands have a population of slightly over 25,000.
The islands are famed for their vast number of endemic species and were studied by Charles Darwin during the voyage of the Beagle. His observations and collections contributed to the inception of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection”
“The group consists of 18 main islands, 3 smaller islands, and 107 rocks and islets.”
We landed on the island of Baltra, which was used as a US army base during the second world war, not being handed back until 1956. First impressions were of a very baron, cacti filled landscape, not quite what I was expecting. We made our way through customs and onto a bus, which took us to a boat that would transport us over to the island of Santa Cruz (US$1 per person). En-route we saw a rare yellow land iguana casually crossing the road which seemed like a good omen for what was in store for us in the weeks ahead.
Our first three nights in the Islands were to be on Santa Cruz, which is the main inhabited island of the Galapagos with around 25,000 inhabitants.
On arrival we found a taxi who would charge us USD$20 to take us to our hostel in Puerto Ayora, the main town. On the way, he tried to sell us a tour to do now for ONLY $60, which incorporated tortoises, a crater and some tunnels. We declined so he told us we would pay double from Puerto Ayora (we didn’t!).
We arrived at Hospedaje Germania in a quiet part of town and were shown to our room. It was a tad underwhelming but the bed was massive, comfortable and a private bathroom, so we’re good. We set out to see the town of Puerto Ayora. We had kind of expected paradise but found that it’s pretty touristy.
We did have highlights though of sea lions sleeping on benches, pelicans wondering all over the place and red Sally crabs clambering all over the rocks.
That night we went out for drinks, everyone seems to do cocktails 2 for 1, albeit 1 = $7 – $10! Then we got take away pizza at Pizza Eat (it was very good) and headed back to the hostel. An early night after travelling! For us, this was the benefit of travelling the Galapagos independently, we could do what we wanted!
The next day, up bright and early (still jet lagged it seems), we had breakfast at Café Kale then went back to see Rafael the owner of Hospedaje Germania to ask about a tour that the taxi driver had told us about. Rafael said he would take us himself for $40, great! Rafael spoke reasonable English and helped me with my Spanish, so we had a great day learning languages.
Our first stop – the giant tortoise centre (El Chato) – was awesome. . There are 3,000 giant tortoises in Santa Cruz alone, they are incredible creatures that really make you think of dinosaurs and a world that existed before humans (and tourism!).
An interesting fact alert………pirates used to take hundreds of these tortoises on board their ships as they lived for months in that environment too, which regrettably made them a good food source. It is estimated that over half a million tortoises were killed in this way, and almost drove the Galapagos tortoise to extinction.
We walked amongst the tortoises as they ate, bathed and and all in their natural habitat. The location of the centre is in the middle of the island, and much higher up than sea level where the environment is naturally damper and with greater vegetation. We were so close that we could hear them making noises, yawning and everything. It was incredible. Just as we were leaving a tour group showed up of around 20 people who were all getting herded around together, another point for seeing the Galapagos independently.
Later I got inside a tortoise shell so that Greg could use his “my shell” joke that he’s wanted to use ever since he met me.
On the way to and from the centre, we saw more tortoises in the wild, including on the road, there’s a joke in there somewhere. Don’t run one over though, it’s an $8k fine and gaol sentence
The lava tunnels were also in the same location so we walked underground and saw the natural formations of the volcano. I have to say the tortoises already had my heart and full attention, over and above the tunnels.
We then moved onto the craters, which are land formations created by a subsidence of land mass, they are enormous and there was a couple km walk around that we did, seeing strange moss trees and quite a few birds.
We then headed back to Puerto Ayora and onto the Charles Darwin Centre.
On the way we were serenaded by a man on a bike…
The centre itself is less informative than I would have liked but the beaches nearby had some lovely bits of wildlife, we watched pelicans fishing, one having swallowed a crab had to spit it out and back in again, I’m not sure it’s eaten it yet……..
That night, we grabbed a beer and pizza and sat on the pier, where the sea is lit up so we watched reef sharks playing around, pelicans fishing together with a little ray swimming around. It was a lovely chilled out evening sat outside enjoying the view, with our matey Freddy the sea lion who was on the bench next to us.
The next day, unfortunately Greg wasn’t too well so we stayed at the hostel in the morning, which was another benefit of having planned Galapagos independently and not being tied to a tight schedule, then headed to Tortuga Bay in the afternoon. Wow, now we have found paradise!
Tortuga Bay is reached by an hours walk from Puerto Ayora and boy is it worth it. We were greeted by a long pristine white sand beach, with marine iguanas swimming, sunbathing and sleeping everywhere. These iguanas are unique, being the only lizard with the ability to survive in a marine environment. They go into the sea to munch on seaweed and then snort out the salt, which is really funny to see. The first beach has waves for surfing but is not safe to swim in due to the currents, which are strong everywhere in the Galapagos.
There is a second more sheltered beach we walked to, where we set up shop just watching the wildlife around us. It was incredible – a playful sea lion was playing up to the tourists on the beach by coming out of the sea posing for us, then languidly swimming along the beach in shallow waters making sure that every sunbather had the chance to take some photos of him. What an experience! We wanted to snorkel but the water was very chilly (and we are babies) so we have decided wet suits are the way forward.
Again, our decision to go to the Galapagos independently seemed to be ratified as we headed back and two tour groups of around 30 people each approached us. They wouldn’t get the same personalised attention from the sea lions!
That night we headed to Charles Binford Street (“Cheap Street”). We’d heard that you could get a reasonably priced meal. All of the restaurants on the front have main courses at $15 or more each, and we can’t have pizza again no matter how nice it is! We stopped at Restaurante Mar y Sol and ordered BBQ Grouper, which was lovely. The street was fun, loads of people eating and having fun, albeit all westerners. A good place to spend some time.
Tomorrow we head off on a boat to San Cristobal. We’re looking forward to a new, quieter island but I’m not looking forward to a boat ride!