*Written on the boat 2010.07.13; posted by hotel WIFI in Quito 2010.07.18*
No more potholes, no more cars, no more bumpy, rocky roads!
…Hello ocean, hello ship, hello bumpy, rocky sea!
We are now on our third day of a 5-day cruise around the Galapagos Islands! In many ways, it has been a relief to be able to stay in one place 2 nights (so far) in a row and to not have to spend all day in a car driving places. Ted’s headache has lessened since getting back down to sea level, but my intestines have been not-too-happy since last night.
We are aboard the Odyssey, a boat whose naval name is the Gran Natalia. She has 16 passengers and 8 staff in 13 cabins on 4 levels. She is a relatively new vessel, built in 2008, and for a ship, she’s pretty nice. The bottom level has some staff cabins, the kitchen, the engine room, and I don’t know what else. The first main level has an outdoor deck, a loading deck for the pangas (the small boats that can take us to and from shore), an indoor dining room, and an indoor hallway with cabins. The second main level has an outdoor lounge area in the back, and cabins accessible by 2 outdoor walkways. The top level has a jacuzzi, beach lounge chairs both under the shade cover and in the sun, and a laundry line for wet clothing. Our room is on the 3rd level; it has 2 twin beds, a desk and chair, a nightstand, a mini fridge, a closet, a mini couch, and its own bathroom. It seems to get cleaned by the staff twice a day while we’re gone, and every time we get clean towels they are arranged in some cute shape–today they were turtles. We found it odd that we cannot lock the door from the outside, but there is a safe inside the closet. We also thought at first that all the drawers were fake or sealed; they get stuck shut and hard to open, possibly from lacquer that melts and gets sticky.
Our shipmates are 1 bilingual guide, Tatiana, 7 male staff, 1 family of five from Maryland/DC (Aileen, Dave, Laura, Julia, Charlie; the girls are twins), 1 family of 4 from Denmark who’d been on the boat for 4 days already when we got here (Anna, ??, Christine, Marie), 1 family of 3 from Denmark (Gitta, Henning, Simon), and 1 couple from Texas (Thomas, Colleen; he’s about twice her age). Colleen takes more pictures than Ted and I (this is an accomplishment), and Laura and Julie are pretty different for being twins (one is talkative and social, the other is quiet and reads a lot; she reminds me of myself at her age). Marie has been keeping to herself so Christine has been making friends with the ship captain, who tried to give us a dance lesson Sunday night.
Since getting aboard the boat on Baltra Island, where the airport is, we have been to Santa Cruz Island, Bartolome Island, San Cristobal Island, and now Isabela Island. The first afternoon, we went for a short walk along the north side of Santa Cruz Island and then went snorkeling off its beach. We saw flocks of blue-footed boobies flying through the air, hiding their blue feet. We also saw pelicans, a flamingo, a neat bird that hovers solo, Sally Lightfoot crabs, marine iguanas, and lizards. When we went snorkeling, Ted and I were the only ones to not bother putting on a wetsuit; it was a warm day, and the water felt good… and warmer than Santa Cruz (CA).
Yesterday, we began the day with a hike up to the top of Bartolome Island, from which we could see many of the Galapogos Islands as well as a caldera in the sea next to Bartolome. We then went snorkeling off the coast of the island, this time all but one of us (Laura) in wetsuits. I spent some time following this bright rainbow-colored fish that was by itself amidst a school of large Nemo-looking fish. It had a greenish-yellowish middle with stripes of orange, blue, and pink around it, and a very metallic sheen. It also appeared to have 2 very scary-looking buck teeth that it kept permanently displayed. It was maybe a foot long. As I started to head back to shore, I was interrupted by a Galapagos Sea Lion that came to play near the shore. It swam pretty close to the swimmers, jumped up onto the beach startling two poor children who ran away, and came and nibbled on my foot! Later I saw it posing for pictures on the rocks. After lunch and a siesta (spent reading/napping), we had another opportunity for snorkeling, but Ted didn’t feel well and stayed on the boat, and I went and just splashed on the beach, apparently missing an opportunity to see a sea turtle that some of the kids watched. In the evening before dinner, we went on a hike on San Cristobal over large hardened lava flows, seeing neat lava formations, lava caves, lava potholes (in which our guide hid to trick us), lava rock mixed with iron that turned orange and weighed less, and eventually vegetation started to spring up in the older areas.
Today, in contrast to the bright sunshine of yesterday, has been mostly overcast all day. We were supposed to hike to the top of a volcano on Isabela to see its caldera, but our guide said that there was so much fog we wouldn’t see anything once we got to the top. Instead, we took a drive along the coast in a bus/truck combo. We saw a family of endemic marine iguanas crossing the road, a few young giant tortoises (not so giant, due to their age, and thus more normal-sized), 5 flamingoes along with a few other birds, a colony of marine iguanas living on the lava rock (they blend right in), and crabs. I learned that crabs… can jump. It’s scary. We also took a short walk to the “wall of tears”, which was built of lava rock when Isabela was used as a prison as a way to give the prisoners something to do. We then took a nap in a hammock at a bar until it was time to return to the boat for lunch. Ted and I, along with Laura and Charlie, attempted to use the jacuzzi after lunch… but it was more of a pool than a jacuzzi. More hot water fail. It also regularly emptied itself as the boat rocked back and forth.
Things I hadn’t expected when I pictured the Galapogos Islands: I was surprised to learn how many precautions the government of Ecuador is taking in an attempt to preserve the islands. All of our bags get checked both when we depart from the mainland and when we arrive on Balta; our feet got cleaned off as we entered the airport on Balta, they have exterminated non-native species that were introduced and found to be harmful (such as goats), and they are not allowed to import their food–we’ve been eating native beef, native fish, etc. I also did not expect the islands to be as brown as some of the ones we’ve seen. For that matter, I hadn’t even realized they were volcanic, although it makes perfect sense. Some of them have had little more than weeds growing, although Isabela had areas of jungle today. Third, I did not expect the boat to rock quite so much. We sail between islands mostly at night; the first night it was short and not too rough, but last night I almost fell out of the bed. Since my stomach hasn’t been doing to well to begin with, the rocking boat isn’t helping much, although I don’t think it’s making me seasick. The first night, I woke up to the shower door slamming shut over and over again, until I got up to secure it. Lesson learned. Fourth, I had expected the water to be warm. I don’t know why. It’s not.
Finally, I hadn’t expected there to be civilization on the islands. Apparently there are 2 settlements, one on Isabela Island and one on the southern side of Santa Cruz Island, with a total of about 19,000 people living in them. I’m guessing that these populations existed here prior to it being made a national park; the people now make a living mostly off tourism, with restaurants, hotels, etc. Our guide even grew up on one of the islands, although she now lives in Quito with her husband.
It is now time to get ready to go deep-sea snorkeling off the panga, during which we will be looking for sharks… too bad it’s still overcast. Even the wetsuit doesn’t make it sound too inviting, but who can miss the sharks?