Thankfully we arrived into Quito the day before we joined up with the Galapagos trip, although we almost did get kicked off the plane in Lima! La Mariscal Sucre, home for the next two nights is renowned as being an "extremely dangerous" (as said by Lonely Planet). By the daytime its fine, we even quite liked the place, but when the sun sets its pretty grim. There were gangs hanging around the hotel, the streets are pretty empty and every now and then you hear pained screams; we went out for a drink and quickly ran back the hostel! No wonder there is so much social stuff going in the hostel when it isn´t exactly safe to go outside! It's a bit different to Santiago!
After a night spent in a freezing cold hostel, it was off to 4star luxury at the Hotel Rio Amazonas, where we met the people joining us on the Galapagos trip. We made full use of the cable tv (watching Notting Hill), the bath (first one in 3 months) and hairdryer, and the incredibly cheap mini bar! Next morning after the impressive breakfast (with perfect bacon!!!) it was off on our way to Baltra, the airport island of the Galapagos.Baltra airport is something else! It is literally a wooden shack with a corrugated iron roof, it makes Leeds Bradford look like Heathrow! But it serves its purpose. Galapagos is going to be hot, how could we expect anything else being slap on the equator! Getting to the boat involved a bus ride, a ferry, another bus and a panga (their word for a dihngy), quite the mission! When you think of Galapagos you conjure up images of desolate, isolated islands teeming with tortoises set to a backdrop of erupting volcanoes. Isla Santa Cruz and her port, Porta Ayora, couldn´t be any more different. We didn´t know that Galapagos is home to a population of around 15,000 non-endemic species named humans! We could have been in any seaside town in the Spanish Costas, but we were safe in the knowledge that an eight hour sail away we would be somewhere completely different to any other place on the earth!¨Pelikano´´, our boat and home for the next few days was pretty nice, although the fact that the top bunk didn´t have a rail concerned me a little. I let Mike take the bottom because if there is anyone who would roll out of bed, its him! He got the better deal though, the bottom bunk was bigger than the top! Our bag unpacking was rudely interrupted by a bell, and it seems that bells are going to dominate our lives for the next week. Bells ring at every opportunity; meal times, briefings, landings, snorkeling times! At least we haven´t got to think for ourselves for a while!!Our first introduction with the wildlife came that afternoon with a hike to go and look at some wild giant tortoises! Giant they were, but I´m not so sure about wild, they looked as though someone had just plonked them conveniently 10 mins into the hike in a muddy pond! This hike took place during a heavy tropical downpour, and we were sin coats (see, we are leaning a bit of Spanish) and so got very, very wet. The best bit about the day was eating the fruit, the tastiest passion fruit and guava ever! Back on the boat to dry off and eat, and then it was off on our first voyage over to Floreana Island for some real Galapagos experiences. Our first night at sea wasn´t so great. It was really rough and our cabin in incredibly hot as the a/c doesn´t work properly and we´re right above the engine.
A 6am start wasn´t the best thing to top it off, but Floreana made up for that! Our first landing was on a green beach to go hunting for flamingos, which we found! We also saw some turtle nests but no baby turtles. The group on the boat saw some hatch on their first day, only to then be eaten by frigate birds. If I saw this I´d be a tad devastated!Snorkeling plays a big part of the Galapagos trip, as there is so much to sea that doesn't live on land. Our first snorkel was pretty amazing, I don´t know if another one could possibly be as good! We snorkeled with a sealion colony, not just looking at them underneath us, but actually playing with us, their faces up against our masks! Shame the water was so cold…This was followed by a trip to Post Office Bay, which is where whalers stationed in the islands used to pick-up and send their mail from. Basically the idea is that you put your letter/card in a barrel and hope that someone who lives nearby picks it up and delivers it to you. I am a little skeptical, but it´s worth a try! After this it was back into the sea for the second snorkel, this time the water wasn´t as clear but we did manage to see a turtle!
After another rough night at sea (I ended up sleeping on the floor through fear of falling out of bed) it was off to Española island, first stop Punta Suarez for the sealions, iguanas and albatross, which we saw in abundance. Those birds look so graceful with their 8ft wingspan in the air that it is almost quite painful how clumsy they are on land! Punta Suarez is also home to a spectacular blowhole, spewing water 100ft into the air.We have also just found the best beach in the world, similar to Whitehaven in the Whitsundays but without stingers and with a 1000 strong sealion colony, seriously they would make the best pets ever! They also remind me of my leeds housemates, but that's another story… The sea is a brilliant turquoise colour and the sand is like flour, it really is perfection! When we were briefed about the trip back in Quito and the rep said everyone would be in bed by 10 absolute latest, we laughed, but the Galapagos really does take it out of you! Early mornings and two hour long snorkeling sessions, often against the currents, really makes you exhausted, coupled with the heat (it was 30degrees at half 7 this morning) and the stupid amount of food cooked for us by chef makes for one bunch of tired people by 8 in the evening!The next day in Santa Fe island wasn´t as remarkable as the first, the sea was murkier, and the only new thing we saw were ´red tailed tropic birds´. We are losing track of the different birds in these islands (except for the blue footed boobeys and frigates, which are always good to see). Darwin could have named the finches something a bit more exciting than large/ small/ medium/cactus/ground finch! They all look pretty similar to me, with or without binoculars!
One of the people on board was lucky enough to have her birthday in the Islands, and for the celebrations Roberto (the bar tender/salsa dancer extraordinaire) put on a little buffet and chef baked a cake about the same size of the boat. It was also the last night with some of the crew and the guide. To be fair the guide wasn´t so great. He was fantastically knowledgeable about the islands, but didn´t seem to care about anything but this, he didn´t even introduce us at the start of the trip.Walter, the next guide turned out to be fantastic. We attempted to change our flight back to a few days later so we could go to Isabella, and he was right on the case. Today was a little more laid back than the other days. We had to wait in a harbour for our new crew and guests, although we did get to lie around on a beach which was a relaxing change! Bartolome Island was amazing, we had a fantastic snorkeling session, seeing everything from sharks and rays to an iguana feeding underwater. Galapagos are a topsy turvey world where things just don´t belong; lizards don´t belong underwater and penguins don´t belong on the equator! Its crazy! We also went to ´Sombrero Chino´ to see more iguanas and then for another snorkel, this time involving penguins and more sharks!
The Galapagos have definitely been the highlight of the trip so far, it will take a lot to beat this! Its just a shame we couldn´t change our flight, but at least we got 8 days there. Everyone should come here at least once in their life, I know I´m planning to go back! If only the trip didn´t end at Puerto Ayora…