Where did I last leave you? Oh, right. On board the plane descending to Guayaquil to pick up more passengers headed for Baltra Island in the Galapagos. (Scroll down a few posts if you want to start at the beginning).
Baltra is one of two islands in the Galapagos with an airport intended for transporting tourists back and forth to the Galapagos National Park. The other is on San Cristobal. All flights into the Galapagos land and/or take-off from one of these two airports. I have no idea what the airport on San Cristobal is like, because we came and went through Baltra Island.
Baltra Island basically doesn’t have much of anything on it (for tourists) other than some remnants from World War II, when Baltra was a U.S. Army Air Force Base. The U.S. Army cruised for enemy submarines and were assigned to protect the Panama Canal. Don’t believe me? Check Wikipedia.
Getting onto our boat for the 2-week cruise was a challenge. Like our guide said, we had to be flexible, and the airport experience was a reflection of that. We landed at the airport, and there we met other travelers intended for the Cormorant, our home for the next 14 nights. There were a ton of other people heading for other boats, so it was a bit of a cluster-F, if you know what I mean. And the guides were separated from the other cluster-F’ed people like us wondering where our luggage was.
So, naturally, the first thing I did was leave the gathering area to try and figure out what was going on (the jury is still out on whether I did this out of stupidity or boredom). An Ecuadorian Galapagos guide, who recognized me by my Cormorant sticker, said, “Hi, I’m Harry.” We shook hands. “Hi, I’m Cindy.” (That’s me replying).
Harry wears Cool Hand Luke mirror sunglasses, so before I got to know him I could never figure out what he was thinking. Probably that I was a class-A airhead. Because the next thing he said was, “Where’s your luggage?” My intelligent answer? “I don’t know.” (That’s what I wanted to find out!) Cool Hand Luke gaze from Harry. “You have to go back and get it.”
Well, that was good to know. See, without wandering around like this, one doesn’t discover the important stuff!
Travel Tip! Don’t leave the luggage area after paying your entrance fee for the park without first retrieving your luggage, I don’t care how many airheads are making the same mistake before you decide to. Get it together. Keep up!
So I returned to the Cormorant Crowd and informed at least one of them, probably My Liege, that we were not allowed to leave until we had our luggage.
Much futzing about ensued. Eventually, everyone got their luggage, and our guide escorted us out of the airport. From there, it’s a mad dash to the buses as each guide tries to get their group of 16 or 20 or what-have-you ALL on the same bus. Once you’re all on the same bus, it takes you from the airport to a little ferry that transports you to Santa Cruz Island. You see, our catamaran, The Cormorant, was docked in the bay of the main town on Santa Cruz, which is called Puerto Ayora.
You know, I really hate having the date stamped on my pictures. It looks dumb in a photo album. Thank you to BP who eventually got rid of the feature for me. Photo credit: Me!
That’s the only photo credit you’re getting this entry, because it’s kinda longish.
Once the ferry docked, we were lumped onto another bus and then traveled 40 or 45 minutes to Puerto Ayora. There, we were instructed to put on life jackets so we could board the pangas (like Zodiacs or dinghies that held 8 people each, the guy working the motor, and Harry, if you happened to be in his panga).
I hadn’t put on a life jacket in a while:
Heading down the gangplank to board the pangas:
Now, here’s the thing, I get motion sickness. I could write an entire blog post on how to discover you get motion sickness. Maybe someday… However, this trip, I knew about my sea sickness in advance. I would NOT barf all over someone’s sandals on this trip! I came prepared. And you know what that means.
Travel Tip! If you know you suffer sea sickness, either (1) don’t choose a yacht or catamaran that only carries 16 passengers and the crew. The smaller the boat, the more likely you are to suffer. But I didn’t want to cruise the Galapagos on a boat with 90 other passengers. I didn’t even want to cruise the Galapagos on a boat with 30 or 40 other passengers. What if I hated everyone, or they thought I was weird? I figured the odds were better if we chose a boat with only 16 passengers. So, you can (2) go ahead and choose the smallest boat you want, but arrive with an assortment of: (a) scopolamine patches (b) those wrist bands with the pressure points and/or (c) fresh ginger root, which another passenger was kind enough to supply me (you chew a bit of it and then swallow the juices). (It’s really bitter.) (Drink ginger ale!)
I went with (a) and (b), the patches and the wrist bands and sometimes the ginger root. And did I ever need them all, particularly the patches. I had placed my patch behind my ear that morning in Quito and it hadn’t quite kicked in when we reached our boat. So I wasn’t feeling great those first few hours. But I wasn’t barfing, either.
Our room was on the main floor on the other side. Cabin 1.
See that space under the boat? The panga drivers (First Mates, they’re called) love to drive you underneath them. But that was a treat for another day. For now, we settled into our rooms, introduced ourselves to each other, and then were fed an absolutely massive and delicious “lunch,” complete with dessert. It was well after noon, so we thought this was an early dinner. Nope! We were fed just as grandly again that night, after our first excursion.
The rooms on the Cormorant are spacious and comfortable. I had requested the main deck because it’s more stable if you’re prone to motion sickness (Travel Tip!). BP and LP were assigned a room on the upper deck, which had more storage space than ours did and had a double bed. All the rooms also had balconies and double-wide showers with fantastic shower heads. I came to really appreciate the location of our room after my first totally unbalanced trip up to the sun deck (two levels up).
The Cormorant also has two suites on the main deck. We poked our way into one, and it had a living room and a much fancier shower than ours, with a door instead of a shower curtain. But, hah, everyone has to use a “marine toilet.” This means putting ALL your toilet paper in a garbage can beside the commode (don’t worry, someone empties it twice a day and ours honestly never smelled).
Travel Tip! How do you choose a boat for your cruise? The way I did it was first to research the type of boat that would best suit me. That was a catamaran, which are supposed to be more stable than the small yachts. Then I found out what boats were available for when we wanted to go (February). Then I discovered that the boat I wanted, the Cormorant, was fully booked until April. So we changed our travel plans.
Travel Trip! If you want a specific boat in February, don’t wait until November to book. Especially if you’re booking the entire two weeks and don’t want to have to change rooms (M.L. and I got to stay in our cabin the entire trip but BP and LP had to move from the upper deck to the main deck for week 2, which we knew about in advance, as their room was already booked for week 2).
I wanted the Cormorant, plain and simple, because of the 15 Day/14 Night itinerary, which you can view on-line. (That link provides links to the Cormorant’s other itineraries, as well). Every boat in the Islands is assigned an itinerary that must be approved by Galapagos National Park. Every boat in the Islands is now, as of February 2012, only allowed to “land” (that is, the people on the boat travel by panga to an island and get off to explore) at any given tourist point once every 14 days. Once I learned that, I figured out that if we only went on the Cormorant’s Itinerary A or Itinerary B, we would only see half of what we wanted to see. So we went for the whole shenoodle. Other travelers with us were only there for A or B, not both. A couple from Australia was there on another, shorter itinerary a few days before us. We changed passengers after the first week (except for our Pack of Four) and then, in the last three days, another four switched on and off. There are a variety of tour possibilities, and you can combine to create the one that’s best for you and your interests. I wanted plenty of snorkeling opportunities and I wanted to hike up a volcano on Isabela Island. The Cormorant offered both options.
See how helpful I’m being? I’m not mockingly suggesting that you just “search the Internet.” Who would be so crass as to do that?
Remember I said we had “lunch”? We thought that was it for the day. We had arrived late and didn’t expect anything to be on the agenda for the “afternoon.” But something was. According to our itinerary, we were supposed to visit a place called Twin Craters on Santa Cruz Island. Instead, for whatever reason, we visited tortoises in the wild. It was super cool because the visit was totally unexpected (the Pack of Four hadn’t yet figured out that we were starting with Tour B and not Tour A).
We had to board the pangas again and return to the island, where we had to board a bus again and head back toward the airport! Because the tortoise ranch wasn’t on our agenda, I don’t know where we exactly were, but we all donned rubber boots and walked through tall grass to these mud holes where the giant tortoises were quite happily mud-tubbing.
This blog post is really long and not that exciting. But I wanted to include information for those who are planning their own trips to the Galapagos and want all the information they can get. That’s how I was, and I still messed up. Ie. when the packing list from your travel agent says, “pack a long-sleeved shirt,” they don’t mean one to keep you warm (even if they say, “one to keep you warm at night.”) It means a shirt that will protect you from the sun. This was a lesson My Liege and I had to learn the hard way….