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.
I 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.
Yaffa hanging about with a baby lobo. Amazing right?
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.
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.
We 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.
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.
I 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.
I 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.