George Bush should go
23.10.2007 - 31.10.2007
The second phase of my trip to Ecuador was to the famous Galapagos Islands. It is an extremely expensive trip on a backpacker budget, but as everyone who has gone would tell you, worth every penny.
The Islands technically belong to Ecuador even though the lie 600 miles off the nearest Ecuadorian coastline. They were first made famous when Charles Darwin arrived and noticed that almost all of the wildlife on the Islands had evolved and adapted to their unique environment. 100% of the reptiles, 50% of sea life, and 70% of the birds are endemic species, they can only be found in the Galapagos. Knowing all of that makes it almost impossible not to reach deep in your pocket and shell out the hefty airfare $350, park entrance $100, and tour expenses of $100 to $300 dollars a day.
The tour we arranged is what is called a land tour. The majority of the tours are on cruise ships which travel by night ( 6-8 hours) and leave all day for exploring the islands. The problem is that most are foreign companies, and very little of the enormous revenue gained is distributed amongst the islanders. This leads them to continue in illegal fishing, gaming and otherwise harmful behavior to what is truly one of the most spectacular places on Earth. The land tour in contrast is totally operated by locals and consist of short two to three hour speed boat trips from island to island, leaving overnight stays in hotels and plenty of time to get to know the islands and the people who inhabit them.
The thing that I didn't take into consideration was sea sickness. I have never been sea sick in my life, and so I don't even consider that a speed boating rushing through rough seas could be a problem.
The first day we set out from Baltra Island to San Cristobal. The journey was 2 and half hours and included a drifting period to observed large volcanic rock island with sea lions and endemic birds. During this drift just about everyone on the boat got wheezy. Later in route to San Cristobal one of the boat motors had a problem. The captain shut it down and the three man crew went to work, meanwhile the boat was at the mercy of the rough open sea of the Pacific. It was during this time that everyone on the boat started getting sick. With the crew busy repairing the motor, I was left to pass out and collect vomit bags. One of the only people not sea sick, I was starting to seriously question the decision to take the speed boat land tour. Fortunately that would be the only such episode, the following day the other passengers discovered Mareol, a motion sickness pill.
We stopped for snorkeling and got a chance to swim along side baby sea lions and enormous sting rays. The water is crystal clear and pristine, and the sea life is spectacular.
On San Cristobal Island we got our fist view of the Giant Turtles, land turtles weighing up to 500lbs and living a life span of approximately 250 years. There are 5 species of Giant Turtles in the Galapagos, all of which are considered endangered. These turtles can survive up to 6 months without food or water, thus making them very attractive to the pirates that inhabited the island centuries ago. They would put them in the ship and the kill them as they need food, without any need to maintain them. Currently introduced animals brought from the mainland, such as savage pigs, dogs, and goats represent the main problem. Eating the eggs, and destroying the natural habitat. All inhabited island have turtle breading centers, and gradually reintroduce these animals into the wild.
After San Cristobal we went to Floreana Island. We walked around the island observing enormous land and sea iguanas, and later a natural spring which provides the drinking water for the Island. Situated in the highlands are old ruins of pirate caves and dwelling of the first settlers of the Island.
Leaving Floreana we headed for Isabella Island to spend the night. We arrived just in time to see the magnificent sunset along the west coast of the island.
Isabella is the largest island and consist of 5 Volcanoes. The following morning we took a journey on horseback to see the largest volcanic crater in the world.
Later we hiked along the surface of the volcanic lava observing the beginnings of life form, cactus and small plants growing through what looks like the surface of the moon. You can see different colors of lava representing different eruptions, craters formed by bubbling lava and hot air trapped underneath. There are also many lava tunnels which are formed from the air rushing underneath the lava as it flows to the sea. The view from the highest point is one of the most incredible things I have ever seen.
The following day we off to visit another turtle creation center where we able to interact a little with the turtles. Feeding the large turtles and picking up the small ones. Holding a baby giant turtle in your hands is impressive when you think that this little creature will actually go on to live about 3 times your life span. Leaving the creation center we hiked through a mangrove area to see the famous Galapagos flamingos, and of course more land iguanas.
Leaving the Island by boat we got an excellent view of the blue footed bobby. A spectacular looking bird with bright blue feet, endemic of course to the Galapagos.
In Santa Cruz we would pass the remaining three nights of the tour. A visit to the Charles Darwin center we saw another Giant Turtle named Lonesome George.
He is the last of his species and they have been searching for over 20 years for a mate. So far no luck, they estimate his age to be around 200. We also got an opportunioty to visit the protected area where the turtles are introduced into the wild. They look amazing roaming around in their natural habitat.
By far the most beautiful island in terms of classic island qualities is Bartalome. The combination of white sand and golden sand beaches, volcanic rock and craters, and crystal blue bays blending into the turquoise ocean. It is from here that the classic propaganda photo is taken, I didn't mind taking one myself.
The Galapagos Islands give a person a new respect for the world. As the Earths ocean plates shift the islands are moving over hot spots they create volcanic eruptions. Over time these volcanic rock bases begin to break down into surfaces suitable for plant and animal life to survive. The birds of the Galapagos have evolved beak's to be able to penetrate the rough surface in search of food. And the reptiles turtles etc.. to survive extended periods without food or water. There is nothing more substantial to give you an idea how many parts of this planet may have looked millions of years ago. They are some of the youngest parts of land in the world, and they date back millions of years. Sorry George Bush, but knowing this doesn't bode well for your insistence of teaching creationism to the youngsters of our country. Perhaps leaving the country a bit, would´ve done you some good. I know it did for me.
The experience of the trip???
My second opportunity to snorkel with the sea lions. We were swimming along when I encountered two extremely playful sea lions. The swam up to withing inches of my body and spiraled around diving down blowing out air bubbles along the way, I mimicked their tricks and they showed me new ones. Ive yet to see the photos because I had to buy a disposable underwater camera, but I cant wait to see them. It certainly makes swimming in a caged pool with the dolphins seem a little cheap when you do it in the wild
The sea lions are definately the most friendly animals, and the stars of the show in the Galapagos