Day 1 – April 6
Today started early! At 3:50 am Gerry started banging around the room, but no matter, the alarm went off at 4:00. We had previously arranged for breakfast at 4:30 (by special arrangement with the chef) and so were fed and in the little bus by 5:00 am right on schedule.
It seems like information on this trip is divulged strictly on a need to know basis – we have no airline tickets (and no idea of what flight or airline we are on). We do not know what is going to happen at the airport or afterwards either…Lesson 1: Relax and go with the flow.
The ride back to the airport takes the just less than an hour expected. (It is barely the crack of dawn on a Sunday morning). Once there, the representative handling our group, checked us in to plane and boat. Our flight was delayed two hours for mechanical difficulties (Groan! Especially after getting up before the crack of dawn!). Finally we board another bus to take us to the plane, and we have a short 35 minute flight to Guayaquil. Most of the flight was cloudy and we were above the clouds. It was amazing though to look out the window of the plane and see the ground beneath the clouds. Strange little peaks sticking up above the clouds turned out to be the tops of volcanoes – covered in snow. I recorded each one in the hopes that I could later trace our path southward along the “Avenue of the Volcanoes.” Here you can share a bit of the view. (Click on the images to see them larger.)
We stopped in Guayaquil to fill the plane with both fuel and passengers and then we were off for the Galapagos! Over six hundred miles out to sea we flew.
The flight wasn’t long (my guess is under 2 hours) but we were served breakfast. Once on land in Baltra we had to go through passport control and pay the Galapagos National Park fee of $100. We got our luggage, and took a bus to a ferry, to another bus, for a long ride across Santa Cruz Island to Puerto Ayora where we got in a Zodiak (panga in the local dialect) and were taken to the ship. Getting on and off the panga will be a skill I hope to master by next Sunday. Our ship is the Coral I.
On the ship, we located our cabin, on the third deck, opposite side of the boat from our friends, Luis and Joanne, and Glenn and Linda. Above us is a communal deck with a great view 360 degrees. Below us, the deck contains the meeting room and the dining room, as well as the whirlpool, which serves as the meeting place for getting off the boat. Below that – I am not sure, though I know there are cabins down there and the crew must sleep somewhere!
Our crew consists of three National Park guides and 12 other crew members in charge of kitchen, dining room, pangas, cleaning, etc. Once I see how many people it takes to run even a small boat like this I realize that the suggested tips are pretty reasonable.
Our Itinerary states:
Baltra – Santa Cruz Island – Sunday
Arrive to the Galapagos and transfer to your ship, the Corals. Today we cruise to Santa Cruz Island and visit the Charles Darwin Station, home of the Fausto Llerena tortoise breeding center.
We did indeed visit the tortoise breeding center. We saw the eggs and the hatchlings, and followed their progress through the system until the little tortoises are about 5 years old and strong and healthy enough to fend for themselves. Thanks to a numbering system, the young tortoises can be reintroduced to the wild at the same place where their eggs were found. Interesting, too, is the fact that the incubation temperature determines the gender of the hatchlings.
Then we saw the adult residents. Though the little guys look like most land tortoises, the adults look like pre-historic creatures. Their size is amazing. Their story less so: These huge animals were once pets, and now live here in the center. Their genealogy is unknown as is the island where they were born. As such, the naturalists here do not know where to put them, and can’t put them out there just any old where. The tortoises will interbreed, mixing up the gene pool, but it is easier to study the evolution of the species without a lot of random genes thrown in willy-nilly. In the wild, these tortoises would not find themselves thrown together with members of another subspecies.
The Center serves as a good introduction to the animals we will meet this week. A marine iguana greeted us at the entrance. We also got to see land iguanas, birds, geckos and little lava lizards.
We also enjoyed our only touch with civilization on this trip – an hour or so to walk Puerto Ayora, where there are lots of tourist shops. Glenn discovered a “ceramic” garden, a festive product of a fertile imagination, and we witnessed a drama of man versus beast, when a sea lion stole a big, huge fish just brought in on a fishing boat. She escaped with her prize to the water, but the fisherman went right after her with knife and grappling pole!
Our evening was typical of all the evenings we will spend on our ship. Back from our excursion, we have some time to clean up and have cocktail hour before dinner. Our food is very good – fresh ingredients with a local flair, nothing fancy. Dinner is followed by a briefing on what the morrow will bring, and then, if we are still awake, we stumble to our cabins for a long night’s rest.