Galapagos Islands: In love with San Cristobal

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We’ve been absolutely blow away by all the Galapagos islands we’ve seen, each island having something unique to offer. There are a total of 17 islands making up the Galapagos. People live on only 4 of the islands; Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Isabela, and Floreana (in order of population size and degree of development). In addition to visiting these 4 islands, we also saw North Seymour on a day trip. Of these islands, both Marina and I are particularly enchanted with San Cristobal. While Santa Cruz is quite touristy and Isabela almost desolate, San Cristobal strikes a happy medium. The people on this island are extremely friendly. For example, on our first night at Hostal San Francisco, seeing that Marina was sick with a cold, the owners of the hostel – a lovely elderly couple – made Marina some hot honey drink concoction and gave her an extra thick blanket to keep her warm. Additionally, the price of accommodations and food are particularly inexpensive – better than on the other islands.

Today we had the following for breakfast:

Peter: 1 grilled cheese sandwich, 2 scrambled eggs, bowl of fruit salad with granola, yogurt and honey, and a fantastic milkshake

Marina: 1 giant bowl of above fruit salad, milkshake, and cup of tea

We paid $8 total – we splurged.

Most of our dinners and lunches – both 2 courses, have been $2.50 per person.

Surprisingly what appears to have astronomical pricing on the islands, as well as in mainland Ecuador is sunscreen. We were recently quoted $50 for a 120ml bottle of 60SPF sunscreen – absolutely insane. The prices vary according to SPF, which I have never seen before. Unfortunately, sunscreen was the one thing we decided at the last minute not to bring as we knew we could purchase it here. Oh, hindshight…

The ride over to San Cristobal turned out to be the roughest sea voyage thus far. This resulted in Marina being rather ill by the end of the 3 hours of rough waters and sitting on the floor (note to those traveling from Santa Cruz to San Cristobal: AVOID the La Cholita boat). Thank goodness we met some lovely girls from Britain – Vicki and Pippa – who helped us out once we were off the boat as Marina was in no condition to walk with her backpack. Vicki helped me carry our bags and guide Marina to the room, while Pippa went on to complain to the operators of La Cholita for their extremely incompetent and unfair service (this morning I heard from Pippa that this conversation resulted in police involvement – I will get the details later tonight when we meet the girls at a café). UPDATE: To read the full account of what transpired between the girls and the operators of La Cholita, please check out Vicki’s wonderful travel blog.

Since then, San Cristobal has not disappointed. Neither have the hundreds of sea lions comprising the massive sea colony that thrives on the main beach by the port – the sounds of hundreds of sea lions barking and groaning on the beach after sundown is absolutely marvelous. Given my prior experience with sea lions in Santa Cruz, I am very mindful of their personal space. This becomes a problem when they are literally everywhere – walkways, benches, sand, water, etc. Especially problematic are the 200-300 lb male sea lions which tend to be aggressive defending their territory.

Before arriving on the islands I was worried that we wouldn’t see enough wildlife; that all the images I saw in documentaries of the islands were somehow doctored. In truth, the opposite turned out to be true. As many people have joked with us – one of the biggest challenges of the islands is not to step on the tame animals. There is simply so much wildlife it can become overwhelming. On numerous occasions, we were walking around looking for one certain species of bird and failed to notice the baby sea lions mere inches from our feet. Or we’d be posing for a cheesy photo with a sean lion when a giant iguana would walk right into the shot in front of us.

If you appreciate nature, love animals, or are interested in the inspiration for Darwin’s monumental “Origin of Species”, I promise you the Galapagos Islands will not disappoint. If you have a week or two to spare, and some spare change, do yourself a favor and come down here. While organized tours and cookie cutter cruises are options for many tourists – these can be very expensive, limit your ability to explore the islands on your own schedule and without a dozen other gringos getting into your Kodak moments, and reduce you interaction with the locals living on the islands – an experience in itself. Also, when on a cruise on such a small boat, there is a good chance you’ll be spending the first few days hugging the toilet.

Oh I forgot to mention – we caught up with our Australian friends from Isabela – Anthea and Nick, and had breakfast with them at our now favorite breakfast joint. They appear to be just a few days ahead of our schedule as they left for Quito yesterday to go down to Cotopaxi and Lake Quilatoa – the 2 main sites we plan on visiting once back on the mainland. Hopefully we cross paths with them again. Aussies are such great people – particularly because they share our dry sense of humor. This makes communication seamless for someone like myself who always speaks with sarcasm.

I think I should wake up Marina from her siesta and go back outside. We’ve been taking it pretty easy on this island – avoiding tours, etc. I did, however, head to the local university yesterday while Marina napped and spoke with one of the few English-speaking people working there. The entire university – an extension of the San Francisco university in Quito – is in one building, right across a beautiful beach populated with sea lions. It must be tough to get much work done in that environment. Maybe I can get a job here… they currently don’t have much in terms of human physiology.

Interesting idea, indeed. (Note to my parents: please relax, I am not actually applying for work on the island. Do not send me alarmed emails. Please.)

Peter

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Galapagos Islands: See more on Seymour!

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Yesterday was an exciting day. Despite getting up before 5am, sadly, I had not beaten the roosters – they were already going crazy. Until we meet again, roosters…

We caught our boat from Isabela back to Santa Cruz – the water was rough as ever. As soon as we got on land – at about 8am, Marina and I were on a mission to try and get on a tour to North Seymour island that was happening on that day – and likely had already started. We also had to find a place to stay for the night. Marina ran over to see Michel, our preferred tour booking agent on the island, while I ran over to see Esther at Hotel Espana with both of our bags to try and get a room. Both of us succeeded, and within 20 mins of getting off a boat, our luggage was resting safely in a room at Hotel Espana, while we were in a taxi arranged by Michel speeding to the northern port of Santa Cruz to catch up with the tour that had already departed 30 mins before.

As I think I alluded to before, I was particularly interested in seeing the blue-footed boobies up close, and specifically doing their mating dance. On North Seymour, my wish finally came true.

It was amazing.

The male blue-footed boobie, which is smaller in body size and has smaller pupils than the female, would fly up to a single female and attempt to ‘pick her up’. First, he would make a weird whistling sound. This was followed by a spreading and awkward contortion of the wings and generalized shaking. The final step was a slow and soft dance, with alternating feet. If the female liked the performance, she would come closer to the desperate male. The whole thing would end with the boobies ‘kissing’ – or more accurately clicking their open beaks together while the male whistled and the female groaned. Keep in mind when all this was happening we were literally a few feet away. We also saw the result of this fancy courting in terms of female boobies incubating their single egg.

The red frigate birds were also phenomenal. As were the many baby sea lions that would approach us begging for some food. Due to the warm climate, while life for land-based animals is sweet, the water-based animals are having a tough time. The poor little sea lions are unfortunately in the latter category. Some of them were particularly skinny, and malnourished looking.

In the afternoon, we snorkeled with a baby shark (Marina screamed under water when we first came across it), some parrot fish, and a small sting ray. Finally, we got to watch an absolutely gigantic group of about 200-300 blue-footed boobies diving for fish. For some reason they were diving very close to shore, which made it almost overwhelming to watch – they were literally flying around our heads. And these are not small birds.

We got our tickets for San Cristobal and will be departing in a couple of hours to our last Gallapagos island.

We’re off to get lunch – hopefully it stays down during the always exciting boat ride.

Peter

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