Published: Dec 12, 2022
QUITO > GUAYAQUIL > GALÁPAGOS
As predicted, any remnants of yesterday’s day of rest have completely disintegrated. Pick up time today? 5:15am. And guess who forgot to set an alarm? Yep, my brothers.
Like when we passed through Quito to get to the Amazon, we had to pass through Guayaquil to reach Galápagos, but we’re not stopping in Guayaquil until later on. This time, our transit meant that we could simply stay on the plane for 40 minutes whilst those stopping at Guayaquil offloaded and those joining the plane for Galápagos embarked. The airport in Galápagos was an experience in itself. It’s the first ecological airport in the world, and we had to pass through an inspection point to make sure that we weren’t bringing any foreign plants or animals to the islands – this is an important way of protecting the endemic vegetation of Galápagos, as the introduction of new species destroys the native ecosystem. Even as we left the plane, we weren’t allowed to collect our suitcases until a dog had sniffed them first! I guess ‘fruit’ is now the new word we aren’t allowed to say…
In preparation for the boat we were going to be on, we collected sick-bags from the plane…little did I know how useful those would turn out to be. And as we landed, I felt a wave of overwhelming emotion. There’s only a specific number of people that are allowed on the islands at the same time, so the number of tourists is tracked and limited. It’s an incredible privilege to be one of those tourists right now.
Don’t say fruit!
At the airport, we met an iguana, as well as our tour guide – Juan-Carlos – who has lived in the Galápagos for 40 years. He’s told us he’s seen evolution happen in real-time, and that he fears nothing other than rats, cold water, and his ex-wife. We discovered that it’s actually illegal to be on these islands without a tour guide! He took us to our boat (home for the next seven days) via dinghy (transportation for the next seven days), and we checked into our cabins before receiving an introductory briefing and boat safety drill. The safety procedure was so detailed that I think it’s fair to say we now know exactly what to do if we hit an iceberg… we were also told that we have to hose our feet intensely every time we move from the dinghies to the boat because we’re not to accidentally transfer sand and microorganisms from one island to another, as there are species endemic to specific islands – I find that fascinating.
Then: learning time. We learned that the oldest island on the Galápagos is 11 million years old – our tour guide gave us a stunning perspective on this fact, explaining that if the world was created in 24 hours, Galápagos would have existed since the last 0.1 second of those 24 hours. Only 1.5% of the Galápagos is used for visitors, whilst the rest is protected. We learned about the miraculous creatures that established themselves here by travelling for miles from the mainland and adapting to the incredibly harsh environment. We learned that we should always try to keep a two-metre distance when watching the animals; experiments where microphones were put into unhatched eggs showed that the unborn creatures’ heartbeats were three times faster when people got too close. We were also surprised to learn that we would have Wi-Fi for exactly 15 minutes, and then we were heading off. Code for: no Wi-Fi for the next week. Which a) is really, genuinely wonderful, b) did, I admit, result in a bit of a panicked frenzy, and c) is the first time I’ve ever had no Wi-Fi for a week. I’ll be sure to document how that turns out. Oh, and my dad decided to paint his toenails yellow and white before the trip, which Juan-Carlos said were the same colour as a specific type of flower that attracts the Galápagos carpenter bee. Good luck to my dad, I guess.
After our first lunch on the rocky boat, we were back on the dinghies, headed out to Bachas beach on Santa Cruz Island. The sand is white as a result of parrot fish ingesting white corral and excreting it. Which basically means that we were walking on fish shit. We saw crabs social distancing, not because of a pandemic but because they’re cannibalistic. Interestingly, the male crabs were more cautious than the females, because they’re smaller and so are in greater danger of getting eaten during mating. We saw frigatebirds with red gula sacks, which they inflate for eight hours in order to attract a mate, and we learned that frigatebirds are kleptoparasites: their efficiency results from stealing everything from other birds. It’s interesting to think that behaviours that we might label as morally wrong are considered ‘efficient’ in the wild. We saw low-flying pelicans, blue-footed boobies who plunged into the water to catch their prey, beautiful flamingos, and sea-turtle nests on the edges of the vegetation. We saw a rusted pontoon – a relic of the Second World War. We hiked through the area, and did some snorkelling in the gentle surf. To my delight, I discovered that I’m scared of snorkelling, and really not very gifted in the swimming department.
After a dinner mingling with the other boat members and our evening briefing about the next day’s activities, I decided to try and get a really early night – 9 pm was my attempt. However, I encountered a major problem: the boat rocks. A lot. Because there’s a lot of ocean between each island, we’ve got to cover long distances in order to hop from island to island…and the navigation happens at night. I didn’t really know what it meant when we were told that we were embarking on a 10-hour night-time navigation, but I found out fairly quickly…
In short, other than the early warning signs of sea-sickness, today was utter magic and I found myself feeling an immense surge of love for Mother Nature. No joke: I’ve considered the idea of reinventing myself as a Galápagos tour guide…I’ve walked around with a permanent smile on my face today. And I can’t describe it fully, other than saying that it was so beautiful, I could cry. As Juan-Carlos said: “there are some things you can’t capture with a photo – like the emotion behind the camera”.
So beautiful I could cry