Sunday, 2 November 2014

0135 Guayaquil to Galapagos – What a wild ride !

2nd Nov.

When we booked our last minute Galapagos tour when we were in Quito, one of the issues we knew about was that we could not fly direct to San Cristobal to meet our cruise ship on the morning of the 3rd Nov because it is a public holiday / long weekend in Ecuador this weekend so all the locals are travelling and the flights are booked solid.  Seeing as our cruise ship departs at noon on the 3rd Nov, the only way we could meet our ship before it sailed was to fly to Balta on the 2nd, and then spend the day travelling to San Cristobal. Since they are on two totally different islands separated by a lot of miles of Pacific Ocean, this was to be no mean feat, especially for me since most of you who know me well will know that public transport is NOT one of my prime strengths – It fact it could definitely be called my prime weakness and the thought of catching a bus or train on my own fills me with fear and loathing !

Anyway, let’s start at the beginning because, as usual, that was where everything started !  We stayed at a hotel in Guayaquil last night so we could get all our stuff for Galapagos out of the car, clean and turn off the fridge, and most importantly get secure parking for the car while we were away.  This done, we were up at 5 in order to catch the free airport shuttle to be at the airport 2 hrs before our (domestic) flight at 8.10 am.  OK, so they don’t consider Galapagos domestic even though it is still in Ecuador – No problem, I get that.

First you line up so that at 7 am, when the INGALA desk opens you can pay your $10 fee for a Transit Control Card.  No problem, but why don’t they tell you the INGALA desk only opens at 7 am, so you don’t get to the airport at 6 am and don’t spend an hour waiting for it to open ?  Anyway, no problem.

Having paid your $10 TCC fee, and got your receipt, you then go and queue up again, right next door, this time at the SICGAL counter, to have your luggage inspected for seeded fruits etc which are banned on the islands.  Not a problem – Except that counter didn’t open until about 7.30, so you became quite friendly with the people around you by this time because you had been standing side by side in different queues for over an hour and a half now !   Then once inspected, you finally went and queued up AGAIN, just 10 metres away, and checked in with the airline, AVIANCA !  After that, we just had time for a quick coffee, and by the time we actually boarded the plane we had queued up 4 times !  Luckily we had some friendly Germans and Americans around us during the queuing !!

Flight was excellent, if an hour late leaving Guayaquil – Presumably because of all the time spent queuing that we had just completed !  And the leg room on Avianca is almost as good as Business Class on some airlines – Most impressed.  Got some half decent breakfast too, so a great flight to Baltra.  Then coming in to land, I thought we were back in Australia – Remember those days when the hostie walked down the aisle on all flights landing in Australia and sprayed internally with fly spray to kill any bugs that might be sitting on your shoulder or in your hair (well, it was the age of beehive hairdo’s !!), but most of all it just made your nose run and everybody sneeze ?  Well, they still do that here in Galapagos !  What a hoot – A real throw-back to the 80’s !!

Now Baltra, which once upon a time used to be a US Air Force base, is on Isla Santa Cruz in the centre of the Archipelago.  Well, no it isn’t really – The airport is actually on a separate island to the north of Isla Santa Cruz.  So when you get off the plane, (once you have paid $100 Nacional Parque fee and got your luggage after a fruit-sniffing German Shepherd has pranced over all the bags for 5 minutes, howling (literally) with glee when he finds a suspect bag !)  you catch a free shuttle bus about 10 minutes down the road to a ferry terminal where you transfer yourself and your bags (thank god we were travelling very light !) to a small boat and for $1.00 they take you across this narrow (and very blue) strip of water to the Santa Cruz side. On the way a ferry passed us going the other way with sad looking people headed to the airport at the end of their trip, and presumably back to the cold and wet of November in New York or London or wherever.

Once off the ferry it was not hard to find the right local bus headed some 40 minutes across Isla Santa Cruz, and for a whopping $2 we were off – Hey, I could get used to this public transport lark !  It seems to work !!

The island initially seems incredibly dry – Virtually no trees, just dead brown grass.   But 6 minutes later there were stumpy trees, and then 5 minutes later everything was lush green as we reached the top of the hill of 864 metres in the middle of the island.  Quite a rapid change.  

There are big trees absolutely covered with lichen of some kind, and the usual “growing fence posts” which Janet loves – Farmers plant small trees along the road and nail their barbed wire fencing to them. As the trees grow and sprout, the fence ends up growing with them, until eventually you have a hedge and don’t need the wire any more !  Clever !

Anyway, by about 1 pm we arrived in the little village of Puerto Ayora where we were to start the next leg of our journey.  The temperature was delightful, and the sea and little boats bobbed around in the harbour on a turquoise coloured see.  Birds dove for fish in the harbour and bright red and yellow crabs covered the rocks along the foreshore.  Having a great adventure of a day, we crossed the road to book our boat trip for the two hours across the Pacific Ocean to San Cristobal. 

“All boats fully booked – No seats till tomorrow”.

What ?  Are you sure ?  We have a hotel booked for tonight on San Cristobal and our cruise leaves in the morning.

“Sorry – All boats full. Next boat 7 am manyana”.

Hmm.  Not a major issue.  We would still get there in time to meet our cruise, but we would just need to cancel our already-booked hotel in San Cristobal and find one here on Santa Cruz.

The issue was that it was now 1 pm and everyone (including the skipper of the boat) was off having lunch, so although there might be a seat if someone cancelled, until everyone came back from lunch and it got closer to the ETD of the boat at 2 pm, not much could be done.  So we grabbed a bite to eat on the corner, and then ended up taking our bags over to the “check-in point on the pier, and waiting.  Eventually a chap called Johnny took us under his wing, and after an awful lot of toing and froing when we weren’t sure whether we were going today or not, we were hustled onto one of the smaller taxi boats and taken out to the Trueno, a small cabin cruiser maybe 25 ft long and climbed aboard.  In the end they fitted about 25 people on there, with all the luggage stuffed under the bench seats. I have no photos of the boat journey because we were wedged in so tightly, and it was so rough, I couldn’t get my camera out of my back pack.  Suffice it to say it was a very rough 2 hours, a couple of people were sea sick, and the 4 or 5 people sitting in the stern of the boat got absolutely soaked !  I spent the trip concentrating very hard on the horizon to make sure I didn’t succumb to any queasiness, but it certainly was a most uncomfortable ride !  But we made it.

When we disembarked we suddenly noticed sea lions lying around everywhere – Not just on the beach and on the rocks, but up in the car park and on the sidewalks, and one even sound asleep on a public bench !! 

We taxied up to our hotel, which is very nice even if right at the top of the hill so a  fair old hike from the centre. After a rest for a while, the owner, Fernando, very kindly drove us down into town and we had dinner at a very nice restaurant before climbing back up the hill to Hostel Pimampiro and bed.  We meet our tour tomorrow morning and will spend the next 4 nights on the boat, Seaman.  Will report on that when it happens.  In the meantime today was certainly long, and full of unexpected adventures, but here we are eventually safe and sound on San Cristobal and ready to enjoy all that the Galapagos have to offer. 

Photos are here :-


  1. You're nearly there! I'm sure that your next few postings will be unbelievable ....can't wait.
    Have a fantastic time. If you get a chance take some photos.
    xx J&S

  2. Argh ... I just wrote a comment ... and it then disappeared. Now what did I say?

    I remember ... I was complimenting you, Giles, on the story. I had not been on your blog for some time, so it was great to get back and especially to visualise all those adventures.

    I love the issue of public transport. For years, I too was like that, but after living in Europe, I came to really like it, mostly because it's reliable and so well connected.

    But the big thing about public transport is the constant barrage of visual and audible experiences ... it really is exciting, if a bit exhausting and frustrating.

    We spent a month travelling through Mexico by bus ... and it was so memorable.

    Cheers, Peter