If you just want to hear about the islands and animals, not all the drama, head down to the tenth paragraph.
The Galapagos islands is a place I had dreamed of visiting since the first time I heard about it. It was probably on one of those discovery channel specials and from that moment on I was sure that I had to get there and enjoy the unique wildlife and remote places, far from everything else in the world. What could go wrong? There are tons of tourist offices here in Quito advertising all class levels and all kinds of last minute specials for trips there. I had met tons of people who had been and everyone raved about it and had absoloutely no problems. Since most of them were backpackers, they were on what is the lowest level of boat you could get on a tour with, economic class. No problems for me living on a cheap boat so I didn´t have any concerns about that and I new what to expect on that type of boat. The important thing for me was the itenerary. After spending a day checking prices on trips, I had to make a decision between three different boats that were all in three different class levels. Each one cost the same, the only difference was the quality of the boat (according to the agents) and the itenerary. After careful deliberation I chose the lowest class of boat because it had the best itenerary, sailing to a different island each night while we slept, and to some smaller ones while we ate lunch. It sounded great to me. . .
Upon arriving to the Galapagos islands, we met our guide and the rest of the members on our boat. After about an hour bus ride and a short ferry, we arrived at our boat in a busy harbor called Puerto Ayorra. Now this harbor definitely did not belong in the Galapagos. While is was covered in birds and sea lions, there were so many boats just rotting away and the ones that were running were leaking oil into the water, creating a nice film on the enitre surface and a colorful coating on all of the sea lions in the harbor. The boat was as bad as you can imagine, actually probably worse than most of you can imagine, but as I said, this is what I expected. The first day was spent visiting a couple of swimmig spots and beaches that we reached by hiking to them. The guide told us that the snorkelling was good there so we grabbed our snorkels and headed out to see our first bit of the galapagos. On the hike, we saw a couple of the Marine Iguanas, but I didn´t even bother taking pictures because I knew that at some point we would come across tons of them. After arriving at the beaches, it was quite obvious to me that snorkelling would be a pointless thing to do as the water was about as clear as the mississippi river. No problem though, we would be sailing to another island that night and awake to a secluded beach covered in giant tortises, marine iguanas, sea lions and who knows what else! Right? Unfortunately not.
We returned to the boat for dinner and decided that we must be leaving late in the night. Everyone went to sleep and awoke the next morning still in the same shitty harbor. The morning was spent inland where we found a bunch of giant tortises which was quite nice to see. It is amazing how big they are and how close you can get to them in the wild. From there, we headed back to the boat for lunch. Now when we arrived, everyone on board had commented on the fact that we were anchored so close to so many other boats. The one behind us kept getting close to us and had actually run into the back of the boat in the morning. The boat in front of us had run into us in the morning as well, but at that point none of the crew thought it might be a good idea to move the boat. During lunch, there was an incredible crashing noise right ouside the window whild we ate! As we looked up, the unoccupied boat behind us (other than the sea lions on it), was halfway through the window in the saloon and as the swell pulled the boat back away, it broke through the side rail and half of the side of the boat. The crew looked very surpised at this point as if how oculd this happen? I mean, give me a break, everyone on board was just waiting on this to happen. No major worries at this point about the boat, it was still functioning as well as before. We did however discover that the boat would not be leaving until that night and the itenerary was completely different from what 8 or the 10 of us had purchased. Once again, not the end of the world, we were still getting to see the Galapagos. Weren´t we?
After lunch the guide annonced we would visit another beach with good snorkelling. There, it would be possible to see reef sharks, turtles and other marine life. We arrived to quite a nice beach, I put my camera in it´s waterproof case, grabbed my snorkel and mask and headed into the water to find some sharks! After about 30 feet of swimming and not being able to see my hand in front of my face, I headed back to the beach. This did not stop the others. They were convinced that it would be ok. No such luck. I told them the only way you would be able to see anything in that water was if if ran smack into you. At this point, most of us are very irritated and confronted the guide regarding the itenerary and the boat. The boat had never heard of our iteneraries and had been doing the same four island tour for a while now. He did tell us that we would head to the next island, Isabella in that night and it was a good island.
I awoke at sunrise to find us two hours behind schedule heading toward Isabella. As we arrived into yet another busy harbor, we had breakfast and headed ashore where we would hike to some old prison runs and see something called the wall of tears. From there, we would see some pink flamingos and all kinds of sharks, iguanas, penguins, turtles, stingrays and sea lions in the afternoon. Well, after a short hike in the equatorial heat to the wall of tears, I saw what I expected of the fifty year old prison ruins. A big pile of stones (the wall of tears) and some conrete slabs. Why we were even there, I will never understand. From there, we stopped at the spot where it is good to see pink flamingos. There was one. It was a pathetic site. One pink flamingo in this muddy lake. I took a few photos, but it just brought me even further down to see just this one pathetic flamingo. Since there were no flamingos, the guide told us that it was possible to see a whale in the harbor where we were anchroed. Apprareantly, the a family of whales had beached here last month, and all but one died. He had decided to stay in the harbor. As we approached the whale, it was appareant that something was wrong. It was lying on it´s side and barely moving. The guide said they had tried to feed it but it would not eat. It was pretty much trapped in the harbor and slowly dying. Why in the world they were showing us this awful sight, I have no idea. It absoloutely made me sick to sit there and look at this dying whale.
After the whale, the guide told the guy driving our small little dinghy to take us over to another part of the harbor. As we got closer, the swell picked up and I couldn´t understand what we were doing. Everyone on the boat looked confused. We were approaching a beach with huge breaking waves and passing a rocky shoreline in heavy swells, at times almost coming over the side of the boat. The guy driving the dinghy was questioning the guide and the guide told him to press on. I knew we had no business being in this situation in a little boat with a shitty engine. As we got closer to the beach, the guide decided it would not be a good idea to try and land. This was quite obvious to most of us 10 minutes before. We turned the boat directly into the waves and escaped the first few without incident. The next however created all the chaos. As we rode up the face of the next wave, it was already breaking. The boat went close to vertical and was swamped by the wave pouring over the front of the boat and completely soaking everyone on board including our bags, filled with cameras. At this point, biting my tongue on this trip was no longer an option. Most of you have seen me angry before, but this was much worse than any of those times. Fearing my camera was ruined and these fools were putting all of our lives in danger, I let loose a strand of cursing that lasted a solid minute. Unfortunately they probably didn´t even understand it, but at least they could tell I was pissed off!
We returned to the boat where six of us decided we were getting off the boat. Telling the captain, crew and our guide that not only was the boat unsafe, but they were putting our lives at risk. Combine that with the fact that we were lied to regarding our iteneraries, and you had one hell of a group of angry passengers. During the altercation and arguing on the boat, we discovered that the boat did not even have the permits to go anywhere on the islands except for the busy harbrs, so this is what we would get for the rest of the trip. The six of us demanded to be taken into the town and put in touch with the companies that had sold us the trip. We all discovered we were screwed as all of the other boats were full since it was Easter week. Four of us returned in dissappoinment while an American couple said screw the money and got off.
The afternoon was spent walking around an area nearby and exploring the animals in the harbor by boat and snorkelling. Finally, I was experiencing the real Galapagos! As we motored over to a trail, we passed sea lions playing, penguins warming themselves in the sun, and countless other types of birds. Along the hike, we were about six feet off the sea and could see about fifty or sixty white tipped reef sharks, tons of marine iguanas, sea turtles, stingrays, and along the beach we found plenty of sea lions. My anger had vanished and if this all kept up, it would be one hell of a trip!
The next day, we went horseback riding to the third largest volcanic crater in the world. This thing was amazing. All the sides of the rim were covered in vegetation, but the bottom of the crater looked like all of the magma had just cooled yesterday. It was completely black and all cracked everywhere. From the crater, we went to the site of the last eruption where you could see a crack in the outside of the volcano and see the entire lava flow all the way out to sea. Pretty amaing. On the way, back, myself and two other guys were out front of everyone else and had a pathetic attempt at a race with our ever so slowly moving horses. I think we decided to call it a tie and when the others arrived a few minutes later, we could tell something was wrong. There was a spanish woman on our boat who was very dirty and she was screaming that the guide tried to kill her and that he was crazy! Appareantly he had tried to get her hose to go faster, poked it with a stick and it took off. I gathered that she held on for a while and at some point was knocked off the horse. She had some small cuts and large bruises and was saying she wanted to get to a doctor to get a tetnus shot for some reason. Now I have to say that if you ride horses, you will always risk falling off. Shit happens. Not for this lady. From there, we went into town, got her cleaned up and then went to the police station. She wanted to file a report about all of the incidents and problems so far with our boat. From there, they moved on to the Marine Police and the National Parks services. The afternoon was gone at this point which eliminated a trip inland to see more of the giant tortises. Who cares though, the crew and passengers were entertainment enough at this point. We all returned to the boat, only the spanish woman and her friend gathered there belongings and got off the boat. Now there were six of us left. No problem with me, I now had my own cabin and there was much more room aboard!
From here, the trip went witout incident. The next day, we awoke and hiked to a shallow channel in the ocean where we waded out to a very small island. Other than the sea lions, crabs and marine iguanas, the island was uninhabited and there were no other tourists around. When we arrived, we could see a group of about 20 baby sea lions playing in the water so everyone grabbed their snorkelling gear and dove in. The sea lions were everywhere, coming right up to your face to check you out, nibbling on your fins and just having fun playing with you. From there, I decided to wander off and wait for the others to tire of the sea lions so I could have them all to myself. While snorkelling in the small bay, I was able to see plenty of sea turtles, eagle rays, sting rays, lots of different fish and a few more sea lions that were a little bit older. From there, most of the others from our group had gone back to the shore as the water was pretty cold there. I decided to spend some more time checking out the baby sea lions. I really can't use words to describe being in the water with so many animals swimming around you as if you were their entertainment instead of they being yours. The rest of the day was spent at another beach doing much of the same thing again.
I think that the first experience snorkelling with the sea lions was on the fourth day. From there, we had another three days of a lot of the same thing. Clear water to snorkel in, although pretty cold at times, and lots of sea life. At times we were able to venture inland to more volcanic cones, lakes formed in those cones, and trips to places where we could find more of the giant tortises. This was what I wanted from the Galapagos and fortunately after all of the intial drama, I was getting it! All in all, the trip was well worth every cent, but obviously it would have been nice to enjoy every day like I did the last five days. Needless to say, I am still a bit upset with the tourist agency and I will be passing this information along to every hostel in Ecuador as well as all of the travel guide books. It is awful that this could happen to people when they are on their vacations after spending a lot of money on the trip as well as their time planning it. Hopefully I can't prevent others from falling into the same trap.