Thursday, August 05, 2010

What We've all Been Waiting for: Day 1

Did I mention that it has been a life-long dream of mine to visit the Galapagos? This has been up there on the list with, well, nothing really because it was basically the top of the list. And oh man did it live up to (and exceed) every expectation ever. And almost two weeks after leaving this dream destination, I've finally gotten around to getting pictures on this blog.

I probably would've been satisfied just with our first day. Even the plane ride was an adventure in itself. Flying domestic in a foreign country always seems to be. At the Quito airport they thoroughly searched our bags for invasive species, but never actually checked any kind of ID. At least I know that if I'd brought some sort of marine iguana mold in my backpack they'd never know it was me.

First stop: Guyaquil. Because our plane was continuing on to the Galapagos we were told to stay on the plane. Then after 15 or so minutes we were directed to unfasten our seatbelts. I am not sure what kind of safety regulation this relates to. Another 15 minutes and they sent us off the plane, handing out green laminated "tickets"--the only thing that would allow our re-entry to the flight. Again, no check of IDs or tickets or anything. Makes sense to me. I must say that the Guyaquil airport provided extensive entertainment. There was a duty free shop with overbearing salespeople where Maura and I played "The Price is Right" with American snack food imports. Also on the snack food tip, Ecuadoreans (or at least Guyaquilenos) have interesting ideas about what constitutes appropriate airport food. See my pictures for more detail, but here's a preview: Giant hunks of meat, cheese platters, and 1-liter bottles of salad dressing.

Arrival on Baltra (the airport where we landed in the Galapagos) was amazing. There you are flying over miles of ocean and all of a sudden there's a little piece of land. The insanely blue water is punctuated by strangely barren alien landscape. Again, pictures explain more.

From the airport we took a ferry to Isla Santa Cruz. Even waiting for the ferry was a virtual safari. Our guide pointed to the bird in the sky: "That one's a blue-footed booby, that one's a frigate bird," so on. Bright red Sally Lightfoot Crabs dotted the rocks around the dock. The water was so clear you could see the fish darting around. Sea lions lounged on the buoys. We'd been on the Islands for about a half hour.

After reaching and settling into our temporary home (a beautiful yacht with private ensuite rooms that made me wonder what the non-"budget" boats included), we visited the Darwin Research station. Impressive work those folks do. And impressive displays by the tortoises of island gigantism, my new favorite phenomenon. Scroll down to check out the video of one of the tortoises walking (she was one of the few tortoises we saw who actually moved). It will give you an idea of why Darwin decided it would be a good idea to ride them. Honestly, I would've too if I knew I wouldn't be yelled at by the guides and probably kicked off the islands. It was at the Research Station that we got to meet Lonesome George, a poor tortoise who's the last of his species. And he's just not interested in mating with any of the ladies they put in his pen. Poor fellow. I think I'd be sad if I were the last of my kind and had been plucked from my home, shipped to a weird enclosure and forced to make friends with people I didn't really know or like.

Then we had some time in Puerto Ayora, the town on Santa Cruz and one of the few points of human civilization in the Galapagos. A lot of souvenir shops selling crappy t-shirts (how many ways can you design a graphic to match the words "I heart Boobies"?). But I did get to drop off some postcards that hopefully ended up with a Galapagos postmark.

A pretty phenomenal first day, for sure. Who knew that it would only get better from there?

(Remember to click on the slideshow to access the album and captions)

And some videos to enhance your experience:

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