25 Oct 2017

Galapagos – From Blue-footed Boobies to Swimming with Sharks (Part 1)

By Margriet Ruurs

Margriet and Kees Ruurs start their Galapagos adventure.
Galapagos Islands: the very name conjures up images of a mysterious paradise, of unique species of animals that have adapted to their environment in special ways.

I am so glad and grateful that I had a chance to visit these faraway islands, even thought they have now lost some of their magic for me. But the intrigue has been replaced by memories of walking among iguanas and swimming with sharks and sea lions.

When we made the decision to travel to South America, there were two things high on our wish list: Easter Island and the Galapagos. I had read a wonderful, insightful book called Charles and Emma by Deborah Heiligman. This book heightened my wish to see these islands for myself.

We flew from Guayaquil, Ecuador, west across the Pacific and landed on one of the circa 40 Galapagos Islands (did you know there are so many islands here?!): Baltra. The humid heat hit us like a wall.

Tourists can travel to the Galapagos on their own or via a planned trip. But even if you go on your own, you cannot visit the National Park areas without a guide or small tour group. The Galapagos Islands are not only expensive to reach; they are expensive in every way, since all food and drink needs to come from far away.

A guide met us at the airport, expertly whisked our luggage away, and loaded us and about 18 others onto a bus. It was only a 10-minute drive to the boat launch where we climbed aboard a bobbing dinghy. We would repeat this exercise in agility many times in the coming days.

The dinghy brought us to a medium-sized yacht. The MV Coral I had about 14 cabins and a total of 20 guests on board plus a crew of 15, including two naturalists.

That first day we visited the Charles Darwin Station on Santa C,ruz Island. This is where the breeding program for the Galapagos Giant Tortoises takes place. Eggs from all over the islands are hatched here and the little Giant Tortoises (what do you call a little giant tortoise?) are raised until the age of five, when they are released in hopes that they will survive on their own.

We saw several huge, ancient tortoises as well as amazing prickly pear cactus trees that grow into huge trees over 400 years old. Unfortunately, the buildings were not open to the public and we did not see eggs or baby tortoises.

We walked through town and discovered that, like Easter Island, the Galapagos we had imagined was very different from reality. For instance, did you realize that the archipelago consists of nearly 40 islands, four of which are permanently inhabited?

And did you know that over 30,000 people live in Galapagos? I had no idea. The cities of Santa Cruz and San Cristobal have schools, stores, government buildings, and much more. Two airports serve the islands. Since Galapagos was used as a penal colony by Ecuador, most houses had bars and gates as opposed by the much more friendly atmosphere on Easter Island. The heat was incredible.

There is almost no rain on these lava islands. Some are lush and green, but others are a volcanic wasteland. In fact, one early explorer wrote home to describe that he had arrived in what he truly thought was hell!

That first night we slept well in our slightly rocking bunks. However, the next two nights were rough as we crossed open ocean and coped with high swells that rocked the small boat left to right and front to back. Things flew through the cabin, and we ended up sleeping on the outside deck. Most of us didn’t get sea sick, but we rocked for three days afterwards.

(To be continued....)

All photos are Copyright ©Margriet Ruurs

For Margriet's previous blog posts about her visit to Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island, click here and here.

No comments: