Galapagos Islands: the money side of things

All things money:

Fixed costs
Flight with Aerogal, return to Quito via Guayaquil $450
Park entry fee and airport fee $110
9x nights accommodation (at $10 per night) $90
Inter-island transport (at $25 per boat, 4x boats) $100
Taxis across whole stay (I walk a lot) $5
Tips and skiff boat fees $5
Isabela entry fee $5
Total $760

Variables (San Cristobal)
Disposable underwater camera $18
Ecuadorian flag and Galapagos bag patches $4
Food Groceries $45
Bike hire for one day $10
Day tour with Chulo’s Tours $40
Internet $10
Total $127

Variables (Santa Cruz)
Beer and cigarettes $20
Food & Groceries $40
Bike hire (motorised) for one day $15
Internet $10
Total $85

Variables (Isabela)
Food & Groceries $15
Internet $2
Total $17

Total (all inclusive): approx $990 for 10 days on the Galapagos Islands.

A few things…

I left my tent on the mainland of Ecuador, I should have bought it, there are plenty of places to camp and I am sure people would let you camp for a small fee if you were to ask them to use your land. There are some areas that are off limits. I was only paying $10 accommodation per night, but it is nice to be outdoors, so maybe a tent is a good idea. If you have a hammock, that could be useful too, I also left mine on the mainland this time. Next time I will bring both. You can definitely be sneaky and camp in places where you are not meant to or squat for a night. :p

I am obsessed with ceviche and encebollado, I ate these a lot in the mornings, they cost more than normal, I also drink a lot of coffee, everyday, and I’ve become a bit addicted to glass bottled Coke since coming to South America, so I spent a bit more on these items. Everything is a bit more expensive on the islands. If you want to really save bring canned stuff that you can cook with from the mainland and buy pasta, vegetables and fruit when you arrive. You can’t bring any fresh food onto the islands.

I am a bit of an internet addict, I also realised I hadn’t backed up photos in a while so did this sometimes at night as nights were very chilled. It was also Christmas so I was on Skype a bit to people back home. Internet is generally slower and costs more than the mainland though there are some fast outlets.

I know of people who paid around $200 for their flights, non-Ecuadorians too, I thought I got a decent deal for $450, but there is definitely room to save money, book ahead, and try and get something really cheap. Aerogal was a decent Airline to fly with, no complaints from me. Note: you don’t exit the plane at the stopover in Guayaquil.

Try and stay for at least two weeks, I lost a lot of time in my ten days with flying in and out and then the speedboats inbetween islands. Two weeks would have been ideal for a budget visit of the islands and I could have bummed around Isabela even more. Though, I think, a month would be the best.

Hope this is of some use to other travellers. Thanks to Brian and Lukas for a lot of tips and help before and during my stay. If you have any questions or need more information on anything, please ask!

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Back to San Cristobal & leaving the Galapagos Islands

Day 172, Isabela to Santa Cruz to San Cristobal, day 9:

Getting from Isabela to San Cristobal via Santa Cruz cost $50 today, I needed two boats, as they do not go from Isabela to San Cristobal direct. Got back into Santa Cruz at about 9AM, ate, had coffee, left my bags at Hostal Brattle for a few hours while I went online, called to confirm that the treehouse was available, which it was not, they had messed up the booking (these things happen in South America, best not to worry!) so it was one more night at Hostal San Francisco. I had to go to the Aerogal office too, to try and change my flight so I could exit at Guayaquil and not continue to Quito, as I was looking to get to Montanita on the pacific coast for new years eve. If you need to do this, its very easy, takes a few minutes and costs $10 – you just might have to wait a while for all the people in front of you. Bring music or a book.

Killed hours reading, writing, walking around and outside of town then took my last speedboat back to San Cristobal. Got in around 5PM, hurried to check in, leave my bags, head to the beach to swim and then catch the sunset. I had wanted to get to El Canon or Tongo Reef behind the military base, there is meant to be a hiking trail but the military, or navy or whatever don’t let you through for some reason. They say you are meant to go around the back of the airport but I could not find my way there either. Go figure. El Canon is meant to be a good surf spot, if you fancy that. After sunset I ate, and crashed like mad.

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Day 173, San Cristobal, day 10:

Slept through until about 4AM and knew I would sleep no more. Grabbed my music and camera and went outside, waiting for the sun. Tuned out to the stars, the moon and the sky while all the local roosters went mad in an early morning symphony as the sun started to come up, illuminating the clouds all these shades of pink and purple, while I’m watching Galapagos birds of all sorts float up in the sky, gliding blissfully and easily in front of my last morning sky here. So peaceful and beautiful, just sitting there soaking in nature and the world without a worry on my mind. I never did this at home, or it was rare (binge and stay up for days, that’s it). I had managed to kill a few hours so went back into town, got coffee, ate an encebollado, collected my gear, said goodbye to this amazingly beautiful and completely unique, special, magical place and went to the airport to catch my flight back to Guayaquil for new years madness with friends from all over the place.

IMG_6639My time on the islands, only ten days, which is not long given the way I like to travel ordinarily, was amazing – something really special, especially having gone there completely free and on my own, with just a return flight booked and no idea what would eventuate (the flow!). I know I will be back one day, a little more prepared and probably with a different sort of plan in mind, though backpacking budget styles was great fun, and I think I did a reasonable job. I will have one more post soon with information on budget (overall), a list of free or cheap things to do on the islands I visited and a general wrap up on all things, good, bad and perhaps ugly.

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Isabela, Galapagos Islands

Day 170, Isabela, day 7:

Having taken the speedboat from Santa Cruz ($25 USD) at 2PM, I got in quite late. I got stuck at the front end of the speedboat and for the first time in days it was completely sunny – it got seriously warm inside and it was one of the roughest boat rides I took, a few people vomited. I still would have preferred to be at the back end with sunblock on than inside sweating it out and stuck to the seat, but anyway! There is a $5 entry fee when you get to Isabela that you need to pay at the wharf, why, I do not know, I am assuming its funding the large amounts of civil, street and road work going on there. The main town is called Puerto Villamil.
IMG_6533IMG_6586Isabela blew my mind when I got there. Not a single paved road, few footpaths, few people (I knew it was the least inhabited island before arriving, it is also the biggest, in fact it is huge), masses of volcanic rock all over the streets and sidewalks, you can see ex-molten rock which just hardened over time and formed part of the normal landscape, now situated among houses, trees, mounds of rubbish. Very quite, tranquil, a main, but quite small part of town set along a beautiful palm tree lined, white sand beach. It reminded me of the Caribbean coast of Colombia. I wanted to find a place to stay and maintain my $10 per night with kitchen standard, a friend (thanks again, Lukas!) has suggested checking out Posada del Caminante, so I took a taxi ($1) around town, first I checked out a few other places to the recommendation of the driver but there was either no one there or they were too expensive. At Posada del Caminante, the place was full, but they had a second building 5 minutes walk away, and here were privates with double beds for $25 or a dormitory on the third level of the building with 9 beds and a bathroom, for $10 per night. And they let you use the kitchen in the first building, sorted. There was no one else staying there so I had this huge room to myself. Left my gear there and set out for town and the beach. Isabela is not hard to explore, most, of the few things there, are all centrally located  on the main dirt road promenade along the beach and around. Its quiet, really quiet. I loved it. There are a few places where you can buy groceries (tuna was cheaper here than, San Cristobal by thirty cents, what?) and fruit and vegetables, as well as another amazing Panaderia that sold some of the best cheese empanadas I have ever had (50c and bigger than normal), the bread was lightly covered in sugar. Amazing taste. Can’t remember the name or where it was, but there aren’t many bakeries in Isabela and the store is newly built, decked out in beautiful treated timber. You will know it if you see it! Went to the beach and swam while the sun was setting. Went back, showered, spent a while organising all my stuff in my backpack and throwing excess stuff out, I do this every few weeks to stay light and organised. Went to the main house to make dinner. The owners were incredible, happily letting me into the own personal kitchen, letting me make tea and coffee using their ingredients while I made food, they shared their own dinner with me, a really hearty vegetable soup, took my clothes to wash them for free, also had free organic (crazy tasting) bananas and oranges, hammocks strewn up undercover outside. Lauro, the owner also offered to take me around on a tour anywhere in the island the following day, problem was, I had hurt the tendon at the back of me knee, that joins your calf and lower thigh? So I couldn’t really hike or climb much, stairs had been a struggle for the last day so it was looking like I would walk a few trails and hit the beach once I was done. The guys at Posada del Caminante really made me feel welcome, like family, it was a nice way to see out my closing days here on the islands. Met more friendly Ecuadorians from Guayaquil and Quito who I hung out with and all left me their details and offered their places should I be passing their cities again before heading to Peru.

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There was a lot of construction going on at this island. They are slowly paving all the roads, there is a small artificial football pitch and tennis court that has recently been built. Isabela will boom in a few years time, it will become more populated and prices will no doubt go up. For me, the charm was the underdevelopment, and the tranquility of the island compared to Santa Cruz and San Cristobal. It is crazy how much rubbish there is about the place, across all the islands, not just Isabela; I mean, you would not expect to go to the Galapagos Islands and see this much rubbish, no, any rubbish at all. Hugely careless and disrespectful from locals and tourists alike, but, this is a common story across much of South America.

Day 171, Isabela, day 8:

Got up early, had a fruit breakfast and set out to see as much as I could with my bad knee in one day, as this was going to be the only full day I had on the island. :( Made coffee at the main house, got some information on places to visit from a girl from Guayaquil and set out. Oh, they also have free wifi at Posada de Caminante, I did not realise until this day. So for $10 this is certainly the best place that you can stay.

IMG_6470First, I set off for the nearby wetlands where you can see flamingos, iguanas, pintail ducks, finches, other lizard species and more. There are 6km of trails you can walk. I spent a while exploring the Poza de Los Diablos, Poza Baltazar, Poza de Los Flamingos y Laguna Salinas and the Pozos Puerta de Jeli. These locations are all free, and very close to town and the beach, the sun was out and they were really beautiful, some of the tracks are shaded by trees which gives you a nice break from the sun – you can walk for a while around here, and also the Pozo del Amor, you can also continue onto El Muro de las Lagrimas, a wall built by prisoners when the island was first  colonized. If you exit at the end furthest from town you will be closeby to the Giant Tortoise Breeding Center, which is also free. I skipped this as I think I had seen enough turtle action for the time being. You can also hike to the Volcan Sierra Negra (last erupted in 2005), or the neighboring Volcan Chico which last erupted in the late 1970s. In fact Isabela is probably the best island for hiking, there are six or seven large craters to check out and climb in altitude, I had to leave these, as my knee was bad and I was short on time, but they are worth seeing, from what others have told me, and going from the general beauty of Isabela itself. I saw a lot of the pintail ducks (they are really scared of humans in comparison to other animals on the islands) and flamingos, as well as they always well represented iguanas loafing about in the hot sun.

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Spent hours at the beach swimming and in the sun, the weather was amazing and the huge strip of beach along the  archipelago was mostly empty, the water nice and not dangerous. If you you want some down time, Isabela is perfect to relax, though it has a huge amount of things to do in the water and on land. There is a nice amount of hammocks scattered around the bars, restaurants and hostels on this island (though there are not many), giving it a proper relaxed coastal feel (something strangely missing on the other, much busier islands). It was nice, I got mad nostalgia from my three and a half months in Colombia, before I came back to Ecuador. It was great. Had lunch (my own food) and set off to towards the wharf to get to the Concha de Perla, a small bay disconnected from the ocean by a chain of rocks, creating perfectly still water to swim in which is a full of fish species and the occasional seal passing by or lazing about somewhere. I didn’t snorkel, but its a good spot for snorkelling, the water probably gets about 3m deep at the sea end. I just dove in off the jetty and swam far out to stretch my body and float on my back for a while. Great swimming spot. It is about a twenty minute walk from town and five minutes or so from the main wharf itself. The main wharf is also disconnected from the ocean by a strip of rocks, though much lager than the Concha de Perla, this particular bay is called Los Tintoreras and is meant to be incredible for snorkelling and/or diving, but you need to pay to get a boat out there, there is no land access. Not sure of the cost of this one.
Swam at the beach once more, visited the Mirador, a wooden lookout on the main beach surrounded by rock and masses of marine iguanas chilling out in packs and roaming about in the sun. Great spot for photos, especially as the sun goes down. Though I went back to the hostal to watch the sunset, they have a rooftop terrace / mirador at the second building. Saw one of the best sunsets that I have witnessed in South America (see below) followed by a moonrise about twenty minutes later. Hung with a guy from Guayaquil who had checked into the hostel dorm and the owner for a bit. There was some absolutely crazy festival on in town, everyone was there, the hostel was empty of its owners, they went on until way into the night, music was loud and did not stop at any point. They really know how to party over here!

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IMG_6591Knew it was going to be a long, loud night so took two valium and went to sleep. My boat out was at 6AM in the morning.

Day 172, Isabela, day 9:

Woke up at about 530Am and the music was just wrapping up. They had partied until the sun came up. l grabbed my bags and set out, bumped into a few Ecuadorians I had met the night before who were coming back to the hostel, drunk as, staggering about, unable to work the fence and climbing over, the whole time still being so nice and pouring me beer for breakfast and having me drink. No one was about. There were others looking to get to the wharf but all the taxi drivers got mad wasted at the party and it was getting near six. I jumped onto the back of a taxi at the last moment and the five of us got to the wharf at 6, boarded the speed boat and took off back to Santa Cruz.

Isabela was my favourite island. I loved it there. So calm, peaceful, beautiful, quiet, free from masses of tourists, beautiful beaches, wildlife, plenty to do, if you wanted to do it, a good place to stay with mad hosts and a kitchen an hammocks! I could have spent a month there. I usually do that when I get to a place I like (I travel slow). Maybe one day I will be able to come back here for an extended period. My visit was brief, but most enjoyed.

Santa Cruz, Galapagos Islands

Day 167, Santa Cruz, Galapagos Islands day 4:

I checked out of San Francisco and got to the wharf. Took a speedboat with about twenty others (this costs $25 USD every time you want to hop from island to island and takes about two hours generally, up to three from Santa Cruz to Isabella, they usually leave at 6AM and 9AM, you can buy tickets at most tour agencies). The boats can be rough, bumpy as hell, they give you bags in case you need to vomit on some of them. Fortunately I am a person who never gets sea sick. Took a spot at the back of the bus (caution, you can burn if its a hot sunny day, and its windy, but is completely cool compared to the inside of the boats). On the way we saw several dolphins diving out of the water as the sun came up, it was a really beautiful sight. There were of course many oceanic and coastal bird species visible along the way.

Got into Puerto Ayora at about 830am, you get off the speedboat and all your gear is loaded into a small boat, and the passengers on another, you pay 50 cents to get from the boat to the wharf and then you are on land, and, of course, there are seals everywhere. Santa Cruz is very different, very touristic, quite busy, many tour operators all over the place, again, if you want to do things on the cheap, don’t book anything – there were so many places offering ‘last minute’ tours at good prices, day tours, four or five day tours, there was much on offer.

I stayed at Hostal Brattle (thanks Lukas!) a few streets back from the wharf and main street. You get there by walking to the right from the main wharf where the boats leave you, so the ocean should be on your right as you walk, when you see a bar (under renovation at time of writing), called The Rock, turn left, then left again on the first street (there is a helado / ice cream shop on the corner) and follow the street, there will be a yellow house on the left – ring the bell. Here you can stay for $10 a night too, and they have two kitchens! As well as nice open air balcony overlooking the main street and bay, which you can smoke in. There were not many people there, a Swiss guy named Lucas who was working as a diving instructor on tours and an Ecuadorian from Quito named Freddie who was excellent on guitar and could sing really well.  Hung with them for a bit then bailed and went to explore.

The first thing I did was head to the Charles Darwin Research Station, which is free and worth the visit. You can spend a few hours roaming around the paths through the bush and vegetation, where there are many finches and iguanas as well as a large range of local plant, flower and tree species (the cactus trees are incredible). It takes about fifteen minutes to walk there from town so don’t waste money on a taxi, you will pass the fish market on the way which is cool, as well as countless birds, iguanas, seals. There are a few exhibits you can see in the research area, a beach which is a short walk to get to and dominated by iguanas (Playa de la Estacion). You can also visit the Giant Tortoise and Land-Iguana Breeding Center here which is also free. I spent several hours visiting the entire site, there are countless iguanas here, and many of the giant turtles, I was most interested in Darwin’s Finches though, several of the species were about, and I had a mad time trying to photograph them. They are beautiful, and it is excellent to witness evolution first hand in such a profound manner. There is a local flora garden, several pens with turtles and iguanas, information on all the animals on the islands and its a good place to get really close to many animals for photos, right near the center of town. They are in captivity, but it is for breeding and research purposes. Come here if you want to learn about all things relative to the islands as a whole.

IMG_6199I walked back to town and headed to another free location, Turtle Bay (Bahia Tortuga), to get to the bay, you walk through quite dense scrub full of lizards, iguanas and birds for around 3km until you break out into a white coral sand beach, quite long, if you walk to the right you will reach the bay where you can see flamingos, blue footed boobies, pelicans, turtles, iguanas, finches, several other coastal bird species that I don’t know the names of but took photos. The exposed side of the beach is meant to be really good for surfing, there were quite a few surfers, and a few people swimming, though I had been warned that the current was very dangerous and the actual bay itself was best for swimming as it was protected from the tide by mangroves making a perfectly still and peaceful bay for swimming which apparently also has sharks, but I did not see any. Again there was an abundance of finches. The sand was incredible here, white, and the finest grain I have ever felt, moreso than the rest of the island. It was so nice to walk on, almost feeling like a powder under your feet. Spent hours walking around taking photos while listening to tunes on my iPod, feeling amazing on these islands surrounded by so much wildlife. Never before had I seen anything like it. Galapagos is a truly unique place. I stayed for what would have been another sunset but it was too cloudy, so I started the walk back very slowly again gawking at the huge amount of blue-green, red, yellow lizards that would just chill on the path or on rocks beside it. Was able to get some really good photos of them. Was still stunned by the cactus trees, their trunks so huge and the colour of the bark a rich brown. This crazy environment seemed so alien. You cannot see anything like this anywhere else. Got back to the hostal, cooked food (saved money!) and had beers with Lukas, Freddie and his cousin Luis. Tomorrow was Christmas, Freddie got on the guitar and we bummed around smoking, drinking and talking for hours. I called it a night and crashed before midnight though, all this running around and walking so much really tires you out.

IMG_6232Day 168, Santa Cruz, day 5:

Today was quiet, not much was open as it was Christmas, at least not much in the morning. The weather was quite overcast again so I chilled for a few hours and then decided I would bum out at a beach all day and swim, read, study Spanish and listen to music. Both the beach and the bay at Bahia Torguga seemed to be appealing once again so I went back, taking the slow walk along the trail and soaking in all the life around me. The sun came out here and there but the weather was generally overcast. It was nice to completely time out on my own for many hours. There was an iguana on a rock that was there when I arrived and had not moved when I left, maybe six or seven hours in the same spot haha. Bahia Tortuga would have to be one of the best free places that you can visit on Santa Cruz. That night I explored the entire town, bought fruit (it is more expensive than the mainland but still reasonable given the general price of food on the islands) and hung out with the others at the hostel. I went out to the wharf to smoke cigarettes and chill with the seals while looking for sharks. Shark viewing at the docks is another thing you can do for free at night, they are attracted to the lights, but you have to be patient, I did not stay long enough to see anything.

IMG_6336Day 169, Santa Cruz, day 6:

Lucas and I rented bikes and were going to head towards a small town further inland and a bit higher up in elevation called Bella Vista. For $15 we got bikes with batteries and small motors on them, which was good, in some ways, cause it assisted you in getting up the many hills, but the battery and motor must have weighed twenty or twenty-five kilos, adding immense weight to the bike overall and ensuring you had to put in serious work to get up the hills, though the motor helped in pushing you along slightly. In the end, it wound up being even more work than the regular bike I took in San Cristobal. We stopped at Bella Vista for its famous pan de chocolate (chocolate bread), which cost 50 cents and was amazing. We ate one each and got two more each for the road. We biked it for a while, stopping at farms to look at giant turtles. There was also a lot of nice flower and plant life on the roads. After some time we made it to the small town of Santa Rosa  and continued onto the El Chato Tortoise Reserve which was loaded with turtles, and Americans. This normally costs $3 to enter but they let us both in for free. Here you can see many giant turtles out in the wild. We were lucky enough to see the long, drawn out process of two absolutely huge turtles preparing to, or having sex. I don’t know. You can only look at so many turtles, as they are so slow and passive, it is rare they will do anything to shock you apart from maybe try to have sex. So we moved onto the Tuneles de Lava (lava tunnels), ex-volcanic lava tunnels turned into large caverns of very cool looking metamorphic rock. I think this is included in the price of the reserve, they are at the same site in Santa Rosa anyway. The lights went out completely when Lucas and I were in there and we had to navigate back out using the light from my iPod. Good fun. There are two tunnels to check out here, but there are a few of them across several of the islands. These turtles though, I must say, really are amazing, living for so long, so slowly, so peacefully. It was a lesson in the pace of life itself, to be staring at these magnificent – slow down. There is no need, I feel, in cities especially, to live at the crazy-frantic pace that we subject ourselves to. Why the rush? I’m not suggested dropping gears to turtle pace, but this whole trip has made me realise life is better lived at a slower pace, a pace where you can stop and admire the world, soak nature in, be part of nature, enjoy something you came from and that is inside you and all around you rather than forgetting it all because you have to work, earn money, study, spend, shop, buy, rush around like mad.

IMG_6455We made for Bellavista again and got back pretty quickly, though we had some mad struggles on these heavy bikes, trying to conserve the batteries and pedal mostly. It was exhausting, and you had to be real careful going down hill, use the breaks even a bit and if the wheel is turned, you could slide out from the rear end and fall off, bad news with a bike carrying such a heavy motor and battery. Almost happened to me once. Watch out for the rocks too! There are no paved roads outside of the main towns on all the islands, Isabela has no paved roads at all. Got back and looked for somewhere to eat, a lovely woman invited us in to have lunch with her and a few other friends, and she served us Ceviche, made with fish, prawns and lobster (!!) for free. I’d never had ceviche with lobster, as I am a backpacking bum, neither had Lucas – it was easily the best ceviche I’ve had. We chilled there with our hosts for a little and then made for Media Luna and Cerro Rocker, similar to El Junco, these are the highest points on the island giving you great panoramic views and are host to several endemic animal and bird species. The sites are extinct volcanos, but, again, the weather did not favour us. The Media Luna hike is two hours from the base if you are interested. It seems every time I get on a bike on the islands, the fog and the rain comes. We probably got about halfway but there was too much rain, we were already soaked. We had a while to go, we were considering heading to the Garrapatero Beach, a beach also infested with land and marine life and also great for swimming but it was pointless, as the weather was average and we may not get back until quite late which would be a little dangerous if it got dark as we were on the bikes. This beach is also free, though if you are getting there via taxi it may cost between $30 and $50 for a return trip which is outrageous. We decided to head back for a swim and a few beers. At this point time nor weather was on our side. We put our earphones in and cruised mostly downhill, a hugely rewarding ride after nailing ourselves on these motorised bikes which didn’t make things so much easier after all.    

Day 170, Santa Cruz, day 7:

Today, I was meant to do a tour which would go around five different locations on Isla Isabela, marine and on land, it cost $75, included lunch, was meant to take you from Santa Cruz at 6am to Isabela and around for the day and return at about 5PM, though I had arranged to stay at Isabela as it was my next intended destination. I figured the price was not too bad seeing as lunch was included and I would get to Isabela. But there was a miscommunication at the wharf in the morning and the boat left, I waited for a while, not sure of what was going on, then went back to the tour agency. They were cool, refunded my money minus the $25 to get to Isabela in the afternoon but the day was wasted somewhat as I had to leave at 2PM. The guy from the wharf was sorry (he came to the office to sort it out), I told him it was all good and not to worry. Shit happens, I was still on  the Galapagos Islands! So I spent the morning roaming the town after some ceviche and later went back to Hostal Brattle to relax. Wound up listening to music and falling asleep exhausted on one of the couches in the open air communal space. Had no idea I was so tired. The time came to get the boat to Isabela where I would spend my next two nights before going back to San Cristobal.

The staff, or family that run Hostal Brattle are super nice and helpful with everything, I highly recommend this place if you are backpacking or just want a room for $10 and somewhere you can cook. There was also a large family from Quito there for the second and third night of my stay, they were awesome. Great to talk to, super kind, the mother giving me hot milk, coffee, food. Ecuadorians, like Colombians, are really wonderful people.

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A child and a dog outside the panaderia that sells the chocolate bread.

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San Cristobal, Galapagos Islands

I decided to skip ahead five or so months and post about my Galapagos experience as it may benefit other travellers looking to visit the islands on a budget, as I did. This, and Easter Island, are probably the only two times I will do this.

Day 164: Isla San Cristobal, Galapagos Islands day 1:

I got to the airport and paid my $100 park entry fee as well as a $10 airport fee, what for I do not know, but they check Galapagos Island visitors separately to other people using the airport. Forgot the Swiss Army Knife someone special had given to me in my carry on backpack again but somehow the guy watching the xray machine didn’t notice it, second time I have avoided, very luckily, losing this to an airport garbage bin. I could have gone terrorist and killed everyone on the plane eh? :p Anyway I flew return with Aerogal and paid about $440 USD for the flights, with a stopover in Guayaquil.

There were a lot of Americans about. I sat next to two finance grads near the back of the plane, the male gets the idiot of the year award for me, we landed in Guayaquil for our stop over, at the Simon Bolivar airport, he looked out the window and asked his friend and myself if we were now in Bolivia. And he was dead serious. You can work for one of the worlds biggest investment banks and still have no fucking common sense – monkeys are not hard to train for a modern office. Bolivia, yeah, in an hour.

I put my earphones in and read and got the buzz knowing I was flying across part of the pacific to the Galapagos Islands. Madness. We landed, I got my passport stamped and went for a hunt for a budget hotel or hostel, I was aiming not to spend more than $10 per night and have a kitchen to use. I had to settle for Hostal San Francisco which is on the main street along the beach and the wharf. $10 per night for a private room, double bed, own bathroom, TV if you fancy it, but no kitchen. Francisco and his wife are super nice Ecuadorians.

I only had ten days on the islands so I left my stuff, got changed for the beach, took my camera and set out. It was about 2pm already, I made my way to a beach called Playa Mann not far from town (you can walk here, its short so don’t waste a $1 on a taxi). On the way I walked the main promenade and had my mind blown by the seals for the first time. They were fucking everywhere. On the wharf, on benches, the ground, the sidewalk, in gardens, on stairs – what the hell! All chilling out lazily and doing their own thing, the occasional sneeze or cough or seal noise, completely unafraid of and existing next to humans. This was their turf, not ours. You could get right up close to them and get amazing photos. It was so insane to be this close to so many animals. Beautiful.

IMG_5950I got to Playa Mann and there was one other person on the beach, a girl from Israel called Yaffa and about fifty seals, as I approached her a baby seal was coming right up to her for attention. It was awesome. So here I am ten minutes walk from town on a beach with dozens of seals, aggressive males, dominant males, babies, mothers, everywhere. So epic. I sat with Yaffa and hung with seals for hours, taking photos, walking around them, being chased by the dominant male (they are slow). Yaffa said its easy enough to do the islands independently, as she had been doing for several days, she had already visited Santa Cruz, she too was staying at San Francisco. Given the beach full of seals costing nothing, and the plethora of seals along the main street and bay, I already blew off the idea of a four or five day organised tour and decided to try and do backpackers justice and flake about the islands for ten days, as cheap as possible. 

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Yaffa hanging about with a baby lobo. Amazing right?

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Watched another beautiful sunset and hung at the beach as long as I could – I was completely digging being immersed in such a gigantic quantity of animals. Yaffa went to get weed… day one and already marijuana has found me. Haha. I went back into town and meditated on a beach surrounded by loud seals for an hour or so, under the stars away on these amazing islands. Later I walked around town, found a few places with cheap fruit and vegetables so bought half a kilo of lentils, some potatoes, onion, garlic and tomatoes to make pasta and lentils only to later learn the kitchen at San Francisco was for the family and not guests. I would save the for for the next island. Ate some ready made stuff left over from the Los Nevados hike in Salento, Colombia where I had to return a day early due to bad weather, and spent the night reading and relaxing.

Day 165, San Cristobal day 2:

Got up early to seek out coffee, the cheap desayunos are not worth the money you pay for them, and the good ones are far too expensive for breakfast ($4-6). I was walking around town and looked at a map, by chance a tour operator comes out and offers me a full day tour on a boat to visit Kicker Rock / Leon Dormido & Punta Manglecito for $40 instead of $60. This seemed like a good opportunity given how I was intending to visit the islands. We would go snorkelling in two locations and spend the afternoon at a beach far up from the main, inhabited area of the island. This as through Chulo’s Tours. We set off at 9AM, and the boat loaded with locals, I was the only gringo. The guides spoke English but went at it in Spanish only which was good because I realised I had learnt much in the weeks past.

Our first activity was a test snorkel in a beautiful bay about twenty minutes along the coast. I dived in and was surrounded by many kinds of fish, but the thing that really struck me was the turtle. Medium size, no fear, doing his thing, moving so gracefully about the water as I followed by his side or behind it. It was unreal. They are incredible creatures. Their form is so perfect for water. I did this for about twenty minutes, just leisurely snorkelling about observing this stunning creature. I later split and swam around the bay, teeming with fish, all the rocks littered with lazy Iguanas bumming around in the warm sun.

We moved onto Kicker Rock / Leon Dormido after, a huge rock in the middle of the ocean way off the coast that looks like a seal sleeping. Countless bird species floating about high above the top of the rocks, whitened with years with of bird shit from blue footed Boobies and similar. We dove into the water again here and swam between the rocks, which, given I was not diving and only snorkelling, blew my mind sideways again. There were shark species everywhere, along with schools of fish and turtles all over the place, all chilling together among a dozen or so tourists checking their space out. It was phenomenal. So much marina life in one space. No hammerhead sharks that day, but no problem either.  We were meant to snorkel through a tunnel in the rocks but the current was too strong and dangerous so after swimming around and admiring the many types of fish and marine creatures we got back onto the boat. The suns rays looked so crazy, penetrating the water and going deep, deep into the water, I had no idea what the depth was, but it was seriously deep, I was comfortable though. There is something so peaceful about being in such close proximity to massive amounts of fish or land animals.

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We were fed well for lunch, a large serving of chicken and noodles with vegetables, and water and coke. This would have cost a fair bit on the island so I saved there. We moved onto the beach and were able to hang there for a few hours, I went walkabouts with my camera, finding dozens of huge and careless Iguanas on the volcanic rocks that line the shore in many areas. The beach again was full of seals, also lazing about in the sun, making funny noises, sneezing, couching, spluttering and chasing one another. There was also a community of people camping further inland. I left my tent on mainland Ecuador, but if you have one I recommend bringing it, more on camping in Galapagos later. I spent a while marvelling and taking many photos of all the animals and later went for a swim. The sun was out and the weather excellent, all day.

IMG_6057We started making our way back, across the day I had seen countless species of both land and marine animals: iguanas, seals, albatross, boobies, turtles, sharks, fish, finches, crabs, dolphins, hawks, pelicans. It had been awesome. The snorkelling at Leon Dormido was the highlight, though my personal favourite was swimming with that first turtle. We probably got back into town at around 4PM, I went for a walk around town, goofing about with hoards of seals and decided to walk back to Playa Mann to mingle with even more seals, swim and catch another sunset.

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Without a kitchen dinner was expensive, $8 for a set meal with a bottle of coke. Hugely expensive for Ecuador. Though I must say, the portions were massive. The soup was excellent and the grilled chicken and rice with salad that came after was easily one of the best I have had. I was completely stuffed. The town of San Cristobal was alive with Christmas festivity. I walked around some more, took photos of the docks and seals sleeping in human spaces at night, then went and read/studied before crashing early. It was a satisfying day, I got to see a lot and it was all really unplanned and unexpected.

Day 166, San Cristobal day 3:

I got up early and went out for the sunrise, then coffee, food. The cheapest price I found for Encebollado (fish soup, amazing dish) was $3. It usually costs around $1.50-2.50 on the mainland depending where you are. Do not pay more than $3, some places go up to $5 which is a joke. I had decided I would hire a bike today and ride the 15 or so kilometers to El Progresso and the crater at El Junco. Found a place that rents bikes for $10, with replacement tire tube, pump and security lock. Don’t pay more, some places go up to $20 a day, if you want a bike, head to Planet Bike on Av. 6 Deciembre just off the main street along the wharf and bay. See Luis.

Locals had warned me it was an uphill struggle to the town of El Progreso, though the way back would be easier. As I set off in the hot sun, it started to cloud over. I killed myself getting up there, I think I worked harder than the 1500m, 7 hour mountain hike before I left Colombia, I had no idea why it was so difficult, I am used to riding bikes (don’t own a car, usually walk, ride or skate anywhere if not using public transport back home), after a while I got to El Progreso, lovely Ecuadorians pointing me in the right place after I explored a bit (there are quite a few trails to walk or ride, and farms to check out, a lot of really pretty plants and flowers in the area too, great colours!), I wanted to continue onto the crater, the weather was worsening, it had completely clouded over, but I had the bike so pressed on, up, up, up. It started raining. I was burning. I killed myself getting up there and I couldn’t see anything, there was fog everywhere (you rise about 800m in elevation). Finally I am up the top but there are few signs, its raining lightly, its cold, I am in a wet shirt and shorts and have no more water. I’m hoping to find a farm with someone that I could buy a drink off but nothing. I passed one huge lagoon which looked beautiful, dark, mysterious in the fog, the land red and brown and the water shades of blue and green. I couldn’t take photos cause of the weather. I found shelter at an abandoned farm and waited for a while before leaving anyway as the weather was not going to change. I passed the entry to El Junco again which was completely fogged out with no one around. Fuck it, was a decent serving of exercise! Hammered it down the dirt roads almost coming off a few times listening to Tool, huge stones everywhere and lots of loose earth, not ideal, but a little risky and lots of fun. It was a shame as El Progreso and El Junco were two really beautiful and free things to do, but you can’t win them all. Oh, I took a bike as it is $20-30 for a taxi to take you up here and back, and I am bumming my way around the islands, not splurging. I did get to see a lot of birds, many, many of Darwin’s Finches – as I came screaming down on my bike a flock of them flew up off the ground and out of the way, except for one which kept flying left to right in front of my bike tire, running this aerial gauntlet as I watched wondering if I was going to indirectly going to butcher the bird in with the tire.

Getting back didn’t take long, I got to El Progreso quickly and got out to take photos of the 300 year old Ceibo tree and treehouse inside of it, which was nuts. The tree was huge, huge, HUGE! And so old. The family ran a nice restaurant there and you can stay in the Ceibo Treehouse for $20 a night. There is room for three across a double bed and one single, it has a few loungey seats and appliances like a kettle inside too, it was really cool, there is a pole you can slide down like a fireman to get the bottom (about 8m). I took the owners details as I would spend my last night on the islands back here at San Cristobal before flying out. And I wanted to spend a night in a treehouse.

IMG_6148I spent a while there, I love trees, and I study architecture, so the two together was pretty fascinating and a good chance to get some nice photos even though the weather was still rather dreary. Love being around old trees. Especially big ones. They have such an amazing presence. Eventually I made my way back to town, looking like a soaked rat. Took a shower and went back out on the bike as the clouds had cleared, visited the nearby Playa De Oro which is also free and loaded with seals and also many people. Watched the sunset one last time as tomorrow I was heading to Santa Cruz via speedboat ($25 USD! takes about 2 hours). Spent the night continuing my reading of Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species. Yaffa was still about, but had not managed to get any of the overpriced island weed.

IMG_6013I had managed to do a lot of stuff for free and see many animals, mostly on land but also on the one tour that I did. Once I have posted about Santa Cruz and Isabela, I will post up everything I spent and where, I kept a detailed list of everything I spent there as its really crazy expensive and I was trying to do it as cheap as possible which seeing as much as I could, todays weather did not help, really I completely missed El Junco after spending hours getting up there by bike.

I went to return my bike at 8PM, shouting out to Luis at his apartment next door, as he instructed, but he never came out, the store was closed, but the door to the apartment complex was open, so I asked to people if they knew him, they pointed me to his place but he can’t have been there, or is a seriously deep sleeper. I chained the bike up outside his store and took the accessories back to the hotel. I would return them in the morning. In the morning the bike was gone, and still no one about, but I was able to lift the roller door to the shop enough to slide the bag under.

I had an aswesome time on San Cristobal. Many people say there is not a lot to do but I can’t say I agree, and you can definitely bum around the island on the cheap, just hope for good weather for the entire time.

About this blog…

I can be lazy, though I have a genuine reason for being close to six months behind in this blog.

I went to Europe in 2008 and it was one of the first times that my eyes were stretched wide open to the world and one of those defining epochs where you realise how truly huge the world is, that you are not at the center of it, that you have much to learn and many long roads to walk, that there is more to life than work, money, buy stuff, repeat until you immerse yourself in a series of walls and roofs and a huge load of material possessions to the point where you have blindly convinced yourself you have attained some form of happiness. I had been doing it all wrong… it was an amazing, life changing experience, it was also the catalyst for years of personal, existential struggle, denial, anger and depression, but that’s for another time. It was all part of a huge growth cycle.

Anyhow, I was stoned one day thinking about all the things in my life and looked back at that trip, I realised, without the photos, or without talking to my friends whom I had travelled with, it had all become a complete and total dream. I know where I went, some of the things I did, people I met and saw, but overall, the months I was away had become a far distant memory, something I did some time ago. Those vague kind of memories were so blurry, so far from the soul crushing reality that is 9-5 city living. I couldn’t recount as much of it as I liked and I knew with time and evidently age, more of the already hazy memories from the trip would fade, fade, fade.

It was similar for my trip to Japan in 2009, I loved it, I loved the country, the people, it was amazing, but again I did not keep a journal and apart from talking with my ex-girlfriend who I went there with, it was another blurred memory of an awesome time mostly forgotten amid the chaos of ‘reality’ back home, the place I always seem to end up back at, all my fondest travel memories slowly being eroded away by the mundane regularities of my life.

So, three years without travel, an incredible desire to get out of and smash up every single thing that had become normal in my life, and I went to South America. I promised myself, again, that I would keep a journal, only this time I did.

This is why the blog is almost six months behind, because I write obsessively in my travel journal almost everyday, where I was, what I did, who I was with and how we did what we were doing, where they were from, funny or beautiful things they said, things that inspired me, things that made me sad or want to cry, good things I have seen, horrible things I have seen, what I learnt, what I struggled with – whatever. Its all in there. I can look back at it all in a month or a year or a decade and laugh or cry or look at what I learned and how I grew, things I achieved, forgot about or wanted to do but didn’t. It’s incredible to go back and read it all, realising how much you already forgot, what someone said, a place you visited or something strange you saw, having these passages of text trigger a world of colourful nostalgia that makes your memories even more beautiful and vivid in a way that your mind would not have ordinarily permitted.

Slowly, in time, I will update this blog and one day it will be finished, probably at the end of the year (given I go back home). I share everything with everyone in here, there are no secrets, no lies, its all raw and straight from my heart, how it was, is. I ramble. I go on tangents, I spew reams of information in enormous detail; I have no education in writing, I can’t keep it short or be concise. May one day.

Either way I hope you enjoy reading all this stuff, I hope you can take something from whatever it is I put online here and its of use to other people in their own way. I just didn’t want to be back in Australia in five years time lying down stoned, staring up at the stars thinking about how awesome South America was, but only been able to recount it all in a very ‘top of the iceberg’ type of fashion.

Snail pace blogger. (:

IMG_5898A beautiful photo of some cumulonimbus clouds in Salento, Colombia, one of my favourite places in the world. This is something I would rarely have the time or even thought to bother looking at when I am in Australia cause I am always so tied up in that mental existence centered around work and money. It is amazing the things you notice when you are living life at your own pace and no someone or everyone else’s.

Six months in South America: some numbers

6 months, or 183 actual days:
Argentina 9 nights
Brasil 1
Ecuador 67
Colombia 106

Stayed at 36 different hostels
Stayed at 5 locals houses
Slept in an airport 1 night
Slept in a basement 2 nights
Slept in hammocks 12 times
Spent 40 nights in my tent
Stayed on 4 different farms
Stayed at 4 different mountain refuges across 5 nights

Took over 60 buses between locations
Took 6 overnight buses
Took 6 flights across 3 different trips
Roadtripped in a VW Kombi 1 time
Took 5 inter-island boats

Tripped on LSD 3 times
Took Ayahuasca 1 time
Took mushrooms several times

Lost an iPod
Had an iPod and phone stolen
Cracked and iPod touch
Broke a camera indirectly
Lost a 50mm lens cap

Read 22 books
Learning a language
Found love

Vomited 2 or 3 times (alcohol)
Had stomach problems 2 times

Saw dozens of sunrises, dozens more sunsets, moonsets and moonrises, geeked out at celestial activity at every chance I got. Hiked many trails, swam many rivers and beaches, climbed a few mountains, had an insane new year, turned 28 in Guatape, Colombia and celebrated with some brilliant people. Abused cheap tobacco in Colombia for months on end.

Experienced many new things
Learned a lot
Grown immensely
Am hairier

Its been amazing.