[first internet connection since we got on the boat last week. not sure how long I’ve got it, so I’ll post the past few entries in quick succession]
Okay, I’ve got to say it, because everyone’s going to be thinking it as soon as I start in: Yes, we spent the day wandering around the beach looking at boobies. Nazca boobies, blue footed boobies, as well as pelicans, swallowtail gulls and an albatross or two. It’s the real reason 10 year old boys want to be ornithologists: they can say “boobies” as much as they want, and be righteously indignant when someone tries to call them on it.
Anyhow. First real day on the islands. Yesterday was almost entirely transit: up and packed in the hotel lobby by 8 to catch the bus to the Quito airport. The expected hurry, line up and wait until the plane was ready, then uneventfully over an undercast sky to Guyaquil, where our flight connected out to the Galapagos. Was hoping the lingering effects of altitude sickness would abate once we stepped out at sea-level; the air did feel better, but I was queasy until well into the night.
Out of the plane in Guayaquil, into the transit lounge, then back out again for the actual hop to our Galapagos starting point of San Cristobal.
From the air, the islands really do look unearthly. A smattering of eroded red and gray rock calderas, with vegation that looks like it’s giving everything it’s got just to hang on.
Climbing down the air stairs to the tarmac, the heat hit us. We’re on a volcanic desert island, on the equator (at the austral summer solstice and at earth’s perigee, by the way), close to noon. It’s hot.
The “immigration” line snakes out from the shaded area, but we squeeze as close in as we can get. The Galapagos are technically just a provice of Ecuador, but in an effort to keep out invasive species (and bolster the local economy), there is a full immigration and inspection process, along with a $100/person entry tariff.
Once past customs, our gang forms up in its usual wagon circle – Bailars? Check – four. Dixons? Check – three plus two. Wests? Two. Cohns? 4 plus one. Our island guide, Billy, has somehow figured out that we’re his group, and introduces himself. He’s warm and relaxed, with a broad, easy smile and a wicked sense of humor. My mother asks about open toed shoes on the hike: “Do we have to worry about snakes?” “No, there are only small ones (gestures a breadth of about 4 feet with his arms), and usually they’re just food for the tarantulas.” But he does seem to have a convincing answer for everything. We like him right away.
By the time we’re out of the airport, it’s approaching three o’clock. We’re led to a minibus that takes us to the harbor, and take turns pointing at the luxury yachts and dilapidated rust buckets, calling “Ah – there’s ours!” Turns out that the gorgeous luxury yacht over there on the left? That *is* ours. We’re led to dinghies and motored aboard. Onboard? Wow. The Nina is, um, gorgeous, elegant and spacious. We are gonna be soooo pampered.
After some brief but much appreciated pampering, Billy announces that it’s time to head into town for a visit to the interpretive nature center. We’re just getting used to the pampering, but don’t have the energy to revolt. Back into the dinghies, onto the pier, stepping over the sea lions who own the place the way feral dogs own third world town squares, and into the bus.
Nature center is, um, a nature center, but Billy keeps it engaging. Still the kids are *so* done with sitting/standing and listening. We’re allowed 45 minutes to wander the town, play on the swingsets and watch sea lions, before we’re due on the dock for our dinghy ride back to the Nina.
The plan, we’re told, is that we’ll lift anchor around midnight and cross southwest to Hispanola, dropping anchor in time for a leisurely 6:30 a.m. wake up call.
I turn in, and wake around 12:30 hearing the sounds of machinery being grudgingly kicked into life. The engines take turns breaking into a rumble, and I can tell from the sound of the waves striking the bow that we’re underway. The boat gently pitches fore-and-aft as we leave the harbor and gain speed. Then less gently, verging into not-gently-at-all. Eventually, we’re smacking waves and flying along in slow motion canter that has everything in the cabin creaking and banging in unison. I drift in and out of sleep, dreaming that I’m a paddleball being whacked at the end of a short elastic cord by an obsessive-compulsive kid in a propeller beanie.
And then it’s quiet. The sun is coming up, and I’ve clearly been asleep. Devon’s picking up all the pieces of electronics that flew off the shelves during the night, and telling me to watch my step. Apparently my glasses (also formerly on the shelf) were a casualty; one of the lenses is unaccounted for, and presumed to be somewhere on the floor.
But it’s still, and my stomach is (reasonably) calm. We gather at 7 for breakfast and Billy apprises us of the morning’s plan: hiking the way-too-many-species loop trail at the west end of the island.
The hike is, well, the Galapagos in a nutshell. Sally Lightfoot crabs, rainbow colored iguanas, lava lizards, albatrosses, swallowtail gulls and tropicbirds. Sea lions riding the surf in. And of course, boobies. Nazca boobies and blue boobies. Itty bitty baby boobies, too. Really. We’ve got pictures.
By 10:30 we’re feeling done – we’ve got species overload. And did I mention that it was wicked hot? Billy leads us back to the dinghies where we’re hauled back aboard the Nina for lunch and more pampering. Which brings us to now, where we’ve motored over to the other side of the island for some snorkeling. Devon tells me it’s time to put on wetsuits…