I feel like a real blogger now. I am in the middle of nowhere…literally. I am sitting in the main area of our “lodge” using the wifi, borrowing a power outlet, drinking a local beer. I have taken many planes and a high speed drug boat (I am fairly certain) to get here. Scott and I have been watching La Reina del Sur, a Mexican novella about a drug queen on Netflix and today as we sped through open water on a two hour boat ride from Santa Cruz to Isabella Island on a decrepit boat with three engines that one of the boat guys had to fix ten minutes into our high speed race, I knew I had watched the scene unfold before. I had, except it was a night drug run and sadly Theresa Mendoza (the main character and before she became the drug queen), and her love crashed into a rock off the coast of Spain and he died and she was sent to prison. A lot happens after that, we’re not even finished with the series, but as we sped along in open water, the “boat guys” started looking behind our boat and so of course everyone else, including me, started looking behind our boat.
There was another boat approaching like it was chasing us. As our boat captain gunned the motors, I remembered how absolutely important those motors are…I mean if they are not running like race horses you are going to get caught by the coast guard or other drug runners. This was serious! The boat pulled almost alongside of us and I thought this is it…we’re going to be captured by drug running pirates in the Galapagos Islands.
My heart started to race and I exchanged a worried look with Scott who was sitting across the packed boat from me. (Why is Scott wearing a life vest and Grant is not? To add to the sketchiness of this journey, only the passengers in view of the coastguard leaving the marina were required to don flotation devices and Grant was inside the boat at the time). Our boat miraculously pulled away and we gained on the enemy boat for over half an hour. I was thinking, if we were actually in danger, our captain could have called for help, right?
The boat became smaller in the distance and I relaxed a bit until I saw Scott frowning again. The boat was catching up again and I could see another boat not far behind it. Oh, I understood. The pirates had called in their backups. They caught up swiftly this time and my heart began to pound. The boat was looming in our wake and then it pulled off to the side and we raced along neck and neck for five minutes. I thought if the pirates were planning on taking our ship they were waiting a long time. The boat pulled ahead and I could see people hanging out, taking a boat ride from Santa Cruz to Isabella Island, just like us. Excitement over.
The last ten days had been a crazy blur or phone calls, worry, plane rides and decisions. Let me explain. On the 4th day of our Salkantay Trek in Peru (The Salkantay Trek Saga…Day 4…Down the Tracks), we learned that my brother was in the hospital. Three days later we were in Quito, Ecuador and my brother’s situation was requiring major surgery and so I booked a ticket home for that night and Scott took over the kids and my blog for an undetermined amount of time. I struggled with the decision to leave my family, but in the end realized that when one is “torn” making a decision, it is usually because the thing you really want to do is the hard thing.
No need for wheels, the kids had fun running around this well decorated concrete skating area in the park.
We went for a long walk around the park near our apartment before I left for the airport. We walked as a foursome, trying to maintain physical contact with each other. I wanted to soak them in and experienced a torrent of feelings. Ecuador seemed very foreign. I prayed for my brother who was in surgery at that very moment. I would miss my family. I was facing long international flights. I would need to be happy and positive and calm by the time I arrived at the ICU in California. My friend called from the hospital with the good news that my brother was out of surgery and doing as well as could be expected. It would be a long recovery. We walked back to our apartment and said our goodbyes.
So, I went home. My brother was happy to see me and we spent time together as he slowly gained strength. I brought him little comforts of home like his favorite floss, juice, breakfast burritos and funny stories; that squat toilet story from Peru turned out to be a real good one (The Salkantay Trek Saga…Day 1…We Begin). I felt the love and support of my friends and I was happy to be home with my brother. I spent a week in California and then made another difficult decision to leave my brother (who I am fairly certain that no one can worry about or take care of quite like me) and to return to my family (who I was missing like crazy and again, no one can worry about or take care of quite like me) , in time to visit the Galapagos Islands. And before everyone gets too excited, my niece was not far behind me arriving in California to take of her Dad (better than I can, I admit) and Scott did an exceptional job in role as father and blogger (except for that insane hike he took the kids on that they’re all still talking about Miserably Beautiful).
So here we are all together again in Ecuador. I arrived late the night before we were scheduled to leave mainland Ecuador for the Galapagos and met my sweet family at the hotel airport. It was absolutely heaven to be our little family unit again and early the next morning we resumed our journey. When we arrived in Peru I had one blog from our time at home that I wanted to write in addition to capturing our Peruvian adventure. Our nonstop schedule in Peru made blogging (for me anyway) nearly impossible (I wrote one blog the day I skipped rafting) and made me even more impressed with the kids’ ability to accomplish any school at all in Peru. My week at home was not conducive to catching up on writing and so it has taken me a long time to catch up on all of our adventures in Peru. I have dated them in the correct chronological order, so unfortunately they are buried in the blog, but here are the links: Time at Home, My Brain is Going to Explode!, Casa de Aida, The Salkantay Trek Saga…Day 1…We Begin, The Salkantay Trek Saga…Day 2…Over the Pass ,The Salkantay Trek Saga…Day 3…Detours can be Fun!, The Salkantay Trek Saga…Day 4…Down the Tracks , The Salkantay Trek Saga…Day 5…Machu Picchu. I know it was a lot to catch up on but this is my scrapbook for the year and I am committed! So enough with the past and back to the present and how I came to feel like a real blogger.
My destiny was set in motion when we landed at Seymour Airport, the world’s first “green” airport. Its singular runway on Baltra Island serves as the main airport for the Galapagos. We transferred to a bus for the ten minute ride to a ferry.
We took a quick ferry ride across Itabaca Channel to Santa Cruz Island and got our first views of the gorgeous blue water and old lava.
Then…a blurry selfie of our fifty minute cab ride (all of the cabs are trucks) to our lodge in the town of Puerto Ayora. Puerto Ayora, a surprisingly buzzing little town, is located on the southern shore of Santa Cruz Island, boasting a population of 12,000. We had about an hour before we would meet our guide and begin our four days of land touring (not the usual for tours in the Galapagos as most people opt for the small ships).
Our agenda: arrive at the airport in Baltra and travel to Santa Cruz for one night, Isabela for two nights and then back to Santa Cruz for the last night and then repeat the taxi, ferry, bus, airplane back to Quito.
Right away we were delighted by the sea lions taking their afternoon siesta on the deck of our lodge.
There was one that was especially cute.
We happily watched them come and go, each seemed to have a favorite spot.
I loved the view from the deck of our lodge and probably could have spent all four days watching the sea lions, marine iguanas, crabs and birds all easily viewed with a cup of coffee or glass of wine and comfortable chair. Santa Cruz Island is what I always wanted to find in Hawaii; beautiful, quiet, peaceful, and quaint.
The Marine Iguanas were my favorite Galapagos creatures.
Sally Lightfoot crabs or Grapsus grapsus if you want to be scientific, are fun to watch and come in all shapes and sizes. They are dark brown or black when they are small, disappearing against the dark colored lava rocks until they are no longer bite-sized bird snacks. We watched the animals and relaxed on the deck until it was time to meet our guide. Yazmany met us at the hotel, along with two taxis (those trucks again) and we set off for our afternoon tour.
Our first stop was Los Gemelos (the twins). This very large crater and another one a short walk away, were once underground magma chambers. At the far side of the crater covered in forest is the entrance to a lava tube that leads towards the ocean.
Next, we visited a tortoise preserve where Giant Galapagos tortoises (with domed shells and I’ll explain later) freely roam, graze and sleep. A few of these preserves exist on Santa Cruz and used to be actual farms but the turtles were destroying the crops and the farmers hated the turtles. With some encouragement from conservationists and the realization that turtles could bring in more money in tourism than fruits and vegetables generated, farmers made the turtles welcome and now it is possible to wander hundred of acres and observe these behemoths in their natural habitat.
We left the turtles grazing to explore the lava tubes disappearing underground right there on the farm.
On the way back to our lodge, Yazmany suggested a couple of activities for us to do on our own before he picked us up the next morning at 9:00 and so like dedicated tourists, we set out that evening on a walk through the very cute town to the harbor to see the marine life. We saw sharks, sea lions hunting the schools of fish, and a sting ray, but the most entertaining fellow was the pelican sitting on the overhang. The water is crystal clear and the bright lights on the harbor make it easy to see anything and everything. This smart bird waited out of sight on his special perch and then would dive into the water to catch the poor, unsuspecting fish swimming by. We watched him for a long time.
The second activity, bright and early the next morning, was a bike ride to the Charles Darwin Research Center just down the road from our lodge.
Yazmany wanted us to see some Giant Tortoises that had a different shell adaption and here folks is part of the magic of the Galapagos, you can see the same critters that evolved to adapt to different needs. One group of Galapagos Giant tortoises has a “saddle back” which is a shell that has a high front allowing the animals to eat vegetation that is not on the ground. These cuties live in drier regions where the tortoises have had to be able to reach taller vegetation in order to get enough to eat. The other group has a dome-shaped shell where the front comes down lower (a couple of pictures ago in the blog). The dome-shaped varieties live in regions with more moisture, higher up on the larger islands, where there is plenty of suitable food found at ground level, like grass.
We also visited this Galapagos Land Iguana, a perfect color to hide in the grasses of the drier islands. The Land Iguana was endangered, but like the turtles, conservationists and scientists worked successfully to stabilize the population. After our visit to the research center we met up with Yazmany and got started with our day.
First, we took truck cabs to the harbor and then a quick water taxi across the bay and then we hiked through lava fields and a cactus forest to Las Grietas, a crevasse where ocean water and fresh water mix to make for a beautiful and refreshing swim. The water is clear and you can easily see large fish swimming below you.
The trail leads you to the top of the cliffs so I waited and took pictures of the kids getting into the water. That is Grant.
Yazmany took this great picture of Scott.
The water wasn’t too cold and the swimming was a lot of fun.
We dried off, paused for a family photo and then hiked back along the trail to a small enclosure where our kayaks were waiting.
It was easy kayaking and there was a lot to see, especially my favorite, a Marine Iguana, the only sea-going lizard in the world, just out for a swim. The divergence between land and marine iguanas has been estimated at 10.5 million years ago when the Marine Iguana evolved with a long, flattened tail that is good for swimming among other adaptations. The young are black, while adults range from red and black, to black, green, red and grey depending on the island.
We raced back along the trail, caught a water taxi and then jumped in the truck cabs back to our lodge. We had a busy morning and now we had an hour to shower off, eat lunch, grab our luggage and head over to the harbor to catch a boat to Isabel Island. I was being to notice that moving around the Galapagos was like being a character in a child’s Playmobil town, using all of the transportation options all of time. This water taxi, at $.50 per person, can shuttle about 20 people at a time and it was packed full on the short ride over to our drug boat and that was where the real fun began. Two hours on the high seas being chased by pirates and we arrived safely at Isabela Island where I retired to my solitary table to recover from the excitement of the day and revel in feeling like a real writer. That’s where you found me at the beginning of this blog.
I watched the sun set as I wrote and the kids played in the water.
Later they joined me and we enjoyed ceviche with popcorn, popular in both Peru and Ecuador.
Isabela is where the magic really happens. Our first day started out with flamingos.
We visited Centro de Crianza Arnaldo Tupiza, a turtle breeding center.
There are all sizes of turtles living here until they are big enough to released into their natural habitat.
Just a couple of months old.
There was a great path from the turtle breeding center back into town.
We hiked to the rim of Sierra Negra Crater, the second largest volcanic crater in the world at six miles wide. Sierra Negra is one of the five volcanoes on Isabela Island and the most active, the latest eruption in 2005.
The floor of the crater is stunning against the green ridges. Yazmany suggested we hike in the afternoon for a better chance of a clear view and it was perfect.
It was about a thirty minute hike from the trail head, again reached by those handy little truck taxis.
Ashley celebrated our climb to the rim and clear view.
The hike down was warm and the kids looked forward to an evening cooling down in the ocean.
Our last day on Isabela we snorkeled…the water was very cold…
…but the sea lions were so cute and fun to swim with.
They are just cute all of the time.
I’ve never seen a sign like this before.
We took a boat tour.
We saw many Blue Footed Boobies
The Galapagos Penguin is the only penguin that lives north of the equator in the wild. They are shy and blend in perfectly with the lava rocks along the shoreline. We had fun trying to find the penguins quietly enjoying the sunny day. How many penguins do you see?
photo by Paul
We stopped at Las Tintoreras…
…and hiked along a path through the AA lava.
photo by Paul
The big treat along the path is this canal formed by lava.
The water is clear and full of sharks! It is the perfect spot if you are a white tipped reef shark looking for a place to safely rest during the day.
The tiny island is also breeding ground for the Marine Iguana.
Our boat driver picked us up and we had time for one more quick snorkel.
The four of us followed Yazmany through narrow rock passages while sea lions played around us and occasionally a shark would swim stealthily underneath. I just focused on breathing and not panicking. At least the water was much warmer in the confines of the rock walls. This picture was taken by Paul, the only other person on our tour in addition to being the only one wise enough to stay out of the water. He took a few of the photos above as well.
There’s Paul! He was traveling for a month in South America, all of the way from the Netherlands.
Back onto the drug boat, which wasn’t nearly as much fun now that I knew it was just a very uncomfortable two hour taxi ride.
We said good-bye to our great guide Yazmany and his wife Steph who accompanied us to Isabela Island.
Time to repeat the long process of traveling back to Quito. The trip back to the airport was made a little more exciting because Scott forgot his credit card at the lodge and so the kids and I went ahead while Scott waited at the ferry for a it to show up in a cab. All ended well and the four of us left Baltra Island on the same plane.
I had no expectations going to the Galapagos, well except for the vision in my head of scientists running around in lab coats studying really cool animals. It was a great experience, all of it. I could write 3,000 more words about everything I had experienced and how far I had traveled physically and emotionally in the days leading up to the Galapagos. It’s just life though, all kinds of contrasts and like the animals that Darwin studied, we do our best to adapt and survive and hopefully even thrive.