It hasn’t been what a xc skier would consider to be a ’good’ winter. In addition to very little snow, the winds in November and December made it difficult to be outside for long. I realized the impact of this on New Year’s Eve when all the kids in my neighborhood were out celebrating, and I realized how little they had been outside playing during the previous month. January wasn’t as windy, and the low snow has made for good fatbiking and even a little ice skating where a water pipe broke and flooded a good section of the ski trails before it froze. The skiers training for the Arctic Circle Race have had to do endless laps on just a few kilometers of track to train on for the 160 km race. It’s not as bad as Anchorage, but not a winter like last year which had lots of snow.
My dad and I had planned to go to the Galapagos in May. I was tracking a few tours and saw that one was discounted to 2 for 1 in February, and we decided to go earlier. I flew from Nuuk to Kangerlussuaq, then on to Copenhagen where I spent the night. The next day I flew to Amsterdam and from there left on an unbearably long flight (12 hrs) to Guayaquil, Ecuador.
I got in before sunset, walked to a Holiday Inn nearby and after changing into cooler clothing, I set out for the supermercado to see what was on the menu. It didn’t look much different than an American grocery, the prices were even in USD. The headed to the produce section and admired the variety of avocados and mangos. For dinner I had two local dishes from a restaurant, a potato soup with cheese and avocado on top and fried mashed plantain cakes with cheese and guacamole on top. Yumm. My dad arrived at 1030pm.
The next day we flew Avianca airlines out to Baltra in the Galapagos. Baltra was a military base established in WWII to protect the Panama Canal after Pearl Harbor was attacked. Nothing ever happened, except that the American destroyed a lot of the native plants and animals and left a lot of infrastructure that is now crumbling concrete. I guess they allowed residents of the Galapagos islands to come and disassemble wooden houses and take it back to their settlements, which was helpful to the hardy, isolated settlers.
We met up with 11 other people and our guide to the Galapagos, Fabian. Our first adventure was a short ferry ride from Baltra to Santa Cruz Island. The ferry was a large wooden boat with a passenger limit of 40, and was powered by a 15 HP outboard engine. A bit sketchy but what do you expect for $1.00? We then loaded into a bus and headed up and over the island. Our first stop was lunch in a restaurant at a farm where there were lots of giant tortoises. In case you don’t remember, tortoises live on land and turtles live in the water. Not that a tortoise won’t go to the water and a turtle definitely comes on land to lay eggs as you will see later. In addition to tortoises eating grass, we saw finches, mockingbirds, an whimbrel and white cheeked pintail ducks. Not a bad start.
After a quick happy hour of buy one get one free margaritas, we loaded on the yacht that would be our home for the next 7 days. The Reina Silvia is a comfortable, clean boat that appeared to rock a little more than all of the boats around it. Thus, we had several guests among us that were quite seasick for the first two days. I typically get seasick, and wore SeaBands, which press on a spot on your wrist to reduce nausea and seem to work. I also took a Bonine tab at night to make sure I didn’t get sick and slept well. Definitely worked and I was very comfortable the whole time. The Reina Silvia has a crew of 7 (2 cooks, 2 boatmen that drive the dinghies, a captain, a bartender and a mechanic), plus a guide. All the guys were very pleasant and extremely helpful. Our rooms were cleaned twice a days and the food was exceptional. The basis for a great vacation on the water
Our first port of call was on Floreana Island, then we headed to Isabella, Fernandina and around to Santiago and then North Seymour Island and back to Baltra. Every day could include hiking, snorkeling, dinghy tours or kayaking on one day. We sailed, ate, napped, ate again and slept to the hum of the engines and rocking of the boat. The water temperatures were a bit cold for snorkeling in the south half of our itinerary and much warmer on the north end. I would recommend a wet suit, as sometimes I was shivering quite hard when I got out. But a warm shower and large lunch and dinner replenished my energy. Hiking was usually very warm but only about an hour long. All visitation is highly regulated in the Galapagos, and activities are prescribed by the National Park. I realized this when I asked why we were not snorkeling or kayaking in the very beautiful Elizabeth Bay on Isabela island, and found out only dinghy rides are permitted in this area. I don’t know of a reason to disagree with this management, as we got to see a lot and also got to see how humans have changed the environment, although more from settling on the islands and bringing in non-native species of plants and animals and clearing the land and eliminating native species. Most of the on-land tourist activities are in areas that already had some form of impact or were resilient, like lava flows.
The Galapagos is typically divided into into western and eastern itineraries, with overlap in the middle. We did a western itinerary. It was great. I would definitely like to go back and do the eastern islands some day, or even redo the western. I don’t think you can make a bad choice. My favorite place on this trip was Vincente Roca Point on the north end of Isabela Island and the whole north coast. Snorkeling near and frigate birds on North Seymour island were also exceptional. I could have skipped Floreana, which is really human impacted, but it is also the site of the silliest drama in the Islands which makes for some fun stories and speculation.
Here are some photos to tell the rest of the story…..
Starting with some birds….
Participants in the Iguana catogory include:
The story of mangroves:
Nursing sea lion pup
Video of Frigate bird feeding a chick:
And, as always, the best part about coming home….Greenland Dog Blog dogs!!!