Saturday, 24 March 2012

Becoming 0.03% - Galapagos Islands Day 1

Sometimes early mornings are easy when you know the day involves something as exciting as flying to the Galapagos Islands!  We eagerly shouldered our backpacks and walked very briskly through the dodgy neighbourhood that separated us from the airport.  It took about an hour to check in as we first had to have our bags scanned by a special customs control station which is especially setup for the islands, then buy a $10 entry card, then queue again to drop off our cleared luggage, then get through customs and eventually we boarded our flight for Baltra island.  One hour and a half later we landed and became 0.03% of the population that have visited the amazing natural wonders of the Galapagos Islands.

We will pause here however for a little rant.

At the time we visited it, the Ecuadorian government had just increased the tax on airline fees and the cost for an entry permit once you arrived at the islands was $US100 for foreigners.  In the future, the government wants to double this entry fee in an attempt to stem the number of tourists as well as again increase the tax on the airfare. We talked to a lot of people about this and most people feel the same – this cost increase simply means that the rich will get to enjoy visiting such a magical place while those on tighter budgets will have to skip it.  A better idea (if the increase in cost is aimed at simply reducing tourists numbers as the government claims) would be to cap the number of tourists allowed to arrive each day.  This means you might have to be more organised in your travel plans and book further in advance, but at least those of us without a huge back account can continue to experience the Galapagos. Rant over….

Our catarmaran, the Valkiria!
After we collected our backpacks (no luggage belt here, the bags are piled up and it's a free-for-all, although baggage tags are thoroughly checked on the way through the gate...) we were met by someone to take us to our boat, the Valkiria Catamaran, which was to be home over the next 6 days.  At this point we were joined by two Germans, Stephan and Stephie (now known as the “Stepho’s”) who were part of the same tour as us.  When we arrived on board we quickly stowed our gear and were fed (the first of many delicious meals, the cook was fantastic!). We had limited time to enjoy our meal as the two Italians and three Swiss-Germans already on the catamaran were waiting for us to arrive so we could go snorkelling on the other side of the island.

Unfortunately in the rush of eating, changing, collecting snorkelling gear that fitted us, we only grabbed the small camera, as we thought we were just going snorkelling.  Turns out we firstly did a boat tour of the Daphne Islands which is where the famous blue-footed boobies nest, as well as a lot of other sea birds and sea lions.  Dave was thoroughly annoyed that he hadn’t bought along his SLR with a zoom lens, and even more so when we realised there was no memory card in our small camera!! We spent the rest of the 6 days trying to spot another blue-footed booby so we could get a good photo, but we never saw them again.

After getting back, eating a delicious dinner and having a nice hot shower in our own private bathroom (it’s amazing how such a small looking catamaran can accommodate 10 people, each couple with a bathroom and a double bed!) - we caught the taxi, i.e. rubber dingy, over to the port and strolled around the nice harbour town, sampling the home-made ice cream from a locally recommended shop, Il Giardine.

During the night we set sail and travelled from Puerto Ayera to Puerto Baquerzeo on San Cristobal island.  If you are going to book with this catamaran, just be aware that the engine is quite noisy and we were thankful that our earplugs were nearby.


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