We had to leave the hacienda around 5am to get to the airport in time for our flight to the Galapagos. This required a seriously early wake up. It was a little too early for the nice breakfast on offer, however Jacob still ate it greedily. Unfortunately Lorelei’s guts had also finally relented to something and she had diarrhoea and was very nauseous. “What a great day of travelling I am going to have”. “Oh and happy birthday Barb.”
After breakfast and making sandwiches to go we set off while it was still dark. On the way out we passed trains of cows coming in for the morning milking – milk that would soon be turned into cheese! For the next few hours we had a snoozy ride to the airport in Quito.
Upon reaching the airport Lorelei woke and still felt pretty lousy. She dashed inside, waited patiently for a stall to open in the bathroom, and spewed her guys out. As this cultural experience unfolded she worried, “oh my God I wonder what the people in the other stalls are thinking right now.” After talking to one of the other women on our tour Lorelei found out she was pretty grossed out. But at least Lorelei felt better…for a little while. After this experience she desperately pleaded for an aisle seat on the plane. Sure enough a few hours later she “earned it” with a new first, throwing up in an airplane bathroom! The weird little toilet did that airy suck in thing just the same as when you flush it for more ordinary deposits. Yay!
After landing on Santa Cruz in Galapagos we switched to a smaller plane. For Lorelei it was by far the smallest plane she had ever been on (Jacob had been on an even smaller plane from Wellington to Nelson in NZ). You could feel any bit of turbulence, and there was definitely no toilet.
Luckily Lorelei had been too nauseous to eat so there was nothing to throw up. With no real air conditioning the plane was also exceptionally sweaty. However, the views out the window were amazing and gave us a great appreciation for the otherworldly landscape of the Galapagos. Elizabeth even got to sit in the co-pilot seat and has promised to hook us up with some good photos in exchange for the privilege.
Once at our hotel on Isabella we took it easy in the afternoon and Lorelei started to feel a bit better, though maybe that was just the excitement that one of our favourite Galapagos animals was just out the front of our hotel. It was an algae-eating marine iguana that has to blow salty snot rockets out it’s nose all day. How cool is that?!
Later in the afternoon we went out kayaking and had double kayaks. Jacob assured Lorelei that he didn’t mind if she had to spew off the side of the boat. From our kayaks we saw blue-footed boobies, playful little sea lions, more marine iguanas, and lots of penguins, on the equator!
These experiences were exactly what Barb needed on her birthday. In fact, we will let her tell you more about the kayaking, and the penguins:
“Apparently, there are multiple ways to steer a two-person kayak, most of which Elizabeth and I have no clue whatsoever about. This gave us a slight proclivity to run into other boats on our kayaking adventure, all while paddling madly trying to turn. (Hey, we never actually ran aground or into a protected animal species, only humans, so I thought we were doing pretty well.) This earned us the honorary trail name of The Loony Ladies. I, for one, wear it with pride.”
“Penguins, by the way, are amazingly adept swimmers, and the water is clear enough here that you can see them really well. They like to buzz pelicans from below. The pelicans are not nearly as amused by this as the penguins are.
“97% of the Galapagos is part of a national park, and it is strictly forbidden to interfere with the animals in any way. This includes impeding their travel; in other words, the animals get to go where they want. Turns out they really like the comforts we have provided for them. The iguanas love to bask on asphalt (though sea lions apparently prefer astroturf). Ducks think swimming pools are wonderful. But my favorite were the ubiquitous benches with “Isabela – improving for you” carved on the back. Every single one was occupied by at least one sea lion.” And often a Mama sea lion with a pup suckling away.”
The following day on Isabella we went snorkeling twice. In the morning we took a boat to a spot with a seemingly endless maze of eroded lava, including tunnels and arches everywhere.
On the top of the lava we saw a baby blue footed boobie with its parents.
We also saw lots of sea turtles and colourful fish from above.
After walking around for a while we headed to a nearby spot to snorkel. The snorkelling was amazing – we saw White Tipped Reef Sharks sleeping (the only species of shark in the world that lie still to sleep), loads of colourful fish and more sea turtles. Apparently they were small reef sharks but at around 6 or so feet a long a piece, but they didn’t seem that small to us.
After a rough boat ride back and eating lunch we went for a short boat ride out to an islet for a walk. We learnt the islet was an iguana nursery and saw hundreds of small iguanas basking in the sun.
We also saw more sleeping sharks in a channel below, a large snoozy sea lion, and a heron that apparently preys on baby iguanas. The heron made us feel a bit uncomfortable.
After our stroll we returned to the boat for our second snorkel for the day – this time with sea lions. When most people think about snorkeling with sea lions they would probably imagine looking at sea lions from a distance and not wanting to get too close because they are super aggressive. However, on Galapagos it could be more accurately described as playing with sea lions. If you’re a good swimmer like Jacob you can even get them to chase you underwater.
This was truly one of the most special and amazing things we have ever experienced. The sea lions were so agile in the water compared to on land and as playful as dolphins. They seemed to genuinely enjoy ‘showing’ off for us humans and if that wasn’t enough, as we snorkeled, a penguin swam rapidly by, also showcasing its agility in the water.
Towards the end of this snorkelling adventure Jacob enjoyed one of the greatest moments he has ever had in the ocean (which is saying something!). When almost everyone else had retreated to the boat Jacob had an extended one on one staring competition with a sea lion. It was literally inches from his face just staring at him, and Jacob was staring right back. Jacob can’t remember who won the staring contest, but most likely it was the sea lion.
For added emphasis we’ll let Barb tell you more:
“Because the animals have no fear of humans, snorkeling is surprisingly interactive. A giant sea turtle came up for air repeatedly not five feet from me. For more than twenty minutes, a group of sea lions swam with us, turning somersaults, darting past at warp speed, and playing chicken with our face masks – staring us right in the face, then darting forward, just to see us flinch. There were three separate groups; each time one group got tired, another appeared.”
Isla Santa Cruz
The next day we had a big boat ride through rough seas to Santa Cruz. It was a few hours long and everyone basically hated it, except for Lorelei who loved it. She re-discovered all sorts of great tunes on her iPod that she had been missing on the PCT. Lorelei was sitting on a back corner of the boat where she got sprayed by the ocean almost constantly and had a good amount of fresh air. She enjoyed the bouncing of the boat that reminded her of good times back in Boston with her dad, brother, and whoever else we dragged along. Meanwhile Jacob was sitting further up the boat (there was no more room down the back) sweating profusely in the greenhouse of a deck cover and being bounced ragged. Luckily he also had an ipod classic to ‘bounce’ to. He survived the journey without puking, but felt fairly nauseas by the end.
All too soon for Lorelei, and not soon enough for Jacob, we pulled into Santa Cruz. Upon arrival we went for a walk to a nice beach, and went for a swim in the warm water. Then we got another little boat back to the hotel. The boat ride started off in the nice calm waters of a sheltered bay. However, we were soon navigating offshore reefs on which waves were either breaking or cresting. Given we were on a small narrow boat a number of people were down right terrified – most notably one young Ecuadorian boy who cried and sobbed almost constantly. Once again Lorelei was having a wonderful time, maybe because she sat in the back and it was less rough, but more likely, because she enjoyed speaking ‘Spanglish’ with the two young lobster fishermen we picked up.
Here’s Barb’s take on it:
“When you are riding in a small open boat through 15 foot waves that are cresting all around you, it is very disconcerting to hear Jacob, who is a keen surfer and very adept at reading waves, say “uh-oh.”
After lunch, almost everyone wasn’t keen for the planned snorkeling (probably because they were rather sick of boats by then) but rather wanted to chill by the hotel pool. Lorelei was the exception and went out with the two guides. Elizabeth decided to come along for the boat ride for photo opportunities and she was treated to more blue-footed boobies, some cool other birds and top views of big sea turtles. In the water Lorelei saw heaps of schools of ultra cool fish, a few big (probably male) sea lions, who sadly weren’t down for a play and just swam by quickly, and way more huge turtles up close. It’s always so great to swim amongst colourful schools of fish.
The next day we went to see some giant tortoises. The tortoises were predictably giant and slow moving, just as you would expect.
However, what surprised us was their love of mud. They seriously seemed pretty happy to just wallow in mud for hours. If they could sing they would probably like singing a song from Lorelei’s childhood “Mud, mud, I love mud. I’m absolutely positively wild about mud!”.
We learnt that the giant tortoises migrate from the highlands all the way down to near the coast to lay their eggs. Then there hatched babies have to make there way back up to the highlands solo. Seems kinda crazy when they move sooo slowly.
Unfortunately for Lorelei her tortoise time was cut short when her nauseous belly returned. She went back to the nearby cafe, and after some waiting, got in a hammock for a nap.
After enjoying hanging out with loads of tortoises we (minus Lorelei) explored a lava tube on the way back to the cafe.
Back at the cafe Jacob gently woke Lorelei and we made out way to a nice little restaurant for lunch. Clearly the nap helped because Lorelei had enough appetite to actually eat lunch and was able to come along on a bike ride from the highlands down to the coast. The bikes provided by Backroads were fantastic and we even stopped by a coffee, sugar cane farm en route, learning about the local, old-fashioned, time-intensive systems they still use.
We even spotted a really cool barn owl.
Down at the coast Jacob went and saw pink flamingos in an estuary and then promptly got in the ocean to try to body surf the small mushy waves on offer. Meanwhile Lorelei lay down on her sarong and waited for the group to be ready to go back to the hotel.
We had a nice dinner that night. Okay, all of the meals on this tour were really good and usually involved at least three courses. The hiker trash would usually help gobble down anyone’s extras too though we did finally seem to he settling down on the appetite front. As it was the last. Of course we made everyone on the tour play best and worst of the trip, which was really nice. Playing and swimming with sea lions was basically everyone’s best.
Sadly we had to leave really early the next day. We were happy to see one last marine iguana swimming oh so fluidly on the boat taxi to town.
Our bus to the airport brought us right over the top of the island and once again we observed how the desert sea-level gives way to more damp cloud forest as you climb the eroded volcano. Then it was just some flights and next thing you know we were hugging goodbye to everyone on the tour.
We went with Barb and Elizabeth to their airport motel, which didn’t look like your typical airport motel. You couldn’t even see it from the outside as there were big iron sheet fences. The inside was much more like a hostel vibe, though there was a little restaurant. It was comfortable and great. Sadly we had to say bye to Barb and Elizabeth who had a seriously early flight out. Then we started making our way to…the Amazon rainforest. Get ready to read all about it in our next post!
Post Script – Here’s a quick reflection from Barb on her Galapagos experience:
“As I sat at breakfast by the pool, I had to defend my food from the birds, who despite the strict rules against feeding them have clearly found good pickings there before. I thought it really captured the Galapagos…in microcosm when I realized that the four birds I was shooing away were four different species of Darwin’s finches.”