A Travellerspoint blog

Galapagos Day 9


Today was our earliest yet! We got up at 4:15 to get picked up at 5:20 to take the 6:15 ferry to Santa Cruz. This time we were on a much smaller boat, which took 2 hours 15 minutes, and was quite the nausea inducing voyage, but everyone managed to not toss their cookies. Here we met up with Craig, ate some lunch and did a little shopping. Then took a 40 minute taxi, following by a 5 minute ferry ride across the channel, and finally a 15 minute bus to the airport to check in with Celebrity.

We really lucked out as there are usually 48 passengers on the ship, with everything happening with Covid and people cancelling, they only had 33 passengers, so we make up almost ¼ of all the passengers. Lisa and Joe scored a premium upgrade to the penthouse suite for only $750 each (normally about $6K more each). This is a super large double room with 2 full bathrooms and two balconies including one giant balcony with private hot tub.

There are over 60 crew members so we definitely got topnotch service. Everywhere I went there were crew members asking if I needed anything. Due to Covid, you don’t serve yourself, a crew member fills your plate for you and walks you to your table. If you want to take something to your cabin, they carry it up/down the stairs and into your cabin. I suspect this is not only for the full service experience but also to prevent you from spilling the food/drink or slipping and injuring yourself. The bartender, Anita, knows my order and every meal asks if I want a virgin mojito (she also remembers to make it extra sweet for me).

When we come back from an excursion, they have cold face towels for us. When we return from snorkeling, they have warm dry bath towels waiting for us. When we walk up to the next level from the loading dock, there is always someone there to offer a refreshing drink or snack. They clean our cabin multiple times a day instead of the typical morning cleanup and evening turn down that I get on most Celebrity ships. The cruise is pricey, but worth it! Every day there is a morning excursion and an afternoon excursion with at least 2 options (long hike/short hike/tour in zodiac boat), and after/before a snorkeling tour so you could do 2 hikes and 2 snorkels almost every day.

Celebrity was pretty ingenious about the time. Here on the equator, it is pretty much sunny from 6am to 6pm, which makes it tough for tours since no one wants to get up at 6am. So they set “ship time” to the mainland of Ecuador, which is an hour ahead of the Galapagos. This way sunrise is around 7am and sunset around 7pm. Very clever!

Our first excursion was this afternoon where we all got on zodiac boats and cruised around the mangroves. Our guide took us to a “nursery” for baby sharks! They were super small, maybe 2 feet long at most. We also saw bulleye puffer fish (see if you can see the bullseye on one in my pics), sea turtles, and cattle egrets making white dots in the trees.

The food was okay, the meat is tougher than I like, but it is all locally sourced. It did get better over the next two days, finally arriving at the excellence I expect from Celebrity. The desserts were always wonderful.

Photos: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1KENIQrShKNvmw_4dqLfQnVHCV-WQ1BlZ/view?usp=sharing

Posted by nutmeg2000 07:17 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Galapagos Days 7-8


Today we all needed a down day and I got to sleep in for first time since Houston. I wanted to try snorkeling at the local spot you can access without a park permit and guide, Concha de Perla. A handful of us walked down there (just under a mile from where we were staying). After a hot walk with the sun beating down on us, we were quite pleased that the area ended through a bunch of mangrove trees to a wide, partially shaded deck area. Of course the entrance to the deck was blocked by 3 sealions and a marine iguana, but we managed to pick our way around them without upsetting them (see pics of us coming and going). A woman was sunbathing on a towel with a large iguana sitting next to her enjoying the sun. After I finished snorkeling, she had gotten up and a smaller iguana decided to sun himself on her towel which was very cute (see pics) The snorkeling itself was quite cold when I started but I warmed up a little. I’m glad I brought my wetsuit pants! I saw quite a few fish including many beautiful King Angelfish. I also saw a group of spotted eagle rays.

Joe (my sister Lisa’s husband) had discovered the folks across the street had some very large (6 pound) live lobsters. We went over to investigate (good thing there’s google translate!) and it turns out the son dives for lobsters so they were very reasonably priced at $5/lb plus they would boil them for us since we didn’t have a pot large enough for a whole lobster of that size. We bought one that day and ordered 3 more for the next day to celebrate Joe’s birthday. After it was cooked, we picked it up, tipped the wife $5 for cooking it and they also gave us a bunch of nice ripe avocados, score! He also showed us where all the good meat was since their lobsters are quite different than ours. We had a great feast of my aunt’s delicious moist chicken, chunks of lobster in a pasta, and guacamole. Yum! To celebrate Joe’s birthday we had Magnum ice cream bars for dessert.

Unfortunately, we also found out that Emetebe the little airline that cancelled our flight to Isabela 14 hours before the flight did the same thing to Craig’s flight so he would not be joining us until the next day in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island. Luckily I purchased with my Chase Sapphire Reserve card so I will have no trouble getting a refund. We heard from another passenger that his credit card company said there was nothing they could do so he lost his money even though they cancelled the flight.

On the grocery trips, my aunt and uncle found that there was no butter on Isabela. We were really hoping for some since that is our preferred way to eat lobster. The next day we took a tour to the nearby volcano. Our guide was very knowledgeable, and he was also able to give us the inside scoop on butter. It comes in once in awhile to one of the grocery stores in town. He took us over there afterwards and they said they would be getting a boat in with butter around 7:30pm so we reserved 2 sticks and promised to come back at 7:30. We went to purchase our lobsters, but they didn’t catch any so there were none to be had. We were about to walk back to our house when they brought out 4 tails frozen in ice in a bowl. Perfect! We like the tails best anyways. They only wanted $30 for them so we gave them $35 and asked for a few more avocados. Then we went to pickup our laundry, and at 7:30 went to get the butter. However, it was not meant to be. The boat who was supposed to come with butter went to a different island instead to deliver stuff. Of the three inhabited islands, Isabela is furthest from the main land and gets what is left after boats go to the other two. Fortunately, my aunt makes an excellent dipping sauce for crab out of olive oil, garlic, and ginger so we used that and it was delicious!

The tour to the volcano was a gently sloping uphill dirt road, so relatively easy to walk. It was about 4.5 miles round trip and almost every tourist site requires a Naturalist Guide (parks, hikes, snorkeling). They have intensive classes and then must pass the examination, though the last examination was in 2017 and sometimes it is over ten years between classes. Our guide was excellent, giving us so much information about the Galapagos.

We learned about different plants and animals, some endemic (found only in the Galapagos) and some invasive. The Galapagos strives to eliminate invasive species that endanger the local plants and animals. Here are three examples: Guava trees (not the same guavas we think of, these taste better) came long ago with a priest who loved the fruit and planted a couple trees when he came here. Unfortunately, the birds love them too and scarfed down lots of guava, spreading their seeds all over the islands taking resources from other plants. Our guide picked some guava fruit for us and they were delicious. I briefly considered planting one in my backyard except they would spread all over town, then the Bay Area, then the state, etc. Goats were another issue because they competed with the tortoises and other animals for food. I don’t remember why they brought them or how they eliminated them, but they did manage to, at least on Isabela. The black Ani birds were brought over to help eat insects off the cattle since they do this on the mainland, but they quickly adapted and moved away from the cattle to compete with other land birds for food. Apparently, in an attempt to eliminate them from the Galapagos, the government offered money for hunting Ani birds, but soon people started breeding them so they could turn them in.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1zgpCoqTlh5g3DXCCGskm4_7aQGmRb9vp/view?usp=sharing

Posted by nutmeg2000 22:40 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Galapagos Day 6 (and Day 5 continued)


Day 5 continued

When I returned to the house after my scuba dive, our host Patricia had me check my email to confirm everything was okay with our flight to Isabela the next morning. Luis had heard from a friend that our flight was cancelled. Sure enough, there was an email telling us that, though they refenced a different flight than the one we had booked so we (Patricia, Luis, and I) spent a couple hours frantically trying to get ahold of anyone at the airlines to clarify, but all the phone numbers we had just rang with no answer and my email to them also received no answer until after noon the next day. The only other way to get to Isabela from San Cristobal involved two 2-hour ferries (aka large speedboats that hold about 35 people). The morning one went to Puerto Ayora in Santa Cruz, and the afternoon one from there to Isabela. That means we could not wait to hear back from the airlines as we had to be at the dock by 6:30am. We were pretty sad that our 30 minute flight turned into 4 hours staring at the horizon to avoid getting seasick with a 5 hour “layover” in Puerto Ayora, but I’m very happy that Patricia had me check, so that we were able to book spots on the ferry that night before they sold out! She and Luis were the best hosts ever!

Day 6

Up early yet again only this time was worse…the taxi came to get us at 6:20 for our 2 hour boat to Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz. Upon arrival our luggage was x-rayed for contraband (any plants, animal products, organic matter from another island to prevent cross-contamination) and we were all sprayed to prevent pollen or other items coming in on our clothing. This sounds worse than it was. It was really just like walking through a misting machine. This had nothing to do with Covid, it was all about maintaining the sanctity of each island without introducing anything new or non-native to them. We also had to pay multiple fees of $1 for panga/tender transfers to/from the bigger boat and I think to cover the cost of the x-ray and misting. We stored our bags before exploring the town, and four hours later at 2pm, we got our bags and did the same procedures backwards to take boat to Isabela.

The first thing we did after dropping our bags was find the public toilet. It cost 25 cents which I was happy to pay to get a nice, clean toilet. It passed all my requirements (has a toilet seat, that seat is clean and dry, the floor is dry, they provide toilet paper, it flushes, there are doors on the stalls (that one I added after Rainbow Mountain in Peru where the doors won’t stay closed and you are exposed to the those on the horse trail), and there is soap and water to wash afterwards. The only drawback was that you are not supposed to put the TP in the toilet, and instead put it in a trash bin next to the toilet, but that is pretty standard in third world countries.

Our next course of action was to eat our delicious packed breakfast sandwiches that Patricia made us. We got excellent pastries from the nearby grocery store, and we shopped. Prices were higher than in San Cristobal but they also had many things that San Cristobal did not have. Lisa (sister) went looking for a luggage strap as her luggage zipper was close to failing. She did not find one, but she solved two problems at once by buying a new, larger suitcase that can actually hold the smaller one in it, plus give extra room for souvenirs!

At 3pm we were on the boat to Isabela. Once we arrived in Isabela, we saw a sealion and spotted eagle ray swimming around the pier, which was super cool! (see pics) We caught the taxi (again extended cab trucks that charge $1/person to drop you anywhere in town) to Casa Baronesa. This is an amazing house owned by a singer (Cristina Morrison) with great views and balconies (see pics). The rental manager met us and answered all of our questions with high priced options. For example, she suggested high end restaurants and laundry for $6/kg (we found one in town for $2.20/kg) so I used our ferry contact for booking a tour and we found our own places to eat or just ate in with my aunt’s excellent cooking. Isabela has wonderful friendly people. Walking back from dinner we saw a girls/women soccer team practicing. I watched for a bit while they hammered shots on the goalie. She did not have much training from what I could see, so I tried to offer to the coach to work with her a bit, but he didn’t understand English, or perhaps he just didn’t know how to say F-off in English.

When they gave the goalkeeper a break, I approached the goalkeeper and tried to show her how to properly catch high or low balls. She gestured out to the goal and waved me towards it. I’m pretty sure she meant “Why should I listen to you, go prove yourself, silly foreigner.” At that point, I got pretty nervous. I haven’t played since Covid started and most of the balls they were using where made of rubber, which is harder. Plus I don’t carry goalkeeper gloves around with me so I would have to go without, so I had two issues: one, that it might be quite painful and two, that I might make a total fool out of myself. These girls/women were kicking the ball really hard. Luckily the goal was only half sized, which helped me quite a bit. I managed to dive to the right and deflect the first shot, and get on my feet to save another. They scored one time and missed a bunch, which helped. I made a few more good saves until they stopped shooting and I could gracefully leave before my luck ran out.

After that, I went back to the goalkeeper and offered to practice one on one. She had no idea what I was saying but a teammate translated and we went to a corner of the field to work on some basics. I haven’t trained a keeper in years and never one where we didn’t speak the same language, but she (Juli) caught on fast and it went pretty well. Afterwards, Juli, and I took a few pictures together in front of the goal. That was definitely one of the highlights from my trip!

Photo compilations:
https://drive.google.com/file/d/11ERmWWp1O4EEqaX-JcFxFrB7f4SPvxOg/view?usp=sharing

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1A1SWMItyAeOn7BR1y6-GTpBWb2UOZZsu/view?usp=sharing
(< ERROR: the link title is too long!)

Posted by nutmeg2000 04:35 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Galapagos Days 4-5


Day 4 (second day in Galapagos)

I’m a little worried that we may have had our best day of the trip at the beginning. Today we got up early again this time for a day trip to Espanola Island, which can only be reached by a liveaboard cruise or by a 2 hour boat ride from San Cristobal. It was a 12-passenger boat with 2 outboard motors so pretty big, but my sister Natalie and I get seasick so we kept our eyes glued to the horizon. Our guide Cristian was excellent, leading us on a hike along the island and pointing out the various wildlife including “Christmas” iguanas which are red, green, and black, nesting and baby albatross, and some nesting blue footed boobies. We also witnessed frigate birds doing what they do best…stealing food from other birds since they eat fish but can’t dive underwater because they don’t have oil on their wings! When we reboarded the boat, we saw some adorable baby sea lions and a bunch of swimming marine iguanas (see pics). Little did we know that the highlight was still ahead of us.

After lunch, we moved to another section of Espanola, donned our shorty wetsuits and got into the cold (19 degrees Celsius) water. After a few cold minutes we warmed up and swam along seeing two sea lions and schools of fish. We took a picture by a cave, and went around a couple of corners then a bunch of juvenile sea lions found us and the fun really began. Our guide swam somersaults near them to get them going and they joined him, swimming all around us playfully. Sometimes they swam right at our face, ducking aside at the last minute, “buzzing the tower.” They also grabbed at our fins. Once one pulled my fin off and then hovered right next to me, taunting me with it. I engaged him in a little tug of war before I got it back. Then he went after my other fin, little devil! It was an amazing experience.

Day 5

I got up early yet again, this time for a 2-tank scuba dive trip to Kicker Rock. On the way to boat I saw a group of people taking pictures so I wandered over got an extraordinary picture: two pelicans, a marine iguana, a blue footed boobie, and orange crabs all in the same picture. I clicked a couple shots and continued on my way thinking “if only a sealion was swimming behind them” and sure enough I saw a sealion coming along the shore that way so I ran back and got the shot with him in it as well! (see pics)

I was on the exact same boat as the day before with the same driver and captain, though the guide was different and there was also a dive master. Besides me, there were two scuba divers and 9 people snorkeling from a tour group. It was a very fun, friendly group! While diving, I saw a shark, an octopus curled up in hole on both dives (see pics), sealions, turtles and many fish. The variety of fish is better in French Polynesia but this was still very nice.

Photo collage at: https://drive.google.com/file/d/11baLpfM3IR5apwprqAhdl4_Go9bFIZsO/view?usp=sharing

Posted by nutmeg2000 03:38 Archived in Ecuador Tagged galapagos Comments (0)

Galapagos Days 1-3

breakfast at Sylvia

breakfast at Sylvia

I managed to finish packing just in time for my alarm to go off at 4:15, so that me, my dad, and sister could catch our morning flight to Houston where my sister’s friend Sylvia welcomed us and was the perfect host, making us never want to leave. But the next day we met the rest of the family at the airport and flew into Quito. Between a flight delay, some lost/delayed baggage, and minor trouble sorting out how to catch our hotel shuttle, we did not get to bed until after midnight. This made catching the 9am shuttle unpleasant, and when we found out at 8:15am that we should really be on the 8:30 shuttle, that simply didn’t happen. Needless to say, we barely got our bags checked in on time (first you have to buy your transit pass to enter the Galapagos, then you have to have all your luggage scanned to prevent seeds and other things from propagating to the Galapagos, then you have to print out tickets…and all of these took much, much longer than one would imagine). If my Uncle Michael and Aunt Helen had not made the 8:30 shuttle and spent 30 minutes figuring all this out the hard way, we would have never made the flight.

gorgeous tiled bathroom

gorgeous tiled bathroom

Once we got into San Cristobal in Galapagos, it was worth all the stress. The place we were staying at was hosted by a wonderful woman named Patricia who lives in Reno when she is not here. Her partner Luis built this amazing 3 story house with 4 suites, each with gorgeous tiled bathrooms and intricately carved wooden doors for the windows (see pics). From the top floor, the view of the ocean with lots of little boats is breathtaking!
bathroom san Cristobal

bathroom san Cristobal

Casa Iguana outside

Casa Iguana outside

view from top

view from top

arriving in Galapagos

arriving in Galapagos

Taxis here are all the same…super cab trucks. When you walk out of the airport, there are truck-sized parking spot lines and each group stands by a parking spot. A truck pulls up, passengers quickly toss all their luggage into the back and hop into the cab. Town is only five minutes away so each taxi truck can get multiple trips our of the one flight. All my ones were packed away so I had to ask family members if any of them had $3 and they all started pulling out $3 before I had to clarify…it was $3 per TAXI not per person, and that is the tourist price. Everyone else pays $2. But as Patricia said, just hold out $3 and you will easily get a cab with no hassle or quibbling over price. Galapagos is surprisingly reasonably priced despite the crazy expensive cruise prices. You can get anywhere around town for a $2 taxi. Empanadas are $1.50. Groceries and restaurants are about the same as the States. Just the tourist things are a little pricey…souvenirs, tours, and cruises. Also, credit cards will often have surcharges or the machines won’t work due to poor reception on the islands so cash is best. Luckily, their currency is the US dollar so that’s super easy! We stocked up on brand new $1’s and $5’s before we came.

Sea lions on doorstep

Sea lions on doorstep

Luis walked us into town to get groceries and a snack, and that’s when the magic of Galapagos hit us. We walked 2 blocks down to the water and there were sea lions hanging out everywhere along the beach, some in the street, and a few in the doorways of buildings, curled up and sleeping just like dogs. Adorable baby sea lions were bleating like sheep. Then we saw the marine iguanas. They were all over the place as well, blending into the black lava rock along the shore (see pics). There was even one giant iguana just hanging out in a gazebo near some people.
Luis leading us to shop

Luis leading us to shop


iguana in gazebo

iguana in gazebo


9 iguana

9 iguana


Sealions on beach

Sealions on beach


walking in san cristobal

walking in san cristobal

fresh squeezed OJ

fresh squeezed OJ

We enjoyed some wonderful fresh seafood for dinner (the octopus was amazing) and did a little souvenir shopping before going to bed early for our tour the next day.
out to dinner first night

out to dinner first night

san cristobal sign

san cristobal sign

Link to picture collage:
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1cibesSe9HCAF6plvh0OuUTdf3llfa_qJ/view?usp=sharing

Posted by nutmeg2000 06:28 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

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