In this monthly column, project coordinator Megan van der Moezel writes about her experiences in Quito. Livin’ la vida Local: a humorous beginner’s guide to this fascinating country. This month a two-part column about Ecuador’s mysterious Galapagos islands.
By Megan van der Moezel
Day 5: Tunnel vision
Everybody I interrogated about their Galapagos experiences, echoed one must-do tour. Snorkeling at Los Tuneles. I feel obligated to add one side note to that advice. Word has gotten out on these lava tunnels. This means two things. First: you will likely have to book at least a day or two in advance. And second: you will have to pay for the privilege. Even after some skillful negotiating, I had to cough up a staggering $125 for the half-day trip. Whether it’s worth it? Depends on your expectations. I didn’t see half the number of sea turtles, manta rays and sharks that my family reported spotting in December. But there’s no denying the landscape is awesome. Only wish I hadn’t left my camera at the hotel. Thanks to our helpful guide Alexis, I still got my classic Tuneles tourist pic though. Cheers mate!
Day 6: Lost and stolen items
A very early start this morning. Had a 6am boat to Santa Cruz, followed by one to San Cristobal at 2pm. Found an agency at Las Fregatas y Antonio Gil selling inter-island tickets for $25 instead of the usual $30 yesterday. Apparently, they can even be obtained for $20 if you book early. The lancha ‘Neptune’ that will take you for that price, is not exactly the most reputable however. Smaller size and bigger odds of sinking, as far as I understood.
Was allowed to freshen up and leave my bags at my old hotel Estrella de Mar (no kitchen, but such sweet people!) on Santa Cruz. Headed to my favourite Galapagos coffee shop De Sal y Dulce for an amazing brownie, before hopping on a bus to Santa Rosa. Peddled down to Rancho Primiciasis from there, for another dose of giant tortoises.
Personally, I preferred the camino de las tortugas on Isabela. The ranch vaguely reminded me of a petting zoo. Pay a $5 entrance fee and wonder around in a barbed-wired area surrounded by cute animals. You’ll probably love it none the less if it’s your first turtle-related stop on the Galapagos. But be warned. Getting back to Santa Rosa by bike is hell on a stick. Barely made it back in time to Puerto Ayora to catch my boat. No wonder I ended up accidentally stealing the bike lock and forgetting my mp3 player and glasses in the hotel. It’s like the Havaianas all over again.
Day 7: San Cristobal treats
The findings of the day? Well, the 360 tour around San Cristobal was definitely worth it. Nice beaches, great snorkeling – especially around leon dormido – and beautiful landscapes on the way. On the downside, I ended up dearly rueing the day I decided not to buy another pair of flipflops. At 7.30s departure my sneakers had been in near perfect health. After a full day of braving lava rocks, sandy beaches and sea water, they were hardly recognizable anymore.
So, after a nice hot shower, I squeezed my feet into the soaking steppers once more to go out and sell my principles for the comfort of having sandalias. It wasn’t until the 10th shop – all called Evolución, of course – that I found a pair under $15. Had to struggle to keep my haggler’s pokerface intact when the vendor named her price. $8! Victoire! Bye bye soaking allstars! Me and my brand-new flipflops are going to my number 1 Galapa-sushi joint to celebrate!
Day 8 – Los Lobos
When in San Cristobal, there is one thing you cannot miss out on. And – oh happy day – it so happens to be something you can do for free! Chilling with sealions. So that’s what I did today. At la Lobería in the morning, and on Punta Carolina beach in the afternoon and at sunset. In between, I even swam around with a couple of them while snorkeling at muelle Tijeretas. Sealion related bucket list items: check, check, double check!
Day 9: Bye bye birdie
Woke up a bit sad today. It’s my last full day on Galapagos. Luckily the ‘end-of-the-holiday’ blues was quickly chased away thanks to a new breakfast buddy. A chubby black Darwin Finch, whom I dubbed ‘Charles’. He hopped right onto my table as soon as the waitress put down my plates. After sizing me up a second or two, Charles boldly settled himself on the edge of my fruit bowl and proceeded to eat away at my muesli. Made me laugh. Especially when he territorially chased away another, smaller, finch looking to join the feast.
Cheered up by Charles, I was ready for my last trip on San Cristobal. A visit to our partner project in the highlands. Quito is a great place to work, but I can’t deny having felt a sting of jealousy when I laid eyes on the beautiful environment volunteers get to work in here. They usually visit the Galapaguera hatching center once during their stay to feed the tortoises as well. I didn’t have the time, unfortunately, but with all the turtles I’ve seen over the past week I really can’t complain.
In the afternoon, I watched the island slowly fading in the distance from my lancha with the sun on my face. It felt like the perfect ending to my trip. That, and watching the receptionist at my Santa Cruz hotel pull my glasses and mp3 player out of a desk drawer. All’s well that ends well. Hurray!
© Local Dreamers, visit Galapagos islands while volunteering in Ecuador