Going Native: The Galapagos

Looking out the window of my airplane, The Galapagos Islands look just as I expect.  Somewhat lush and tropical and in other parts, barren and harsh.  To enter the Galapagos, you’ll be required to pay $10 for a tourist card.  And then, upon entering you’ll be required to pay $100 to enter the park.  I knew from the start this would be a more expensive destination in my trip, but it will be well worth it if I get the chance to swim with some sharks.

San Cristobal

After arriving, the first thing I do is locate my accommodations for the next couple of nights on San CristobalCasa de Laura is a quiet tropical haven right near the pier.  With hammocks hanging all over the place, Casa de Laura compliments San Cristobal’s vibe of being very laid back and comfortable.  I drop my gear in my room and immediately head out to find a place to rent some snorkeling gear.  My first stop is Las Tijeretas, right outside the Interpretation Center.  It’s a great snorkeling spot with some big fish, pelicans, and a curious sea lion to keep me company.  I end my night at El Descanso Marinero for some incredible ceviche which made up for the terrible American country music being played in the background.

The next day, I awoke with a really sore neck, most likely the cause of carrying a heavy backpack.  I may have to start rethinking how I carry all my stuff with me.  I decide to go low-impact for my day and head out to La Loberia to check out some Sea Lions and Sea Lion cubs.  There’s also tons of crabs and iguana’s.  While there, I see a sea lion cub come up and camp out on a little boys lap.  During the day, I noticed there are tons of sea lions in town, swimming in the fountains, camped out on the back of boats, or just taking up space on park benches.  Sometimes they’ll bark at you as you walk by, or waddle around town.  But most of the time, they’re just taking up space, basking in the sun and reminding you of how great the easy life is.  They’re the feral cats of the Galapagos.

Santa Cruz

In the morning, I head out to Santa Cruz on what is probably the most turbulent boat ride I’ve ever been on.  Imagine 2 hours of the worst airplane turbulence and you’ll have an idea of the inter-island ferry rides out here.  Upon arriving, I am supposed to start my Advanced Open Water Diving PADI training course, but due to my late arrival I won’t be able to start any of my dives today.  Abraham, my instructor from the Red Mangrove dive center, takes me to the pool where we prep our gear for tomorrow.  I’ll have 5 dives over the next two days.

The first day of diving is out at Santa Fe.  I don’t have much time to enjoy the sea life, but it’s a fun way to start diving on this trip.  The next day is scheduled out at Gordon Rocks.  It’s where I do my deep water dive at about 100 feet.  Once at the bottom, in an effort to insure I’m not suffering from narcosis, my instructor pulls out a writing board, where I’m asked to write my name forward and backward and then solve a complex addition and multiplication math problem.  I hope my work isn’t graded.  If I wasn’t breathing heavy before, I definitely am now.  The next dive is a for being an underwater naturalist.  I take my camera and underwater housing.  I’m happy that my instructor takes over photographing and video duties.  The currents are too difficult for me to capture anything, and I wouldn’t have caught much otherwise.  We swim with Hammerhead and Galapagos sharks, sun fish, barracuda’s, and sea turtles.  A truly amazing experience.  We reach the boat and I’m exhausted and sick.  And I still have a night dive to do that night.  After arriving back at the hostel, I crash for an hour.  Get up for dinner and then meet my instructor at the pool to prep for the night dive.  The night dive is in shallower water (~40 feet) and much more calm.  I do get to see a white tip reef shark pass right underneath me, but otherwise it is uneventful.  The colors at night are much more vibrant due to the ocean water absorbing much of the color during the day.

The next day is spent sleeping in.  But once I’m up, I get a taxi to El Chato, a Tortuga reserve park on Santa Cruz.  I pay the taxi driver $30, and he drives the 30 minute drive out there, and waits for up to an hour before driving you back.  There are tons of Tortuga’s laying about and eating.  You can’t touch them, and you want to try and keep your distance, otherwise, they’ll get scared, make a hissing sound, and then burrow themselves in their shell.

My original plan is to go to Isla Isabella for 2 days, but I end up meeting some friends from a previous hostel for dinner and am late in getting my plans set up.  The next day, I set up an overnight trip to Isla Isabella.  I won’t really scratch the surface, but I’ll get to see some wildlife.  Before leaving, I meet up with Ecuadorian woman that I met a day earlier at cafe / restaurant for some practice in Spanish.  She doesn’t speak English, so it’s good practice for me.


Puerto Villamil on Isla Isabela is a small, sandy, beach town.  Once I arrive, I locate a hostel and ask around about where to see some flamingo’s.  I spot them in a pond behind the Tortuga breeding center near town.  After walking back, I spot a hip beach bar, Casa Rosada, full of hostelers on the beach.  I meander over and end up having some drinks and socializing with some other traveling folk.  I’ve found my tribe.  Everyone here gets what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.  In this moment, I find it interesting how scared I was before leaving of being lost and now I feel like I’ve been found in some sense.  After a couple of beers, I head for a walk on the beach and then back to my hostel for the night.

The next morning, I wake up and locate a travel agency to schedule a tour of the bay area.  I join 10 other people where we first ride around in a boat and check out a couple penguins.  Next, we take a tour of the Iguana breeding area.  It’s situated on an area composed of lava rock.  Lastly, we go snorkeling in a small bay area.  After about 30 minutes, I stumble upon 5 sea turtles resting at the bottom of the bay.  One of the smaller one takes off and swims in front of me completely unafraid of my presence.  I watch the sea turtle for a good five to ten minutes, completely mesmerized by its swimming and occasional assent to the surface for air.  It’s as close to a religious experience as I’ve ever had.  I bid my new friend goodbye and head back to shore.  My boat leaves for Santa Cruz in 2 hours.

Back in Santa Cruz, I get shower, dinner, and start organizing my stuff for the flight back to the mainland tomorrow.  I’m still trying to decide my next stop, but I should be in Cuenca soon and making my way for Peru.  The original plan was to be through Ecuador in two weeks, but now it’s looking more like 3 weeks, possibly 4.